Friday, July 31, 2009

Honduras - massive crackdown

Yesterday the resistance to the coup took the form of many tomas, or highway blockades, across the country. The army and police responded with violent mass arrests in at least four locations. Read about it via Al Giordano, who's now reporting from Honduras, and Adrienne Pine and her correspondents (one of whom was arrested yesterday). Hundreds of people were arrested, including popular movement leaders Juan Barahona and Carlos Reyes, the independent presidential candidate, who was beaten badly enough to break his arm. In Tegucigalpa, the police fired into a crowd of demonstrators, flooding hospital emergency rooms; a shot to the head has left one man in critical condition [Rodrigo Roger Vallejo, in image above by Arnulfo Franco, AP]. [Update: 2:55pm, 1 August - Vallejo died early this morning. As with the murders of two other demonstrators, a golpista mouthpiece claimed he'd been killed by fellow opponents of the coup. There are really no limits to their deranged lies.] Police assaulted anti-coup reporters, seizing and smashing their equipment.

Meanwhile, U.S. ambassador Hugo Llorens met with Pres. Zelaya yesterday afternoon at the U.S. embassy in Managua. That should have happened a week ago, but it's still a good thing. Llorens restated that the U.S. recognizes only Zelaya as president. The meeting was a signal to the coup regime, but at this point much stronger pressure is needed: freezing the U.S. accounts and revoking visas of the coup funders, Lanny Davis' employers Camilo Atala and Jorge Canahuati, and the military high command. It's long past time for Sec. Clinton to take note of and criticize the repression that the coup regime is inflicting on the population. Silence, after a crackdown on the scale of yesterday's assault, is consent.

Maybe this violence is the snarling response of a cornered, desperate coup that's about to implode. Help make it so by calling on the administration to speak up and to put the pressure where it's needed. Get your member of Congress to cosponsor H.Res.630, Rep. Delahunt's bill calling for an end to the coup and restoration of the legitimate government of Honduras. [Update: 3:15pm, 31 July - More urgently, have him/her sign Rep. Grijalva's letter to Pres. Obama urging the U.S. government to do more to put pressure on the coup-makers. (Edited 3:50pm for clarity.)]

A U.S. speaking tour of Hondurans opposed to the coup has been organized by the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC). Tonight they're in Philadelphia [from comments]:
Direct from Honduras: Voices of Resistance to the Coup d'Etat
7pm, Friday July 31, Calvary Church (48th & Baltimore Ave.)

Dr. Juan Almendares - internationally known Honduran medical doctor, human rights activist, environmental leader and alternative medicine practitioner; recipient of the 2001 Barbara Chester Award for his ground breaking efforts with prisoners, victims of torture, the poor, and indigenous populations; torture survivor himself, has been targeted by death squads on several occasions.

Abencio Fernandez Pineda - coordinator of the non-governmental Center for the Investigation and Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (CIPRODEH)

and three more Honduran speakers.

The tour will continue to New York. Tomorrow, Saturday, August 1, the speakers will hold a community forum at 4:00pm, 1184 Fulton Ave., Bronx. [Update: 3:30pm, 31 July - Event added: Sunday, Aug. 2, 7:00pm, Bluestockings, 172 Allen St.] A press conference is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 3, at 11:00am. at UN Plaza, 1st Ave. and E. 44th St. The tour will also go to Boston and Chicago.

An emergency delegation to Honduras for August 2-9 is being organized by the Quixote Center. See here for more information (post also includes address through which contributions can be made to support the popular resistance). [H/t Charles.]

Update 1: 6:15pm, 31 July - Police and military violently broke up a road takeover near Santa Rosa de Copan, in western Honduras. Many people including women and children are reported wounded, over 50 arrested. Report from COPO, the Committee of Western Popular Organizations [Spanish] here, backed up by observations from John Donaghy, an English-speaking lay religious worker in the area. The COPO report makes a number of references to threats against Father Fausto Milla; an earlier report from Donaghy about Fr. Fausto is useful background.

