At one point during the military coup in Honduras last year, a US representative to the Organization of American States (OAS) joked
that Hondurans were living in a state of "magical realism", a folkloric
literary genre blurring reality and the surreal, often in the
historical or political context of Latin America.
far off, despite the bizarre comparison: A democratically-elected
president is overthrown by an elite conspiring against him, forced out
of the country, the military takes over, the people revolt in massive
opposition, while governments across the world refuse to recognize the
new regime and withdraw their ambassadors. Only the United States, the
most powerful of all countries, remains on the fence, then hops off
onto the side of the golpistas (coup-makers) while presenting a straight face of diplomacy.
the story of how elected president Manuel Zelaya was violently removed
from power under the guise of legal proceedings would make great
fiction, but sadly remains the true story of the first successful Latin
American military coup in decades. _ _ Honduras
burst into the international news last summer when on the morning of
June 28th, Hondurans awoke (in more than one sense) to a dismantled
government and a military takeover of their country. The Honduran
Congress had just issued the trumped-up charge that Zelaya, of the
Liberal Party, had violated the law by attempting to assess the
interest of the general population in potentially rewriting the
outdated Constitution to include new progressive reforms. Hondurans
were scheduled to vote that day in a non-binding referendum.
the president was flown out of the country by military troops operating
under the orders of Congressional head Roberto Micheletti (of the same
party), who then became de-facto president. The people took to the
streets in protest. The police and military, acting under Micheletti's
command, responded with violence, and a saga began which continues to
this day, despite a new administration.
It quickly became
apparent that many of the leaders of the military establishment which
seized Zelaya and spent the past year ensuring that Hondurans lived in
perpetual fear, had in fact been trained at the infamous School of the Americas one thread of many leading back north.
the United States, whose intervention in the region is unfortunately
not limited to the history books. From the beginning of the coup to the
most recent headlines on Honduras, the shadow of the U.S. has loomed
large. The US mainstream media is always eager to disregard Latin
American social movements demanding autonomy as motivated by the
presumably sinister leftist influence of Hugo Chavez and other leaders
in the region. Zelaya came into power by no means a radical, but he
gradually worked to enact common-sense progressive measures. Some
examples: a higher minimum wage, agrarian reform, an idea to convert
the US military base in Soto Cano to a civilian airport, a rejection of
recent IMF agreements, etc. These changes were seen as a threat by a
ruling oligarchy both in Honduras and elsewhere, who viewed their
business and economic interests as in jeopardy.
When Zelaya was forced out, Barack Obama verbally wrist-slapped the golpistas,
but refrained from using the legal language necessary to trigger more
drastic measures against the coup government, such as economic
sanctions, freezing assets, or withdrawing his ambassador, as so many
other countries did immediately.
The most significant result
of all of this is the popular uprising which has been under the threat
- and reality - of violence since its inception. June 28, 2009 marked
the birth of a truly grassroots movement formed out of the simple
premise that the electoral process which brought Zelaya into power by
popular support must be respected and defended to its legal end.
after day last summer, around the country in both rural and urban
zones, Hondurans marched to demand Zelaya's return and the
re-establishment of democratic order. As I participated with the
marchers, it was a glorious domino effect to witness - families walking
proudly down the road, beckoning others peering cautiously out doors
and windows to join the crowds, whose numbers grew exponentially each
Meanwhile, the theatre continued and the performances,
especially by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy, in
particular Ambassador Hugo Llorens, were impeccable.
I had the opportunity to meet
with the Ambassador in August 2009, as part of a delegation monitoring
human rights. He was sympathetic ("You're preaching to the converted"
and "We condemn the regime, and think that they're thugs"), but despite
several references to the urgency of the situation, he turned out to be
a master at extending the "diplomatic process" until it was too late
for many. The amount of recorded evidence of illegal abuses directly
connected to the Micheletti and Lobo governments is overwhelming. So is
the number of hours of tape which has State Department representatives
finding new ways to avoid addressing this topic when pressed.
general, the US continued to disregard the increasingly threatening
measures taking place - activists, media, and government figures
opposed to the coup were targeted, resulting in account after account
of kidnapping, torture, and murder. A February report
by the Committee for the Families of the Disappeared and Detained in
Honduras (COFADEH) lists 40 confirmed Resistance-related deaths, though
that number continues to grow since then. In addition, there was an
almost-total blackout of the independent media outlets which much of
the country relied on to get their news. All of this went on as
backdrop to the run-up of new elections. The US eventually brokered an
agreement leading to the installation of the Lobo government, by means
of approving an election cycle in a climate of fear and intimidation,
where press freedom was severely restricted.
As more people
went missing, were detained at random, were found in ditches with signs
of torture, as horror stories emerged daily, certain individuals and
organizations on the front lines became more vulnerable.
hindsight we can see now just how risky it was - and still is - to be
in visible opposition to the golpistas. During the days of street
repression, the state violence was uncontrolled, unleashed against
groups that always appeared physically united in the streets.
in contrast, the Resistance movement, led by the National Popular
Resistance Front (FNRP), simply referred to as the Resistance, has
become more physically fragmented, and thus more vulnerable. Now the
disappearances and killings are targeted. Those who put their life on
the line last year continue to pay the price. Family members of
activists are at risk as well. The most brazen acts are still being
seen today. All we need to do is look at those who have suffered the
most for being at the front lines.
