Another Month Living with the Coup: “I Hear Something Rumbling...”
The worst earthquake in decades shook Honduras on May 28:
it measured 6.1 on the Richter scale. A month later, on June 28,
a far more violent tremor shook the nation, one we’re still trembling from. In our second month living with the coup,
we have a mixture of feelings: powerlessness, bitterness, uncertainty, defenselessness, repulsion, exhaustion…
but also joy and determined hope.
This month we continue the ongoing reflections on Honduras’ unfolding current events, contributed by an activist intellectual in Honduras and first published in envío last month.
Saturday, August 1: Police and army violence against peaceful protesters in Tegucigalpa on the morning of the coup’s first month threatens to provoke a quantum leap in this crisis. Businessmen are tiring of the “orneriness” of those who aren’t accepting the new order established on June 28th. Maybe that’s why there are snipers among the forces of repression. One of their bullets entered the head of a 38-year-old teacher who, after hanging between life and death for 24 hours, finally succumbed this morning. Yesterday shots were also exchanged at a protest march in Choloma, the nation’s third largest city.
Birth or death?
A few days ago, Manuel Torres, one of the country’s few independent journalists, asked whether we’re currently going through labor pains or death throes. Is something being born or is something dying? I wish we could share Torres’s optimism, since in either case—when something is born or when something dies to make way for something new—it’s about life…
Is it possible that a new civic awareness is being born? Undoubtedly. Today, Hondurans are not the same people they were a decade ago. Globalization has helped us shed our provincial isolation and wield much more information than before. But our political underdevelopment remains the same. It’s interesting that among our middle-class youth, no one is interested in defending the country’s rule of law. These are foreign concepts for a social class that lives with one foot in Miami and the other in its businesses. To prosper, these young entrepreneurs need good contacts among the power elite who run the nation, more than they need legal security.
During the last week, Micheletti assumed a lower public profile. Maybe his advisers wisely recommended a less conspicuous position, knowing how little his overwhelming unpopularity was helping the de facto regime…
Mel Zelaya has also limited his activities on the Nicaraguan border, and has announced that he will build a guerrilla movement, though it’s hard to imagine who and what it will consist of. More than the hypothetical Zelaya-sponsored guerrillas, what the coup-makers are most concerned about is losing their entry visas into the United States. It’s the only thing they talk about at the “Vie de France” café, located just 100 meters from the Presidential Palace. This hits the regime in its most vulnerable point.
Xiomara Castro de Zelaya—together with her daughter, known by everyone as “la Pichu”—has been much more active than her husband, the deposed President. She has created a border love story befitting the Tigres del Norte, even though everyone in Honduras knows that the presidential couple is a relationship fed by the sinecure of the presidency, and not by more intimate feelings. Yesterday the deposed leader’s wife and daughter returned to the capital. At around midnight, the daughter made her debut as a live singer on Radio Globo, singing a theme often heard these days: “They’re afraid of us because we aren’t afraid.”
A masked ballDavid Romero, Radio Globo’s director, has become the voice of those who refuse to tolerate this imposed government. He is also one of the nation’s most corrupt journalists. He began receiving money from the military in the 1980s, and has always been willing to sell himself to the highest bidder in a country where the bought-off press has been a constant embarrassment to our young democracy. Romero was an alternate representative in the National Congress, at the height of his career, when his 23-year old daughter appeared before the Center for Women’s Rights and charged her father with having sexually abused her since the age of 10.
It was 2002, and Romero ended up in jail. In this country, where everything seems to be forgotten by the time you get the end of the block, David Romero is now a champion of the noble cause of democracy. The structures peacefully resisting the coup are made of such weak and malleable material. David Romero‘s democratic transformation is one of the many paradoxes surrounding this crisis that periodically seems like a huge masked ball. You never really know who is hiding behind one mask or another.
The polarization is continuing to worsen, at the same time as the ideological motives seem less and less clear. Accusations from both sides keep multiplying. One of the most serious ones emerged this week against the promoters of the resistance. There is allegedly proof that the protest activities are being financed, and aren’t as genuine as they might appear. Some swear they’ve seen unemployed youth being recruited to staff the blockades. Even more accusations have been made against those organizing rallies supporting Micheletti. Girls working at the maquilas have reportedly been forced to put on white shirts and carry banners at public rallies. Actually, there’s probably a lot of manipulation on both sides behind the marching in the streets. It’s only logical in a country where patronage is the only political method most people know.
Nonetheless, all the people who keep going out every day to protest, and the even larger number of people who are uncomfortable doing that but express their discontent privately, are “awakening” to the true nature of this country’s political elites.
Tuesday, August 4:Tomorrow, what is being called the National March for Institutionality is beginning in Honduras, and it will last for about a week. Groups of people will depart from different parts of the country and walk toward the two main cities: Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.
