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Honduras: Anti-Coup Resistance Fears “Trap” for Zelaya

“A Dangerous Situation”

photo of soldiers standing above a wall covered with protest graffiti, including words: Micheletti FascitaJeremy Kryt photoHonduran police and soldiers stand guard in front of the National Congress
building in the capital. Peaceful protestors have staged a permanent vigil
since Monday morning, demanding the restitution of President Mel Zelaya.

The controversial, U.S.-brokered peace accord that went into effect last week – intended to restore deposed President Mel Zelaya and pave the way for internationally-recognized elections later this month – might have already fallen apart. The Tegucigalpa accord states that Congress must vote to decide on Zelaya’s return. But a group of 13 leading legislators met on Tuesday, and decided not to call a special session of Congress, currently in recess, until they receive non-binding opinions from the Supreme Court and the attorney general.

So far, no date has been set for a vote – and that has some of Mr. Zelaya’s most loyal supporters deeply concerned.

“The President might have walked into a trap,” said top resistance leader Juan Barahona, in a cell phone interview from the capital. “This is still a very dangerous situation.” Barahona, who has led daily, nonviolent street protests in Tegucigalpa for the last four months, said he was afraid the de facto government would exploit loopholes in the U.S.-backed treaty, allowing them to keep Zelaya out of office.

“There is no proof of how the Congress will vote. And the accord doesn’t establish a specific schedule. They could wait until an hour before the elections [to restore Zelaya].” Barahona added that the massive resistant movement would be sure to boycott the elections on November 29, “if the legal President is not restored.”

U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos arrived in Honduras on Tuesday, to monitor implementation of the pact. Both officials expressed support for Zelaya, who has warned that, if not reinstated, he won’t back the unity government to be established by the accord.

Details of the “Secret Deal”

Zelaya was ousted at gunpoint back on June 28, after attempting to hold a nonbinding poll regarding constitutional reforms. He returned to the country in a surprise move on September 21, and has been holed up since then in the Brazilian Embassy, under threat of arrest. The popular, pacifist, anti-coup movement that supports Zelaya has been the victim of numerous human rights abuses since the military takeover – as has the population at large. Media outlets were censored, civil rights stripped away, and thousands have been beaten and detained by authorities, who often use tear gas, dummy bullets, and even live rounds to break up the nonviolent demonstrations. More than 20 people have been killed.

Last Friday’s peace accord has been much celebrated by the U.S. State Department, as well as Zelaya himself. De facto President Roberto Micheletti also signed the treaty, which allows a vote by the unicameral Honduran Congress to determine whether or not Zelaya will be restored. After months of inaction, U.S. President Barack Obama had sent a special diplomatic team to put pressure on the coup regime. Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon, is said to have struck a “secret deal” with Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, head of the Honduran opposition party, and a candidate for president. Reportedly, the word-of-honor pact between Shannon and Lobo guarantees sufficient votes for Zelaya’s reinstatement – in return for U.S. recognition of the November election. But even the “secret deal” might now be obsolete. In a Tuesday interview with CNN en Español, Shannon revealed that the U.S. would recognize upcoming elections whether or not Zelaya resumed the presidency. Shannon’s statement in turn prompted Zelaya to pen a letter to Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, asking her to "clarify to the Honduran people if the position condemning the coup d’etat has been changed or modified."

Presidential candidate Lobo is leading in the polls by double digits, and has stated publicly that he wants the elections to be considered legitimate by the international community. But other hard-line members of Congress have already dissented, declaring that Zelaya won’t be restored. Many believe Tuesday’s decision not convoke the full legislature was a stalling tactic. Although the accord permits a ruling by the Supreme Court, it would be nonbinding. (The Supreme Court had voted to oust Zelaya back in June.)

“We want to pressure [on Congress] to vote quickly, just like when they voted to kick Zelaya out of office,” said Gilda I. Velazquez, a resistance member engaged in a peaceful demonstration in front of the Congressional building in the capital on Tuesday. “That only took a few hours. Why should this be any different?” said Velazquez who, along with about 3,000 other members of the well-organized, pacifist resistance, has maintained a permanent vigil on the steps of the building since Monday morning. Velazquez said the protestors would continue the demonstration day and night until Zelaya was restored, and warned that there could be grave consequences for the entire nation, if the Congress fails to move forward in the next few days.
“The country as a whole will grow poorer,” she said. “The severe social problems we have will worsen. And the international community probably won’t recognize our elections.” Velazquez said she was also suspicious about the motives of the coup-installed government.

photo of a city street filled with demonstrators all the way to the horizonJeremy Kryt photoA peaceful, anti-coup protest march in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.
Despite the stepped-up repression by police and soldiers, tens of thousands
have taken to the streets in recent days, urging Congress to restore the
democratically-elected president.

“We’re all afraid that they’re going to take away the rights that we have now,” Velazquez said, “as well as the future, democratic reforms we’re hoping to achieve.”

Velazquez believes the ruling military-business junta never had any intention of honoring the U.S.-backed peace plan.
“I don’t trust them,” she said of the de facto regime. “They’re confusing the population. They’re twisting the words of the accord around, pretending that the Supreme Court needs to give an okay. The spirit of the treaty [is] to have President Zelaya back in office. They need to be in that spirit and they’re not.”

The Great Repression

According to Noemi Perez, co-founder and head prosecutor for the Committee for Disappeared Persons in Honduras (COFADEH), systematic attacks by police and soldiers have actually increased in recent days – despite the impression in the international press that the crisis has been resolved.

“There was a great repression on Thursday [October 29],” said Perez, added that police had used truncheons to break up a peaceful, pro-Zelaya demonstration in the poor barrio of Prado. She also reported that officers bludgeoned multiple female protestors in the genitals – a common practice intended to shame women for participating in the resistance.

“But the next day was even worse,” said Perez. “On Friday [October 30], more than sixty people were injured. It was the worst day of violence we’ve seen yet.” Protestors had gathered in front of the Marriott hotel in Tegucigalpa, where the U.S. delegation was staying, when police arrived to break up the rally. Perez claimed that police fired rubber bullets at the crowd, and that they’d begun using a different form of dispersal gas. While this last fact could not be confirmed, it is widely known that two asthmatic protestors have died after chemical attacks in recent weeks.

photo of a man speaking into a microphoneJeremy Kryt photoTop resistance leader Juan Barahona addresses a peaceful, anti-coup
assembly in a barrio outside Tegucigalpa. The anti-coup movement
has united vast segments of the population, including conservation
and human rights groups, workers unions, indigenous people and farmers.

But Juan Barahona said the resistance would stand firm in the face of stepped-up oppression, and emphasized that the current accord only solves one small facet of the political crisis.

“If President Zelaya is restored, the resistance will continue its peaceful struggle for a Constitutional assembly. If [he] is not restored, then the resistance will continue to pursue his restitution and the Assembly,” said Barahona, who was also taking part in the vigil before Congress.

The coordinator of the Resistance Front had initially represented Zelaya during the peace talks, but resigned when it became clear that the accord would prohibit the same constitutional reforms that had caused Zelaya’s ouster.

“We will continue the struggle until this government lets the people vote on a new constitution,” said Barahona. “We will never give up our dream.”

Jeremy Kryt, Contributing writer, Earth Island Journal
Jeremy Kryt is a Chicago-based journalist.

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