Honduras: Out of the vortex—into the vacuum

I returned on Saturday from an intense two weeks of accompanying International delegations in Honduras. I am just beginning to realize what an energy vortex we were in.   It was painful to leave so many new and old friends who continue to live with their lives at risk every day.  Knowing that we were not saying goodbye, only hasta pronto made it somewhat bearable.  The near total news vacuum which had existed the proceeding two weeks was finally subsiding, if only temporarily, with some reporting on the damning Amnesty International report and the emergency visit of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

Back in the U.S., with a few days of hindsight, I realize that the repression a week ago Wednesday; with hundreds of people beaten up, wounded, hospitalized, jailed and missing had socked a powerful punch.   This deliberate blow knocked everyone off their feet, which was obviously the intent of those responsible for the coup.  The intentional sowing of complete chaos among the ranks of those opposing the coup has been a constant tactic; peaceful marches are unexpectedly attacked to sow fear and terror among the growing masses that come out day after day to oppose the rupture of constitutional order and the attempt to turn the clock back to the 1980’s days of terror.

Two days later, on Friday, my last full day in Honduras, people had still not recovered from Wednesday’s attack.  The shock and awe tactic throws everyone into a vortex, not just those directly impacted but everyone around them as well.   This was the case for our entire delegation.  All of us were suddenly kind of ‘lost in space’, as the effort exerted by our bodies to respond to the violence zapped energy from us all.

The normally clear, focused, systematic work at the Human Rights office COFADEH began to come apart, with many, consistently faithful employees just not showing up for work.  The commitment to help us organize a press conference which had been made the previous day, was obviously not to be forthcoming.  Other friends were wandering around completely stressed out.  All of these people who the day before had been focused and coherent were suddenly changed.  The COFADEH updated Human Rights report which was to be a part of our press conference is still not finished, more than a week later.

Then it began to dawn on me.  There were at least two major things sapping everyone’s energy; the knowledge that many people had been beaten, and something more deep and ominous which was responsible for the collective dread I was sensing around me.  People felt powerless and impotent with the knowledge that dozens had been detained, were likely being subjected to torture, and there was virtually nothing they could do to stop it.

The “Security Advisor” for the Micheletti regime is the infamous Billy Joya, dreaded for his participation in Battalion 316, one of the death squad organizations from the 1980s. His ‘specialty’ is inflicting terror by targeting children or other family members for torture and disappearance.  He is one of the many death squad thugs trained in torture at the School of The Americas.  That day, some of those detained were being taken to places which have historically been used as torture centers.  The message being sent was clear.

One case that our delegation documented in San Pedro Sula during my first week was that of a young man who had been kidnapped from his house and was still missing.  He was targeted because of his mother’s long history of activism.  All of those in the leadership of the resistance to the coup recognize that similar things might happen to their children and families. This is reminiscent of the blood chilling tactics introduced in the region by the U.S. in the fight against ‘communism’ in the 70s and 80s; the same people continue to control U.S. Latin American policy 30 years later.

Two days after the violent unprovoked attack was perpetrated on protesters in Tegucigalpa, the exact same tactic was carried out in Choloma, near San Pedro Sula, the other major city where large concentrations were held earlier in the week.  These are not random incidents; they are clearly well planned and coordinated actions to perpetrate violence against non-violent demonstrations; in order to traumatize and pacify those resisting the coup.

Many believe that the U.S. government, in spite of multiple levels of denial, has been actively involved in the Honduran coup, and continues to guiding the actions of the coup government.  Certainly key people involved in the coup have been close associates of U.S. officials for many years.  The neo-cons, who have spearheaded U.S. Latin American policy for decades, contunue to go unchallenged at the State Department.

At the Quixote Center, together with partners from the Hemispheric Social Alliance and others, are working to fill the vacuum of news and truth about what is happening in Honduras.  We are committed to maintaining an ongoing presence of delegations in Honduras, until there is a normalization of the situation.  We are also exploring ways to begin an accompaniment program for people who have been identified as being most vulnerable.  We need to explore together the possibility of Congressional delegations, more visits of Hondurans to the U.S. and other actions which will pressure both the U.S. government and Honduran coup leaders to respect the rule of law and the will of the Honduran people.