The key to events is local
Some argue that the battle being played out in Honduras is between the Empire and 21st Century Socialism. They figure that the gringo embassy is sponsoring a huge experiment in our country to test the Republican Right’s new strategies. Without completely denying the connections between the coup-makers and foreign actors unconditionally allied with the local oligarchy, we’re inclined to think that to understand recent events we need to read them in a political vernacular. Matías Funes, who was Honduras’ first leftist presidential candidate in democratic elections, says our crisis will be studied by academics around the world. What’s happening here unquestionably can’t be understood through simple ideological equations, as supposed political apprentices are used to doing. They prefer to betray objectivity rather than recognize their confusion in the face of complex events that are passing them by.
Finding Ignacio Ramonet among them produces both embarrassment and a sense of powerlessness, since we have been admiring readers of his work for more than twenty years. In an article entitled “Con profundo gozo” (With great pleasure) published in Rebelión, he offers a surprising description of Zelaya, his acts and his intentions, which can only be attributed to ignorance or a lack of historical rigor.
Mel Zelaya has been a tragic President, surrounded by one of the most corrupt clans ever known in our country, which is saying a lot… He governed chaotically for three years, and confronted his own social class not due to a supposed ideological conversion, but rather to his greed and avarice… Climbing on the bandwagon of a President whose conception of the State is as patrimonial as that of his fiercest enemies is no help to finding a solution. We need Zelaya to come back, but only so we can begin to rebuild based on a return to constitutionality. We should never celebrate his foolishness nor excuse his misdeeds.
Today, the army said it accepts the San José agreement. Mel also accepts it. Will they reach an arrangement? Between this news and the strong protest expected tomorrow, optimism returns. The San José agreement would be the best possible news for the country.
Thursday, August 6: Since the return to civilian rule in 1980, no Honduran leader has helped elevate the military’s profile as much as Mel Zelaya during his three years in office. In addition to awarding it financial concessions it hadn’t received since the 1980s, he tripled its budget. Above all, he encouraged the army’s hierarchy to abandon its neutrality—which had cost so much to achieve—so it would express partisan opinions in favor of the Citizen Power government.
Zelaya encouraged the military
The demilitarization of society initiated by President Reina and continued by his successors suffered a fatal setback during Zelaya’s government. Clearly, Mel wanted to insure real power given the gradual loss of support among his political adversaries. But his outpouring of attention was of little help. Whatever happens in Honduras, the next civilian government will have to put energy and resources into returning the army to its barracks…
Zelaya seems to be distancing himself from the Chávez and Ortega orbit, approaching Mexican President Felipe Calderón and apparently following a script written in Washington, aimed at ending with his return to power despite the political cowardice of the San José agreement.
Zelaya’s conditional return is the most feasible solution to this crisis. In the judgment of some coup leaders, whose unity today is clearly splitting, this solution would make governance possible again once Zelaya’s dangerous leanings are deactivated. According to this scenario, Zelaya would return to power manacled and closely watched by the international community. If this option still hasn’t become reality, it’s surely because part of the oligarchy deeply mistrusts Zelaya and is afraid that once back in the presidential seat, surrounded by people pursuing his great historical deed, events could take an unexpected turn and their interests could be seriously damaged. But the business class is in shock and needs to make a move…
Perhaps the citizens are confused, but they have clearly lost their fear. They are walking today for the second day in a row toward Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. Some two thousand people are spending the night in the village of Las Flores, around 15 kilometers from Comayagua and a three-day walk from Tegucigalpa. More people are gathering in other parts of the country. They say there are five thousand in Santa Bárbara. As the caravan advances, more men and women are joining in. Many of these people are over 60, and have voted for bipartisanship their entire lives. But now they feel betrayed by the politicians and want their demands heard. How can this seed of discontent and hope evolve into a proposal for a different country?
Everybody was wrong The scenarios have become so unpredictable that everyone seems to be wrong. Mel Zelaya was wrong when he thought he could confront the most powerful forces of his own bloodline, counting on the supposed loyalty of the armed forces, whom he pampered to the extreme. The businessmen who backed the coup were wrong when they thought the situation would be worked out in a week. Cardinal Rodríguez was wrong when he calculated that his voice would definitively shift the international community to the side of the coup leaders. Liberal candidate Elvin Santos was wrong when he thought that distancing himself from Zelaya would draw discontented Liberals to him. The army was wrong when it thought that having the media on its side would lead the population to cheer it, as in years past…
Many errors and few certainties. Is there any reason to expect a better country when all this is over? We’ll have to wait until November for an answer. Then we’ll see if there are any profound cracks in the bipartite model, or if it has kept its main structures intact. If, as is assumed right now, there’s a high percentage of absenteeism and the opposition forces grouped around independent candidate Carlos H. Reyes obtain good results, we’ll be looking at a new paradigm in the nation’s political history.
Saturday, August 8: Cab drivers joined the protest yesterday. Given that there are more than 7,000 in the capital alone, and that thousands of people use collective taxis to get to work, a taxi strike can seriously affect the so-called normalcy barely being maintained here.
