<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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Al Giordano

Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
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The One-Sided War on the Streets of Honduras

“They’re the Only Ones Using Violence,” Human Rights Leader Bertha Oliva Observes of the Coup Regime on Day Two of Zelaya’s Return

By Jeremy Kryt
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

September 23, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS, SEPTEMBER 22, 2009: Government forces attacked a peaceful crowd outside the Brazilian Embassy Tuesday morning, in an apparent attempt to dispel support for deposed President Mel Zelaya. Mr. Zelaya had returned to the country on Monday after almost three months in exile.

Mel Zelaya addresses a crowd of thousands in front of Brazilian Embassy on Monday. D.R. 2009, Jeremy Kryt.
“It was terrible repression,” said National Congressman Marvin Ponce, who was with Zelaya in the Embassy until around nine o’clock the night before. “This is a reflection of their philosophies, this government of putchists. They don’t respect human rights. They don’t want a political dialogue,” said Ponce, and he ought to know: The Congressman was himself assaulted during a nonviolent protest last month, suffering several broken bones, including his right arm, which was fractured in three places.

Eye-witness testimony indicated that the soldiers and police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and live rounds into the crowd.

“It was brutal,” said resistance organizer Juan Barahona, director of El Bloque Popular. “I was outside the embassy when the police began their dispersal. Afterwards we reorganized, and marched through some of the poor barrios. But the police attacked us there as well.”

The day before, thousands had gathered in front of the Brazilian Consulate in the Colonia Palmira, to welcome home Mr. Zelaya with chanting and songs. The de facto government imposed a curfew starting at four p.m., and cut power to the Embassy; but Zelaya’s supporters stayed on in the streets all night long, defying orders to disperse.

This reporter spent most of Monday inside the embassy with Mr. Zelaya. The ousted President addressed the thousands gathered outside, urging them to pursue a nonviolent resistance to “Los Golpistas.”

“We will continue the struggle for democracy,” said Zelaya, as the crowd voiced their desire for a new constitution. “This time I won’t be caught napping,” joked Zelaya, referring to the episode on June 28, when the military accosted him in his pajamas.

“Marchers supporting President Zelaya being halted by riot police, a few blocks from the Brazilian Embassy on Wednesday. A few minutes after this photo was taken, police launched tear gas directly into the crowd—instead of firing over their heads—and began beating the peaceful demonstrators.” D.R. 2009 Jeremy Kryt.
Later, when the lights were cut, there were fears the authorities might storm the gates at any moment, and side arms were handed out to security guards. The lights soon returned courtesy of the compound’s generator (and gas supplied by La Resistencia). The expected attack didn’t come until dawn, when police launched tear gas shells into the courtyard, and forcibly occupied neighboring buildings.

“These bullies can enter my home, and do anything they please,” said one disconcerted neighbor, lugging her valuables away from the scene. “Just because I live next to the Brazillian Embassy, they treat me like a criminal.”

Apparently, the “bullies” could do as they pleased throughout the capital on Tuesday. To mention just one example: The offices of the Committee for Detained and Disappeared Persons of Honduras (COFADEH) were attacked without provocation, when police fired tear gas canisters at the building.

“They want us to give up our investigations,” said COFADEH Director Bertha Oliva, “because they’re scared of the evidence we have against them.”

I arrived at COFADEH about ten minutes after the attack, and people were still weeping from the gas. “But bullets and bombs will not dissuade us,” Oliva said. “[We] refuse to be intimidated.”

Later that day, Oliva told me that COFADEH alone had documented 36 injured people on Tuesday, many bearing severe welts and scalp lacerations from police batons. She also reported at least two deaths. Congressman Ponce believes put the total number of wounded at 172. Independent reports indicated about 350 people were also arrested and detained in the Villa Olympica soccer stadium.

The official police tally, however, told quite a different story. According to their numbers, there were only 23 arrests, 10 injuries and zero fatalities. Law enforcement officials also made clear their intentions for Zelaya.

“The minute he steps outside the building, he goes to jail,” said Colonel Samuel Mengiver of Police Intelligence. And if Zelaya doesn’t come out of his own volition? “We’re ready to take him out of there by force,” said the Colonel. “We’re just waiting for the order.”

Police attacked the crowd with gas grenades, sticks and pistols. Journalists found a number of nine millimeter shell casings in the street afterwards.
D.R. 2009 Jeremy Kryt.
One did not have to go far to see evidence of the tactics being employed by the authorities. Leaving the hotel this morning on my way to the Brazilian Embassy, I encountered several young men fleeing a squadron of baton-wielding police. As I watched, the officers caught up to two of them and commenced beating them viciously, even after they had fallen to the ground.

“We were just walking to work,” said Aron Antonio, bleeding profusely from multiple head wounds. “I can’t understand why they attacked us.” I called an ambulance on my cell phone, but by the time it had arrived, Antonio’s companion had lost consciousness. The youth’s eyes refused to dilate, and he began to vomit where he lay in the gutter.

“The people can’t even walk the streets in peace,” Bertha Oliva told me. “They’re being beaten just for stepping out of doors. [The police] hunt them as if for sport. What kind of a country has this become?”

By the time I reached the Embassy, the crowds had been dispersed, and masked police and soldiers had cordoned off the street, forbidding even international journalists and human rights workers from approaching. A few hours later, a pick-up truck with massive speakers was wheeled in, to direct constant loud music toward the building.

Protestors respond to brutal police repression in Tegucigalpa.
D.R. 2009 Jeremy Kryt.
I spoke by phone with Father Andres Tamayo – Catholic priest, and leading figure in the anti-coup movement – who was trapped with Zelaya inside the Embassy. “There are police in front of the building, and all of the surrounding houses. The government is also listening in, and blocking our calls,” he said, just before the line went dead.

Late Tuesday afternoon, 85 people were allowed to leave the Embassy. About 70 more – including Zelaya’s wife and young grandchildren – remain inside. Meanwhile, the resistance movement shows no signs of slowing down.

“We will be in the streets again tomorrow,” said Juan Barahona. “We will not give up until Mel Zelaya returns to the presidency.”

When asked what he thought would be the likely response from the authorities, Barahona conceded it might well be more of the same. ““The police will not tolerate us. They’ll probably attack us again. But what else can we do? This remains an unequal struggle.”

Shortly after being turned away by police, while seeking to bring food and water to those in the Brazilian Embassy, Bertha Oliva echoed Mr. Barahona’s sentiments.

This is a one-sided war,” she said, nodding towards the masked officers. “They’re the only ones committing violence.”

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