Coup and Human Rights in Honduras: An Issue That Must Not Be Ignored

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IT WAS AN EARLY SUNDAY MORNING and my phone was urgently
ringing. I usually do not receive calls so early. The call
came with a shocking message: “Coup d’état!” I remember
throwing the cell phone with anger, awe and great frustration.
I ran toward the TV and saw how years of effort to
build and preserve democracy, not only in Honduras, but
also all over Latin America, was being dumped like garbage.
After five hundred years of bloody colonial and neo-colonial
oppression, in 1982 Hondurans voted to end military rule
and to establish democracy; however, Honduras could not
escape the effects of the strife next door. With its neighbors
caught up in bloody civil wars, the United States stepped into
Honduras pouring in millions of dollars in military “aid,”
building military bases, arming and training elements of the
Honduran Army, and abetting in the formation of “Death
Squads” like the infamous Battalion 3-16. These squads committed
political assassinations, tortured opponents, and “disappeared”
hundreds of dissenters (including U.S. citizens)
who opposed the Honduran and U.S. governments.
Many Hondurans considered that period one of the darkest
in their history. Unfortunately the ghosts have returned.
In response to the recent coup, the Honduran people have
waged more than 80 days of nonstop resistance, organizing
multitudinous demonstrations. In response to these actions
of democratic uprising, they have faced violence and repression
from the armed forces. A delegation from the Inter-
American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) sent to
Honduras concluded that the de facto regime had carried out
serious human rights violations. They identified the army
and police as being responsible for these acts. The violations
seemed to begin the morning of the coup when an army
squad broke into the home of democratically elected President
Manuel Zelaya forcing him into exile at gunpoint. That
same day troops were deployed to repress demonstrators
and suspend civil liberties. At the same time they announced
a curfew that would remain in effect for over a month. The
IACHR reports that the police and army used disproportionate
force against unarmed demonstrators, brutally beating,
shooting and killing men, women and children. There have
also been wide-scale threats and persecution. The IACHR
states that more than thirty-five hundred Hondurans have
been arbitrarily detained. Others have been “disappeared,”
and sexual violence and rape have been used against women
active in the resistance movement.
On July 5, Zelaya attempted to return to Honduras, but
was frustrated by police and army units who blocked the
runway with army trucks. Army snipers fired indiscriminately
into a large crowd that had gathered to welcome
Zelaya back, killing a young boy, Obed Murillo, and
wounding several other demonstrators. Four days later,
police arrested Jose David Murillo, the boy’s father, as he left
a human rights organization where he had reported his son’s
death. While claiming to have acted to preserve democracy,
the de facto regime has seized control of radio and television
stations. Private stations, backers of the coup, continue
broadcasting sports and cartoons, and omit any report on
the coup or pro-Zelaya demonstrations. Reporters and journalists
critical of the coup have frequently been attacked,
threatened or arrested.
It is an outrage that conservative elements of the U.S. Media
have attempted to justify and legitimize the actions of the de
facto regime. Right wing pundits have portrayed Zelaya as trying
to illegally extend his term in office. This is hardly the case.
What was proposed was not a referendum to extend Zelaya’s
term in office; it was a non-binding referendum intended to let
the people’s voice be heard in the November elections regarding
the need for constitutional reform. While Latin American
nations have been unanimous in condemning the coup, the
U.S. response was slow and tepid. Though they eventually did
condemn the coup, they did not do so until September, more
than two months after the coup. Furthermore, statements and
visits from several U.S. representatives in support of the regime
have undercut the official position of condemnation. Unfortunately
the regime is still stubbornly holding on to power, still
abusing human rights, still repressing dissent.
The U.S. could do much more. It could explicitly
denounce human rights violations. Punitive actions could
be taken against de facto regime leaders. It is time that the
U.S. Government admits the role it has played in the past
in Honduras and Central America—supporting reactionary
regimes, and backing U.S. businesses in exploiting
the indigenousness peoples. It is time for reform.

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