By Nancy Tate – Published in the Express Times, January 2, 2018 and on LehighValleylive.com, December 28, 2017.
The year 2009 is deeply etched in my memory. My mother died in May, a long-time activist friend and my father-in-law, both died in October, and my interest in Central America that started in the 1980s led me to pay special attention to the bizarre and tragic June coup in Honduras.
The news about the popular protests in Honduras since the apparent fraud around their Nov. 26 election has made me think back to 2009 – to ponder what might have been had the kidnapping and overthrow of the country’s elected president, Mel Zelaya, not occurred.
What might have been if the U.S. had joined with the other countries in the Organization of American States in condemning the coup in Honduras and in calling for the return of the elected government in 2009?
Would Zelaya’s social programs, such as a significantly higher minimum wage, free education for all children, and subsidies for small farmers, have made people’s lives better?
Would dozens of Honduran journalists still be alive to report on the reality of their country? (As of April 2016, 59 Honduran journalists had been assassinated since the 2009 coup.)
Would the dozens of assassinated peasant and environmental leaders including the internationally acclaimed Berta Caceres of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organization of Honduras, still be alive and organizing their communities for a better life and the protection of rivers and forests? Earlier this year Global Witness, an environmental watchdog, named Honduras the “deadliest place to defend the planet” and linked the country’s business and political elite to the brutal human rights abuses.
Without the 2009 coup would children have had a better life at home and been much less likely to join the thousands of young immigrants fleeing gang violence and other hardships in Honduras and thereby risking their lives on the dangerous journey across borders to the U.S.?
We cannot know the answers to these questions because the chances to stop the 2009 coup were not taken. We do, however, have another opportunity to support the people of Honduras as they speak out for a better future. They face a possible turning point as they are calling for a credible election of their president. News reports say the count from the November vote was strangely halted as the opposition candidate, Salvador Nasralla, was leading, and after a rather long pause, suddenly the incumbent president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, had assumed the lead.
Amid reports of ballot box stuffing and bribes being paid at the polls, the observer mission of the Organization of American States has stated that they cannot endorse the outcome even with the modest recounts that have occurred: “The tight margin of the results, and the irregularities, errors and systemic problems that have surrounded this election do not allow the Mission to hold certainty about the results.”
Human rights observers report massive protests in the streets since the election results have been thrown into question. As the government imposed an overnight curfew the protests included the widespread banging of pots and pans. Sadly, during the protests 14 people have been killed, dozens wounded and hundreds arrested at the hands of U.S-funded Honduran security forces. Remarkably, for one 24-hour period some of those security forces refused to enforce the government’s curfew. Are they also tiring of the repression they are asked to carry out?
A number of U.S. organizations, including Witness for Peace, Just Foreign Policy and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, are calling on the U.S. government to help ensure the will of the electorate in Honduras by “supporting credible, independent investigations into any and all claims of state-involvement in electoral fraud and violence during and since the Nov. 26 election.” They are also calling on Congress to support the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act (HR-1299) that would limit U.S. military aid to the country until human rights abuses are addressed.
2017 will be a memorable year for a multitude of reasons, but it would be wonderful if it also became memorable as the year when the U.S. started to support the people of Honduras in their struggle for human rights and a government that they have fairly elected.