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Thursday, September 24, 2009
In brief, here are some of the things we saw and learned throughout the day.
- There were massive detentions during the cover of night and curfew, between Wednesday night and Thursday morning at 6am. In one police post alone, 137 people had been detained between 12am and 6am, released at 6am, according to the log book. It is not clear if they were held “simply” for curfew violations or because they were targeted for participation in popular street celebrations which are taking place in most neighborhoods throughout Tegucigalpa. There is at least one minor who is “disappeared”—his whereabouts are unknown. COFADEH (Comite for the Families of Detained and Disappeared in Honduras) reports at least 2000 people have been detained, and many wounded by gunfire or clubbing, since Zelaya’s return on Monday.
- At least four people have been confirmed killed since Tuesday morning’s siege outside the Brazilian Embassy, including one 8-year old girl who lives near the embassy and died of asphyxiation from breathing in the toxic tear gas used during the operation. Also Jairo Lopez, head of the INFOP workers union, was shot in the head and later died from those injuries.
- The non-governmental human rights organizations, especially COFADEH, are completely overwhelmed by the demand for their skills and services in the realm of taking formal testimonies and photographs of human rights violations, as well as assisting people in the search for their detained and disappeared loved ones. The state actors who are also responsible for doing this work, the Attorney General and the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights, are both reportedly on vacation this week. As members or sympathizers of the coup government, people are “terrorized,” as one lawyer explained, at the prospect of approaching the Attorney General and the Special Prosecutor with denouncements and for help. At the Hospital Escuela on Tuesday, while members of our delegation were taking names and testimony from those wounded during the Embassy siege, members of the Attorney General’s office arrived on the scene to get the names of those wounded, reportedly in order to pursue criminal charges against them.
- Lawyers from the Lawyers Front against the Coup spent most of the day visiting detention centers and trying to find the people who were reportedly detained throughout the night. They were unable to locate many of the detained. On one occasion, after one of the lawyers secured the release of a detained and beaten person, the detained told the lawyer that it was the third detention site he had been taken to, and would have been taken to another site but for the intervention of the lawyer at that opportune moment. It seems that the police and military are moving detained from detention center to detention center, perhaps in an effort to prevent their being located and freed. It is not clear if all those who were detained have been freed.
- At least one lawyer and accredited human rights promoter was detained by the police while trying to release one of the many people detained in the densely-populated Kennedy neighborhood, in which there had also been a strong popular presence on Tuesday night.
- Delegation members and human rights lawyers encountered a squad of army hanging out inside one of the police stations, something which the lawyers insisted “was not supposed to happen.”
- The police and military are reportedly pursuing people on the streets. One lawyer reported being awoken at 5:30am by a phone call in which an acquaintance whispered to her that he and two friends were “being chased” by the police. The phone call then got cut off. As of mid-day, the lawyer had no further information about the whereabouts of those people.
- At least one neighborhood police substation was destroyed, ostensibly during Tuesday night’s uprising. Upon arriving in an attempt to locate some detained persons, two of our delegation’s observers plus two lawyers found the substation “ransacked, with broken tables, chairs and glass everywhere, doors hanging open,” reported delegation member Sydney Frey.
- The curfew was again lifted today to allow for the second “white march,” the pro-coup manifestations that are populated by employees of state and private institutions whose jobs are threatened if they don’t participate. Additional reports indicate that recruiters arrive to popular communities offering 300-500L (approximately USD$15-26) for participation in the white marches.
International Accompaniment and Observation Delegation
19-26 September 2009
Report from September 23, 2009
By Patty Adams
POLITICAL PERSECUTIONS AND DETENTION
EXCESSIVE USE OF FORCE BY POLICE AND MILITARY
STATE OF EMERGENCY: PEOPLE LACKING FOOD AND WATER AFTER 42 HOUR CURFEW
Democratically- elected Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, deposed by a military coup on June 28, returned clandestinely to Tegucigalpa, appearing at the Brazilian Embassy around mid-day on Monday, September 21. As word of his arrival spread, thousands of Hondurans who’ve been calling for his return began to assemble outside the Embassy to celebrate, catch a glimpse, and show their support.
