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May. 11 2010 - 10:16 am | 266 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Dirty War raging in Honduras?

Oscar Flores (holding sign) alleges he was kidnapped in Honduras for his political activism - Photo: M. Ballvé

Last June, the Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a military-backed coup. Now, human rights organizations are alleging a acts of intimidation, political assassinations, and kidnappings directed against dissident journalists, union leaders and activists.

Among other things, allegations are circling that unmarked cars carrying armed plainclothes men are arbitrarily detaining and harassing activists. It sounds like something right out of V.S. Naipaul’s 1977 descriptions of Dirty War-era Argentina:

In Argentina the killer cars—the cars in which the official gunmen go about their business—are Ford Falcons. The Falcon, which is made in Argentina, is a sturdy small car of unremarkable appearance, and there are thousands on the roads. But the killer Falcons are easily recognizable. They have no license plates. The cars—and the plainclothes men they carry—require to be noticed

Except in Honduras the cars that do the kidnapping aren’t 1970s Ford Falcons, but 4×4 white pickups with extended cabins.

I haven’t been in Honduras since November last year, when I covered the elections that chose a successor to Zelaya. I can’t know for sure what’s happening down there. But the notices arriving in my email inbox about the gunning down of journalists and the intimidation of activists have been grim to say the least.

The latest news to catch my eye was the kidnapping of Oscar Flores, an agronomist who was well-known in Honduras for his role in protests that followed the 2009 coup.

At protest after protest, Flores held aloft a sign that tallied the days that the coalition against the coup had been “in resistance.” Like many of the international journalists who covered the Honduras coup, I took plenty of pictures of Flores. Two of these accompany this blog post.

In other words, Flores became a kind of living symbol of opposition to the coup.

Although much of the international community has chosen to recognize the government of Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, elected in a ballot overseen by the post-coup interim government, the protests– led by labor leaders, students, teachers, and peasant groups– haven’t ceased. Flores has continued attending these protests.

Oscar Flores (holding sign) at a 2009 rally in Tegucigalpa

On April 20, immediately after such a march, Flores was kidnapped by three armed men who jumped out of an unmarked (and license plate-free) white pickup with an extended cab, according to testimony given by Flores himself to the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (CODEH), a local NGO. Flores says he was blindfolded and held at an unknown location, where he was interrogated and asked about his links to a university teachers’ union and other leaders of the resistencia.

Later, another person came to interrogate me. He asked me why I was in the resistance, if I knew the leaders of the unions and of the resistance.

The abductors, according to Flores, made a big show out of comparing his name to a computer printout of names they had on hand, and then concluding they had taken him by mistake. It’s unclear whether that was a ruse to camouflage a pre-meditated attempt to intimidate Flores, and through him, the protest movement as a whole. They released him a day later on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa.

Most of the world has moved on after showing brief interest last year in Honduras. But Dan Beeton, communications director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., has steadfastly kept circulating news about Hondurans’ human rights concerns.

Beeton’s latest dispatch, from May 4, casts doubts on whether the government’s truth commission, set up to investigate the June 2009 coup, will do anything to investigate abuses. Well-known Honduran human rights advocate Bertha Oliva has a similar take on the truth commission. Here’s Beeton:

The “official” Truth Commission does not appear to have a human rights component, despite the dozens of political murders connected with the coup, the rapes, beatings, arbitrary arrests, and other repression the Honduran military and police have used against opponents of the coup, the recent killings of journalists, and other abuses which have been denounced by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and other international human rights monitors.

What do the opponents of the coup want? The focus isn’t so much the return of Zelaya to the presidency any more, but constitutional reforms. The protesters say they’re necessary to democratize Honduras and give more voice to its poor majority.

The country’s traditional parties and politicians say the protesters only want to move the country toward Venezuelan-style populism.

In a recent interview with The Miami Herald, President Pepe Lobo vowed he would achieve what seems impossible: to reconcile Honduras.

“My duty and my mandate are clear: to unite my people. And I will do it,” Lobo said. “I will get everybody who was fighting in 2009 to hug. They will. It’s important for them to reconcile.”

For those who would like to follow Honduras, anthropologist Adrienne Pine has the best up-to-date information at her blog Quotha. It is at Quotha that I found this drawing, below, of Oscar Flores by Héctor Castillo, as part of his “En Honduras, Así Es,” series.


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  1. collapse expand

    The head of the official “Truth Commission” has already demonstrated that the fears of the opposition are justified; as we noted in a recent post on our blog Honduras Culture and Politics, in hope of placating right-wing critics in Honduras, they have already accepted a number of premises, such as that the coup might have been a legal succession, and that earlier events might have justified the June 28 kidnapping and expatriation of a legally elected president.

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    Readers, thanks for your eyeball time, please send tips, corrections, complaints, rants, etc. My email is ballve [at] gmail.com. I was born in Buenos Aires and raised there and in Atlanta, Mexico City and Caracas. I've written and reported on Latin America for almost a dozen years. I started out as an Associated Press reporter and editor in the agency’s Brazil and Caribbean bureaus. In 2007 I co-founded El Sol de San Telmo, a community newspaper in Buenos Aires. I am now a contributing editor for the nonprofit New America Media, Americas correspondent for Amsterdam-based Research World magazine (publication of the international association of market and public opinion researchers), and a 2010-2011 Lemann Fellow at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).

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