Out of all sectors of the
Honduran population, the gay and lesbian community has seen the highest
number of victims. Usually they have been connected directly to
opposition circles, and the majority of incidents have happened since
Pepe Lobo took office in January. The most notorious case remains that of Walter Trochez, a beloved organizer who was captured, escaped, and then killed a week later.
- Nine have been killed in the country so far this year alone, with the
great majority working for news outlets opposed to the coup. The
Committee to Protect Journalists has listed Honduras as one of the most dangerous countries in the world in regard to their mission.
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- Throughout the coup, the offices of the Honduran Union of Industry
Workers of Soft Drinks and Similar Beverages (STIBYS) became shelter
for the Resistance and their allies. The union was targeted by armed
forces during the coup, and its leaders have been subject to constant
assault and persecution. STIBYS president (and former Honduran
presidential candidate) Carlos H. Reyes was badly beaten during a
protest last year. Earlier this month, the brother-in-law of STIBYS
Vice President Porfirio Ponce was killed in an attack when armed men
stopped his car at a traffic light, also wounding Ponce's father and
Farm workers - Outside the cities,
agricultural and rural organizations have been under threat as well.
There is an almost constant military presence in rural areas where
farmers and peasants are fighting for land reform. In the Aguán region,
where Zelaya's efforts to redistribute land were most at stake,
tensions have exploded into what has been described as "clashes", but
is in essence a war against the campesinos, in particular the United
Campesino Movement of Aguán (MUCA). Eight campesinos have been killed
since December 2009, when workers moved to retake the land they had
been stripped of in the chaos of the coup.
While writing this,
I receive notice of another campesino killing, a 16 year old boy.
Gruesome photos showing his torture are attached. Five others have been
arrested. These incidents have become common.
What allows us
to receive this tragic news only a few hours after the fact is a
dedicated network of support in both the US and around the world.
Despite the constant familiar dread of opening bad news emails, it's
been a pleasure to witness such solidarity. Previously isolated
organizations, many of whom sent delegations to Honduras or were
actively monitoring the coup, have united into what is now formally
known as the Honduran Solidarity Network.
The HSN has evolved
to a level of professionalism and consistency that would be difficult
to maintain for many, involving participants spread over various
countries. Member groups hold conference calls weekly, with updates
coming directly from FNRP connections. Twice they have pooled funds to
publish full-page ads in major Honduran newspapers declaring
international support for the Resistance and opposition to the Lobo
These actions are increasingly important as the violence in Honduras continues to remain under the radar. _ _
causes and effects of the coup are still alive, but President Lobo is
now going through the motions to set up a Truth and Reconciliation
Commission with a mission statement that couldn't be more vague ("to
ensure peace, harmony and tranquility for the Honduran people"), and
which has no teeth. It is not legally binding and it does not take into
consideration accounts by any of the human rights organizations that
would clearly offer the most critical perspectives when it comes to
investigating these crimes.
In response, six key human rights
organizations have come together to create an alternative commission,
to be launched on the first anniversary of the coup, and headed by
respected figures such as Nobel laureates, writers, and priests. Among
other mandates, the "Comisión de la Verdad" will make a point to hear
the testimonies of victims, and be in will line with United Nation
Details on both Commissions, including backgrounds of members, can be found here.
this day, no U.S. State Dept. spokesperson has acknowledged the
thousands of human rights violations committed under the Micheletti and
Lobo governments. The US continues to maintain the absurd claim
that reconciliation has come to the country, recently seen in Hillary
Clinton's efforts to persuade the OAS to re-admit Honduras. And on June
18, Llorens announced that the Honduran government would be receiving
$20 million from the US to enhance "security".
Thankfully not all US politicians have responded this way. Some have been strong allies of the opposition movement. A new letter
signed by 27 US Representatives, addressed to Clinton, makes for the
strongest wording yet, written to "...express our continuing concern
regarding the grievous violations of human rights and the democratic
order which commenced with the coup and continue to this day."
A year old now, the Resistance has grown into a widespread political body. As Los Necios
put it, it "has shifted from short-term action to the structures and
strategy to take power and change the country". They imagine a
different Honduran society, with an eye to the project Zelaya had begun
to take initial measures on- the reformation of the Honduran
Constitution, or constituyente.
Zelaya himself, still in exile, recently affirmed his commitment to the project in a letter dated June 11:
am a liberal in permanent resistance and I will continue being so, of
those that practice their true doctrine, opposed to military dictators
and antidemocratic regimes...The homeland in this moment calls us to
struggle for unity and for the Constituyente...the suffering of the
victims of this crime against humanity, with the loss of lives of our
martyrs who condemned the coup d'Etat, cannot be in vain, nor pass into
What happened in Honduras is worth revisiting a
year later, if only to understand that despite all rhetoric by both the
US and Honduran governments, the coup is not over. June 28 marks the
anniversary of the tragedy it brought.
But this date should
also be celebrated as the birth of a movement that has united diverse
forces from around the country. It offers hope and inspiration for a
new Honduras in which the people have a voice over their own destinies-
some would say a magical story, becoming more real each day, still
Joseph Shansky was reporting from Honduras during the recent military coup, and can be reached at fallow3(at)gmail.com.