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This American Life Whitewashes US Crimes in Central America, Wins Peabody Award August 3, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Genocide, Guatemala, Honduras, Latin America, Media.
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Saturday, 03 August 2013 02:17 By Keane Bhatt, North American Congress on Latin America | News Analysis

 

Ira Glass.Ira Glass. (Photo: Claire Asher / Flickr)Celebrating 2012’s best examples of broadcast journalism, the George Foster Peabody Awards attracted the likes of D.L. Hughley, Amy Poehler and Bryant Gumbel to the Waldorf-Astoria’s four-story grand ballroom in New York this past May. In a gaudy ceremony hosted by CBS star-anchor Scott Pelley, National Public Radio’s This American Life received the industry’s oldest and perhaps most prestigious accolade. The 16-member Peabody Board, consisting of “television critics, industry practitioners and experts in culture and the arts,” had selected a particular This American Life episode—“What Happened at Dos Erres”—as one of the winners of its 72nd annual awards on the basis of “only one criterion: excellence.”

This American Life’s host Ira Glass had once conceived of the weekly show, which reaches 1.8 million listeners each episode, as an experiment to do “the most idealistic, wide-eyed things that can do…to provide a perspective on this country that you couldn’t get elsewhere.” As is typical for the program, Glass weaved personal narratives and anecdotes together with broader context in “What Happened at Dos Erres,” which focused on a 1982 massacre of 250 Guatemalan civilians at the hands of their government’s elite military commandos—the Kaibiles.

But in his hour-long treatment of a savage period of Guatemalan history, Glass and his producers edited out essential lines of inquiry and concealed a key aspect of the bloodshed and its import for U.S. listeners: Washington’s continuous support of Guatemalan security forces—including the Kaibiles at Dos Erres—as they killed tens of thousands of largely indigenous civilians­ in 1982 alone. Moreover, by distorting the historical record, Glass performed an impressive feat of propaganda—he sensitively related Guatemalan victims’ harrowing personal stories while implying that the only fault of the United States was that it had simply not done enough to help them.

Ironically, “What Happened at Dos Erres” accomplished Glass’s longstanding goal of providing a perspective on the United States “that you couldn’t get elsewhere.” One would be hard-pressed to encounter another contemporary mainstream account of that period so thoroughly sanitized of Washington’s involvement in crimes against humanity.

During his brief 17-month rule from 1982-83, Guatemalan military dictator Efraín Rios Montt escalated to its grim apogee the state terror regularly employed during a decades-long attack on leftist insurgents, suspected sympathizers, and Mayan communities. This American Life correctly described the directives of the Army High Command’s scorched-earth campaign, in which soldiers burned farmland and homes, slaughtered animals, raped and mutilated women and children, and exterminated entire communities like the hamlet of Dos Erres. Glass concluded that state-led massacres “happened in over 600 villages” and added that an overall accounting of the larger conflict by “a truth commission found that the number of Guatemalans killed or disappeared by their own government was over 180,000.”

Glass did not mention, however, that the very same UN-sponsored truth commission also concluded in its 1999 report that the “government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some state operations” involved in atrocities like Dos Erres. (Both The Washington Post and PBS reported this particular finding at the time.)

 

Notwithstanding This American Life’s omission, the extent of U.S. criminality in Guatemala is astonishing, as is the abundance of publicly available evidence of it. Beginning with a Central Intelligence Agency-organized coup that overthrew Guatemala’s reformist democrat, President Jacobo Arbenz, in 1954, the United States played a dominant and closely documented role in the horrors that ripped the country apart over 40 years, throughout a long chain of dictatorships.

Between 1956-61, for example, the United States trained over 600 Guatemalan military officers either on U.S. soil or within the U.S.-controlled Panama Canal Zone. By 1963, U.S. advisors were providing expertise in domestic surveillance and crowd control, while Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Edwin Martin, in an internal document, lauded the “encouraging progress toward [the] establishment of an effective counter-subversive intelligence apparatus.”

With the help of security adviser John Longan of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Public Safety, that apparatus developed into Operación Limpieza. New York University historian and Guatemala expert Greg Grandin describes the program, created in 1966, as a consolidation of “the operations of the police and military” that allowed them to “gather, analyze, and act on intelligence in a coordinated and rapid manner” with the aid of “state-of-the-art telecommunications and surveillance equipment.” Among its first successes were the tortures and murders of dozens of leftist leaders over a three-day period in March 1966—Operación Limpieza quickly became, according to Grandin, the “cornerstone” of Guatemala’s state repression.

In September of that year, the U.S. embassy hailed Operación Limpieza’s head, Colonel Rafael Arriaga Bosque, as one of Guatemala’s “most effective and enlightened leaders”; by October 1966, he would help carry out the country’s first scorched-earth campaign, massacring eight thousand. U.S. planners were fully aware of the consequences of their ongoing assistance: in a 1968 State Department memo, Longan frankly conceded that Guatemalan security forces “will be continued to be used, as in the past, not so much as protectors of the nation against communist enslavement, but as the oligarchy’s oppressors of legitimate social change.”

Successive U.S. presidents avoided publicly labeling Guatemala a gross violator of human rights for fear that “it would be too difficult to clear a country of such a label once given,” thereby jeopardizing the resumption of military aid, according to State Department officials cited in a 1986 U.S. General Accounting Office report. Nevertheless, under Jimmy Carter’s presidency in 1977, Congress enacted a ban on military assistance to Guatemala. The legislation allowed for a loophole, however: it “did not prevent government arms deliveries previously under contract or commercial export of munitions,” the GAO found.

“While the Carter Administration at least implicitly recognized that Guatemala was a gross human rights violator,” wrote Tanya Broder and Bernard D. Lambek in the Yale Journal of International Law in 1988, “President Reagan’s desire to supply the Guatemalan military [with arms and training]” dealt a coup de grâce to any efficacy of Congressional prohibitions.

By 1982, U.S.-allied proxies such as Israel and Taiwan were tasked with arming Guatemala’s counterinsurgency forces, successfully circumventing U.S. restrictions. The CIA under Reagan also provided regular payments to top Guatemalan military leaders, and the administration illegally deployed advisers to teach Guatemalan cadets “anything our Army has,” according to Green Beret Jesse Garcia, who had arrived in the country months before the Dos Erres massacre. As reported by investigative journalist Allan Nairn, this included “ambushes, surveillance, combat arms, artillery, armor, patrolling, demolition and helicopter assault tactics.” Quoting Garcia, Nairn wrote that the United States provided expertise in “how to destroy towns.”*         

 

On the evening of December 4, 1982, just two days before the Guatemalan Kaibil commandos would initiate their Dos Erres operation, Reagan addressed reporters at an Air Force base in Honduras regarding a “useful exchange of ideas” he had just had with Rios Montt. “I know that President Rios Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment. I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice,” he declared. “The United States is committed to support his efforts to restore democracy,” he said in reference to the coup perpetrator, and “my administration will do all it can to support his progressive efforts.”

In a question-and-answer period, Reagan also dismissed accusations of human rights violations committed by Rios Montt and his military: “Frankly I’m inclined to believe they’ve been getting a bum rap,” he protested. It has long since been clear that with these kinds of comments, the Reagan administration was deliberately obscuring Guatemala’s record of atrocities.

After all, following his 1980 election, two retired military leaders involved in his campaign reportedly told the Guatemalan military that “Mr. Reagan recognizes that a good deal of dirty work has to be done.” According to national-security documents unearthed by investigative journalist Robert Parry at the Reagan Library, the United States knew of Guatemala’s longstanding efforts to annihilate leftists’ “civilian support mechanisms.” And nine days before Reagan downplayed allegations of Rios Montt’s criminality for journalists, a State Department report noted, “our Embassy recently informed us of a new, apparently well-founded allegation of a large-scale killing of Indian men, women and children in a remote area by the Guatemalan Army.”

 

Given Reagan and Rios Montt’s close collaboration, along with a Guatemalan judge’s finding of “sufficient evidence tying Rios Montt to the Las Dos Erres massacre,” it seemed obvious that This American Life would touch upon Reagan’s culpability in the course of an hour-long episode dedicated to the atrocity. Indeed, Glass appeared to indicate a willingness to do so, when early in the program he boasted:

OK, before we dive into this story, just a quick history review. Now, I myself was the kind of insufferable, politically correct person who was obsessed with Latin America back in the 1980s. I called Nicaragua “Neek-ar-ah-wah,” and actually went to Nicaragua for a month during the fifth anniversary of the Sandinista revolution. I traveled in Guatemala during the civil war. You, however, might be what we call a normal person and didn’t do any of that.

 

Yet Glass’s history review for “normal people” completely excluded U.S. involvement in violations of international humanitarian law, despite the on-air appearance of researcher Kate Doyle of the National Security Archives, who specializes in declassified U.S. documents. He introduced her early in the episode and focused on an inane line of questioning regarding her personal “list of the ranking of most f’ed up countries” in Central America. As she related to me by phone, the program scrapped much of the rest of her in-studio discussion, in which she highlighted Washington’s participation in atrocities.

In its zeal to avoid all mention of active U.S. assistance in Dos Erres, This American Life also excluded content from its own media partner, ProPublica, which published a written article that coincided with the radio program. ProPublica’s account highlighted the case of Kaibil sergeant Pedro Pimentel, sentenced in 2012 to 6,060 years in prison for his role in the atrocities. Directly after the operation, he was spirited away by helicopter from Dos Erres to the School of the Americas, the U.S. military’s infamous training center for Latin American security forces, where he went on to serve as an instructor. (The School of the Americas had trained Rios Montt in 1950, and would in 1985 train Guatemala’s current president Otto Pérez Molina, who, as a Kaibil field commander, likely committed atrocities himself.)

When asked about such omissions by email, Glass replied, “I certainly know that history,” and admitted that he had talked “to Kate Doyle about U.S. participation in Guatemala.” Nonetheless, he and his co-producers “decided not to get into that in the program simply because we felt like we were throwing a lot of facts and history at our listeners and were worried about how much people could absorb.” He added, “It was a judgment call. And maybe we made the wrong call.”

Retrospection aside, his answer was disingenuous. While it was true that the words “Reagan,” “Jacobo Arbenz,” “School of the Americas” or “CIA” were never uttered in the hour-long broadcast, Glass and his co-producers did not simply omit context. They went one step further, by affirmatively—and falsely—framing the U.S. government as a negligent bystander whose only sin was a reluctance to speak out.

He claimed in the episode, for example, that “Embassy officials heard lots of reports about the Army massacring whole villages throughout Guatemala, which they dismissed,” until, “at the urging of the State Department back in Washington,” they went to “see for themselves if the stories were true.” This American Life’s harshest indictment is that, despite years of repeated massacres after Dos Erres, “the U.S. knew about it but stood by.”