The graffiti speaks
Maybe it’s the graffiti on the walls that most eloquently reminds us that the struggle against the de facto government is far from over. It’s reborn every day. The Cathedral is one of the preferred buildings for those who like to express themselves on walls. Painted on an old style, spotless salmon-colored wall are phrases that mock Cardinal Rodríguez or accuse him of being the Antichrist. The authorities try to cover the insults up every day and return the church to its color and dignity, but it’s not easy to fight the spray cans that return night after night. Last Tuesday there was graffiti befitting The Life of Brian: “Don’t paint over it, I’ll be back tomorrow.”
Zelaya: The witch’s apprentice Yesterday, the final report by one of the international observation missions that have visited Honduras after the coup was presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington. It is a valuable document that offers a detailed account of all violations committed by the coup-led government during its first month, offering a meticulous legal analysis that demonstrates the inconsistencies in its argument that it acted according to the law. What is lacking is reference to the institutional crisis provoked by Zelaya prior to the uprising.
As Caritas Honduras and the Foreign Debt Social Forum had charged in a public statement a few days prior to the coup, the famous “Fourth Ballot Box” scheme “risked breaking with institutionality” given possible manipulation of results by a Zelaya “intent on weaving a new clientelistic web.” Mel has never been a great champion of civic participation; he’s more of a sorcerer’s apprentice who lost control of a dangerous experiment designed to make him into the new boss of the Honduran oligarchy.
Today, Roberto Micheletti met with a thousand Army reservists who, dressed in white, are giving him their unconditional support. They are the last salvation of a drowning politician who is alone and only feels safe when surrounded by the armed forces and their guns. We’ve seen families with historical links to Liberalism in the city of El Progreso— Micheletti’s fiefdom—that reject the de facto President and refer to him as “a crazy, ridiculous and coup-happy old man” when he appears on the official television channel. We’ve heard an official who got his current job thanks to Micheletti say: “This white guy is more of a gangster than the gangsters chasing him…”
Sunday, August 9: At 7 am in the town of Quebrada Seca, at the entrance to El Progreso, hundreds of men, women and children are celebrating Mass before they eat breakfast and resume their march. They are part of thousands of Hondurans who on August 5th began marching from different parts of the country, and are expected to arrive in the nation’s two main cities on August 11th.
Mass in Quebrada Seca
The principal of Quebrada Seca’s public school made its buildings available to the marchers. Camping stoves were set up for preparing food, but in the end were only useful for making coffee. There was no shortage of food, however. The solidarity of El Progreso’s townspeople insured that nobody lacked tortillas or medicines or a mattress to rest on.
Father Héctor Moreno (popularly known as Melo), director of Radio Progreso, and Father Juanito Donahue, from the local parish, presided a Eucharist that seemed more like a civic party. The “pilgrims” who have been walking toward San Pedro Sula for days were responsible for the sermon. Among those who climbed to the dais to share their feelings was Juan Blas, one of the leaders of another epic act by the Honduran people: the great banana strike of 1954. Blas was then a boy who sold revolutionary newspapers during the 69-day strike that forced the all-powerful United Fruit Company to yield, making way for the Honduran Labor Code and changing the destiny of millions of people in the northern coast region.
This Mass and numerous other actions by priests who have taken part in the resistance since June 28th clearly demonstrate that a sector of the Honduran Church refuses to submit to the coup leaders, and even less to those who tolerate and excuse them from the hierarchical structures of Catholicism.
And the Left vote? I’m with several leaders of the Democratic Unification (UD), the political party that has brought together the Honduran Left in recent years. They all tell me they won’t vote for its presidential candidate, César Ham, who was discredited after it was proven that he was directly responsible for corruption within his own party. In recent months, he appeared very close to President Zelaya, and there are rumors that Zelaya helped Ham financially so he could avoid internal problems and remain in power. It’s one more story of political patronage that confirms journalist Manuel Torres’ thesis: Honduras’ bipartite system affects all five legally registered political structures. They’ve all been infected by the same epidemic of dishonesty and the same top-down conception of power.
The vote of the disenchanted Left will likely go to independent Carlos H. Reyes, a 68-year old trade unionist who is a first-time candidate. Reyes has no real possibility of winning the presidency, but if he were to obtain a significant amount of the vote—higher than 10%—he could shake the foundations of the two main parties.
Monday, August 10:In a new diplomatic effort, the OAS put together a delegation of foreign ministers and asked to come to the country on August 11th. Following a series of delay tactics, the Micheletti government accepted the request but postponed the date. Some say it was so the foreign ministers wouldn’t coincide with the large rally planned for the 11th, when the different marches, flowing through the nation like rivers headed toward the sea, would reach San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa.
