Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Honduras: siege goes on behind coupmakers' theater of dissent

This morning at dawn, hundreds of riot police surrounded and invaded the National Agrarian Institute, arresting at least 50 farmworkers who had been occupying the building since the coup. The campesinos acted to prevent the coup regime from destroying or altering land titles that were in the process of being registered as part of land reform under the Zelaya administration.

Today's arrests are just the latest brutal crackdown under Micheletti's decree suspending the constitution for 45 days -- the one he issued in secret on September 22 but didn't publish in the government register until September 26, over the names of 16 functionaries of his usurper cabinet. When reaction to the decree began to sink in, further shredding the already tattered legitimacy of the widely unrecognized elections, even some of the coup backers distanced themselves. Micheletti, wanting to appear to respond and to spread the responsibility around to his co-conspirators, promised to repeal the coup "as soon as possible", pretending that doing so would require action by the Supreme Court and Congress. That's transparent b.s.: he could repeal the decree by the simple act of issuing another to cancel it.

It's a perfect theatrical setup for the coupmongers: Headlines give the dictatorship credit for "relenting", rightist presidential candidate Porfirio Lobo gets international credit for opposing the antidemocratic decree, but the actual state of siege remains in effect as a cover for not only Monday's military shutdowns of Radio Globo and Channel 36 television, but threatened shutdowns of radio stations in Choluteca and Valle, the removal and arrest of the farmworkers, and assaults on whatever other targets remain on the golpistas' hit list.

And we enter the fourth month of the coup. Barack Obama was one of only two presidents in the hemisphere to make no mention of Honduras in his address to the UN. Thanks so much for all the change, Mr. President.

Update: 1:15 pm, 1 Oct - Even Ramon Custodio gets a role in the theater of dissent, though apparently the script he picked up was not that of the nation's human rights ombudsman. He wants the decree suspending the constitution repealed not because it deprives people of their rights of free assembly and free expression, but because issuing the decree "is to accept that we are no longer able to maintain public order, peace, and is a tacit acceptance which does not reflect the situation in which we are living." Okaaay then...

The illegal decree continues in force, now in its second week. For the first time since the coup, the riot police actually completely prevented the resistance from conducting a march in the capital. Looks like a military dictatorship from here. The people responded last night by holding a pot-banging, horn-blowing show of support for Zelaya in the area around the Brazilian embassy. Take your hands off your ears, Sec. Clinton.

Update 2: 4:15 pm, 1 Oct - Stories running next to each other in Tiempo: The election tribunal wants the decree repealed immediately because it puts the credibility of the elections at risk. The state prosecutor promises the election tribunal he'll send to jail anyone who boycotts or advocates against participation in the elections. Carlos Reyes confirms that he'll withdraw his candidacy for president unless Zelaya and the constitutional order are restored. Hmmmm.....

Image: riot police at National Agrarian Institute.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Honduras: saying my piece

The news is very bad, and I can't be on the computer much more today.

This was my email letter to the State Department this morning (links added here; the previous post has more on the embassy attacks and rejection of negotiations):

Subject: Honduras

What will it take to get the U.S. government to do the right thing? How many dictatorial, murderous, and outlaw acts must the coup regime take before this department utters one single word of condemnation?

Since Friday morning alone, the regime has:
- mocked the UN Security Council by renewing its attacks on the Brazilian embassy, assaulting those inside with chemicals and sonic cannon (LRAD).
- detained, searched, and harassed diplomatic and medical personnel entering and leaving the embassy.
- deported from the country OAS ministers arriving to help facilitate negotiations.
- rejected negotiations of all kinds, including those previously agreed to (including feeble, obvious time-wasters like the 'consultations' suggested by the U.S. as announced by spokesman Ian Kelly on Thursday).
- issued a decree suspending basic human and constitutional rights, paving the way for even more deadly repression.
- decreed the closure of the only two broadcast media reporting on the regime's crimes and giving air time to the majority of citizens who support the restoration of the legitimate, elected government.

Lives are at stake. The credibility of the U.S. government, and this administration in particular, is at stake. The future of elected democracies in the hemisphere is at stake.

Don't delay: Immediately denounce the undemocratic, vicious repression of the Micheletti regime. Freeze the U.S. accounts of those participating in and backing the coup; you know who they are. Formally declare this a military coup, at long last, now that the masks are completely off, and follow through by ending all U.S. aid -- including the so-called "democracy promotion" money that goes exclusively to the coup-supporting organizations in the Union Civica "Democratica".

The two-faced policy must end today. Stop encouraging the dictators in Honduras by remaining silent while they assault and murder citizens, by encouraging their run-out-the-clock-to-elections strategy with fake negotiations, and by continuing to send money while mouthing support for restoration of the constitutional order.
[Image: Wendy Elizabeth Avila, a law student in Tegucigalpa who died Saturday from the effects of tear gas.]

