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  September 24, 2009

The siege of Tegucigalpa

Repression ordered to the neighborhoods of the Honduran capital, forcing the poor to fight or starve
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Al Giordano is an investigative journalist based in Chiapas, Mexico. He has spent most of the summer of 2009 reporting from post-coup Honduras. He is originally from the Bronx, New York. Since 2000 he has been the publisher of Narco News, which reports mainly on the US War on Drugs effects on the people of Mexico and Central America. He is also the founder of the School for Authentic Journalism and writes a blog called The Field which focuses on US politics.

Sandra Cuffe is an independent journalist and photographer from Montréal, Canada. She contributes regularly to The Dominion magazine in Canada, and Latin American political newsletter, Upside Down World.

You can find her photos from Honduras at:

As the anti-coup resistance approaches 90 consecutive days of civil disobedience, it counts itself a new international ally. The government of Brazil has replaced the United States as international organizer in bringing down the coup government of Roberto Micheletti. The Real News gets an update on the situation in the capital from independent journalist Sandra Cuffe, and a fresh analysis from Al Giordano.

Produced by: Jesse Freeston


JESSE FREESTON, PRODUCER, TRNN: The Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa has been under varying degrees of military siege ever since deposed President Manuel Zelaya appeared at the Brazilian embassy on Monday. A violent 88-day standoff has caused a new force to step in and take leadership over the international response to the situation: the government of Brazil. The newest chapter in the crisis was set in motion when the coup regime imposed a nationwide curfew on Monday afternoon. Thousands of anti-coup protesters were defiant in camping out around the Brazilian embassy, only to be driven away at sunrise on Tuesday by the police and military, with the help of batons, water cannons, and teargas. The regime then sealed a large perimeter around the embassy, cut off the power, water, and phone service to the building, and tried to force out the occupants with sound weaponry. Brazil's leadership reminded the regime about the responsibility to protect foreign missions encoded under the Vienna Convention, and eventually the utilities were reconnected and UN workers were allowed to bring food to those inside. But for many Hondurans without UN support, the military-enforced curfew has made food hard to come by, evoking a powerful reaction. The Real News spoke to independent journalist Sandra Cuffe, who joined us by phone from Tegucigalpa.

SANDRA CUFFE, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: The vast majority of Tegucigalpa's population are extremely poor. They live on a day-to-day basis. And so when there's an ongoing military-imposed curfew, it means literally that many people can't eat. And so in a lot of the neighborhoods people have been sort of defying the curfew, going about their business. And when police came in to enforce the curfew, in some cases people started organizing and fighting back. In well over 20 neighborhoods around the city, there was huge movement yesterday and into last night. In some neighborhoods, that included, you know, thousands of people from the neighborhoods setting up barricades, literally street-fighting off the police. Some neighborhoods actually managed to get the police and army out of their neighborhood. There was really serious repression in a number of neighborhoods—kicking people's doors open, throwing teargas into their homes, regardless of the elderly, small children. And so a lot of Tegucigalpa was pretty much a war zone yesterday and into the night. There's dozens of people who were wounded, including by live bullets, who've been taken to the hospital. There's unconfirmed reports of several deaths.

FREESTON: Numerous declarations of torture were received at the Honduran human rights monitor the Community for the Families of the Detained and the Disappeared, with many individuals sporting visible evidence of their treatment by authorities. Meanwhile, much of the international media has singled out the poor in Honduras as the situation's antagonist, publishing stories about looting and rioting.

CUFFE: In terms of looting, there's been a little bit of looting, mostly of a couple of supermarkets, and that looting happened over a day after military curfew, and literally people need to eat. It's very, very targeted to businesses that are owned by coup supporters, not like your mom-and-pop store on the corner. And in terms of riots, it depends how you define "riot". If the police or the army are coming into a Tegucigalpa neighborhood and there's a lot of repression, yeah, the response in some neighborhoods probably could be classified as a riot or an uprising or insurrection.

FREESTON: Jesus Canahuate, one of Honduras's wealthiest businesspeople and a key player in the coup, told Bloomberg News on Wednesday that Honduras business owners were losing $50 million per day under the curfew. The Real News spoke to longtime investigative journalist and publisher of the Narco News, Al Giordano, who recently returned from spending most of the summer in post-coup Honduras.

AL GIORDANO, PUBLISHER AND JOURNALIST, NARCO NEWS: This is what happens when you back an undemocratic coup that does things like curfews. If there's a curfew, your workers can't work at your sweatshop. And if they can't make a living and the stores are closed, they can't buy your products, either. So eventually this comes back and bites the oligarchs.