The spoils of 10 families
Obviously, the crisis is also affecting the oligarchy, but we mustn’t forget that they have sufficient reserves to patiently await a change in the wind’s direction. Based on information from Transparency International, national analysts calculate that the public treasury has lost some US$800 billion to corruption since Honduras began this failed transition to democracy almost 30 years ago. This formidable amount has not only strengthened the economic position of the ten families that govern the country and their subordinates, but has also bolstered the strategy for political survival that is threatened today.
In an article published in her family’s newspaper, La Tribuna, Lizzy Flores calls on young people to take part in the upcoming November election. The daughter of former president Carlos Flores proclaims that “the elections are an opportunity to begin again and build the Honduras we want, with everybody’s participation.” Such an exercise in political cynicism doesn’t surprise anyone. Lizzy—more gringa than Honduran—is the third generation of one of the nation’s most powerful dynasties.
Some say her father is preparing her to run for President, and others maliciously add that they’re giving her time to learn better Spanish. The articles she signs—not necessarily writes—can be used today to gauge the thinking of the most conservative political circles. Evidently, they are betting that time will pass and the elections will put the ball in their court once again. In other words, that the social disorder that has made Honduras one of the most unequal nations on the planet will continue to reign. Nothing worries the oligarchy more than massive abstentionism in the general elections, or a substantial loss in the support traditionally received by the two main parties, the National and the Liberal.
Carlos H. Reyes: Now or neverFélix Molina of Radio Progreso interviews Carlos H. Reyes in his home, where he is recovering from the broken wrist he got from a policeman during a confrontation ten days ago. It’s not common for a political leader running for President to expose himself to the dangers of demonstrating against a regime backed by the military. Reyes says something that, in theory, sounds a bit excessive. But when you think about it, it could also seem true: “Now or never.” The old trade union leader knows that if the people yield, it will be difficult to get another opportunity like this one to force a change in the country.
It’s not about a struggle between Mel Zelaya and Micheletti. It’s between the rancid plutocracy that won’t let its privileges be touched, and a citizenry that’s starting to awaken from a long lethargy and wants to live in a different kind of country.
Where was “Mamita Yunai”?Today, the march reached the city of La Lima, a symbol of power to the Honduran worker’s movement. This is where the grand political power of Mamita Yunai, from the United Fruit Company, was erected in the 1920s.
We can still find walled-in estates in La Lima, where residents have beautiful swimming pools, an elegant social club and an exquisitely groomed golf course. “The Company”—as it’s still known—was much more than a business. What was good for the company was good for the United States. Back in those days, Honduras was the world’s main producer of bananas and its workers lived in subhuman conditions.
This “green prison”—the famous expression of local novelist Amaya Amador—began to change when the organized workers led one of the greatest peaceful actions in the history of Latin America’s worker’s movement. Today, everyone still remembers the great strike of 1954. Many call in to Radio Progreso to request the song in which Mario de Mezapa honors its leaders. At 4 in the afternoon, somewhere between nostalgia for the past and hope for the future, a cultural event begins in the central plaza of La Lima…
At the other end of the republic, marchers are preparing their assault on Tegucigalpa, “readying their arms” in Monte Carmelo, 10 kilometers outside of the capital. Without sticks or pistols, their arms are reason and demands. They want to live in a democracy. Some are looking for a quick fix. Still confused by the populist Zelaya, they long for a President who never existed. Others realize that the right to a respectable nation was stolen from them long before the coup.
Wednesday, August 12: Like a never-ending ballad, we hear delirious messages on the channels and stations aligned with Micheletti, which is almost all of them: that the planet must be in trouble if it’s supporting a coup-leader like Mel Zelaya, that the OAS is a rotten elephant, that [OAS secretary general Insulza] is a puppet whose strings are held in Caracas, that the UN is in the hands of terrorists, that Honduras is teaching the world a lesson in democracy… You only need to look up the statistics that classify Honduras as one of the most backward, corrupt and poor nations on the continent to challenge this string of gibberish.
The ballad of the coup
It is surprising and encouraging that so many people in Honduras maintain an attitude of dignified resistance. This might have something to do with the fact that some of Zelaya’s populist measures, especially the increase in the minimum wage, caught on among the population. Even if these measures weren’t very sound and were motivated by far from authentic social intentions, it’s impossible to ignore that many Hondurans are tired of being subjected to an oligarchy that refuses to cede absolutely anything that would more equitably share the national wealth… The youth, who account for half of this nation of 7.5 million people, are no longer willing to live like their parents and grandparents, subjugated by a fraudulent and fierce political elite.
Yesterday, the marches of thousands of citizens reached the two main cities of Honduras, as planned. Unfortunately, there was some violence in the capital, such as a fire set at a fast food restaurant, but they were isolated incidents that in no way tarnished a march that was completely peaceful for one week…
In San Pedro Sula, it was a total party. Thousands of people gathered to receive the marchers. There was music, shouted slogans, shared food and shared hopes. In a popular Mass, Father Fausto Milla, in his eighties, evoked the people’s right to insurrection, and called the de facto government criminal and tyrannical.
