honduras

Popular Resistance to the Coup in Honduras: an Interview with Bertha Caceres

This interview with Honduran human rights activist Bertha Caceres was conducted on September 4 by Beverly Bell, author of Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance and Program Coordinator of Other Worlds.

Bertha Caceres is a co-founder of COPINH, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations in Honduras. COPINH addresses human rights issues such as the impunity of large land-owners and the forced eviction of campesinos; illegal de-forestation by corporations; and compensation for victims of human rights violations committed by the Honduran government.

Beverly Bell: Here we are in Havana with Bertha Caceras Flores in the Forum on Emancipatory Paradigms, speaking about the tactics and repression of those behind the coup d'etat.

Hillary: Now Is the Time to Restore President Zelaya

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya returned to Honduras yesterday; President Zelaya is under the protection of the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa. The coup regime immediately declared a curfew; Honduran military and police have surrounded the embassy, violently dispersing President Zelaya's supporters.

As Secretary of State Clinton has noted, the question of whether President Zelaya can return to Honduras has been resolved by events. He has returned. The question is now restoring him to office.

Speaking after meeting with Costa Rican President Arias, Secretary Clinton said:

now that President Zelaya is back, it would be opportune to restore him to his position under appropriate circumstances, get on with the election that is currently scheduled for November, have a peaceful transition of presidential authority, and get Honduras back to constitutional and democratic order in a very - on a very clear path toward that goal.

That's good. But before there can be a diplomatic resolution of the crisis, the US must make clear to the coup regime that a violent crackdown will not be a way out. The reports from Honduras indicate that a violent crackdown is already underway.

Brazil's Foreign Minister Amorim has warned that any threat to President Zelaya or the Brazilian embassy would be a grave breach of international law. OAS Secretary General Insulza said the de facto authorities must be responsible for the security of President Zelaya and for the Brazilian Embassy.

But an adviser to the coup regime's foreign ministry claimed that international law would not stop the coup regime from raiding the Brazilian embassy.

State Department Recommends Aid Cutoff to Honduras

After two months, the State Department is poised to formally declare what was obvious to most of the world: on June 28, Honduras experienced a military coup.

State Department staff have recommended to Secretary of State Clinton that the ouster of Honduran President Zelaya be formally declared a "military coup," which could cut off as much as $150 million in U.S. funding, Reuters reports.

The semi-official story has been that State Department lawyers were studying the events in Honduras to see if they met the "technical definition" of a "military coup." But all along the State Department made clear that it was purposely delaying its formal determination to give "diplomacy" - the talks in Costa Rica between representatives of President Zelaya and representatives of the coup regime - a chance to work.

It was never explained why making this determination - which, under U.S. law, requires a cutoff of aid to the coup government - would have interfered with "diplomacy." On the contrary: it was immediately obvious that the obstacle to a negotiated solution was the intransigence of the coup regime, which refused to accept a compromise proposal that would allow President Zelaya to return. So, as many Latin American governments argued - including the Costa Rican government - if the U.S. wanted a negotiated solution, it needed to ramp up pressure on the coup regime.

But the State Department is now, at last, conceding that its previous efforts were insufficient. Better late than never - much better.

No doubt Republicans in Congress who have supported the coup regime in Honduras will now complain loudly when Secretary Clinton makes her formal determination - assuming that she follows the recommendation of her staff.

In anticipation of right-wing Republican complaints, it is important to note two key facts.

Coup Protestor Gang-Raped by Honduran Police

On Friday, Latin America scholars sent an urgent letter to Human Rights Watch, urging HRW to speak out on violations of human rights under the coup regime in Honduras and to conduct its own investigation. HRW hasn't made any statement about Honduras since July 8.

One of the things Human Rights Watch should be investigating is allegations by Honduran feminists and human rights groups that Honduran police are using rape and other sexual violence as weapons of intimidation against Hondurans nonviolently protesting the coup regime.

[UPDATE: Human Rights Watch put out a very strong statement today (8/25), highlighting the IACHR report, noting, among other things, the sexual assault allegations, and urging the U.S. to exert more pressure for the restoration of democracy. Kudos to Human Rights Watch.]