If Glass worried about inundating listeners with too many facts, I asked in a follow-up email, “why did you introduce the factual claim that ‘the U.S. knew about [the ongoing killings] but stood by?’” And how could this characterization possibly be reconciled with his previous email’s description of “U.S. participation” in war crimes?

Glass did not respond.

 

In October 2011, Barack Obama echoed Reagan’s soaring, mendacious, 30-year-old script for his Central American ally. Having invited Honduran President Porfirio Lobo to the White House, Obama thanked him for his “strong commitment to democracy and leadership.” Lobo’s “restoration of democratic practices and a commitment to reconciliation,” said Obama, gave him “great hope.” It would have been impolite, of course, to publicly acknowledge that Lobo had presided over state security forces, trained and financed with millions of U.S.-taxpayer dollars annually, that had killed and continue to kill Honduran civilians as a matter of routine.

Given This American Life’s conformity to official U.S. doctrine regarding Guatemala, it was to be expected that a subsequent half-hour segment on Honduras titled “Some Like It Dot,” which aired in early 2013, would in no way upset the official narrative set by President Obama. The episode predictably excluded crucial, if inconvenient, political context as it centered on the attempt to develop “charter cities” in Honduras—swaths of land to be ceded to international investors and developed into autonomous cities, with their own police forces, taxes, labor codes, trade rules, and legal systems.

Although the show dutifully included a warning by Princeton economist Angus Deaton, who described charter cities as a “reintroduction of colonialism,” This American Life nonetheless enthusiastically portrayed the messianic vision of University of Chicago-trained economist Paul Romer as an exciting solution to Honduran “corruption and chaos and violence.”

That very “corruption and chaos and violence,” This American Life failed to inform its listeners, exploded as a result of a 2009 coup d’etat against the country’s left-leaning, democratically elected leader, President Manuel Zelaya. Strong circumstantial evidence implicates the United States in his ouster. The early-morning plane that spirited the pajama-attired president and his family to Costa Rica, for example, stopped to refuel at the U.S. military base of Palmerola. U.S. officials also acknowledged that they were in discussions with the Honduran military (many of whose leaders were trained at the School of the Americas) up until the very day it deposed Zelaya.

What is known beyond any doubt is Washington’s vigorous efforts in 2009 to bolster the coup government of Roberto Micheletti, and to legitimize the repressive sham elections held under that regime. With the dubious transfer of power from Micheletti to Porfirio Lobo in 2010, the ultimate success of Zelaya’s removal was guaranteed. Unsurprisingly, neither the coup, its consequences, nor Washington’s involvement appeared in This American Life’s episode.

Other than Romer, the episode’s main protagonist was Lobo’s chief of staff, Octavio Sánchez. Besides being the leading Honduran advocate for charter cities, Sánchez was one of the most strident champions of the coup. Writing in The Christian Science Monitor just days after the elected president was removed from the country at gunpoint, Sánchez characterized the event as “nothing short of the triumph of the rule of law,” and urged readers not to “believe the coup myth.” This American Life could not be bothered to point out this fact, or Sánchez’s profound cynicism, preferring instead to describe him as the country’s idealistic “national dreamer.”

In his defense, Ira Glass wrote by email: “What interested our…reporters in that story was the relationship between Octavio Sanchez and Paul Romer, and what it said about the ability of outsiders to come into a country with a development scheme like Romer was suggesting.” Though he claimed his reporters “were well aware of the broader politics of Honduras,” This American Life wanted nothing to do with it. “I think another reporter could make a totally interesting and valid story going into more of the politics you’re talking about, but that simply wasn’t the focus of what we were doing.”

By coding the crux of the debate around charter cities as extraneous “politics,” Glass was able to evade it. But the fact remains: the imposition of “development schemes” by “outsiders” on Honduras would be considered impossible if the overthrow of its democratically elected leader and the resulting decimation of its sovereignty had not occurred.

In response to Glass’s attempt to narrowly circumscribe “the focus of what we were doing,” I raised another question: if Octavio Sánchez’s vigorous coup defense was too far afield from This American Life’s preferred subject matter, was it relevant to the show’s narrative that the most prominent Honduran opponent of charter cities, Antonio Trejo, was murdered in a death-squad-style assassination in September 2012?

Yet again, Glass remained silent.

 

In the 1980s, when U.S. officials were most viciously engaged in Central America’s political violence, they could rely on media outlets as their reliable partners. Journalist Allan Nairn noted in a 1999 interview with Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting that during the period of Guatemalan genocide, “the big corporate press in the U.S. was not covering the U.S. role at all”—it was “barely covering the fact that the mass killings were taking place.” So in addition to condemning the U.S. government, he concluded that “the press also has blood on its hands.”

This American Life’s “What Happened at Dos Erres” mimicked some of the most propagandistic media behaviors of the 1980s. Its producers prohibited even a single sentence from reaching millions of U.S. listeners regarding the murderous policies of their own elected officials, executed with their tax dollars and in their name. It also bolstered the specious intellectual framework for greater U.S. intervention throughout the world on “humanitarian” grounds, by inventing the historical figment that the United States “stood by” in the face of Guatemalan violence. Months later, with remarkable continuity, This American Life concealed for U.S. listeners their relationship to the seemingly far-flung and senseless violence of Honduras.

This American Life’s journalistic misconduct is manifold: First, Ira Glass unreservedly acknowledged that both he and his co-producers were fully aware of the politics of both Guatemala and Honduras. Second, he clearly stated that they deliberately chose to omit them for their U.S. audience (and in the case of Guatemala, they disseminated a pure fabrication). Third, their motivation for suppressing the U.S. government’s hand in the barbarity of the two countries stems from either a disdain for their listeners—Glass condescendingly “worried about how much [history and facts] people could absorb”—or from their willingness to perpetuate Washington’s flattering self-image.

Whatever This American Life’s rationale may be, its two episodes on Central America prove that Glass’s earlier aspiration to do “the most idealistic, wide-eyed things that journalism can do” has been extinguished. Given the generalized dishonesty of the U.S. media and intellectual class, it’s no surprise that Peabody’s “experts in culture and the arts” rewarded the show for its excellence. But this accolade should not distract anyone from the reality that This American Life’s compelling storytelling can in no way be confused with ethical journalism.

* Allan Nairn, “Despite Ban, U.S. Captain Trains Guatemalan Military,” Washington Post, October 21, 1982, page 1

Update (7/29): I spoke with the media watch group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting on its weekly radio program CounterSpin about This American Life‘s coverage of Central America. My segment can be listened to here. Our conversation touched upon the excellent work of Kevin Young in the latest NACLA Report on the Americas. His piece, “Washing U.S. Hands of the Dirty Wars: News Coverage Erases Washington’s Role in State Terror,” contextualizes the broader trends of the establishment media: The New York Times, The Washington Post, and National Public Radio reported on U.S. support for Latin American dictatorships in only 6% of their coverage from 2008-2013.

Attorneys Urge Court to Hear Lawsuit Against Honduran Coup Leader November 7, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Written by Center for Constitutional Rights   
Thursday, 03 November 2011 16:26
Total Impunity in Honduras Underscores Need for U.S. Court to Hear His Case

November 3, 2011, Houston, TX and New York, NY – Last night, in a human rights case against Honduran coup leader Roberto Micheletti Baín, attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed papers emphasizing that the case is one of the few opportunities for accountability for the wave human rights abuses committed during and in the aftermath of the coup.  Micheletti is the former head of the de facto government immediately following the June 28, 2009 military coup that led to systemic attacks on and extrajudicial killings of members of the opposition movement and journalists that continue today. The Center for Constitutional Rights filed the suit on behalf of David Murillo and Silvia Mencías, seeking justice for their son, 19-year-old Isis Obed Murillo, who was shot and killed by Honduran military forces during a peaceful demonstration against the coup.   

In last night’s filing, CCR provided extensive documentation illustrating the culture of impunity in Honduras that blocks justice for the violations and that has permitted the attacks to continue under the current government of Porfirio Lobo.  An expert report submitted by a Human Rights Watch researcher emphasized that no one has been held criminally liable for the scores of politically motivated killings and other human rights violations that took place under Micheletti and that little to no progress has been made in investigating the violence that has taken place under Lobo since he assumed the role of President in January 2010 after a post-coup election that was widely criticized as illegitimate.  

In a statement included in Micheletti’s motion to dismiss the case, the office of the Prosecutor of Honduras asserts that Honduras does not hold Micheletti responsible for Murillo’s death, despite the lack of a full, credible investigation.  Yet, even the Honduran Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), the independence and impartiality of which has been questioned by experts and advocates, found that Micheletti bore responsibility for the killing of Isis Obed Murillo and others.  In particular, the CVR found that Micheletti wielded command responsibility and implemented policies and practices that were the driving force behind the excessive use of force by the military and resulting human rights violations. Furthermore, CCR attorneys say the prosecutor’s statement strengthens the Murillo’s claims that the case must be tried in the U.S., because justice is not possible in Honduras given the absolute impunity there for the coup and post-coup abuses.  

“Isis was the first victim in what became a systematic and widespread attack on dissent that continues today,” said Center for Constitutional Rights staff attorney Pamela Spees.  “The Honduran government’s explicit refusal to hold Micheletti accountable for Murillo’s death – effectively clearing the coup leader’s name without any genuine investigation – highlights the importance of this lawsuit.  It is one of very few avenues of accountability left.”   

Subsequent to Isis’ killing, the plaintiff and his family were subjected to surveillance and harassment by police and other authorities. This harassment took place in the context of what lawyers describe as intense repression and political persecution that began under Michiletti’s regime that targeted the National Front of Popular Resistance, which formed in opposition to the coup, as well as journalists and other groups standing in opposition. 

The filings also make public for the first time a September 11, 2009 U.S. Embassy letter included in an attachment to Micheletti’s motion to dismiss the case that states his visa was revoked due to “the continued resistance of the de facto government to accept the San Jose Agreement and the continuous failure to restore the democratic and constitutional government of Honduras.”  Yet the U.S. has since successfully lobbied the Organization of American States to recognize the new government and is reportedly considering reinstating visas for Micheletti and other coup leaders despite any accountability for their illegal actions and the mass repression they presided over. The U.S. also provides funding to the Honduran military and police, who have been implicated in numerous grave human rights abuses, including assassinations, the burning down and bulldozing of nearly the entire town of Rigores, firing live ammunition and other brutal attacks on peaceful protests, and disappearances.