It has now been 45 days since the military uprising, and much of the international media seem tired of following this crisis. There are also signs of exhaustion at home. But signs of hope also abound.
Friday August 14: Honduras—the third poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean—is approaching economic calamity. Tangled up in his own ideological web and personal projects, Manuel Zelaya was incapable of designing an “anti-crisis” plan in the midst of the worst international economic recession in decades. Among other things, family remittances sent to Honduras by the emigrant population—currently the largest source of foreign exchange—dropped by 8% in the second quarter. The decision to raise the minimum wage without having reached consensus with private enterprise led to a huge surge in unemployment, especially among small and medium businesses. On June 28th we were in the worst situation possible for a small country unable to do anything more than cushion, at best, the seismic jolts of the world financial crisis.
The approaching economic debacle
The coup-installed government has done nothing to improve or give us a glimpse of more effective economic policies. To the contrary, the domestic debt has grown at an even faster pace during these 47 days. In a semi-paralyzed country, the tourism and service industries are strongly affected by the political instability. The lack of new international resources—suspended as part of external sanctions against the de facto regime—will make it hard for the State (as the nation’s largest employer) to fulfill its commitments to public officials without resorting to a drastic currency devaluation. The biggest impact of this economic debacle still awaits us.
A month and a half into the coup, the repression is mounting. Today we learned that 24 of the people arrested in Tegucigalpa have been accused of sedition. Moreover, a bill has been introduced into Congress by Christian-Democrat Velázquez Nassar to make military service obligatory once again. It’s hard to believe that the country could regress so far, but this illegitimate regime has already lost its way and its decisions are not well thought out. It’s a quantum leap aimed at intimidating a population that seems to have taken over the streets.
The most intense and dramatic moments these days take place at midday. Radio Progreso carries live broadcasts of the savage repression in populous Choloma, in which police attacked a group of protesters who cut off the highway to San Pedro…
Sergio Ramírez: Yes and noIn an extremely interesting dialogue with readers of the Spanish newspaper El País, Nicaraguan writer and former Vice President Sergio Ramírez offers a thoughtful reading of events in Honduras. He analyzes the serious problems that Latin American caudillismo is facing, from both right and “left.” It isn’t strong political powers that are needed, but rather strong democratic institutions.
Ramírez recommends focusing on the next elections. With respect to this point, he’s not considering all the real implications of the coup. It wasn’t against the concrete events that had occurred in Honduras, or the so-called Fourth Ballot project. Rather, it was against any attempt to rebel against a failed democracy run by a clan of oligarchic families who managed the country like its own hacienda. These very families will return in November, backing the candidates they will choose to lead the nation.
Sergio Ramírez is right in his lack of enthusiasm for Zelaya’s return, but it would be a serious setback to allow the coup-sponsored government to remain until the November elections, and above all it would be humiliating for those who have been resisting. People need their own success stories to help them believe in themselves, and many Hondurans are writing such stories. Perhaps they lack style and have the incoherency of a nation secularly submerged in political underdevelopment, but they have an overabundance of dignity.
Sunday, August 16: The IACHR’s visit will officially begin on Monday morning. This organization, headquartered in Washington, receives its mandate from the OAS Charter and is recognized as a prominent actor in the Inter-American Human Rights System. The delegation traveling to Honduras will include, among others, its president and vice president. It’s the most important mission of this type to arrive in Honduras since June 28th, so it’s awakening new hopes. The resisters are hoping it will mean real protection for those subjected to increasing repression, and will return Honduras to the world scenario given its shrinking international news ratings …
The IACHR is coming
The population would be unprotected if it weren’t for the association of attorneys in resistance, which is providing a courageous and valuable service. These lawyers have been present at every arrest, and have allowed no arrests to be made without submitting a writ of habeas corpus.
Like Carmen Ayala Thirty-six-year-old Carmen Ayala is one of the women clamoring for the arrival of a Commission that can impartially report on what’s happening here. An unemployed single mother of two, she is completing a high school correspondence course. She became concerned about the social and political problems plaguing Honduras after going through a long process of shedding the patriarchal prejudices she had been taught to accept, like so many other Latin American women. Last Friday, while taking part in another day of protest marches, she was the victim of a teargas attack near Choloma. Thanks to some neighbors who opened their doors in solidarity and helped her remove her clothing and immediately bathe, she was able to reduce its effect on her skin. Carmen had never met these women before, and feels strengthened by the support from these anonymous strangers. “I think that now we have even more will to fight than before,” she tells me by phone…
A self-inflicted attack?There was an attack against the offices of El Heraldo early Saturday morning. Four homemade bombs were thrown inside by strangers. This newspaper, owned by Jorge Canahuatti, has maintained a belligerent attitude toward Mel Zelaya since long before the coup. Its accusations of the disposed leader’s corruption helped undermine Zelaya’s credibility, but earned it support from those who prefer Manichaeism to a deeper exploration of the truth. Although there were sufficient justifiable reasons for denouncing President Zelaya, the paper did not do so out of love of country, but rather out of allegiance to the private interests of its owner, one of the intellectual authors of the military uprising.
