|Central American University - UCA
Number 339 | Octubre 2009
More from the Honduras Diary: From Jubilation to Repression
Manuel Zelaya’s return to Honduras was unanticipated,
as these chronicles from the preceding days show.
Nor can we anticipate how this conflict will unfold.
That story will only be told in as yet unwritten chronicles,
which will also reveal what really caused the coup
in the soul of the Honduran people.
Tuesday, September 8: “We’ll pull this country out of its hole”Honduras is still hostage to uncertainty and ungovernability 72 days after the sequestering of President Mel Zelaya by a military squadron and his bizarre deportation to Costa Rica. Despite domestic resistance and international pressure, Micheletti’s government is clinging doggedly to its mission of retaining power at all cost until November’s general elections then hand the country over to the next President-elect. It’s determined to impose the kind of political immobility that benefits a small caste of privileged elites.
Starting on September 1, opening day of the electoral campaign, the traditional political class has focused all efforts on making the electoral process a credible way out of the political dead-end into which it has forced us. Some international observers have caved in to that argument, although seemingly more from exhaustion than conviction. Increasingly skeptical about his own negotiating proposal, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias sees these elections as a possible solution, though he has recently emphasized the enormous harm this de facto government has done Honduras by its refusal to accept the San José Agreement he brokered.
Another case is Mexican author Carlos Fuentes, who calls Micheletti unacceptable, but says “the guy with the sombrero” [a reference to the cowboy hat rancher Manuel Zelaya always wears] isn’t much better, leading him to see the ballot box as a way of settling the conflicts. This author of The Old Gringo is right in his perception of the two political leaders, but he might nuance his opinion about the elections if he had more inside knowledge about the first generation of this National-Liberal bipartite system. Forged in the dawning of the 20th century and fed by the great banana emporiums, these two traditional parties have spent a century avoiding the emergence of an active citizenry at all cost.
Every day, virtually every minute, Radio Progreso continues to receive calls from a population that has developed a real penchant for resistance. Some comments by listeners could sound more than a little ingenuous from a distance, but from up close they’re very stimulating and reflect a new democratic consciousness. “We’re new now; we won’t be lied to any more, and we’ll pull this country out of its hole,” said one gentleman by phone. The freshness of his play on words—he used the word “honduras” rather than hole or depths, which is what the country’s name translates to—hugely contrasts with the stiffness of TV channels that sympathize with the de facto regime. In the most popular one, owned by magnate José Rafael Ferrari, tired old words are constantly juggled to make us believe the country is on the right path, despite the US sanctions, frozen IMF funds and persistent warnings by Latin American leaders.
The more they repeat that our democracy is so special and perfect that foreigners have trouble understanding it, the more mocked and indignant people feel and the more they start looking for alternative responses.
Armed with chicken eggsAdmittedly the size of the street protests has shrunk with the passage of the weeks, but those who still find the energy to go into the streets do so with moving conviction. Last Sunday, on Los Castaños bridge, about a kilometer from the city of El Progreso, we greeted about a hundred people armed with chicken eggs to throw at Liberal activists who had planned to go to one of Roberto Micheletti’s farms in a caravan of buses. It was a small and absolutely vulnerable group, but the police watching over its actions seemed more concerned than they were. Hours later, in Choluteca, another hundred people faced off against those who had gathered to hear Liberal presidential candidate Elvin Santos; they were repressed by order of Choluteca’s mayor. These are small actions, but they mess with the wheel of fortune of the candidates, who feel very uncomfortable, even twitchy.
The political campaign has started prudently, lacking the boisterous fuss of other years. Too much ado, both national and international, could easily tarnish what appears to be a ratcheted down and uncertain process. Are the elections a solution to the conflict? Would that they were, but many of us fear they can’t be. What happened on June 28 wasn’t an isolated event, but the sad endnote of 27 years of frustrated democracy. Many Hondurans are convinced any government to emerge from these elections will keep in power the same people that have made a mockery of the Constitution and refuse to give up any of their privileges. To keep this from happening, the candidates would have to denounce the coup and those who have manhandled the Constitution would have to be weeded out. People’s energy and enthusiasm is drawn from knowing they’re protagonists. Their drama is that no feasible road is yet in sight for a new social pact on which to build a modern and civilized State.
Christians in resistanceA new fumble by the coup-makers again reveals their arrogance and total absence of democratic leanings. Father Andrés Tamayo, a Salvadoran priest who in the past decade has strongly defended the environment in the vast and formerly lush Honduran department of Olancho, is about to be expelled from the country, accused of inciting Hondurans not to vote. His bishop took away his beloved Salamá parish and migratory authorities are reconsidering his naturalization. A few days ago Cardinal Rodríguez’s chancellor said, without naming names: “Let those who don’t love this country leave!” Another turn of the screw discrediting Honduras’ Catholic hierarchy. Some internauts have added their names to a proposed collective apostasy, which is surely not viable but is a significant gesture of rejection. Others are opting to confirm their right to feel part of the Church even though their leaders are proving to be so selective and exclusionary. Thus a group of lay people from Santa Bárbara yesterday afternoon proclaimed themselves the Movement of Christians in Resistance.
