[R-G] Elections in Honduras: Whitewashing the Coup
shniad at gmail.com
Mon Nov 30 15:28:17 MST 2009
*Elections in Honduras: Whitewashing the Coup*
by Lisa Sullivan
I came to Honduras to participate as a human rights observer of the
electoral climate in a delegation organized by the Quixote
Several delegations converged, connecting some 30 U.S. citizens with dozens
more from Canada, Europe, and Latin America. In the days prior to the
elections we scattered to different cities, towns, and villages, meeting
with fishermen, farmers, maquila workers, labor leaders, teachers, and
lawyers, as well as those who were jailed for carrying spray paint,
hospitalized for being shot in the head by the military, and detained for
reporting on the repression. It was, most likely, a bit off the 5-star,
air-conditioned path of most of the mainstream journalists who are filling
your morning papers with the wonders of today's elections.
But by the evening of the day of the elections, what we had witnessed in
previous days pushed those of us from the U.S. directly to the doors of our
embassy in Tegucigalpa. We realized that this place, not the polling
stations, was where this horrific destiny of Honduras, and perhaps all of
Latin America, was being determined. And so the U.S. citizens among us took
our statements and signs and determination there.
We were, indeed, greeted by many: dozens of guards with cameras, some 30
journalists, Honduran police with guns and also cameras, as well as a
low-flying helicopter that at least made us feel important. While the
journalists let us read our entire statement of why these elections should
not be recognized by our government because of the egregious repression, the
embassy guards wouldn't even let us leave our slip of paper. That, in spite
of the fact that the embassy's human rights officer, Nate Macklin, told our
delegation leader to make sure to let him know if there were any human
In each of the many corners of the country visited by the 70-plus
international observers, we witnessed the fear, repression, intimidation,
bribery, and outright brutality of the government security forces (note: we
were there to observe the electoral climate, *not* electoral observers,
since we consider the elections to be illegal. Likewise, the UN, OAS, and
Carter Center, and other bedrock electoral groups boycotted "the event" as
many Hondurans called the day).
As elections were in full swing in the morning, our delegate and nurse
practitioner, Silvia Metzler visited Angel
Maria Elena Hernandez who were languishing in the intensive care unit
the Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa. Both had been shot in the head at one
of the many military checkpoints, no questions asked. Doctors give Angel a
zero possibility of survival and he leaves behind a 6-year-old son. Maria
Elena has a better chance of recovery, but it will be a long road. She was
selling snacks on the side of the road to support her teenage children when
caught by military bullet.
Tom Loudon was on the streets of San Pedro Sula when police tanks and water
trucks and tear gas canisters attacked a peaceful march of the resistance
movement. It took him a long time to find other members of his delegation
who had scattered in the frenzy, but they were luckier than two observers
from the Latin America Council of Churches who were detained or a Reuter's
photographer who was injured in the massive display of repression. Dozens
of cell phones captured the police beating anyone they could catch with
their billy clubs.
The first person I thought of as I awoke on election day was Wilmer Rivero,
a fisherman in a small town with the big name of Puerto Grande. I kept
thinking of the fear in his eyes as he relayed how the police have been
visiting his house and asking for him, ever since he trekked 6 days on foot
to greet a returning President Zelaya. Each local mayor has been asked to
put together a list of resistance leaders, and his name was one of 22 from
his town. We suggested to Wilmer that he not sleep at home during the
electoral days. He called the next day to thank us for our advise. The
police had ransacked his home, and that of many of his neighbors, the night
before elections, threatening his life. But, he wondered, what will he do
I also thought of Merly Eguigure<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIt4PRiXavo>,
whom I had visited 2 days earlier in a cold and crumbling jail cell, reeking
of human waste. She had been captured for having a can of spray paint in
her car. Though she was released shortly before elections, she will face
trial and probably prison for defacing government property. Merly claims
that the spray paint was to be used in an activity to raise awareness of
violence towards women. Perhaps authorities worried that the paint was
destined to add a new message to the city walls. Every square inch of blank
wall space in the city is covered with powerful graffiti against the coup.
In spite of government to whitewash over it, the blank spaces are filled in
again within hours.
So, now I wonder what the Honduran people will do to overcome the massive
whitewash that just took place in their country. Not of walls, but of
coups. The military coup led by SOA graduates Generals Vasquez Velasquez
and Prince Suazo first had a quick bath of whitewash by placing a "civilian"
leader as the figurative head of government: President of Congress and
business mogul Roberto Micheletti. The whitewash used at the moment was
mixed ahead of time, and quite abundant. It was the excuse that Zelaya was
preparing a vote to call for his re-election and had to be removed quickly.
(Never mind that the consultative vote actually had nothing to do with a
re-election. It was a consultative vote to ask Hondurans whether they
wanted to vote on convening a Constitutional Assembly.) I call this first
whitewash the "transformation from military coup to civilian coup."
And now, the second bath of whitewash was even more challenging, especially
since the first whitewash proved to be kind of thin and exposed the words
from below. Thus, it didn't really convince many. As a matter of fact, it
didn't convince anyone except the United States government (or, woops, maybe
they actually helped to stir the first batch). Now, the challenge of
November 29th whitewash was to transform the civilian coup into a shining
electoral display of freedom, fairness, and grand participation so that all
the world would say, "wow, that Honduran coup is gone. Now Honduras has a
real and wonderful democracy. End of story."
Except that it's probably the beginning of a story. One that we thought had
been left to rest in Latin America years and years ago. One of fear and
repression and deaths and disappearances. We know the litany all too well,
and we remember the names of its thousands of victims each November. This
year we had to add too many new names from Honduras. And, if our government
chooses to recognize these elections, this massive whitewash, I fear that
many more names will be read from the stage in front of Ft. Benning next
year. And perhaps not just from Honduras.
So, when I said that I wonder what Hondurans will do in the face of this
whitewash, what I really wonder is what I will do, what we will do as U.S.
citizens. Because, this whitewash will only have the formula to whiten and
brighten this military dictatorship if our government chooses to accept the
results, as they have indicated that they will likely do.
Today the headlines in most of the U.S. media reiterate the official
Honduran statistics that 60% of Hondurans went to the polls yesterday. Our
delegates visited dozens of polling stations, finding them almost empty, in
most places counting more electoral monitors and caretakers than voters.
The resistance movement puts abstention at 65-70%. Which statistic do we
prefer to believe?
I have lived in Latin America since 1977. I was called to stay in this land
when I saw how young and idealistic youth, such as myself at the time, were
being taken from their homes, never returned. Somehow, I felt called to
continue the steps they would never take. And so I stayed 32 years. I have
witnessed hope rising from the South in the past 10 years, in ways I never
dreamed. I have seen efforts of building dignity and sovereignty rise high,
inspire millions, and make a difference.
And so, maybe this explains the anger that rose from within me yesterday, in
front of the embassy. That anger surprised even me. I am ashamed of our
government. Ashamed that we are in great part to blame for pushing this
country back 30 years into dark and deadly times. And I worry that Honduras
is just the beginning.
Lisa Sullivan, School of the Americas Watch <http://soaw.org/>/Quixote
Center Accompaniment Delegation
This article was first published by the Quixote Center
<http://quixote.org/>on 30 November 2009; it is reproduced here for
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