Monday, December 14, 2009

Who's Behind your Morning Cup of Coffee?

by Amy Shelton

Nicaraguan coffee farmer and cooperative leader Eddy Gutierrez just visited Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky on a very successful speaker tour. Mr. Gutierrez and International Team member Galen Cohee Baynes shared the realities that Nicaraguan farmers face in the global marketplace, challenging U.S. consumers to reflect on the people behind their morning cup of coffee. Throughout the tour they exchanged experiences with small U.S. farmers who are facing many of the same challenges and are working to build a fair and local food economy. The tour helped us connect the dots between our food, our farmers and our planet.

While in Louisville, Kentucky, Eddy Gutierrez was interviewed by the Presbyterian Hunger Program, which produced this short video presentation.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Empty Streets on Election Day

by Galen Cohee Baynes, Nicaragua International Team

Tegucigalpa woke on ‘election’ day to eerily quiet streets. The few taxis working this morning cruised easily through roads normally congested with traffic. The great majority of stores and business (excluding the fast food chains) kept their metal shutters tightly secured. Driving through this sudden ghost city, the few areas that showed some signs of human activity were the capital’s high schools as they transformed themselves into polling stations to host the activity so important to representative democracies: voting.

The number of Honduran citizens that went to the polls today is certain to be a hotly disputed issue. The National Resistance Front estimated this afternoon that 30-35% of the populace placed a vote. Porfirio Lobo of the National Party, proclaimed the winner of the elections, announced during his victory speech that 80% of Hondurans filled in ballots. A quick examination of recent electoral trends (in 2005 56% of Hondurans voted) makes this number sound incredulous.

A woman places her vote at  a polling station in Tegucigalpa

A woman places her vote at a polling station in Tegucigalpa

Visiting polling stations throughout Tegucigalpa today, the number of people in attendance seemed scant. Police and soldiers manned the entrances to the schools and occasionally strolled through the voting stations themselves.

Soldiers at a polling station on Sunday

Soldiers at a polling station on Sunday

But voter turnout will probably not be the deciding factor as the United States makes a final determination about recognition of today’s event. The reports of the approximately three hundred election observers in the country over the weekend (including representatives chosen by the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute) will weigh more heavily in that decision.

Interactions with these electoral observers today left little doubt what their final say would be. Bosco Daniel Mayorga, an observer representing the Conservative Party in Nicaragua, noted that “Honduras has the strongest democracy in all of Central America. For those of us in Nicaragua, Honduras is an inspiration…we will recognize these elections.” These statements were made at 2:30PM, a full two and a half hours before the polls officially closed.

International election observers flirt with two young women at a polling station in the capital

International election observers flirt with two young women at a polling station in the capital

An observer from the United States commented this evening that the head of the de facto regime, Roberto Micheletti, is one of her “personal heroes” and that he showed great courage in pushing forward when the “entire world was against him.” With this sort of observation impartiality, the final judgment isn’t hard to imagine.

Election details aside, the question at the heart of the matter is whether or not elections overseen by a coup regime should be recognized as legitimate by other governments. On the morning of the elections, the human rights group COFADEH reported approximately 30 cases of illegal detention from the previous day. When that coup government maintains itself through violence and intimidation during the campaigning period, the fairness, freedom and transparency that are foundational to democratic elections are called into deep question.

When a coup regime presides over elections, do those elections mark the end of a coup? Depending on the recognition they receive, they could mark its victory.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tragedy and "Tranquility" Reveal Dual Realities in Honduras

by Galen Cohee Baynes, Nicaragua International Team

On the eve of Honduras’ “elections,” Angel Sagrado lays in critical condition in a hospital bed in downtown Tegucigalpa. After nearly twenty-four hours of delicate surgery during which doctors attempted to remove the bullet lodged in Angel’s head, he was transferred to the recovery room late this afternoon.

Angel Sagrado lays in critical condition after soldiers fired on his car on Friday night.

According to witnesses’ reports, the bullet that penetrated Angel’s skull was just one in a hail of gunfire that soldiers unleashed on Angel’s car on Friday night. As his car took a turn near the neighborhood La Granga in Tegucigalpa, Angel was surprised to find himself rapidly nearing a military barricade constructed alongside the road. He apparently attempted to slam on the breaks, but his vehicle scraped the cement barrier. At that point uniformed soldiers open fire directly on the car, putting a bullet into the back of Angel’s head. It is unclear whether he will recover from the shooting.

As Angel’s car approached the barricade, M.H. was selling food at her nearby stand. Hearing the squeal of tires and the first shots fired in the barrage of bullets, she attempted to crouch down for protection. At that point it appears that a stray bullet grazed the left side of her head. After he was shot, Angel’s unmanned car swerved in the road, smashing into a taxi. The impact of the vehicles sent them spinning onto the sidewalk, crushing M.H. and causing serious injury to her lower abdomen. She is also in critical condition in a Tegucigalpa hospital.

M.H. was injured in the same incident, likely by a stray bullet.

M.H. was injured in the same incident, likely by a stray bullet.

O.H., the sister of M.H., gave an interview on Saturday under the condition that only her initials be printed. Why does she feel the need to protect her identity? “We are afraid of the people that did this,” she says. “How can we file a complaint if it is the police, if it is the soldiers that fired the shots? My sister has three children. What will we do? She was both mother and father to these children…The police cleaned up the whole area, cleaned up all of the blood, collected the bullets.”

O.H. feels that the only place she can turn to for help in an investigation are independent human rights organizations. This is the atmosphere of terror that innocent victims of police and military violence are living under the day before the “elections” that have been much celebrated by the coup regime as a way to solve Honduras’ five-month old crisis. Those that have suffered repression or violence at the hands of soldiers know they cannot turn to the official legal institutions for justice. Indeed, filing claims could lead to harassment, threats, or much worse.

A group of election observers whisked off on a Supreme Electoral Tribunal retreat this morning were presented with a markedly different picture of pre-“election” Honduras. In Valle los Angeles, a small tourist hub forty minutes west of the capital, the officials strolled leisurely down closed-off streets and bought memorabilia at cigar and souvenir shops. Other observers paused to examine paintings at the town’s small museum. One Costa Rican delegate noted that, though he has only been in the country for two days, the atmosphere appears to be quiet and normal.

Election observers in front of a souvenir shop in Valle los Angeles on Saturday morning.

Election observers in front of a souvenir shop in Valle los Angeles

When asked about their strategy for monitoring tomorrow’s elections, delegates replied that they had not yet been informed where they will be stationed. A patrol of soldiers was assigned to secure the town while the observers were present. The de facto government has promised that Honduras’ armed forces will “ensure tranquility” during the electoral process tomorrow.