The connivance between the high clergy and those who run this country like their private hacienda under the guise of politics is exceedingly galling and undignified. The fact that some of the bishops, the cardinal included, belong to the rankest lineage of old landowning and cattle ranching families in Honduras helps shed light on their position.
Tomorrow’s “the play”Tomorrow’s “the play,” as the peasants say. Honduras plays Mexico in the Aztec stadium in a soccer game that will largely determine its chances of reaching the World Cup finals in South Africa. Many Hondurans have suffered a kind of schizophrenia during the national team’s last two games. With the contagious passion the selection awakens, they feel that a sporting triumph that could take us to the World Cup finals would weigh more in the balance than IMF sanctions or calls by the Organization of American States. Some think attributing so much importance to soccer is frivolous, but in such tense and fragile times we have to pay attention to what happens on the field. In the last two games, luck smiled on Micheletti, who used a national TV hookup to beg the Almighty for victory: we beat Costa Rica 4-0 and Trinidad 4-1. It’s all a dream that will be confirmed or dashed tomorrow.
A few hours before the game, a procession of vehicles will head to San Pedro Sula to support Tamayo, who has been named the “chaplain of the resistance.” In this dramatic yet hopeful atmosphere, the resistance has now lasted longer than the great banana strike of 1954, dreaming that traveling so far down the road will help us illuminate a different society.
Thursday, September 10: The country awoke a little sadder today. Mexico beat Honduras. Although it was foreseeable, it took us back to our rather mediocre soccer reality. Journalists had trouble finding epithets that wouldn’t taint the rest of national life with pessimism. Now we’re staking everything against the United States, that country that some de facto regime officials are suddenly surprised to find so contaminated by “chauvinism” and distanced from its traditional “democratizing” role in the region.
Elections, a great topic of debate
But just as every cloud has a silver lining, there are those who don’t rest, and are already opening five other doors for every one that closes on them. Adolfo Facussé—one of the country’s most prominent entrepreneurs—came up with an unusual proposal today, one that will doubtless trigger controversy. The best way of combating absenteeism in November’s elections that occurred to this member of one of Honduras’ most powerful families is to get stores to offer attractive discounts to people who make purchases with their finger inked, proof that they voted.
It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at such ignominy. On the one hand, many people will surely see this idea for what it is, an attempt to buy voters, a gross effort to marry commerce with democracy and turn a supposed civic fiesta into a big market day, an early start for Christmas shopping. Seen that way, the proposal will only feed rebellion in some. But on the other hand, the great mass of indifferent Honduras, those with no access to information not fed to them by the main media, could see this as a very appealing offer and help fill the ballot boxes with disconcerted votes.
At a minimum it shows that the elections’ validity has become a major topic of debate. Or perhaps it would be fairer to say of opposed monologues. Those outside the country seem very clear. The European Union issued a communiqué today announcing it won’t send observers, a tacit way of not recognizing the elections. The majority of Latin American countries said as much days ago. The US State Department could speak louder, but not more clearly. Nonetheless, most Honduran journalists are doing everything they can to make us see the opposite. It would be exhausting to try to decipher the arguments we hear in each news report because they lack reason; they’re gratuitous, arbitrary statements that have nothing to do with the facts.
Still no analysisThe Zelaya government used various media today to release its interpretation of the coup and the reasons behind it. The document also annotated its own supposed virtues, including the alleged reduction of poverty. An even half-serious analysis would undermine many of these statements, but analysis is still sadly lacking in Honduras. Now, 75 days after the coup, there’s still no critical thinking to illuminate the resistance movement. Among other things, reliable and contrasted information would have to give the Zelaya government its fair share of responsibility for the ludicrous situation we’re living through, while leaving no doubts about the need to return to the constitutional order before the elections.
To be fair, such analyses do exist but either have not been widely disseminated or have been silenced. What we read every day via the internet are urgent messages that feed the spirit of resistance, but don’t stimulate reflection. A former foreign cooperation worker commented to me this afternoon: “The problem is that people want everything by tomorrow. There’s still a lot of education and work to be done here if things are to change.”