Update 2: 5:10pm, 1 August - In the dark 1980s, the U.S. government converted the Honduran countryside into a gigantic base for its regional war against the left. The U.S.-trained and -funded military and its special squads kidnaped, tortured, and killed anyone who might be sympathetic with the left, who might offer resistance to the presence of camps of armed men everywhere, and who might form the seeds of a popular movement like those the U.S. right and the Honduran upper class were determined to crush. Very few people were brave enough to speak out against this terror. One of the loudest and bravest voices was that of Ramon Custodio, who helped build the Honduran Human Rights Committee (CODEH) into the respected organization it remains today.

Custodio himself, however, has destroyed the respect he earned then. Caught up in a political spat with Zelaya since before the 2005 presidential election, he increasingly abandoned his responsibilities as governmental human rights ombudsman. By June 28, he was one of the most enthusiastic participants in the coup (which he denied had taken place, calling it a "democratic transition"). He's continued to promote lies: pretending that the coup government has committed no human rights violations, that there's been no media suppression, and even that Isis Murillo, shot and killed when soldiers fired on the crowd at Toncontin airport waiting for Pres. Zelaya's plane on July 5, had been shot by other demonstrators.

On Tuesday, he was one of the coup officials whose diplomatic visa was revoked by the U.S. State Department. Yesterday, he was stripped of his membership by the International Federation of Human Rights. The Federation called for an investigation into Custodio's recent actions and omissions, which have so completely discredited him. Such appropriate sanctions are satisfying, but it's impossible not to be saddened by the sorry spectacle: a man who has turned his back on everything for which he once fought and for which he was so deservedly admired. [Update: 4:00pm, 30 Aug - 'Rubber Man', essay on Custodio by Allan MacDonald, Honduran political cartoonist who was one of the first targets of repression after the coup.]

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rest of world turns as usual

It's been all Honduras here for the last month because for once I feel I can actually contribute something by blogging. I'm no expert, but fifteen years of Central American solidarity work and my (weak, weak) Spanish still put me far ahead of many people likely to be mildly interested but unable or uninclined to seek out information. Connecting with posters who are experts in one way or another, and who're using their skills to provide a solid alternative to the superficial and zombie-lie-filled old media, reminds me that another world is possible.

But maybe, reader, you're looking for an update on how our own democracy continues to be threatened by an out-of-control military in a permanent-war national security mindset, impunity for torture, and an overweening oligarchy. A Lovely Promise is here to serve:

- Peaceful and law-abiding people and organizations continue to be massively spied on by the U.S. military and "fusion centers" that connect the military with intelligence and law enforcement agencies and completely unregulated, unaccountable private database contractors.

- U.S. troops are never going to leave Iraq. The ones who've come home are assaulting and killing other people and themselves, and those who stay alive and out of jail are heading off to that other war. Which is unwinnable and on its way to becoming permanently unpopular.

- No one who ordered or had command responsibility for torture (always illegal) is going to be prosecuted. At most, cases might be brought against some more scapegoats, underlings who went beyond what was "authorized" (impossibly, illegally) in spurious opinions written by Justice and Defense Dept. lawyers.

- Corporate rule of our politics and media means that the very best we can hope for in the way of health care reform is the House bill, H.R. 3200. And it sucks.

- The banks and financial companies own us. That very much includes Pres. Obama, who's helping to keep us from being able to see what's being done with the trillions we've handed over to them.

But there are occasional bright spots: Mohammed Jawad, who was twelve when U.S. soldiers took him prisoner in 2002, has been ordered to be freed next month and returned home to Afghanistan, won't face charges there, and probably won't face U.S. criminal charges (in part because much of the "evidence" against him was produced by torture). Huzzah! [Hat tip Gary Farber]

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Honduras hopeful signs

Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, held hostage by the military since Friday with her children in the town of El Paraiso, 12 miles km from the border, has been allowed to told she can proceed [Sp.] to Las Manos to reunite with her husband. She intends to make it a caravan that will bring food, water, and medicine to supporters who've been trapped in the border zone; the military and police have prevented any supplies from reaching them since Saturday.

