Bill Quigley is a law professor and Director of the Law Clinic and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University New Orleans.
By Bill Quigley and Laura Raymond
Today, October 21, the democratic resistance in Honduras will celebrate Artists in Resistance Day. This event contrasts directly with today’s official recognition of Honduras Armed Forces day. The resistance, which is working for a truly democratic Honduras, renamed the day and created an alternative celebration because of a brutal police attack on musicians and others last month that left one dead and scores injured.
On September 15, 2010, a non-violent march and musical concert in Honduras was attacked by police and security forces. Incredibly the police involved in the attack made it a point to destroy the instruments of the musicians.
The musicians who were attacked called for today to be renamed Artists in Resistance Day. To mark the occasion the collective Artists in Resistance and the National Front of Youth in Resistance (FNJR) organized concerts tonight in San Pedro Sula and in Tegucigalpa.
These groups reflect just a small sliver of the National Front of Popular Resistance inn Honduras (FNRP for its initials in Spanish), one of the most mobilized social movements currently taking shape in our hemisphere. The FNRP represents social movements, organizations and individuals from nearly every sector of Honduran society. They are organizing to stand up to one of Latin America’s foremost human rights crises: the 2009 coup in Honduras and the intimidation, assaults, silencing, and killing of those who have resisted the subsequent regimes that took power. The hope is that today’s concerts will underscore the resistance to the crisis in Honduras and mobilize more international solidarity with the FNRP.
Ongoing Crisis in Honduras
Since the coup in June 2009, two regimes – the de facto coup government under Robert Micheletti and the administration of the sitting president Porfiro Lobo – have done little to protect human rights while police and security forces have subjected members or those identified with the FNRP to mass arrests, beatings, tear gas raids, rape and other forms of torture, and kidnappings. Judges critical of the coup and post-coup authorities have been divested of their positions, transferred arbitrarily, and faced disciplinary proceedings.
At least ten journalists have been killed in 2010 alone, under circumstances overwhelmingly indicative that these were assassinations. Journalists not killed have faced state censorship. Violence and repression of political speech, public assembly, and critical democracy have become a part of daily life.
Rather than investigate these crimes and hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions, Honduran officials have looked the other way. The official line mouthed by Honduran officials and getting much play in Honduran newspapers (which make no effort to hide their support for the coup and post-coup regimes) is that this violence is a by-product of drug and gang wars. Sadly, this narrative has gained some traction in the blogosphere and diplomatic circles even though these speculations are not based on any independent investigation or arrests.
The surge in violence against union leaders, community organizers, journalists and activists has in fact come only after the coup and the targets are undeniably leaders and members of the resistance.
According to the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) there have been 83 murders of members of the FNRP, countless injuries from assaults, and a steady stream of exiled individuals who have left the country after being raped or otherwise tortured and/or have had their lives threatened as a result of being part of, or being perceived as part of the resistance.
Time to “Move on”?
Despite the overthrow of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya last year, the repressive actions of the interim Micheletti coup regime, the illegitimate “election” of Lobo (one that groups like the Carter Center and even the United Nations refused to observe because of its clear illegality), the lack of justice for any of the victims of the coup and the subsequent and continuing political violence, the post-coup authorities are repeatedly saying that it is time for the Honduran people to move on.
The latest incarnation of effort to “move on” is a bogus invitation by Pepe Lobo to the FNRP to dialogue about the Constituent Assembly process. The FNRP considered the invitation carefully. They met in two separate assemblies—one for the Directorate and one of the General Assembly—and decided to reject the invitation to dialogue because of the ongoing violence and repression directed at the resistance. The reasons for rejecting included the fact that President Zelaya is still being forced into exile with false charges against him, that there are many political prisoners, and that there has no accountability for all the human rights violations against the movement. FNRP leadership stated that this was just another attempt by Lobo to legitimize his authority before a national and international audience.
The FNRP is committed to changing the Honduras constitution but in a way that reflects democracy and human rights. Many in Honduras view the constitution as having been written for the elite of the country and giving far too few rights to the poor and historically marginalized. Some say the constitution is one of the main reasons why Honduras has one of the highest poverty rates and gaps between rich and poor in the Americas.
The Constituent Assembly, or constituyente in Spanish, has been the principal focus of the FNRP for much of the past year. They recently they presented 1.3 million signatures that they had gathered in support of the process.
At first glance, it might seem counter-intuitive; if this is the movement’s primary focus and the current President wants to dialogue about it, wouldn’t the resistance at least try to engage? The resistance views Lobo as an illegitimate official and actively involved in the repression against the FNRP. Dialogue with Lobo had the potential to compromise the careful, deeply democratic process that the FNRP has been engaging every sector of Honduran society— unions, youth, peasant farmers, LGBTQ groups, and beyond—with for months.
The FNRP has now resolved to move forward with the Constituent Assembly as an autonomous, deeply democratic process. This is incredibly exciting, even historic, for our hemisphere and an example of participatory democracy that we all could learn from.
Meanwhile, in the United States, 29 members of Congress took a bold step, especially given the lead-up to midterm elections, in issuing a strongly worded condemnation of the “deplorable human rights record” in Honduras listing several recent cases of political violence. See http://quotha.net/docs/honduras/10.19.10.Dear_Colleague_Letter.pdf.
The members of Congress registered their “serious concern that the rule of law is directly threatened by members of the Honduran police and armed forces” and called on the Obama Administration to end all direct assistance to Honduran authorities, especially the police and military. They also called on the US to cease its lobbying for the re-admittance of Honduras into the Organization of American States (OAS).
While most member countries of the OAS have stood firm in their rejection of Honduras as a member of the OAS, U.S. Secretary of State Clinton has made Honduras’s reinstatement a US priority in the region, raising it in her meetings with Latin American heads of state and lobbying for it at various regional meetings. For reasons that the Center for Constitutional Rights laid out in our Open Letter to Secretary of State Clinton, the Obama Administration must stop and the OAS should remain firm in rejecting Honduras as a member. See http://ccrjustice.org/files/CCR%20Letter%20to%20Clinton-Honduras.pdf
Those committed to working in solidarity with ordinary people organizing for democracy, equality and social justice in the Americas are outraged that the Obama Administration has become the Lobo regime’s most important ally. Without US support, the Lobo regime would not have been able to hold its illegitimate elections or hold on to power for as long as it has.
But history shows that anti-democratic regimes in Latin America and elsewhere can be overcome, even when they have the backing of the US, by campaigns for democracy and human rights. The FNRP is working to show the way in Honduras. Those of us in solidarity from afar watch in admiration as they work to transform their country and salute their efforts to celebrate while doing so!
Tonight’s concert in San Pedro Sula with be streamed live via the FNRP’s website: http://www.resistenciahonduras.net/
Bill and Laura work at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
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