Honduras: Repression Continues to Escalate

  Source: Latin American Information Agency

On Thursday, almost seven weeks since President Manuel Zelaya was ousted, the National Front Against the Coup held a press conference in the Honduran capital to denounce excessive violence and repression. They also criticized the coup regime for using detention centres associated with violence, disappearances and torture during the 1980s. As well, the fifth delegation of international observers emitted a bulletin denouncing “multiple grave human rights violations perpetrated by state security forces such as the national police, police special forces (COBRA), and the national army.” They stated that “We are highly concerned for the rapid and accelerated deterioration of the human rights situation in the country and for the multiple people who are still detained.” They demanded that authorities release a list with the names of all of those being held with information about their state of health.

International observers recalled in their statement how hundreds of police and military surrounded the march on Wednesday in Tegucigalpa and used volumes of tear gas, pepper gas, and live arms on protesters who had marched peacefully to the national congress building where a bill was being debated to reinstate obligatory military service. As protesters attempted to escape the city centre, police patrols chased after them, capturing and beating numerous people including youth and elders, as well as individuals who were not involved in the demonstration. Observers also documented aggression against journalists with credentials. In the industrial city of San Pedro Sula where a concurrent demonstration took place, hundreds of people were also detained. More than two dozen are still being held and about half a dozen were still missing and feared disappeared as of Thursday. In both cities, numerous people were wounded, some seriously. Deputy Marvin Ponce of the Democratic Unification Party who is member of the executive committee of the National Front Against the Coup was among them and is now suffering from multiple fractures.

Gathering places used by the National Front Against the Coup were also subject to surveillance, occupation and aggression. The Beverage Workers Union (STIBYS) building, which is privately owned and frequently used as a meeting place by the Front, was reportedly being watched by military and during the night several shots were reportedly fired against the building. Similarly, on Tuesday night shots were fired against the offices of Via Campesina whose coordinator Rafael Alegria is a highly visible leader of the Front’s executive committee. Additionally, the Pedagogical University where people gather daily before setting off on peaceful marches was taken over by military on Wednesday afternoon. Several dozen people were detained in the building throughout the afternoon and evening by hundreds of military officers as well as members of the special police forces (COBRA). Initially, only public prosecutors were allowed entry to observe what was taking place, while civil society and international human rights delegations were made to wait for hours before any were admitted.

For their part, the National Front Against the Coup also criticized state forces for using detention centres associated with violence, torture and disappearances carried out in the 80s, and roundly condemned vandalism that had taken place following a peaceful march on Tuesday and which was used by the de facto regime to justify heightened repression and by the media to portray demonstrators as violent. The Front called the incidents “the product of provocation by infiltrators” and recalled that the de facto government’s special security advisor is Billy Joya, a former member of Honduras’s infamous Battalion 316 which was a paramilitary unit responsible for the deaths of hundreds.

Coordinator of Via Campesina and member of the executive committee of the National Front Rafael Alegria stated, “On principle the front supports peaceful marches, peaceful demands and peaceful mobilization. At no point do we use or call for violent acts. It appears that these incidents are the responsibility of groups interested in ruining the social mobilization.” One international observer also commented to ALAI that she is “very impressed.” “I see people with a lot of dignity and strength,” she continued, “who have managed to sustain a mobilization for all this time, and under such conditions as we have seen. This is a popular movement without resources that has mobilized in an exemplary, non-violent manner.” Reflecting on the way in which incidents such as the burning of a bus and restaurant Tuesday are being used against the movement she added, “It’s important to value the peaceful strength of these people who demand the return to constitutionality and for a transformation of the state that is founded on historical injustices.”

Representatives of the Front added that they are taking measures in order to avoid further such disruptions and called for more cultural acts of resistance toward the reinstatement of President Zelaya and establishment of a National Constituent Assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution in the interest of Honduras’ poor majority.

Jennifer Moore is a Canadian independent journalist reporting from Honduras for ALAI and FEDAEPS.