Elections in Honduras: Whitewashing the Path to a Past of Horrors
by Lisa Sullivan
School of Americas Watch
I came to Honduras to participate as a human rights observer of the electoral climate in a delegation organized by the Quixote Center. Several delegations converged, connecting some 30 U.S. citizens with dozens more from Canada, Europe and Latin America. In the days prior to the elections we scattered to different cities, towns and villages, meeting with fishermen, farmers, maquila workers, labor leaders, teachers and lawyers, as well as those who were jailed for carrying spray paint, hospitalized for being shot in the head by the military, and detained for reporting on the repression. It was, most likely, a bit off the 5-star, air-conditioned path of most of the mainstream journalists who are filling your morning papers with the wonders of today´s elections.
But by the evening of the day of the elections, what we had witnessed in previous days pushed those of us from the U.S. directly to the doors of our embassy in Tegucigalpa. We realized that this place, not the polling stations, was where this horrific destiny of Honduras, and perhaps all of Latin America, was being determined. And so the U.S. citizens among us took our statements and signs and determination there.
We were, indeed, greeted by many: dozens of guards with cameras, some 30 journalists, Honduran police with guns and also cameras, as well as a low flying helicopter that at least made us feel important. While the journalists let us read our entire statement of why these elections should be not be recognized by our government because of the egregious repression, the embassy guards wouldn´t even let us leave our slip of paper. That, in spite of the fact that the embassy´s human rights officer, Nate Macklin, told our delegation leader to make sure to let him know if there were any human rights abuses.
Any? In each of the many corners of the country visited by the 70-plus international observers, we witnessed the fear, repression, intimidation, bribery and outright brutality of the government security forces (note: we were there to observe the electoral climate, not electoral observers, since we consider the elections to be illegal. Likewise, the UN, OAS, and Carter Center and other bedrock electoral groups boycotted "the event" as many Hondurans called the day.)
As elections were in full swing in the morning, our delegate and nurse practitioner, Silvia Metzler visited Angel Salgado and Maria Elena Hernandez who were languishing in the intensive care unit of the Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa . Both had been shot in the head at one of the many military checkpoints, no questions asked. Doctors give Angel a zero possibility of survival and he leaves behind a 6 year old son. Maria Elena has a better chance of recovery, but it will be a long road. She was selling snacks on the side of the road to support her teenage children when caught by military bullet.
Tom Loudon was on the streets of San Pedro Sula when police tanks and water trucks and tear gas canisters attacked a peaceful march of the resistance movement. It took him a long time to find other members of his delegation who had scattered in the frenzy, but they were luckier than two observers from the Latin America Council of Churches who were detained or a Reuters photographer who was injured in the massive display of repression. Dozens of cells phones captured the police beating anyone they could catch with their billy clubs.
The first person I thought of as I awoke on election day was Wlmer Rivero, a fisherman in a small town with the big name of Puerto Grande. I kept thinking of the fear in his eyes as he relayed how the police have been visiting his house and asking for him, ever since he trekked 6 days on foot to greet a returning President Zelaya. Each local mayor has been asked to put together a list of resistance leaders, and his name was one of 22 from his town. We suggested to Wilmer that he not sleep at home during the electoral days. He called the next day to thank us for our advise. The police had ransacked his home, and that of many of his neighbors, the night before elections, threatening his life. But, he wondered, what will he do now.
I also thought of Merly Eguigure who I had visited 2 days earlier in a cold and crumbling jail cell, reeking of human waste. She had been captured for having a can of spray paint in her car. Though she was released shortly before elections, she will face trial and probably prison for defacing government property. Merly claims that the spray paint was to be used in an activity to raise awareness of violence towards women. Perhaps authorities worried that the paint was destined to add a new message to the city walls. Every square inch of blank wall space in the city is covered with powerful graffiti against the coup. In spite of government to whitewash over it, the blank spaces are filled in again within hours.
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