Now that Honduras has returned to the Organization of American States (OAS), you don’t hear much talk of the country in international spheres and organizations, under the assumption that it would be in an ongoing process of normalization—when in reality, human rights violations are even more serious now than during the coup. ALAI held an exchange between Bertha Cáceres, leader of the Civic Committee of Honduran Popular and Indigenous Organizations, (COPINH) and Joaquín Mejía, lawyer and investigator from the Team of Reflection, Investigation, and Communication on Progress Radio.
Now that Honduras has returned to the Organization of American States (OAS), you don’t hear much talk of the country in international spheres and organizations, under the assumption that it would be in an ongoing process of normalization—when in reality, human rights violations are even more serious now than during the coup. Despite this fact, not one follow-up mechanism has been established since.
Ecuador was the only country that opposed Honduras’s return to the regional group, demanding that it first comply with the minimum requirements established in the OAS’s own High-Level Commission report, as in the Cartagena Agreement. For this reason the country was chosen for a mission visit from Honduran social organizations that are trying to reintroduce the subject of Honduras on the political agenda of the international community.
In this perspective, the popular diplomacy initiative is being undertaken in the hopes that all of those progressive governments that voted in favor of Honduras’s reintegration into the OAS will assume their responsibility in respect to what is happening in the country, and acknowledge that with their votes they have tacitly legitimized “the first coup d’etat of the 21st century.”
During its November 15th-17th visit, organized by CODHES [Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement, a Colombian human rights organization] and other human rights groups, the Honduran delegation of six spoke both with officials and Ecuadorian social organizations. ALAI [Latin American Information Agency] also held an exchange between Bertha Cáceres, leader of the Civic Committee of Honduran Popular and Indigenous Organizations, (COPINH) and Joaquín Mejía, lawyer and investigator from the Team of Reflection, Investigation, and Communication on Progress Radio. This is what they told us.
Basic question: What is the intention and scope of this mission that’s being led by popular organizations?
Joaquín Mejía: The principal objective is to try to put the subject of Honduras back on the political agenda of the international community, as we are seeing a permanent deterioration in human rights issues—but, without exception, they have turned their backs on us. During the coup, human rights violations were carried out publicly, undisguised, but since Porfirio Lobo Sosa came to power, violations are taking on a somewhat ‘low intensity’; that is to say, they are organized, selective, etc.
Specifically, we are making a call to progressive governments that legitimized the coup when they said that Honduras could return to the OAS in spite of the gravity of the human rights situation. We are calling on them to assume their responsibility and be consistent with the commitment to solidarity that they so often speak of. And we are asking them to seriously promote some type of monitoring of the Honduran situation under the auspices of UNASUR [Union of South American Nations], ALBA [Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas], CELAC [Community of Latin American and Caribbean States] and even the dying OAS, so that immediate measures can be taken. Because this is an urgent question that is rapidly getting out of hand for everyone involved, including Lobo Sosa himself.
You say that there is a gradual deterioration in the human rights situation—is it all over the country or is it focused in certain places, like, for example, in Aguán?
JM: It is all over the country, it’s just that there are areas where the state as an institution is practically non-existent, and what does exist is at the service of the landowner, like in Aguán. Like I said, now the human rights violations fall under what we could call ‘low-intensity’ violations. In other words, they are killing, following, and so on, mid-level leaders—just enough to have an impact and spread fear, but not enough to cause a scandal at the international level. Then, there are some systematic patterns that they are following: surveillance, assaults on the offices of organizations or on people, and the theft of laptop computers and any equipment containing sensitive information. But then they go and kill more than a dozen journalists; they didn’t even kill that many journalists during the coup.
On the other hand, something that you didn’t see as nakedly during the coup was the forced disappearances. The Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared Honduras (COFADEH) has documented fourteen disappeared persons to date, some of whom are leaders of the National Resistance Front. There are witnesses that saw the police detain them and take them away, never to return.
On top of that, the killings still continue and it is evident the Aguán registers the highest amount, with already 55 peasants murdered, as well as other leaders and members of the National Resistance Front. One can add to this illegal arrests, torture, and other inhumane treatment which continues. Because evidently what the coup did was destroy what little institutionalization had been built up in just three decades of “formal” democracy: now, with weak institutions, it’s evident that those who are in control are all of the real powers that be: the economic, military, and religious forces that are now controlling the country.
We can also see that the coup continues to prove that it is dynamic; the entire structure of the coup is completely intact. The court is right there, and so is the District Attorney of the Republic, and so is the Ombudsman. Out of the National Congress’s 128 representatives, 75 were involved in the coup; naturally, they are promoting laws that have to do with land concession and sale of land, the criminalization of social protest, reduction of constitutional guarantees, and the handing over of political faculties to the military. This is happening now, since they declared that Micheletti (the leader of the coup) was to be something like a ‘lifelong representative’, in the style of Pinochet—a figure that doesn’t exist in the Constitution of the Republic.
On another front, one can see this in the political decisions Lobo Sosa has been making. So that while he creates a Ministry of Human Rights (designed to ‘clean up’ the regime’s international image), he then goes ahead and names General Romeo Vásquez, who carried out the coup, General Manager of Hondutel, a telecommunications empire that specializes in the field of military intelligence. He named another member from the junta Director of Migration and Immigration, a key institution, and then there’s air traffic control…we can go down the line of all the key institutions which were purged of military types in the demilitarization efforts of the ’90s: all of them, under Lobo Sosa’s government, are turning back over to these very same types.