In a possibly related development, the U.S. State Department has, at long last, revoked the diplomatic visas of four officials of the coup government and is reviewing the cases of others, as well as family members. [Informative comment on diplomatic vs. tourist visas here.] The U.S. embassy spokesman in Honduras declined to name the officials, citing (unspecified) "privacy laws". Two who have acknowledged the U.S. action are Tomas Arita Valle [Sp.], the Supreme Court judge who signed the order for the military to 'arrest' Zelaya, and José Alfredo Saavedra, president of the Honduran Congress, elected to replace Micheletti in that position. Surely Micheletti himself is one of the other two. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Update: 11:40am, 29 July - Excellent: The third confirmed newly visa-less coup participant is Ramon Custodio [Sp.], former human rights activist turned lying pond scum. He's the the government's Human Rights Ombudsman, who's been publicly fighting with Zelaya since before his election. Custodio immediately supported Micheletti as president on June 28, denied there'd been a coup, said since that he's seen no evidence of media suppression or human rights violations, and insisted that Isis Murillo was shot by other demonstrators at the airport on July 5.

Micheletti says he hasn't been notified [Sp.] that his visa has been revoked. Uh huh. I'm surer than ever he was first on the list.

Another hopeful sign from yesterday: Nike, Adidas, The Gap, and Knights Apparel wrote an open letter Monday to Sec. Clinton supporting democracy. Adrienne Pine brings the righteous snark:

Micheletti: when these guys start opposing you, you really know you've gone too far. Nike can move its subcontracting to any number of "stable" regimes, and come out as a promoter of human rights. When they beat the U.S. State Department to it, that's just embarrassing.

It goes without saying that this letter from big U.S. businesses with Honduran manufacturing facilities got way more coverage than similar appeals from visiting Honduran members of Congress who oppose the coup. It might have been what finally provoked the long-overdue cancellation of visas.

Update 2: 1:20pm, 29 July - Another visa revoked. (I think this is in addition to the ones announced yesterday, because State Dept. spokesman Ian Kelly seemed to be saying then that the original four targets were all people currently in Tegucigalpa.) This latest loss of visa is doubly significant, as it belonged to Roberto Flores Bermudez, Honduras' ambassador to the U.S. at the time of the coup, who stayed on to represent the coup government. The step makes way for Enrique Reina, the legitimate ambassador appointed since by Zelaya, to take over the office. (Reina was minister of communication at the time of the coup). With continued pressure, maybe this will result in restoration soon.

Update 3: 12:15 pm, 30 July - Zelaya, still in Nicaragua near the border, named Carlos Ortez Colindres as one of the coup officials to have his U.S. diplomatic visa revoked, and called for the U.S. also to freeze the assets of coup participants. Ortez was the ursurper govenment's first foreign minister, whose racist remarks about Obama forced his removal from that office, but not from the cabinet (he's now the minister of government). This may mean that Micheletti still has his visa. At the end of the Tuxtla summit yesterday (where Vice President Mejia stood in for Zelaya), Oscar Arias called for further sanctions on the coup government; take the hint, Sec. Clinton.

There is clearly some level of disunity in the Honduran military. Several reporters and DC think tank types have said that the communique placed on the armed forces web site this past weekend was drafted by two young colonels in Washington with the aides of a Democratic senator or member of Congress. In interviews with Radio Globo Saturday and the BBC Mundo Monday, Gen. Vasquez gave conflicting interpretations of the statement's apparent support for the "San Jose accord". Today, a document purporting to be from dissident officers surfaced, calling on Gen. Vasquez to step down. If genuine, it's another hopeful sign. If not, it's still a very interesting dishing of dirt on the high command.
[Update 3 edited at 1:30pm July 30 to add links and new information.]

Update 4: 2:15 pm, 30 July - Pres. Zelaya did an interview with Amy Goodman that aired on Democracy Now this morning. At the end, he said, "Many thanks; during the thirty days I’ve been in exile, it’s the best interview I’ve had." He's got that right; a must read (or watch).

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Honduras crossroads

Lots of comings and goings.

President Zelaya is on the road in Nicaragua, heading to the border at Las Manos. The military, which does not normally man the crossings, has deployed in strength across all the southern entry points, and has reimposed a 6 pm curfew (11 pm in the rest of the country). Hondurans are trying to reach the border, some on foot because the military has shot out the tires on their vehicles. The Some police are on strike, apparently wanting to make it clear who's in charge of repressing the resistance to the coup. {But see Charles' posts in Update below.]

