"They're afraid because we aren’t"
Repression and resistance. These two words sum up Honduras today.
There is truly terrible repression — reminiscent of the Central American “dirty wars” run by US-trained militaries in the 1980s. But there is also unprecedented resistance that has mobilized a previously compliant majority.
This is the situation that exists in the aftermath of the June 28 military coup last year that overthrew the elected president, Manuel Zelaya. Zelaya’s crime was to agree to the demands of a united front of social movements to start a democratic process of writing a new constitution
This terrified the Honduran oligarchy and big capital — the involvement of the poor in creating the law is viewed as a threat to their interests. The coup was met by mass resistance, including the largest demonstrations ever seen in Honduras. But, backed by the United States, the regime installed by the coup has held on.
Fraudulent elections in November, boycotted by a large majority of the population, brought Porfirio Lobo Sosa to power. On January 27, the day of Lobo’s inauguration, hundreds of thousands of people took over the capital Tegucigalpa’s streets in protest.
With death squads operating with impunity, repression against resistance activists is increasing in a terrifying fashion. But powerful mass resistance continues — demanding an elected constituent assembly to draft a new constitution that includes the rights of the poor majority.
Dana Frank, history professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in a March 18 Nation article said: “[T]here's no question that this is the most important moment in Honduran history. “I returned to Honduras in February for the first time since the coup to find a country transformed. People involved in the resistance were bursting with political energy, with an utterly new faith in their power. But they were also well aware of how dangerous the situation is.”
The coup radicalized the nation. In response, the Lobo regime is cracking down hard on protesters. Non-violent protesters are met with volleys of tear-gas, police beatings and army bullets. The Committee of Families of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) said more than 3000 people have been illegally detained. Many have been beaten, tortured or raped. Dozens of activists have been assassinated and more have disappeared. And the number is growing constantly.
Journalist Cesar Silva was abducted on December 29, interrogated and tortured for 27 hours. “I was interrogated every 45 minutes and punched in areas that leave no trace; my feet soles, testicles, stomach, and back, using their fists. They tried to suffocate me with water ... I felt like I was drowning.”
The resistance has refused to back down. Inspired by the radical movements and governments in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, a united and diverse mass front has emerged to confront the regime — the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP).
The FNRP is made up of most sectors of Honduran society, including trade unionists, teachers, farm workers, indigenous organizations, women’s groups, Afro-Honduran groups, public-sector workers, banana workers, bottling-plant workers, students and even some from the small Honduran middle-class.
Anne Bird wrote in an April 13 Upside Down World article: “In practically every rural village, town, urban neighbourhood, there is a local [FNRP] committee, which then has representatives in committees in each of Honduras’ 18 departments, which in turn have representation in the national committee.”
Issues reflected in the FNRP range from land rights for small farmers and indigenous people, labour rights, women’s rights and LGBTI rights. Most important of all is the demand “for a constitutional convention that doesn’t exclude”.
Despite its level of organization and support, the FNRP has been unable to dislodge a government backed by the world’s only superpower. In response, the FNRP has set its sights on a prolonged campaign aimed at winning the 2013 elections — paving the way for a constituent assembly.
The FNRP has begun a campaign to collect signatures on a petition calling for a constitutional convention. The target is to collect two million signatures — more than half Honduras’s adult population.
Frank said the most remarkable development has been the radicalization of the people. “Teenagers and twenty-somethings I had known for a decade ... who before hadn’t been politically engaged at all, were suddenly sitting up in their chairs differently, eager to tell me stories of marches they’d joined, tear gas they’d tasted.” Resistance graffiti is everywhere — on US fast food franchises, road signs, government offices, bridges and even the US military base at Palmerola.
There is even an unofficial theme song: “They’re Afraid of Us Because We’re Not Afraid”.
It is clear the resistance is bigger than just supporters of Zelaya. Bird said Zelaya is an important symbol, but the FNRP is independently organised from the ground up.
Internationally, the Lobo regime has been working hard to gain official recognition. Already, many Central American countries have accepted Honduran ambassadors. But the Obama administration’s approval has done the most to legitimize the coup government.
In March, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the “crisis has been managed to a successful conclusion” and “without violence”. On April 16, Obama phoned Lobo and commended him for his “leadership in his first months in office in promoting national reconciliation and restoring democratic and constitutional order in Honduras”.
The US has continued military and “humanitarian” aid, helping to shore up the cash-strapped government. It is also pushing the Organization of American States to drop its suspension of Honduras.
Despite the ongoing state-sponsored violence, the regime is pushing ahead with a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”. This process has been rejected by the FNRP and the Human Rights Platform, a coordinating body of the principal human rights organisations in Honduras. They say conditions do not exist for a truth commission, given the continuing violence against resistance members, the government’s failure to address the problem, and the fact that state officials linked to human rights violations have not been removed from office. The truth commission does not meet international standards, including prior consultation with victims and their representatives.
The FNRP plans to continue to mobilise around its demand for a constituent assembly. It aims to eventually form a political party separate from Zelaya’s Liberal Party (sections of which helped lead the coup). If this transition can be made successfully, Honduras’ oligarchs will finally have met their match.
The struggle is far from over. Frank said: “If nothing else, the country is politicized down to the bone.”
She quoted Zoila Lagos, a veteran of the 1980s struggles, who said: “What I love is that everyone, men, women, old people, little kids, is talking about politics."