Peacebuilding en Las Americas Founder Val Liveoak went on an Emergency Faith Delegation to Honduras from January 24 to 29 to represent PLA as an act of solidarity. The following is her report.
The delegation of 50 internationals (47 from the US and Canada, one from Argentina, one from Colombia, one from Peru) arrived in Honduras on Jan. 24th and departed on the 30th. For all but one night, we were in the city of El Progreso, Yoro, about 45 minutes from San Pedro Sula. We went to the capital, Tegucigalpa, on the 28th, returing the 29th.
The visit was in support of Padre Melo, a Jesuit who directs Radio Progreso an important alternative source of information. The station takes an active anti-’continuismo’ stance, that is, they reject the results of the re-election of Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH), who was inaugurated on Jan. 27th. Their grounds for their resistance are many, and stem from the 2009 coup that brought about a direct line of neoConservative governments. The policies of these governments have emphasized benefits to business, both national and international, at the expense of workers, small farmers and indigenous people. Examples include concessions for lumber, mining and hydroelectric developments, and the creation of “Model Cities”, industry-owned areas where the owners’, not Honduran, laws govern the lives of the residents.
Government and paramilitary persecution—arrests, torture, assassinations—of those protesting these policies have increased and there has been little progress on stopping gang activity, all of which have stimulated huge increases of out-migration, especially to the US.
In 2017, the pre-election process was quite irregular, with President Hernandez replacing 4 of the 5 Supreme Court justices with members of his own party, and then the justices decreed that he could run for a second term although the Constitution prohibits this. (And ironically, the 2009 coup was said to be to prevent the then President Zelaya from trying to change the Constitution to allow him to run for a second term.) The election results were also questioned because after announcing that the opposition candidate had over 55% of the vote, the Election Commission went dark for several hours and later announced that JOH had won after all. The civil society resistance groups which have remained active since the coup (and some since the ‘70s or ‘80s) rejected the results, and initially several international groups (the Organization of American States and others) did so as well. The Trump Administration quickly recognized the election results and congratulated JOH. (Note: in 2009, the Obama Administration recognized the government formed after the coup well before other international groups.)
The week before the Inauguration was marked by ramping up of the ongoing street protests and other resistance activities that had been put into play after the election results were announced. The government response to these protests included firing on protesters with live ammunition, water cannons, tear gas, and numerous attacks on protesters and even bystanders. Padre Melo had received a number of death threats as had others active in the resistance. Uniformed security forces as well as men dressed in civilian clothes have followed protesters (and bystanders) leaving events and beaten them, sometimes dragging them off to prisons. When we arrived the known death count was nearly 40, and it continues to rise.
Our delegation heard a detailed explanation of the objections to JOH’s continuing in office, and short presentations from civil society groups, victims of state sponsored violence, and of some of the people working quietly to build peace and justice, including Nelly DelCid, director of PLA’s partner group, Misericordia Tejedoras de Sueños.
Delegation members accompanied a number of protests, including several that had overtly religious overtones (a Mass in a park, a Viacrucis.) Much of our support involved being present at protests and other activities. Many times during the public activities people thanked us for accompanying them, and said they would have faced severe repression without our presence.This may indeed have prevented more violent repression than if we had not been present, but that effect is likely to be temporary. We hope that the presence of such a large delegation will provide some ongoing protection for Padre Melo and the associates of Radio Progreso. Ongoing activities and fundraising for Radio Progreso are planned. Delegates were urged to publicize the situation and the work of Radio Progreso, including upcoming speaking tour, lobbying etc. in May.
In Tegucigalpa, the delegation sponsored a vigil outside the US embassy on the evening of Jan. 28th. On Jan. 29th the full delegation met with 5 members of the Embassy staff headed by the Chargé d’Affairs (since there’s no Ambassador currently.)
The visit to the Embassy was interesting, in that all were admitted into a well-secured area, and that the staff attending listened with apparent interest. The delegated speakers mentioned the injuries that victims of the repression have suffered, and called on the staff to take conscientious stands. Embassy officials said they needed more information about these attacks so that they could investigate them. I was able to say afterward to the Human Rights Officer that I had been at the Embassy in 2009 after the coup with a small delegation, and we told his predecessor about similar repression and violence—just the names of the victims had been changed. The Embassy staff also remarked that the protests were not always nonviolent as some protesters damaged property and threw rocks at police.
There were many pictures, videos and other documentation of the delegation’s activities. All photos taken by Mark Coplan.