The state of siege continues

October 16, 2009

Negotiations toward an agreement that would return ousted President Manuel Zelaya to office Honduras appeared to be at a stalemate as of October 15, the day Zelaya set as a deadline for the current talks.

Zelaya was kidnapped in the early morning hours of June 28 and forced out of the country. A new regime, led by Roberto Micheletti, the former head of the National Congress, took over, expecting that its military force would stamp out all opposition. But resistance to the coup was immediate, and has only spread in the months since.

In September, Zelaya managed to return secretly to the capital of Tegucigalpa and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy. Under growing international pressure, and faced with dissent within the Honduran elite that backed the coup, Micheletti made a show of conciliation at the beginning of the month, vowing to end a state of emergency decree that was supposed to run until elections--which are rigged to favor to coup-makers--in November.

But as talks between representatives of Zelaya and Micheletti, as well as other forces got underway, the coup regime's strengthened its repression, and the talks failed to reach a deal as of Thursday--although there appeared to be a divergence between Zelaya and leaders of popular resistance that has mobilized to defend the ousted president and challenge the coup-makers.

Oscar Estrada is a member of the Honduran resistance, and a filmmaker and independent journalist with HablaHonduras. Here, we republish his accounts from October 13 and 14, from the Quotha Web site, a blog run by Adrienne Pine, author of Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras.

October 13: The Honduran resistance against the coup d'etat continues to be active, even if it has suffered a blow from the most recent actions of the regime.

The executive decree declaring the state of siege issued at the end of September remains in place, despite the media show put on by the dictatorship when it announced, days before the arrival of the OAS commission and as a supposed show of goodwill toward dialogue, that it would repeal the controversial decree.

However, this was never published in the official legal newsletter of the government, La Gaceta, and as soon as the commission of foreign ministers left, the dictatorship issued another decree, further strengthening the previous gag order by authorizing and ordering CONATEL to permanently suspend the operating licenses of Radio Globo and Canal 36.

So the marches are still prohibited (as long as they are over 20 people); each action of the Front is forcefully repressed by the police and the army, which give no respite to protesters; our media is still shut down; and Micheletti rejects Insulza's request that he improve Zelaya's living conditions inside the Brazilian embassy.

Manuel Zelaya addressing supporters from the balcony of the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa
Manuel Zelaya addressing supporters from the balcony of the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa

The coup media continues broadcasting claims in which they falsify interviews with leaders of the resistance front who, according to them, inform the population that the actions of the resistance have ended, that they have split apart due to differences with Manuel Zelaya, or that they have decided to participate in elections as the only solution to the crisis.

The mainstream media have exerted an enormous effort to create a sense of defeat surrounding our struggle, and in order to maintain this sense, they have to keep the people uninformed. As a result, it is unlikely that in the near future that the radio frequencies of the resistance will return to the air.

We all know the power that Radio Globo has to raise our morale and, aware of this, communities are seeking to create alternatives to the disinformation. Loudspeakers transmitting the Radio Globo broadcast streaming from the Internet, cell phone messages, or face-to-face communication are substituting. Radio Gualcho, at 1510 AM, has been converted into a relay signal for Globo, as have many radio stations throughout the country. However, this remains insufficient--each act of resistance is disconnected from all the others around the country.

The neighborhoods have been converted into a sort of rear-guard for the mobilization of the resistance, having found in these communities a somewhat safer space that the police and military are afraid to enter. The rallies in El Pedregal, La Kennedy and El Hato have managed to gather a good number of protesters and, in contrast to the protests carried out on the commercial avenues, the police repression is less effective, despite the armed presence of riot police.

The negotiations between the [official] commissions continue without reaching an agreement on point six of the Plan San José--the return of Mel Zelaya to the presidency remains at the center of the controversy.

Both sides have made it clear that they have no plans to change their stance on the issue. "Mel Zelaya will not return to the presidency," Micheletti said to the representatives of the OAS, insisting that Zelaya was legally replaced and the most Micheletti will agree to accept is a third party, which, of course, his side would choose.

Juan Barahona, leader of the resistance, delivered a detailed report to the assembly Sunday, October 11, in which he laid out the details of the conversations and made clear his lack of trust in the willingness of the regime to leave power. "They are trying to buy time," he said. "Their plan is to make it to the elections at whatever cost, and if the elections don't occur, to remain in power as long as they can."

