Tegucigalpa, Honduras: Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wednesday’s Events in Tegucigalpa

We had breathed a collective sigh of relief that the mass mobilizations of Tuesday had passed without major incident.  In the morning on Wednesday, part of our delegation went to join that day’s march which, after an extended assembly at the University headed off towards downtown Tegucigalpa.  Three of us who have been coordinating spent the morning writing a framework for an ongoing presence of delegations.

Our group had agreed to meet up in the mid-afternoon at the human rights office, COFADEH.  We were planning to participate in a press conference which COFADEH was convening, but had been continually delayed because the report they are issuing includes so many cases of human rights violations, they have not been able to get it finished.

The three of us headed from our hotel in the direction of COFADEH, stopping for lunch on the second floor of a miniature mall which is right on the central park square.  As we came down the escalator after lunch to head to COFADEH we could see that the marchers were on the street in huge numbers, passing right next to the mall.  The rollup door, which has the appearance of bars, had been closed, so we were prevented from leaving.  I joked through the door with some of the people in the march that we were prisoners.  We saw most of the other members of our delegation in the crowd on the outside, but couldn’t get near them because of the door being closed.

Suddenly a part of the crowd started moving backwards instead of forward.  We ran to a different door, around the corner, closer to where the crowds were turning around, to see why it was happening.  Down the side street, we could see a line of police and military advancing.   They advanced on the crowd without the slightest provocation.  Suddenly tear gas was flying everywhere and we could see that troops were attacking the crowd from other directions as well.  Some people in the march responded by throwing rocks to chase the military and police back.  What happened was obviously a previously planned assault.  Soon the police and military were chasing people from every direction, and the march disintegrated, as people ran to escape being accosted by the repressive actions.  What we would later discover is that assaults were happening somewhat simultaneously all over the city.  Our view inside the mall afforded us scant perspective as to what was happening all over the city, and in San Pedro Sula as well.  Members of our delegation would later recount of being sandwiched between soldiers from many directions, but fortunately they were able to escape without personal injury.

Soon the relative safety which the roll down curtain provided became a threat to our well being.  As the wind shifted, the volleys of tear gas which the police and military were launching began entering into the little mall.  Unfortunately for those of us inside, there was no real ventilation, so we also became victims of the tear gas, in spite of being unsuspecting bystanders.

After more than an hour trapped inside the mall, we were finally allowed to leave.  As we headed towards the COFADEH office, a contingent of soldiers marched towards us on the narrow street. At the COFADEH office we encountered a flurry of activity, dozens of people in differing states of shock, and stories reminiscent of the dark days in the history of Honduras when death squads operated with total impunity.

Our delegation regrouped, and went out to accompany COFADEH staff, attempting to visit hospitals and jails, with little success.  Hopefully today we will be able to put accurate numbers what is obviously premeditated widespread repression, illegal detentions and other violations of human rights.

The most disturbing stories, besides the violent beatings which were commonplace yesterday, were the reports that many people are being taken to places like the Cuartel General de Las Cabañas, an infamous torture center from the 70’s and 80’s.  It leaves the feeling that the military is stuck 25 years back in history; that they believe that they can continue to act with the same kind of impunity that they enjoyed back when.  Others were allegedly taken to another death squad outpost in the Colonia 21 de Octubre.  We were told by a credible source that the person in charge of that house of horrors, Commissioner Madrid, as a way of threatening his own mother, had a casket delivered to her house.   Even members of the Honduran Congress were not exempted from the violence.  Marvin Ponce, a Congressman from the left wing UD party was brutally beaten in front of the Congress, is in the hospital with multiple injuries, and reportedly will have surgery today on his arm which was broken by state forces.

The army conducted an assault on the Teachers University, and has turned it into a virtual military base.  They arrested an undetermined number of people inside, some whose whereabouts are still unknown.  Ambulances which left full of people who had been beaten, many reportedly with their faces battered apparently never arrived at the hospital that was their supposed destination.  The headquarters of the STYBIS union was also surrounded, and remained under control of the army as of last night.  There was also a similar kind of assault on the other city where protesters had converged on Tuesday, San Pedro Sula.  We got a report that more than 300 people were detained there.

We went out in a couple of vehicles to accompany COFADEH staff to rescue several young union activists who were in hiding and feared detention and worse.  We brought them back to the COFADEH office, where it is presumed that they will be safer.  On the way home we stopped by the University, which looked just like a military base.  Outside was a group of lawyers who had been working for hours to secure the release of those who had been illegally detained there yesterday. We also passed in front of the STYBIS headquarters, which was still surrounded by the army.

This morning our delegation, severely impacted by the events unfolding around them yesterday, will regroup and again head out to cover the mobilization which has been called for today and prepare reports detailing the breadth of abuses which were committed yesterday.  Here in Honduras the coup government’s propaganda machine is fully cranked up this morning.  The head of the police and a high military official were in full smile on a morning talk show.  They are attempting to justify their criminalization of the protest, alleging that they uncovered bomb making activities by the resistance front, which they use as an excuse to justify their wanton attacks on all of the protesters.