Armed Forces patrol Valle los Angeles

The heavily armed troops might signify comfort and tranquility to election observers, but tomorrow will be anything but a tranquil day for the Sagrado family.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Will Election Observers Understand the Context of the "Elections"?

by Galen Cohee Baynes, Nicaragua International Team

“The three emotions you will see most prevalently this weekend are fear, uncertainty and happiness,” says Felix Molina of Radio Progreso, an independent radio station in northern Honduras. This is a strange mixture to be sure, but one that reflects the bizarre conditions under which this weekend’s elections will be held.

“Happiness will be seen on the faces of those that supported this coup and look at what they call the 'election party' as a solution to our country’s crisis.” This is the narrative that Micheletti’s regime has been urgently presenting to the international community and that Honduras’ mainstream media has been pushing on the population over the last five months.

“Uncertainty is the emotion that will be seen most generally.” No one knows exactly what this weekend will bring or what the reaction to the elections hosted by the coup regime will be. The narrative of a crisis resolved by the electoral process has not taken deep root here in Honduras nor is it gaining much weight internationally. Molina notes that the most optimistic estimates suggest that of the approximately 4.6 million Hondurans registered to vote on Sunday, 1.5 million or so will turn out. This would be a drastic drop in voter turnout from the 56% that went to the polls in 2005. Despite the U.S. drive to legitimize the elections by sending observers and reneging on earlier commitments to condition recognition of the elections on Manuel Zelaya’s reinstatement to the presidency, few other nations seem to be ready to accept Sunday’s outcome.

Fear is the emotion that will be haunting those who have taken an open stand against the June 28th coup this weekend. To understand the extent to which the coup regime has been able to instill fear in its population one only has to attend an even hosted by the resistance movement in these days before the election. The attendance at marches that one month ago would draw out thousands of people has greatly dwindled. Ramon Espinoza, a student at the National Autonomous University, explains why people are staying inside. “Our original idea was to take over the university in the days before the election to protest the farce, but we hear in the media and through rumors that soldiers have orders to shoot on sight if they see disturbances. We have to make a decision about whether to face that.” With the human rights organization COFADEH now recording thirty political assassinations by police and military forces in the last five months, Hondurans know that these rumors have teeth.

However, it is not only fear that will keep members of the resistance off the streets on Sunday. It is also part of the strategy being adopted by the National Resistance Front. The movement refuses to recognize the “elections” as such, referring to them simply as “the event.” A call has been put out for people to stay at home. Let the show take place – the thinking goes – and then we will resume the struggle against a new government equally as illegitimate as the current de facto one.

Meanwhile, election observers began arriving yesterday to the Marriott, Clarion and Intercontinental hotels here in Tegucigalpa. They will participate in orientation sessions organized by the Supreme Electoral Council over the next two days. As the website of the National Democratic Institute, which is sending twenty observers, notes, “severe time constraints precluded sending long-term observers, a pre-election mission to assess thoroughly the campaign period, or a large-scale deployment of observers throughout the country.” With such little time and scant presence on the ground, one must wonder how accurate any analysis of the fairness and transparency of these elections by the observers can possibly be. Which of the above emotions will they be able to detect? We certainly know which one the coup regime will be fiercely trying to portray.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Pre-Election Environment in Honduras

by Galen Cohee Baynes, Nicaragua International Team

Hondurans light candles

Young girl lights a candle at a vigil for the International Day Against Violence Against Women near the barricaded Brazilian Embassy. Honduran human rights organizations have recorded twenty nine cases of rape by the military and police since the June 28th coup.

On the walls and street-signs of Tegucigalpa, graffiti proclaiming “Yes to the Constituent Assembly!” and “Go Home, Coup-mongers!” is juxtaposed with posters advertising the presidential candidacies of Elvin Santos and Porfirio Lobo. With just four days remaining before the November 29 elections, which Micheletti’s regime has been adamantly advertising as a solution to the five month-old political crisis in Honduras, the red and blue colors of the two main political parties have consumed the city. Despite the fanfare, the prospect of elections hosted and strictly controlled by a repressive coup regime - with the democratically elected president barricaded in the Brazilian embassy, independent candidates boycotting the electoral process, and independent media outlets being shut down - doesn’t seem to all Hondurans to be any solution whatsoever.

“It’s not even worth the effort to go out and vote on Sunday,” says one taxi driver in the capital. “These elections are illegal. The candidates are not concerned about the people of Honduras.” Indeed, “No,” has been the most common answer to the question, “Will you vote on Sunday?” in the streets of Tegucigalpa.

This sentiment on the part of a significant portion of the Honduran citizenry (not to mention the example set by the Organization of American States, the European Union and the United Nations not to send election observers to Honduras this weekend) has been ignored in Washington. Newly-appointed Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, announced two days ago that U.S. election observers from the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute will be present in Honduras on Sunday. This announcement comes on the heels of comments from the State Department that the election results will be recognized by the United States whether or not Manuel Zelaya is previously restored to the presidency. With these assurances coming from Washington, Micheletti’s government has pushed ahead with the election proceedings.

For the coup regime, pushing ahead includes committing human rights atrocities. Unconfirmed reports of the political assassination of yet another professor in southern Honduras are circulating today. Cases of arbitrary detention continue to flow into the offices of the human rights organization COFADEH. The independent television station, Canal 36, is off the air and the screen reads only, “Our signal is being blocked to prohibit us from distributing information.” These are the conditions that, for the U.S. State Department, constitute ‘free, fair and transparent elections’ in Honduras.

Monday, November 9, 2009

U.S. Hands Victory to the Coup Regime in Honduras

by Galen Cohee Baynes, Nicaragua International Team

Last Friday Manuel Zelaya declared from his refuge in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa that the U.S.-brokered deal signed on October 30th was dead. This declaration was prompted by Roberto Micheletti’s appointment of a “unity and reconciliation government” that does not include a single Zelaya-appointed representative, just as the Thursday evening deadline approached.

It is certainly an embarrassment to the U.S. that the deal it pushed through has fallen apart. But what should be more embarrassing, and is certainly not lost on the population of Honduras, is that Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon set the stage for the deal’s collapse. Though it was assumed that the deal would restore Honduras’ constitutional president to power, Mr. Shannon announced just days later that the U.S. would recognize the November 29 elections whether or not Zelaya was reinstated. The coup regime has quite obviously taken this as a pledge of support from the United States government, and in this context the return of President Zelaya seems far from likely.

The great embarrassment and tragedy here is the blatant disregard for democratic processes and constitutional order in Honduras on the part of the U.S., whose goal of legitimizing the November elections at any cost is now all too apparent. Meanwhile, the U.S. has remained inexplicably mum on the burgeoning number of human rights violations perpetuated by the coup regime: 21 murders, over 800 beatings and physical attacks, over 50 acts of media repression, and over 3,000 arbitrary arrests (see the full human rights report here).

