Friday, October 30, 2009

The Negotiation is in the Streets: A Day of Resistance and Repression

Running away from tear gas clouds behind them several people carry a woman in shock around a corner to a water spigot someone has found. Her bright yellow shirt is soaked in a mix of sweat, tear gas and water. People gather around her wiping her down and washing out her eyes and their own. Suddenly we hear more shots and the footsteps of the elite cobra commando unit of the Honduran police. As we flee to the top of a hill we run into another human rights observer who reports that several people have been badly beaten and are in the hospital. We find our way to where the resistance has re-grouped in front of the Marriott hotel. A van pulls up with food for the resistance and people form lines to get some tortillas and cheese. As people begin to sit down and eat four large army trucks arrive, slowly driving through the crowd as cobras pour out the back and put on their gas masks. An older woman with an apron on is yelling at them, “why don't you just kill me now?” Without any warning the cobras and army, now several rows deep, begin advancing on the crowd. Within moments and without provocation tear gas is flying in the air and the army and police are chasing after people with batons swinging.

Moments before all this started we were marching under the sun to colorful rhythms of a high school marching band. Not far away, a mother and her small child walked hand-in-hand with smiles so big the sun reflected off their teeth. A couple of people had stopped to buy ice cream from a vendor. An older woman with her whole family were waiting in the shade for the march to continue forward.

The march started with thousands of people gathering early in the morning at the national pedagogical university, preparing to openly defy the de facto government's prohibition of marches and take the streets to demand the restitution of President Manuel Zelaya and a constitutional assembly to re-found the country from below. When we asked the police to speak to the person in charge in order to announce the presence of human rights observers, an officer said, “here the military is in charge, talk to him, over there” and pointed out a military commander at the back of the thick line of authorities. Here in Honduras, the military is in charge.
“The true negotiation is in the streets. When they throw tear gas bombs at us, that is a negotiation. When we march, that is a negotiation. When they beat us, that is a negotiation. The fight in the streets is the real negotiation, not what happens in the talks between the official delegations. We are completely clear that only the people will save the people,” Garífuna leader Alfredo Lopez later told us, just a few hours before de facto Honduran president Roberto Micheletti would for the first time announce a willingness to allow Zelaya's return to power.
On the 124th day in a row of resistance to the coup d'etat in Honduras, the first demand of the resistance – the restitution of the democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya – appears within reach. Since the military kidnapped him on June 28th, at least 26 members of the non-violent resistance have been killed. Over 4,000 have been detained. Women have been assaulted and gang raped by police and army officers. Teachers have disappeared only to show up in a morgue or with their body cut all over. This repression has done little more than strengthen the will and deepen the commitment of the resistance. The demand for a new constitutional assembly and the re-founding of the country in the name of participatory democracy and human rights has become universal.
As indigenous leader Berta Cáceres told us, “Honduras used to only be known for its role as a U.S. base hosting the contra operations or as the place struck by hurricane Mitch. Now it is known for the dignity of its people. We have come too far to ever turn back and this struggle is just beginning.”

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