Coup leader Gen. Romeo Vasquez is headed to Miami to address a Christian Dominionist convention. He's scheduled for a Saturday morning session, from 9:45-10:45, to "release powerful revelation concerning God’s Kingdom in the earth today, and how you can live victoriously in His Kingdom no matter what is happening in the world system." The most optimistic reading of that would be "how you can retire to Miami even if the U.S. government cuts you off". [h/t BoRev]

But here in the real world, despite Gen. Vasquez' thinly veiled death threat today against Zelaya, the U.S. government won't break ties with the Honduran military, revoke visas or freeze the assets of coup leaders, or do anything further to put pressure on the generals or the businessmen who give them their orders. Instead, they'll tut-tut about Zelaya's decision to return "resulting in violence", as if he were the one firing on unarmed citizens. If Obama and Clinton were truly intent on Zelaya's restoration to office, they'd send the ambassador and the commander of the U.S. airbase at Palmerola to the border to welcome and accompany him.

Not far from where Gen. Vasquez is scheduled to impart prophetic anointing is the headquarters of the U.S. military's Southern Command. School of the Americas Watch demonstrators will be there at noon Saturday to condemn the coup and call for an end to U.S. military ties to Honduras.

And at the same time, Rep. Connie Mack, R-Nation of Miami, will be going to Tegucigalpa to meet with the coup regime, conveying the support of the Republican right that so clearly would welcome a coup here.

Update: 2:45pm, 24 July - Good sources for further info: Charles' blog posts at MercuryRising, RealNews video overview of the battle over Honduras in Washington, and Adrienne Pine's reports from friends inside Honduras and Hondurans in DC.

Update 2: 4:30pm, 25 July - Highly recommended: Adrienne Pine's concise and accurate rebuttal of the most common lies/misconceptions surrounding the coup. Do read it all, but this passage is the most urgent:

It is time for President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take a firm stance against the violence being carried out in Honduras by individuals and institutions trained by the U.S. military both in Honduras and at the School of the Americas, by taking concrete measures required by U.S. law in the case of a coup: removing their ambassador, ending all military alliances, and cutting off trade. It is time that we, as Americans, demand they do so. If we accept the lies supporting the violent attack on Honduran democracy, we only weaken our own.

For Sec. Clinton to chastise Zelaya's return to Honduras as "reckless", while saying not a word in criticism of the coup regime's repression and violence -- arbitrary detentions, assassinations, media suppression, suspension of constitutional rights -- sends an unmistakable message to the rest of the hemisphere that the U.S. government is fundamentally allied to the coup supporters, unwilling to apply full pressure to them, and backing Zelaya's return more for appearance's sake than out of any real determination to beat back this threat to democratic governments everywhere.

Update 3: 12:30pm, 26 July - At about the time that the NY Times story about the military's split with the coup government's rejectionism hit the web last night, Gen. Vasquez was interviewed by phone on Radio Globo making the same point, live-blogged by by listeners Al Giordano and Charles. This new media world is a strange and wondrous thing... [Update 7/27: Charles has the remarkable Radio Globo exchange between Xiomara Castro (Zelaya's wife) and the general. An earlier post has more distressing reports from the ground in Honduras. Via a commenter at RAJ's (who's done the tremendous service of translating and analyzing both the 'San Jose Accord' and the military's communique), Gen. Vasqez is now denying [Sp.] that the military supports negotiations or Zelaya's return.] Negotiations seem set to resume in Washington on Tuesday, with the "San Jose accord" (a proposal, not an agreement) as the basis for discussions. [Update 7/27: Nope; Zelaya will probably attend [Spanish] a long-scheduled regional summit, the Tuxtla Group, with the other presidents of Central America, Mexico, Panama, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, that begins today in Tamarindo, Costa Rica; it will focus on the Honduran crisis.] We have today and tomorrow to convey to our government the demand for full restoration of Zelaya's government, including all cabinet ministers, as well as the mayor of San Pedro Sula, whose removal by force has gone uncovered by U.S. media. Amnesty for Zelaya's removal is up to the politicians, but there can be no amnesty for the killings and assaults on coup opponents.