Honduran social movements have said “enough is enough.” In a communiqué released this morning the National Resistance Front announced it would not recognize of the November 29 electoral process. With only twenty days remaining before the elections they do not believe that fair and transparent elections can be held, even if Zelaya is reinstated during that time. Carlos H. Reyes, an independent presidential candidate, also announced his withdrawal from the race so as not to legitimize the process.

U.S. citizens must now ratchet up the pressure on the Obama administration urging them not to recognize the November 29 elections. Our officials must understand that elections held by a coup regime do not signify the end of a coup. They signify its victory.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

More Delays in Honduras

by Galen Cohee Baynes, Nicaragua International Team

The initial optimism inspired by last Friday’s announcement of an agreement signed between the Micheletti and Zelaya camps is starting to dwindle. It is becoming increasingly clear that Micheletti’s government - in a continuation of the foot-dragging tactics characteristic of this coup regime - plans to utilize loopholes in the agreement in order to delay Zelaya’s return to office. The Honduran Congress, which must make a final decision on whether to reinstate Zelaya, is currently in recess. As of yet no announcement has been made as to when Congress will convene to vote on Zelaya’s return. It appears that they will likely stall until the Supreme Court of Justice issues an opinion on the matter.

What does this all mean? Despite the fanfare and pretty words surrounding the signing of the agreement, constitutional order has net yet been restored in Honduras. The coup regime continues to buy time as the elections inch ever closer.

On Tuesday, Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, announced that the United States is ready to recognize the November 29 elections whether or not Manuel Zelaya is restored to the presidency beforehand. Though disheartening, this statement by Shannon is not surprising when the U.S. reaction to the coup d’etat over the last four months is considered. The U.S. approach has from the start been dangerously ambiguous. Rather than standing with the rest of the hemisphere in calling for the “immediate and unconditional return” of Honduras’ democratically elected president, Hillary Clinton and the State Department drew up plans for negotiations between Zelaya and the de facto regime. This provided a legitimate international forum for a coup government they claimed not to recognize or consider legitimate. This ambiguity has been a key factor in permitting the coup regime to maintain their violent grip on power. Shannon’s statement underscores a point that many Hondurans have known all along – the U.S. has been content to watch democracy be trampled in Honduras.

Whether or not the United States recognizes the upcoming elections, it is clear that many Hondurans courageously struggling for the restoration of constitutional order will not accept them so easily. Berta Oliva, director of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared and Detained in Honduras (COFADEH), spoke of the possibility for fair and transparent elections on November 29 as a “sick joke.” Over the past four months freedoms of expression, assembly and the press have been consistently and brutally violated. Without the guarantee of these freedoms, Olivia notes it would be impossible for alternative candidates to hold an electoral campaign. She suggests pushing the elections back three months after Zelaya’s hopeful return to office.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Is the Honduras Agreement a Breakthrough?

by Galen Cohee Baynes, Nicaragua International Team

Out of Honduras today come reports that ousted President Manuel Zelaya and representatives of the de facto government headed by Roberto Micheletti have signed a deal that could lead to the restoration of Zelaya to office. The deal stipulates the formation of a “unity government,” the establishment of a “verification commission” composed of two international representatives chosen by the Organization of American States and two national representatives to ensure that the deal’s guidelines are upheld, and a final vote by the National Congress on whether or not to restore Zelaya to power.

Response to the news of the deal has so far been mixed. A communiqué released earlier today by the National Resistance Front, which has organized daily protestsagainst the coup regime over the last four months, celebrated the “people’s victory” represented by the deal, the expected “restoration of President Manuel Zelaya,” and the symbolism of the deal as an “explicit recognition that in Honduras there was a coup d’etat that should be dismantled in order to return to constitutional order.” However, for many that have been involved in the struggle for the return of democracy in Honduras, questions abound surrounding the true intent of the deal and what its results will ultimately be.

Betty Matamoros of the National Resistance Front expressed concern today that the last-minute deal will serve first and foremost to legitimize the November 29 elections. The ability of the Honduran people to vote freely and fairly in the wake of four months of repression and violence on the part of the de facto government is highly questionable. She also noted that the deal’s signing does not mean an immediate return of Zelaya to the presidency. “First a verification commission needs to be composed, then the Congress has to sign off on the deal, which could be a slow process, and the Supreme Court of Justice might even be involved. We don’t know how long this might take.” The coup regime’s strategy thus far has been reliant on delay-tactics to block Zelaya’s return. If Congress is slow to sign off on the deal, it could mean that the de facto regime retains power in these crucial days and weeks leading up to the elections.

Nectali Rodezno of the Association of Lawyers Against the Coup expresses similar unease with the deal. “This deal will legitimize the elections, but that doesn’t mean it will restore democracy in Honduras.” He also questioned the role of the U.S. government in formulating the agreement. Assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon and two other government representatives have been in Tegucigalpa in recent days and were influential in brokering the agreement. After four months in which ambiguity on the part of the U.S. allowed the coup regime to maintain power, Mr. Rodezno is wary of a deal that makes the U.S. negotiators out to be “saviors.” The coming days will reveal how serious a push for the restoration of democratic and constitutional order in Honduras this agreement truly constitutes.

Meanwhile, the violent repression of protests in Tegucigalpa continues, with military and police firing tear gas on demonstrators in the capital yesterday.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Colombia: Mass Graves and Military Aid

by Jess Hunter-Bowman, WFP Associate Director

Sooner or later the truth has a way of showing its face. Recently, an important sliver of truth came out of Colombia.

In 1999 and 2000, the Clinton Administration and key congressional offices were wringing their hands over how to convince skeptical figures on Capitol Hill and across the U.S. that funding the Colombian Army—the army with the worst human rights record in the hemisphere—was a good idea, or even legal. Since every single Colombian army brigade was too dirty to fund, the Pentagon’s brilliant solution to the impasse was to create an entirely new brigade—a counternarcotics brigade with only “clean” soldiers hand picked out of dirty units.

$1.3 billion dollars soon began to flow from Washington to Putumayo, ground zero for Plan Colombia. Witness for Peace staff with a member of the Colombian military

Soon thereafter, Witness for Peace staff in Colombia took a delegation to Putumayo to assess the situation and stand with the conflict’s victims. During our time there, the group visited the Santana military base and spoke with a Colombian Army Colonel—the commander of a battalion in the counternarcotics brigade. The delegation had been told of countless people killed at the hands of paramilitaries and guerrillas in the area. The paramilitaries were particularly vicious as they moved into the area, brutal massacres being their calling card. Thousands were killed.

On our way to the military base—just a few miles outside of town—we passed Villa Sandra. This farm, we were told time and time again, was the operating base for the paramilitaries in the area.

