The delegation was able to meet with Juan Barahona, General Coordinator of the National Front of Popular Resistance and the United Federation of Honduran Workers. As a long time activist leader in Honduran social movements, Juan took a moment to offer a brief historical perspective in addition to the current activities of the resistance. What follows is the information he shared with the delegation.
In Honduras, the decade of the seventies was characterized as a period of strong social movements that included students, workers, campesinos, and most social sectors. In the eighties, however, a National Security Doctrine was imposed with support of the United States which weakened the social movements through a strategy of deterntions, dissappearances, and severe repression. By the 1990's, neoliberal model is applied to Honduras in all of it's measures, including privatization, taxes, devaluation of the currency, and the shrinking of the state. That is except the military and police force.
With the beginning of the new decade, on the second of May 2000, the Popular Block was organized which included teachers, workers, indigenous, students, and campesino organizations. The social movements began to retake the streets that were lost in the eighties. The movement was born out of the need for unification and identified itself against the neoliberal model and anti-system. The Popular Block developed regional organizations as well as mobilizations at the national level. By 2003, there was a need for a coordinating structure and the National Coordinator-ship of Popular Resistance was formed. On the 26th of August 2003, in the early morning hours, a mobilization was carried out to takeover all four principal entrances to the capital Tegucigalpa. This action brought recognition to the movement and it's demands as a popular movement of the people.
The first two years of the Zelaya administration were the same policies as usual by the government. However, several actions took place which generated sympathy from the people. There were positions against the mining and oil companies, joining the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA), the increase in the minimum wage, and the survey to consider a proposal for a 4th ballot box around the issue of forming a Constitutional Assembly. The oligarchy in Honduras did not fear the 4th ballot box itself, they feared a Constituational Assembly that would take into account needs other than their own.
Thus the coup was staged at 5:20 am on the 28th of June. Due to the popular sympathy generated by Zelaya's policies, there was an immediate and spontaneous response after the coup. By 7am on the same day, there was a large amount of people at the presidential palace and by 1pm the entire street in front of the palace was filled with people. After staying overnight, the next day on the 29th there was an agreement to form a structure to articulate the strong opposition to the coup. Since then, as the National Front Against the Coup made up of almost the entire Honduran social movement, small, big, medium, political and social organizations and have become a majority force in the country. The two demands that founded the movement were the restitution of President Zelaya and the call for a Constituational Assembly.
In the end we weren't able to obtain restitution but we did defeat the coup. The oligarchy and the United States government which supported it won't be able to export this coup to other countries. They wanted it to be a successful coup but with the struggle of the Honduran people, it has failed. Now the resistance is organized in all 18 departments. We are a political force that not only has the demand for the Constituational Assembly but we have assumed the responsibility of the each of the member organization's demands as well.
Regarding the elections, Barahona noted that approximately 70% of the eligible voters did not vote. There was such a small number of people that went to vote that the numbers had to be inflated by the election commission, which happened to be under the control of the coup, and now Lobo is known as the inflated president. Also, the majority of resistance candidates withdrew from the elections citing the repressive conditions under which they were held.
In addition to the illegitamatacy of the elections that he supposedly won, the Lobo government does not provide hope for the Honduran people as he 1) is part of the oligarchy and 2) reneged on signed agreements on water legislation during his term as president of the congress. Pepe Lobo's claims to provide amnesty, reconciliation, and even calling for a constitutional assembly then is not something that can be trusted as it will only serve the interests of the oligarchy. Despite the idea that a military coup was a thing of the past, Honduran society is living it currently and suffering the repression at the hands of the armed forces. Millions is being spent on equipment for the military, something is is outrageous in a country as poor as Honduras.
Since the coup, there have been repeated violations of human rights including rape of women, arbitrary detentions, and assasinations. To date there is count of up to 140 cases of assasinations and more than 10,000 illegal detentions. In his assessment, the Honduran oligarchy that carried out the coup with the military does not have independence from the U.S. Government and is always at his service. Historically, the U.S. Embassy is cited as the real power in Honduras. In fact, at the moment Zelaya was abducted and taken out of the country, the plane that flied him out stopped at the infamous U.S. Military base at Palmerola before going on to Costa Rica, indicating the complicity of the U.S. Government in the coup.
Finally, much of this information is not known outside and even inside Honduras due to the media blockade. Independent local radio and tv station signals were cancelled immediately after the coup and have been under constant threat. On the day of the coup itself, the mainstream stations programmed cartoon shows and soap operas, intentionally not covering the story of the crisis in the presidential palace. That is why it is important to continue to tell the story of the reality that is happening in Honduras through all means possible.
Alba Ochoa - El Comite de los Presos Politicos, Los Perseguidos, y los Exiliados
Alba Ochoa is a long-time activist in Honduras who is the founder of a green agricultural project for fair trade coffee. Since the coup she has been a participant in the resistance and is in charge of the Committee of Political Prisoners, the Persecuted and Exiled.
