Tags: annie bird, death squads, honduran military, Honduras, honduras constitution, honduras coup, honduras frente, honduras repression, honduras resistance, micheletti, pepe lobo, porfirio lobo, roger hollander, truth commission, wola, zelaya
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|Written by Annie Bird|
|Tuesday, 13 April 2010 09:23|
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
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).
Honduran amnesty and truth February 8, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: Honduras, honduras amnesty, honduras coup, Latin America, micheletti, oas, pepe lobo, roger hollander, terrorism, zelaya
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iday, February 05, 2010
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 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.
Amid Repression, Mobilizing Against the Coup Continues in Honduras December 17, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: dawn paley, democracy, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras election, honduras repression, honduras resistance, Latin America, pepe lobo, roger hollander, zelaya
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|Tuesday, 15 December 2009|
TEGUCIGALPA–Hundreds of Hondurans marched in the capital city on Friday, demanding the return of elected President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, who was deposed in a coup d’état on June 28.
Their numbers were small compared to massive demonstrations that occurred immediately following the coup. Since then, at least 28 members of the resistance movement have been assassinated, including most recently Walter Tróchez, a prominent LGBT activist killed by gunfire on Sunday.
The hundreds of people who marched in Tegucigalpa showed no fear in the face of deadly repercussions.
“Since June 28 we’ve been in the streets,” said Dionisia Diez, who at 76 years is known as the grandmother of the resistance movement. “We’re mobilizing for the restitution of our president.”
Zelaya remains inside the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, where he has been since September 21, when he returned to the country after his forced exile in June.
Friday’s march was the first since the November 29 elections, held while Zelaya remained trapped in the embassy. Voter turnout estimates varied widely in the elections, which transferred the country’s top job to Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa, who will be inaugurated on January 27.
“We are asking governments from around the world not to recognize the coup government, and not to recognize the government that will assume power on 27 January,” said Juan Barahona, a leader of the national front against the coup d’état.
The United States and four countries in Latin America have recognized the November 29 elections in Honduras. The Canadian government congratulated the Honduran people on the elections, but Ottawa has yet to officially recognize the de facto government.
Member countries of MERCOSUR, South America’s largest trading bloc, voted unanimously not to recognize the elections during a summit last week in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Critics say Zelaya acted illegally when he took preliminary steps to reform the Honduran constitution.
On the day of the coup, people across the country awoke expecting to vote in a non-binding plebiscite meant to test the waters for adding a question about launching a constitutional assembly onto the ballot on November 29.
A constitutional assembly in the poverty stricken Central American nation would have marked a process of democratic opening similar to those taking place in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela.
But instead of voting in a democratic process, Hondurans woke up on June 28 to learn that President Zelaya had been removed from the country by the armed forces. In the months that followed, the coup regime struggled for legitimacy, and declared a state of emergency restricting the freedom of the press and the freedom of assembly.
The coup in Honduras was immediately condemned by the United Nations’ General Assembly, and the country was suspended from the Organization of American States in July.
Systematic repression since the coup has instilled in many a fear to speak out, according to the organizers of today’s march.
“In Honduras right now, there is no respect for human life,” said Barahona. “We’ve been repressed, and more than 28 people have been assassinated due to their participation in the resistance.”
Despite a heavy police presence this morning, there was no violence or detentions during Friday’s protest. The following day, another march took place without incident in San Pedro Sula, an industrial city in northern Honduras.
Dawn Paley is a Vancouver based journalist reporting from Honduras.
The Pot Calls the Kettle Black December 12, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Hillary Clinton, Bolivia, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
Tags: ahmadinejad, Bolivia, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, dulles, ethnocentrism, Evo Morales, foreign policy, hilary clinton, honduras coup, Iran, kissinger, monroe doctrine, nuclear power, pepe lobo, roger hollander, secretary of state, U.S. imperialism
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Hillary Clinton with Pepe Lobo, the newly “elected” president of Honduras, who has recently come to power in an election rejected and considered illegitimate and fraudulent by virtually every government around the world that is not a virtual puppet of the US. This photo by itself is capable of generating resentment towards the United States throughout the entire Latin American world, not to mention the vast Latino population in the States.
Roger Hollander, December 12, 2009
It is no big news to note that Americans tend to be ethnocentric. The United States is the benevolent sun around which the rest of the world revolves. Many Americans criticize their government — this was especially true during the Bush era — but few are either willing or able to step outside the apparent inborn prejudice and jingoism to look at the US as others do around the world. Internal critics of any particular US government castigate the incumbent regime for making “mistakes,” for being in error. Few are willing to admit that their government is criminal, a danger to world peace and security.
