Welcome to the New Honduras, Where Right-Wing Death Squads Proliferate
Things are back to normal in
At least that's the message of right-wing president Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo Sosa and much of the international community. Several
But this image ignores a new reality in
Dozens were killed in street violence between the June 28 coup and the November 29 election, with the deaths largely attributed to police, military forces and other coup supporters. Lobo has tried to distance himself from the coup regime, but since the election, at least a dozen people have been killed and others beaten or raped in attacks with clear political hallmarks. The victims include a teacher shot in front of his students; a young union leader whose body was found with signs of torture after she disappeared; the daughter of a prominent anti-coup TV reporter shot in her home; five journalists killed in March alone; and a TV reporter killed April 21. In December, well-known gay rights activist Walter Trochez was kidnapped in
Authorities have largely attributed the murders and attacks to random crime and gang violence. Street crime has been at epidemic levels in
"They've pulled away from the mass repression in the streets and gone for individual assassinations," said Victoria Cervantes of the
This spring at least one campesino has been murdered and at least four shot in a land struggle in the Bajo Aguan area, where campesinos are trying to reclaim land from wealthy palm plantation owners. Campesinos who occupy and lay claim to unused land have long suffered violence from police and hired guns. Zelaya was largely supportive of such campesino movements, which are legal under agrarian reform laws, but the conflicts have escalated since his ouster.
In the Bajo Aguan area, locals say, former Colombian paramilitary members have been hired to terrorize campesinos. And Billy Joya, a notorious member of the "Battalion 316" death squad during the 1980s military dictatorship, has reportedly returned to train militias to fight drug traffickers and "guerrillas," which is taken to mean the resistance movement. Post-dictatorship, Joya was charged with illegal detention, torture and murder of opponents. He has since lived in
While the land struggles Joya was hired to fight predate the coup, campesino and resistance leaders say they are integral to the larger struggle over
In light of the violence and human rights abuses, Honduran and international rights groups have decried Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's move to restore more than $30 million in aid, including military aid. After the
The restoration of aid, while theoretically a boon to the poor, is crucial for the Lobo administration and business interests that backed the coup as a symbol of legitimacy.
"The main lobbyists for lightening the sanctions from the
Cervantes and Alexy Lanza, a Honduran now living in
"The resistance is worried about normalization of this new golpe (coup government), where death squads, privatization and intimidation become the new normal," said Lanza.
"That's ugly stuff, and it didn't even merit rebuke from the
Hence the political situation in
COHA executive director Larry Birns noted that the symbolism is so important, the
Under the brief reign of coup leader Robert Micheletti, the Honduran Congress voted to withdraw from ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the
"Lobo would be happy to keep PetroCaribe and even go into ALBA and get all of the member countries to recognize his administration, but he knows it is impossible for him to do so and not alienate his allies, the Honduran business elites, conservative political groups, the military -- all of whom orchestrated, funded and backed the coup -- and of course the U.S.," said Rodolfo Pastor de Maria y Campos, Zelaya’s deputy chief at the Honduran embassy in Washington through February. He now works with the advocacy group Hondurans for Democracy. "He depends on all of the above to remain president and has been warned to behave if he wishes to prevent being kicked out like Zelaya."
Any aid is sorely needed in the country known as Latin American's third poorest after
"There are people leaving daily, much more than before," said Luther Castillo Harry, a doctor in the Atlantic coastal communities of Garifuna, African-descended Hondurans considered indigenous. "Many of them are dying on the way to the
Since government funding was revoked after the coup, Castillo has seen 11 local community clinics with live-in doctors shuttered, and the hospital he runs struggles to secure basic necessities and medications. This is just one example of how conditions for Hondurans living outside the elite business and military class have deteriorated since the coup. A report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research notes that after healthy economic growth under Zelaya, the economy contracted since the coup, and the coup regime's curfew alone cost about $50 million.
"Tourism has been crushed, really large sectors of the economy are just not functioning, the whole public sector has just been devastated," said Pine, author of a book about maquiladoras, violence and alcohol in
Lobo's proposed new budget won't help. It raises taxes but cuts spending on most social, education and health programs, while increasing budgets for the military by 23 percent and expanding subsidies to promote business by 15 percent.
Honduran and international rights groups say the
Since its days as a banana republic run essentially as a huge plantation for foreign companies,
Opponents say CAFTA has already increased poverty, economic inequality and displacement in
"The recent surge in violence in
market. What Hondurans got instead was a series of governments that did the opposite."
Main thinks if the targeted attacks, threats and murders continue without censure from the
"They're picking off resistance activists from different sectors," he said. "If they can keep doing it with impunity, I don't see how the resistance can survive."
But Juan Almendares, a Tegucigalpa-based doctor well known internationally for his public health and human rights work over three decades, is confident the resistance will bear fruit. He sees it as the convergence of long-time campesino struggles with a growing awareness of environmentalism, labor rights, LGBT rights and other issues among the Honduran public.
"The resistance is the most beautiful experience of my life," he said. "It's transformative. The spirit of the people has been released. This is a pre-revolutionary process, with solidarity and unity. It's a new pueblo, a new people."