Media and U.S. government silence reigns on these crimes of the coup-makers and their supporters, of which the most recent are: The death-squad-style murder [Spanish] of Pedro Ezequiel Martinez Magdiel Muñoz, a man taken prisoner by the military near the border Friday (along with many others trying to get to Las Manos), who was found by a highway Saturday dead, handcuffed, and with 42 stab wounds. [Update 7/27: El Tiempo coverage of his funeral, attended by thousands.] The same message was sent in the capital Friday, when 15 shots were fired near the airport at a car carrying the son of Rodrigo Trochez, a Liberal Party member of Congress who'd been publicly speaking and lobbying against the coup in D.C. this past week. Juan Trochez and a friend with him were both wounded, Trochez seriously.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Honduras: waiting game is no game

It's sickening enough that there are members of Congress who openly support the coup in Honduras. But Ginger Thompson of the New York Times' Mexico bureau wants you to believe that the squawking of a little splinter group of Republican rightists represents "tiny cracks emerging in the solidarity of the coalition of countries demanding the return of the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya."

How else to intepret this passage, as she presents no other evidence for the assertion?

There were also signs of discord in the coalition of countries demanding Mr. Zelaya’s return. At a subcommittee hearing in Washington on Friday, several members of Congress criticized the Organization of American States for suspending Honduras not long after it lifted the suspension against Cuba.

Representative Connie Mack, Republican of Florida, urged the United States to cut its support for the O.A.S., which gets 60 percent of its financing from Washington. He said the organization’s response to the crisis in Honduras proved it was a “dangerous organization,” because it had sided with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, a stern ally of the ousted Honduran president, in undermining democracy in the region.

"What has happened in Honduras was not a military coup,” Mr. Mack said. “If anyone is guilty here it is Mr. Zelaya himself for having turned his back on his people and his own Constitution." [my emphasis]

The only way this would represent disunity among the countries pushing for Zelaya's return to office is if Miami were a separate country. Which, well... never mind.

The article as a whole is actually better than the run of recent big-media accounts of the coup and its aftermath. It reports the strikes and roadblocks by the popular movement supporting Zelaya's return to office, and reports the actual results of the CID-Gallup poll in Honduras showing a plurality of opposition to the coup (as compared with Reuters and Juan Forero of the Washington Post, who simply repeated the results as reported by La Prensa. Wild that "journalists" would take their cue from a coup-supporting paper that photoshopped the blood from the now-iconic photo of Isis Murillo (taken by Eduardo Verdugo for AP), shot dead by the military at the airport while waiting for Zelaya's attempted return.

Murillo's father, an anti-logging activist, spoke to the press recently recounting [Spanish] the shootings at the airport last Sunday and holding responsible Billy Joya, a retired Battalion 316 commander who's evaded every effort to bring him to justice for tortures and murders in the 1980s and who was named a ministerial advisor by the coup government. Yesterday Sr. Murillo was taken away by men in plain clothes. He is at serious risk.

Murillo's is one of the many lives at stake if the U.S. government does simply fold its hands and wait for magical results from the Costa Rica "negotiations". It may be that this administration, which is clearly eager to demonstrate that it opposes Zelaya, the Honduran popular movement, and Hugo Chavez, is backing away from its support for Zelaya's restoration. But Miami Republicans spreading pro-coup nonsense in a House hearing is not evidence for that. (For an interesting account of the hearing, see Adrienne Pine's anthropological field notes.)

Update: 12:30 pm, 13 July - All you'll hear about in the U.S. media is that the coup government lifted the curfew, but the repression is actually ratcheting up: Two leaders in the popular movement were assassinated [Spanish] over the weekend, and seven TeleSUR reporters and crew are in the process of being expelled [Sp.]. What will it take to get the U.S. government to cut off the rest of the aid and exert the many other forms of pressure it can bring to bear on the coup-makers?

The victims: Roger Ivan Bados, a labor leader and activist in the Democratic Unification party, killed on Saturday evening by three shots fired by a man on a bicycle near his house in San Pedro Sula. Ramon Garcia, from the province of Santa Barbara in easternwestern Honduras, was forced under off a bus by soldiers and shot; his sister and his nephew's wife were also wounded in the incident. [Updated to correct 11:45am 14 July.]

[Image: Anti-coup demonstration at U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa July 2; Eduardo Verdugo, AP]

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