Living outside the United States helps one to see things in perspective. Today I read an article that appeared in the Associated Press in Spanish that I could not find on Google in English (too harsh criticism of the US for American readers?). It reported that Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, had rejected threats made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about Bolivia’s relationship with Iran. I suppose a typical American might respond to this by thinking: Iran bad, Iran president anti-Semetic, Iran nuclear threat, Hillary right to come down on Bolivia.
Morales’ response was to the effect that what right does the pot have to call the kettle black. He noted that the US itself exports terrorism abroad, that it sends troops to invade countries half-way around the world, that it has military bases all over the world. He could have mentioned that the US has a long history of allying itself with tyrants and dictators (currently the newly elected pseudo-president of Honduras, the product of a military coup), and he could have mentioned that as a nuclear threat, no one can begin to match the United States with a nuclear arsenal that could blow the globe to pieces a thousand times. Rather, Morales noted that Bolivia was interested in dialogue and relationship with all nations of the world.
With the super-hawk Hillary Clinton at the point, the Obama administration has its ambassador to the world that could fit into the most right-wing Republican administration. Her name will go down in history alongside of the likes of John Foster Dulles (who advocated the nuclear bombing of Vietnam), Henry Kissinger (responsible for the criminal bombing of Cambodia), Nixon’s Al Haig, George Schultz, Colin Powell (who lied to the world for Bush to justify the invasion of Iraq), and the Bush marionette, Condoleezza Rice.
Clinton’s and therefore Obama’s agressive (to the point of threats) policy toward Latin America, toward the progressive and popular governments in Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Ecuador (not to mention Cuba), are in the tradition of the Monroe Doctrine and cold war geopolitics. More “plus ca change …” we can believe in.
I would add that I do not particularly enjoy seen Morales and Venezuela’s Chávez siding up with the likes of Iran’s notorious dictatorial and anti-Semitic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; but that is what nations do, they engage in diplomatic and trade agreements with other nations. Imagine how it appears to non-Americans to see Clinton and Obama appearing alonside Iraq’s illegitimate President Talabani, Afghanistan’s Karzai, Israel’s ultra-right Netanyahu, and now the puppet of the Honduran military, Pepe Lobo.
Honduran Elections a Parody of Democracy December 9, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: democracy, free elections, hagamos democracia, honduran elections, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras democracy, honduras election, honduras military, honduras military coup, honduras protest, honduras repression, honduras resistance, human rights, human rights abuses, laura carlsen, manuel zelaya, mercosur, pepe lobo, roberto micheletti, roger hollander, Venezuela, zelaya
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The production Honduran Elections, staged at a small, rundown theater in Central America on November 29, left the audience unconvinced, and failed to resolve a confused and conflict-ridden plotline.
Written and directed by the Honduran elite and the Honduran armed forces, with the help of the U.S. State Department, the play opens on the empty streets of Tegucigalpa in what is announced as the most participatory elections in the history of the nation.
This is just the first of the inexplicable contradictions between the narrative and reality that run through the play.
Honduran Elections tells the story of a poor nation rocked by a military coup d’état and occupied by its own armed forces. The contrived plot then attempts to convince the audience that the same forces that carried out the coup —kidnapping the elected president and launching a wave of bloody repression — are now carrying out “free and fair elections” to restore democracy. The play follows these characters throughout election day, in a series of charades that leaves the viewer with the unsavory sensation of having been played as a pawn in a theater of the absurd.
For example, during the entire multi-million-dollar production, the elected president of this nation remains offstage. It is never explained in the play why this key figure was not given a role. The audience is expected to accept the fact that his absence is insignificant to the plot. Since the supposed message of the drama is that democracy has been restored to a country held under an illegitimate regime, the missing president makes no dramatic sense.
The major characters in the drama are a large group of miscast national and international observers, who remember their lines but frequently fall out of their roles as impartial observers; a mostly invisible Supreme Electoral Tribunal that issues undecipherable and contradictory statistics; and candidates who attempt to lend credibility to the plot but are so self-serving and devoted to the anti-democratic forces that their actions mock the very cause they claim to support.
