Ex-President Zelaya’s return to Honduras not a return to democracy
JESSE FREESTON, TRNN: On Saturday, Manuel Zelaya, Honduras’s last elected president, will return to his country to live for the first time since his overthrow by the military 23 months ago. His return is the result of an agreement sponsored by the presidents of Venezuela and Colombia and agreed to by Zelaya and Honduras’s post-coup regime leader, Pepe Lobo. People have braved relentless rain arriving around the country to welcome back the popular president, who was overthrown on the day he was to poll the Honduran people on whether or not they wanted to rewrite the country’s constitution through a participatory assembly representing all sectors of society. It would replace the current constitution, which was written under a US-backed military dictatorship in the early ’80s. Saturday will be a day of celebration. But many who opposed the coup are urging outsiders not to confuse the return of Zelaya and other political exiles with the return of democracy. Up to today, Hondurans opposed to the coup have witnessed constant oppression and violence from the regime that took power that day. As Zelaya returns to Honduras, he will find the military still mobilized throughout the country, 11 of the country’s most critical journalists assassinated, hate killings against gays, lesbians, bi, and transsexual people skyrocketing, the country’s Garifuna people fighting to defend their land from expanding tourism projects. He will find an almost civil war-like atmosphere in the Aguan valley, where death squads have assassinated almost 40 members of the region’s organized farmers, farmers who want to plant basic grains to eat, pitted in a land conflict against a handful of wealthy plantation owners who produce palm oil for snack foods and biofuels. Junior Orlando Gomez is a member of the organization MARCA, which is currently occupying land in the area.
JUNIOR ORLANDO GOMEZ, SMALL FARMER OCCUPYING LAND (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): On Saturday, we were repressed on the land we’re standing on now by members of the army, the police, and hitmen hired by the plantation owners Rene Morales Carazo, Reynaldo Canales, and Miguel Facusse. During the attack, our comrade Henry Roney Diaz was killed. He was 26. Died from a series of bullet wounds. Our need is great, and sometimes necessity can force you to risk your own life.
FREESTON: Zelaya will also return to find a teachers movement that recently suffered weeks of repression for opposing the stealing of their pensions, the suspension of 300 of their members for political activity, the proposed privatization of their education system, amongst other moves by the regime. Some of these teachers are now in front of the National Congress, and Saturday will mark their 22nd day on hunger strike. Teacher Yanina Parada helped organize the action.
YANINA PARADA, SUSPENDED TEACHER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The first day we set up here, at midnight, we were removed by the military and police. They dragged us out on our mattresses, other teachers carried out by two cops at a time. The women were verbally abused. We were told if we didn’t leave immediately, we would be leaving pregnant.
FREESTON: Zelaya will also return to a leadership role within the National People’s Resistance Front that has seen over 100 of its members assassinated since the coup, with more bodies showing up every week and little to no sign of criminal investigation. In the Cartagena Accord itself, the current Lobo regime even refuses to outright recognize the repression, pledging to cure the complaints of those who “believe” their rights have been violated following the coup. For distinguished human rights defender Bertha Oliva, cofounder of Honduras’s Committee for the Families of the Disappeared, this wording should raise alarms.
BERTHA OLIVA, HONDURAN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): As long as they don’t admit that they’ve committed crimes and that those crimes are called human rights violations, until they admit that, we will never see progress in this area, because they always try to justify their crimes, which run from hate crimes to political persecution. And I don’t think we can forget the 100-plus political assassinations that have happened.
FREESTON: She also points out that mere hours after signing the agreement, the regime attacked a group of striking high school students in the capital.
OLIVA: The high school students were demanding that their suspended teachers be allowed to return to class. The police and army use live bullets to disperse the protest, along with tear gas.
FREESTON: The Cartagena Accord will likely see Honduras reinstated in the Organization of American States and thus gain access to the last of the international aid packages that were cut off after the coup. Only one country, Ecuador, has said that it will vote against Honduras’s reinstatement until such time as those responsible for the coup are punished. It’s unlikely that will happen in Honduras, given that all the judges that opposed the coup were summarily fired under the Lobo regime, including Judge Guillermo Lopez.
GUILLERMO LOPEZ (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We were fired for criticizing the coup. We condemned it both as citizens and as judges. We found the breach of the Constitution to be unacceptable, which brought us political persecution and, eventually, our firing. Ecuador’s position is very coherent: to oppose Honduras’s return to the OAS until such time as human rights violations are investigated, and most importantly, until those responsible for the June 2009 coup are punished. In our country, the opposite has happened: they’ve been rewarded with important positions in the government.
FREESTON: Nobody has been punished for carrying out the coup d’etat, and the most visible leaders have been given high positions in the current regime. Military coup leader Romeo Vasquez Velasquez is now in charge of the state phone company, and political coup leader Roberto Micheletti was named a congressman for life. Despite all this bad news for Zelaya and the Resistance Front, Saturday will be a day of celebration for a movement that is becoming more and more organized by the day and for the first time in its two-year history will have its most recognizable member, Mel Zelaya, active and in the country. With that obstacle out of the way, the resistance can focus on its other major goal, the re-founding of the country through a constitutional assembly.