|Behind Bars in Honduras: An Interview with a Women's Rights Leader Before the 'Free' Election|
|Written by Tamar Sharabi|
|Wednesday, 02 December 2009 13:01|
Merlin Eguigure helped organize an event on Nov. 25 for the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The next day while leaving a restaurant in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, members of COBRA, the special police force, ambushed her. They searched her car and detained her and two companions for having spray paint in the car. They were jailed for almost 24 hours. Merlin had used the paint to create artistic banners for the previous day's activities. The District Attorney's office charged her with 'property damage', but her case is still under investigation, and other charges can still be added.
Her real crime is being a part of the "Movement of Women for Peace Visitacion Padilla" and a 'Feminist in Resistance,' and for speaking out against the coup regime that took power on June 28. The organization, founded in 1984, is named after a Honduran heroine who fought for women civil liberties and political rights, and was especially vocal in 1924 against the US Marine Military presence in Honduras.
Merlin is one of the approximately 5,000 illegal detentions reported by the Committee of Relatives of Disappeared and Detained Persons in Honduras (COFADEH). The following is an interview conducted while she was behind bars in a police station in downtown Tegucigalpa, known as 'Core 7.'
Tell me, how are you?
I am OK, so, so. For me this is just a test, and here, you have to resist against the appearance of the rule of law. Of all the impunity, we have nothing left but to resist.
Do you have a message you would like to share?
I want to say that this is a struggle of dignity against the barbarism, it is the struggle of the power of ideas against the power of arms, and considering this, we have nothing more that we can do, like we say in our organization, but to continue resisting, to continue fighting. Until the rule of law is restored we expect anything to happen, and this [my imprisonment] is an example of that. We didn't do anything, but regardless we are here.
Will you continue in the struggle?
Of course, of course, with much more force and more commitment, because one cannot leave the country behind in these conditions. These bars and this prison does not intimidate me to keep me from fighting, my commitment is even stronger, especially when I see that the companions of my organization are here and have been here all day waiting for my release. This makes me even more committed to continue fighting for women's rights, because women can be recognized as real citizens and because reason imposes over the truth. This is a commitment that I reaffirm, and I see this as a test of tranquility, as further proof of how the coup plotters are mistaken.
Why do you think you were arrested?
We were in the context of a day of demanding nonviolence against women and since the coup detat occurred, we have been having a huge presence. We have denounced the police brutality, we have condemned their negligence, we have said that they have been complicit in the abuse of women and in human rights violations. Just yesterday we were in the Central Park making a symbolization of what 'Femicide' [homicides against women] means, for our homes and for the Honduran society. We were condemning it and we were holding the national police, the armed forces, the direction of criminal investigation and all the groups that form that chain, so that women can identify them. It's precisely because we were exposing that more than the 350 murders of women so far this year remain unpunished. I think not even 1% of the men have been sentenced. So therefore I believe that now more than ever, I am empowered even more to continue in the efforts for justice in this country, so that human rights of women are not really a theory and discourse, but become a real practice that my daughter, or grandchildren if I ever have some, so that they may enjoy a society where we are not really inferior. That is the purpose.
Do you think the situation would be different if you didn't have so many people protesting outside, demanding your freedom?
I believe so, from the information I have regarding legal issues, the situation would be very different. We have received many visits here from international agencies like Amnesty, COFADEH [Committee of Relatives of Disappeared and Detained Persons in Honduras], JEGIL [Center for Justice and International Law], many institutions that promote human rights have come that have been vital. I think at this time, like in the 80's, international support for the rule of law, was the same as in the 80's, in the Cold War, it was vital to save lives of many people with the support of the international community. So I have infinite gratitude to those who have come, not to see me, Merlin is only one piece of the whole wave of repression and barbarism that has been implemented. The truth, I'm just a piece, this is really a chain. There are a lot more people who really suffered worse taunts, that have lost their lives. So we have to continue preparing and looking for tools and mechanisms to protect us, because we are women of peace and our struggle is with ideas. We do not have weapons, we do not have bombs, our only weapons are our ideas.
Do you think there can be free elections?
I, Merlin, freely, will not participate in the electoral process. I will not vote, I will not use my vote to endorse this fraud that has been in the works for some time now. I do not want to be irresponsible with my homeland, I do not think that the solution comes in this way. I think the solution is actually to listen to the people, to listen to its citizens. The elections only try, as the popular saying here is, 'to cover the eye of a bull', trying to resolve a crisis with the same hands of those who carried out the coup d´etat. Really the electoral process in the conditions that they are in, give no guarantee other than entrenching the power of those who already have it, and with no doubt increase some levels of repression.
Two days before the election, do you think there is still time to solve this crisis?
I think there's always time to solve this problem. The problem of this coup has many roots. The military, the hawks in the USA, the powerful groups in America. So we need those who carried out this coup detat, also to have the strength and values to respect this homeland, because this country may be small but is full of decent and noble people that we love, and we struggle, and we will continue to fight for all the time necessary. But we will not permit them to continue damaging us, especially us. As women we have the name of the first national heroine, teacher Visitacion Padilla, who gave an example of civic citizenship. We are her followers. That is why we proudly carry her name, because we continue to demonstrate that the Hondurans want to do things right, things that we need. Therefore, those who run this country should direct it from the heart, thinking of the people and not thinking about money, not from air-conditioned desks not knowing the reality of this country.
Did you ever imagine in your life that you could be put in prison?
I believe that those who have taken the path in fighting for justice, at some point we expect something like this might happen to us. The truth, its nothing pleasant (being in prison), but they are the challenges that need to be faced, and which contribute to set precedents for dignity and justice.
Do you have any fear for what might happen in the coming days?
Well, I have a lot of fear, not personally, but I believe that many worse things may happen in this country. As I have said, fascism is in control of the state at this time, and fascism is quite simply that—fascism; it does not think, there is no reason, it imposes, dominates, and conforms. So I think these two days will be definitive and people have to be very careful. We must be prepared for the worst because all indications suggest that we are under the wave of terror.
Tamar Sharabi is a an environmental engineer and freelance journalist living in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. She is originally from Queens, NY.