This reviewer can only hope that the disastrous Honduran Elections will never be produced on another stage again. The writers, directors, and actors of the debacle have insulted the intelligence of viewers throughout the world and degraded the noble theme of democracy that purports to lie at the center of this deceptive drama.
Witness to a Sham
The mock theater review above is how it felt to witness the Honduran elections from my seat in Tegucigalpa last week. I arrived on November 27 to monitor human rights violations, and observe the context and accompanying conditions of an electoral process that could under no circumstances be validated, due to the fatal flaws in its origin.
The news is not that Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo of the National Party beat Elwin Santos of the Liberal Party. Since the military ousted the elected president Manuel Zelaya on June 28, the bipartisan system gave way to a far deeper duality — for and against the coup d’etat. Both Lobo and Santos favored the military takeover of the Honduran democracy and supported the illegal regime of Roberto Micheletti. Both sought to gain power by laundering the coup through these elections and to lock in a transition that guaranteed the continued power of the Honduran economic elite.
In fact, the November 29 national elections for president and congress shouldn’t have taken place. The voting was organized and overseen by an illegal coup regime. This regime officially suspended basic civil liberties, such as freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. It closed down independent media, or repeatedly blocked transmissions.
In Honduras, normal electoral activities were redefined as criminal behavior, including holding rallies and proclaiming the right to abstain. Reports of coercion in factories and among public employees came in from individuals who suffered the threats firsthand. The army enforced the dictatorial decrees in the street.
Some 100 registered candidates, ranging from presidential candidates to local mayors, withdrew from the elections in protest of the continued coup and the internal exile of the elected president. The popular resistance called a boycott and a “popular curfew,” urging people to stay at home on election day. This was in part to avoid confrontations with the over 30,000 security forces called out to “protect order,” in a nation where these same forces are responsible for massive human rights violations and scores of murders of members of the resistance.
The Honduran elections should never have taken place because Honduras, under the coup regime, failed to meet the basic criteria of “free and fair elections” set out in documents like the one issued by the Inter-Parliamentary Council in 1994. The Honduran state didn’t even come close to meeting the basic criteria of free elections by assuring freedom of movement, assembly, association, and expression. The security forces responsible for human rights violations before, during, and after voting have been granted complete immunity from justice. In San Pedro Sula, the police violently repressed a nonviolent march supporting the boycott, beating and arresting various people.
From Polls to Percentage Points
But the elections did take place. On November 29, some Hondurans, particularly in the wealthiest neighborhoods, came out to vote while most of the poor stayed home. Those of us who drove from poll to poll to check for participation, militarization, and incidents confirm this phenomenon.
Concerned that the eyewitness accounts of sparse participation could undermine the U.S. message of “mission accomplished” in Honduras, Ambassador Hugo Llorens appeared at the polls to make the pre-emptive declaration that the “elections are a technical issue and the statistical results will tell the real story.” We were all told not to believe our own eyes, as all eyes then turned to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.
On the night of November 29, the Electoral Tribunal (TSE by its Spanish initials) triumphantly announced that 61% of registered voters had turned out to vote. This was a bald-faced lie. Their own statistics showed that only 49.2% of Hondurans had voted — a considerable decrease from past elections. Real News reports that an elections official, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of his life, claimed that Saul Escobar, the head of the Tribunal, invented the statistic.
The elections observation organization, Hagamos Democracia (Let`s Make Democracy) contracted by the TSE to deliver early results, reported a 47.6% turnout. In an exclusive interview with journalist Dick Emanuelsson, Rolando Bu of Hagamos Democracia attempted to explain the discrepancy, “We are working on the basis of the voter registration list we received of 4.6 million. I haven’t spoken with the magistrates (of the Tribunal) yet, but it is likely that they are subtracting aspects such as migration and deaths.” Needless to say, it is not acceptable practice to alter the voter registration list during the counting process.
Hagamos Democracia is financed by the National Democratic Institute, an arm of the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy. The NDI issued an elections report, sidestepping the critical issue of turnout and noting only that a discrepancy existed. It stated that it could not send a formal observation mission because there was no pre-electoral observation, which is a critical part of the process. Yet the NDI’s 22 members wore “elections observers” vests during their work.
The NDI report also noted the compromised impartiality of many of the international observers. “Regrettably, the TSE offered funding for transportation, lodging, and meals, and a number of observers accepted this offer. The Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation states that international election observers “should not accept funding or logistical support from the government whose elections are being observed, as it may raise a significant conflict of interest.”