This paramilitary headquarters was just minutes down the road from the Santana military base—now home to the U.S.-funded counternarcotics battalion.

When the WFP delegation asked the Army Colonel about the paramilitaries in Putumayo, he downplayed their presence in the area and denied the military had any relationship with them. That was before he told the group about his training at the School of the Americas.

WFP took what it had seen and heard to the U.S. Embassy in Bogota and was told the billions in U.S. military aid was only flowing to vetted units—army battalions with no relationship with the paramilitaries, much less involved in human rights abuses.

We took what we’d learned to Washington and were told that the Colombian military was an important ally in the drug war and couldn’t be involved with death squads.

Now, years later, the truth told to us by brave farmers, priests and community organizers in Putumayo has been confirmed by the paramilitaries themselves.

Thanks to our colleague Adam Isacson at the Center for International Policy, we recently learned that John Jairo Rentería Zúñiga, alias “Betún,” a demobilized member of the paramilitaries Southern Front of Putumayo has begun to talk.

“At that farm (Villa Sandra) we had a permanent group, and that is where (paramilitaries) from town brought the people they were going to kill, they handed them over, they executed them and they buried them over there. There are a lot of people in graves, I believe some 800 people,” said alias “Betún”.

He indicated the decision to stop killing people in town was due to a request from the police force. “They asked us not to kill any more people in town, because it created problems for them, so (the police) gave the order that anyone they wanted to kill should be brought to the farm and buried there.”

He testified that the police, the army and the navy worked closely with the paramilitaries.

“We decided to coordinate with (the army). Initially, they told us to stay on the edge of town, later they told us that we could stay in the town, and we came in uniform. Also, they came to our base and rode in our vehicles, and we rode in their vehicles too.”

"When we needed some support, they were there, and when they needed support they’d ask it of us. Meetings were held with their commanders and our commanders, and we had our radio frequencies coordinated.”

To date, no one knows exactly how many people were killed in Putumayo in Plan Colombia’s early years. By 2002 the homicide rate in this part of Putumayo was 123 times the rate in the U.S. during the same year. The Attorney General’s office estimates at least 3,000 people killed by the paramilitaries in Putumayo were buried in mass graves such as the one estimated to have 800 bodies, buried right under the nose of the U.S.-backed Colombian military.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

International Fast in Honduras

The International Fast for Honduras began its water-only phase on October 6th, 2009. One core faster, Andrés Thomas Conteris, is fasting inside the besieged Brazilian embassy with the elected President of Honduras.

We are calling for a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Honduras, the cessation of human rights violations by the de facto regime, and the immediate return to Constitutional order. More information about the fast can be found at

The sign in one of the first photographs in this video says in Spanish, "So there haven't been murders, murderers?" It is followed by the graphic photos (sorry) of three of those already confirmed dead at the hands of the coup regime by the time of my visit, September 5-12th. I took all of the photos in this video during that period, while in Honduras as part of a rapid response delegation with the human rights group Witness for Peace.

I intend now to fast a day for each of those confirmed dead at the hands of the coup regime thus far. Though a difficult number to pin down, I am using the figures of trusted authorities whom I had the honor to meet in Tegucigalpa, such as Bertha Oliva of COFADEH (The Committee of Families of the Disappeared in Honduras). Today is already my eighth day without food, and I plan to go at least a few days longer, and possibly more. Sadly the death toll keeps rising as more politically motivated deaths are confirmed.

If you are in the United States, please call the State Department (202-647-4000) and demand a more coherent US policy toward Honduras. Tell them to stand firmly against the illegal coup regime and their planned elections (which will be far from free or fair). Tell them to freeze bank accounts, impose sanctions, and encourage much-needed investigations in The Hague. Tell our government not to be afraid to stand clearly and openly with the strictly nonviolent resistance movement which has sprung up since the coup (the worst violence they can be accused of is vandalism), and which seeks the same stated goal as the United States government: the return to power of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya and thus the return to Constitutional order in Honduras.

We cannot let this coup stand. It sets too ugly a precedent for the hemisphere and for the world. The era of coups and military dictatorships must not begin again in Latin America.

In solidarity (and hunger),

Nate Kleinman

Monday, October 12, 2009

Give Hondurans Time for Free and Fair Elections

by Roxanne Hanson

The June coup overthrowing Manuel Zelaya, the democratically-elected president of Honduras, may soon reach a resolution. With constant pressure from the US, European Union, international institutions like the UN and Organization of American States, and international mediators like Jimmy Carter, the de facto regime led by Roberto Micheletti has finally agreed to come back to the negotiating table. But they have yet to say that they will agree to any proposed solution.

The Obama administration has spoken out against Micheletti’s recent executive decree suspending constitutional rights that coincided with the repression of peaceful protests and raids pulling independent media off the air. In a visit there last week, I saw hundreds of soldiers and police in full riot gear surround protesters and use tear gas to break up peaceful groups of less than 200 people. Illegal detentions, assault, and even political assassinations have chilled the voice of Hondurans struggling for their democracy.

Despite the documented human rights violations of the de facto regime, Republican Senators and Representatives have flown to Honduras to show their support for Micheletti’s coup. The State Department has tried to isolate Micheletti, and currently backs the proposed San Jose Accords brokered by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to resolve the three-month-old crisis. The Accords call for President Zelaya’s return to office, amnesty for all parties, and elections to be held at the end of November. By all accounts, the accords, which Micheletti has so far refused to accept, offer him and the de facto regime a great deal.

The rule of law and civil society in Honduras have been greatly damaged by the coup and ongoing repression. The only way to insure that democracy is not permanently crippled is to send a clear message that the U.S. does not recognize the demands of bullies who throw democratically-elected leaders out of the country in the middle of the night in their pajamas. Obama and his administration have the opportunity to demonstrate strong support for a nonviolent movement for democracy in Latin America, instead of military dictators.

With constitutional rights restored only a few days ago and continued media censorship, it is hard to understand how negotiators can expect Hondurans to get a free and fair election in less than 60 days. So far, the US, along with the rest of the world, has said it will not recognize the November elections. However, the administration’s push for the San Jose Accords indicates that were Zelaya to return to office, even for a few short days, they might support the fast-approaching vote.

Once the constitutional leader of the country is returned to office Hondurans must be given the political time and space they need to make an informed decision. While the coup regime may leave the presidential office, the lasting effects of this crisis will be with the country, and the region, for years to come. After such a polarizing and divisive time, the people of Honduras deserve more than a few days to decide their future.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Honduran Economy and the Coup

by the Witness for Peace Staff in Honduras

In San Pedro Sula we met with several union leaders to discuss the impact the coup has had in the industrial capital of Honduras, San Pedro Sula. Nora, a union leader, told us about her personal experiences with organizing in northern Honduras.

