Human Rights Violations Persist in Honduras

A preliminary human rights report shows censorship, intimidation and murder.

The human-rights situation in Honduras has deteriorated over the last month, since soldiers deposed the country’s democratically elected president on June 28, forcing him out of bed at gunpoint and putting him, still in pajamas, on an airplane to Costa Rica.   At a press conference held on Thursday in Tegucigalpa’s Honduras Maya Hotel (where in the 1980s, the CIA and Argentine intelligence set up headquarters to organize the anti-Sandinista Contra mercenaries), the International Observation Mission – an ad-hoc monitoring group comprised of representatives from 15 European and Latin American human-rights organizations to investigate political repression following Honduras’ June 28 coup – issued its preliminary report.  Having toured the country and interviewed individuals from all sectors of society, the Mission found that Honduran security forces continue to engage in “grave and systematic violations of human rights.”

Documented crimes include at least six political assassinations and two forced disappearances, most taking place outside the capital of Tegucigalpa -- in the countryside where foreign reporters rarely travel and where the deposed president, Manuel Zelaya, enjoys a base of support.   One unidentified body, dressed in a t-shirt calling for a constituent assembly – an issue which had strong backing from organized sectors of society and which prompted the coup – was found dead in an area that served as a clandestine cemetery used by death squads in the 1980s.   In addition to these murders and disappearances, the Mission also received reports of other extrajudicial executions, which it didn’t have time to verify.  One member of the Mission told me that if they “stayed longer, the numbers of political murders would be higher.”

The Mission’s preliminary report also documented “systemic and generalized political persecution” against unionists, peasant activists, and students.   Workers in San Pedro Sula were threatened with losing their job if they didn’t attend a pro-government rally.  Independent journalists, particularly those working with radio stations and newspapers not owned by pro-coup families, have been threatened with death.  Soldiers occupied and briefly shut down Radio Progreso – an important source of alternative information based in the provincial city of Progreso -- detaining one of its reporters and harassing its director, Ismael Moreno, a Jesuit priest.  Over a thousand people have been detained for violating the curfew.  In addition to out and out censorship – radio stations in the countryside have been ordered to stop transmitting information that didn’t come from the government – fear has led to reporters engaging in “self-censorship.”

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And the military has taken advantage of the crisis to conduct “forced conscription,” kidnapping the teenage sons of peasant families – a practice that was commonplace throughout Central America through the 1980s, during the dark days of oligarchic rule.   Due process, effectively if not technically, does not exist.   I’ve been in the country a few days, and have spoken with a number of individuals who say that have been followed home after attending a pro-Zelaya rally.

The Mission ended its press conference by urging the international community (read, especially, Washington) to hold firm in its condemnation of the coup, to seek the immediate and unconditional return to the presidency of Manuel Zelaya, and, importantly, to not recognize upcoming elections, scheduled for November, under current political conditions.   Those who executed the coup and now run the government seem intent on waiting out the current international censure, believing that the US, followed by other countries, will be forced to recognize whoever is elected in November.   The Mission also recommended that foreign countries revoke the visas and freeze the bank accounts of those involved in the coup, a move Washington has so far refused to consider.

The Mission’s preliminary report in Spanish ishere: It’s final report, which one member said will provide explosive evidence linking the coup government to repression, will be issued on July 30.


Greg Grandin teaches Latin American history at New York University and is the author of a number of books, including the just published Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism.