Friday, November 30, 2012

Comments of a Honduran Patriot / Primary Election Day

The following interview was conducted by delegation member  Rick Sterling outside a Tegucigalpa  polling station on November 18, 2012. The photo shows the interviewee, a 79 year old retired accountant and Honduran patriot.


There is a hope with the LIBRE Party. There is an awakening of the people because of how much they have suffered. Honduras is a country where there is almost no respect for human rights.  It is a country where there is very little employment.  Due to this lack of work a lot of young people resort to stealing,  assaulting.  Food is scarce and expensive. Our small farmers including those in the Aguan have no land of their own. They have to work on other people's lands and are paid very little.  Others have nothing to do.


In 1963 we were governed by Dr Ramon Villeda Morales. He was in office  for six years.  At the end of his term he made an agreement with the armed forces, effectively resulting in a self-coup.  Because of the agreement between Morales and the armed forces, the Liberal Party candidate Modesto Rodolpho Alvarado who was an intellectual  and my teacher could not ascend to the presidency

And then there was Ramon Ernesto Cruz who was in power for just 14 months in 1972 before he was overthrown in  a military coup.  For most of two decades we had military governments.   Since then the power has alternated between the Liberal and National Parties.  But the people have been denied any real change or improvement.


The government of Pepe Lobo will continue and the economic and human rights situation in the country will continue in the same way as the past two and a half years.  The hope is that things will change when the LIBRE Party comes to power in one year.  In that case there will be a new constitution. Then there will be more consideration what the Honduran people really  need: work, security, respect for life, respect for human rights. Then the children and youth will be able to study and get a good  education.


The country is held back because there are some constitutional articles which cannot be changed. We call
them "articles of stone". Anyone who tried to change these was branded a traitor and could even be imprisoned. With a new constitution, people who want to govern the country well can  rise to power and begin to make real changes. That is our hope.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Interaction with Evil Incarnate at Polling Site: a personal account

My observer team went to 3 polling places in a working class neighborhood, and there was a carnival-like atmosphere throughout the day, with much good will expressed by everyone we met, regardless of party affiliation. We encountered support and gratitude for our presence throughout the day, as we have the entire trip. Early on we started talking to a man in front of one the National Party rooms. He was expensively dressed, and when i asked his occupation, he identified himself as Luis Antonio Lopez, the chief of security for Juan Orlando, one of the 2 main National Party candidates for president (out of 7,) who is currently leading in the latest vote count. Lopez went on to say that he had been a member of the 316 Brigade, the notorious death squad during the contra war period in the 1980's, when civil wars were raging in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and that the CIA actively collaborated with 316. I asked him if he supported death squads, and he said they were necessary, but there weren't any now. I asked him about the candidates being killed, and he said only "gangs in marginal neighborhoods" were being killed, as if that were fine.

Then he proudly stated that he owns an original Nazi swastika worth a lot of money. I asked him what he thought of the Nazis, and he said he "admired their discipline, but didn't agree with all of their programs." He also said he has many friends who are professionals who support the Nazis. I decided to see how far i could push him to talk, so i asked him what he thought about torture. He said it was necessary to use it, especially against leftists to make them talk. I asked what kind of torture was best, and he said "medieval methods worked best" indicating the pulling of arms, but it was important to "hurt where it doesn't show." He said psychological torture was best to use with young people, by keeping them isolated from their families.

Then he asked us if we wanted any cocaine, and offered to buy us some (not sure of amount) for 100 lempiras, about $5. Then he said he had friends in the gangs. My group partner and I were somewhat in shock, and had no idea what to think. As soon as he left, a woman from LIBRE ran up to us and said, "Do you know who you were talking to?" Then she proceeded to tell us she was a neighbor, that he is a killer and he "mistreated" his wife so badly she had to go to the hospital and then left the country to the US. Once she heard gunshots in the house. We had two more conversations with him outside the polling place, and the last time he offered to help us get 2 kilos of cocaine to take back to the US from the Bajo Aguan area (where more than 70 peasant farmers have been killed.)

Everything he told us coincides with the commonly held belief that it is indeed the military and police in this country that are driving the drug trade. He had a matter of fact coldness about him that made my skin crawl, and he was such a braggart that I'm not sure I would have believed him had it not been for the woman from LIBRE adding credence to everything he said.

Bullets, Ballots and the Bajo Aguán

Aguan Vally, Colon, Honduras by Greg McCain

Election day here in Honduras started with an email message from MUCA (The Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán). It stated that the day before, at about 4:30PM, hundreds of soldiers had entered La Confianza, the campesino community which belongs to MUCA. The soldiers had their guns at the ready as they went up and down the streets where children were playing. Someone asked them what they were doing there. Their response: “We just want to capture a tacamiche.” Tacamiche is a reference to the campesinos who occupied a banana plantation in the 1990s and were brutally evicted by 500 members of the National Police [i]. The soldiers only stayed in La Confianza for a short while, but their message was clear, we are watching and ready to pounce.

The military presence in the Aguán has dramatically increased since the 2009 coup which ousted President Zalaya. To enter the town of Tocoa, a fifteen-minute drive from La Confianza, you have to pass through a military checkpoint. Plus, military personnel occupy several of its hotels on a semi-regular basis. On this rainy Election Day, there were more military transport trucks than usual at the entrance to the city, and one truck was mounted with an automatic weapon pointing towards the cars as they passed the checkpoint, a soldier behind it with his finger near the trigger:

Torrential rain fell continuously, as it has done everyday during this rainy season. But neither the rain nor the presence of soldiers deterred voters from turning out to the polls. The military presence here has taken on the characteristic of a daily slap in the face, a reminder of who runs the country, and just as the daily deluge of rain harkens memories back to Hurricane Mitch, which devastated the country in 1998, the threat of military destruction always sits on the Honduran consciousness.  For the campesinos, it is more than just a threat. They have experienced brutal evictions, disappearances and assassinations at the hands of the military, police and paramilitary guards hired by members of the ruling elite.

For these internal elections, the most frequent case of alleged corruption involved vote buying. In the community of Quebrada de Arena, the rumor was that the Liberal Party presidential candidate, Yani Rosenthal was offering 500 lempiras ($25) per vote. In Juan Antonio, the small town down the road, Rosenthal was only offering 200 ($10). Also, word was out that mass amounts of ID cards that are needed to vote were found in offices belonging to Juan Orlando Hernandez, the current President of the National Congress and candidate for President in the National Party. These claims have yet to be substantiated, but in a country where these two parties have controlled the government through political corruption with impunity for 114 years not much in the way of an investigation is expected to happen.

Back in La Confianza hopes were riding high that the bipartisanship of the oligarchy will finally be broken. Yoni Rivas, Director of MUCA, is one of many candidates in the LIBRE party for Deputy of the National Congress from the department of Colon. LIBRE stands for the Liberation and Re-foundation party. It’s presidential candidate, Xiomara Castro, is the wife of ex-president Zalaya and much of the energy of a popular uprising against the ruling elite that was generated by the coup has been channeled into her campaign. But more importantly, the supporters of LIBRE aren’t putting all of their hopes in the Presidential candidate alone. They understand that in order to change the course of the country they need to greatly overhaul the National Congress as well as local offices. And so, people from all walks of life have thrown their hats into the political ring as candidates for LIBRE. In the little towns that populate the road between Tocoa and Trujillo on the Caribbean coast, Hondurans are invigorated by candidates that they actually know and see on a daily basis.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Things went smoothly at Escuela Republica Nicaragua and Escuela Inice

Our first voting station was Escuela Repulica Nicaragua. Voting started about an hour late because of the late delivery of materials to all the parties. By mid-morning, lines had formed outside the voting rooms -- the longest outside the National Party's rooms. We didn't observe any rights violations, but we were told that some Liberal party members were asking Libre voters not to bother because their presidential candidate was already chosen and they should vote in the Liberal contest instead. Someone also reported a scuffle in the front of the building between two National Party supporters. Otherwise the school had a community feel and groups of people gathered to socialize after voting. 

We went to Escuela Inice in the afternoon in the El Pedregal neighbourhood. Voters slowly trickled in and things were calm for our entire time at the school. We had the chance to speak to many Hondurans who were out to vote. Almost everyone we spoke to welcomed us and thanked us for being present. Pictured above is our group leader Diana Bohn being interviewed. 

 Above: Line of voters at Escuela Republica Nicaraguar
Right: Police outside Escuela Republica Nicaragua
Below: Libre flags on the street

Circulating throughout polling places

Military stand at door of polling place

Voters take to the booths 

Voting Begins in Tegucigalpa

The Honduran Solidarity Network delegation has been visiting various voting stations in some of the largest neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa as human rights observers during the Internal Elections which will determine the candidates for the November 2013 General Elections.