Union organizer Nora

Nora and her sister started working at a maquila when they were only 15 and 17 years old, though Honduras labor law states that 18 is the minimum age for employment. The young women sewed clothing for Wal-Mart and J.C. Penney for eight years until the factory closed in 2001. After that, Nora couldn’t get a job because she had been blacklisted for her union organizing. Her sister still works in a maquila six days a week.

There are an estimated 130,000 jobs in the textile assembly sector, with 69% of them held by young women. In 2001, Nora began working full time as an organizer for a federation of unions in the maquilas, helping thousands of women fight to get healthcare for themselves and their children. She said it is very difficult for women to get time off from their typical fourteen-hour days to go to the doctor, even though it is guaranteed under the labor code.

Nora was also part of the struggle to change standard company policies on obligatory overtime to make it voluntary by law. Even though it is not always enforced, Nora notes it was a major victory. Unfortunately, production quotas are often so large that women are required to stay at work or run the risk of losing their jobs and workers still face challenges getting companies to pay overtime wages.

In March 2009, the Inter-American Committee on Human Rights (CIDH) held hearings in Washington on the working conditions at 229 maquilas in Honduras. They called upon the Honduran government to investigate what it called, “typical examples of the exploitation of poor people”.

Demand for Honduran exports has decreased sharply – down 15% in the first quarter of 2009. Due to the current global crisis, 29 maquilas have shut their doors since 2008, sometimes closing in the middle of the night and leaving workers with no notice or severance pay. An estimated 100,000 workers in the maquila and private sector have been laid off since last year. The coup has exacerbated the economic downturn. Nora told us that companies are delaying or cancelling orders.

The coup has hit essential services. We heard stories of healthcare, education and social services resources stretched thin. Public hospitals and clinics are also short of supplies. Some have run out of necessary vaccinations. Nora told us of a friend who had complications while giving birth. She had to buy her own re-hydration salts and other supplies, because the hospital didn’t have them.

We were later joined by a university student who is actively organizing at his school. He told us many of his friends who had once wanted to join the army have now changed their mind and he knows military deserters since the coup. He shared his dreams of opening his own business in the future, but he worries that a military draft could take his life. “I would rather be killed then be one of them,” he said with much conviction. “The resistance movement has had a large impact on the younger generations. Almost all of my peers have signed onto a petition denouncing the coup and a military draft.”

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"They are afraid of us, because we have no fear."

by the Witness for Peace Staff in Honduras

This is the mantra of the resistance movement in San Pedro Sula. After meeting many leaders and demonstrators here, we discovered that no solution to this crisis will gain popular support while the military and police repression continues, despite the media’s assertions that a peaceful resolution is near. Protestors are incensed by Micheletti’s actions and decrees including the decree banning constitutional rights and the push for elections in November.

Women from area churches gather for community and action

Women from area churches gather for community and action

On Saturday morning, we participated in an ecumenical meeting, in which people of different faiths came together to share their experiences and ideas for taking action against the injustices they have seen. Thirty women sat together in a circle. They shared how the occurrences of the last few months have taken over their lives – changing their communities, congregations, work and home life. Some cried as they talked about the internal conflict they face deciding to speak out against the coup, but not wanting to put their children in harm’s way. They strategized together on ways to engage their church communities and bring a new image to the resistance to show the world that their struggle is not about Zelaya or any political party.

Over lunch Gladys told us about her eighteen year-old son. He fled to Nicaragua after police showed neighbors a picture of him at a demonstration and asked for his whereabouts. The women confirmed that they are killing young people and then claiming they were gangsters. Soldiers boast that they are “cleaning up society” with these suspicious deaths. Police took a picture of one young man holding an empty tear gas canister in his hand and changed it to a Molotov cocktail. They then put the photo on the news as a wanted terrorist.

Carolina worries about the future Carolina worries about the future

Nelly told us about a young woman who, while running from tear gas at a protest, found shelter in a nearby house with a family not participating in the demonstration. The police busted in and found the woman wearing a shirt with a resistance slogan. They pulled the young women out by her hair and beat her, as well as accosted a member of the family who gave her refuge.

Later, we met with Onelia, Idealmy, and Ernesto who were exhausted after a long day of marching. They have each received death threats, but remain committed to their cause. Idealmy calmly pulled a red resistance shirt from her purse that she said she can’t wear and walk alone in public. She has seen the police taking pictures of her at the demonstrations.

Onelia lives in a secure, middle class neighborhood. On Wednesday, a curfew was in effect but her colonia decided to have a party inside their gated community, complete with volleyball, barbeques, and sparklers for the children. Their festivities were interrupted by 200 police shooting tear gas into the peaceful crowd of families, including grandparents and children. Chaos broke out. Gerald, Onelia’s son, said he was nearly shot when the police told people to go into their homes.

Onelia shares her story Onelia shares her story

While these stories were difficult to hear, we found a spirit of resistance in San Pedro Sula. They are struggling for peace, but this situation does not seem to be on the verge of resolving itself anytime soon. Political repression continues. Now is the time to stand in solidarity with the masses of Hondurans fighting for a return to democracy and their constitutional rights including freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of speech.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

New Perspective

by the Witness for Peace Staff in Honduras

As the demonstrations in Tegucigalpa have continued to diminish, protesters from other parts of Honduras began to return home late this week. Our contacts in northern Honduras invited us to see another side of this country, and hear from people outside the capital.

San Pedro Sula San Pedro Sula

We took the four hour bus ride to San Pedro Sula, the industrial heart of the country. Located only miles from the Carribbean coast, the city of over 1.6 million people, is surrounded by rain-forest covered mountains. It is also home to the maquilas that produce the majority of Honduras's non-agricultural exports. The economic impact of the coup has hit this town, stalling or cancelling new contracts for businesses already downsizing due to the global crisis.

We were welcomed to a reflective weekend for union organizers, workers, activists and people of faith here. Throughout the week, they have held demonstrations and marches in different neighborhoods, and kept a constant presence in the central park, Liberty Plaza. While the police and military are not visible in the same way that they are in the capital, the stories of repression and police violence have been the same. But, the international media has not been here to capture it.

As we arrive, they all seem to be asking "What next?"

Protesters chant in San Pedro Sula's central park

Protesters chant in San Pedro Sula's central park

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Restore Civil Liberties, Protect Human Rights

Witness for Peace joined human rights organizations and faith groups to sign the statement below.

Honduras: Restore Civil Liberties, Protect Human Rights

September 29, 2009

We call on the de facto government of Honduras to restore constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties, respect human rights and freedom of expression, accept international monitoring and mediation, and establish dialogue with the constitutionally elected administration of President Manuel Zelaya. We call on all parties in Honduras to resolve this conflict through peaceful means.

We are greatly concerned about the Micheletti government’s decision to suspend constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties through the decree published on September 26th, 2009 in the official government newspaper. We are also concerned about the violations of human rights and freedom of expression that have taken place since President Manuel Zelaya returned to Honduras on September 21st. We call upon the government to immediately cease excessive use of force by police and military directed at peaceful protestors; arbitrary detentions; and harassment, surveillance and attacks against human rights defenders. We urge the government to cease acts of hostility and harassment directed at the Brazilian Embassy. We are gravely concerned about restrictions upon the freedom of the press, including the suspension of guarantees of freedom of expression included in the September 26th decree and actions to cut off power to, occupy and close media outlets.

We urge the de facto government to immediately accept Organization of American States mediators, and call upon the Honduran Supreme Court and Congress to accept the request of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to conduct a visit to verify the reports of human rights abuses since September 21st. We further call upon the government to provide access to other UN and OAS special rapporteurs to monitor the human rights situation.

Finally, we urge the U.S. State Department to advocate strongly for protection of human rights and civil liberties, and to use all diplomatic means to restore constitutional order in Honduras and support, in conjunction with Organization of American States, a process for national dialogue.

Jean Stokan
Institute Justice Team, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Reverend John L. McCullough
Executive Director and CEO
Church World Service

Vicki Gass
Senior Associate for Rights and Development
Washington Office on Latin America

Robert E. White
Center for International Policy

Jennifer Atlee
Quixote Center

John A. Nunes
President and CEO
Lutheran World Relief

Viviana Krsticeviv
Executive Director
Center for Justice and International Law

Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, Executive Minister
Michael Neuroth, Policy Advocate on International Issues
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

LaMarco Cable
Program Associate for Advocacy and Education
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ

James E. Winkler
General Secretary, General Board of Church and Society
United Methodist Church

T. Michael McNulty
Justice and Peace Director
Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Sara Stephens, Executive Director
Bart Beeson, Program Associate
Center for Democracy in the Americas

Mary B. Campbell
Associate Director for Companionship, Advocacy and Education for Latin America and the Caribbean, Global Mission
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Erin Kliewer
Executive Director


Amanda Martin
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA

Eric LeCompte
National Organizer
SOA Watch

John Lindsay Poland and Susana Pimiento Chamorro
Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean

Marie Dennis
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Nan McCurdy
CEPHRI, Ecumenical Committee of English Speaking Church Personnel, Nicaragua

Stephen Coats
Executive Director
US Labor Education in the Americas Project- USLEAP

Kristen Moller
Executive Director
Global Exchange

Dave Robinson
Executive Director
Pax Christi USA: National Catholic Peace Movement

Rob Dzelzitis
Executive Director
May I Speak Freely Media

Laura Carlsen
Director, Americas Program
Center for International Policy

Sharon Hostetler
Executive Director
Witness for Peace

Barbara Mecker
Staff Liason, Latin America/Caribbean Committee
Loretto Community

Mary Ellen McNish
General Secretary
American Friends Service Committee

Sarah Aird
Board Member
Amnesty International USA

Fear and Intimidation of Women

by Rachel Anderson

Micheletti’s decree last weekend stripping Hondurans of their constitutional rights is rapidly shrinking the massive marches and protests that have taken place here over the last three months. With the ever-present threats of violence and jail, many people now fear talking about the resistance in public, walking the streets, or even “looking different”. Leaders have left their homes, fearing for their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Most of our partners have changed their daily routines to avoid being detained by the military or police.

Strong police presence at a peaceful protest

Strong police presence at a peaceful protest

Alba, coordinator of the Committee of the Politically Persecuted, was at the demonstration on September 22. As she was fleeing the tear gas released on the peaceful, joy-filled crowd, she saw a policeman grab a young man randomly from a crowd and start beating him with a baton. She started to take a picture and yelled, "Don’t hit him!" Police then grabbed her, hit her, and stole her camera. She was detained for hours, enduring verbal and physical abuse. Now Alba feels she can no longer go to public demonstrations. She knows she is blacklisted and will be targeted by the police.

Blanca, Celeste, and Gabriela from the Collective of University Feminists (COFEMUN) told us their ongoing experiences of intimidation. Since July 2nd, COFEMUN staff members have noticed an omnipresent vehicle with tinted windows outside their offices and homes watching them. A pre-school opened up across the street this summer, but no children have ever been seen entering or leaving the building. There have only been security guards and other adults filming people entering and leaving COFEMUN’s offices.

Recently, as one woman left the COFEMUN office, she passed an armed soldier. He quickly blocked her way and said, "We are going to get you soon". Overnight on September 30th the power was cut to their offices and their internal security camera damaged, after capturing an image of a dark silhouette.

Finally, the women shared the chilling tale of three staff members being chased after meeting with a Witness for Peace delegation on September 6th. As they left the office at 8:30pm, a private power company vehicle without plates drove onto their bumper, trying to push them into a corner or off the street.

COFEMUN is not aligned with a political party nor is it a registered partner of the resistance. The women we met do not see Zelaya as a hero. They have simply participated in peaceful marches protesting the violation of the Honduran constitution. COFEMUN promotes women’s rights, including educating woman about birth control options and providing support for gay and lesbian groups. Earlier this year, they helped win the battle to make emergency contraception legal, which several members of Micheletti’s coup regime fought.

We continue to hear stories of women singled out by the police and military with verbal abuse, physical abuse on their breasts and backsides, and cases of rape. Another woman speculated on the sudden failure of her car brakes, right after she took it to a private auto-shop for unrelated repairs.

Blanca noted the psychological and emotional damage this intimidation has caused. “Yesterday was the first night they didn’t announce a curfew in weeks and it was the first night I was able to sleep. During the curfew the military could come and do anything they want. They could rape or kill you and no one would know. That sort of systematic intimidation takes away one’s voice and feeling of worth. It kills you on the inside.”

She despairs of the success the de facto regime has had in so quickly stripping the citizens of their rights and voices. "We are a nobody in the grand scheme of things – just a small country, with no power, economically or politically. Now that all of our constitutional rights have been stripped from us, we feel completely impotent.”

But we have not found a powerless citizenry in Honduras. In just under a week, we have met many organized, intelligent, and incredibly strong people. From this crisis, some veteran human rights organizers have noticed an ¨awakening" in a historically poor and repressed country. Over the last three months, Hondurans that have never rallied together before have united in their efforts to protect their democracy. This massive uprising was not for a politician, but for their shared country and constitutional rights.

Many leaders are especially inspired by the huge influx of young people taking an interest in their government for the first time. The older generation, organized since the 1980s, had worried about the lack of youth interested in most human rights causes. Alba noted that her organization "had a small membership made up of mainly people in their forties and fifties. Now we have many youth as young as 13 years old participating in events."