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Honduras: reality sinking in?

The vicious and hysterical response of Micheletti and his regime to Pres. Zelaya's return has, understandably, made a negotiated settlement even less appealing to people who have been actively resisting the coup for three months. But the talking has begun. Gen. Vasquez visited the Brazilian embassy on Wednesday night (purely routine! no meeting with Zelaya! Uh huh.). Yesterday the four coup-supporting candidates and the Auxiliary Bishop of Tegucigalpa openly visited with Zelaya. La Prensa's pictures of the hugs and handshakes have elicited resentful grumbling among the resistance, but also, I have to think, deepened cracks among the coup-makers.

The UN's action of withdrawing political and material/technical support for the elections has had a real effect (hence the candidates' meeting); it's a direct blow to the coup regime's strategy of pretending that the elections will be a "reset button" magically returning the country to democracy. Today the UN Security Council meets [Sp.] in a special session on Honduras (requested by Brazil on Tuesday).

Update 2: 4:00pm, 25 Sept - Yikes. On the very morning that the UN Security Council met and condemned the coup regime for harassing the embassy, the military and police launch tear gas and high-decibel sound attacks at it. First Lady Xiomara Castro de Zelaya reports by phone that the gas is forcing those inside to wear cloths to cover their mouths and noses, that some are vomiting blood and bleeding from the nose, and that they have severely irritated throats. Medical personnel are being prevented from getting in, as are deliveries of supplies. This is via Radio Globo, and photos appear to confirm; I'm not sure what, if any, media correspondents are inside the embassy this morning.

A mission led by OAS chief Insulza will arrive today or tomorrow; it was planned for Tuesday but the coup regime prevented it with their lockdown of the country, which involved a 42-hour curfew, suspension of constitution, closure of all airports, and sealing of the borders.

Update 1: 3:00pm, 25 Sept - Nope. Micheletti still trying to run out the clock, per this AP report from two hours ago:

Honduras' coup-installed government plans to block the arrival of a commission of foreign ministers heading to the country this weekend to help resolve the country's political standoff, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias said Friday [on the Costa Rican radio program Nuestra Voz].

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate who moderated previous talks between Honduras' opposing factions said the government of interim President Roberto Micheletti has told the Organization of American States not to send the ministers because they will not be allowed into the country.
His announcement signaled a setback just as the two sides appeared to be edging toward possibly restarting talks to end the turmoil sparked by the ousting of President Manuel Zelaya on June 28.

Micheletti's government spokesman Rene Zepeda said interim leaders want Arias to visit Honduras first so they can explain the situation to him, and that the ministers would be welcome next week.

Arias said he has no immediate plans to visit Honduras.

The curfew, illegally imposed to begin with, has been arbitrarily lifted and reimposed several times since, and is still in effect in five departments and the border areas with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. There are only 9000 troops in Honduras' military; as they and police from outlying areas have been deployed to the capital to put down demonstrations and any sign of resistance (which became explosive in the many poor neighborhoods after the regime's violent crackdown and extended curfew), they're leaving behind towns and villages without much of any presence by government forces. Oscar reports that local resistance organizations have announced that they will take control of their own areas and declare them liberated.

This isn't only about Zelaya, but about the way politics functions in Honduras. It's a long struggle to achieve genuine, participatory democracy. The organizing that's happened in response to the coup has changed the equation since the first weeks after June 28. Pres. Zelaya grasps, I hope, that the coup-makers are not the only ones with cards to play in the negotiations that have begun may lie ahead.

Update 3: 4:15pm, 25 Sept - Given the two depressing updates above, it's clear to me that the embassy visits and "dialogue" was all for show, to buy time and unearned benefit of the doubt, while the repression continues and increases. Just how much will the U.S. government tolerate? The current U.S. ambassador to the UN got where she is by being willing to look the other way while hundreds of thousands, ultimately millions, were slaughtered. We have to put the current atrocities in their faces, and in that of the public, to have the slightest hope that this administration will do enough and in time. There's a demo on Monday in DC; it's time to enlist the "respectables" to help bring more visibility to those speaking for the Hondurans under assault.

Update 4: 8:15pm, 25 Sept - Perhaps thanks to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' publicizing Xiomara Castro's reports, the coup regime went on the national broadcast system this afternoon to offer up lame, lying explanations for the symptoms of those suffering inside the embassy ("routine street cleaning, loud machinery"). Red Cross medical staff and Andres Pavon of the human rights organization CODEH were allowed inside; they were accompanied by UN investigators. See Al Giordano for more of the sickening story.

Maybe this will be the last straw for some who might be heard by our government. I don't fool myself that anyone in power cares about poor Hondurans tortured and stabbed to death, or a left-wing Congressman beaten by twelve policemen right in front of the legislature in broad daylight. But the protection of embassies -- unfettered communications, entry and exit, and immunity from police or military force -- is such a fundamental basis of international law and international relations that this dirty and spiteful assault might actually shock the conscience of some elites.