Since the coup, she reported, there have been about 50 deaths among the resistance and those who are identified with the resistance. However, despite video evidence of the police firing on victims, there have been no charges filed against them. The only charge has been against the high command of the military for abuse of power in taking the president out of the country, probably to avoid more serious charges against others involved in the coup.
Many of the deaths have been clumsily arranged to look like something other than assassination. About a month ago, Alba said, a compañero from the resistance died in what was made to look like suicide. Because he obviously had been beaten and was considered highly unlikely to commit suicide, they knew he had been murdered. Other killings have been made to look like common crimes. Some of those victims have left orphaned children.
Under the current justice system, there is nowhere victims’ family or friends can find redress. They cannot go to the police or the attorney general, and the judges refuse to treat the cases fairly. Further, there is talk of giving blanket amnesty for these crimes.
As for political prisoners, Alba says, that there are 70 people who were arrested, and are now under restrictions that force them to report every week to the police and they cannot leave the country. As of now, there are only four people still held in prison. Alba says though, that there are seven million political prisoners because the whole country of Honduras is in jail.
Although no one is sure of the numbers, Alba also said that approximately 30-50 people have been forced to flee the country in fear of their lives.
She then related her own story of being arrested and beaten by the coup regime. On August 12, as a march was taking place, she observed hundreds of military police searching backpacks and taking photographs of participants. She then saw a member of the police beat a marcher with an iron bar, breaking open the back of his head. When she told the policeman not to hit him, three policewomen began to beat her with nightsticks. She said that this occurred below the Congress building where she could see members of Congress watching. Not a single one did anything to stop the beating. She along with about 25 people was thrown onto a bus, beaten some more and threatened with being doused with gasoline and set on fire. It was not until several hours later when they were taken to a hospital that their families were able to find them.
When her case went to court, one of the policewomen who beat her testified against her. The judge in the case believed the policewoman's testimony and further said that Alba had been guilty of damaging property, stealing and illegal demonstration.
Since then, there are more than 130 cases pending for charges of sedition, terrorism and other crimes.
CNTC- Central Nacional de los Trabajadores del Campo (National Center of Rural Workers)
“Honduras is a country with many hands with no land, and a few hands with lots of land”, Agostin Ramos, the General Secretary of the CNTC repeated this common saying as he described the history of his organization to our delegation.
Honduras has a long tradition of campesino organizations and struggle. More than 60% of the population is rural and poor, and the struggle for land and economic justice for the campesinos is a constant part of the Honduran popular movement. The National Center for Rural Workers (CNTC) is one of the largest and most active campesino organizations with affiliate communities in 14 of the 18 provinces in Honduras. It was founded in 1985, dedicated to obtaining land for the landless and poor campesinos through a combination of legal and direct action strategies. The Honduran government (both Liberal Party and National Party presidents) have used trickery, violence and legal delays to keep the poor campesinos from being able to obtain and keep land or to survive economically on the land they do have.
“Despite having had over the years many arrests and assassinations of our members we have continued fighting in the same fashion that we did at our foundation. In wasn’t until some time after President Zelaya was in office that he began to approach the campesino movement and we began to see possibilities in the opening of doors for development”.
In 2008 there were land conflicts that had been held up in the National Agrarian Institute (INA) for as long as 25 and 30 years. Zelaya signed the president decree #18-2008 to allow the resolution of these conflicts in favor of the campesinos. He also created a project with us through the ALBA agreement to build a large number of houses for the poor campesino communities. There were scholarship programs from Venezuela and Cuba and medical assistance for us. We were in this struggle to implement these programs when the coup occurred, and everything was buried.
We have no hope in any change coming from this illegally elected government. There can’t be a government of reconciliation when they are the ones who kicked the elected president out. The resistance is not ending. The crisis has awakened people to seek liberation. The project ahead of us is to take power and resolve the poor situation for the people. Clearly at the CNTC we have had our initiatives crushed by the coup; we have only gotten 8 land titles resolved out of all that were pending.
We are conscious and clear that Pepe Lobo is from the most conservative political sector. We dont' expect beneficial changes for us. The fact that a few people went to vote doesn’t mean that this is a president. This is a continuation of the coup. And it isn't true that people went freely to vote, in some places people voted under armed force.
There is no rule of law in this country. There is violence, and beatings of men, women and children. For example in Colon we have the struggle of the campesinos of the MUCA against one of the largest landowners who is from an oligarchy family, Flores Facusse. They have asked to be affiliated to the CNTC. The lands were supposed to be given to the campesinos but there were a lot of tricks to steal the land from them. On January 8th they were violently evicted from the lands. Their struggleis being supported by the Resistance. The fact that the country has so much land and still people are dying for lack of land is just not just.
La crisis in the country has left us poorer but as campesinos we're already poor. What we have now after the coup is the unity of the people. The struggles of each group, the CNTC, the teachers, and so on is not just their own struggle but the people's struggle. Our goal is that to get power and stop giving it away. If we don't see this happen, our children will and we will directly struggle for it.
God left the land for everyone, not just for four or five familes. We know that we are going to be hit hard. Wherever we have conflict we will be protesting in the streets and through the resistance we will challenge this system.