In the aftermath of the June 28 military coup against President of Honduras Mel Zelaya, much attention has been devoted in the Honduran press to photographs of anti-coup protesters with bandannas over their faces. The corresponding captions often consist of warnings that the subjects of the photos are masking their identity; they often fail to address the mitigating effects that cloth over the nose and mouth can have in situations involving large amounts of tear gas.
New twists on reality occurred at the Universidad Pedagógica in Tegucigalpa yesterday, where a number of people were said to be detained and beaten following ongoing marches against the coup. When I arrived in the late afternoon the detainees were still being separated from civilian existence by military personnel with shields, who had sealed the university grounds along with a string of riot police blocking the street to vehicular traffic. Outside the university gates, a recent Honduran graduate of medical school in Cuba informed me that the current conditions were merited by the fact that the detainees possessed explosives. Given the minimal success rate of recent weapons searches by the police, however, it was conceivable that the detainees were being detained so as not to reveal that they did not possess explosives.
As for reports that more detainees were being beaten in the depths of the Congress building downtown, Radio Globo Honduras demonstrated once again that it was deserving of the coup regime’s ire when a commentator implied that the Honduran Congress was supposed to be a forum in which the will of the people was carried out, not repressed. When I in turn suggested to the recent medical graduate outside la Pedagógica that Zelaya’s raising of the minimum wage might also have been in the interest of popular will, the graduate regarded me skeptically and pronounced me a partisan of the political left. I refrained from any further suggestions such as that Fidel Castro had funded the graduate’s medical education, and accepted that his skepticism may have had something to do with the fact that I was wearing a press badge bearing the name and photograph of Joe Shansky of Democracy Now! en Español.
The borrowed badge was a result of a meeting at the Center for the Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and their Families (CPTRT) in Tegucigalpa which had been organized by Democracy Now! en Español’s founder Andrés Conteris, who had his own badge, as did Allan Fisher, a member of an American Global Exchange delegation to Honduras. The meeting was intended to consist of a discussion with the organization’s vice director Alba Mejía and human rights activist and former presidential candidate Dr. Juan Almendares but was cut short when everyone present began receiving telephone updates on military activity in the city.
We were, however, able to squeeze in a few key points, such as Mejía’s observation that the Honduran police did not understand the process of prisoner rehabilitation. Dr. Almendares meanwhile advised us to avoid army reservists masquerading as taxi drivers and briefly outlined the Honduran military strategy of beating people and quickly releasing them, a strategy that underwent slight modification when the detainees at la Pedagógica continued to be detained.
My companion outside the university gates yesterday afternoon professed a disinterest in politics but admitted to having a soft spot for “fascist concepts”—his terminology—involving national birth rates. Other fascist concepts surfaced elsewhere in Tegucigalpa in the form of graffiti reading “Pinocheletti,” a takeoff on the name of coup President Roberto Micheletti; a visit to the Committee for the Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) reiterated the continuation of Latin American traditions of dealing with dissent.
The COFADEH office was currently serving as a meeting place for people who had been harmed or otherwise disillusioned by the day’s military repression. I spoke with a young man seated on the floor who reasoned that the armed forces were by definition able to do as they pleased with unarmed marchers, a reality that Zelaya himself may have been alluding to when he cautioned that a failure to resolve the Honduran political impasse would lead to generalized violence.
The Honduran press had cast Zelaya’s prediction as an attempt to sabotage domestic peace, an inversion of prevention and incitement that is also applicable to situations in which people wearing bandannas across their faces are blamed for inviting tear gas. As for concerns that the coup resistance would sabotage last night’s soccer game against Costa Rica, Honduras’ 4-0 win offered television cameras a brief facade of national unity.
First published in Narco News, 13 August 2009