Tegucigalpa: Professor Agustina Flores Lopez (1959) was freed October 12, after 21 days in high security women's prison in the Honduran capital. There are still 6 political prisoners there, still being held without bail by the de-facto government, charged with sedition, and terrorism as members of the peaceful civil resistance. They are being held in a legal process that's plagued with irregularities, and is taking place under the suspension of Civil Liberties (the decree of which is still active).
Professor Agustina welcomes us in front of the circle of press in the offices of the Comitttee for the Family of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH). She made her first statements to teleSUR and this is the first interview she is doing with the international press. The College of Professors paid the fine (100,000 lempiras) and lawyers Kenia Oliva and Noelia Núñez were able to reverse part of the injustice. Agustina Flores comes from a combative family: her mother and brother were persecuted during the dirty war in the 1980's and today her sister Bertha Cáceres is the director of the Civil Council of Indigenous Popular Organizations in Honduras, (COPINH).
Agustina Flores boldly defied the defacto regime: "one of the conditions of my release is that I don't go to protests for the restitution of President Zelaya- it says that in the text of my conditional release- but the bars won't shut me up, and prison hasn't diminished even a tiny bit my beliefs. I think there are many ways I can keep working. This struggle begins right now, in the workplace, in the union, in my neighborhood, with housewives, until we win the Constitutional Assembly which brings us new hope."
MC- When did you first join the Resistance to the coup?
AF- On June 28th my mom told us: "You all have to go. I can't go with you because of my health, but you have grown up in the struggle, so eat up so that you don't get tired." We were working for the fourth ballot box, and the coup made us take to the streets to protest.
MC- How did you survive the 21 days in jail?
AF- It was tough but inside it was wonderful to know that so many people and organizations were in solidarity with the Resistance. Not one day passed when we didn't get visitors from compañeros, from the media, and it's thanks to them that I'm free, because so many people demanded my release. When I was arrested I was beaten very badly, and I remembered what we had lived through in the '80's, when my brother and my mother were constantly persecuted, and they also came after us. We had to move to La Esperanza in 1978. The dictatorship of Micheletti made me remember that repression of the dirty war, and I was afraid of being detained and then disappeared. My crime was to fight for my rights. That's what I said to the police "There's no problem here, tell me what crime I'm accused of, and read me my rights." That made them really angry, and that's when they started to hit me. I told them that I would denounce them to all of the Human Rights Organizations, even at the international level, and when they were threatened with this, they didn't disappear me or have me killed. They make a lot of things up. I was marching with the protesters as the Constitution of Honduras allows me to, they didn't deny that. I've never acted like a gangster, which is how they treated me in prison.
MC- Why did they free you on bail after 21 days?
AF- In the first hearing, when they were presenting the defendants, the judge sent me over to the General Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DGIC), where after 6 days I had an initial audience before another judge. She didn't accept my defense, nor my 32 years of service as a professor, nor my work in drug abuse prevention, nor my commitment to non-violence, or my workshops with the "Mara Salvatrucha", she was uninterested in all of the roles I've played, much less the recognition I've received, like Teacher of the Year. On the contrary, she used all of that against me. The judge said that because I was considered a leader she couldn't let me out on bail, because I could reorganize the groups from the Resistance and attack the witnesses for the prosecution, the same police that had beaten me.
MC- You were the only female political prisoner of the de facto regime?
AF- Yes, the same day they detained two other compañeras, they held them for 6 days but when they sentenced me to prison, they freed them on bail. When the judge read my sentence I felt like they were prosecuting someone else, like President Manuel Zelaya, because they never failed to mention him - at least 8 times. I felt like the punishment wasn't directly against me, but against the President, against the women in the movement, and against the teachers.
MC..- When the de facto government claims that "There are no political prisoners" and tries to fool international public opinion that here "nothing is going on"; How do you contradict them?
AF.- Of course, unfortunately in the prison we weren't allow to watch the news or read the papers, so now I'm not well informed about the compañeros who are still being held prisoner. I knew that there was a Spanish citizen, and another Colombian being held for not respecting the curfew. I'm sure that there are political prisoners, but I don't know the exact number or the details of each case. Thanks to the international pressure, the coup leaders are changing their act, but we need to free these compañeros, because they never committed any crime, except defending our democracy. We need them to overturn the Decree Suspending Individual Rights.
MC.- As a professor, what do you think about the de facto government's decree ending the school year early?
AF.- I just found out about this news yesterday. A cousin who's a teacher was telling me that they're going to end the school year on October 31st. Imagine the consequences if we have in 2010, all of these students who were automatically passed without finishing the whole year. The next year the teachers will have students who never finished the study plans. They won't allow the teachers to continue classes until November 30, it's a huge mistake.
MC.- Is it a way to demobilize the teachers?
AF.- It's a strategy of the coup leaders. You know that they're trying to keep the teachers quiet, to empty out the schools and to militarize the elections.
MC.- Going back to the personal, I know your family lives in Northern Honduras. Have you spoken to your mother yet?
AF.- My mom was really emotional, and after all of this had happened what hurt me the most was to see my mother and daughters because they couldn't hide it, I could see in their faces the traces of pain, of sadness and of anger... Today I was happy because I spoke to my family after coming out of the gates and I told them that it wasn't that bad of an experience, because of the 19 women who were with me in the (high security) wing, I learned to see and know them, and never discriminate against them for the crimes they committed, but to see them as human beings, smart, fighting the pain, the anguish, we cried in prison, and now we're so happy. They were sad to see me leave, and this helped me understand injustice.
MC.- Is the National Resistance Front Against the Coup going to rebuild?
AF.- One of the conditions of my release is that I don't go to protests for the restitution of President Zelaya- it says that in the text of my conditional release- but the bars won't shut me up, and prison hasn't diminished even a tiny bit my beliefs. I think there are many ways I can keep working. This struggle begins right now, in the workplace, in the union, in my neighborhood, with housewives, until we win the Constitutional Assembly which brings us new hope.
MC.- In closing, having been jailed by an illegitimate government, will you ask that your record be cleared when democracy is returned?
AF.- I will ask that my record be cleared, when I was in jail they took our signatures four times, and I demanded that my file be cleared. Until a policeman told me: "I think all of this is unjust, and you have to demand when Mel Zelaya returns that they clear your records, instead of just suspending the charges." I insist that we haven't committed any crimes, the only thing that we've done is to believe in the rights that the Constitution gives us: the right to free expression of ideas and to disobey illegitimate governments.