Honduras: repression continues; Obama acquiescing in coup?

Supporters of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya clashed with soldiers and police in the capital Tegucigalpa in two days of unrest throughout the city Aug. 11 and 12. Security forces fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of thousands and protesters responded by throwing stones in a confrontation near the congress building on the 12th. Zelaya’s wife attended another protest that day in the industrial city of San Pedro Sula, which was also broken up by police firing gas canisters. (Reuters, Honduras Resists, Aug. 12)

Many protesters were brutally beaten by police, and photo documentation of gruesome injuries are online at the website for the human rights group COFADEH. Over the same two days, the campesino organization COPINH led a hundreds-strong march from Comayagua to Tegucigalpa.

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission (CIDH) announced that on Aug. 17 it will send a delegation to Honduras to observe the situation and receive denunciations. (Honduras Laboral, Aug. 14)

Obama acquiescing in coup?
Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) had an op-ed piece in the New York Times, Aug. 12 accusing the Obama administration of “More of the Same in Latin America”:

Conflicting statements from the White House and State Department emerged over the ensuing days, but last Friday the State Department made clear its “neutrality.” In a letter to Senator Richard Lugar, the State Department said that “our policy and strategy for engagement is not based on supporting any particular politician or individual,” and appeared to blame Mr. Zelaya for the coup: “President Zelaya’s insistence on undertaking provocative actions contributed to the polarization of Honduran society and led to a confrontation that unleashed the events that led to his removal.”

This letter was all over the Honduran media, which is controlled by the coup government and its supporters, and it strengthened them politically. Congressional Republicans who have supported the coup immediately claimed victory.

On Monday, President Obama repeated his statement that Mr. Zelaya should return. But by then nobody was fooled.

Mr. Obama has said that he “can’t push a button and suddenly reinstate Mr. Zelaya.” But he hasn’t pushed the buttons that he has at his disposal, such as freezing the US assets of the coup leaders, or canceling their visas. (The State Department cancelled five diplomatic visas of members of the coup government, but they can still enter the United States with a normal visa — so this gesture had no effect).

With Clinton associates such as Lanny Davis and Bennett Ratcliff running strategy for the coup government, the Pentagon looking out for its military base in Honduras, and the Republicans ideologically tied to the coup leaders, it should be no surprise that Washington is more worried about protecting its friends in the dictatorship than about democracy or the rule of law.

Congress members turn up the heat
Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ), together with 16 other members of Congress, has delivered a letter to President Obama urging him to denounce the rights violations in Honduras and take stronger measures against the coup regime. From Grijalva’s press release Aug. 11:

Over a month has now passed since democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya was deposed and deported to Costa Rica by the Honduran military and, despite widespread international condemnation and diplomatic sanctions, the de facto regime remains firmly in place. As time wears on, the human rights situation in Honduras grows increasingly worrying, with a growing quantity of reports of violent repression of anti-coup protests, extrajudicial killings reminiscent of the death squad era of the early 80s and arbitrary arrests of hundreds of peaceful demonstrators. These violations have been accompanied by far-reaching media censorship and the beating, arrest and intimidation of independent journalists by military and police…

Revoking the A-1 diplomatic visas of a few key coup officials, as the State Department did on July 29th, is a step in the right direction, but clearly not sufficient as this does not prevent those targeted by the decision from continuing to travel to the U.S. on tourist and other visas. The letter strongly urges president Obama to deny those involved in the coup entry to the United States and immediately instruct the Treasury Department to freeze their U.S.-based assets.

See our last posts on Honduras.

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