This conflict of interest soon became painfully obvious. Interviewed on international television about the elections, I noted that the elections would not solve the political crisis in Honduras due to the lack of legitimacy of coup-run elections and the climate of violation of human rights, and because many nations would not recognize the results. A crowd of “observers” gathered around the interview in the hall in front of the Electoral Tribunal and verbally attacked me, shouting “liar” and ordering that I be thrown out of the country. I tried to engage in debate but the attacks continued and, fearing for my safety, I was escorted out of the area by a Tribunal security guard.
The Crisis Deepens
The United States played out the script written since mid-October. The newly confirmed Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Arturo Valenzuela immediately called the elections “a significant step in Honduras’s return to the democratic and constitutional order after the 28 June coup.” He went on to emphasize that it was just a first step, and that the nation must establish a government of national unity within the framework of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord.
But on December 2, the Honduran congress closed the circle on the consolidation of a military takeover in the country by voting against the reinstatement of President Manuel Zelaya. “We’re disappointed by this decision since the United States had hoped the Congress would have approved his return,” Valenzuela said in a statement. “And our policy since June 28 has been consistently principled, and we’ve condemned the coup d’état and have continued to accept President Zelaya as the democratically elected and legitimate leader of Honduras throughout this political crisis. However, the decision taken by Congress, which it carried out in an open and transparent manner, was in accordance with its mandate in Article 5 of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord. Both President Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti agreed to this accord on October 30th.”
The loophole in the Tegucigalpa Accord that allowed the coup-controlled congress to first delay the vote until after the elections and then vote against reinstating the president allowed for the violation of the main point of the San Jose Accords, mediated by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias. The U.S government played a major role in inserting this loophole. State Department official Thomas Shannon negotiated with Republican Senator Jim DeMint over recognition of the elections without reinstatement of Zelaya in return for Senate confirmations of Valenzuela and Shannon’s own confirmation as ambassador to Brazil.
Now the State Department has launched a concerted campaign, along with the coup regime, to get foreign nations to recognize the Honduran elections. Regional countries that have or hope for free trade agreements with the U.S. have agreed to play along. So far the countries that have announced they will recognize the elections include Panama, Peru, Colombia and Costa Rica.
Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, and several European countries have announced they will not recognize the elections. President Lula da Silva reiterated Brazil’s position from the Summit of Latin America, Spain, and Portugal, stating that his government would not recognize the Honduran elections or enter into dialogue with Pepe Lobo. “It’s not possible to recognize a coup supporter. Period,” he said in reference to Lobo. Lula added, “This is a matter of common sense, a question of principles, we cannot make agreements with the forces of political vandalism in Latin America.”
International media such as CNN, along with the State Department and the Honduran coup leaders, are heading up the charge to call the elections “clean and fair”, as The New York Times put it, and use the false voter turn-out rate as the sole indicator of the election’s legitimacy. Some allies appear to be weakening their stance against recognition.
President Zelaya, who remains holed up in the heavily barricaded Brazilian embassy, told the BBC that the elections were fraudulent and would only intensify the crisis. The National Front Against the Coup has decided to cease the daily demonstrations in the street and move on to building a broad movement for a constitutional assembly. Juan Barahona, a leader of the Front, announced that the focus on reinstating Zelaya has ended. Zelaya has announced that he would not return to government until the end of his term on January 27 because it would be validating a coup-managed transfer of power.
Human rights groups have stated that the violations committed under the coup will not be forgotten. Honduras suffered a wave of human rights violations including assassinations, rapes, beatings and arbitrary detentions of resistance members. An Amnesty International delegation, after 10 days in the country, noted in a press statement that the “crisis in Honduras does not end with the election results, the authorities cannot return to business as usual without ensuring human rights safeguards…There are dozens of people in Honduras still suffering the effects of the abuses carried out in the past five months. Failure to punish those responsible and to fix the malfunctioning system would open the door for more abuses in the future.”
Roberto Micheletti has now returned to power after a “leave of absence” in a new stage of the political and legal limbo that has characterized this nation since June 28. Some wonder how long any president can remain in office now that a military coup has been deemed successful. “Many Hondurans fear that the coup’s success represents a threat to the future stability of a democratic state,” writes Robert White of the Center for International Policy, who then poses the following rhetorical question. “If the few dozen men who hold the strings of power and wealth can escalate one of the nation’s recurring political brawls into the overthrow of an elected president, how can future democratic leaders dare to challenge the culture of wealth and impunity that has made Honduras one of the most corrupt, crime-ridden, and unjust nations in the world?”
