Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Christians in Resistance Honduras

Christians in Resistance - January 26, 2010

The delegation met with members of a coalition of different Christian groups against the coup including the Christian Popular Movement the Network of Pastors in Resistance, Agape, the Ecumenical Human Rights Observation, and others.

They told us that the church hierarchies, both Catholic and Protestant were clearly for the coup. In the base communities of the protestant churches, there was a lot of confusion. There was a sector that did not accept support for the coup and a sector that followed the leaders blindly. Some of the people who did not accept supporting the coup, while not a part of any hierarchies, are leaders of the base communities.

“So under this situation of the coup we took the brave and risky position to be on the side of justice, on the side of persecuted, suffering people, and denounce those who used weapons against the people with the blessing of the church hierarchies. Those of us here represent Christians who have a clear theological position about what is happening in Honduras.”

“The Popular Christian Movement is ecumenical and includes Protestants, Catholics, and those who are not of any particular faith. Our fundamental theology is the theology of liberation.”

The pastors involved with the Ecumenical Human Rights Observation told us , “We accompany the resistance; we are in the streets, we march with the resistance, we pray with the resistance and we sing with the resistance, and we are beaten and swallow tear gas with the resistance because we see the Christ who walks with the people. But also we provide humanitarian help, medical help, food, and lodging when the resistance has needed it.

As Christians we are on the side of human rights for those who have been persecuted by the de facto government.

We are few but with Jesus we are many.”

The Network of Pastors in Resistance is composed of pastors of different denominations with the wish to serve the community with social consciousness. Their most important ministry is the medical brigades. “That has helped us see that this country needs structural change and that the church has a responsibility to obtain these changes.” After the coup, the group issued a communiqué that was heard on the radio by others who then joined the movement.

The Church hierarchies accuse the resistance Christians of getting money from Hugo Chavez. “The only money that we receive is money that God sends through our members. We are independent because we haven't sold our conscience to anyone.”

The Ecumenical Observation (Observatory) of Human Rights is part of a larger project. In August, the World Council of Churches and the Latin American Council of Churches came to Honduras and they recommended a broader commission to document the situation and cases of human rights violations. In Honduras, there is a national board of the Latin American Council made up of 5 churches, the historic churches such as the Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, reformed church, Mennonites and others. And at the Latin American level it is 180 churches or so of various denominations.

The project of the Observatory is to get information out to the rest of Latin America and Europe and to develop campaigns on human rights cases. Part of the human rights work also included not recognizing the elections on November 29th and demanding the restitution of Zelaya . The project visits police facilities and has helped liberate detained persons. The organization ahs also visited the families of the killed, detained and disappeared and offers help to those who have to leave the country.

“We suffer a lot, this is hard work. We don’t know if the police or military will assassinate or repress us. We have had the great satisfaction to feel free when we are able to help someone.”

We asked what has been the response of the church to their organizations.

The Agape Church pastor answered that Agape is a member of the Cofraternity of Churches.

“We have been strongly questioned within this organization and there is the idea that we receive money to support the resistance. In this Cofraternity, Agape and the Network of Pastors are considered subversive. In some radio stations, they say that we are supporting delinquents. The response of the believers who belong to the churched varies: there are 3 responses, “I don’t want to hear anything, I want to pray in the temple.” A smaller group has said, “good for the coup” because Chavez (Satan) will come and bring communism so then the coup is from God”. A third group, which is our group, says we want to reject the coup. And we have raised a prophetic voice in favor of the poor and the most needy. “

The pastors said that there has also been pressure from the U.S. religious leadership on Honduran churches not to oppose the coup.

There has also been repression against religious figures in resistance. “Father Tamayo had his citizenship nullified by the golpistas and he was expelled from Honduras. (Note: Father Tamayo is a prominent resistance priest who was originally from El Salvador and became a Honduran citizen)

“We want to establish relationships with churches outside of Honduras to assist the resistance from a perspective of faith and to support our projects of theological meetings to develop faith committed to the people.

The resistance does have God. The resistance knows it but the media says that God is on the side of the coup.”

Monday, February 8, 2010

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.”

Friday, February 5, 2010

Delegation January 26th - The Gay-Lesbian Community in Resistance

Meeting with Activists from the Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender-Intrasexual Community

We met with GLBTI activists at the office of Kukulcan. The organization is named after the Mayan god of the sun. It represents the beginning of a new era, a new dawn for society. The organization works with diverse sexualities and gender issues. We met with Eric, the human rights organizer for Kukulcan. We also met with Sandra from the Association for a Better Life for people affected by HIV/AIDS in Honduras and other representatives of the LBGTI community from the Violet Collective and other organizations.

We asked them about the effect of the coup on the LBGTI community and their perspectives on the situation and the future.

They said that before the coup, sexual diversity groups were not very strong. However, when Zelaya was elected, he made efforts to include the community that has traditionally been repressed by the church and by big businesses. Zelaya felt that they should be part of his “fourth urn” project to rewrite the constitution to expand the base of government. As a result, when the coup first occurred, communities of sexual diversity were part of the group that spontaneously surrounded the presidential palace.

After the coup, the community found that it had common ground with the resistance and became involved in the struggle. Although there was initially some prejudice, as the community became more involved, it was able to overcome this and become a real part of the Frente. One thing they have learned is to involve themselves in the political process. Before the coup, they didn't have much contact with campesinos or unions. When they became involved in the movement, even in the resistance, terms would be used that were derogatory. But they talked about these issues with the Frente and on Radio Globo and the Internet and overall they saw a transformation in the acceptance and inclusion of their community in the resistance. In this sense they felt that the coup and the resistance have moved Honduras forward in a big leap.

However, the GLBTI community has also been among the most brutalized by the coup. The community has lost 19 members who have been murdered by different security forces.

The best known victim was Walter Trochez, an LBGTI activist and member of the resistance. On December 13, a few days before he was to leave Honduras because of threats against his life including an earlier kidnapping, he was kidnapped and tortured by the security forces. The military refused to do the requested autopsy after his body was found, because they claimed he had AIDS. However, it was obvious that he had been shot in the eye and his tongue had been cut out. There has been no official investigation of his murder. Walter's parents are U.S. citizens and have asked the U.S. embassy to investigate, but so far there has been no satisfactory response.

Other deaths of members of the GLBTI community of a suspicious nature are also attributed to the coup. Many of them have been made to look like common crimes but there have been many more deaths than would be expected statistically. Also, of the 19 deaths, four were well known to be members of the Frente.

The activists we talked to hope that their community which in the past has been invisible, will become visible, that perhaps in the future they will have more participation in political life, maybe someone from the community could even be be a congressperson when democracy is restored. They believe that it may be four years or 10 years, but that they will see a society where they will be recognized.

Meanwhile their organizations plan to continue participating in the resistance. The activists we interviewed reiterated their committment to the movement and to the belief that a new Honduras is possible.

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