On June 28, 2009, the democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya was overthrown by the Honduran military and removed from the country, precipitating violence, diplomatic isolation, and the persecution of human rights defenders, indigenous leaders, journalists, and trade unionists. On January 27, 2010, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo became President of the de facto coup government following widely boycotted and denounced fraudulent elections.
Today, as violence escalates, the resistance continues. Honduran trade unions have taken a central role as leaders in the resistance and have requested international solidarity. This includes remembering the coup and the Honduran labor movement and denouncing ongoinghuman rights violations.
The articles below provide a snapshot of news from Honduras in late December 2010 and January 2011.
Teachers’ Union Continues Protests; Government Continues Repression
In late December, the Association of Secondary Teachers of Honduras announced that their office had been militarized. The Teachers’ union has staged a formidable front against the privatization of education, a change President Lobo hopes to make through the implementation of the General Law of Education. In 2010, the Lobo Administration removed Article 49 from the Teacher’s Statute, ending minimum wage laws in the education sector and preventing the wage increase that workers sought.
On December 30, José Luis Sanabria, a teacher who was active in the labor movement and resistance, was kidnapped and found dead two days later in Florida Copán.
Violence Against Journalists Continues; Journalist Threatened by Military Officer
According to the Swiss-based group Press Emblem Campaign (PEC), violence against journalists continued in Honduras in 2010 with 9 journalists killed, second in Latin America only to Mexico, where 14 were killed. The PEC has recorded the murder rate for the past five years, documenting the deaths of 529 journalists worldwide.
On January 5, owner and director of Channel 36, Esdras Amado López, denounced threats he received from Colonel Rodolfo Méndez Martínez, who followed López in a vehicle and insulted and threatened him while waving a gun. Channel 36, also known as Cholusat Sur, was one of the news stations closed temporarily following the coup.
U.S. Secretary of the Army John McHugh Visits Honduras; U.S. Militarization Expands
U.S. Secretary of the Army John McHugh traveled to Honduras in January, reaffirming the United States’ military support in Honduras designed to “promote regional security,” particularly in relation to drug trafficking. In addition to visiting American troops at the Base Aérea Enrique Soto Cano, McHugh spoke to President Porfirio Lobo and U.S. Embassador Hugo Llorens. According to the Embassy, both countries reiterated their support for “democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and the full control of civil and constitutional power by the security forces.”
Meanwhile, the FBI announced that they would be sending a delegation to Honduras in late January to assess the Honduran National Criminal Investigation Bureau (DNIC), focusing in particular on the rise in impunity and homicides. In 2010, 6,236 Hondurans lost their lives to violent crime, only 4,105 of which are currently under investigation. The 2010 homicide rate in Honduras was 77 per 100,000 persons, almost 10 times the average worldwide.
Since the 2009 coup, the United States has reportedly built two new military bases, increased police training, and, on December 27, announced that it will operate drones from the joint air force base at Palmerola.
Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee Objects to Zelaya’s Return to Honduras
In early January, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) expressed concern that the Obama Administration was encouraging Honduran leaders to allow President Manuel Zelaya to return to the country, absolving him of any alleged crimes committed before the 2009 coup. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen wrote: “It is troubling to consider that the importance of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Honduras would be undermined by attempts to coerce the Honduran government to take steps that run counter to its legal and constitutional processes in order to pave the way for Manuel Zelaya to return to Honduras without facing judicial consequences.”
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen responded, in part, to remarks made during Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela’s trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in which he said that “national reconciliation will advance further when Honduras is able to resolve the issue of the return of former President Zelaya so that the country can regain its place in the [Organization of American States].”
President Lobo Seeks to Reform Constitution
President Porfirio Lobo and Parliament Speaker Juan Orlando Hernandez announced their support for a bill that reforms Article five of the Honduran Constitution banning presidential reelection. The Progressive Resistant Front and the July 5 Movement have denounced the measure, warning that it will strengthen the power of the government.
In fall of 2010, the National Popular Resistance Front collected more than 1.3 million signatures calling for a National Constituent Assembly to review the Constitution and reinforce basic rights.
Currently, there are seven articles that cannot be modified in the Honduran Constitution, established in 1982, including the formation of the government, the acquisition of territory, and the length of the presidential term.
When ousted-President Manuel Zelaya attempted to promote a constituent assembly to discuss the changing of constitutional amendments, the military and the political right staged a coup. Now President Lobo is going further by promoting a bill that would legalize presidential reelection, a move that has not raised objections by those who staged the 2009 overthrow.
FNRP Rejects the Electoral Process
The Honduran National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) has formally rejected the electoral process scheduled for 2013, announcing its intention to continue to push for a Constituent Assembly capable of changing the Constitution. FNRP representatives said that the elections “contradict the character of the Resistance and support the strategy of the oligarchic,” creating a diversion to lasting change.
Young Peasant Leader Kidnapped, Tortured
On January 8, Juan Ramón Chinchilla, a young campesino leader in the United Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA) and director of the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), was kidnapped by unidentified persons speaking Spanish, English, and a language Chinchilla could not identify. Chinchilla was held captive for two days, during which time he was beaten and tortured. The young leader escaped when his captors moved him to a new location. Chinchilla reports that he heard them say that they were ordered not to kill him, a move he believes came in part as a result of the outpouring of national and international denunciations.
René Osorio Named Head of the Armed Forces
On January 24, President Lobo announced that René Osorio would be the new head of the Armed Forces of Honduras. Osorio is a graduate of the School of the Americas (SOA) and reportedly played a role in directing the June 2009 coup.
The nomination comes on the heels of documents released by Wikileaks (cable 242521) that President Porfirio Lobo consulted with United States Ambassador Hugo Llorens to select his cabinet. President Lobo specified that he sought information from and not the blessing of Ambassador Llorens in selecting government officials.
Protests Marr President Lobo’s One-Year Anniversary; More than 100 Countries Now Recognize Honduras
Protests marred the one-year anniversary of President Porfirio Lobo’s entrance into office, with members of the National Peoples’ Resistance Front and associated organizations marching in various cities from January 26-28. On January 27, thousands of people gathered outside the Supreme Court and National Congress in Tegucigalpa, urging leaders to prosecute those responsible for the “institutional crisis” in the country. Protestors blocked a bridge in San Pedro de Sula, the second largest city in Honduras, and a road in the Department of Atlántida in late January as well.
Honduras has still not been readmitted to the Organization of American States (OAS) in spite of the urging of the United States. More than 100 countries now recognize Honduras as a democratic state, although key Latin American actors, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Venezuela, continue to oppose its reentrance.
Ousted leader Manuel Zelaya remains in the Dominican Republic. Zelaya’s term expired in January of 2010 but he is prohibited from returning until the arrest warrants against him are dropped.
Evictions of Campesinos Continue
Evictions continue in campesino communities throughout Honduras, culminating on January 27 in Tocoa with reports that the army and the former owner of the community’s land, Cesar Velázquez, occupied the Buenos Amigos community for more than an hour, burning huts and destroying whatever possessions they could find. Fifteen community members went into hiding and three were detained, their cases turned over to the federal investigating department (DIC). Reports of other evictions throughout the country continue.
For more information, visit two new and/or recently updated websites:
Hondurans for Democracy (Spanish): http://www.porlademocracia.org/ Honduras Human Rights Blog (English): http://hondurashumanrights.wordpress.com/
Click here to read about two recent delegations to Honduras: