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  November 28, 2009

Honduras: Elections as coup laundering

Report from Tegucigalpa: Coup regime rides police state repression into elections hoping for clean slate
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On June 28, 2009, the elected President of Honduras, Manuel "Mel" Zelaya, was removed from office. The day was significant because it was to be the first day that all the people of Honduras would be asked their opinion by the government. They were to vote on whether or not they wished to see a question on the upcoming general election ballot regarding re-writing the country's constitution, a document which severely limits public participation. Five months later, the election is going ahead, but Mel Zelaya is pinned in the Brazilian embassy and the resistance movement that rose up by the hundreds of thousands in the days following the coup is almost invisible after more than 4,000 documented human rights abuses including: assassination, rape, torture, illegal detention, and repeated attacks on anti-coup media outlets. The regime is looking to renew itself through Sunday's elections, and is preparing to lock the country down militarily in order to do so. But while the movement is not as visible as it was before, this report shows that it is very much alive in the minds of the capital's inhabitants who are boycotting the elections.


JESSE FREESTON, PRODUCER (VOICEOVER), TRNN: Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, where Pepe Lobo, leader of the Nationalist Party, is set as the frontrunner for the upcoming elections on Sunday. The coup regime, with the help of the media that it controls, is presenting the elections as the natural exit from the crisis that has gripped the country ever since the military kidnapped and exiled the elected president, Manuel Zelaya, and began a five-month long repression of the movement that demanded his return. The ousted president remains inside the Brazilian embassy, surrounded by soldiers, and the resistance movement is calling for a boycott of the elections, while human rights defenders like Berta Oliva are asking the world not to recognize them.

BERTA OLIVA, HUMAN RIGHTS MONITOR, COFADEH (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The facts clearly show numerous human rights violations that range from the illegal detentions by paramilitary and military groups to the people we find murdered and tortured. What we have is a series of documents, testimonies, and information that gives rise to our clarity and conviction that we face a militarized state with a defined and systematic practice against those who oppose the coup and anyone who takes a position other than that human rights means singing songs, while at the same time torturing and detaining people and raping women. They have a clear objective, which is to silence and intimidate. For example, we're concerned by the letter that was sent by the armed forces to all the mayors in the country on October 22, looking to identify members of the resistance.

FREESTON: Since the army sent that letter, resistance members across the country have faced increasing persecution.

OLIVA: In the last weeks we have seen a rise in the death threats received by leaders nationwide, specifically teachers. In other words, the teachers are a primary target for the regime these days.

FREESTON: One of the latest teachers to be assassinated was Gradis Espinal, a vocal resistance leader from the community of Nacaome.

OLIVA: The evidence so far shows that he was kidnapped by death squad members and that members of the army and police were very close by. We can't be afraid, given the facts, to conclude who is behind the repression.

FREESTON: On Friday, women's rights leader Merlin Aguigure was detained for having paint in her vehicle. And fellow women's rights activists gathered outside the jail to demand her release.

PROTESTER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We are in a very unequal struggle right now. The coup has come to destroy a process of constructing mechanisms for defending the human rights of women.

FREESTON: These can be added to the dozens of assassinations, tortures, and rapes, over 4,000 illegal detentions, and regular attacks against anti-coup media that have characterized the run-up to the elections. The two central sources for information critical of the regime, Channel 36 and Radio Globo, have been shut down this week. Foreign minister for the coup government Carlos Lopez Contreras admitted to shutting down Channel 36 earlier this week, saying, "If you heard what the channel is saying daily, you would see that in any country in the world, with or without elections, this channel would have been suspended." Meanwhile, the army has temporarily deputized thousands of reserves—an action only permitted in times of war, according to the Constitution. And the national chief of police claims to be scanning text messages for anti-coup rhetoric.

OLIVA: They're trying to create a culture of fear, where a terrified population gives rise to the culture of silence that they seek so they can act with total impunity.

FREESTON: The walls of Tegucigalpa remind visitors of the existence of a movement gone underground. While a couple hundred protesters continue to meet daily in front of the National Congress, most of the thousands who were in the streets in the days following the coup are now mostly invisible. But others, like the students of Tegucigalpa's Autonomous University, continue to make themselves heard.

