Jesse Freeston: Violence and political repression by western-backed Honduran military raises questions if Sunday’s presidential election will be open and fair
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
Honduras is holding a presidential election Sunday with right-wing National Party candidate Juan Hernández in a tight race with Xiomara Castro, the wife of ousted former president Manuel Zelaya, who was removed from power by a U.S.-backed coup in 2009.
Now joining us to give us a preview of the Honduran election is Jesse Freeston. He’s a filmmaker and video journalist currently in Honduras, covering the election, working on his first feature-length documentary, Resistencia.
Thank you so much for joining us, Jesse.
JESSE FREESTON, JOURNALIST AND DOCUMENTARY FILMAKER: My pleasure.
NOOR: So, Jesse, we know that Honduras is already the murder capital of the world. It’s averaging 20 murders a day. But there’s reports that political repression and violence is increasing ahead of this election. Can you give us the latest of what’s happening on the ground?
FREESTON: Yeah. So, basically, if you look at any newspaper in Honduras or television, the majority of the television stations and radio stations, they lead every day with the murders of the night before. And this sort of–and it’s the real thing. I mean, it’s killing a lot of people. And the majority of Hondurans are in one way or another affected by the extortion rackets that are run by these gangs in these poor communities.
And so people–in the lead-up to this election we’ve seen two drastically different responses to this from the two parties. The party of Juan Orlando Hernández, the National Party, which basically took over during the coup, has responded by saying more militarization. So the military that overthrew the government in 2009 is still in the streets, never left the streets. And Juan Orlando Hernández, as president of the National Congress, essentially created to more elite groups since then: the Tigers and the military police.
The military police have been active for about a month. They wear balaclavas. In order to create a kind of sense that they are acting legally, they have a judge and a public prosecutor with them at all times. But even the judge and the public prosecutor also wear balaclavas guarding their face. And the cars that they use don’t have license plates. And they’ve been in some of the poor communities already. And I was in there one day when they raided the house of Edwin Espinal, who is a well-known activist with the National Resistance movement. They said that he had grenade launchers in his home. As always happens, they didn’t find any weapons. They destroyed his home and tarnished his name at the level of the community. So this is just one example of how these groups are being used.
Another on the other hand, the LIBRE Party, which–it’s main proposal is to revert the coup, to go back to where they were in 2009, in the attempt to rewrite the country’s constitution, replacing a constitution that was written in the early 1980s, basically under a U.S.-backed military dictatorship. That project was completely stopped by the coup, and they want to bring that back. And so their main proposal is that.
Their secondary proposal, dealing with the fact that security is the main issue in the election, is community policing–so take the military off the streets 100 percent and put the police at the control of their communities. This is a model that’s worked very well in neighboring Nicaragua, which has the lowest crime rates in all of Central America, as well as in the Garifuna communities here in Honduras, which is the Afro-indigenous group here in Honduras. They also have no national police force in their communities. They have a community policing model. And they’re some of the safest communities I’ve ever been anywhere in the world.
NOOR: And it’s important to note, of course, that the Honduran military is backed by the United States. The coup that ousted Zelaya was backed by the United States. Talk about the role of the U.S. and other Western powers. Canada just signed a free trade agreement with Honduras leading up to this election.
FREESTON: Yeah. I mean, it’s been really good for business to have the military in the streets. We see the role that they’re playing. There’s a Chinese company named DESA that’s trying to build a massive dam on the Gualcaeque River. The Lenca indigenous people are opposed to it, and they’ve created a big trench in the road to stop the trucks from getting there to build the dam. They’ve been holding that since April.
So in that situation we’ve seen the military go in and actually kill Tomás Garcia, one of the main organizers there and his son also barely survived. He was critically wounded in that attack.
So we’re seeing the military put at the use of foreign companies, and local companies as well. In the Aguán Valley, which is where most of my work is being done, you see Miguel Facussé, who is one of the richest men in Honduras and one of the major landowners, and we see the military being used to evict farmers that are trying to take land back from him that was taken from their parents, essentially, 20 years ago. And so we see how these forces are often being used at the service of foreign companies and local companies that have foreign investors, of course.
NOOR: And finally, you know, you yourself have documented electoral fraud in Honduras. Is it going to be possible for Honduras to hold a free and fair election?
FREESTON: The situation is really disturbing. The military that overthrew the last elected president is in charge of all the logistics. This is one of the things that’s in the Honduran Constitution that they want to change through a new Constitution is that the military’s actually in charge of moving the ballot boxes and everything to do with logistics around the election.
That same military is actually appearing in the commercials and ads of the candidate of the National Party, Juan Orlando Hernández. And so it’s so obvious that they have their own inclinations that they want the leader who’s not going to stick them back in their barracks but who’s going to increasingly increase the budget for the military like he’s been doing from the Congress. So their allegiances are clear in this situation. They’ve been clear since 2009.
And the other institution that’s in charge of the elections is the electoral tribunal, which is the same electoral tribunal that–the same three magistrates that basically created a farce in 2009, holding elections with no international observation and inventing numbers. And that was well documented by myself and other journalists, that they invented participation numbers and invented votes in that situation. They’re still in charge, those same three magistrates.
At just to give you a sense of where their allegiances lie, we discovered a document where they invited all of their employees to go to a private prayer ceremony in the Vida Abundante evangelical church, which is a church which is founded and run by–the preacher in that church is actually very well linked with the National Party. His brother is the personal secretary of President Pepe Lobo, and his nephew actually runs Juan Orlando Hernández’s campaign in the department of Lempira here in Honduras. And he has also been, you know, hugely active in politics from the right-wing, going in through the door of Christian morals, saying that nobody should vote for LIBRE because there are gays and lesbians in that party and they will pass immoral laws if they get in power. This is the same preacher that the electoral tribunal, which is supposed to be the most neutral institution in the whole state, has been sending its employees to go pray in private ceremonies.
NOOR: Jesse Freeston, thank you so much for joining us.
FREESTON: My pleasure.
NOOR: You can follow us @therealnews on Twitter. Tweet me questions and comments, story ideas @jaisalnoor.
Thank you so much for joining us.
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