Tegucigalpa, November 30, 2009
Jackie McVicar, Common Frontiers Canada
After a long bus ride back from Tocoa in the northern department of Colon, we arrived in the capital today just in time to join a massive caravan organized by the Popular Resistance Front. Like the other demonstrations held since the coup d’etat on June 28, the mobilization winded through the "barrios", the neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa where supporters left their homes to show their support. This time, instead of walking, organizers decided to drive their cars in a caravan, to avoid confrontation or repression that they feared by the State security forces. Hundreds of cars and people drove through the streets honking their horns, with flags, horns and music. Both those in the caravan and people yelling support from the streets, "I didn’t vote!" showed their ink-less fingers, to show they had not been registered at a polling station where a finger print as part of your id is normally taken. Though the media is reporting record high turnouts for Sunday’s election, no one is buying it. One woman I interviewed who didn’t want to be identified because of fear ("if they see my picture, they [the military] will come after me"), said, "I have over 150 people in my [extended] family and not one went out to vote."
Another man, when asked what the streets of Tegucigalpa looked like yesterday, said with pride, "The streets were deserted. That is the reality. Those who went to vote were just a few…I didn’t go out to vote, precisely because we don’t support the de facto regime. And conscious people who didn’t vote in Honduras, is 65%. It’s the majority who didn’t go vote and the Tribunal [Supreme Electoral Tribunal TSE] wants to cheat us by saying the majority went to vote. In Honduras, people are conscious after the 28th of June. And it’s the majority who won, it’s the popular resistance."
Yesterday on election day at 3pm, the TSE announced that they were having a large turnout and didn’t have enough paper and ink so were going to extend voting by an hour. Others suggest that they extended the voting hour precisely because there wasn’t a large turnout and there are reports that police started going into neighbors announcing that all citizens must vote. Despite this, many didn’t. One taxi driver I asked from Tocoa, in the department of Colon, said, "I didn’t leave my house yesterday. I shut the door and didn’t open it all day. Who knows what they [State forces] would’ve done."
This driver had reason to be nervous. Five members of our delegation were in Tocoa the day before the election and we saw at least five unmarked trucks and SUVs with tinted windows driving through the small town, reminding those on the streets they were being watched. Some didn’t even bother taking the National Party banner off the vehicles as they drove past folks walking on the streets or pulling up in front of the homes of resistance leaders homes. When our delegation met with the Sub-Chief at the National Police Station in Tocoa on election day, after receiving a call that up to eight people had been illegally detained, he said that the Police were, "doing all they could to ensure the safety of citizens." He noted that the Police register any unmarked cars they see to ensure they do not have dangerous materials inside and that they are registered to the right people driving the car. When I asked why the police hadn’t stopped the unmarked vehicles we saw, despite the fact that every other car was being stopped and registered at the police check point, he simply didn’t answer. Later that night, a pipe bomb exploded in the Liberal Party Headquarters in Tocoa and the eight missing still have not been found or the story cleared about their whereabouts.
Outside of Tocoa, in the municipality of Trujillo, we visited the community of Guadalupe Carney (named after an Irish American Priest who worked there and who was killed in the 1980s), who had heard the night before that military were encircling the community from both directions. Thankfully, they never raided the community, but they sent a message loud and clear: be careful, we’re not far away. Reports are that the military in part were camped out a Colonel’s hacienda near by. The police had Guadalupe on their radar and had been "prepared for the worst" in that community, according to Officer Sauceda. When we visited, we saw signs posted: Don’t vote! And the community took head. Of the over 800 families living in the community, they suspect only a handful went to vote. The campesinos in this community know this will be a long battle, but one man, Augustin at age 75 said proudly, "I have seen a lot in my life time. We continue the struggle because it is part of who we are, we are conscious and we believe in the struggle."
In other polling stations, we saw political hype but not too many voters. In Corosito, Colon, we visited the polls with members of the Coordination of Popular Organizations of Aguan (COPA) and saw many empty rooms in the school where the poll had been set up. Military and police guarded the door, the first time for this kind of security during a civilian election. In other parts of the country, including San Pedro Sula where people in resistance had planned a peaceful march to show opposition to the election process, tear gas and water bombs served to control the crowds.
Back in Tegucigalpa, there are many unknowns: will Mel Zelaya leave the Brazilian Embassy this week and fulfill his term as President before Pepe Lobo of the opposing National Party takes power at the end of January? What political alliances will be made now that the vote has taken place? Will Canada go ahead and accept these unfair, unfree elections and accept a highly militarized state and a President elected during a coup d’etat as trade partners and go ahead with business as usual? Will the newly elected National Party be able to convince the world that Honduras’ "problems" are a thing of the past, part of Liberal Party squabbling that have ended?
One this isn’t in question: the strength and courage of the Honduran people. As the caravan ended tonight in front of the Brazilian Embassy, in an act of solidarity with President Zelaya held captive inside, chanting, singing and dancing (there was even a Mariachi band!) could be seen and heard while the police and military called in reinforcements and pointed their 50 mm machine gun at the celebrating crowd. So when it was time, people left – peacefully, just as the caravan had started. They weren’t about to enter a conflict with the military, a physical fight is not what they want. When I asked a young woman in the crowd why she was there, what she wanted, she didn’t surprise me with her answer, "la constituyente" the constituent assembly that could one day lead to real change in Honduras. Until then the people keep singing, "The People, United, Will Never Be Defeated!" Just as the graffiti says throughout Honduras, "THE POWER IS IN THE STREETS."
Attached pictures showing the excitement of the caravan, citizens on the street and in their cars showing they didn’t vote by holding up their ink-free hands and fingers.