The cost of the elections could be very high for the dictatorship. The resistance insists that it will not recognize them, and that it will do whatever it takes to prevent them from occurring. Foreseeing this, the National Congress increased the penalties for electoral crimes.

The Ministry of Education has announced the school year will end on October 15, six weeks before the elections, with the intent of demobilizing the teachers' union after failing to crush it through persecution and an intense smear campaign against the teachers. The teachers, for their part, are ignoring the authority of the Ministry of Education, and have announced that they will continue holding classes until December 17.

With the teachers refusing to suspend classes, the call of the resistance to not recognize the November elections, and the desperate project of the dictatorship, there is only one possible path: violence.

The government will need to militarize the elementary and high schools throughout the whole country to ensure the safety of the elections. The resistance will confront that militarization with boycott actions. Faced with this, the dictatorship will only be able to respond with a continued state of siege. The state of siege, in turn, will mine the terrain of the electoral campaign, further complicating the oligarchy's project that, as time goes on, only continues to shoot itself in the foot.

October 14: As was announced last Sunday in the assembly of the National Front Against the Coup, Juan Barahona withdrew from negotiations that were established last week at the Clarion Hotel.

The reasons are clear. Barahona was the pebble in the shoe of the negotiations since he let it be known that he would not sign an act giving up the struggle for a constitutional assembly--because the resistance movement is not willing to give up that struggle, and he cannot decide in the name of the Front.

Barahona's attitude is correct, and leaves the regime no doubt that with or without Mel, the constitutional assembly is a powerful project that seeks the refoundation of Honduras. Even if President Zelaya has made clear that he will renounce the project of the "fourth ballot box" [a plebiscite to vote on whether or not to call a constitutional assembly that would revise the constitution on a number of issues], it is now evident that he has neither the capacity to overpower the resistance movement's commitment to a new constitution, nor is he in the mood to do so.

Currently, the dialogue is at a deadlock over the return of Zelaya to the presidency. And once again, repeating the absurd script about respect for institutions that we have heard so many times over these four months, the regime alleges that it needs to consult with the National Congress, the Supreme Court, the General Attorney's Office, the Armed Forces, the churches, the business sector and a whole gamut of institutions that make the coup possible, because the delegates installed by the regime have the power to agree on absolutely nothing regarding that issue.

The discussion at the Clarion Hotel will conclude tomorrow, just in time for the deadline given by Zelaya (which is itself an echo of the international community's ultimatum)--October 15.

The dis-government toys with alternatives to returning him to the presidency; they speak of the return of Mel to the presidency after November 30; and of involving a third party, mentioning the name of Edmundo Orellana Mercado, Zelaya's ex-Minister of Security, and currently a congressman. He was honored as a hero by the golpistas just days before June 28, after he quit Zelaya's cabinet because of the crisis generated by the "fourth ballot box," but since then, they have ignored him because of his clear position against the dictatorship.

At any rate, if I have to describe the political climate in Honduras, I can assure you that it seems more like the eye of the hurricane than the end of the storm.

There is a big discussion around the decision by organized teachers to extend the school year into December after the government announced the close of the school year as of next week.

Some think the teachers fell into a trap, because they first said that they would not give classes without the restoration of Zelaya to the presidency, and now they say that they will not leave the classroom. According to this point of view, the dictatorship is using reverse psychology when it calls for no more classes in order to get teachers back into the classroom. For some others, the teacher's position is correct since they do not owe obedience to a usurping regime as per the constitution's article three.

What is certain is that the dis-government is proving itself incapable of controlling the teachers' union, and it puts the government in a tricky situation, since they would now need to militarize the schools of Honduras in order to impede Honduran children from attending class.

Repression is now directed against the media. Arrest warrants have been issued for journalists from Radio Globo, accusing them of sedition. Threats and intimidation by paramilitary agents against international correspondents from the alternative media are news in their own circles. This new target for repression includes digital media, Facebook and other virtual communities. These are now subject to detailed scrutiny in search of possible sedition.

But the resistance won't give up. In the interior of the country, strikes, occupations, marches and street protests in defiance of the state of siege continue, thanks to the fact that the regime has all its police and armed forces in the capital city and is no longer capable of controlling the national territory.

First published at the Quotha Web site. Translated from Spanish by Camille Collins Lovell and Adrienne Pine.

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