The case was brought under the Alien Tort Statute and is before the Houston Division of Southern District of Texas.  To view the motions and for more information on the lawsuit, visit: http://ccrjustice.org/honduras-coup

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. Visit www.ccrjustice.org and follow @theCCR.

Disappearing Truth in Honduras: Commissions Cover Up Demands for New Constitution April 13, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Written by Annie Bird   
Tuesday, 13 April 2010 09:23
 

golpe de estado Honduras

Though the June 28, 2009 coup in Honduras caught the world’s attention, outside of Honduras little was said about the objective of the coup; to stop the proposal for a new constitution in Honduras. The terrible repression that followed the coup has also prompted international response, but the political proposal of victims of the repression has been made invisible.

The coup is now in its final phase, a phase that cannot be consolidated; the “disappearance” of the proposal for a new constitution. A two pronged strategy is being employed. On one hand, the creation of the appearance, without the actual reality, of national reconciliation processes, such as a ‘truth commission’ which for lack of participation of the human rights victims, among other problems, does not meet international standards for a truth commission. On the other hand, escalating violence and repression continues against the non violent resistance movement, which continues to demand a new constitution and does not recognize the Pepe Lobo government, like many nations of the world since the elections he “won” did not fulfill most indicators for democratic elections. This phase in the coup is the most dangerous and prolonged.

While the US and Canadian governments, corporate lobbyists in Washington and even WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America), a Washington based human rights NGO, assist the Honduran government in creating the illusion of “reconciliation,” death squads assassinate journalists, teachers and unionists.

The Frente and the Proposal

In Honduras, a massive and inspiring social movement has arisen, generating what University of California historian Dana Frank describes as “the most important moment in Honduran history, even more important than the immense general strike of 1954, from which all modern Honduran history flows.”

In the months prior to the coup, a massive alliance of most sectors of Honduran society, labor unions, students, indigenous organizations, women’s organizations, campesino organizations, LGBT organizations, and others came together to promote a proposal to draft a new constitution with broad civic participation. They proposed that a national opinion poll, which was to be held June 28, the day of coup. The poll was to ask Honduran citizens whether or not a national poll should be held during the November 2009 national and presidential elections.  This initiative called the “fourth ballot box,” would have asked Hondurans if they want to convoke a constituent assembly.  The proposal never claimed to create a legal obligation for the state; it simply sought to prove that most Hondurans wished to convoke a constituent assembly.

In the days following the coup, previously unorganized Hondurans came together with the “fourth ballot box” movement to form the Frente Popular Nacional contra el Golpe.  As people across the country repeat, by overthrowing the president, the power structures in Honduras “removed the blindfolds” of the population and the people mobilized massively.  Constant protests, at times of over half a million people, have occurred for over eight months. After the “new” government was installed January 27, 2010, the Frente changed its name to the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular.  In practically every rural village, town, urban neighborhood there is a local committee, which then has representatives in committees in each of Honduras’ eighteen departments, which in turn have representation in the national committee.

A New Constitution and the April 20, 2010 National March

The objective of the Frente is to convoke a national constituent assembly with representatives from all sectors of Honduran society to write a new constitution for the nation.  Currently, they hope to achieve this through participation in the 2013 national elections. The Frente has convoked a national march on April 20 to initiate the campaign to collect signatures on a petition that supports convoking a national constitutional assembly.  They expect to gather a minimum of 2 million signatures, over half of the adult population of Honduras and twice as many people as allegedly voted for Pepe Lobo in the fraudulent November 2009 elections.

The current constitution, the latest of sixteen, was written by a constituent assembly convoked during a military dictatorship, approved by congress and adopted during a military dictatorship.  There was no national debate in regards to its content.  Over the past three decades it has become evident to Hondurans that this constitution does not adequately protect the rights of the majority of the population.

Military Coup to Stop the New Constitution

The possibility of changing the framework of government which has allowed a small sector of Hondurans, and their international business partners, to control the nation shook up the power structure to the degree that it brazenly carried out the most egregious violation of a peoples fundamental political rights, a military coup, on June 28, 2009. The strong arm of the shadowy military and economic forces that have retained the power they consolidated through massive human rights violations in the 1970s and 1980s reappeared briefly in the public eye.

Today, the death squad killings of Frente activists brings up horrific memories of massacres, torture, and forced disappearances from a generation ago that resulted in over 400,000 deaths across Central America.  The authors of those crimes are still active and powerful today, thriving in the space the “democratic” government of Honduras, and the “international community” provide them.

When Zelaya proposed the controversial poll that prompted the military coup, he was simply properly acting as president in response to the request of a broad based social movement who demanded a constitutional assembly. Had the “fourth ballot box” poll taken place during the November elections, and the population had asked for a constitutional assembly, a new president would already have been elected to take over the presidency on January 27, 2010, and the Congress would have had the option to approve, or not, the proposal for a constitutional assembly.

Zelaya was not thrown out of power because there was any basis upon which to believe he intended to extend his presidency, he was overthrown because he was fulfilling his duty as a president in allowing a massive, grassroots political movement to take part in politics through legal mechanisms.

Consolidating the Coup

Initially the coup generated the international reaction it deserved.  Never in history had a military coup been condemned by the General Assembly of the United Nations and the Organization of American States.  Virtually every country in the world refused to recognize the coup regime nominally presided by Roberto Micheletti. However the initial diplomatic reaction was followed by de facto recognition.  The US treasury allowed Honduras to access the foreign reserves on deposit in Washington that the Zelaya government had struggled three years to amass, providing them with ample resources to finance the eight months of diplomatic stand off.   The US sent covert messages of support to the Honduran military by continuing the training of Honduran officers in the US.  The US refused to classify the as coup a “military” coup, in spite of all reasonable legal analysis (including the State Departments own lawyers), so that it would not have to suspend aid.  The World Bank nominally suspended disbursements of loans but made exceptions for key programs in the interest of economically and politically powerful coup supporters.

The US State Department immediately set about attempting to normalize relations with Honduras, lobbying the neighboring countries, maintaining constant communication with coup authors in Honduras while freezing out Zelaya and completely ignoring the existence of the Frente.

The challenge of the Frente and of Zelaya became keeping the massive rejection of the coup visible, both inside of Honduras and internationally.  Alternative media and the internet played an incredibly important role, as did a series of actions and mobilizations, including Zelaya’s dramatic September 22, 2009 return to Honduras and into the Brazilian Embassy. The culmination of the coup consolidation effort was the recognition by the US of the November 2009 presidential elections, and the US State Departments international lobbying campaign for recognition of the newly ‘elected’ government of Pepe Lobo, even though the elections defied every standard that must be met to be called free and fair elections.

Making the Frente Invisible

On January 27, 2010, Pepe Lobo was sworn in as president of Honduras while over half a million people protested by marching to the national airport to wave goodbye to President Manuel Zelaya.  The only Honduran television station that reported the true magnitude of the protest rented a helicopter to fly over the march, but was prevented from taking off.

While there is no doubt that President Zelaya was, and is, an important symbol for the Frente, it is key to understand that he does not represent the Frente, and the Frente does not consist of his “followers” or ”supporters.”  The international press, and the press controlled by the coup supporting regime in Honduras, consistently refers to the massive movement as Zelaya supporters.  This has the effect of invisiblizing the existence of the Frente as a clear, organized and representative political entity, distinct from Zelaya.

In the same way, as the same media outlets consistently and intentionally distort and reduce the massive movement for the new constitution to be an attempt by Zelaya to extend his stay in power, the proposal for a new constitution is invisibilized, disappeared.

This massive political mobilization threatens the consolidation of the coup.  While outside of Honduras, the Frente is ignored, an intentional political action to neutralize their impact, inside of Honduras they cannot be ignored, for they are the majority of Hondurans. So the Honduran state has resorted to invoking fear –state terrorism- in the population as a mechanism of social control and to literally kill the proposal for a new constitution.

They Are Afraid of Us Because We Are Not Afraid

A refrain of the Honduran resistance has been “They are afraid of us because we are not afraid.”   Invoking fear in the population is a longstanding tool for squashing movements for political change. The massive social violence produced by organized crime activity in the region is the organic outgrowth of the death squad networks of the 1970s and 1980s, and has served many purposes including maintaining a high level of immobilizing fear in the population.  It is also easy to redirect that violence against political organizers when necessary.

A fundamental precept of non violent social change movements is that by refusing to submit the injustices of illegitimate structures that maintain power through violence, those powers are forced to either escalate violence to maintain control, and thus demonstrate their illegitimacy, or cave into the will of the majority. For this reason the security of the Frente directly corresponds to the degree to which the Honduran government can engage in repression and still retain a degree of legitimacy.

Hondurans have been very savvy and capable in avoiding an armed or violent response to the coup and the provocations of the anti-democratic forces.  They know that an armed resistance movement would provide justification for even greater repression and even more pervasive de-legitimization of their political demands.

The response to their non violent stance has been attempts to invent a violent movement in Honduras.  While the Honduran press invokes language of ‘terrorism’ and guerrilla movements, lobbyists in Washington argue that the demand for a new constitution is a Cuban-Venezuelan ploy and that Venezuela is building up ties with the Hezbollah.

Government of National “Reconciliation”

When Pepe Lobo was sworn in as President, he immediately advanced in two fronts, consolidating and strengthening the repressive military, police and paramilitary forces while creating the appearance of a “national reconciliation” process. The Government of “National Reconciliation” provides the legitimacy or political cover needed for the acts of repression with which they hope to extinguish the Frente.

The cabinet level positions related to the justice system and policing were given to hard liners with a history of human rights abuses, such as Minister of Government Oscar Alvarez, who held the same position under the president that preceded Zelaya, Ricardo Maduro.  The cabinet positions on economic policy were given to the private sector supporters of the coup, whose grip on Honduran resources the Frente hopes to break through the creation of a new constitution. Three of the cabinet positions for social programs were given to figures associated with the “left,” though two of those have for many years been distanced from the social movement and one, Cesar Ham of the UD political party, has been completely ostracized by the Frente for accepting the political appointment.

The creation of the image of a ‘government of national reconciliation’ when in reality there is no real dialog or reconciliation with the vast majority of Hondurans who are the active base of the Frente, while backing hard line violent repression, is the strategy for consolidating the coup and “disappearing” the Frente.

Rejecting a Truth Commission!

The Truth Commission (TC) proposed in the failed San Jose-Tegucigalpa Accords is part of the “national reconciliation” process, and it has been rejected by both the Frente and the Human Rights Platform, a coordinating body comprised of all six of the principal human rights organizations in Honduras.

It is not easy to say “No” to something called a truth commission; it looks like the dissenting party may have something to hide. But, in the case of Honduras, what is being proposed cannot legitimately be called a truth commission.

