Thirty members of the United States House of Representatives have sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton asking her to cut off U.S. aid to the armed forces and police in Honduras, until that country’s government can demonstrate and end to human rights violations that have escalated since the June 28, 2009 coup. (Honduras coup reverberations continue)
The letter thanks the Obama administration for having sent an observer, Maria Otero, to look into what is going on in Honduras, but expresses a need for more decisive action.
“We have received credible reports from Honduran human rights organizations that abuses continue with near impunity. Members of the human rights community, journalists and activists continue to be attacked and intimidated …
“Since the beginning of August 2010, at least six individuals identified with the opposition movement against the [President Pepe] Lobo administration have been murdered, including several rural activists, a teachers’ union leader and a journalist. Several journalists known for their criticism of the coup d’état have been arbitrarily detained or suffered physical attacks … There is serious concern that the rule of law is being threatened by the Honduran police and armed forces.”
On the weekend of September 17, 2010, a leader in the Social Security labor union, Juan Bustillo, was assassinated while riding in a car with the union’s president, Hector Escoto, who was hospitalized. Earlier in September, four peasants were murdered in the Aguan region where rural activists are involved in a dispute with a landowner who is part of the ruling oligarchy of Honduras, Miguel Facussé Barjóm. (Crisis in Honduras: labor takes hold)
In response to these conditions, many major Latin American and other countries have refused to restore full diplomatic relations with the Honduran government. President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo of the National Party came to power after a deeply flawed election in November 2009, after progressive president Manuel Zelaya was overthrown on June 28. Internally, over a million Hondurans, out of a national population of 7.5 million, have signed a petition calling for a constituent assembly to rewrite the Honduran constitution to augment grassroots democracy and guarantee social justice. The murders of labor union leaders and others have taken place in the context of this titanic struggle.
The Honduran authorities, however, tend to claim that these are just ordinary street crimes without political motivation. The Clinton State Department has given full recognition to the Lobo government and is pushing other countries to do likewise and to readmit Honduras to the Organization of American States (OAS) from which it was suspended in the wake of the coup .
The congressional letter calls for a change in this policy. “It is our expectation that the Obama administration will advance justice by urging the Lobo administration to vigorously investigate and prosecute threats and attacks against activists and journalists, and to suspend any members of the police or military credibly alleged to be involved in such crimes while investigations take place … we believe it is inappropriate to provide direct assistance to Honduran authorities, particularly to the police or military” until such benchmarks are achieved.
The letter finishes by saying “We also urge the Obama administration to refrain from supporting the immediate re-entry of Honduras into the Organization of American States. The Obama administration does a great disservice to democracy and human rights across the Western Hemisphere by making an exception of Honduras, while the Lobo Administration continues to include perpetrators of the June 28, 2009 coup d’état and fails to prosecute politically motivated crimes.”
The last sentence refers to, among others, General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, the main military leader of the coup, who now serves as head of Hondutel, the government run telecommunications enterprise, under President Lobo.
Signatories of the letter, all Democrats, include Congresspersons Sam Farr (Calif.), Jesse Jackson (Ill.), Lynn Woolsey (Calif.), Danny Davis (Ill.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), Bobby Rush (Ill.), Fortney Pete Stark (Calif.), James Oberstar (Minn.), Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), Maxine Waters (Calif.), Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), Mike Capuano (Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Donald Payne (N.J.), Barbara Lee (Calif.), John Olver (Mass.), Mike Honda (Calif.), Linda Sanchez (Calif.), James McGovern (Mass.), Donna Edwards (Md.), Sheila Jackson-Lee (Tex.), John Garamendi (Calif.),Keith Ellison (Minn.), William Lacy Clay (Mo.), Jose Serrano (N.Y.), Bob Filner (Calif.), Laura Richardson (Calif.), Elijah Cummings (Md.), Mike Quigley (Ill.) and Luis Gutierrez (Ill.).
The full text of the letter can be read here .
Photo: Protest against violence in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, May 3. International human rights monitors were investigating the murders of 6 journalists killed in Honduras in two months. The banner reads in Spanish “Journalists for life, truth and justice.” Fernando Antonio/AP