Monday, November 19, 2012

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.

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