Over the past couple decades a series of truth commissions have taken place around the world, and some general characteristics have emerged that define truth commissions. Generally truth commissions are established to investigate past acts of violence or repression, post-conflict after the worst violence has ended. Truth commissions examine a series of events and violations, not a single event.  They normally work with, or at the request of, victims of violations. The proposal in Honduras fits none of these characteristics; it is not a truth commission.

Those who constructed the truth commission in Honduras, principally the US State Department and the Pepe Lobo government, never sought the opinion of the principal victims of rights violations that have occurred – the general population and, specifically, people who are members of the peaceful, pro-democracy Frente. The truth commission in Honduras is being convoked in the middle of an ongoing conflict, in the midst of grave human rights violations. At best, the Commission appears to be a platform for one sided political negotiation.  At worst it is a vehicle to hijack a constitutional reform process that once again does not have the participation of population of Hondurans.

Observers have analyzed, based on statements by the Lobo government and the US State Department, that constitutional reforms may be among the recommendations of the “Truth Commission.”

Washington Chapter of the “Reconciliation” Government

Truth commissions are almost irresistible to the international human rights community, and the severe nature of the human rights abuses occurring provide a strong motivation to look for a quick solution to the ‘crisis.’ Unfortunately quick solutions will not help, they will not stop the violence, instead they will help consolidate the impunity that generates some of the highest levels of social violence in the world.

In the US, on Capitol Hill, the Frente has been invisibilized. Meanwhile, WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America) – a think tank created in the 1980s to support human rights organizations in Latin America, and a group thought to be the voice in Washington of the human rights community – gave testimony in a House of Representatives hearing on Honduras of the International Relations Sub Committee on the Western Hemispheres, in which they requested that the US back the Honduran truth commission. WOLA also voiced support for police and military aid.  They did not once mention the existence of the Frente. The opinions they have voiced to Congress are in line with other actions WOLA has been taking since the coup.

The next project appears to be a meeting WOLA is convoking in Washington between Honduran “civil society,” the Honduran government, international human rights organizations and embassies in Washington; it is scheduled to take place April 14. What appears to be the Washington chapter of the “Government of National Reconciliation” – in reality the disappearance of the truth – is sad and damaging; it helps to legitimize a government engaged in massive human rights violations.

The Frente in Honduras is massive and united.  Whatever NGO shows up to the WOLA convoked meeting will undoubtedly be a small group representing nothing more then the international funders that support it.  What the event might succeed in doing is creating the false image in the “international community” or “human rights world” that a neutral middle ground exists.  The only agenda this serves is putting the Frente at greater risk.

A Moment of Truth and Justice

Honduras will have its moment of truth with justice, but right now is not the time for a truth commission, a truth commission is not the proper mechanism to mediate a complex conflict or to diffuse a political struggle; the role of a truth commission is to evaluate the conflict in retrospect.

Better international observation of human rights abuses is called for.  Building mechanisms to confront impunity, rather then cementing into place the mechanisms that enforce it, is necessary, and is something the international community can contribute to only in coordination with the victims of violations.

Political interventions that invisibilize the victims of human rights and their political position does them no service, and will not stop the abuses, they will compound them.

Annie Bird is co-director of Rights Action, a US and Canada based not-for-profit organization that supports community development and environmental and human rights defense work in Honduras (as well as Guatemala, and elsewhere).

For more information: annie@rightsaction.org This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , 1-202-680-3002

History Repeats: Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared of Honduras February 12, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Written by James Rodriguez   
Thursday, 11 February 2010 16:28
Source: MiMundo.org 

Photos by James Rodriguez

“The so-called 80’s were characterized by a wave of violence in several countries in Latin America. Our country, Honduras, was not an exception. Even though the phenomenon of ‘disappearances’ occurred mostly during the military dictatorships, many people also vanished during democratically elected governments.” (1)

“A forced disappearance can be defined as: The illegal detention of a person by a State security agent or a force acquiesced by it, without the appropriate legal procedure, and in which the act is denied without any further information regarding the location or wellbeing of the detainee.” (2)

“An important characteristic of forced disappearances is that ultimately the victim is executed and the body hidden for good, hence disappeared. In all cases, the main objective is to avoid that the remains be found. Or, if the body is found, to make sure the victim cannot be identified due to grave disfigurement. This important aspect differentiates forced disappearances from another tragic human rights violation: the extrajudicial execution.” (3)

“The victims are not only those disappeared, but also the parents, spouses, offspring, or any other close friend or relative. These secondary victims are placed in a situation of uncertainty and anguish that can last for many years. Due to these reasons, forced disappearances tear open deep wounds within the social fabric of a nation-wide community which ultimately affect political, social and professional circles, and thus weaken the fundamental institutions of a country.” (4)

“By 1982, sixty-nine families were victims of forced disappearances. On November 30th of that same year, twelve families came together to form the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH). The organization’s primary objective was to recover alive, if possible, their family members disappeared by State forces. As sometimes the victims were held in clandestine jails for weeks or months before being irreversibly disappeared, COFADEH’s main objective was accomplished in a few cases. But most of the victims’ remains were never recovered. Between 1980 and 1989, one hundred and eighty-four people were disappeared by the State of Honduras without any due course of legal action followed by the authorities against those responsible.” (5)

“Halfway through the 90’s, COFADEH proceeded with attempts to exhume bodies found in clandestine cemeteries, where some of the disappeared were brutally dumped… Beginning in 1998, a new series of objectives are included in the organization’s formal mission: To defend collective rights, the right to a healthy environment, and liberty of expression. In addition, COFADEH has contributed to demilitarize Honduras, build democratic processes, and act as a human rights watchdog over State security forces.

The importance and quantity of COFADEH’s work increased dramatically after the military coup d’état removed democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya on June 28th, 2009. During the following seven months of de facto governance by Roberto Micheletti, the COFADEH’s offices served as a central headquarters for documentation and analysis of the human rights situation. Human rights violations carried out by the illegal regime continue to be compiled and recorded here on a daily basis, and numerous foreign delegations and alternative media members head here first for last minute information. Just between June 28th and October 10th, 2009, COFADEH has documented 4,234 human rights violations. (7)

For more information on the coup d’état carried out on June 2009, please view these previous photo essays:
Mel, Our Friend, the People are with You!
Tragedy at Toncontin: Army Shoots and Kills Protesters

Shortly before Micheletti’s de facto regime carried out a dubious national election on November 2009, Bertha Oliva de Nativí, director of COFADEH, declared: “I believe we are experiencing a dictatorship without precedents, even worse than in the 80’s. Back then, while we lived under the military boot, paramilitary groups and death squads would assassinate and disappear people in a clandestine manner, so that it was difficult to point them out as the criminals. Today, they do it in broad daylight, openly challenging all national and international structures of human rights and governance.” (8)

Tomás Nativí, founder of the People’s Revolutionary Union (URP), was abducted from his home, in Tegucigalpa, before dawn on June 11th, 1981. His wife, Bertha Oliva, three months pregnant at the time, witnessed the illegal abduction and recognized one of the assailants as Alexander Hernández, leader of Intelligence Battalion 3-16. Mr. Nativí was forcibly detained-disappeared by State forces and 30 years later, his corpse has still not been found. (9)

During the 80’s, General Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez was primarily responsible for the organization of the death squads in Honduras. First as Chief of the Public Security Forces (FUSEP) and eventually as Chief Commander of the Honduran Armed Forces, Álvarez Martínez established “an elite counterinsurgency force [in Battalion 3-16] that became the spearhead of the dirty war in Honduras.” The whole setup emulated the Argentinean counterinsurgency structure and was assessed by military personnel from Argentina, the U.S. and former Nicaraguan Elite Guard members (pro-Somoza dictatorship). (10)

“The information acquired from witnesses, surviving victims, family, and press regarding the forced disappearances, clearly indicates that special units such as the National Direction of Investigation (DNI) and Intelligence Battalion 3-16 were [directly] responsible for the atrocities… This latter unit specialized in vigilance and the production of intelligence regarding specific Honduran citizens who were suspected of subversive acts by the Armed Forces.“ (11)

As in other countries, powerful elites in collaboration with the armed forces nurtured the dirty war in Honduras economically and ideologically. These national elites – who have historically controlled the government in order to protect its economic interests—literally felt threatened by the 1979 triumph of the Sandinista Revolution in neighboring Nicaragua. This powerful oligarchy allied with foreign corporate and political interest groups, helped finance the dirty war through an entity named the Association for the Progress of Honduras (APROH).

“The APROH was the sole creation of two men: Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez and [U.S. ambassador to Honduras] John Dimitri Negroponte [in 1982]. Its origins go back to secret meetings held by Álvarez with elite businessmen, bankers, industrialists, commerce moguls, public administrators and [right-wing] intellectuals.” (12) The APROH gained legal status through a presidential resolution issued by then-President Roberto Suazo Córdoba and its board members were: “President: Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez; Vice-president: Miguel Facussé; Secretary: Oswaldo Ramos Soto; Treasurer: Bernand Casanova; Finances and Membership: Rafael Ferrari… [in addition to] Paul Vinelli, Leonardo Callejas Romero, Osmond Maduro, Benjamín Villanueva, Abraham Bennaton, Edgardo Sevilla and Emín Barjún.” (13)

Leticia Salomón, researcher from the National Autonomous University of Honduras, states: “The coup [against Mel Zelaya on June 2009] was planned by a loose association of businessmen lead by Carlos Roberto Flores Facussé, former President of Honduras (1988-2002). Flores Facussé’s ‘La Tribuna’ newspaper, in cahoots with two other major newspapers ‘La Prensa’ & ‘El Heraldo’, and TV channels 2, 3, 5 and 9, were the main pillar behind the coup… This group of businessmen, who control 90% of the country’s wealth, also includes Jaime Rosenthal and Gilberto Goldstein (directors of the Continental Group, a conglomerate that monopolizes the Honduran banking system, agro industry, and owns mass media outlets like ‘El Tiempo’ and channel 11), José Rafael Ferrari, Juan Canahuati, financier Camilo Atala, lumber mogul José Lamas, energy industrialist Fredy Násser, Jacobo Kattán, sugar baron Guillermo Lippman, construction tycoon Rafael Flores, and real estate and African palm magnate Miguel Facussé”. (14)

The similarities between the APROH from the early 80’s and the elite businessmen association identified by Leticia Salomón are remarkable. Aside from the fact that some men are found on both lists (Ferrari, Facussé), the two groups represent and defend the same economic interests. And, just as in the 80’s, these economic elites are once again fueling repression via death squads run by the criminals of yesteryear. During an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, ousted president Zelaya confirmed that Billy Joya Améndola, former member of Battalion 3-16 who has been accused of numerous human rights violations during the 80’s, served as advisor for Micheletti and has lead terror and torture campaigns for the de facto regime.

