Quixote Delegation in Honduras: Nov. 26, 2009 Reportback

by Larry Kuehn, International Staff Person at British Colombia Teachers’ Federation

Today was a heavy day of meetings, getting briefings that are deeply into the situation in Honduras. We spoke with a radio reporter who works for Radio Progresso and Radio Progreso, three people involved in the coordination of the resistance coalition, a presidential candidate who has withdrawn from the election and the director of the organization of the families of the disappeared. Part of the group also talked with the “Feminista Resistance.”

Felix Molina works for radio stations sympathetic to the resistance. He has a one hour show each night on Radio Globo (8-9pm) about what is happening with the resistance.

Most of the media is controlled by two families who own most of the radio and TV stations. The coup has done everything possible to shut out other voices. The only sympathetic TV channel stopped broadcasting recently after losing its ads and being harassed. The few sympathetic radio stations have had equipment attacked, had power turned off, and signals blocked.

Molina identified four groups that have been key to the current structure: business, media, the church and the government. In response to the resistance calling for people to stay home on election day (the people’s curfew), both the Catholic and evangelical churches are telling people that it is a sin not to vote.

He told us that Sunday will be just one more day in the struggle, with the focus from this point being to have a constituent assembly to write a new constitution that does not just represent those with power and money.

The next group we heard were three people in the coordination group for the resistance frente (coalition). Fifty-six organizations participate in the frente.

They started by telling us that in the past they would have met with us at their office. However, at this point there is fear that leaders are being targeted and they are staying away from the places they would normally be found. It was safer for everyone if they came to our hotel to meet.

They told us that about 5000 people have been detained at some time since the coup, and that women have been raped, people have been “disappeared” without their bodies being found as well as others whose bodies have been found.

One of the coordinators is an economics professor. He said “Canada and the United States look at us as poor, but they have made us poor.” About 35% of the country has been given over to multinationals as mining claims and Canadian mining companies have a major share here.

They said that social consciousness has been raised in the country since the coup. The direction from this point is toward a new social contract for the country through a new constitution. They ended with plea that “don’t leave us alone.”

Carlos H. Reyes was the independent candidate for president who some thought had a good chance to be elected. However, in the context of an illegitimate election, he has withdrawn, as have many candidates. As he came in the room, he went around to shake the hand of everyone. However, it had to be the left hand because his right one had been broken when he was attacked previously. He carried with him a small rubber ball in the design of a basketball that he used to exercise his hand as he talked.

As part of the security, we were not even told who the speaker was who would be coming—again the fear of repression forcing the leaders to be cautious and out of sight leading up to the Sunday election.

More than an image of a resistance leader, he came over as an accomplished history professor. He talked about how Honduras has come to its current situation, going back to 1838 when the single country of Central America was broken into five countries controlled by local elites. (youtube videos of his talk)

He recounted the role of the U.S. in shaping the current situation. The current constitution that the resistance is demanding be replaced is based on three principles: sell off Honduras through privatization and mining concessions, reduce the state to the smallest possible and, implicitly, that the enforcers of the constitution would be the military.

He also described his vision of a different way of doing politics. Rather than a political party that selects candidates from above, the social organizations and communities would put forward candidates. His own candidacy was put forward by a petition signed by 67,000 people, rather than through a political party.

He explained in great detail the step-by-step process of President Zeyala’s change over his time as president to challenge the oligarchy that he came from. I won’t go into all the details here, but he provided tremendous insight into both the events and the underlying causes.

Reyes emphasized the importance of getting the message about the real situation in Honduras out because the international community hears only the side of the coup in most of the news media.

Bertha Oliva had her husband grabbed right out of her arms early in the 1980s. He was “disappeared,” a technique of terror where the family never knows what happened to the person. After this, she organized a support organization of the families of the disappeared.

The office of the organization has two floors covered with posters and pictures. Her husband’s picture is on the door to her office. The second floor posters are from the 1980s. Now, she told us, they have had to open the main floor with posters of the dead and disappeared from the last few months. In September, while holding a meeting in the office with 150 people, tear gas was thrown into the building. Details like this give us a little sense of the conditions faced by those in the non-violent resistance.

The organization attempts to document every person detained, both to see what happens to them, and to provide the documentation for a future investigation and trial, even if it is years before justice is achieved. Having the names of leaders known in the U.S. and Canada can be a form of protection from the most drastic elements of repression she said.

Bertha pointed out that teachers have particularly been targeted because they are leaders in their community. While we were there, a principal of a school was in one office giving testimony on something that had happened in his school. Yesterday, another teacher was buried, at least the fifth to be killed since the coup.

She said that memorializing the dead and disappeared is only to give honour to those who were victims. The office is a house of memory, but as part of the aim of building a better Honduras.

Tomorrow we break up into five teams. I am with a team of five going to Tocoa, a rural area toward the coast, about an eight hour bus trip. On Saturday we will meet with members of the local community and get a sense of what to expect on Sunday.

Because it is a small, rural area, I don’t know whether we will have Internet access so I may not have another chance to send a message before we return on Monday.

Irene Lanzinger, who arrived today, and the two participants from the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation will be meeting the teachers union in Tegucigalpa. They will then go to another community closer to the city.