Voting centers were scheduled to open at 7:00am, however some of the schools where these are located opened their doors late supposedly due to logistic issues. No major incidents have been reported. The delegates will continue to monitor the process throughout the day.

The LIBRE party voters at John F. Kennedy school this morning have reported that the process takes about five minutes.

After finding their names on a list the voters enter the classroom to cast their ballot.

National and international media has been covering the elections in some neighborhoods including the John F. Kennedy sector in Tegucigalpa.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Run-up to the Primary Elections

Report from Honduras 11/15/2012

Originally posted on La Voz de los de Abajo website

Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle of La Voz de los de Abajo will be reporting daily from Honduras this week from the Honduras Solidarity Network delegation doing human rights / election observation at the request of the Honduran resistance.

Honduras is buzzing with talk of the primary elections this weekend, but there's something distinctly different than the normal election buzz. This is the first ever election that a party constituted by the array of social movements that is the Honduran resistance will participate. Though skepticism abounds, it has more to do with whether the military and the oligarchy will respect the election results next November during the general elections than whether there are candidates worth voting for. When Hondurans go to the polls this Sunday, those voting in the primary for candidates of the LIBRE party (which stands for "Freedom and Re-foundation") will be voting for people that for the last two years have walked along side of them under clouds of tear gas, gone to funerals together for compañeros killed for resisting the coup, shared intense and difficult moments and debates but never lost sight of the dream of re-founding Honduras. These candidates of the resistance fall into five currents within the LIBRE party but are all united behind the presidential candidacy of Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, wife of President Mel Zelaya who was ousted three years ago by a U.S.-backed military coup after instituting a series of policies to respond to the demands of Honduran social movements to address the dire needs of poor Hondurans. These candidates are drawn from the millions of Hondurans who have refused to give up on the dream of re-founding Honduras from below, of creating a new constitution that recognizes the human rights of all, that wrests power from the ten families who control Honduras, that breaks the chains of U.S. domination and manipulation and that begins the historic task of building a Honduras run by and for all Hondurans, the Afro-descendants, the indigenous, women, peasants, youth, all of the sectors who together are the great majority of this small Central American nation.

As elections observers, the several dozen of us from the Honduras Solidarity Network will be observing for irregularities during the primary elections on Sunday and responding to denunciations of violations of human rights. Numerous LIBRE candidates have already been killed but the resistance has been undeterred and is in high gear preparing for Sunday's primaries. Already there is word that known members of the LIBRE party are having trouble getting their voter identification cards from the responsible government agencies. This is still a country, it is important to remember, run completely by those who supported, helped orchestrate and inherited the legacy of a military coup that took place just three years ago. Many within the resistance question whether a fair electoral fight is possible under these conditions, especially with the ongoing murders of peasants, resistance candidates and journalists, but despite this skepticism, there is clearly a lot of energy being put into the electoral process by many in the resistance. Though these are just the primaries and the actual election is still a year away, the excitement amongst the bases of the resistance appears to be rising.

When I arrived this evening at the house of my good friend's aunt in San Lorenzo, I was surprised to hear her excitement. She was never an overtly political person, always so caught up in trying to survive and eek out an existence for her kids and grandkids that she never even listened to the news. But now she is glued to the news and has been going on all evening about the massive crowds that have greeted Xiomara everywhere she's gone in the country, about all she's learned since I saw her last three years ago, about the World Bank, about the Honduran oligarchy, about privatization, about the reasons behind the coup, about U.S. backing of the coup and more.

When I ask her how she thinks people in her neighborhood, one of the poorest on the outskirts of San Lorenzo, Valle, feel about the elections, she says, "Before creating the LIBRE party, people didn't believe in the political parties, it was just promises and promises and no follow-through. But now we get to vote for people we know, people from our communities who have been with us in the resistance."

Tomorrow I travel to Tegucigalpa to link up with the rest of the Honduras Solidarity Network delegation and I'll be posting daily reports. On Sunday Martha and millions like her will add to the millions of steps that have been taken in resistance marches and funeral processions a few more steps as they walk to the polls to vote. Regardless of the primary outcome, one thing is sure. Hondurans know their enemy and are not giving up on their dreams.