Recently-inaugurated president Pepe Lobo has wasted no time in revealing his firm associations with the coup plotters. “His first presidential act consisted of ratifying a political amnesty law proposed by the National Congress, intended to clear all crimes related to the political crisis stemming from Zelaya’s forceful removal from power.” (16) Such bold action awards full impunity to the hundreds of criminals who committed thousands of human rights violations against members of the civic resistance movement.” (16)

In addition, Lobo immediately set forth his strategy of containment against the ever-growing popular resistance catalyzed by last June’s events, by naming Oscar Álvarez as his Minister of Security. Having already served this post during the presidency of Ricardo Maduro (2002-2006), Álvarez has been highly criticized for his evasion of legal procedures, disregard for human rights, and hard-line approach, all reminiscent of his uncle, the aforementioned Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez. “Less than 24 hours after having been sworn in, Minister Álvarez carried out one of his infamous madrugones, or pre-dawn raids. These illegal forced-entry procedures, which often violate national laws, were rather common during his stint under Maduro. On this occasion, he sent a clear message to the Popular Resistance Movement.” (17)

Researcher Robinson Salazar Pérez analyzes: “The coup d’état in Honduras on June 28th, 2009, clearly marks a turning point in the future path of Latin American politics. Three issues in particular, have been clearly signaled and appear to be the target of right-wing hardliners: Avoid any economic alternative [i.e. ALBA] that may block the markets of multinational corporations, detain the progressive advance of the nationalist governments of Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and El Salvador, and sow the seeds of fear among Latin American leaders, by reminding them that extra-national interests are well above legitimate internal governance, even if this latter one is backed up by votes.” (18)

The powerful Hall of Living Memories, inside COFADEH’s headquarters, reminds us that certain chapters in history must not repeat themselves. Nevertheless, in Honduras, the oppressors of the past, using proven methods, once again apply their tyrannical despotism in 2010. A concerned Bertha Oliva concludes: “I am convinced that this is a project they want to emulate throughout Latin America. If they succeed in Honduras, they will also try to do so in other countries that have already been identified.” (19)

Version en español aquí.

Spanish-English Translation: MiMundo.org

1 Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. Los hechos hablan por sí mismos: Informe preliminar sobre los desaparecidos en Honduras 1980-1993. 2a. Edición. Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Editorial Guaymuras, 2002. P. 19
2 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. P. 20.
3 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. P. 21.
4 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. P. 19.
5 http://www.cofadeh.org/html/historia/index.htm
6 Ibid.
7 Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH). Violaciones a Derechos Humanos en el marco del Golpe de Estado en Honduras: Cifras y Rostros de la Represión. Segundo Informe. Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 22 de octubre de 2009. Full report can be downloaded here (in Spanish only):
http://www.defensoresenlinea.com/cms/documentos/segundo_informe_situacional_cofadeh.pdf
8 Trucchi, Giorgio. “Esta dictadura es peor que la de los 80”. Rel-UITA, 29 de Noviembre, 2009.
(http://www.honduraslaboral.org/leer.php/4659112).
9 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. Pp. 267-8.
10 Becerra, Longino. Cuando las tarántulas atacan. 11a edición. Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 2008. Pp. 390-1.
11 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. P. 258
12 Op. Cit. Becerra. P. 404.
13 Ibid. P. 285.
14 http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=89427
15 http://www.democracynow.org/2009/7/30/exclusive_ousted_honduran_president_manuel_zelaya
16 http://www.radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias/69434
17 “Oscar Alvarez inicia gestión con prepotencia y soberbia amenazando a la Resistencia”. El Libertador. 28 de enero, 2010. http://ellibertador.hn/Nacional/3726.html
18 Salazar Pérez, Robinson. “Honduras factor estratégico que cambió el rumbo de América Latina”. America Latina en Movimiento. Golpe de Estado en Honduras: ¿Laboratorio de dictaduras siglo XXI?. Publicada por la Agencia Latinoamericana de Información (ALAI). Agosto 2009. P. 9. (http://alainet.org/publica/447.phtml)
19 Op. Cit. Trucchi.

Honduran amnesty and truth February 8, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Latin America.
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iday, February 05, 2010

http://lagringasblogicito.blogspot.com/

The Honduran National Congress approved the amnesty decree, as demanded by the United States of America, on the morning of Pepe Lobo’s inauguration. The decree covers acts committed from January 1, 2008 until January 27, 2010.

A copy of the explanation of motives and final decree (in Spanish) was provided to me by a Honduran congressman. A Google translation of that document to English is here. It is far from a perfect translation but should give you an idea of the background and the decree.

Specifically excluded from amnesty are all actions which constitute crimes related to corruption, misappropriation of public funds, illegal enrichment and other crimes against humanity (which relates to the alleged human rights violations).

Though news reports implied that all acts of treason, sedition, abuse of authority, violation of duties, usurpation of functions were granted amnesty, the decree specifies only certain paragraphs under each of these categories of the penal code. A copy of the Honduran penal code can be found here (in Spanish).

Related article: El Heraldo: Amnistía es por 40 años

Terrorism is forgiven

Incredibly, ‘terrorism’ is among the acts that will be forgiven. Specifically, these acts defined in the penal code are covered (my rough translation):

“335.6 Those who integrate armed groups who invade or assault the population, farms, roads, hospitals, banks, commercial centers, work centers, churches, or other similar places, causing death, fires, or property damage, or exercise violence over persons…..”

“335.7 Those who provoke property damage using bombs, explosives, chemical substances, flammables, or similar.”

“335.8 Those who, through threats or violence or by simulating public authority or false orders of the same, ….. obligate another to submit, send, deposit, or put at his disposition property, money, or documents capable of producing judicial effects. Likewise, those who by these same means obligate another person to sign or destroy documents in his possession.”

Attorneys have opined that victims of terrorism could file civil suits against the government of Honduras for restitution. The government has already been stuck with the bill for millions for repairing several electrical towers which were sabotaged.

Can you understand my dismay (to put it mildly) that the USA − while it continues its own unforgiving war on terrorism − forced this amnesty business on Honduras? Expressing political differences is one thing; burning buses, cars, and restaurants, throwing bombs and grenades at radio stations and newspapers, and endangering lives and property of innocent people is something else.

The voting

The Nacionalista party (Lobo’s party) holds the majority of the congressional seats, 71 of 128. Though it was reported that the Nacionalistas voted in block, one congressman said that he and another Nacionalista voted against amnesty. There are no statistics, but many say that the majority of Nacionalista party members are against amnesty and feel betrayed by the congressional approval.

The Liberal party (Zelaya and Micheletti’s party) congressmen abstained from voting because the public wasn’t consulted and they felt that the facts should be known to the Truth Commission before granting amnesty, but El Tiempo reports that five Liberal congressmen were against amnesty and three were in favor.

Four PINU congressmen abstained as well, logically saying that the Truth Commission should be installed and the congress should know who was being pardoned and for what acts.

Two DC congressmen voted in favor. Four UD (formerly pro-Zelaya and pro-Resistance) voted against amnesty.

Corruptos need to go to jail

“Corruptos need to go to jail, period,” said Lobo during his inauguration speech, to wild cheering of the audience. What is the point of a Truth Commission if the verdict − amnesty − has already been given?

Hondurans hope that the Truth Commission will not be a farce and will not only explain the facts leading up to June 28, but will also expose the errors of the USA and OAS (Organization of American States) involvement. But, since it appears that the USA and OAS will be in charge of the Truth Commission (though they deny it) and will be working very hard to cover up their part in worsening the situation, there isn’t much chance of that happening.

The Unión Cívica Democrática (UCD), which represents a large portion of civil society, has strongly objected to the OAS taking any part in the Truth Commission on the grounds that they are not impartial. Here is UCD’s original open letter in Spanish. A translation to English is here.

Victor Rico was sent to Honduras by the OAS a couple of days ago. He gave a press conference yesterday to clarify that the OAS was only here to help. The tone of his press conference was a little defensive. It was clear that he had gotten an earful from someone.

Killing Activists in Honduras December 26, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Latin America.
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(Roger’s Note: In 1973 the CIA gave financial and operational support to ensure the success of the coup against the democratically elected Allende governmetn Chile.  What followed was the brutal Pinochet regime of torture, murder and “disappeared.”  All US supported.  Nixon was president at the time.  In the 1980s the Contras in Nicaragua, again with substantial US support, terrorized schools, health clinics and any other institution they could in order to destabilize the Sandinista government.  Ronald Reagan was president.  Nixon and Reagan, no surprise there.


Now it is 2009 and the President of the United States is a progressive Democrat, who won office based on a promise of real change.   Yet what we are seeing is deja vu in Honduras, as documented in the report posted below.  Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton [and the lapdog corporate media] have embraced the illegitimate and illegal Lobo government, and once again the US government is a sponsor of terrorism against the democratic aspiration of Latin Americans.)

Written by Joseph Shansky
Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Image

Walter Trochez

“As a revolutionary I will be today, tomorrow and forever on the front lines of my people, all the while knowing that I may lose my life.” – Walter Trochez, 25, murdered in Tegucigalpa on 12/13/09

The bodies of slain activists are piling up in Honduras. While it’s being kept quiet in most Honduran and international media, the rage is building among a dedicated network of friends spreading the word quickly with the tragic announcement of each compañero/a.

Now that the world heard from mainstream news outlets such as the New York Times of a “clean and fair” election on Nov. 29 (orchestrated by the US-supported junta currently in power), the violence has increased even faster than feared.

The specific targets of these killings have been those perceived as the biggest threats to the coup establishment. The bravest, and thus the most vulnerable: Members of the Popular Resistance against the coup. Their friends and family. People who provide the Resistance with food and shelter. Teachers, students, and ordinary citizens who simply recognize the fallacy of an un-elected regime taking over their country. All associated with the Resistance have faced constant and growing repercussions for their courage in protesting the coup. With the international community given the green light by the US that democratic order has returned via elections, it’s open season for violent forces in Honduras working to tear apart the political unity of the Resistance Front against the coup.

