From the Front Lines in Honduras

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between our local Primary Communications
Project and el COPINH, an indigenous peoples’
organization in La Esperanza, Honduras,
built a powerful AM radio station to
enable the Lenca Mayans to communicate
their ideas. Honduras is signatory to an
international covenant granting certain
rights to native peoples, among which is free
speech. It’s unusual these days to build a
new AM radio station, but with AM’s ability
to penetrate into the isolated mountain valleys
where many Lencas live, it was the best
technology; so el COPINH sought and was
awarded a license for La Voz Lenca AM, a
one kilowatt station which serves a good
part of western Honduras where the Lencas
live… and, it’s the sister station to WRFU,
Radio Free Urbana.
I’ve been going to La Esperanza every so
often to keep the transmitters running and
make some improvements, so I had scheduled
a trip for this summer… But when I
arrived this time late in the afternoon of June
25th, I’m met at the bus station by my friends
Justo Sorto and Jorge Ramos. “Have you
heard about the conflict?,” Justo asks. Immediately,
my mind flashes to the internal conflicts
that are all too common in community radio, but his next words are electrifying.
“Mel Zeyala, our president, has been
detained by order of the National Assembly.
Tomorrow, there’s a huge rally in Tegucigalpa
in favor of having a vote to propose
changes to the constitution to make it more
amenable to the people. Mel is supposed to
speak. We’re afraid he won’t be able to.”
The next few days are crazy… Zelaya
abducted by the army at 6AM. There is total
confusion on the airwaves with conflicting
reports telling of Zelaya’s death or torture
[not true], his where abouts in almost
every country of the Americas, then finally
a live interview. A day of total silence follows
when Micheletti regime cuts off
power to the entire country to silence the
media. When the power is restored, stations
that had done cutting-edge reporting
are playing music or ‘soft news.’ The huge
mobilization in favor of revising the constitution
is squelched by the military. The
energy of the people turns into massive
pro-Zelaya demonstrations which continue
ever stronger and bloodier to this day.
It was intriguing to check out the
announcements and advertisements in
favor of the coup. While the usual Honduran
commercials are very unsophisticated…
a claim that the sponsor is the ‘best’
or ‘biggest’ or some other superlative, by
contrast the coup promos and edicts were
on a par with the best U.S. political ads
with slick production and psychologically
nuanced messages… with the capability of
Madison Ave… not Honduran.
So far, the massive pro-Zelaya demonstrators
have remained non-violent in the face of
brutal beatings, tear gassing and attacks with
live ammunition. I know two of the pro-
Zelaya leaders, Salvador Zúñiga and Berta
Cáceres, and I know their commitment to
non-violence is profound, but the Lencas are
also proud of being from the tribe of Lempira,
the national hero of Honduras, who led a
revolt against the conquistadors. I hear people
invoking this tradition of standing up to
tyranny more and more as the Micheletti
regime becomes more and more repressive.
How long their commitment to non-violence
will hold up is hard to tell. I heard in
La Esperanza that there are troops… 30,000
each in Nicaragua and El Salvador… waiting
to attack Tegucigalpa with bombs if Zelaya
isn’t returned to office. This sounds unlikely,
but if there are folks thinking that there
would be outside support for internal armed
conflict in favor of Zelaya, they may feel
unjustifiably emboldened to take up arms.
If pro-Zelaya violence does flare up, especially
if foreign troops are involved, it may be
just the excuse that the Micheletti backers
are looking for to start a new Contra War
with the goal to destabilize the other leftwing
governments in adjacent Nicaragua
and El Salvador. It worked in Nicaragua with
Daniel Ortega in power once before. Some of
the prime movers of the previous Contra
War have joined the Micheletti government:
They still have the U.S. base at Palmerola
from which much of the Contra War was
staged, plus a third brand-new American
base in Honduras. So, why not again?
Well, as my month drew on, the work of
restoring La Voz Lenca to full power took on
more urgency while the technical problems
of the old transmitters seemed less and less
solvable. Finally, just before my scheduled
departure day, a solution appeared. La Voz
Lenca AM, one of the few remaining stations
bringing a strong message in favor of the
restoration of the peoples’ president,
Manuel Zelaya, to office, is on the air!

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