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Police Detentions in Honduras

by the Witness for Peace Staff in Tegucigalpa

Agustina Flores Lopez, a 54-year-old teacher and mother, was arrested in the early morning of September 22nd as she was walking near the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa. Of the dozens who were originally detained that morning, she is one of only two people left in prison.

Agustina descibes her arrest, “While one of them twisted my arms behind me and put handcuffs on me, another was hitting me in the face and choking me around the neck. First, they took me to the Manchen prison. The Patrol had six members of the resistance there, all beaten. Then, they took me to the Chochi Sosa stadium. At first there were 11 of us detained. Later, I saw some 30 members of the resistance, beaten and wounded. Then I was taken to the CORE VII detention center."

Dr. Juan Almendares was finally allowed to visit Agustina days after her initial arrest. Dr. Almendares found her to be “in a state of deep sadness; her face was distorted. She had bruised skin in various parts of her body - face, neck, and shoulders – caused by the beatings from the police. At times, she was dizzy and lost her balance. She does not remember if she lost consciousness at times. She was confused.” Agustina has pre-existing conditions, including problems with her immune system, leaving her susceptible to infections and diseases.

Agustina, who has received national recognition for her teaching and community work, is being charged with sedition. Judge Laura Casco concluded there was “sufficient evidence” of sedition against Agustina to proceed to trial, and ordered her to be held in jail until her trial. Judge Casco determined that Agustina, if released, might incite others to insurrection.

The only witnesses allowed to speak at the hearing were two police officers who participated in the detention and beatings of Augustina and other detained. Judge Casco found that the police officers used the “minimal amount of force necessary” to detain Agustina, even though a video presented in court showed Agustina with her hands handcuffed behind her back, being beaten in her face and other parts of her body. The judge also used, as “evidence”, that Agustina said that she was a member of the resistance and that she had been exercising her rights to peaceful protest.and human rights groups and lawyers working pro-bono are trying to get her out.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. Agustina's sister Bertha Caceres

Noelia Nunez, a pro-bono lawyer working on Agustina’s case commented on police action in the detainment of Agustina. They “didn’t read the accused their rights, they didn’t detain them in a proper detention center, but rather a stadium. They didn’t provide us with access to the case file or police statements and wouldn’t allow anyone to visit them. Furthermore, Agustina is being charged with sedition, which is a serious and complex crime that implies pre-planned intentions that simply are not true, especially in this woman’s case. Her only crime was being in the street, participating in a peaceful protest. We are confident that she was targeted for being the sister of Berta Cáceres, an active leader in the resistance and director of the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras."

Mario Enrique Molina, metal-worker and father of four, was also detained and beaten on September 22nd. He and his wife are not involved in organizing the resistance, but simply participated in the peaceful march. "They just picked people off the street that were marching peacefully, for no reason." Mario was also charged with aggravated assault and sedition, but was released yesterday after all charges were dropped. He told Witness for Peace, “What they did to Agustina was terrible – I wish it could have been me instead of her. She didn’t do anything wrong and it was horrible what they did to her.”

Mario Molina shortly after his release

Mario Molina shortly after his release from eight days of detention

Silencing the Press

by the Witness for Peace Staff in Tegucigalpa

Today we visited Radio Globo, one of the radio stations shut down after de facto leader Micheletti announced a state of emergency on Sunday restricting constitutional rights, including the freedom of the press. Radio Globo and Channel 36 were raided and taken off the air Monday morning.

Police don gas masks to break up a small march Police don gas masks to break up a small march

When we arrived at the protests in front of the raio station, there were more police than protestors. It seems that the massive police intimidation and suspension of constitutional rights is working to keep people off the streets. Despite the low numbers of protestors, the police blocked off the road and used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.

David Romero, Director of Radio Globo, told us that Monday morning at 5:00 am, more than 200 armed police gathered outside the radio station. At 5:10, they went upstairs and took control of the radio station, cutting off their transmission and taking all of their equipment. While the station has been shut down before in the 3 months since the coup, this is the first time the police have taken their equipment.

WFP interviews David Romero WFP interviews David Romero

"This assault on the public media is illegal and unconstitutional… We are taking legal measures to reclaim our rights to freedom of speech and our property… Our station has been threatened and our transmission cut off with no respect to the law, and now we have had all of our equipment stolen illegally."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Struggle for Rights and Livelihood

This morning protestors gathered again at the Universidad Pedgogica to demand the return of democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya. Surrounded by even more police than the day before, the group decided not to march through the streets for the second day.

A line of police three-deep block the street

A line of police three-deep block the street

As the group dispersed, we talked to four people from Sonaguera, a city eight hours from Tegucigalpa in the countryside. Joel, Doris, Oscar, and Wilmer came to Tegucigalpa yesterday to defend the rights of all Hondurans. They feel it is their duty to “march peacefully in the streets according to their constitutional rights to fight for the respect of the rights of all citizens".

Wilmer lifted his shirt to show us various bruises and cuts on his back and arms that he sustained when nine policemen broke into his house, beat him, and arrested him a week ago. ¨I was actually happy when they put me in handcuffs and took me out, because then I would at least be around other people to witness what they were doing to me. If I was alone in my house with no one around they could kill me."

Wilmer lived for twelve years in the US, but was deported two years ago and returned to his hometown. Currently unemployed and looking for work, Wilmer believes the police attacked him after curfew hours because earlier he had been at a resistance rally at a park. The police had been there taking note of those who participated. The police falsely accused him of robbery and resisting arrest. He was thrown into a cell with 18 other people, including teenagers as young as fourteen and four pregnant women. He wasn’t released until the next day.

Wilmer and his friends all agree that it is very risky to be involved in the resistance movement, but they are proud to participate. They say they will continue even if it means they are beaten, jailed, or killed. They expressed again and again their desire for peace, progress, and the respect of their constitution. Yet, they also fear a civil war may erupt if the de facto regime stalls until the elections in November or tries to assassinate president Zelaya.

The majority of the people in Sonaguera are agricultural workers on farms or plantations growing corn, beans, vegetables, or palm oil. Doris, Oscar, and Joel are all public school teachers, each earning about $400 a month. While this is above the current minimum wage that Zelaya raised to $250 per month, the group estimates that a family needs closer to $750 per month to cover basic expenses.

"That is why we are here," Joel explained. "We aren´t here fighting for Chavez, or Zelaya, or any politician or party. We are here for the majority of poor people that live and work in the country. The majority of us own nothing, and have no way to improve our lives nor the lives of our children.”