Like waiting for the It’s logical to a certain point that people are into something other than analysis. A teacher called to ask me for information about Father Tamayo. They’re making a placard for a street demonstration on Saturday to demand an end to the State aggression aimed at expelling a man who is a naturalized citizen and has contributed pastoral and social work. The attitude of so many teachers is worthy of note, since some weren’t among the most active in the traditional teachers’ marches for better salaries. Now they’re involved in their first non-union demands in years with pent-up passion. Some have already made steps that would have taken years under normal conditions. But if we don’t want what has been obtained to unravel, we need strong organization that allows self-criticism and is open enough to build a broad-based national proposal devoid of sloganeering and demagogy.
Tamayo and Zelaya’s wife have been in La Ceiba today. They’re still talking about the return of the deposed President, but we know little of their concrete plans. At times, it feels as if we were waiting for “the second coming” of the definitive liberator, with a sentiment more eschatological than mundane. It’s the kind frequently used by popular providentialism, which does little to help resolve the crisis.
Bringing Mel Zelaya back is still an elemental demand, but constructing a new country will have little to do with his chaotic thinking. Nor will it have much to do with drafting a new Constitution. The Honduran citizenry has a long, hard road ahead. A hundred years of a political culture sullied to its roots won’t be dismantled in three days or three years. The good thing is that this resistance movement has shown that we’re capable of starting down that road and staying on it.
Sunday, September 13: During an interview with Radio Progresso José Ignacio López Vigil, a Cuban-Latin American “passionate radio broadcaster” currently living in Ecuador, he wondered how to keep alive the indignation and hope 76 days into the coup. He recognized that it’s not easy to keep pushing the analysis further, avoiding getting caught up in the emotional urgencies sparked by the constant events. He mused that achieving this would have to involve continuing to liberate the word, opening arenas so people can express themselves, never ceasing to feed the debate among the different crossed visions of the special political situation in Honduras.
Indignation, reflection… and debate
We consider López Vigil’s words essential, since one of our major risks is confining ourselves to our own vision of events and shutting off the dialogue needed to build an alternative for the country. From firmness in our defense of the constitutionality and denunciation of the coup d’état, we can and must debate with dignity and seriousness the possible scenarios we advocate. These nearly 80 days of resistance imply an enormous advance for the Honduran people, but everything remains to be done to build a political alternative to the traditional bipartite system. Honduras won’t surmount this historic challenge with preconceived ideas or exclusionary proposals. More than ever, we who dream of a different Honduras need a political culture based on tolerance and respect for the rights of others.
The “visa stripping” blowThe international pressure has continued in recent days. On Friday afternoon US travel visas were withdrawn from several de facto government officials, among them Micheletti himself. The politician from El Progreso told Radio America later that night that the bad news had been broken to him in a written communication from the US Consulate. What he didn’t mention is that the letter was addressed not to the President of the Republic but to the head of the National Congress, which is the only position Micheletti holds that the United States recognizes.
Others who will no longer be able to travel to the United States include Foreign Minister López Contreras, legislator Marcia Villeda, all Supreme Court justices and their immediate families, and an as-yet unpublished list of businesspeople, although we’ve learned that one of them is Adolfo Facussé, the aforementioned promoter of the brilliant idea of giving discounts at the malls to people who voted. The US migratory police apparently met this august member of one of the country’s great families on his arrival to Miami yesterday and returned him on the next plane to Tegucigalpa.
Notwithstanding all this, Micheletti said the United States will still be our friend. The slogan of the de facto executive branch is to resist and take no step backwards. Yesterday Youth Minister Luis Ortez explained that we shouldn’t let the measure worry us, given that we’ll go to the Soccer World Cup and can get to South Africa with a stop-off in Panama. That’s how gallantly our interim government members take their blows.
But though they don a poker face, having their visas taken away consternates those affected and greatly worries the business class. Being unable to visit one’s dentist in Houston or go Christmas shopping on Fifth Ave. in New York is both uncomfortable and humiliating. Some ladies of Tegucigalpa’s high society go to Miami just to get their hair done. It’s a safe bet that some members of these great families are seriously thinking of encouraging Zelaya’s return just to be done with this situation once and for all. Others, of course, feel such mistrust of Zelaya that they’d rather exhaust every possibility of surviving the international repudiation, even assuming economic losses for their businesses and making do meanwhile with the exclusive shops of neighboring countries.
How far and how long?The two-pronged question is how far the United States is willing to go with its pressure and how far the local oligarchy is willing to go without ceding an inch. While the current situation is clearly making almost everyone uncomfortable, Zelaya’s return is clearly still a risky gamble for a dominant class unaccustomed to improvising with its interests.
The Micheletti group and its inner circle is the surest about what it’s doing. They have burned their bridges and are prepared for a last-ditch defense. On Friday, Finance Minister Gabriela Núñez submitted the country’s 2010 budget bill to the Congress, emphasizing there will have to be some belt-tightening. And this despite factoring in cooperation funding, which is more than a little uncertain. The coup leaders are confident that after the November elections the international community will recognize the new government and lift the sanctions. If the de facto government remains, the next President will spend the first year governing with a fictitious budget and subjected to decisions made abroad.
