On July 5, Isis Obed Murillo Mencias was shot to death by police in Tegucigalpa while peacefully demonstrating against the Honduran military coup. He was 19. Three weeks later, in El Paraiso, Pedro Magdiel Munoz was found, tortured and murdered by the Honduran military, after participating in a pro-democracy demonstration.
These and other state-sanctioned murders in Honduras appear in a report from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights following a fact-finding mission in July. In the interim, media outlets critical of the coup have been shut down, and international human rights organizations have faced delays or restricted access to areas of Honduras where there are reports of further atrocities.
The women’s group Feministas de Honduras en Resistencia has documented 19 cases of rape by police officers against women protesters, the tip of the iceberg since most women are afraid to report. According to a spokesperson for the organization, “We’ve obtained testimonials from women who’ve been sexually abused, beaten with cudgels on different parts of their bodies, especially the breasts and buttocks.”
Since the June military coup that deposed Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, thousands of Hondurans have taken to the streets in protest, to be met with brutal repression by police and soldiers. Investigators from Amnesty International report that “detention and ill treatment of protestors are being employed as forms of punishment for those openly opposing the de facto government.”
And yet the demonstrations continue. The Honduran people face tear gas, batons, illegal detentions, sexual violence, torture and murder because they know that this is a struggle for survival. According to the World Bank: “Overall, 50.7 per cent of Hondurans have a consumption level below the full poverty line, and a total of 23.7 per cent of the population have consumption levels below the extreme poverty line.”
Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Americas, and it also has one of the largest income gaps. President Zelaya had raised the minimum wage. He was on a campaign to grant land rights to poor farmers. He had moved against the social and environmental excesses of foreign mining companies. In short, he had to go.
Fascism, which is to say severe and violent state repression in support of corporate interests, requires a narrative. You can’t simply say, “We got rid of the president and shot and tortured demonstrators because they were bad for business.” Enter the lobbyists.
The senior apologist for the Honduran junta is Lanny Davis, a Washington lobbyist who once represented the military dictatorship in Pakistan, and more recently ran Hilary Clinton’s dirty tricks campaign during her bid for the presidency. Davis is currently employed by the Latin American Business Council of Honduras. One of his closest allies is Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs under George W. Bush. Noriega works for the Honduran Association of Maquiladoras, the sweat-shop owners’ club.
The narrative that Davis, Noriega, and others have concocted goes something like this: Zelaya was ousted by the Supreme Court and the Congress of Honduras because his campaign to change the constitution was an illegal power grab. He should really have been arrested but the military somehow screwed it up and evicted him instead.
Davis and Noriega are no amateurs. Their narrative, however sketchy, has filtered into the public discourse, has been picked up by mainstream media, and has even found its way into the pages of the Yukon News. But it doesn’t begin to hold water. The argument hinges on two points, first that Zelaya’s ouster was the result of a free and fair vote in the Honduran Congress, and second, that it was carried out by a decree of the Honduran Supreme Court.
According to Greg Grandin, professor of history at New York University and an expert on Honduran politics, the vote was fixed. “(M)embers who were suspected of being sympathetic to Zelaya weren’t called to session; others were told that congress was adjourned.” Even in this skewed parliament, more than 20 per cent opposed the motion to arrest Zelaya.
As for the Honduran Supreme Court, here are a few quotes from the US State Department’s 2008 human rights report regarding that institution: “Often ineffective, and subject to patronage, corruption, and political influence … low wages and lack of internal controls rendered judicial officials susceptible to bribery … powerful special interests exercised influence in the outcomes of court proceedings … politicized rulings … contributed to corruption in public and private institutions.”
So, to recap, a corrupt judiciary in the pay of a powerful elite authorized the military to kidnap and evict a popular left-wing president. The regime has repressed dissent and waged a skillful campaign of misinformation that has begun to affect news coverage and political will, especially in the US and Canada.
The junta is now playing for time. On November 29th, Zelaya’s term in office will end, and sham elections will take place in an atmosphere of extreme violent repression, without the basic human rights of freedom of the press, freedom of association, or security of the person.
What will Canada do? Under the current government there is little doubt. We will accept and begin to disseminate the narrative that has been bought and paid for by the business elite, let the junta run out the clock on democracy, ignore widespread human rights abuses, and endorse the results of the November “election.”
And then we’ll pat ourselves on the back and say we stood up for democracy. And I guess neither Isis Mencias nor Pedro Munoz will raise a voice in argument.
Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.