Juan Barahona, a leader of the resisters, condemned the attack on El Heraldo and reaffirmed the peaceful struggle. Although it’s certainly possible that some of the protesters are becoming radicalized, it’s even more likely that military intelligence is beginning to adopt the strategies used back in the 1980s. Could this be a self-inflicted attack or one by infiltrators that will later be used to justify the capture of resistance leaders?
Another week begins under the de facto regime, and again it seems like a stalemate. A little more measured analysis of the scenarios that have been created—unthinkable just two months ago—would be helpful. But it’s hard to be calm in the midst of a dynamic that doesn’t let you lower your guard. The coup-backers are betting on the passage of time and the proximity of the elections. Mel Zelaya and his team continue their travels, just like when they governed. If anyone is negotiating under the table, we aren’t aware of it.
Tuesday, August 18: A growing number of men and women are engaged in an internal struggle every morning against becoming discouraged by the increasing repression. The coup, which is becoming something of a criminal act par excellence implicating everybody, has invigorated the previously compromised dignity of many people. It’s as if the population sensed that if we could confront an army that abused an entire nation’s freedom, then could also face off a handful of crooks who use their uniforms to commit all types of misconduct. Is it too much to dream that the events we’re living through will be the beginning of the end of Honduran militarism? Without the military, perhaps it would be easier to clean up the police and someday have forces of public order that truly defend our citizens’ security. Without the military, our powerful would be less so.
Without the military?
Journalist Renato Álvarez converses with Roberto Micheletti on a prime-time television program. It’s not easy to listen to this interview without feeling embarrassed for Micheletti. It’s disheartening to confirm the intellectual profile of those to whom the popular will is today subjected.
Micheletti was never a a bright man. The last link in a chain of caudillo lineage that has been examined in hundreds of studies in Latin America, he is closer to dictators like Estrada Cabrera or Somoza than to Porfirio Díaz. Among the authoritarian caudillos, there have even been some who should be remembered by history for their virtues. This is not the case of our man from El Progreso. It’s more evident today than ever that he’s the front man for the truly powerful elites of this country. His discourse is sparse, and he limits himself to stressing the granite-like unity of one or another thing that holds democracy together. As the mother of one of Franco’s mayors once remarked, “What a shame. Until now, only those of us at home knew he was so inadequate, and now everyone’s going to find out…”
Congress made use of the uncertainty to approve a water law that confirms the privatization of this resource. Doris Gutiérrez. the only leftwing representative still active in the legislature, lamented bitterly: “They scored a goal.” A huge one. A sociologist insinuates that the Congress is paying back a segment of the business class for its unconditional support of the coup. A small sector that hopes to extend its dominion to the water we drink, and won’t be stopped by anything.
Friday, August 21: Prosilapia Ventura is a fictional character created by Radio Progreso’s production team. She’s the news reporter of “Notinada,” a parody of the media siege designed by the coup-makers in a country “where nothing happens…”
“Notinada” is a success
In this week’s edition, Notinada’s script writers spun a brilliant episode. They had Prosilapia relive the turn of events that journalist Gustavo Cardoza experienced at the savagely repressed rally in Choloma last week. They got all of us laughing at anecdotes that were originally stained with blood and fear. Being able to make fun of the coup and its protagonists is no easy task. It lets people take enough distance to be able to avoid dejection. It’s possible that this national story won’t end the way we want it to. But Honduras’ citizens have climbed a few more rungs toward democratic participation, and the politicians have sunk a little lower in the collective imagination…
It can be discouraging to discover that most of the Catholic radio and television stations have opted out of this debate. Their silence is morally unjustifiable, but in practice it responds to a simple maxim: “Where a captain rules, the sailor has no sway.” The boss has spoken, and he told everyone to be quiet. We find Cardinal Rodríguez’s position even more objectionable at this latitude of the planet, where Monsignor Romero still casts a shadow over Central America. But he probably made no mistake. He responded with his true convictions, something many Christians at the Church’s grassroots have quickly understood, and carried on without him. The Church will never be quite the same in Honduras. The top-down pattern of power that was barely questioned before is going to come up against more and more resistance in the future.
Is neutrality possible? We listen to Guillermo Anderson, one of Honduras’s best singers, in La Fragua Theater. As always, he fills the auditorium with Caribbean flavor, but his concert isn’t as heated as usual. There were far fewer people than usually accompany him in this city. The attractive and familiar theater was only 60% filled. Anderson has earned some scorn in recent days for his supposed position of neutrality. Between songs he argues his position: “My mission is to sing, and rise above political differences.” This artist’s shortsightedness, which doesn’t invalidate his good work, is typical of a segment of the Honduran middle class. They find it unnecessary to take sides in a political conflict between what they view as clashing factions.
