First published in Narco News, 8 August 2009
The other night in the Honduran coastal town of Tela, I received a text message on my mobile phone from an unknown number. The message began with an image of a helicopter, which had been designed using periods, commas, dashes, and a single asterisk as the back propeller. The appearance of the word “ALERTA” beneath the image momentarily convinced me that a Venezuelan helicopter bearing deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya may have entered Honduran airspace.
Scrolling down, however, I discovered that the featured helicopter was in fact filled with “abracitos y besitos”—hugs and kisses—and that it wanted to bombard my “corazoncito,” my heart. A suggestion as to the possible origins of the text message was offered by a restaurant employee in Tela, who claimed that Tigo, my mobile phone provider, wanted its clients to feel loved.
A less charitable interpretation of Tigo’s intentions had been put forth earlier this week by a group of coup resistance leaders in Catacamas, Zelaya’s hometown in the department of Olancho, who had entertained the idea of a public bonfire of GSM cards corresponding to pro-coup phone companies. Meanwhile, the compatibility of armaments and affection illustrated in the text message to my corazoncito has been confirmed by coup general Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, who has described the love the Honduran armed forces feel for the nation’s people.
I myself have developed a greater affection for armaments after spending a dozen hours in an Internet café in Tegucigalpa, where a guard with a gun and police baton has ensured that I am able to write emails without being repeatedly asked for hospital donations. Freedom of expression has been more restricted in other areas, such as when the Honduran coup regime cut off electricity to the country at the start of the coup, and when Tigo continued to deny phone calls to my parents.
The importance of cellular communications in coup resistance was underscored when Zelaya spent his July excursion into Honduran territory talking on his mobile before retreating back to Nicaragua. Resistance operations in Olancho have meanwhile included sending anonymous text messages encouraging support for legitimate governments and making mobile phone videos of impediments to travel in Honduras, such as the military shooting of school bus tires in the town of Limones. The bus had been transporting persons opposed to the coup to Tegucigalpa; a text message depicting a school bus full of abracitos y besitos might endow the Honduran armed forces with a more sentimental outlook vis-à-vis civilian vehicles.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman enthusiastically endorsed the role of technology in secular revolutions in an article dated June 16, in which he reviewed the opportunities that Facebook and text messaging provide for revolutionary mobilization “outside the grip of the state.” Friedman nonetheless cautioned that “guns trump cellphones,” a trumping the US State Department is less likely to condemn when it occurs in non-Islamic states such as Zelaya’s bedroom, where he was told to drop his mobile phone or be shot on the morning of June 28.