FREESTON: The events in Honduras have coincided with the opening of the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly, and many of the heads of state in attendance used the opportunity to call for international action in reinstating President Zelaya. Of the countries that have spoken so far, Columbia President Álvaro Uribe and US President Barack Obama were the only representatives from the Western Hemisphere to refrain from commenting on the issue. Obama's silence was a major theme on radio call-in shows in Honduras, as the US has previously imposed its leadership over the crisis by sponsoring the as-yet ineffective San José Accords. The US government continues to send economic aid to the regime, maintains an active military base in the country, has yet to impose trade sanctions, has not frozen the assets of the coup plotters who operate in the US, and has yet to criticize the regime for his ongoing human rights abuses, even applauding it for implementing the curfew on Monday. On Wednesday, the State Department made another in a series of statements that have equated the attackers with the attack.

IAN KELLY, SPOKESPERSON, US STATE DEPT.: We do have concerns about the possible impact it may have on the situation on the ground, especially the possibilities for clashes. And for this reason we've called on both sides to exercise restraint with this new situation.

FREESTON: The unwillingness of the US government to acknowledge facts on the ground created an international leadership vacuum, which Brazil has now filled. Brazilian President Lula da Silva has asked the UN Security Council to hold a special session on the Honduran crisis. Lula was also the first head of state to speak at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday.

LULA DA SILVA, BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Without political will, we will see more coups like the one that toppled the constitutional president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya. Zelaya has been granted refuge in Brazil's embassy in Tegucigalpa since Monday. The international community demands that Mr. Zelaya immediately return to the presidency of his country and must be alert to ensure the inviolability of the Brazilian Embassy in the Honduran capital.

GIORDANO: Brazil was the victim of a coup d'Ă©tat in 1964 and of a brutal military regime for many years afterwards. Its interests are the same as those of every other country in America that doesn't want to return to that era where a bunch of people, just because they have the uniforms and the guns, can somehow dictate what kind of government you can or can't have.

FREESTON: With an increasingly repressive coup regime holding tightly to power, many are looking forward for events that might serve as turning points in the crisis. Giordano believes that the defining movement may come down to Honduras's favorite pastime, soccer.

GIORDANO: Well, there's a big game scheduled between the United States team in the Honduras team for October 10. But, you know, the coup regime has just shut the airports, they keep calling these arbitrary curfews, there's police violence in the streets, and the folks from FIFA, the international soccer association, are going, "Whoa! We're not sure we can conduct a soccer game in full safety and all the other conditions we need for it to be a moneymaker under these kinds of conditions, when we can't fly our equipment into the country." And so they're thinking of pulling out and maybe putting the game in Guatemala instead or maybe putting it in the United States. But this is a mortal psychological blow. On the road to the World Cup, in which Honduras's team is going to be in the game, and they pull that out of Honduras, a lot of people who are not political are going to begin to say, you know, this coup thing isn't really working out.

FREESTON: With internal and external pressure increasing on the coup government to begin discussions of how to hand over power, de facto president Roberto Micheletti released the following statement through his foreign minister on Tuesday night.

CARLOS LÓPEZ CONTRERAS, DE FACTO FOREIGN MINISTER OF HONDURAS: I am ready to discuss how to resolve the political crisis under the framework provided to us by the Honduran Constitution, and I am ready to do so with Mr. Zelaya as long as he explicitly recognizes the constitutionally mandated presidential elections scheduled for November 29.

GIORDANO: How are free and fair elections possible in a country that can't even host a soccer game right now, in a country where on a day when the opposition comes out to peacefully protest, he calls a curfew? Now, tomorrow they've called out the pro-coup people for a protest, and of course the curfew's going to be lifted and the blockades by police that keep people from getting to the capital will be removed. There is no fair play. There's no spirit of fair play. It's an atmosphere of violence and intimidation.

FREESTON: According to Giordano, elections aren't the only unviable option being put forward to resolve the crisis. A negotiated settlement is also unlikely to bring peace to Honduras.

GIORDANO: This is now a raw power struggle. It's a regime trying to hold on to power, and it's an increasingly organized people. It's a very different Honduran people today than it was on June 28. Three months later, every sector, every neighborhood, every workplace is much better organized, and there's a tremendous consensus of what they want, which is a new constitution.

CROWD (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Constitutional assembly! Constitutional assembly!

GIORDANO: I mean, whether Zelaya's back in the Brazilian embassy or whether he's back in the presidential palace, the central goal doesn't change, and that's to remake the country. And to do that, you need a new constitution. And after past coup d'Ă©tats in Honduras, it wasn't negotiations or agreements that solved the political crisis. Each and every time, they drafted a new constitution. And I think that's going to be the only way out of this crisis, not elections under a regime that doesn't know how to hold them, not negotiations that are dictated by Washington or Costa Rica. The constitutional convention, the constituent assembly, is, I think, the only possible path out of this stalemate.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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