The Myth of a Bloodless Honduran Coup
Teacher shot in the back of the head by Honduran police during peaceful protest
Opinion: Honduran coup has been far from bloodless
By Dana Frank
Special to the Mercury News
Posted: 09/03/2009 08:00:00 PM PDT
A myth has already taken root about the June 28 military coup in which Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was carted off to Costa Rica: that it’s been a quiet, peaceful affair and hardly anyone’s been hurt. Despite enormous evidence to the contrary, many commentators are now even referring to a “bloodless coup,” or, worse, suggesting that Honduras is already such a violent country that any further violence is just normal.
But human rights groups and numerous other outside observers report that at least a dozen people have been killed for their political activities since the coup, more than 3,500 detained for peacefully demonstrating, and hundreds beaten while in custody. There’s plenty of blood flowing, just one indication of the massive wave of repression ripping through Honduras.
In the face of these crimes, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton need to stop equivocating and not just withdraw aid but also immediately withdraw the U.S. ambassador, freeze the bank accounts of the oligarchs running the coup and immediately restore President Manuel Zelaya to his full powers.
Most Americans are not aware that when the coup began, the military immediately occupied all major government buildings, took over hospitals, the immigration service and border enforcement, and, most ominously, superseded police and elected authorities.
Media outlets opposed to the coup were shut down immediately, and freedom of the
press and airwaves has been suspended ever since. In El Progreso, soldiers occupied and closed Radio Progreso, a Jesuit-owned station.
Roberto Micheletti’s military government has been suspending civil liberties guaranteed by the Honduran Constitution. Four days into the coup, his rump Congress passed laws outlawing any meeting of more than three people, limiting freedom of movement and making it legal to search homes without a warrant.
Yet these repressive measures have failed to deter Hondurans from protesting. Remarkably, they have mounted larger and larger peaceful demonstrations throughout the country. Although rarely reported in the U.S. press, all three union federations have repeatedly pulled off nationwide general strikes with more than 30,000 teachers and even 300 police officers and the capital’s taxi drivers.
In response, repression has escalated dramatically. Nonviolent demonstrators are routinely rounded up, beaten while in custody and denied medical care, while never charged with a specific crime. The military routinely launches tear gas at protesters without provocation. As Amnesty International reports, “beatings and mass arrests are being used as a way of punishing people for voicing their opposition to the military-backed coup.”
Women protesters can face worse. On Aug. 14, a young mother was grabbed by police while participating nonviolently in a large protest. They separated her from male detainees and drove her out of town, where four officers of the National Police raped her and then raped her again with a baton.
Rapes while in custody, assassinations and disappearances that are terrorizing Hondurans remain largely unreported in the U.S. press. On July 11, for example, Roger Ivan Bados, a longtime trade unionist and activist in the opposition party Union Democrática, was forcibly removed from his home and killed. Others who participate in demonstrations or other activities have been kidnapped, then found dead.
The goal of all this is intimidation: stop Hondurans from protesting and create the illusion of acquiescence.
Americans need to demand a full condemnation of the regime’s violent repression and a restoration of President Zelaya. If we don’t, even more people will die or be brutalized. Honduran opposition isn’t going away, nor is the worldwide condemnation of the coup regime.
DANA FRANK is a professor of history at UC-Santa Cruz. She wrote this article for the Mercury News.