The killings are happening almost faster than they can be recorded.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, a group of six people were gunned down while walking down the street in the Villanueva neighborhood of Tegucigalpa. According to sources, a white van with no license plates stopped in front of the group. Four masked men jumped out of the van and forced the group to get on the ground, where they were shot. The five victims who were killed were:

· Marcos Vinicio Matute Acosta, 39

· Kennet Josué Ramírez Rosa, 23

· Gabriel Antonio Parrales Zelaya, 34

· Roger Andrés Reyes Aguilar, 22

· Isaac Enrique Soto Coello, 24

One woman, Wendy Molina, 32, was shot several times and played dead when one of the assassins pulled her hair, checking to see if anyone in the group was still alive. She was taken to the hospital and survived.

The Honduran independent newspaper El Libertador reports that the group members were all organizers against the coup. According to a resident in the area, “The boys had organized committees so that the neighbors could get involved in the Resistance Front.”

This massacre was part of a string of Resistance-related murders during the past few weeks alone. On December 3, Walter Trochez, 25 a well-known activist in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community was snatched off the street and thrown into a van, again by four masked men, in downtown Tegucigalpa. In the report that he later filed to local and national authorities, Walter said he was interrogated for hours for information on Resistance members and activities, and was beaten in the face with a pistol for refusing to speak. He was told that he would be killed regardless, and he eventually escaped by throwing open the van door, falling into the street, and running away.

It wasn’t the first time Walter had been subject to these kinds of threats. He was a much-loved organizer against the coup who had been documenting human rights violations, particularly in the gay community. Walter had just published two articles. One following the elections was titled “The Triumph of Abstentionism“, on the success of the effort by the Resistance to encourage citizens to refuse to vote. The other was called “Escalation of Hate and Homophobic Crimes against the LGBTT Community Rooted in the Civil-Religious-Military Coup d’état in Honduras”.

In both, he concludes: “As a revolutionary I will be today, tomorrow and forever on the front lines of my people, all the while knowing that I may lose my life”.

On Dec. 13, one week later, Walter was shot in the chest by a drive-by gunman while walking home. He died at the hospital.

On Dec. 5, Santos Garcia Corrales, an active member of the National Resistance Front, was detained by security forces in New Colony Capital, south of Tegucigalpa. He was then tortured for information on a local merchant who was providing food and supplies to the Resistance. After reporting the incident to local authorities, Santos’ body was found five days later on Dec 10, decapitated.

There have been others as well, notably a rise in murders in the LGBT community since the coup. In particular, several transvestites have been recently killed in similarly gruesome ways. Human rights advocates report that “up to 18 gay and transgender men have been killed nationwide — as many as the five prior years — in the nearly six months since a political crisis rocked the nation.”

The latest victim, Carlos Turcios, was kidnapped outside his home in Choloma Cortes, at three in the afternoon of Wednesday Dec. 16. He was found dead the next day, with his hands and head cut off. Carlos had been vice-president of the Choloma chapter of the Resistance Front, a town located a few hours outside of the capital. Andres Pavón, president of CODEH (Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras), commented: “We believe this horrendous crime joins others where the bodies show signs of brutal torture…This aggression is directed to the construction of collective fear.”

It is a sinister effort to shake up a community that is now in fact stronger than ever. As Walter Trochez noted (and CNN confirmed), most of the country refused to go to the polls that day. Many of the world’s governments, including most of Latin America, refused to recognize the results.

In this climate of fierce repression, citizens can no longer depend on authorities for the most basic protective rights, and those fearful for their lives cannot report to the police. Complaints they file, such as those of Santos and Walter, could soon become signatures to their own death letters. Many believe with good reason that the killings are state-sponsored. At the very least, they are the result of new conditions which allow for the widespread deterioration of state protection.

Pavón and other human rights leaders in Honduras have been extremely vocal in denouncing these atrocities, but the story has remained under the radar for most Hondurans and almost all international media. At the time when Hondurans most need exposure to these abuses, they’ve been left to fend for themselves.

How did this happen? Why are people being randomly executed in dark corners of the country for simply standing in opposition to a military coup?

Most of the bloodshed is on the hands of coup president Roberto Micheletti and other leaders of the regime. However, President Barack Obama and the US State Department played a major role in allowing conditions to get to this point. The US government took no concrete action against the thousands of documented violations since the coup took place June 28. It’s no shock that the violence has worsened dramatically with the eyes of the world now averted.

In a recent interview, Francisco Rios of the National Front Against the Coup reiterated Frente communiqués which stated that the Resistance, though now lying low, is preparing a massive organization effort for next year and beyond. Rios reported that they have stopped meeting publicly as a safety measure for now, but will soon begin dividing into chapters around the country with plans to emerge as a new, strengthened political force. Walter, Santos, Carlos, and all of the Resistance fighters who gave their lives have inspired others in the movement to continue the struggle for justice in Honduras.

Joseph Shansky was reporting from Honduras during the recent military coup, and can be reached at fallow3@gmail.com.

Honduran Coup Regime Erects Superficial Reality Around Elections December 11, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Written by Belén Fernández   
Thursday, 10 December 2009www.upsidedownworld.org

 

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Porfirio Lobo

A few days prior to the November 29 elections in Honduras, Francisco Varela—the homeless man regularly stationed outside the drive-through of one of the ubiquitous Espresso Americano establishments in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa—acquired a campaign T-shirt for National Party presidential candidate and soon-to-be victor Porfirio (Pepe) Lobo. The shirt boasted a slogan associating Lobo with immediate change; prospects for such things in Honduras were however called into doubt by the fact that the recent attempt by Honduran President Manuel (Mel) Zelaya to hold a nonbinding public opinion survey in order to gauge popular desire to rewrite the Constitution had been met with a coup d’état.

 

 Presumably in order to avoid having to discuss why popular consultations could not be reconciled with the interests of the Honduran elite, the golpista regime transformed the survey issue into a bid by Zelaya to install himself as eternal president of Honduras in violation of Constitutional articles prohibiting leaders from serving more than one 4-year term. These articles had appeared less important in 1985 when current coup president Roberto Micheletti, then a member of Congress, attempted to prolong the presidency of Roberto Suazo Córdova; other neglected articles included Article 102 prohibiting the expatriation of any Honduran—which did not prevent the armed forces from depositing the elected Honduran president in Costa Rica on the morning of June 28—and Article 2 establishing the Honduran people as the true rulers of Honduras, an honor which still did not enable public opinion surveys.

Additional holes in golpista rhetoric consisted of Zelaya’s ineligibility to run in the November 29 elections whether or not the public opinion survey had been carried out and my failure over the past 4 months to encounter a single member of the Honduran anti-coup Resistance who has been more concerned with the fate of Zelaya than with the fate of the constituyente (National Constituent Assembly to rewrite the Constitution).

Outside the Espresso Americano drive-through, Varela insisted that Lobo would bring about change by eliminating gang culture in Honduras—either via the death penalty or by imprisoning gang members for a sufficient number of decades so that they were unable to reproduce, he said—but did not explain how such agendas were more beneficial to his person than, for example, the acquisition of shoes. Subsequent evidence of efforts by political elites to graft their own concerns onto the citizenry surfaced at the December 2 session of Congress, convened to reject the restitution of Zelaya, during which a prohibition of the terms “the Honduran people,” “the poor,” “democracy,” “god,” and “Hugo Chávez” would have reduced golpista discourse to a bare minimum.

Professed Congressional concern for a “reconciliation of the Honduran family” did not meanwhile appear to take into account potential obstacles to familial reconciliation processes based on elections in which the majority of the family had abstained from voting. As for repeated proclamations by pro-coup Congress members that “this country does not belong to Chávez,” this was seconded by anti-coup Congressman César Ham of the Democratic Unification party, who wagered that 10 percent of the Honduran population controlled 90 percent of the wealth.

The alleged expansionism of Venezuelan socialism was invoked by Lobo supporter Oscar Izaguirre on election morning in Colonia Estados Unidos, a district by the name of The United States on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, which was characterized by mangled dirt roads and limited infrastructure. Izaguirre went beyond typical golpista warnings of the dangers posed by the Chávez-backed Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America (ALBA)—an initiative guaranteeing more affordable fuel and medicines, among other items, for Honduran citizens—and reminded me of the necessity of intervention in Vietnam by his colonia’s namesake. The decreased necessity of the US in present times was, however, implied by Honduran Army Commander Miguel Angel García’s announcement in August that the Honduran armed forces had prevented the arrival of socialism to “the heart of the United States,” and Izaguirre’s announcement that he wished to rename his colonia as punishment for current “US intervention in Honduran affairs”—the golpista codename for the post-coup US policy of nominally admonishing the Honduran coup regime while nonetheless permitting its consolidation of power.

Izaguirre’s abrupt transition from his analysis of Vietnam to an analysis of the “war between the Tutsis and the other negros” was not accompanied by an analysis of the transition itself, and it was not clear whether he was proposing that Chávez intended to ignite a civil war in Honduras or that the name of the colonia be changed to “Rwanda” in order to discourage US interference. Also not clear was why prominent golpistas had not classified US use of Honduras as a launch pad for the contra war against Nicaragua in the 1980s as “intervention”; Izaguirre meanwhile progressed to an analysis of internal Honduran meddling, and declared that the Liberal Party—traditional rival of the National Party—”has screwed us and wants to continue screwing us,” despite the fact that the two parties were largely indistinguishable in substance.

According to a handful of Nacionalistas that gathered outside the school where voting was taking place, the Liberales employed at the polling station were deliberately altering the voting table numbers assigned to opposing party members. An election observer belonging to the Liberal Party assured me that “this sort of thing happens in all countries of the world” and asked if I worked for The Miami Herald, although he failed to specify whether this was an example of other places in the world where manipulation of data regularly occurred.

As for complications in the transmission of electoral results that evening, the Honduran Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced a technical failure somewhere in the midst of the 20,000 cellular phones that had been purchased for nearly half a million dollars such that electoral tables across Honduras could phone their results in to the TSE’s main computing center. How the TSE had determined that oral reporting of election results was pragmatic in a country in which the phrase “cell phone reception” bordered on oxymoronic was never established, nor was how the TSE had calculated a voter participation rate of over 60 percent despite the technical failure and despite calculations of 30-35 percent participation by organizations that had not reported such failure.

US Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens had appeared in a November 29 La Tribuna article suggesting that Hondurans who did not want to vote should be respected anyway and that, although the present elections were characterized by “a lot of legitimacy,” the US would wait to issue a final judgment on whether or not they would be recognized. The wait did not prevent US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela from congratulating Lobo on his victory; Llorens was meanwhile categorized on Honduran Radio America as the “sometimes controversial” figure who had nonetheless been the recipient of applause at the Tegucigalpa voting center where he had accompanied a member of his security team to vote.