While things are uncertain for the Honduran population in general, they’re calamitous for the three quarters who live below the poverty line. Employment is continuing its free fall; sources of hard cash like the maquila industry, remittances, and tourism are still shrinking; foreign investment is watching expectantly from the sidelines and the forecasts of economic recession are even more dramatic than anticipated only a few weeks ago. Although the deposed President ran the country into an economically grave situation, the coup government is taking it to a slow death.
Education is the key Tomorrow we begin the week of national Independence celebrations. Like every year there will be civic marches through the streets on September 15 to commemorate our independence from Spain nearly 200 years ago. Alongside those promoted by the authorities will be parallel ones organized by the resistance. Protests are expected in the main cities around the country under the motto “What independence?” The civic opposition to the coup again showed its strength with activities across the country over the weekend. They aren’t very massive, but they crop up and multiply everywhere. Humble people are climbing on the bandwagon of resistance to the coup with surprising dignity.
An event today in Intibucá, in the western part of the country, was attended by many Lencas, the indigenous group most linked to national identity, as Lempira, the cacique who battled Spanish invaders in the 16th century and after whom the national currency is named, was a Lenca.
Bishop Santos from the Copán diocese publicly offered a parish to deposed Father Tamayo. This decision demonstrates the deep split in the Catholic Church resulting from the events of June 28 and frontally challenges the authorities who issued the order for the Salvadoran priest’s expulsion.
Hondurans are entering this civic week confused and worried about the future. They clearly perceive that they will pay
the cost of the inept management by the country’s political class. They also ought to know that no traditional politician—Zelaya and his clique included—will get us out of this dead end. The caudillos, or political strong bosses, of both the Right and the Left will just aggravate the calamity we’re experiencing. Only a renovated democracy, with different political parties and real, effective participation by men and women in public affairs could light the way to a different Honduras. But that’s a long-term task not fit for Mel Zelaya and certainly not for the coup-makers.
Roger Bados, the beloved grassroots leader murdered in San Pedro by a group of hired killers a few days after the coup, left this final written reflection: “The real possibilities for the practical and concrete implementation of any transformation project must necessarily involve grassroots educational processes.” Education is the key to building a transforming alternative. Whatever happens in the coming weeks, this country needs a profound pedagogical renovation to make democracy a reality and ensure that the Constitution—this or any future one—moves from being a simple piece of paper to being an instrument at the service of all Hondurans.
Tuesday, September 15: The coup-makers never imagined that September 15, Independence Day, would dawn with so much difficulty in deploying the media apparatus that every year sets out to show that we live in a free, independent and democratic republic. Reality is so very different. Since 1821, the native-born oligarchy has made the State its patrimony and conspired to consolidate a political structure that, throughout the ups and downs of history, maintains the privileges of a few at the cost of excluding the great majorities.
Independence Day in parallel
Parallel parades have taken place in a tense but not violent atmosphere all over the country. The most important civic-military act organized by the de facto government was held in Tegucigalpa’s national stadium, although it was much more military than civic: military marches, parachutists, tankettes, planes, soldiers… There were also some school marching bands, especially from private schools. Although the organizers took great pains to present a showy spectacle, wheeling out all the military paraphernalia, the bleachers weren’t full, as they have been typically in previous years. In contrast, the march called by the resistance in the capital was more numerous than anticipated; probably the largest since the unfortunate afternoon of President Zelaya’s aborted landing and the murder of Isis Obed Murillo.
The political forces are trying to stop the resistance making a lot of noise, but they couldn’t contain the grassroots pressure expressed peacefully in every corner of the country. Events repudiating the coup multiplied. Civic marches in resistance to the coup were recorded in Tocoa, La Esperanza, San Pedro, Santa Bárbara, Santa Rosa, Lamaní, Candelaria, El Progreso, Siguatepeque, La Entrada and Sonaguera, where improvised journalists have been reporting events to Radio Progreso, which broadcast the testimonies flooding in to the station from around the country in a special program replete with emotional moments. Father Ismael Moreno, the radio’s director, expressed optimism about such an encouraging display of grassroots resistance: “Never again will September 15 marches be what they were before,” said Melo. “Starting now, we’re constructing a new way to celebrate and seek genuine independence.”
The fight isn’t about Zelaya Clearly much more is being played out in Honduras than the return of a President whose mandate was violently cut short in a manner inconceivable in the 21st century. Among other things at stake is the possibility of making the leap from a society whose political culture is still pre-democratic, authoritarian and riddled with patronage to a civic culture built on individual and collective freedoms.