PROTESTER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Today we presented a different kind of activity at the university, which consisted of a funeral party. Why a funeral? Because essentially we are burying the ghosts of the past. We made a tomb to represent the political parties, because the truth is there is no political party that represents the people's demands. The people want Zelaya's restitution and a constitutional assembly. The parties want the status quo and to keep the levels of corruption where they've been for years. So we have said, "No more!" No more coups, no more repression, no more oligarchy that doesn't allow Hondurans to express what they want. The Hondurans want a constitutional assembly. It's clear that's why they went through with the coup. They know that the Honduran people will massively support the idea of a man, a man who had his errors—I can't say that President Mel Zelaya has been excellent, but he always tried to help the people. The greatest sin of Manuel Zelaya Rosales, or Mel, was having allowed the poor into the presidency, having allowed whatever poor person the opportunity to express themself.

FREESTON: With the regime preparing to further militarize the country for the day of the elections, the leaders of the resistance are advising people to stay in their homes. Leader of the armed forces General Romeo Vásquez responded to concerns about the military's plans for election day.

GEN. ROMEO VÁSQUEZ, HEAD OF THE ARMED FORCES (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We can't reveal our strategy because it's part of the work that we do. We are working very hard to get the best information and to do all the reconnaissance that we can in order to have alternate plans ready so that we can act quickly.

FREESTON: Understandably, many people are not willing to appear on camera, but most told The Real News that they would stay away from the polls on Sunday.

HONDURAN CITIZEN: I'm not voting. We can't legalize this president. The coup was against the people, against the interests of the poorest.


HONDURAN CITIZEN: The 29th are the elections, but I'm not going to vote.


HONDURAN CITIZEN: Because they are all thieves.


HONDURAN CITIZEN: In my case, I'm not going to vote, because the day of the coup nobody consulted me or respected my vote. And that goes for many Hondurans.

FREESTON: Hundreds of candidates, from city counselors to presidential candidate Carlos [Humberto] Reyes, have withdrawn their candidacy in the elections. And as the newest round lined up at the electoral tribunal to renounce, members of the resistance were there to cheer them on. One of those renouncing was mayoral candidate for Tegucigalpa Leonel Casco Gutierrez.

LEONEL CASCO GUTIERREZ (PINU), MAYORAL CANDIDATE, TEGUCIGALPA (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I'm presenting this letter, in which we are requesting that the magistrates immediately suspend the elections, given that there aren't conditions of legality, legitimacy, security, or freedom. The Honduran people cannot vote freely and democratically, due to the conditions that the country is currently living in.

FREESTON: The Liberal Party of both Zelaya and Micheletti has seen major renunciations, including the vice presidential running-mate for presidential candidate Elvin Santos.

ELVIN SANTOS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, LIBERAL PARTY (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): There are bad Liberals, Liberals who have used information for their own benefit. So they must reflect, because liberalism requires honest, devoted men who love their party and are democratic to their core.

FREESTON: Rafael Alegría, from the peasant farmer association Via Campesina, has been a vocal leader of the coup resistance.

RAFAEL ALEGRÍA, COUP RESISTANCE LEADER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): This is the first time in this country's history that so many candidates, including many with real chances of being elected, [have been] renouncing, and renouncing due to their conscience. I believe it's a patriotic move, given the historic moment that we are living in—a coup d'état, insecurity, and illegitimacy in the country, the legally elected president holed up in the Brazilian Embassy for 61 days, himself denied the right to vote.

FREESTON: Only the governments of Taiwan and the United States have sent international observers, and a delegation funded by the US State Department arrived at the electoral tribunal at the same time that leaders of all six independent human rights monitors in Honduras were delivering their requests that the elections be suspended.

DR. JUAN ALMENDARES, COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): It will not have the legitimacy of the people. Neither will it be recognized by the entire international community. How could you recognize a government that has violated our human rights, that has tortured? What democracy are we talking about?

FREESTON: In a letter to Brazilian President Lula da Silva, US President Barack Obama confirmed that the US would join Panama, Costa Rica, and Taiwan as the only countries to guarantee the recognition of the winner of the election.

ALMENDARES: We are calling on President Obama to support democracy and not become a follower of Bush.


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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