Our delegation was there for a few hours in the early afternoon and saw the enormous excitement, relief, pride, and possibility in the faces of the thousands of people both young and old, campesinos and school teachers, students and mothers, indigenous people and workers, all full of hope. The return of Zelaya means the possibility for free and fair elections, a constituent assembly for the creation of a more inclusive constitution, and an end to the repressive practices of the de facto regime. Such practices have left dozens dead, thousands detained illegally, hundreds wounded, and several “disappeared” in the wake of persistent and violent persecution of the peaceful resistance movement which has taken to the streets daily since the coup.
By mid-afternoon on Monday, the de facto government had called an obligatory, nationwide curfew from 4pm until 7am. Our delegation made the quick and difficult decision to return to our guesthouse, even as hundreds of people continued arriving to the area around the Brazilian Embassy, just a short block from the US Embassy and the United Nations building.
At 5am on Tuesday the 22nd, tanks and military personnel on foot passed the police barricades around the Brazilian Embassy and began firing tear gas and live ammunition into the crowd of about 500 people who had stayed all night holding peaceful vigil outside. Many people didn’t have enough time to gather their belongings and left behind shoes and purses as they fled; many family members were split up in the process of trying to escape the blows of military clubs and tear gas. Some people were offered shelter in nearby homes. When they had finished rounding up, detaining, or dispersing those assembled, the armed state actors then proceeded to break the windows and slash the tires of cars left behind by protestors before impounding them.
Despite the extension of the curfew from 7am to 6pm, members of our delegation were able to visit the hospital and interview some of those treated, many of whom were from outside Tegucigalpa and were still trying to track down all the members of the groups with which they had travelled to the city when they heard of Zelaya’s return. At least 18 people received attention at the Hospital Escuela, the main public hospital, including stitches in the head and treatment for fractured bones (see https://hondurasaccompaniment.wordpress.com/photos- video/).
Other delegation members visited the Chochi Sosa baseball stadium, which had been converted into a mass detention center for people who had violated the mandatory curfew as well as those who had been gathered outside the Brazilian Embassy. Some of those detained had been seriously wounded; some had sustained multiple traumas to the head. They all stood in the blazing mid-day sun in the stadium. The delegation accompanied the most seriously injured to a clinic, where treatment cost USD $80 — a week’s salary, if you have a job.
That afternoon, people from all over Tegucigalpa called into one of the few non-coup television stations, Chanel 36 Cholusat Sur, which also transmits on the radio. They announced to the media that they were running out of food and water, and feeling desperate under the curfew. One woman said that her diabetic mother had not had insulin for three days.
Despite the desperation and lack of food and water, that night we heard residents in the neighborhood organizing in the streets, chanting and singing and occasionally shouting “alerta”—alert—the sign that the police or military have been spotted. The National Resistance Front had called upon people to take to the streets in their own small neighborhoods, and while the people did so all over the country, they were met with live ammunition, tear gas, and beatings by police. Though we smelled pepper gas through our guesthouse windows, for the remainder of the night we heard the mostly jubilant sounds and songs of the people’s resistance in the streets.
Once the curfew was provisionally lifted from 10am-4pm on Wednesday, people were able to move freely for a while, and some came to COFADEH, a well-respected non-governmental human rights organization, to formally denounce their treatment at the hands of the military in front of the Brazilian Embassy and in the neighborhoods the previous night. One woman had multiple deep bruises from being beaten over 20 times by the military, after she was found alone, vomiting and nearly unconscious from the effects of the tear gas. (See here: http://hondurasaccompaniment. wordpress. com/2009/09/23/repression-at-the-embassy/)
We also took the testimony of a 24-year old young man who was beaten up by police while in a street celebration, then beaten during his two hour period of detention. He was thrown down to the ground and forced to place his hands on a chair to be beaten with clubs. He heard the police talking about killing him, but because he happened to know one of the officers he was eventually released, along with a 19 year-old who was detained with him. He has serious injuries to his head, neck, hands, knees, and back including a serious wound on his left lower back. (See here: https://hondurasaccompaniment.wordpress.com/2009/09/23/one- story-of- last-nights- repression/).
We have heard reports that there is a high frequency sound blasting the area around the Brazilian Embassy, where Manuel Zelaya remains, along with members of his cabinet and some leaders of the anti-coup resistance. This is part of the military’s offensive on the Embassy, constituting a form of both physical and psychological torture, since it can cause permanent hearing damage as well as prohibit sleep and clear thinking.