Here’s a sample of the authorities’ relationship with their people: yesterday the street venders in El Progreso received a circular from the director of their association, who in turn had been pressured by the municipal government, warning all stationary venders—who sell hot dogs, ice cream bars and tortillas in the street—to show up in blue and white uniforms for the official parade organized by the municipal government. The threat is explicit: “Those not going to march will have their post cleared on Wednesday.” That’s how the authorities work in this country. They view and treat citizens as if they were serfs on an estate. Passing from this state of semi-slavery to being a full citizen is the real challenge: the fight isn’t to follow Zelaya and his populist extravagances, but to reject a system that has never even been close to democratic.
“We’ve been elected by God”The extortion by the political class is sometimes more subtle, appealing to people’s traditionalism—such as their religiosity, which is occasionally profound but much more often terribly ingenuous. In the flagship Sunday television program, journalist Edgardo Melgar interviewed three legislators who are Christian believers, albeit not Catholics. For an hour they said such a bunch of nonsense that it’s impossible to reproduce the tone of the interview without feeling embarrassed for them. In synthesis, they explained how God has chosen Honduras to announce a message to a world threatened by people like Hugo Chávez. An example of God’s hand in all this, according to a very well coifed lady who claims to be a legislator, is the rapid recognition we received from Israel, Jehovah’s chosen people. Can anyone still take this seriously well into the 21st century? Isn’t it infamy to play with the supposed ignorance of a population using arguments that can’t possibly be believed by those brandishing them? Isn’t it setting the intellectual bar of the Honduran people too low?
It’s possible that the bipartite system has gone too far, as the impressive demonstrations nowadays suggest. It might be underestimating a people who may no longer believe that being born and living in such an unequal Honduras is inexpressible good fortune, and that we must be eternally grateful to our politicians for protecting us from biblical plagues such as communism or anarchism. People no longer swallow that. When a foreign minister comes out and explains that our Constitution is such a perfect juridical instrument it would take the international community years to understand, many more laugh or feel embarrassed than express admiration. Just today, Micheletti first said he forgives those confused by wrongheaded doctrines, then recommended to politicians everywhere that they give the Honduran Constitution a detailed read. All that’s missing is to suggest they put it on hotel nightstands, next to the Bible, for the edification of the civilized world.
A good part of a population traditionally disinterested in politicking is now coming to a new awareness, realizing that behind this alleged democracy is nothing more than a gang capable of any ignominy to continue enriching itself, while the majority lives in misery.
Will this be a historic rupture?But there’s still a long way to go from here to capitalizing on this national event to construct a different and better country. In a brilliant article published in the Honduran edition of envío, Marvin Barahona—his generation’s best historian—voiced his hope that this coup would help consolidate “a political and social actor that failed to attain the necessary power to threaten the status quo in the 20th century.”
Will this be the key event in fostering the historic rupture we’ve been waiting for? It’s possible, but best not to announce it to the heavens yet. The bipartite system has always been quite capable of turning to its favor anything that would appear to threaten it, although the impression, even the hope, is that this time it has measured the consequences of its acts poorly and they are backfiring. That’s at least the impression given by the surprise with which business coup backers like Benjamín Bográn receive the notice they’re no longer welcome in the United States. They get so nervous they end up babbling. Fito Facussé, for example, says that from now on he’ll go to Brazil, a place his son loves.
A declaration by Hillary Clinton regarding the country’s independence celebrations reached the country yesterday. Significantly it wasn’t addressed to the government—which Washington doesn’t officially recognize—but to the Honduran people as a whole. She reaffirmed her friendship with the people and wished for a prompt return to democracy. The message could have been less diplomatically ambiguous, but anyone who missed the point didn’t want to get it. The only way out of this impasse is the restoration of the President.
With or without the well-wishing by the US secretary of state, no one can take away the satisfaction we feel on a day like today. For the first time, Independence Day closed with the joy conferred by dignity and hope. Hondurans are faced with an historical opportunity that they can’t and must not fail to take advantage of. The future of our sons and daughters depends on it.
Monday, Sepember 21:The news broke about 10 this morning. Perhaps some saw it coming but others were caught completely off base. As they say in Honduras, “Seeing it coming isn’t the same as having it before your eyes.” After a week in which the coup apparatus had used its electoral candidates to buttress its intransigent positions with mediator Arias, we were waiting for his meeting with Hillary Clinton in the afternoon. Few expected events would take such a surprising turn with Mel Zelaya’s return to the country. He pulled it off in his style, providing one of those dramatic effects that so enthuse his followers.
Zelaya’s really here!
We were with Gerardo Martínez, an audiovisual communicator, in a cafeteria in the capital’s Palmira residential neighborhood when a friend called to tell us about a rumor that the deposed President had arrived in the early morning and was now sheltered in the United Nations offices in Tegucigalpa.
