We went to San Pedro Sula on Tuesday, August 4, the day after a peaceful rally in the Central Park had been brutally attacked by National Police. We interviewed a number of people who were victims of that attack and other human rights violations in San Pedro Sula. Most poignant was the testimony of a woman whose son had been disappeared.
On Thursday, some of us went to the town of Juticalpa, capital of the department of Olancho. We visited David Murillo, who is in prison there. David’s son, Isis Obed Murillo Mencias, 19 years old, was killed by an Armed Forces sniper a month before, while attending the big rally at the Tegucigalpa airport awaiting the return of President Zelaya. Zelaya’s plane was prevented from landing. When we arrived at the prison, David’s daughter, Rebecca, was outside. She had brought food for him because the food in the prison is very bad. Rebecca and her mother, Silvia Mencias, had moved from Tegucigalpa to Juticalpa to be near the prison, so that they could bring food. They left the smaller children in Tegucigallpa in the care of Rebecca’s 17-year-old sister. Rebecca was able to join us in visiting her father, even though it was not a regular visiting day. We had come with his lawyer.
David Murillo had gone to the COFADEH office to receive assistance in filing charges because of the killing of his son. Within two hours of leaving the COFADEH office, he was detained and imprisoned. The charge against him is for a minor violation relating to an incident two years before which required him to make a monthly report. He had stopped making the reports when he moved to Tegucigalpa. He is convinced that the real reason for his imprisonment is that he has a strong voice to speak out against injustice. He had been active in efforts against deforestation and water privatization. He had been an Evangelical minister.
In his environmental work, he had collaborated closely with a Catholic priest, his good friend. When David was imprisoned, his captors threatened him with a pistol, forcing him to sign a blank paper. Then a “confession” was typed above his signature, saying he had murdered three people and raped a woman. That was a total fabrication and was not part of the charge against him, but it was enough to convince his superiors in the Seattle-based Evangelical church to expel him. Consequently, his family is now without income. This is but one example of the repression which is taking place.
On Saturday evening, some of us went to the town of Sabana Grande to visit some of the people participating in a march to Tegucigalpa calling for the return of President Zelaya and constitutional democracy.. They had finished marching for that day and were at a school where they would spend the night. There were marches converging from all over the country to meet in the two major cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. They arrived in those cities on Tuesday, August 11, the International Day of Solidarity with Honduras.
In Tegucigalpa, we met with human rights activists, teachers, and lawyers. On Wednesday, August 5, when students at the national university held a rally, the National Police invaded the university attacking the students. They even knocked down the Rector (President) of the university. She wasn’t hurt, but spoke out forcefully in support of the students and against the invasion. Latin America has a tradition of autonomy of universities. It is illegal for police or armed forces to enter a university unless invited. We went to the university when we heard the news of what was going on. Most of us stayed on the outskirts, but two members went inside. One was tear-gassed along with the students. The other interviewed the rector.
In general, our interviews and observations made it clear to us that Hondurans who oppose the coup are becoming more unified. A number of people told us that, while they support President Zelaya, the issue is broader than one man. The coup is a violation of constitutional democracy. They don’t talk about whether Zelaya will return, but when. Everywhere in Tegucigalpa one sees graffiti against the coup. COFADEH names 9 people who have been killed as victims of the coup. We met a group of lawyers who put the number around 25, saying many people are afraid of coming forward to make denunciations. We attended rallies where people had hats with “Mel” on them. Mel is the nickname for President Zelaya. There were t-shirts with the message, “They are afraid of us because we are not afraid.” (Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo.)
We also met with U.S. ambassador Hugo Llorens. Our main message to him was “Why are you still here?” Other countries have withdrawn their ambassadors from Honduras to protest the coup. Ambassador Llorens insisted that the U.S. State Department is unequivocal in calling the coup a coup. He said that he doesn’t talk with the coup leaders. But the Honduran media, mainly controlled by the coup supporters, takes full advantage of the ambiguity in the U.S. actions. Journalists and media which oppose the coup are being shut down.
Today, Wednesday, I received further reports from members of our delegation who remained an extra week. Last night there was a curfew in Tegucigalpa and today peaceful rallies are being brutally repressed. The following two paragraphs are from one of the reports:
“Today’s 46th consecutive march in resistance against the coup government in Honduras was met with an enormous police repression. From my perspective inside a food court across from the Central Park and National Cathedral (from which our exit was blocked as soon as the march approached) we could see the police in full riot gear enter from a side street and begin tear-gassing the protestors without provocation. Some protestors responded by throwing the tear-gas canisters, and rocks, back at the police. The majority of protestors gathered in the Central Park. A continued and increased police presence fired tear gas into the crowds gathered in the Central Park. Police contingencies were spread across the downtown area, randomly arresting members of the organized indigenous movements of COPINH and OFRANEH, and concentrating protestors for detention near the National Congress. Upon leaving, we saw another contingency of an additional 50 or so National Military arriving towards the Central Park, creating a presence of at least several hundred military and police. Unconfirmed reports at this time estimate 60 people have been detained—some beaten—at the Congress.
“An additional estimated 40 people have been detained at the Universidad Pedagogica—the site of last night’s unprovoked repression of marchers who’d arrived from the interior of the country—and reports detail that the military was firing at will upon the university as they approached and may currently be torturing the forty detained inside. Last night the special forces of the police repressed those at the University with tear-gas, pepper gas, and projectiles. Currently the military has control of the Pedagogica and the surrounding area, refusing entrance and exit. The police are also controlling the STIBYS union hall, a private building which has served as the organizing center for the Anti-Coup resistance front.” [When I was there we visited the STYBIS union hall twice. The first time, a wake was being held there for one of the teachers who had been assassinated.]
Unfortunately, President Obama is playing into the hands of the coup by refusing to take stronger measures. He should withdraw Ambassador Llorens. The U.S. should deny visas of any kind to the coup plotters, especially the businessmen who are behind the coup and taking advantage of it. (Some diplomatic visas have been revoked, but those persons can still enter the U.S. with other kinds of visas, e.g. tourist visas.) And U.S. bank accounts of coup plotters should be frozen. All aid of any kind to the coup regime, even if it is already in the pipeline, should be stopped immediately. I urge you to contact the White House with these demands. The White House comment line is (202) 456-1111. The fax number is (202) 456-2461. Or you can send an e-mail by going to http://www.whitehouse.gov/CONTACT/
August 14, 2009
Patrick Bonner is coordinator of the Colombia Peace Project, a nonpartisan association based in Los Angeles committed to education and advocacy in support of nonviolent efforts for peace, human rights, and social justice in Colombia.