While as many as 100,000 protesters marched in the streets of Tegucigalpa, the capital, to mark the first anniversary of the June 28, 2009, Honduras coup d'etat, 27 members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to ask that she send a special investigator to the troubled Central American country to investigate and report on rights abuses.
The coup removed left-wing president Manuel Zelaya, and replaced him with a de-facto government headed by far rightwing businessman Roberto Michiletti. However, popular protest mounted, demanding the return of Zelaya, who had worked to improve the lot of workers, peasants, women and minorities in this country of 7.5 million. In vicious reprisals by the right wing/business cabal, at least 130 people were killed, almost all Zelaya supporters. On Nov. 29, 2009, general elections were held, which brought to power another rightwing figure, Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo of the National Party. The United States endorsed the result of the elections which it said were "fair" and "clean". Most Latin American governments refused to do so, pointing out the fact that the elections were carried out with troops in the street and opposition activists in hiding or jail, and with many boycotting the election.
Since the election, repression has continued, including the murders of at least three labor leaders and a former member of Zelaya's cabinet. In addition, at least eight journalists have been murdered, many of whom had challenged power holders. The left-wing countries of Latin America have withheld diplomatic recognition of Lobo's regime as a means of exerting pressure to put an end to these abuses. However, Secretary of State Clinton has been pushing hard for recognition of Lobo, and U.S. aid to Honduras is in the process of restoral.
Zelaya himself, speaking from exile in the Dominican Republic, has blamed the United States for the coup. His supporters allege that "hawks" within the U.S. political and military establishment had developed it in conjunction with Honduran military and economic elites starting in 2008. The former president points to the use of the U.S.-controlled Soto Cano air force base, which was employed logistically in his expulsion from the country.
Oddly, Porfirio Lobo now says that he too is being threatened by a coup d'etat by people even further to the right than himself who are angry about taxes. As if to confirm this, strongman Micheletti says that he will call for the removal of Lobo if he should concede a constituent assembly to rewrite the Constitution, the main demand of the opposition.
The congressional letter to Clinton was written in this context. It reads in part:
"During your recent visit to Latin America, you asserted that Honduras has made progress since President Lobo took office in January 2010. However, it is our view that political violence continues to wrack Honduras, and insecurity grips much of the population. Reports indicate that many Hondurans fear for their safety, lack confidence in the rule of law, and remain subject to the whims of those in power, including architects and holdovers of last year's coup that [sic] are protected by a climate of impunity."
The letter lists the kinds of repression that have continued under Lobo, adding, "Against this backdrop, a number of Army officials suspected of being involved in the coup have been appointed to executive positions in the Lobo government. Most notably, General Romeo Vasquez-Velasquez, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces at the time of the coup, is now the head of Hondutel, the national telecommunications company." Control of telecommunications was one of the issues at stake in the coup.
The letter asks that Clinton send Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner to Honduras to make a "clear and candid" assessment of what is happening with human rights, including the murders and other violent acts, the firing of a group of judges for having questioned the legality of the coup, the effectiveness of a "truth commission" set up by the Honduran government to investigate the coup. "We in Congress can not countenance additional support for the government of Honduras, without a reliable report about the status of political and human rights as they prevail under President Lobo and a plan for addressing these conditions effectively."
The signatories of the letter are all Democrats. To see the list click here.
Photo: A member of the Honduran National Police Special Force Cobra and a soldier hold down a supporter of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, during clashes nearby the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa on June 29, 2009. CC