Fear and Voting in Honduras
A photographic essay
The worst crisis to hit Central America since the wars of the 1980’s began on June 28, 2009, when Honduran soldiers attacked the home of legal, democratically-elected president Mel Zelaya and exiled him from the country by plane, after a short stop at a strategic U.S. airbase. A military-backed dictatorship was then installed, under de facto president Roberto Micheletti – a far-right political president, who had failed to capture the presidency in three different elections, before seizing the office by force. Since then crisis has gripped the country. Dozens have died, hundreds wounded, and thousands more detained, as police and soldiers have repeatedly attacked peaceful protests with tear gas, truncheons, and even live rounds.
The peaceful, nonviolent resistance movement that arose in the wake of Zelaya’s ouster is supported by a broad swath of the populace, including farmers, conservationists, intellectuals, teachers and students, women’s rights groups, and factory workers. Central to the goals of the resistance movement is the institution of Constitutional reforms intended to strengthen democracy, and loosen the stranglehold a few elite families, who have traditionally controlled the Honduran economy and military. According to many experts, the fact that President Zelaya had also backed such reforms is what led directly to his being deposed. Although the oligarchy-controlled Congress and Supreme Court have issued a number of charges against Zelaya, which supposedly justify the soldiers attack on his home, no evidence to substantiate their claims has been found by any independent journalist or human rights group. No country in the world has recognized the coup government as legitimate.
Zelaya returned to the country in disguise, on September 21, and took refuge in the Brazilian Embassy, in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. Conditions inside the Embassy remain uncomfortable, and the compound is surrounded at all times by police and soldiers, who restrict the flow of food and other items, ready to arrest the president on sight.
Although many had hoped the already-scheduled presidential elections (in which Zelaya was not running) would bring peace to Honduras. But the elections on November 29, marked the lowest voter turnout in the nation’s history. Although the coup government falsified the ballot results, in an effort to garner international recognition, when the truth emerged, it was clear that only a minority of the Honduran electorate had participated. President Zelaya, and the broad-based and powerful resistance movement, had urged Hondurans to abstain from elections under an illegal, military-backed government. National and International human rights agencies had agreed, with many issuing statements declaring that a “free and fair” elections could not take place in Honduras.
In the weeks since elections, a wave of violence has gripped the country. More than 45 people have died, 15 of them just last weekend. On Friday a resistance member was found decapitated, after being last seen in police custody. On Sunday evening a human rights worker was tortured and killed, and again witnesses have reported police involvement at the scene. In the face of all this repression, the peaceful resistance movement remains strong, continuing to mount near-daily demonstrations and marches in the streets, demanding both the restitution of president Zelaya, as well as sweeping, democratic reforms to the Constitution.
(click each photo to view a larger version)
Jeremy KrytAnti-coup protesters, during a rally in the Parque Centrale in the capital of Tegucigalpa, on December 2, a few days after the elections. The massive Resistance Front Against the Coup boycotted the vote, and dozens of candidates, including congressional and presidential, resigned from the race, due to concerns about unfair election condiditions under the military-backed de facto government.
Jeremy KrytA young Honduran boy wears a pro-Zelaya bandana tied to his hat at an anti-coup rally on December 11, outside Radio Globo, an independent station that has been attacked several times by soldiers since the coup.
Jeremy KrytA campaign sign for President-elect Pepe Lobo’s Nationalist party, which has been vandalized by anti-coup resistance members. Mr. Lobo – a wealthy rancher from the Olancho district – is a close friend of the exploitive timber industry, which is ransacking Honduras’ once-rich forests. Before the election, anticipating his victory, one Honduran lumber magnate stated, "Pepe Lobo will be [our] savior."
Jeremy KrytSoldiers carrying food into the Brazilian Embassy (far right) where President Mel Zelaya is besieged with about 40 family and followers, including his wife and children. According to those inside the compound, authorities are very strict about what kinds of food and other amenities are allowed inside. The U.N. has documented the use of chemical and sonic weapons being used by the de facto government against those trapped inside the Embassy. This image was made from a distance, using a telephoto lens; the streets in front of the Embassy are sealed off from the public and press at all times. The self-powered scaffolding in this photograph is a military-erected sniper platform, from which masked officers constantly monitors goings-on within the courtyard below.
Jeremy KrytAnti-coup marchers demolish a Liberal party campaign poster, in the center of Tegucigalpa. “These elections are illegal and illigitimate,” said Resistance leader Rafael Alegria, in a recent interview with the Earth Island Journal. “The minority of Hondurans who voted, or who recognize these elections, are themselves supporting the coup, and the de facto government.”
Jeremy KrytAmerican activists march in front of the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on election day, November 29, 2009. These marchers were all U.S. citizens who had come down to observe elections with the Quixote Center, a Wasington D.C.-based Human Rights agency. The sign in Spanish reads, “No elections without human rights.”
Jeremy KrytProtestors outside the Brazilian Embassy, on Wednesday, December 9, the day Zelaya was scheduled to leave the compound for the first time since September 21, when he returned to the country in disguise. Mexico had sent a plane on the evening of December 9, but at the last moment the de facto government stated it would only allow Zelaya safe conduct out of the country if he would sign a paper abdicating the presidency (his term ends on January 27). Zelaya refused to sign, the plane from Mexico wasn't allowed to land, and a crowd of a few hundred gathered in front of the Embassy, chanting and singing their support for the besieged president.
Jeremy KrytA pro-Zelaya sign posted to the makeshift barricade soldiers have erected in the street near the Brazilian Embassy, in Tegucigalpa. Police and soldiers with riot shields wait on the other side of the fence. The sign reads, “Mel, our friend, the country is with you.”
Jeremy KrytA masked police officer, in front of the Brazilian Embassy, where the democratically-elected president, Mel Zelaya, remains a prisoner in his own country, under threat of arrest should he step outside the Embassy gates.
Jeremy KrytA Honduran police officer in the act of beating an unarmed, peacefully-demonstrating, anti-coup protester. Soldiers and police have kept up a brutal repression since the coup. Independent media have been shuttered, civil rights supsended, and at least 28 members of the peaceful, anti-coup movement have been killed by soldiers, police, and political assassins.
Jeremy KrytAn ambulance worker attends to the victim of random police violence, back on September 22, the day after Zelaya returned from exile. The de facto government imposed a 24 hour curfew, and the police roamed the streets in packs of about a dozen, methodically beating anyone they encountered. This young man went to the hospital, where he received more than twenty stitches in his scalp; he claimed to have been pistol whipped, as well as beaten with truncheons, as he was on his way to work that morning.
Jeremy KrytSoldiers frisk a voter at the gate to a polling place in the capital on election day, Sunday, November 29. Although the election marked the lowest voter turn-out in the country's history, the Supreme Electoral Tribune mis-quoted the numbers on election night, announcing a participation rate of about 60 percent. When the truth emerged, several days later, the new official estimate was that only 49 percent of the electorate had gone to the polls.
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