At first we were skeptical; political rumors have been part of daily life for the past 80 days. But we quickly headed for the UN offices, where we found an already sizeable group of people, leading us to suspect the news was true. This was just the advance party of a surprising multitude that was beginning to descend on the UN grounds with flags and placards. Half an hour later the US State Department confirmed the news.
“We beat them! I can’t believe it”The joy was uncontainable. An unshaven man, who looked like a suburban resident or a small farmer from the interior, looked at us in sheer disbelief: “We beat them! I can’t believe it… we beat them!” He grabbed his head as if to show how surprising it felt to have beaten those who have always appeared invincible. Even if it turns out to be a pyrrhic victory, this sensation of triumph filling the heart of so many people can’t be downplayed. Some people have spent nearly three months resisting in the streets and otherwise publicly showing their opposition to the coup. It’s probably their first victory in the public arena and is like a shower of self-esteem that’s hard to imagine, even though we may later realize it was too soon to celebrate, that the battle is still being waged and swords must remain at the ready.
As often happens at events so charged with emotion, the smallest rumor morphed into news and passed from mouth to mouth in an instant. In the midst of that maelstrom of joy it was said that Micheletti had been thrown out of the country at two in the morning; that Armed Forces chief Romeo Vásquez had also “fallen”; that Mel would speak at two in the afternoon from the presidential offices… These news flashes fell among the multitude like sparks that further ignited the commotion, making it uncontainable at times. The space gradually got so crowded that we couldn’t hold up the camera with which we were trying to immortalize the moment.
We saw tearful peasants hugging each other, humble women screaming at the top of their lungs at the military, elderly men unable to contain the joy repressed for weeks. Soon cars loaded with loudspeakers arrived, playing songs of celebration that the crowd sang along to, with many even dancing. Everything was played, from “We’re not afraid,” which is now a Honduran anthem, to a version of “Chief of Chiefs” by Los Tigres del Norte referring to Zelaya.
More flags and banners appeared, including those of the Liberal party, which has threatened to capitalize on all this activity to rejuvenate the bipartite system. Many in the grassroots movement consider this tactical alliance with a sector of the rankest side of our domestic politics to be a useful convenience that can later be shucked off. Why not the opposite? In reality, it would be more normal if the versed and powerful political class turned out to be using the well-intentioned citizens.
The moment’s emotion: Fears about the turn events are taking and their consequences for the poorest are inevitable, but it’s impossible not to feel sucked in by the emotion of the moment, the laughter and enthusiasm of those around you. Many people came up to hug me, shake my hand or say with a certain candor: “Yes, we could!”.
“Yes, we could!”
At midday it was announced that Zelaya wasn’t in that building at all; he was in the Brazilian Embassy, some 200 meters away. The crowd began to move. It’s impossible to say how many people there were, but surely no fewer than 50,000. If this continued growing, I thought, and people from the interior began arriving, it could get up to hundreds of thousands. That would represent an enormous threat for the coup regime, which we had by now learned was still in place.
Perhaps for that reason, a surprisingly long curfew that would shut down the entire country was announced on a national media hook-up. Even though it was already 3:30 pm when the communiqué was officially released, the curfew would start at 4 pm and last until 7 am. Everyone would have to head home immediately. Would the thousands of Zelaya sympathizers leave their vigil in front of the Brazilian Embassy? Or might they all march to the Presidential offices and throw Micheletti out? No one knew what might happen in the coming hours. Zelaya’s first address to the population, broadcast by Channel 36, was a real populist rally. There was a feeling that if this man ordered the crowd to raze the capital, it would come tumbling down to shouts of jubilation.
Was all this cooked up?Seeing Rassel Tomé, Micheletti’s former candidate and Rosenthal Oliva’s man, directing the demonstrators made one wonder whether the whole thing had already been cooked up. But perhaps it wasn’t. We were overcome by uncertainty before evening began to fall. At 5 pm, Micheletti granted us a second national media hookup. Surrounded by his whole team from the different state branches and from the part of civil society that has backed him since day one, he announced that Zelaya’s new move will change nothing.
Is it possible there are no negotiations under the table? Micheletti asked the Embassy of Brazil to turn Zelaya over to Honduran authorities so he could be judged as is “right and proper.” All in all, there was noticeable nervousness among those flaunting their power, despite the makeup. The Reuters correspondent reported that the Micheletti government considers it unacceptable for Zelaya to call for a grassroots mobilization from the Brazilian Embassy and blamed that country for any disturbances that could result. Facussé, the businessman expelled from Miami, even dared to suggest that Brazil’s unwillingness to recognize this government meant Honduras didn’t have to respect its embassy’s diplomatic immunity.
