Monday, September 28, 2009

The Waiting

by Rachel Anderson

Today, the first day after de facto leader Micheletti announced a suspension of constitutional rights, was a day filled with tension and waiting. After a restless night, we awoke and immediately turned on channel 36 to find out what was happening in the streets. We were dismayed to find only static.

Our presence was requested at a human rights office. We went expecting the worst. Zelaya had called all Hondurans to the capital, and everyone was expecting massive repression by the police against the thousands of people organized to march, as they have for 93 straight days.

At the office, we spent more time waiting. As we sat at a small table, I looked at the walls filled with 8x10 black and white photos of Honduran citizens murdered by their government in the 1980s and 1990s. I studied their serious faces, and wondered how they faced death by their own government. Some in the office knew people in the pictures and told me details about their lives, personalities, family members,and friends. I cannot get some of the young female faces out of my head.

One woman we met at the office lost her husband in the 1980s. He was a well-known campesino leader, fighting for the rights of the people when he was disappeared. His body was never found. His wife hugged us as we left and made us promise to be extra careful wherever we go. She told us she has the same feeling in her stomach now as she did when he disappeared, twenty years ago.

Police barricades surrounded the demonstration at the university, blocking off all traffic. The many businesses nearby were either locked up with metal gates or equipped with dozens of police in riot gear. After several hours, the protesters decided not to march due to the fear created by the decree. The call went out to gather again in the late afternoon for the funeral of fallen compatriot, Wendy Elizabeth Avila.

Breathing sighs of relief that no apparent violence broke out among the demonstrators and police, we took a lunch break and went to find a pharmacy. In the business sector, life appeared to go on more or less as usual. That is, if you are accustomed to walking through a dozen armed guards to buy tampons.

Police wait outside Burger King Police wait outside Burger King

The hundreds of policemen gathered in the area looked bored. Some were perusing Honduran soccer jerseys for sale in the street. Others were lounging in the shade. Our taxi driver passed through an underground parking garage - vacant except for 45 black-clad policemen sitting on the curb eating their lunches with guns at their sides.

Returning to the human rights office, we were distraught to learn that earlier in the morning, two Guatemalan journalists were beaten and detained. We tried to find more information about where they were, to no avail.

We finally decided to accompany those heading to the funeral outside the city. It was after 3:00pm and we hadn´t yet heard what time the curfew would be. I found it amazing that after only three days of living with a curfew I was already programmed to know when I could and couldn't be out in public. Our taxi driver, Edwin, told us it hadn´t been announced. When I asked if he thought there would be one tonight, he laughed. He said of course there would. He was right. It began at 10:00pm.

Edwin is from Tegucigalpa but lived and worked as a cook in Texas for five years. He finally returned to Honduras last year. I asked if he had been deported like many other Hondurans were over the last two years. He smiled and said, "No, I came back because I missed my three children and my country too much." I asked him how the current situation has impacted his job. He replied, "Well, I work every day of the week from 6:00am until whenever the curfew begins, sometimes 3:00, sometimes 6:00, sometimes 10:00. This is definitely impacting all working people and the businesses here. I work whenever I can, and with the curfew, not only can I not work, but the traffic is so backed up. Even when they announce a 6:00 curfew at 5:00, I can´t get to my home until 8." Edwin does not want to be caught by the police after curfew. He eagerly asked us if we had journalist credentials, because then he could drive past curfew.

When we arrived at the modern cemetery nestled into a large hill, we watched as busloads of mourners approached. When Wendy´s body was laid to rest, all sang the national hymn with raised fists in the air. Then a dozen or more motorcyclists honked their horns and reved their engines for a few minutes in salute. Dramatically, the sky quickly turned to black, and the rain came fast and hard. We ran to our taxi to avoid getting soaked and headed back to the city.

Mourners raise their fists for their fallen friend

Mourners raise their fists for a fallen friend

The drive back was equally surreal. The sunset beautifully back-lit the low clouds and mountains surrounding Tegucigalpa with shades of orange, pink and violet. But, an unsettling feeling remained, one I still can´t quite place. It is a mixture of fear and impatience and frustration. It is the waiting. The waiting for the repression and fear to end. The waiting for meaningful dialogue to take place. The waiting for the curfew to be lifted, and the waiting for a solution to this complex and hostile situation.

In the car, Edwin somberly told us, "We have a legend here. If it rains while someone is being buried, it means that something worse is yet to come. It is not a good sign."

Our compa
ñeros fear the worst repression is yet to come, while they continue to document the human rights abuses that have occurred over the past week. When we returned to the hotel, we received a call that eight more innocent people had been arrested on false charges. Unable to talk over the phone about it, we agreed to meet our contacts tomorrow to get the details. The waiting continues.

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