Teachers from Sonaguera share their stories

Teachers from Sonaguera share their stories

Each member of the group expressed frustration with the portrayal of their struggle in the media. “This is a struggle for our constitutional rights, that are being violated and repressed. The crisis we are facing is due to the poverty in this country, and the fact that US business interests own politicians here. Micheletti is a puppet for those interests.”

A labor organizer from San Pedro Sula confirmed Joel´s statement that their struggle is for survival. “Ten families that represent .05% of the total population of the country, own 80% of the country´s wealth, condemning the rest of its inhabitants to poverty and misery. It is these families, in alliance with the oligarchy of the continent, that promote and sustain this treacherous attack against our people."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Honduran Voices Suppressed

by the Witness for Peace Staff in Tegucigalpa

Protesting restricted speech under the state of emergency

Protesting restricted speech under the state of emergency

We woke this morning to find one of our only sources for local news, Channel 36, had been shut down in raids early this morning. Cholusat Television, along with Radio Globo, are among the first victims of the state of emergency called Saturday by the de facto regime in Honduras.

The executive decree that restricts many civil liberties and freedom of speech has been widely condemned by the international community including the U.S. State Department. Two Guatemalan journalists covering the raids, Alberto Cardona y Rony Sánchez, were beaten and detained.

The large demonstrations called for today never fully materialized, due in part to fear and intimidation caused by the suspension of constitutional rights. An estimated 5000 people gathered in front of the Universidad Pedagogica this morning, fenced in by lines of police in riot gear on both sides. But protesters ultimately decided not to march through the streets to prevent any further attacks.

Police surround peaceful protesters

Police surround peaceful protesters

The streets of Tegucigalpa remain militarized with dozens of police stationed in various locations, especially in front of banks and large shopping centers. The intimidation has clearly taken its toll. Our partners continue to face harassment and worry about another violent crackdown.

Protesting restricted speech under the state of emergency

Protesting restricted speech under the state of emergency

We woke this morning to find one of our only sources for local news, Channel 36, had been shut down in raids early this morning. Cholusat Television, along with Radio Globo, are among the first victims of the state of emergency called Saturday by the de facto regime in Honduras.

The executive decree that restricts many civil liberties and freedom of speech has been widely condemned by the international community including the U.S. State Department. Two Guatemalan journalists covering the raids, Alberto Cardona y Rony Sánchez, were beaten and detained.

The large demonstrations called for today never fully materialized, due in part to fear and intimidation caused by the suspension of constitutional rights. An estimated 5000 people gathered in front of the Universidad Pedagogica this morning, fenced in by lines of police in riot gear on both sides. But protesters ultimately decided not to march through the streets to prevent any further attacks.

Police surround peaceful protesters

Police surround peaceful protesters

The streets of Tegucigalpa remain militarized with dozens of police stationed in various locations, especially in front of banks and large shopping centers. The intimidation has clearly taken its toll. Our partners continue to face harassment and worry about another violent crackdown.

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.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Constitutional Rights Suspended in Honduras

by the Witness for Peace Staff in Tegucigalpa

Police enter the blockade surrounding the Brazilian embassy

Police enter the blockade surrounding the Brazilian embassy.

Last night President Manuel Zelaya called for a massive mobilization of peaceful protests on Monday. Speaking from the Brazilian embassy where he has been taking sanctuary since his return to the country last week, Zelaya asked Hondurans to come together in the streets of Tegucigalpa in a show of support for the constitutional leader.

In response, Roberto Micheletti, the head of the de facto government has called a state of emergency suspending all constitutional rights for the next 45 days. This executive decree prohibits all unauthorized gatherings, any speech against the coup and media stories that do not agree with official pronouncements. The military continues to clear the streets every night with a curfew that begins at a different time each day, and lasts until 5 or 6 in the morning.

The human toll of the coup continues to grow. Wendy Elizabeth Avila, a 24-year-old student, died yesterday from complications caused by the gases released in the Brazilian embassy on Tuesday. A doctor allowed inside the embassy reports that more than 80 people continue to suffer from the effects of the gas with nosebleeds, sore throats, and signs of internal bleeding.

Protesters confined inside the Brazilian embassy since Tuesday

Protesters confined inside the Brazilian embassy since Tuesday

Diplomatic relations with the de facto regime have further deteriorated. The de facto regime refused entry to an OAS delegation that arrived this afternoon to try to negotiate an end to the crisis. Micheletti has given the Brazilian government 10 days to declare Zelaya’s status or risk losing diplomatic status for their embassy in the Honduran capital. The US administration revoked the diplomatic visa of Blanca Micheletti, the coup leader’s daughter, who had been working in the Honduran embassy in Washington, DC.

Human rights leaders in Honduras are extremely concerned about the growing tensions here, and continue to call for international support. If you have not already done so, please call the State Department and White House with the following message.

"Work for the unconditional immediate reinstatement of President Zelaya. Pressure the Honduran military to stop the violence against the people and their democratically elected president, Mel Zelaya."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Mistaken Identity

Tourist Milko Duran Cespedes

On July 12, 2009, Milko Durán Céspedes, a Colombian national born in Venezuela, was in a hotel in downtown Tegucigalpa. He had been in Honduras for a number of days vacationing with his girlfriend. Milko decided to leave the hotel in the late afternoon, believing that day’s protest to have ended. He was quickly detained by police.

Police said that he matched the description of a suspect charged with assault on a Congressman. Upon arriving at the police station it was discovered that Milko possessed dual Venezuelan-Colombian citizenship. Police claimed that he was an “agent of Chavez” and a member of the FARC sent to Honduras to cause disturbances.

Milko was held in jail for one week and charged with “acts of terrorism.” While in jail he was tortured: officers beat him and threatened to use electric shock or cut off his fingers if he refused to sign a confession. Milko signed and is currently on restricted release that does not allow him to leave Honduras.

Taken from testimony given to International Team member Galen Cohee Baynes on September 25, 2009.

Mistaken Identity

On July 12, 2009, Milko Durán Céspedes, a Colombian national born in Venezuela, was in a hotel in downtown Tegucigalpa.  He had been in Honduras for a number of days vacationing with his girlfriend.  Milko decided to leave the hotel in the late afternoon, believing that day’s protest to have ended.  He was quickly detained by police. 

Police said that he matched the description of a suspect charged with assault on a Congressman.  Upon arriving at the police station it was discovered that Milko possessed a Venezuelan passport.  Police claimed that he was an “agent of Chavez” sent to Honduras to cause disturbances. 

Milko was held in jail for one week and charged with “acts of terrorism.”  While in jail he was tortured: officers beat him and threatened to use electric shock or cut off his fingers if he refused to sign a confession.  Milko signed and is currently on restricted release that does not allow him to leave Honduras.

Taken from testimony given to Witness for Peace Rapid Response Delegation to Honduras on September 9, 2009.