<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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The Closing of the Southern Highway from Tegucigalpa: An Eye Witness Report

The Emphasis in the Honduran Blockades Is on Nonviolent Strategy and Tactics


By Jonathan Treat
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

July 18, 2009

On the twentieth day of the military coup here in Honduras—and another night of imposed curfew in which anyone on the streets after 11:30 can be detained and jailed without question—thousands of Hondurans continue in their active, non-violent struggle for a return to democracy. Today marked another day of widespread, peaceful protests and the second day of pro-democracy/pro-Zelaya supporters blocking principal highways in efforts to curtail commerce—hitting the regime where it hurts.


The northern highway blockade at El Durazno
Photos D.R. 2009 Rights Action
The nonviolent action at the southern entrance to the city began as it did yesterday, with people gathering in the morning until several hundred people had convened. They then marched to a key spot on the highway where they will halt traffic. On the way, some bystanders shout insults at the marchers. One protestor responds by bending down and picking up some rocks. He is quickly surrounded with several leaders of the march, who remind him that the march was peaceful and insist that he puts down the stones.

The pro-Zelaya protestors cross a narrow bridge on the highway, and with quick precision lay large stones across the road. The principal southern artery into Tegucigalpa is officially closed.

At the site of the highway closure, a flatbed truck mounted with loudspeakers provides pro-democracy movement leaders with a forum to denounce the military coup and its de facto leader, Roberto Michelleti—and their demand for the return and re-installment of their president, “Mel” Zelaya. The atmosphere is upbeat. One of the protest leaders acts as dj, playing a diverse mix of music—nueva trova (new song), cumbia, salsa and rancheros. At several points during the festivities people break out into dance, surrounded by cheering crowds.

A contingent of anti-riot police rings the event, quietly observing. There is not the usual tension that comes when an event is watched by men with guns. Several protestors offer the police drinks of water in plastic bags. A few of the police manage smiles.


The northern highway blockade at El Durazno
Photos D.R. 2009 Rights Action
Several hours into the protest, all that changes. A small group of people runs toward the other side of the bridge. More police have arrived, bringing the number to roughly one hundred. They are demanding the immediate withdrawal of the protestors. More people start to arrive at the site of the confrontation, but protest organizers move quickly to push them back to the other side of the bridge. From the loudspeakers on the flatbed, protest leaders speak directly to the police, saying that they are in peaceful, non-violent resistance, and that their protest is not against them. They call for the crowd to stay calm, urging “disciplina”—discipline—and restraint.

Carlos Reina comes from a lineage of Honduran politicians. Reina is a member of the Honduran liberal party, one of the groups openly and actively opposing the de facto regime in power since the military coup. His father, Jorge Arturo Reina, is Honduran ambassador to the United Nations, and his uncle is former president of Honduras, Carlos Roberto Reina.

Today, he’s been speaking to and mingling with protestors throughout today’s demonstration. Faced with the threat of police action against the protestors, and with several other protest organizers as his side, Reina walks calmly across the bridge to speak the police. He looks for the commander, walks up to him, lifts his sunglasses to look him in the eye—and extends his hand.

The commander shakes his hand briefly, but it’s clear that the police here mean business. Several have unsheathed their clubs. Others brandish their guns, holding them rigidly in front of their chests. Several policemen are loading guns with tear gas canisters, while others are fitting gas masks on their faces. A police helicopter circles overhead.

People are defiant, but fear hangs in the air. It is easy to imagine the pro-Zelaya protestors are haunted by images of the four Hondurans recently killed by the coup government’s security forces.

Protest organizers urge people back to the other side of the bridge, where the other protesters are gathered. The bridge spans a deep ravine. If the police attack, there is only one exit.


The northern highway blockade at El Durazno
Photos D.R. 2009 Rights Action
On the other side of the bridge, protest leaders are telling the crowd to stay calm. “Remember—we are in a peaceful resistance! We have nothing against the police here!” They play the Honduran national anthem, in hopes of diffusing the tension.

Several tense minutes slowly pass. Reina then turns away from the police and walks back across the bridge to speak to leaders there. Soon they are speaking to the crowd over the loudspeakers, asking for a show of hands of who is willing to leave the site, and go to support the protestors who’ve taken the northern entrance to the city. Amid shouts and cheers, a sea of hands reaches for the air.

“We have done here what we came to do. We don’t want violence. We don’t want problems with the police. We have said what we came here to say,” shouted one leader. “Now let’s leave—single file and in small groups, for security. And we have more to do tomorrow!”

People begin walking back in groups across the bridge, amid shouts, songs and chants. There is a collective sigh of relief. Police step aside. One flashes a quick smile and offers a furtive “thumbs-up”.

The crowd of protestors is met with supporters handing out juice and sandwiches. Standing, sitting, they chat and laugh. And they make new plans. Tomorrow will be day 21 of their peaceful, but very active, resistance.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America