The Spanish news agency EFE reports:

The group Feministas de Honduras en Resistencia said Thursday that is has documented 19 instances of rape by police officers since the June 28 coup that ousted President Mel Zelaya. There have been many other cases of rape, but the women have not reported them out of fear of reprisals, Gilda Rivera, the executive coordinator of the Honduran Center for Women's Rights and head of Feministas, told Efe.

The activists say that women taking part in the resistance to the coup are being targeted. "We've obtained testimonials from women who've been sexually abused, beaten with cudgels on different parts of their bodies, especially the breasts and buttocks," adds the report presented Thursday at a press conference in Tegucigalpa.

Latin America Scholars Urge Human Rights Watch to Speak Up on Honduras Coup

On Friday nearly 100 Latin America scholars and experts sent an open letter to Human Rights Watch urging HRW to speak up about human rights violations in Honduras under the coup regime and to conduct its own investigation of these abuses. The letters' signers include Honduras experts Dana Frank and Adrienne Pine, Latin America experts Eric Hershberg, John Womack, and Greg Grandin, and noted authors Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein.

The Latin America experts note that if Human Rights Watch took action to shine its spotlight on these abuses, it would be more likely that the Obama Administration would put greater pressure on the coup regime to end these abuses and restore democracy. Such pressure would likely be decisive. The experts argue that "the coup could easily be overturned," if the Obama administration took more decisive measures, "such as canceling all U.S. visas and freezing U.S. bank accounts of leaders of the coup regime" - as Rep. Grijalva and 15 other Members of Congress called for on August 11. A recent New York Times editorial urged the Obama Administration to exert more pressure on the coup regime if it refuses to accept a compromise for President Zelaya's return.

Human Rights Watch has not issued a statement or release on the situation in Honduras since July 8, a little over a week after the coup.

Amnesty: Honduras Photos and Protestor Testimonies Show Extent of Police Violence

There has been very little attention in the U.S. press to repression in Honduras under the coup regime. Hopefully, that will now change: Amnesty International issued a report today documenting "serious ill-treatment by police and military of peaceful protesters" in Honduras, warning that "beatings and mass arrests are being used as a way of punishing people for voicing their opposition" to the coup.

An Amnesty International delegation interviewed people who were detained after police and military broke up a peaceful demonstration July 30. Most detainees had injuries as a consequence of police beatings.

Esther Major, Central America researcher at Amnesty International, said:

"Detention and ill treatment of protestors are being employed as forms of punishment for those openly opposing the de facto government, and also as a deterrent for those contemplating taking to the streets to peacefully show their discontent with the political turmoil the country is experiencing."

U.S. media often rely heavily on international human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to report on human rights abuses. So it will be interesting to see how much U.S. press coverage the Amnesty report gets.

If the repression under the coup regime were more widely known, it would be much more difficult for representatives of that regime to peddle their story in Washington that their government is "democratic" and "respects the rule of law." How is the coup's hired gun Lanny Davis going to spin Amnesty's report on police repression of peaceful dissent against the coup?

Mr. Obama, You Do Have a Button to Reverse the Coup in Honduras

The good news is that Latin American criticism of the Obama Administration's failure to pressure the coup regime in Honduras has reached the level that Obama himself can no longer ignore it. The bad news is that Obama's response so far seems to be to stay the course: talk left, act right.

Reuters reports:

President Barack Obama said on Friday that he has no quick way to resolve the political crisis in Honduras, where supporters of a coup are refusing to let ousted President Manuel Zelaya return to power.
...
"I can't press a button and suddenly reinstate Mr. Zelaya," Obama said.

Actually, Mr. Obama, you do have a button. You're probably right that it won't "suddenly" reinstate Mr. Zelaya. What's much more likely is that pressing your button would make the coup regime much more likely to accept the compromise proposal put forward by the Costa Ricans to allow President Zelaya's reinstatement. Since your Administration sponsored the Costa Rican process, it seems natural that you would do something to make it work. Why not press your button and see what it does?

Sixteen Democratic Members of Congress - Representatives Raul Grijalva, Jim McGovern, John Conyers, Jose Serrano, Chaka Fattah, Mike Honda, Barbara Lee, Jesse Jackson, Jim Oberstar, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Delahunt, Jan Schakowsky, Donna Christensen, Sheila Jackson Lee, Sam Farr, and Linda Sanchez - have urged you to freeze U.S. assets and suspend U.S. visas of coup leaders in Honduras. Why haven't you already done so, or even threatened to consider it?