Update 5: 5:15pm, 26 Sept - It's hard to overpraise the work of The Real News' Jesse Freeston over the last three months. Someone who hasn't been following the situation could get up to speed just by watching the collection of his video reports on the Honduran coup, and even someone who's been paying close attention would be likely to learn things. He deserves an award. [As Charles notes in comments, in the meantime, you can express your appreciation with a contribution to The Real News Network.]
[Image: men and women among the nearly 200 taken prisoner when police violently cleared the street in front of the Brazilian embassy 22 September; photo by Paul Carbajal]

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Honduras: over the edge

The best summary of the roller coaster of events over the last two days is by Laura Carlsen. Her post yesterday, when Zelaya returned to the capital and connected with his cabinet and his supporters in and outside the Brazilian embassy, conveyed clearly the hopeful possibilities of the development.

The coup regime has responded by dropping even the facade of constitutionality, declaring a curfew beginning at 4 pm yesterday with no legal process whatsoever. Since then they've extended the illegal curfew, declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution, and have begun attacking coup opponents both at the embassy and throughout the country. Carlsen has the cogent summary and the vivid details.

The shameful silence of our own government is now intolerable. If it continues through the end of this day, no one will be able to deny our complicity. There's already a lot of blood on our hands; please read and act to prevent more. Update: 5:30pm, 22 Sept - This inadequate, equivocal crap is only a baby step up from tacit endorsement of the coup regime's response. There is no mention -- much less condemnation -- of the illegal curfew, the assault on peaceful protestors, and the suspension of the constitution. Instead, the State Department "appreciates" Micheletti's "promise" to respect the Vienna convention protecting diplomatic sites, even after the coup regime has already violated it by cutting power, water, and phone to the Brazilian embassy.

State Department 202-647-4000. Demand that the U.S. government publicly recognize and condemn the coup regime's abuses against peaceful political expression, media, and diplomatic integrity, and that stronger actions be taken to sanction the coup participants.

Update 2: 6:15pm, 22 Sept - One ray of optimism: Giordano says (no source) that the administration has invited Rep. Bill Delahunt, sponsor of the strongest anti-coup resolution in Congress, to join the UN delegation in New York. He's certain to be a voice for effective measures; good on whoever had that idea. Brazil has asked for a Security Council session on the crisis; another good idea.

News reports from those in touch with Hondurans and on-the-scene observers as well as the now-intermittent internet transmissions from Radio Globo and other media under siege:
RAJ/RNS, Adrienne Pine, Al Giordano, DailyKos posters 1 2, 9/24 UN, 9/24 OAS, and Charles the indispensable.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Honduras: long road no matter what

Authentic democracy means that people at the grassroots level actually participate in shaping the policies and laws that affect their lives. We don't have that here, and we're not getting any closer to having it.
There's no mass movement to demand it, and there won't even begin to be for some time. Many of the people and organizations that might form part of such a movement in the U.S. are still waiting and hoping for some shadow of the changes they thought they were voting for last year. A few are beginning to grasp that in some fundamental ways, the major political parties here are not really so different than they are in Honduras: two wings of the rich overclass, one with a slightly more warm and fuzzy reputation, but neither willing to broaden the small group of people who really make decisions.

But there is such a movement in Honduras. It's been building for decades. Thanks to the arrogance of those who funded and organized the overthrow of the elected president, and to the half-support of our government, the coup regime has sparked sustained resistance that has fused that movement into a national organization.

They have a concrete goal: la constituyente, a national constituent assembly to rewrite Honduras' constitution. Restoring President Zelaya to office between now and the November 29 elections will not change that, because, as independent presidential candidate Carlos Reyes said this week, constitutional reform is the only way out of the country's social and political crisis.

A long-term, nonviolent organizing movement facing a repressive government that represents the rich needs every human resource it can call on. Faith is one such resource, and Honduras is blessed with several priests and bishops who recognize that the church needs to be with the people. International solidarity is another. The national resistance is devoting the fall to organizing itself down to the local level, and has called on supporters abroad, particularly in the United States, to form solidarity committees. The first international conference for a constituyente will take place in Tegucigalpa October 8-10.

Update: 3:30 pm, September 18 - Admin note: This post was begun and saved on the date shown, but posted today around noon. Another excellent video from RealNews's Jesse Freeston on the topic of this post is out today (link includes transcript). It features Oscar Estrada, the Honduran filmmaker and resistance participant whose dispatches have appeared on Adrienne Pine's blog since the coup.
[Image: marchers from La Esperanza heading to the capital for the national demonstration on August 11. Shaun Joseph, Quixote Center.]

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