It’s true that there are rivalries between caudillos, but that’s not the whole story. They miss the fact that a lot more is at stake at this historical moment. We are also seeing resistance to those who had denied the people democracy and who blocked any attempt to transform Honduras into a country that fosters equitable human development. There’s no room for indifference or middle ground in the face of this position of citizen dignity, which has also been violently repressed by the police.
The first news about the IAHCR’s conclusions reaches us just past 9:00 in the evening. They clearly verify the disproportionate use of force by those in uniform and blame the disorder in the country on the rupture of constitutional order that occurred on June 28th. They confirm the murder of at least four people and the irregular detention of hundreds. No one is surprised by the de facto government’s first reactions. Once again, the coup regime rejects the outside appraisal and relies on the argument that it’s just a lack of understanding on the part of people who don’t know our culture or our peculiar legal structures. We start all over again. The OAS foreign ministers arrive on Monday. Will the siege get stronger, or will the circus continue?
Monday, August 24: A new week begins with hopes awakened by the visit of the OAS foreign ministers, who arrive today… Given the importance of the IACHR’s work, the foreign ministers will have a new binding argument that can support its negotiations… The OAS is expected to warn the Honduran regime of sanctions and serious consequences if they don’t reach a political agreement that can stem from Arias’ mediation.
Ears wide shut
Judge Baltasar Garzón also arrives in Tegucigalpa for a conference on the international justice system. Although he has indicated that he’s coming as an invited guest and has no intention of legally intervening in the Honduran situation, nobody can ignore the fact that this is the man who judged Pinochet. It’s worth considering whether Micheletti might find himself in the same situation as the Chilean if he leaves Honduras one day. This doesn’t seem to much bother the man from El Progreso, a man without many cosmopolitan pretenses.
Today Micheletti’s supporters are preparing for a protest for “national dignity” in front of the hotel where the foreign delegation will be staying. The Constitution, democracy, freedom and dignity are the words that have been most crudely bandied about during our eight-week episode. One more perversion, this one of language, to be added to the list of these politicians’ infamies. Unwilling to cede their positions, they don’t hesitate to draw the whole country into this confrontation.
These days, novelist Julio Escoto raised the issue of the oil that has supposedly been discovered in the Atlantic coast. He thinks it’s a factor being ignored by analysts, which could be among the motives of the coup leaders.
A macro-concert in TegucigalpaA huge concert was organized on the grounds of the Autonomous University in Tegucigalpa yesterday, Sunday. Several local bands and some international ones took part. Among the best known were the Argentine group, “Las Manos de Filipi,” and the legendary Venezuelan band “Los Guaraguoas,” whose vocalist, Eduardo, praised the courage of the Honduran citizenry: “You’re an example for all of us.” A friend of mine called who couldn’t go to the concert because she had to finish up some sewing jobs in order to feed her two children. “It’s because the FARC still haven’t sent me the check,” she joked with evident sarcasm. It’s as if people are proud to be the object of the corrupt journalists’ slander. They are uneducated men and women, but they nonetheless know they’re confronting the power of the media and aren’t afraid.
No one knows exactly how many people were at the concert, but there were surely tens of thousands at some points in the afternoon. It was an unimaginable multitude for a public activity in Honduras. In the evening, Father Andrés Tamayo took the stage and proposed a simple prayer. With the lights out, thousands of people raised up their cell phones, lit up like we used to do with candles. It was an emotional moment. A gift for so many people who, after eight weeks, keep believing we deserve a better destiny…
Tuesday, August 25:Today has been filled with events—new protests in the streets, high-level meetings, formal declarations and press conferences—some more hopeful and others more painful. There’s barely time to put all the pieces together. It seems impossible that we’ve been involved in this absurdity for almost two months. The day ends with the inevitable taste of unease. Micheletti gives the OAS commission the cold shoulder, sending it back to where it came from. The commission’s only recourse is to recommend sanctions but they don’t clarify what they’ll be. In a dramatic tone, the de facto President assures them, “We don’t need your help or anybody else’s to move ahead…”
The OAS gets the cold shoulder
This morning, the United States suspends its visa service in Honduras to exert pressure and encourage participation in negotiations with the OAS and President Arias. The President affirms that this measure was expected and he shrugs it off with gestures and nervous words that seem naive and childish. Hours later, in a hotel in the capital, the OAS commission holds a press conference where it announces that it has not achieved its objectives and that Zelaya had accepted all of the points proposed by Arias.
What will happen?The electoral campaign will officially begin in a few days. The powers backing the coup are trusting that November will come and they will tiptoe past this disagreeable moment in history, with everything going back to the way it was before Zelaya got tangled up in his ideological escapade. Will it be possible? Despite the impressive media onslaught, many people whose eyes have been opened don’t seem willing to shut them again. They also seem to have been emboldened by the international support. Anonymous members of a dysfunctional society, so incapable of generating change, who for the first time are in the international spotlight… Tonight, nobody can imagine a hopeful solution. Violence and greater misery are the only certainties if the conflict isn’t sorted out.
