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The US backs Honduras’ instability and deaths

28 Mar
Honduran Newspapers display the latest gruesome killings. Image by Nick Miroff

Honduran Newspapers display the latest gruesome killings. Image by Nick Miroff

The last couple years in Honduras have been reflective of Latin American politics fifty years ago. Honduras has experienced a military takeover, an unstable government and blatant human rights abuses. Any opponents of the government or human rights workers are being killed or disappeared. All while, the United States works as an ally to the corrupt government, funding the very police and military that are killing the citizens. And like in most cases in Latin America, the majority of the international community is unaware.

In June 2009, Honduran military stormed the presidential palace and took Manuel Zelaya, democratically elected president of Honduras. They put him, still in his pajamas, on a plane to Costa Rica. It was the first military coup in Central America since the cold war and was triggered by Zelaya’s effort to change the constitution to lift presidential term limits.

The next day soldiers guarded government buildings and tanks patrolled the streets. Electricity was cut off in the country most of the day in what reports suggested was by military order. Zelaya denounced the coup and insisted that he was still the president of Honduras. However, Congress that same day voted him out of office and voted Congress leader Roberto Micheletti as interim president.

The coup was condemned by many western leaders. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales both denounced the coup. The European Union called for the return to constitutional normality. Human Rights Watch called for democracy to be restored and the Organization of American States called for Zelaya’s return and said it would not recognize any other government. US President Obama called Honduran officials to respect democratic norms and the rule of law saying, “Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference.”

The ousting of Zelaya only created a slew of problems for the Central American country. The interim president Roberto Micheletti instituted a curfew for the country. Congress issued an order suspending civil liberties during curfew. Towards the end of June the ambassadors from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua all claimed to be detained and beaten by Honduran military and then eventually released. The military government also shut down the media including TV stations, radio stations and newspaper’s websites. Meanwhile, across the country there were protests in support of and against Zelaya’s removal. Several of Zelaya’s allies and supporters were detained by the military.

In November, the military government of Micheletti continued on with elections trying to maintain an image of democracy. Many international election observer groups shunned the election, so it was hard to prove its legitimacy. The governments of Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela all declared they would not recognize the elections since they were taking place during a coup they were deemed as illegitimate. However, the United States said that it would accept the election as a way out of the crisis. Many critics of the election protested in the streets and were dispersed by tear gas. Porfirio Lobo, Zelaya’s former opponent ended up winning the election.

An article in the New York times calls Lobo’s government ‘a child of the coup’ with most of the same officials as the coup. While the US continues to recognize Lobo’s government Honduras has become a country overrun by human rights abuses and impunity. Honduras is now the most dangerous country for journalists in the western hemisphere with at least thirteen journalists killed during Lobo’s administration. Lobo’s security forces are responsible for violence against political opposition, journalists and small farmers, with no repercussion for their violence. In 2010, Lobo’s first administration year there were 61 politically related killings reported, in 2011 there was 59. According to the UN, Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate. In a poll taken last year seventy-two percent of Hondurans stated they do not feel safe with the police force.

In May 2011, an agreement was negotiated which let Zelaya return to Honduras and let Honduras rejoin the Organization of American States. The agreement was reached by Lobo and the Venezuelan and Colombian governments. One condition in the agreement was the protection of human rights, however the agreement has not slowed down human rights abuses.

In February of this year, an overcrowded prison in Honduras caught fire and killed more than three hundred people. The story brought much-needed international attention to Honduras. It brought attention to Honduras’ government’s impunity with light shown on the fact that the jail was overcrowded, many prisoners had not been convicted and there was no evacuation plan. However, attention soon faded and the international media never focused Lobo’s administration, the murders of journalists and the political killings.

On March 6th, US Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Honduras. The trip did not focus at all on the murder rate in Honduras. In fact Biden stated that the relationship between the two countries grew stronger by the trip, meaning despite the human rights abuses the US continues to support Honduras with a blind eye. Biden’s trip only focused on drug policy.

On March 9th, 94 members of the US House of Representatives submitted a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to suspend US assistance to Honduras due to the human rights violations. But the letter did not get media attention and was looked over by Clinton and the State Department. In fact, Obama’s administration did the opposite asking an increase to Honduras military aid in 2012.

While I support Obama, much more than any of the GOP candidates, I feel this is by far one of his administration’s hugest mistakes. It pains me to know that my tax dollars are paying the police and military who are killing human rights activists and journalists. People who think like me, who believe human rights should be protected are being killed with my money, only because of their beliefs.

What lies ahead for Honduras is unclear. The human rights defenders on the ground in Honduras definitely need more support. They need stronger backing from other Latin American governments, from international organizations and from the US. Right now, the US government is standing against the human rights defenders. The US needs to stand with them and cut off all aid to Honduras’ police and military until the killings and disappearances stop. As an international community we need to ensure that the murder of a human rights activist or journalist does not go unnoticed. When Lobo’s government feels the pressure of the international community perhaps human rights defenders will be allowed to do their work instead of being killed for speaking their mind. Until then, unfortunately there is little hope for Honduras as those who try to change it are killed.

What can you do? For starters, let President Obama know how you feel.