Night has fallen and it’s hard to get news. The city is predictably militarized so no one can go to check things out without risking their life, although we know many people are still gathered in front of the Brazilian Embassy. The anti-coup TV channel has gone off the air. Cell phone communications have been cut. We don’t know what moves are being prepared by either side, but it’s evident that this return to forced silence contains a strong dose of both fear and hope. I ran into journalist Manuel Torres among the multitude this morning, and he commented that the next 72 hours will be decisive for the solution to the crisis and perhaps even Honduras’ future.
Entangled in massive confusionOne of the things that have worried us most these past days is the intensification of false polarization. The worst thing is that those voices equidistant from both Micheletti and Zelaya have been silenced as people take ever more extreme positions. Many people are accused of supporting the coup for simply recognizing that Mel is a chaotic politician, or recalling that there was corruption in his government. We can’t allow ourselves to label Doris Gutiérrez or Matías Funes as coup supporters just for maintaining positions different from those of the resistance. These people whose whole lives have been truly committed to the interest of the majorities are fundamental to constructing an alternative to the political-business elite running this country. The same cannot be said of journalists David Romero and Eduardo Maldonado, or the many other corrupt politicians who’ve tagged on to the resistance.
Some think that in these conditions it’s better just to wait for the elections, while others believe the only way we can begin
a new chapter in our history is on the right foot is to restore legal order by allowing Zelaya to finish out the last few weeks of his term. Let’s hope we aren’t letting our thinking get tangled up in the midst of all this confusion. No caudillo will ever be a solution, and no Constitution, however well conceived it might be, can take the place of an educated and participating citizenry. Let’s hope this crisis helps us forge it.
At 8 pm more news is starting to weave a grim picture. A third national hookup has just announced that the national curfew will be extended until 6 pm on Tuesday. In other words, seven and a half million people have been confined to their homes until further notice. Moreover, the OAS announced that Mel Zelaya is abandoning the San José Pact and renouncing that path of dialogue. Are we reaching the end of this historic episode or is it the start of even greater chaos, which could lead to a violent confrontation between Hondurans? At this time of night, it’s hard to see any way out. That’s how we experienced today, one of the most contradictory since Honduras’ political class demonstrated its disregard for democratic principles by throwing the country into its greatest crisis of modern times.
Tuesday, September 22:In only a few hours we’ve gone from the overflowing joy triggered by Mel’s return to the darkest of repressive days. At 4:30 this morning, the army and police carted off hundreds of demonstrators who had steadfastly continued their vigil in front of the Brazilian Embassy, where the deposed head of state took refuge yesterday.
From joy to repression
Still in the early hours of the morning the repression spread to nearby neighborhoods, where electricity and water had been cut since last night. There are charges that the police have bust into homes and captured citizens. Hundreds of people were confined in a baseball stadium in the capital. Dozens are wounded and at least one death has been confirmed, although there are many more accusations that people have died of gunshot wounds. Some human rights leaders report that the police have taken some wounded from the hospitals and moved them to unknown places. What is certain is that blood has flowed.
This afternoon a chain of new altercations began in different barrios of the capital. On TV we’re seeing impressive images of El Pedregal, where well armed police are facing off against a group of residents defending themselves with rocks. Thousands of Tegucigalpa residents have defied the prolonged curfew to go out and confront the armed forces. Just an hour before midnight, charges continue coming in from all corners of the city, even reports of armed repression of minors. Gunshots and sirens can still be heard all over the city, which has become the improvised stage of a guerrilla war.
Will they attack the We’re still partially incommunicado and subjected to an absolutely irrational virtual state of siege. Across the entire country we’ve been forbidden to go out into the street for the past 31 hours and the curfew has now been extended until at least 6 pm tomorrow. There isn’t even any gasoline for doctors, who are facing major difficulties reaching the hospital to work their shifts. Many electricity or water workers prefer to stay home than risk a misunderstanding. In San Pedro Sula an 18-year-old on a bicycle got scared and tried to flee when stopped by the police, who shot to kill with macabre accuracy.
It is suspected that the coup makers toyed all afternoon with the idea of entering the Brazilian Embassy by force to capture Mel Zelaya. They apparently only backed off because Brazil invoked the Vienna Convention and the possibility of calling an emergency UN Security Council meeting. Deputy Foreign Minister Martha Lorena de Casco appeared on a national hookup at 5 pm to state that the government respects international conventions and will not assault Brazilian territory, although the tone she adopted was threatening and confrontational; above all it oozed cynicism. This coup regime official repeated that they are open to a negotiated solution, even though they’ve done nothing but boycott the idea from the very beginning.
Much worse was the last hookup of the day. At 8 pm, Foreign Minister López Contreras read a declaration by Micheletti to national and foreign journalists. The first surprise was that he did so in English, with a female voice translating it into Spanish. Are these the same people who invoke our national pride and idiosyncrasy?
