Honduras: Violations, Lobbying Continue

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Despite the Micheletti government’s announced intention following international and national pressure to lift the state of siege, the notice has not yet been published in the official gazette, and rights violations continue.  The de facto government issued a new decree allowing the government’s telecommunications agency to revoke licenses for radio and television stations that transmit messages that promote “social anarchy,” ensuring that censorship can continue.  Police continued excessive use of force against protestors, and some protestors remain in detention. Meanwhile, hopes for dialogue increased as the Organization of American States negotiators arrived, but no end to the crisis is yet in sight.

Human rights groups described to the New York Times “an atmosphere of growing impunity, one in which security forces act unhindered by legal constraints.  Their free hand had been strengthened by an emergency decree allowing the police to detain anyone suspected of posing a threat.” The Times describes how “Rosamaria Valeriano Flores was returning home from a visit to a public health clinic and found herself in a crowd of people dispersing from a demonstration in support of the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya. As she crossed the central square of the Honduran capital, a group of soldiers and police officers pushed her to the ground and beat her with their truncheons. She said the men kicked out most of her top teeth, broke her ribs and split open her head.” The article quotes a Honduran human rights lawyer as cautioning, “Elections are a risk because people won’t vote… The soldiers and police at the polls will be the same ones as those who have been carrying out the repression.”

Four United Nations human rights experts expressed their serious concern about the human rights violations in Honduras since the return of deposed President Manuel Zelaya, commenting that “police and military officers are resorting to the use of excessive force including beatings and shootings, in order to dissolve street protests.”  They noted that “in the last few days, five people have been killed as a result of the political disturbances, including an 18-year-old youth.” They asserted that “there have been large-scale detentions, in some cases in non-authorized detention facilities where those arrested run the risk of being subjected to torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”  The experts expressed special concern about increased allegations concerning attacks and intimidation against journalists and human rights defenders.

Journalists without Borders maintained that as of October 6th some media critical of the regime remained silenced as their equipment had been confiscated by government security forces.    

As dialogue began with the OAS, police and military “repressed Zelaya supporters” in front of the Brazilian embassy, using tear gas to dislodge protestors.  

In an unusual twist for Central America, twelve indigenous Hondurans sought political asylum in the Guatemalan embassy in Tegucigalpa , citing threats from the police, military and government. The group includes four women and two children.

“Honduras Silences Voices, Drops Civil Liberties,” Associated Press, Sept. 28, 2009. 

This video demonstrates how the resistance is being silenced in Honduras.

UN experts expressed concern that former paramilitaries from Colombia were being recruited to protect wealthy people and property in Honduras.

Zelaya says he must be restored to power by October 15 in order for there to be time for his government to create adequate conditions for campaigning leading up to elections scheduled for November 29.

At least $400,000 has been spent by the de facto government in lobbying Washington, according to the New York Times, while the Washington Post pegs the total between the government and Honduran businesses at $600,000.     

“They’re PR People, Not Miracle Workers,” read the headline in Al Kamen’s column explaining that Micheletti’s government has hired Washington PR firms “to tell U.S. officials, their staffs, the media and nongovernmental groups how the coup leaders are really the good guys.” Kamen comments, “Seemed reasonable, a few weeks ago, to figure that contract would fund a more-than-adequate spin operation. But not after last week, when the Hondurans did their own version of media outreach, suspending civil liberties and sending soldiers to raid a radio station…. The troops carted off the equipment. A television station was also shut down…. All this just makes any PR effort a lot tougher. So if the coup backers insist on adopting a tougher line, threatening to raid the Brazilian Embassy and such, they might want to pony up for a larger PR effort. Or they could stop raiding media outlets.”