We spoke with some of the over 500 lawyers nationwide who comprise the Lawyers Front against the Coup, who have been offering pro-bono legal support and defense work for those whose rights have been violated since the coup. They located the roots of this current struggle in colonization: there has never been real democracy in Honduras because the families who have always owned and controlled the resources in the country continue to enjoy political and economic power. The lawyers said that the economic elite, descended from these few families, have been able to orchestrate this coup in part thanks to their ownership of most of the media outlets in the country.
Despite all the repression, there was a march on Wednesday, as there has been a demonstration every day since the coup. Despite having many of their routes blocked off by police and military blockades, thousands of marchers cheering and chanting made it past the COFADEH office and to downtown. Upon arriving to the central square, they were met by military and police squads masked and armed, who began to pursue the demonstrators.
At this point, we’ve seen and heard reports on radio and TV of detentions but are no longer downtown so haven’t heard further confirmation.
The city is basically a police state. It is common to see a line of police and military blocking a street. There is always some important power base – like the presidential house — behind that line, though sometimes it’s so far behind that line it’s hard to see.
Here is another testimony taken by a member of our International Witness Delegation.
Lilian, a 46-year old resident of Tegucigalpa, was in the region of the Brazilian Embassy yesterday, along with hundreds of others, celebrating democratically-elected president Mel Zelaya’s return. At about 5:30am, members of the police and military came to displace the assembly.
They used tanks to surround the area and began firing tear gas and live bullets into the crowd in an attempt to concentrate people in one area. At that time, Lilian was vomiting from the strong effects of the tear gas. She quickly found herself alone in front of the embassy.
What the military did then, “instead of helping me or at least ignoring me,” Lilian said, was to beat her at least 20 times with clubs. They were also shouting things like “You’re from the Resistance aren’t you, you son of a bitch…Call the Resistance to come help you now.”
The photos show the effects of those beatings, including severe bruising on her leg, arm, and wrist.
One Story from September 22, 2009
Twenty-four year-old Eric was participating in his Tegucigalpa neighborhood’s protest last night when the nonviolent gathering was attacked by police. He was beaten with police batons before being detained for two hours along with a nineteen year-old compañero.
Police continued to beat Eric after he was detained. “They made us put our hands flat on chairs so they could beat them,” he said. He heard police talking among themselves about killing them.
Eric and the other young man were released after one officer recognized Eric, as he had been the officer’s teacher in a computer course.
The pictures below show the baton marks on Eric’s back, his swollen hands and taped finger, and a wound on his knee from when the police pushed him to the ground.
Eric’s story is not atypical under the current state of siege in Honduras. The curfew has been lifted from 10am to 5pm today, Wednesday 23 September, so people are able to circulate, but it seems that the continued strategy of the coup regime is strong violent repression in hopes of crushing the people’s resistance. Nevertheless, people continue marching.
They’ve declared another full-day curfew today, which is disastrous for most people, who need to work every day for income, and who therefore buy food on a day-to-day basis. People are calling into television and radio stations saying they don’t have any food in their houses, and in some neighborhoods the water has been cut, too. One woman just called in and said that her mom is diabetic and hasn’t had insulin in three days. Even if these individuals decide to defy curfew, as many are doing, the stores and markets are closed.
Last night people went out in the streets of their neighborhoods in defiance of the curfew; in every working class or poor neighborhood people were out on the streets singing and chanting until well after we turned in. Many of these neighborhood demonstrations were repressed by police with pepper gas and live ammunition.
Zelaya and his cabinet and some leaders of the resistance movement are still in the Brazilian embassy. Since yesterday morning, the military has cordoned off a six-block radius around the embassy, and aren’t letting anyone in or out. Yesterday some people from the human rights organization tried to go in to deliver food to the embassy, but they were turned back by the military. People are also reporting that there’s a high-pitched screeching sound being emitted by some sort of military apparatus in that zone, as a kind of threat and psychological pressure.
The UN assembly is supposed to come to a declaration on the situation today. Zelaya was supposed to address the assembly today originally, so they’re using that space to discuss the situation. People are hoping this will force the US administration to take a stronger position, as Obama is supposed to address the assembly tomorrow.
Go to our “photos” page to see pictures of the abuse sustained by protesters yesterday.
The protesters camped out in front of the Brazilian Embassy were violently attacked and removed from the Embassy with live rounds of ammunition and tear gas. There are at least 4 people wounded. President Zelaya was in the middle of an interview with Radio Globo early this morning from inside the Brazilian Embassy, struggling to talk through the tear gas, when the Radio Globo signal was once again cut.
The curfew started yesterday at 4pm has been extended until 6pm today.