Monday, November 30, 2009

Elections in Honduras: Whitewashing the Path to a Past of Horrors

Elections in Honduras: Whitewashing the Path to a Past of Horrors


by Lisa Sullivan


School of Americas Watch


I came to Honduras to participate as a human rights

observer of the electoral climate in a delegation

organized by the Quixote Center. Several delegations

converged, connecting some 30 U.S. citizens with dozens

more from Canada, Europe and Latin America. In the days

prior to the elections we scattered to different

cities, towns and villages, meeting with fishermen,

farmers, maquila workers, labor leaders, teachers and

lawyers, as well as those who were jailed for carrying

spray paint, hospitalized for being shot in the head by

the military, and detained for reporting on the

repression. It was, most likely, a bit off the 5-star,

air-conditioned path of most of the mainstream

journalists who are filling your morning papers with

the wonders of today's elections.


But by the evening of the day of the elections, what we

had witnessed in previous days pushed those of us from

the U.S. directly to the doors of our embassy in

Tegucigalpa. We realized that this place, not the

polling stations, was where this horrific destiny of

Honduras, and perhaps all of Latin America, was being

determined. And so the U.S. citizens among us took our

statements and signs and determination there.


We were, indeed, greeted by many: dozens of guards with

cameras, some 30 journalists, Honduran police with guns

and also cameras, as well as a low flying helicopter

that at least made us feel important. While the

journalists let us read our entire statement of why

these elections should be not be recognized by our

government because of the egregious repression, the

embassy guards wouldn't even let us leave our slip of

paper. That, in spite of the fact that the embassy's

human rights officer, Nate Macklin, told our delegation

leader to make sure to let him know if there were any

human rights abuses.


Any? In each of the many corners of the country visited

by the 70-plus international observers, we witnessed

the fear, repression, intimidation, bribery and

outright brutality of the government security forces

(note: we were there to observe the electoral climate,

not electoral observers, since we consider the

elections to be illegal. Likewise, the UN, OAS, and

Carter Center and other bedrock electoral groups

boycotted "the event" as many Hondurans called the day.)


As elections were in full swing in the morning, our

delegate and nurse practitioner, Silvia Metzler visited

Angel Salgado and Maria Elena Hernandez who were

languishing in the intensive care unit of the Hospital

Escuela in Tegucigalpa . Both had been shot in the head

at one of the many military checkpoints, no questions

asked. Doctors give Angel a zero possibility of

survival and he leaves behind a 6 year old son. Maria

Elena has a better chance of recovery, but it will be a

long road. She was selling snacks on the side of the

road to support her teenage children when caught by

military bullet.


Tom Loudon was on the streets of San Pedro Sula when

police tanks and water trucks and tear gas canisters

attacked a peaceful march of the resistance movement.

It took him a long time to find other members of his

delegation who had scattered in the frenzy, but they

were luckier than two observers from the Latin America

Council of Churches who were detained or a Reuters

photographer who was injured in the massive display of

repression. Dozens of cells phones captured the police

beating anyone they could catch with their billy clubs.


The first person I thought of as I awoke on election

day was Wlmer Rivero, a fisherman in a small town with

the big name of Puerto Grande. I kept thinking of the

fear in his eyes as he relayed how the police have been

visiting his house and asking for him, ever since he

trekked 6 days on foot to greet a returning President

Zelaya. Each local mayor has been asked to put together

a list of resistance leaders, and his name was one of

22 from his town. We suggested to Wilmer that he not

sleep at home during the electoral days. He called the

next day to thank us for our advise. The police had

ransacked his home, and that of many of his neighbors,

the night before elections, threatening his life. But,

he wondered, what will he do now.


I also thought of Merly Eguigure who I had visited 2

days earlier in a cold and crumbling jail cell, reeking

of human waste. She had been captured for having a can

of spray paint in her car. Though she was released

shortly before elections, she will face trial and

probably prison for defacing government property. Merly

claims that the spray paint was to be used in an

activity to raise awareness of violence towards women.

Perhaps authorities worried that the paint was destined

to add a new message to the city walls. Every square

inch of blank wall space in the city is covered with

powerful graffiti against the coup. In spite of

government to whitewash over it, the blank spaces are

filled in again within hours.


So, now I wonder what the Honduran people will do to

overcome the massive whitewash that just took place in

their country. Not of walls, but of coups. The military

coup led by SOA graduates Generals Vasquez Velasquez

and Prince Suazo first had a quick bath of whitewash by

placing a "civilian " leader as the figurative head of

government: President of Congress and business mogul

Roberto Micheletti. The whitewash used at the moment

was mixed ahead of time, and quite abundant. It was the

excuse that Zelaya was preparing a vote to call for his

re-election and had to be removed quickly. (Never mind

that the consultative vote actually had nothing to do

with a re-election. It was a consultative vote to ask

Honduras whether they wanted to vote on convening a

Constitutional Assembly). I call this first whitewash

the "transformation from military coup to civilian coup".


And now, the second bath of whitewash was even more

challenging, especially since the first whitewash

proved to be kind of thin and exposed the words from

below. Thus, it didn't really convince many. As a

matter of fact, it didn't convince anyone except the

United States government (or woops, maybe they actually

helped to stir the first batch), Now, the challenge of

November 29th whitewash was to transform the civilian

coup into a shining electoral display of freedom,

fairness and grand participation so that all the world

would say, "wow, that Honduran coup is gone. Now

Honduras has a real and wonderful democracy, End of story".


Except that it's probably the beginning of a story. One

that we thought had been left to rest in Latin America

years and years ago. One of fear and repression and

deaths and disappearances. We know the litany all too

well, and we remember the names of its thousands of

victims each November. This year we had to add too many

new names from Honduras. And, if our government chooses

to recognize these elections, this massive whitewash, I

fear that many more names will be read from the stage

in front of Ft. Benning next year. And perhaps not just from Honduras.


So, when I said that I wonder what Hondurans will do in

the face of this whitewash what I really wonder is what

I will do, what we will do U.S. citizens. Because, this

whitewash will only have the formula to whiten and

brighten this military dictatorship if our government

chooses to accept the results, as they have indicated

that they will likely do.


Today the headlines in most of the U.S. media reiterate

the official Honduran statistics that 60% of Hondurans

went to the polls yesterday. Our delegates visited

dozens of polling stations, finding them almost empty,

in most places counting more electoral monitors and

caretakers than voters. The resistance movement puts

abstention at 65-70%. Which statistic do we prefer to believe?


I have lived in Latin America since 1977. I was called

to stay in this land when I saw how young and

idealistic youth such as myself at the time, were being

taken from their homes, never returned. Somehow, I felt

called to continue the steps they would never take. And

so I stayed 32 years. I have witnessed hope rising from

the South in the past 10 years, in ways I never

dreamed. I have seen efforts of building dignity and

sovereignty rise high, inspire millions, and make a difference.


And so, maybe this explains the anger that rose from

within me yesterday, in front of the embassy. That

anger surprised even me. I am ashamed of our

government. Ashamed that we are in great part to blame

for pushing this country back 30 years into dark and

deadly times. And I worry that Honduras is just the beginning.



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