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De facto government commits human rights violations
Gilda Silvestrucci
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Violence, persecution, curbed civil liberties deepen political crisis.

Protests have grown violent in Honduras since June 28, when soldiers physically moved President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales from office and Congress instated its president Roberto Micheletti.

The uncertainty is suffocating this Central American country, where according to official figures, protests have left one man dead and more than 30 injured as the result of violent clashes between Zelaya supporters and soldiers.

In the wake of Zelaya´s early-morning ouster have surfaced reports of human and constitutional rights violations. Press freedoms have also reportedly been curbed with the censoring of some media that favor the non-binding vote on constitutional reform that Zelaya intended to hold — against Congress´ and the Supreme Court´s will — the day of his ouster.

Rigoberta Menchú, an indigenous leader from Guatemala and the winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, visited Honduras with a human rights delegation following the ouster.

“We´ve come to Honduras to investigate reports of human rights violations,” said Menchú in Tegucigalpa. “We´re hearing that people have been persecuted by military groups. Journalists and media outlet owners were censored following the coup, and we´re also hearing testimony of the suspension of constitutional guarantees by the government of Roberto Micheletti.”

The legislature had suspended constitutional rights, and gave the green light to arrest citizens for 72 hours without a warrant and leaving the detainees incommunicado. The lawmakers suspended rights to assembly, imposed curfews and lifted the requirement for government authorities to possess a warrant or even probable cause to enter a citizen´s home.

Military abuses
“While we were in a peaceful protest in the Limones community in the Olancho department, [soldiers] came and started to beat our people,” said environmentalist leader Father Andrés Tamayo, who has vehemently opposed the coup and called on Micheletti to restore Zelaya to the presidency. “They kicked me out, and I´ve had to be in hiding for fear of the threats we´re received.”

On June 30, two days after the coup, the Catholic priest reported the detention of two youths in the rural communities of Olancho, Zelaya´s home province. He said they were taken to serve in the military. Mandatory military service was abolished during the 1994-1998 government of ex-President Carlos Roberto Reina.

Trinidad Sánchez, a member of the Red de Comercialización Comunitaria Alternativa, a network of small-scale farmers, said soldiers surrounded and pointed their arms at campesinos traveling from the village of Siguatepeque to the capital to participate in the protests in the days following the coup, prohibiting them from passing, though they were finally set free.

More than 200 people — protesters and those violating the 10 p.m. – 5 a.m. curfew — were arrested.

Micheletti´s government also censured media outlets, particularly radio and television stations. Radio Globo, Channel 66 (Maya TV) and Channel 36 (Cholusat Sur) were censured, and their signals were turned off for a week.

The government closed Radio Progreso, run by Jesuits, who have long-denounced Micheletti, a 27-year veteran of Congress, for corruption.

Radio Progreso continued to broadcast clandestinely for at least four days after the coup, said station journalist Félix Molina.

Country polarized
For those who support Micheletti, whose government ordered soldiers to block the runway in Tegucigalpa when Zelaya attempted to land on July 5, Zelaya was rightfully kicked out of the country on June 28, for fear that he might try to stay in power indefinitely.

Micheletti´s supporters are calling for the general elections on Nov. 29, which were scheduled before the coup.

“Undoubtedly there is a political conflict in the country,” said Osvaldo Munguía, director of the Mosquitia Pawisa Apiska, a Christian development and environmental organization of the Mosquitia region. “Nevertheless, hope has been restored for free and democratic elections this year ... and for a change of president in January 2010.”

Zelaya´s referendum sought to poll Hondurans on whether the November ballot should include a question on if the government should call for the election of an assembly to overhaul the constitution.

Honduras´ charter states that constitutional reform can only be conducted by Congress in regular sessions, with two-thirds approval.

Zelaya justified the referendum saying that Honduras had no law on plebiscite.

Congress passed a plebiscite law on June 25 and declared Zelaya´s referendum unconstitutional. Lawmakers then said he violated the law by ignoring their ruling and trying to hold the referendum against their will, and therefore committed treason.

“Honduran democracy is exclusionary, only 20 percent of the population ... goes to the polls in every election, and it´s time that the people decide their fate,” Zelaya said in a June 27 televised address ahead of the referendum.

He said the current charter denied voters the option to reelect a president when he or she did a good job, or simple allowing voters to decide whether to change their laws.

Zelaya´s main error, according to Munguía, was to base whether to begin an entire overhaul of the constitution based on one vote, a job that does not correspond to the president.

For Munguía, Congress and the Supreme Court committed the error of ordering Zelaya´s detention and deportation, without any trial or process that would determine that he abused power, allowing him to be legally removed from office.
—Latinamerica Press.


One man killed and 30 others injured in clashes between police and military. (Photo: Gilda Silvestrucci)
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