So the dynamics of the coup are intact and undeterred, in spite of the fact that serious violations of human rights are being documented. In fact, even the Commission of Truth and Reconciliation, which is pro-government, acknowledged that the crimes being committed in Honduras are crimes against humanity. They aren’t talking about simple crimes. Because of this, the prosecutor and International Criminal Court announced a ‘preliminary investigation’ of Honduras, much like Colombia, which shows that Honduras’s institutional structures are completely broken, captive and held hostage by those sectors involved in the coup.
At the beginning of December, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) will be officially recognized. Have you considered getting this call that you are putting forward to that forum?
Bertha Cáceres: We had already agreed at our First National Meeting against Militarization to raise the matter at CELAC, and to urge them not to collaborate with the regime. That goes for financing and cooperation in terms of security particularly, since these funds would serve the regime by strengthening its structures and its repressive, militaristic policies that have only gotten worse with time. Not to mention the U.S. occupation of our country. And in this sense, we hope to be heard in that space, since it purports to be counteracting hegemonic policy.
U.S. intervention in Honduras has been going on for a hundred years. Today it marches forward with all of its interests in gaining a foothold for multinationals in natural resources: petroleum, mining, biodiversity, our forests, hydro-wealth, and even cultural wealth. And this has resulted not only in a military base for the U.S. in Palmerola, but also, immediately following the coup, a scramble to construct more bases in indigenous regions. For example, in Caratasca, in Mocorón, in Puerto Lempira, it is trying to totally occupy two rivers that are very important to the indigenous people: the Patuca and the Plátano, where the gringo troops’ boats go. There’s also the other base in the Bahían Islands’ insular department. We anticipate that they could establish two more military bases in Lenca territory, as a security project for Central America which strengthens the Mérida Plan—really nothing more than another Plan Colombia.
Speaking of Colombia, a country with which the regime keeps developing mechanisms and agreements of cooperation…how do you understand this specific bilateral relation?
BC: Three days after Lobo took power, Uribe arrived in Honduras and signed an agreement of cooperation on security matters. And there are also commercial agreements with Colombia. But besides the purely economic interests, there is the military presence of the Colombian army, which has done operations inside of Honduras as an army alongside the Colombian paramilitary. It advised the coup and is also training troops to extract denunciations through torture. There is a copy of Colombia’s policy of ‘democratic security’ towards Honduras, and they are are not only exporting paramilitary forces, but also a whole way of doing politics, a politics of appropriation by force. Even we have found ourselves in our territories having to confront the pressure of multinational mining firms funded by Colombian and U.S. capital. And sure, we’ve denounced this partnership—yet there it is growing even more, what with the whole privatization of security. So I think that the presence of the Colombian army and paramilitary is going to grow.
You said that Honduras is living a situation that is getting out of hand, even for President Lobo. How much room to maneuver does Lobo actually have?
JM: Since he arrived to power, he has been as alone as Mel Zalaya was on his very last day in government. If there is anything under his control it is only in the Presidential House, as we have seen recently with the question of the police in organized crime and the execution of young people.
Casa Alianza has documented that since ’98 there have been almost 6,000 extrajudicial executions of youth less than 23 years old. In October of this year alone, 65 youth were murdered, 70% of which were under eighteen years of age, with the same patterns of extrajudicial execution that were put forth in the United Nations.
But as it happens, on the 21st and 22nd of October, members of the police assassinated two university students. One was the son of the rector of the National Autonomous University who was a member of the pro-government Commission of Truth—that uncovered some real dirt. Lobo initially said that there were a few rotten apples in the police force, but their treatment of the son of this rector—someone that had been in the favor of the regime—got to a point in which it was impossible to hide the truth. In fact they are suspending some officials, changing police in an attempt to clean up their image, but without getting to the bottom of the issue of serious police involvement in crime: not only against youth, boys and girls, but also in femicide.
Now that this is out of Lobo’s hands, now that he can’t deny the reality of the police’s involvement in organized crime, the military that carried out the coup is being presented as the “savior of the country”, as those that once assumed the role of “saviors of democracy” and as those that now have to take the control and the role of the police for themselves. And this translates into legalizing the militarization that already exists in Honduran society…
BC: It could be added that it is something of a double-edged sword because this police crisis is being used to justify and increase the multinationalization of private security agencies, that are a force of their own in Honduras. We have heard that security agencies from other countries are going to come, and the owners of these agencies have histories of terror in many countries—for example, Argentina or Israel, Colombia, and the United States itself. I would say in Honduras we have a caricature of a State; Lobo Sosa is a puppet, because in addition to the list of real powers—the political, business, and military powers that be—we must add another: narcotrafficking, which controls everything. It hasn’t merely infiltrated, but rather controls everything.
This is the way things work, and it even turns into aggression and displacement of black and indigenous communities from their own territories, from their very ways of life. For example, we ask ourselves, if the gringos have increased their presence in the Honduran Mosquitia, how is it that drug trafficking has increased? Where did that story of the fight against drug trafficking go? It’s an utter lie. What they want is our natural resources, our sovereignty, and to have geostrategic control, because Honduras continues to be of much interest geostrategically to the gringos.