Thursday, January 28, 2010

Whitewashing the Coup

by Galen Cohee Baynes, Nicaragua International Team

Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, winner of Honduras’ controversial November 29, 2009 presidential elections, was officially sworn into office yesterday morning in Tegucigalpa. Many Latin American nations continue to withhold recognition of the elections, which were held under the auspices of Roberto Micheletti’s coup regime while democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya took haven in the Brazilian Embassy. Despite massive human rights violations on the part of the de facto government leading up to the elections – including the violent suppression of peaceful protests, the closure of independent media stations, and political assassinations – the U.S. announced that the elections were “free, fair and transparent.”

U.S. Election Observers pose for a photo with Roberto Micheletti U.S. election observers pose at a party with Roberto Micheletti

In recognizing the elections the U.S. hopes to usher in a new regime that will be able to distance itself from the crisis set off in Honduras by the June 28th, 2009 military coup d’etat. However, for many Hondurans, the elections did not represent an end to the coup. They represented the beginning of a new phase of the coup in which Mr. Lobo’s government will seek legitimacy without returning the ousted leader to power or holding the coup leaders acountable for their illegal actions.

The elections were held in an atmosphere of fear, with the opposition coalition calling a "popular curfew" to boycott the elections and to keep its members safe from harm. Witness for Peace's new 10-minute video, Shot in the Back, filmed on the weekend of the elections, demonstrates some of the repressive tactics used by the Honduran police and military to suffocate popular resistance to the farcical electoral process.

After the November elections, the coup regime continued with impunity. Democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya was never returned to the presidency, due in part to U.S. spokesperson Thomas Shannon's public guarantee that the U.S. would recognize the elections even without his reinstatement. After spending 129 days holed up in the Brazilian Embassy in the capital, Zelaya was escorted out and flown to the Dominican Republic yesterday afternoon. On Tuesday, Honduras’s Supreme Court dismissed all charges against the military leadership involved in perpetuating the coup. The commanders, including General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez – a graduate of the School of the Americas – will not face penalties for sending soldiers to kidnap and remove Zelaya from the country at gunpoint. If Latin American history tells us anything, providing amnesty to those who have committed crimes against their own peoples leaves a population deeply polarized and divided.

In addition, fears abound that Mr. Lobo’s presidency will continue the coup regime’s policies. The economic agenda he sets is particularly crucial. Economics was, of course, one of the main reasons that Manuel Zelaya was ousted from power. Honduras’s recent experience with neoliberalism has been to promote an export sector based the low wages that can be paid to workers in one of the hemisphere’s most impoverished countries. Mr. Zelaya’s decision in 2009 to raise the minimum wage by approximately 60% terrified the owners of textile factories (maquilas). This policy, along with the expansion of relationships with the Latin American countries involved in ALBA (The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) and the introduction of Venezuelan oil to Honduras through the Petrocaribe program, triggered the animosity of the Honduran elite and the U.S. interests that back them. Zelaya's attempt to hold a referendum on convening an assembly to draw up a new, more inclusive and democratic constitution, led the entrenched powers to overthrow Zelaya. With that clear warning, we can expect Mr. Lobo to move away from any attempts to diversify the Honduran economy through relationships with the ALBA countries, fight to keep the minimum wage low, and ignore the growing popular call for a new constitution.

Most disturbingly, attacks and threats against opposition voices have increased since the November 29 elections. Members of the LGBT community that have protested against the coup government have been especially targeted for attacks. Respected international human rights monitoring groups have been tracking human rights abuses on the part of Honduran security forces since the coup. Be sure to see the scathing report of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and read what Amnesty International has to say about restoring human rights in Honduras post-coup. The tireless Honduran human rights organizations COFADEH and CODEH continue to receive and document reports of human rights violations.

Just last week lawyer Nectali Rodezno, who has headed the Lawyers' Front Against the Coup, contacted Witness for Peace to report death threats against his wife and young child. On January 18 unidentified callers told his family that that they would be killed if Mr. Rodezno does not stop “becoming involved with the power structures.”

Honduran activist and leader Nectali Rodenzo
Honduran activist and leader Nectali Rodezno

So, while the United States aligns itself with Mr. Lobo’s government and speaks of the elections as the “way forward,” many Hondurans that have suffered at the hands of the coup regime will not be content with this proffered solution. The social movements that have coalesced in opposition to the coup, including the National Front of Resistance to the Coup, will continue to struggle for an open, democratic system of government. And those who have been attacked or lost family members to violence on the part of the state will not cease in their search for justice. Concerned citizens of the United States must continue to work in solidarity with the people of Honduras as the country enters into a new phase of its history.

As this cycle of violence completes a military coup to protect the economic status quo we must continue to raise awareness about what is happening in Honduras. Write letters to the editor and op-eds when Honduras is mentioned in your local papers. Forward the Shot in the Back video to friends and family. See the reality for yourself on a Witness for Peace delegation to Honduras. Don’t let the world forget!