Other examples of inverse security relationships consisted of the fact that the Honduran military and police had been tasked with keeping the peace on election day, which they did by repressing a peaceful Resistance march in the northern city of San Pedro Sula. Violence was however averted in the city of El Progreso, home of coup president Roberto Micheletti, despite a November 25 article in La Prensa containing a subsection entitled “They want to kill him,” in which Micheletti claimed that the police had revealed a plot to assassinate him when he went to vote. Proof of the plot consisted of the reported discovery in El Progreso of an arsenal of items such as assault rifle bullets; according to La Prensa, “Micheletti also spoke of night-vision equipment,” the utility of which was questionable based on the fact that voting only took place in daylight hours.

The coup president’s worries thus appeared to have multiplied since August—when he had assured La Prensa that no coup-related regrets were keeping him up at night—and now in addition to being the potential target of night-vision goggles he had also recently been to the mall to view the film 2012, which he admitted to the golpista television program Frente a Frente had scared him. Micheletti expressed his hopes that reality did not follow the movie script, failing to recognize that an apocalyptic scenario would resolve once and for all the problem of presidents allegedly wishing to remain in power indefinitely; he meanwhile demonstrated his own lack of such aspirations by taking a vacation from the presidency for a week around election time—which did not alter the fact that he had decreed in September that only an invasion by the US might succeed in removing him from power.

Micheletti had thus far refrained from proposing a name change for Colonia Estados Unidos or Colonia Kennedy, a main district of the capital which I visited on the afternoon of election day. Seated on a bench across the way from the voting center at the John F. Kennedy School was a small group of middle-aged Resistance members, who had begun to chant “Dignity, dignity” after being challenged by onlookers disapproving of their comments to an Univisión television camera regarding the illegitimacy of elections. The exchange resulted in two pickup trucks full of police being called in to monitor the Resistance members, who resumed sitting on the bench.

The Honduran coup regime, which has focused on presenting elections as a panacea for political, social, and economic injustice in the country, has been aided in its construction of a superficial reality by a number of factors. These range from the onset of the Christmas season to US willingness to support a “Honduran solution to the Honduran problem”—which happens to coincide with US interests in the region—to Honduran media obsequiousness, not least observable in tunes lauding the Honduran electoral process played on national radio and accompanied by such thoughtful commentary by radio personalities as: “What a nice song.”

The untenable nature of such a reality was recently summed up by Resistance member Jeremías López, a primary school teacher in the Honduran department of Olancho, who credited the coup with having provided the impetus for an unprecedented level of spontaneous and large-scale social organization in the country. The fact that slogans like “NO TO ELECTIONS” still abounded on the façades of voting centers on election day suggests that a regime that is not capable of erasing graffiti will be even less adept at erasing a collective experience of resistance.

Belen Fernandez has been reporting from Honduras since July. Her book Coffee with Hezbollah, a political travelogue based on a hitchhiking trip through Lebanon conducted in the aftermath of the 2006 war, is due for publication shortly. She can be reached at belengarciabernal@gmail.com.

Image
Porfirio Lobo

A few days prior to the November 29 elections in Honduras, Francisco Varela—the homeless man regularly stationed outside the drive-through of one of the ubiquitous Espresso Americano establishments in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa—acquired a campaign T-shirt for National Party presidential candidate and soon-to-be victor Porfirio (Pepe) Lobo. The shirt boasted a slogan associating Lobo with immediate change; prospects for such things in Honduras were however called into doubt by the fact that the recent attempt by Honduran President Manuel (Mel) Zelaya to hold a nonbinding public opinion survey in order to gauge popular desire to rewrite the Constitution had been met with a coup d’état.

Honduras: The Truth November 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Elections in Honduras
Whitewashing the Path to a Past of Horrors
After being asked by Honduran human rights leader Bertha Oliva, SOA Watch’s Latin America Coordinator Lisa Sullivan returned to Honduras to accompany the social movements who just entered the 5th month of resisting the SOA graduate-led militray coup.

Lisa and some 20 U.S. Citizens have traveled throughout Honduras over the past 4 days to cities and communities such as Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, Tocoa, Santa Rosa de Copán, Choluteca, Comayagua, Siguatepeque y Puerto Grande. In addition, they have visited police stations, hospitals and jails, and held a protest and a press conference in front of the U.S. embassy to denounce the U.S. support for the illegitimate elections.

In each of the communities they visited, the delegation observed the systematic abuse of human rights as evidenced by raids, detentions, threats, physical abuse, intimidation and persecution on the part of state security agents. These actions have been mostly directed against citizens identified with the Resistance movement.

 

Elections in Honduras: Whitewashing the Path to a Past of Horrors

by Lisa Sullivan

I came to Honduras to participate as a human rights observer of the electoral climate in a delegation organized by the Quixote Center. Several delegations converged, connecting some 30 U.S. citizens with dozens more from Canada, Europe and Latin America. In the days prior to the elections we scattered to different cities, towns and villages, meeting with fishermen, farmers, maquila workers, labor leaders, teachers and lawyers, as well as those who were jailed for carrying spray paint, hospitalized for being shot in the head by the military, and detained for reporting on the repression. It was, most likely, a bit off the 5-star, air-conditioned path of most of the mainstream journalists who are filling your morning papers with the wonders of today´s elections.

But by the evening of the day of the elections, what we had witnessed in previous days pushed those of us from the U.S. directly to the doors of our embassy in Tegucigalpa. We realized that this place, not the polling stations, was where this horrific destiny of Honduras, and perhaps all of Latin America, was being determined. And so the U.S. citizens among us took our statements and signs and determination there.

We were, indeed, greeted by many: dozens of guards with cameras, some 30 journalists, Honduran police with guns and also cameras, as well as a low flying helicopter that at least made us feel important. While the journalists let us read our entire statement of why these elections should be not be recognized by our government because of the egregious repression, the embassy guards wouldn´t even let us leave our slip of paper. That, in spite of the fact that the embassy´s human rights officer, Nate Macklin, told our delegation leader to make sure to let him know if there were any human rights abuses.

Any? In each of the many corners of the country visited by the 70-plus international observers, we witnessed the fear, repression, intimidation, bribery and outright brutality of the government security forces (note: we were there to observe the electoral climate, not electoral observers, since we consider the elections to be illegal. Likewise, the UN, OAS, and Carter Center and other bedrock electoral groups boycotted “the event” as many Hondurans called the day.)

As elections were in full swing in the morning, our delegate and nurse practitioner, Silvia Metzler visited Angel Salgado and Maria Elena Hernandez who were languishing in the intensive care unit of the Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa . Both had been shot in the head at one of the many military checkpoints, no questions asked. Doctors give Angel a zero possibility of survival and he leaves behind a 6 year old son. Maria Elena has a better chance of recovery, but it will be a long road. She was selling snacks on the side of the road to support her teenage children when caught by military bullet.

Tom Loudon was on the streets of San Pedro Sula when police tanks and water trucks and tear gas canisters attacked a peaceful march of the resistance movement. It took him a long time to find other members of his delegation who had scattered in the frenzy, but they were luckier than two observers from the Latin America Council of Churches who were detained or a Reuters photographer who was injured in the massive display of repression. Dozens of cells phones captured the police beating anyone they could catch with their billy clubs.

The first person I thought of as I awoke on election day was Wlmer Rivero, a fisherman in a small town with the big name of Puerto Grande. I kept thinking of the fear in his eyes as he relayed how the police have been visiting his house and asking for him, ever since he trekked 6 days on foot to greet a returning President Zelaya. Each local mayor has been asked to put together a list of resistance leaders, and his name was one of 22 from his town. We suggested to Wilmer that he not sleep at home during the electoral days. He called the next day to thank us for our advise. The police had ransacked his home, and that of many of his neighbors, the night before elections, threatening his life. But, he wondered, what will he do now.

I also thought of Merly Eguigure who I had visited 2 days earlier in a cold and crumbling jail cell, reeking of human waste. She had been captured for having a can of spray paint in her car. Though she was released shortly before elections, she will face trial and probably prison for defacing government property. Merly claims that the spray paint was to be used in an activity to raise awareness of violence towards women. Perhaps authorities worried that the paint was destined to add a new message to the city walls. Every square inch of blank wall space in the city is covered with powerful graffiti against the coup. In spite of government to whitewash over it, the blank spaces are filled in again within hours.

So, now I wonder what the Honduran people will do to overcome the massive whitewash that just took place in their country. Not of walls, but of coups. The military coup led by SOA graduates Generals Vasquez Velasquez and Prince Suazo first had a quick bath of whitewash by placing a “civilian¨” leader as the figurative head of government: President of Congress and business mogul Roberto Micheletti. The whitewash used at the moment was mixed ahead of time, and quite abundant. It was the excuse that Zelaya was preparing a vote to call for his re-election and had to be removed quickly. (Never mind that the consultative vote actually had nothing to do with a re-election. It was a consultative vote to ask Honduras whether they wanted to vote on convening a Constitutional Assembly). I call this first whitewash the “transformation from military coup to civilian coup”.

And now, the second bath of whitewash was even more challenging, especially since the first whitewash proved to be kind of thin and exposed the words from below. Thus, it didn´t really convince many. As a matter of fact, it didn´t convince anyone except the United States government (or woops, maybe they actually helped to stir the first batch), Now, the challenge of November 29th whitewash was to transform the civilian coup into a shining electoral display of freedom, fairness and grand participation so that all the world would say, “wow, that Honduran coup is gone. Now Honduras has a real and wonderful democracy, End of story”.

Except that it´s probably the beginning of a story. One that we thought had been left to rest in Latin America years and years ago. One of fear and repression and deaths and disappearances. We know the litany all too well, and we remember the names of its thousands of victims each November. This year we had to add too many new names from Honduras. And, if our government chooses to recognize these elections, this massive whitewash, I fear that many more names will be read from the stage in front of Ft. Benning next year. And perhaps not just from Honduras.

So, when I said that I wonder what Hondurans will do in the face of this whitewash what I really wonder is what I will do, what we will do U.S. citizens. Because, this whitewash will only have the formula to whiten and brighten this military dictatorship if our government chooses to accept the results, as they have indicated that they will likely do.

Today the headlines in most of the U.S. media reiterate the official Honduran statistics that 60% of Hondurans went to the polls yesterday. Our delegates visited dozens of polling stations, finding them almost empty, in most places counting more electoral monitors and caretakers than voters. The resistance movement puts abstention at 65-70%. Which statistic do we prefer to believe?

I have lived in Latin America since 1977. I was called to stay in this land when I saw how young and idealistic youth such as myself at the time, were being taken from their homes, never returned. Somehow, I felt called to continue the steps they would never take. And so I stayed 32 years. I have witnessed hope rising from the South in the past 10 years, in ways I never dreamed. I have seen efforts of building dignity and sovereignty rise high, inspire millions, and make a difference.