Honduran Coup Decree Shows Coup "Justification" Was After the Fact

Supporters in the U.S. of the coup in Honduras have frequently made two claims to justify it which are demonstrably false, which have nonetheless been widely accepted in the U.S., because they have been largely unchallenged in the U.S. media: the Honduran Congress authorized Zelaya's removal, and the basis for that removal was Article 239 of the Honduran Constitution, which forbids someone from being President if he has already been President, and says that anyone who advocates changing this provision will cease to be President.

The actual decree of the Honduran Congress is attached. Note the following.

1) the document never mentions Article 239.

2) the document is dated "MIERCOLES 1 DE JULIO DEL 2009," i.e. Wednesday, July 1, 2009, three days after the coup on Sunday, June 28.

So: 1) the decree of the Honduran Congress, which is being cited as justification for it, was produced when the coup was already three days old, and 2) this decree never mentioned Article 239.

Note that President Zelaya didn't advocate any change to term limits. He proposed a nonbinding referendum on whether there should be a constitutional convention. Even had the nonbinding referendum been successful, there is no plausible scenario in which it would have led to a change in this provision of the constitution prior to the scheduled November election in which Zelaya was to be replaced and in which he was not a candidate. At most it would have resulted in a binding referendum for a constitutional referendum on the same November ballot on which Zelaya would have been replaced. So the claim that President Zelaya was "trying to extend his term" is not only false, but logically impossible.

The Minimum Wage and the Coup in Honduras

The coup in Honduras - and the at best grudging and vacillating support in Washington for the restoration of President Zelaya - has thrown into stark relief a fundamental fault line in Latin America and a moral black hole in U.S. policy toward the region.

What is the minimum wage which a worker shall be paid for a day's labor?

Supporters of the coup have tried to trick Americans into believing that President Zelaya was ousted by the Honduran military because he broke the law. But this is nonsense. A Honduran bishop told Catholic News Service,

 

"Some say Manuel Zelaya threatened democracy by proposing a constitutional assembly. But the poor of Honduras know that Zelaya raised the minimum salary. That's what they understand. They know he defended the poor by sharing money with mayors and small towns. That's why they are out in the streets closing highways and protesting (to demand Zelaya's return)"

This is why the greedy, self-absorbed Honduran elite turned against President Zelaya: because he was pursuing policies in the interests of the majority. The Washington Post noted in mid-July,

 

To many poor Hondurans, deposed president Manuel "Mel" Zelaya was a trailblazing ally who scrapped school tuitions, raised the minimum wage and took on big business.

In a statement condemning support for the coup by U.S. business groups, the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation expressed its concern that under the coup regime, there are

 

In Honduras, Simon Says: "End Your Coup"

The relationship between the actions of the Obama Administration and the actions of the coup government in Honduras is starting to look like those children's games where you follow the order of the leader, but only if he says the special phrase. The Obama Administration says it wants to see President Zelaya restored. When the Administration appears to mean business, the coup regime appears to move towards compromise. When the Administration signals that its words are not to be heeded, the coup regime reasserts its intransigence.

Wednesday afternoon, it was reported that the leader installed by the coup had told Costa Rican mediators he personally accepted a compromise that would allow President Zelaya to return, but needed help in convincing the Honduran business elite to go along. This followed by one day the U.S. announcement that it had suspended the U.S. diplomatic visas of four leaders of the coup government. Initial press reports of the U.S. action indicated it was an escalation of U.S. pressure.

But subsequent statements by U.S. officials downplayed the idea that it was an escalation of U.S. pressure, asserting that it was just a continuation of the existing policy of not recognizing the coup government.

Predictably, then, the reports of movement in the coup government's position were followed by reassertions by the coup government that there was no change: President Zelaya could not return.

The State Department said it wants to restore democracy. But apparently the State Department didn't say "Simon Says."

When the mediation by Costa Rican President Arias was announced, there was much fanfare about what a clever diplomatic stroke it was by the State Department, taking the issue out of the hands of the South Americans.