Friday, August 28: We end the second month under a bogus political regime installed through an anachronistic coup d’état that couldn’t have been predicted just days before it took place. Not even the most pessimistic imagined that the rightwing business class could have turned Honduran political life in such a violent direction. We knew democracy was fragile, but didn’t imagine it was just an empty shell.
Two exhausting months
It’s not easy to decipher the exact meaning of the mixture of sentiments found among Hondurans today. Bitterness? Without a doubt. After 60 days of resistance and at least four deaths attributed to repression, hundreds of illegal arrests and thousands of people beaten, listening to Micheletti invoking his faith in God as if this could sustain us against an international blockade is a little hard to stomach.
Powerless? How could we not feel powerless when, after hundreds of peaceful grassroots demonstrations, journalists keep referring to them as violent mobs financed by Chávez. Repulsion? It’s inevitable. You only have to see Ortez Colindres making declarations about this “club of drunkards” called the OAS. There’s also a lot of defenselessness. Yesterday, in fact, a 17-year-old member of the UD’s youth club and an activist in the current crisis, was murdered in Tegucigalpa. Although there’s no evidence that his death was politically motivated, there’s no way to demonstrate the contrary with the District Attorney’s office and the Human Rights Commissioner in the hands of the de facto regime…
Uncertainty reigns. New rumors started up yesterday that the same people who supported Micheletti might force him to resign and replace him with a junta of notables. The pressure being exerted by the US State Department is key to determining whether this government will fall or remain standing… There are moments of total exhaustion. We’re grateful for the international solidarity that continues arriving; the diplomatic commissions and, above all, the anonymous expressions from men and women all over the world who are encouraging us.
“I hear something rumbling...”There’s also hope and even joy. In the context of the two-month anniversary of the coup, several marches and demonstrations are being organized in different parts of the country. In a nation where political apathy has been the rule, this is a springtime of participation. Today there’s another gathering in Tegucigalpa. For Saturday, a huge caravan of vehicles leaving from San Pedro Sula has been planned. In this northern city, students are demonstrating today against the new military service law that, although “parked” for the moment, greatly concerns young people. There are also demonstrations today in the United States. There will be protests organized by Hondurans living in Atlanta, New York, Houston and Boston. Within Honduras, the list of activities grows: a mass in Santa Bárbara, a public event in Santa Rosa, a demonstration in El Progreso, a concert in Siguatepeque…
The resistance movement isn’t the same as when it started up on June 28. It’s much bigger and, above all, much more complex. It has grown into something that goes beyond demanding Zelaya’s restitution. It’s starting to be a movement that vibrates for authentic democracy. Writer Jorge Luis Oviedo expressed this in a poem just yesterday: “I hear something rumbling, rumbling, rumbling…” Something has unquestionably shifted, though we should probably be cautious about how this rumble will let us move forward. Just as we have an oligarchy that judges any threatened redoubt a tragedy, our grassroots movement has shown signs of unusual candidness in recent years…
Sixty-two days of struggle is worthy capital. But something tells us that it isn’t enough, and that the resistance must reinvent itself in order to continue as such. The situation may urgently need new strategies. With the regime closed in on itself, the resistance will need a higher level of unity if it is to sustain itself despite the most recent pressures and the beginning of the political campaign on September 1.
Will the two candidates opposed to the coup be able to take advantage of this popular upsurge to get some good electoral results, or will the resisters reject elections that are rotten at the core? This question will need to be answered soon, if the resistance movement is to avoid becoming mired in internal conflict. Important sectors of the resistance have already pronounced their opposition to participating in the elections. But a unified response would be better, above all after considering the ultimate consequences. If this is the decision, all possible scenarios—some of which are very complex—will need to be thought through, and both our own strength and external support will need to be measured.
In addition, it seems necessary to develop better proactive capabilities. Given the economic challenges we’re facing, the resistance needs to contribute more than just discontent in the streets. This is a pending task for Honduras’s grassroots movement and political Left. It’s also a challenge for the democratic Right, if such a thing exists. We can’t live off of nostalgia, nor can we feed ourselves from the itinerary of other countries in the region. There’s a historical deficit in the opposition’s ability to develop viable bipartisan proposals that can offer political alternatives to those of the dominant oligarchy. It would be good if international cooperation agencies could find a way to support efforts aimed at consolidating a proactive civil society.
This is a key year in our national history. The worst earthquake in decades shook Honduras on May 28, but miraculously there were far fewer deaths than a 6.1 earthquake could have caused. One month later, on June 28, a much more violent tremor shook the nation and we’re still trembling with both anguish and determined hope from that one.
Alejandro Fernández is a grassroots communicator.