The declaration was worthy of Cantínflas, reiterating that Micheletti is open to dialogue, but making clear that the separation of powers and the Constitution make it impossible for Zelaya to be restored. It held out a hand to Zelaya for possible talks, but then tried to pressure Brazil into turning the deposed President over to face justice.
Backed into a corner by the foreign journalists’ questions, Contreras revealed evident insecurity, going as far as to suggest mediation by the Holy See. Even knowing he’s an Opus Dei member—like a number of other actors in this de facto government—such a brainless proposal can only be understood as the nervousness of the moment. Hasn’t the cardinal already scuppered any possibility of the Church mediating the conflict? Isn’t its silence in the face of the repression incomprehensible to this country’s Catholic majority?
Are Micheletti and Zelaya Little light can be seen at the end of this tunnel of conflict. Both Zelaya and Micheletti appear to be improvising. It’s known that the best scriptwriters are in the United States, so it doesn’t appear that this script with all its gaffes comes from there. And considering how heated tempers are, that poses a terrible threat. When the population clashes with a political class that refuses to use reason, opting instead for confrontation and force as now, the situation can get totally out of control. The repression unleashed today could be the last straw for many people who up to now have demonstrated peacefully and shown restraint and patience.
improvising the script?
This morning, four candidates for the November 29 elections appeared on national TV. National Party Leader Pepe Lobo suggested that dialogue with Mel Zelaya has to resume now that he’s back in the country, and that it should be broad and diligent. He even said he’s considering the possibility of his party pulling out of the National Congress if a real effort isn’t made to reach some compromise. It’s an interesting posture, a small opening in the intransigence shown by the political class. It can be assumed that some people are thinking things have gone too far. Actors close to the economic elite may be maneuvering to save an ungovernable situation that doesn’t favor even them.
The Resistance Front is calling for a huge march tomorrow at 8 am, again challenging the curfew. It’s mobilizing people from different parts of the country to come to the capital and join the resistance strategy. But these efforts will continue coming up against the road blocks set up all over the country to prevent free movement. Not since the day of the coup itself has the country been so militarized.
The resistance has its own lifeThings must have become very difficult to prevent a negotiated solution that would allow each side to ensure its political and financial future, a formula used by the powers that be in this country for decades. Under-the-table agreements have been standard political practice, keeping Honduras relatively safe from the armed conflicts that characterized Central America during the eighties. Once again it must be stressed that they didn’t expect to come up against a citizenry that has grown sick of living with fear and is now so avid for transformations.
The resistance movement has taken on a life of its own, sometimes moving chaotically, but with unusual belligerence. It’s a pity the leadership doesn’t have a clear proposal. Summarizing everything in a call for a new constituent assembly provides a good slogan for taking to the street one day, but after three months it’s not enough for a country that’s belly up and heading for an economic crisis unparalleled in its contemporary history.
There’s both optimism In the afternoon I visited some friends in La Leona, a grassroots barrio of Tegucigalpa. It seems like Sunday, with a lot of people in the street. I ran into Albita, a young mother who came up to share her impressions. According to Albita, it’s all just about two politicians fighting for their own particular interests. This citizen hasn’t fallen for the leaders’ speeches, or even Mel’s words yesterday, when in his hearty back-slapping style he invited the multitude to go live with him on his hacienda in Olancho. But beyond Micheletti and Zelaya, the two Liberal Party caudillos locking horns in this crisis, there’s also a fight between the authoritarian oligarchy that has always held the reins of power and a people looking for a future different from the society of desperation in which they’ve always lived.
and danger right now
It’s deeply unjust that such worthy and reasonable longings of a people that deserves better should have to face institutional scorn and violence day after day, stirred up by mediocre media that are liars in the extreme.
Today has been one of the saddest of the 87 that have passed since the coup. It would be naïve to hope tomorrow will be better. Our only hope is that this government will finally be brought down by its own errors, because alternatively we fear bloody days to come, for which a shameless political class would be responsible.
Let’s hope they don’t If this crisis has shown anything, it’s that Honduran politics is riddled with disease and must be reinvented to orient it to the common good rather than continue satisfying the whims of a handful of families. It has lifted the lid on the tremendous corruption and incompetence that lies beneath the country’s political life. We hope all this doesn’t end in a false solution. Many of us think that something very good has happened, that people’s awareness has been shaken up and those who have taken to the streets feel proud of the recognition they’ve earned. That’s an essential basis for a new country, but there are also huge threats. A last-minute political negotiation in which Zelaya recovers positions, but the political class comes out alive and kicking, even strengthened, would be awful. Equally terrible is the economic crisis bearing down on us, which will hit hardest once international attention has moved on to another conflict.
come out alive and kicking
Alejandro Fernández is a grassroots communicator