And so, maybe this explains the anger that rose from within me yesterday, in front of the embassy. That anger surprised even me. I am ashamed of our government. Ashamed that we are in great part to blame for pushing this country back 30 years into dark and deadly times. And I worry that Honduras is just the beginning.

Bogus Honduran Elections Today: Hypocrites Washington, Costa Rica, Panama, Perú, Colombia & Israel the only nations to recognize the illegal elections November 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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By Eva Golinger
The Chavez Code
Sunday, Nov 29, 2009

 

“What are we going to do, sit for four years and just condemn the coup?” a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told reporters in Washington.

The true divides in Latin America – between justice and injustice, democracy and dictatorship, human rights and corporate rights, people’s power and imperial domination – have never been more visible than today. People’s movements throughout the region to revolutionize corrupt, unequal systems that have isolated and excluded the vast majority in Latin American nations, are successfully taking power democratically and building new models of economic and social justice.

Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador are the vanguard of these movements, with other nations such as Uruguay and Argentina moving at a slower pace towards change. The region has historically been plagued by brutal US intervention, seeking at all costs to dominate the natural and strategic resources contained in this vast, abundant territory. With the exception of the defiant Cuban Revolution, Washington achieved control over puppet regimes placed throughout Latin America by the end of the twentieth century. When Hugo Chávez won the presidency in 1998 and the Bolivarian Revolution began to root, the balance of power and imperial control over the region started to weaken. Eight years of Bush/Cheney brought coup d’etats back to the region, in Venezuela in 2002 against President Chávez and Haiti in 2004 against President Aristide. The former was defeated by a mass popular uprising, the latter succeeded in ousting a president no longer convenient to Washington’s interests.

Despite the Bush administration’s efforts to neutralize the spread of revolution in Latin America through coups, economic sabotages, media warfare, psychological operations, electoral interventions and an increasing military presence, nations right across the border such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala elected leftist-leaning presidents. Latin American integration solidified with UNASUR (the union of South American nations) and ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas), and Washington’s grip on power began to slip away. Henry Kissinger said in the seventies, “if we can’t control Latin America, how can we dominate the world?” This imperial vision is more evident today than ever before.

Obama’s presence in the White House was erroneously viewed by many in the region as a sign of an end to US aggression in the world, and especially here, in Latin America. At least, many believed, Obama would downscale the growing tensions with its neighbors to the south. In fact, he himself, the new president of the United States, made allusion to such changes. But now, the Obama administration’s “Smart Power” strategy has been unmasked. The handshakes, smiles, gifts and promises of “no intervention” and “a new era” made by President Obama himself to leaders of Latin American nations last Spring at the Summit of the Americas meeting in Trinidad have unraveled and turned into cynical gestures of hypocrisy. When Obama came to power, Washington’s reputation in the region was at an all-time low. The meager attempts to “change” the North-South relationship in the Americas have made things worse and reaffirmed that Kissinger’s vision of control over this region is a state policy, irrespective of party affiliation or public discourse.

Washington’s role in the coup in Honduras against President Zelaya has been evident from day one. The continual funding of coup leaders, the US military presence at the Soto Cano base in Honduras, the ongoing meetings between State Department officials and the US Ambassador in Honduras, Hugo Llorens, with coup leaders, and the cynical attempts to force “mediation” and “negotiation” between the coup leaders and the legitimate government of Honduras, have provided clear evidence of Washington’s intentions to consolidate this new form of “smart coup”. The Obama administration’s initial public insistence on Zelaya’s legitimacy as president of Honduras quickly faded after the first weeks of the coup. Calls for “restitution of democratic and constitutional order” became weak whispers repeated by the monotone voices of State Department spokesmen.

The imposition of Costan Rican president Oscar Arias – a staunch ally of neoliberalism and imperialism -to “mediate” the negotiation ordered by Washington between coup leaders and President Zelaya was a circus. At the time, it was apparent that Washington was engaging in a “buying time” strategy, pandering to the coup leaders while publicly “working” to resolve the conflict in Honduras. Arias’ insincerity and complicity in the coup was evident from the very morning of Zelaya’s violent kidnapping and forced exile.

The Pentagon, State Department and CIA officials present on the Soto Cano base, which is controlled by Washington, arranged for Zelaya’s transport to Costa Rica. Arias had subserviently agreed to refuge the illegally ousted president and to not detain those who kidnapped him and piloted the plane that – in violation of international law – landed in Costa Rican territority. Today, Oscar Arias has called on all nations to “recognize” the illegal and illegitimate elections occurring in Honduras. Why not? he says, if there is no fraud or irregularity, “why not recognize the newly elected president?” The State Department and even President Obama himself have said the same thing, and are calling on all nations – pressuring – to recognize a regime that will be elected under a dictatorship. Seems that fraud and irregularity are already present, considering that today, no democracy exists in Honduras that would permit proper conditions for an electoral process. Not to mention that the State Department admitted to funding the elections and campaigns in Honduras weeks ago. And the “international observers” sent to witness and provide “credibility” to the illegal process are all agencies and agents of empire.

The International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute, both agencies created to filter funding from USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to political parties abroad in order to promote US agenda, not only funded those groups involved in the Honduran coup, but now are “observing” the elections. Terrorist groups such as UnoAmerica, led by Venezuelan coup leader Alejando Peña Esclusa, have also sent “observers” to Honduras. Miami-Cuban terrorist and criminal Adolfo Franco, former USAID director, is another “heavyweight” on the list of electoral observers in Honduras today.

But the Organization of American States (OAS) and Carter Center, hardly “leftist” entities, have condemned the electoral process as illegitimate and refused to send observers. So have the United Nations and the European Union, as well as UNASUR and ALBA. Washington stands alone, with its right-wing puppet states in Colombia, Panamá, Perú, Costa Rica and Israel, as the only nations to have publicly indicated recognition of the electoral process in Honduras and the future regime. A high-level State Department official cynically declared to the Washington Post, “What are we going to do, sit for four years and just condemn the coup?” Well, Washington has sat for 50 years and refused to recognize the Cuban government. But that’s because the Cuban government is not convenient for Washington. The Honduran dictatorship is.

The Honduran resistance movement is boycotting the elections, calling on people to abstain from participating in an illegal process. The streets of Honduras have been taken over by thousands of military forces, under control of the coup regime and the Pentagon. With advanced weapons technology from Israel, the coup regime is prepared to massively repress and brutalize any who attempt to resist the electoral process. We must remain vigilant and stand with the people of Honduras in the face of the immense danger surrounding them. Today’s elections are a second coup d’etat against the Honduran people, this time openly designed, promoted, funded and supported by Washington. Whatever the result, no justice will be brought to Honduras until Washington’s intervention ceases.

Selling Out Democracy in Honduras: The U.S. and the Honduran Election November 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Posted by Isabel Macdonald, AlterNet on November 28, 2009 at 12:10 PM.

The June 28 military coup d’etat that overthrew Honduras’ democratically elected president provided President Obama with “a golden opportunity…to make a clear break with the past and show that he is unequivocally siding with democracy,” as Costa Rica’s former vice president put it.  However, the U.S.’s recognition of the sham election Honduras’ de facto regime is staging on Sunday makes it quite clear that Obama is choosing instead to side with the  far-right Republicans who support the coup.

In the wake of the coup that overthrew Honduran president Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales, the Guardian‘s Calvin Tucker observes that there had been some promising signs that Obama was going to remain true to his pledge to “seek a new chapter of engagement” in Latin America. Despite some initial waffling by the State Department, Obama spoke out in strong terms against Zelaya’s overthrow, saying that “it would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition, rather than democratic elections.” The U.S. backed a Costa Rican-brokered compromise that would have seen Zelaya returned to office, at the helm of a “unity government.” All non-humanitarian U.S. aid was suspended to the de facto regime, as were the U.S. visas of the coup leaders. The State Department indicated that the US would “not be able to support” the outcome of the elections out of concern that they would not be “free, fair and transparent.” And finally, during a visit to Honduras by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in late October, the coup leaders agreed to sign the U.S. backed agreement providing for Zelaya’s return.

This firm U.S. reaction apparently “privately stunned” the coup leaders, who were sure “this would never have happened if the Republicans had still been in power,” according to the New Yorker‘s William Finnegan.

Indeed, the coup leaders, who along with their allies such as the Latin American Business Council have spent at least six hundred thousand dollars on Washington lobbyists and lawyers, count amongst their supporters several prominent congressional Republicans, including South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint.

DeMint had been leading efforts to block key diplomatic appointments in Latin America, and earlier this month, the Obama administration succumbed to this pro-coup Republican pressure, announcing that it will after all recognize Sunday’s election, and not insist on the return of the legitimate president. On November 4, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon announced on CNN that “the formation of the National Unity Government is apart from the reinstatement of President Zelaya” and that the Honduran Congress will decide when and if Zelaya is reinstated.

DeMint took credit for the change in U.S. policy, releasing a press statement declaring “Senator secures commitment for U.S. to back Nov. 29 elections even if Zelaya is not reinstated.” In the statement, DeMint said he was

happy to report the Obama Administration has finally reversed its misguided Honduran policy and will fully recognize the November 29th elections… Secretary Clinton and Assistant Secretary Shannon have assured me that the U.S. will recognize the outcome of the Honduran elections regardless of whether Manuel Zelaya is reinstated.

The 23 Latin American and Caribbean nations of the Rio Group do not recognize Sunday’s election. However the Obama administration is now going ahead in recognizing the vote held in the midst of what Amnesty International has characterized as a “human rights crisis,” marked by an”increasingly disproportionate and excessive use of force being used by the police and military to repress legitimate and peaceful protests across the country.” Since Zelaya’s overthrow, over 3,500 people have been illegally detained, over 600 have been beaten and dozens have been killed, according to the Committee of Families of the Disappeared (COFADEH), with media workers, human rights defenders and female protesters particularly targeted, according to Amnesty.

The only two presidential candidates on the ballot supported the coup that ousted the elected president. The leading opposition candidate, Carlos Reyes, recently withdrew his nomination for the presidency, calling the election fraudulent, and hundreds of candidates for congressional and municipal seats have also withdrawn from the election.

And Tucker notes that

Trade unions and social movements calling for a boycott of the election are facing mafia-style threats, with the regime’s chief of police boasting that he has compiled a blacklist of “all those of the left”.

At the same time, Honduras’ big business federation, which supported the coup, is reportedly offering “cash discounts” to Hondurans for voting in the election.

The fact that such an election has won the support of the Obama administration does not bode well for the president’s “new chapter” of U.S.-Latin America relations.