A Day of Reckoning in Honduras

Something unprecedented is occurring in Honduras.  Since the military coup which occurred on June 28th, the people of Honduras have mounted 6 weeks of sustained, massive, non-violent resistance to the violent take-over of their country.   Perhaps even more astounding, is that this resistance shows no signs of tapering off.  On the contrary, the movement continues to build in momentum and numbers despite violent repression on the part of the military.

Last week, hundreds of thousands of people began walking 10-12 miles per day, from all parts of the country, to converge on the cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula on Tuesday, August 11.  The columns of people, filling two to three lanes of traffic, camp out in towns along the way at night, picking up more marchers at every stop.  Reminiscent of Ghandi’s great salt marches, the people of Honduras are writing a new chapter in the history of non-violent struggle in Central America.

The thousands who are marching are aware of the possibility of violent repression on August 11.  In an interview this week, union leader Carlos H. Reyes pointed out that the coup government has used violence to repress each of the two previous mass mobilizations in the aftermath of the coup.  On July 5th, a young boy was shot and killed by a sharpshooter when as many as half a million people gathered at the airport for Zelaya’s return. Ten days ago, a large protest in Tegucigalpa was attacked by the military with tear gas, pepper spray, rubber and live bullets and troops pursued the fleeing protestors for several kilometers.  That day, a teacher was shot and killed. Carlos Reyes, a Presidential Candidate for the upcoming November elections, was beaten by police and has just been released from the hospital where he was treated for multiple injuries.

[Carlos H. Reyes, President of STIBYS (union of bottling plant workers in Honduras) is a member of the International Committee UITA, an international labor federation.  The Latin American Regional Secretariat of UITA is reporting from Honduras. Click here for their daily photos.]

Human rights organizations have documented nine murders and thousands of other human rights violations perpetrated by the coup government including illegal detentions, disappearances, excessive use of force, death threats etc.   These tactics are well known to veteran human rights defenders in Honduras. In the 1970’s and 80’s Honduras served as a U.S. military fortress and intelligence center for grizzly counterinsurgency operations aimed repressing social change efforts throughout Central America.  The 3-16 Death Squad, a U.S. trained assassination and torture unit, hunted down activists in Honduras to make sure that Honduran social movements never got enough traction to pose a serious threat to the economic and military elites as they did in the neighboring Central American countries.  In a deliberate move, intended to send a message to the people, defacto President Micheletti named former head of the 3-16 Death Squad as his top security advisor.

This message is not lost on the people of Honduras.  However, it is not working.  On banners, signs, wall graffiti and chants throughout the country, the people are responding with an even more astounding message of their own, “They are afraid of us, because we are not afraid of them!”  This declaration of freedom from fear has become the motto for the non-violent resistance movement in Honduras.  It has liberated a spontaneous upwelling of, peaceful resistance to a legacy of brute force and abuse of power, and shows no signs of stopping.

Every day this movement builds as teachers, nurses, taxi drivers and university students declare themselves in opposition to the coup.  Last week, Elvin Santos, Presidential candidate for the Liberal party and Micheletti ally, arrived for a speaking engagement at the National University in Tegucigalpa. When students realized that he was on campus, a spontaneous protest erupted.   Santos quickly abandoned the campus while his body guards fired bullets into the air to keep outraged students away.   At every turn, the coup leaders are meeting people who refuse to recognize their legitimacy and who are not afraid.

Meanwhile, the economic situation is deteriorating rapidly as the state of internal in governability and international rejection of the coup continue.  Historically, Honduran power elites and their Washington, D.C. allies have relied on the power of fear and violence to quell popular dissent.   They are beginning to realize that something is happening here in Honduras that was not in their playbook.

The manifestations on Tuesday, August 11, will surpass all previous concentrations.  In an amazing reversal of fortunes, the violent coup has unleashed a torrent of non-violent protest that is uncontainable.  In what has surely become a nightmare for the coup leaders, the people of Honduras are no longer afraid.  They are pouring into streets and plazas; they walk for days, going without food or a place to sleep and they risk their lives.  They are calling for restoration of democracy, and end to impunity, Constitutional reform and economic justice.  The people of Honduras are making a new history, without violence and without fear. On August 11, the illegitimate government of Micheletti will see the people of Honduras as they have never been seen before.

The question is, how will the coup leaders respond?  If Micheletti’s response to the OAS Special Mission scheduled to arrive on Tuesday is any indication, there is reason for concern.   This weekend, a seven member OAS Mission coming to Honduras to seek a negotiated settlement to the crisis, was told by they were not welcome and would be turned back.  Later, Michelleti conceded this position, agreeing to reschedule the visit for a yet to be determined date and demanding that the role of General Secretary Insulza be restricted to that of an observer.  The fact that Honduras’ coup leaders have license to assume such a belligerent attitude towards the international community, does not bode well for their capacity to listen and use restraint in response to massive opposition on the part of the people of Honduras.