January 28, 2010 Meeting with Dr. Juan Almendares
Dr. Almendares has been a figure in the Honduran social movements since the 1970’s. He told us that he currently has three projects: One is the resistance; second, the environmental struggle against mining companies and multinationals; and the third is the CPTRT, a center for prevention of torture, and denouncing military and police brutality. He also continues to run a medical clinic for the poor. Below are excerpts from the delegation’s meeting with the Doctor in Tegucigalpa on January 28, 2010.
“I am part of the resistance. I trained as medical doctor in Honduras, then went to California in the 1960’s and was inspired by the political thinking that was growing there, including the movement against the war in Viet Nam, Angela Davis, Mario Savio. I then was at the University of Pennsylvania. I returned to Honduras and eventually became the Dean of the Medical School and then Rector of the National University. In the 1980s, many friends and students were killed in repression. While I was at the University, John Negroponte was the U.S ambassador. He decided that I needed to be discharged from the university and I decided to join popular movement. I was condemned to death by the death squads in the 1980’s and I was captured, interrogated and subjected to psychological torture. For four years, I couldn't practice medicine because I was prohibited by military. So I began to link with communities.”
Dr. Almendares continued working on health issues, the environment and for social justice in the poor communities of Honduras. He has been very active with communities opposed to the mining concessions near Lake YoYoa. The communities there came to him and wanted him to so a medical brigade visit, “The first thing I saw is at the entrance to the mine was a military battalion, I was not allowed to visit homes of any workers, so I did brigade in the primary school. This kind of mining is most highly contaminating and the main companies are from the U.S. and Canada. We organized a strong movement on the mining issue and it continues”
“I have low profile in resistance, don't want to have high profile. I have idea that there should be no leaders in resistance, or at least, they should change frequently. Trying to work for unity is challenging, especially for elections. We have seen how our resistance movement surprised everybody here and in the world. Why? -----Because Honduras has been a neglected country in the backyard of the United States.”
“I have never seen the courage of my people like this, and the creativity. Women have become very active. In 1980 we were trying to unite artists and intellectuals, it was impossible. Now we have a different consciousness, now they have to recognize strength of struggle is in poor barrios, and with the campesinos. We have to develop consciousness of people and leadership. Society is macho but now we have a gay, lesbian movement; they are being killed because they are very powerful (in the movement).”
“If we analyze the question of why did they have coup in Honduras. Zelaya did not have support of Liberal party, not from Supreme Court or from Congress, or Supreme Tribunal, army, or ruling class. Why did they have to do coup? I believe it is because of the international situation and because of the people. The strategy of right wing is to personify the fourth urn (constitutional consultation) with Zelaya. That was good strategy because there is not enough political consciousness. But our people are good analysts. Zelaya came from the oligarchy, as did Micheletti. I see a difference between the neoliberal rulers and parasitic bourgeoisie. The parasitic ones have big business with the state and media. The Liberal Party has two currents; Mel Zelaya is from the more nationalistic bourgeois current. But Zelaya became more sensitive to needs of the people and came into contradiction with the oligarchy and bourgeoisie. Zelaya did some very important things like minimum wage. He was also very brave and clear about Chavez and Cuba. Zelaya was consistent, gained credibility with people. I was surprised.”
“What is the future of this country? I believe that the strong force in this country is the resistance.”