The spectacle mounted to justify the coup leaders’ retention of power has now played out. In the sequel, the excluded character — the people of Honduras who joined together to reject the hijacking of their democracy — will play a key role. Throughout the country, farmers, feminists, union members and citizens are more organized than ever before. The demand for the constitutional assembly to change one of the world’s most obsolete constitutions is at the center of this new phase.
In the end, the Honduran political crisis cannot be resolved without a legal means to channel dissent and eliminate the gross injustices of Honduran society. A broad swathe of the population that rejects the “elections panacea” scenario is determined to fight for just that, and nothing less. They deserve the support of the U.S. government and the rest of the international community.
Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Laura Carlsen (lcarlsen (at) ciponline (dot) org) is director of the Americas Program (www.americaspolicy.org) for the Center for International Policy in Mexico City.
Mercosur Leaders, Venezuela Reject Honduras election
MONTEVIDEO – Leaders of five key South American countries vowed Tuesday not to recognize last month’s presidential election results in Honduras, which they condemned as “illegal.”
The presidents of the four permanent members of the Mercosur trade bloc — Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay — as well as the leader of Venezuela, condemned Honduras’ first, post-coup elections last month, because balloting took place without the reinstatement of ousted President Manuel Zelaya.
In a statement released after a summit here, the leaders said that because Zelaya “had not been reinstated to the duties to which he was democratically elected… (we) completely reject the November 29 elections.”
Zelaya, who was ousted in a coup last June, remains holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa under threat of arrest, after Congress last week voted against bringing him back to the presidency. His term in office was to have ended on January 27.
The joint statement, read out by Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez and signed by the five heads of state, underscored their “strongest condemnation of the coup in Honduras” and rejected the “unacceptable, serious violations against the human rights and freedoms of the Honduran people.”
The declaration added that the Honduras elections had been conducted “in an unconstitutional, illegitimate and illegal” manner, and were a blow to the region’s democratic values.
The United States and the European Union have hailed the elections as a first step forward out of the five-month crisis. Costa Rica, Panama and Peru also have backed the polls.
Honduras’s military ousted the left-leaning Zelaya on June 28 with the backing of the courts, Congress and business leaders, because of his plans to alter the constitution, which was viewed as a bid to extend his term in office.
Meanwhile, the winner of the November 29 election, president-elect Porfirio Lobo, told a news conference Monday that he hoped foreign countries would “open up a little” to Honduras, which had suffered widespread international condemnation and aid freezes after the coup.
Lobo was set to meet in Santo Domingo Thursday with Dominican President Leonel Fernandez. Lobo was expected to ask Fernandez to help mediate in the lingering Honduran political crisis, Dominican media reoprted.
Lobo will arrive in the Dominican capital from San Jose, where he was to meet first with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli on a tour to rally support for his bid to lead Honduras.
© 2009 Agence France-Press
Election Report From Honduras: The People Say “We Didn’t Vote!” December 4, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: democracy, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras election, honduras military, honduras repression, honduras resistance, honduras vote, jackie mcvicar, Latin America, latin america democracy, latin america politics, national party, pepe lobo, roger hollander, zelaya
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|Written by Jackie McVicar|
|Wednesday, 02 December 2009|
|Tegucigalpa, Honduras – After a long bus ride back from the north eastern part of the country and the department of Colon, we arrived in the capital today just in time to join a massive caravan organized by the Popular Resistance Front. Like the other demonstrations held since the coup d’etat on June 28, the mobilization winded through the “barrios”, the neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa where supporters left their homes to show their support.
This time, instead of walking, organizers decided to drive their cars in a caravan, to avoid confrontation or repression that they feared by the State security forces. Hundreds of cars and people drove through the streets honking their horns, with flags, horns and music. Both those in the caravan and people yelling support from the streets, “I didn’t vote!” showed their ink-less fingers, to show they had not been registered at a polling station where a finger print as part of your id is normally taken.
Though the media is reporting record high turnouts for Sunday’s election, no one is buying it. One woman I interviewed who didn’t want to be identified because of fear (“if they see my picture, they [the military] will come after me”), said, “I have over 150 people in my [extended] family and not one went out to vote.”
Another man, when asked what the streets of Tegucigalpa looked like yesterday, said with pride, “The streets were deserted. That is the reality. Those who went to vote were just a few…I didn’t go out to vote, precisely because we don’t support the de facto regime. And conscious people who didn’t vote in Honduras, is 65%. It’s the majority who didn’t go vote and the Tribunal [Supreme Electoral Tribunal – TSE] wants to cheat us by saying the majority went to vote. In Honduras, people are conscious after the 28th of June. And it’s the majority who won, it’s the popular resistance.”
On election day at 3pm, the TSE announced that they were having a large turnout and didn’t have enough paper and ink so were going to extend voting by an hour. Others suggest that they extended the voting hour precisely because there wasn’t a large turnout and there are reports that police started going into neighbors’ houses announcing that all citizens must vote. Despite this, many didn’t. One taxi driver I asked from Tocoa, in the department of Colon, said, “I didn’t leave my house yesterday. I shut the door and didn’t open it all day. Who knows what they [State forces] would’ve done.”
This driver had reason to be nervous. Five members of our delegation were in Tocoa the day before the election and we saw at least five unmarked trucks and SUVs with tinted windows driving through the small town, reminding those on the streets they were being watched. Some didn’t even bother taking the National Party banner off the vehicles as they drove past folks walking on the streets or pulling up in front of the homes of resistance leaders homes.
When our delegation met with the Sub-Chief at the National Police Station in Tocoa on election day, after receiving a call that up to eight people had been illegally detained, he said that the police were, “doing all they could to ensure the safety of citizens.” He noted that the police register any unmarked cars they see to ensure they do not have dangerous materials inside and that they are registered to the right people driving the car. When I asked why the police hadn’t stopped the unmarked vehicles we saw, despite the fact that every other car was being stopped and registered at the police check point, he simply didn’t answer. Later that night, a pipe bomb exploded in the Liberal Party Headquarters in Tocoa and the eight missing still have not been found or the story cleared about their whereabouts.
Outside of Tocoa, in the municipality of Trujillo, we visited the community of Guadalupe Carney (named after an Irish American Priest who worked there and who was killed in the 1980s), who had heard the night before that military were encircling the community from both directions. Thankfully, they never raided the community, but they sent a message loud and clear: be careful, we’re not far away. We heard reports that the military in part were camped out a Colonel’s hacienda near by. The police had Guadalupe on their radar and had been “prepared for the worst” in that community, according to Officer Sauceda. When we visited, we saw signs posted: Don’t vote!
Of the over 800 families living in the community, they suspect only a handful went to vote. The campesinos in this community know this will be a long battle, but one man, Augustin, age 75, said proudly, “I have seen a lot in my life time. We continue the struggle because it is part of who we are, we are conscious and we believe in the struggle.”
In other polling stations, we saw political hype but not too many voters. In Corosito, Colon, we visited the polls with members of the Coordination of Popular Organizations of Aguan (COPA) and saw many empty rooms in the school where the poll had been set up. Military and police guarded the door, the first time for this kind of security during a civilian election. In other parts of the country, including San Pedro Sula where people in resistance had planned a peaceful march to show opposition to the election process, tear gas and water bombs served to control the crowds.
Back in Tegucigalpa, there are many unknowns: will Mel Zelaya leave the Brazilian Embassy this week and fulfill his term as President before Pepe Lobo of the opposing National Party takes power at the end of January? What political alliances will be made now that the vote has taken place? Will Canada, the US and other nations go ahead and accept these unfair, unfree elections and accept a highly militarized state and a President elected during a coup d’etat as trade partners and go ahead with business as usual? Will the newly elected National Party be able to convince the world that Honduras’ “problems” are a thing of the past, part of Liberal Party squabbling that have ended?
One issue isn’t in question: the strength and courage of the Honduran people. As the caravan ended tonight in front of the Brazilian Embassy, in an act of solidarity with President Zelaya held captive inside, chanting, singing and dancing (there was even a Mariachi band!) could be seen and heard while the police and military called in reinforcements and pointed their 50 mm machine gun at the celebrating crowd. So when it was time, people left – peacefully, just as the caravan had started. They weren’t about to enter a conflict with the military, a physical fight is not what they want.
When I asked a young woman in the crowd why she was there, what she wanted, she didn’t surprise me with her answer, “la constituyente” – the constituent assembly that many believe could one day lead to real change in Honduras. Until then the people keep singing, “The People, United, Will Never Be Defeated!”. Just as the graffiti says throughout Honduras, “The Power Is In The Streets.”