In the back room of a natural food and medicine shop in the western Honduran city of Santa Rosa de Copán on Monday afternoon, Narco News director Al Giordano and I met with Catholic priest and shop owner Fausto Milla, who had just returned from a meeting in Managua, Nicaragua with ousted Honduran President Mel Zelaya. A spry 81 year old, Padre Fausto erupted into laughter at the news that Al had been jailed 27 times in the United States and slapped him on the arm.
Padre Fausto later chronicled his own share of detentions, which included being kidnapped by paramilitaries in Honduras in 1981 on charges of inciting guerrilla activity based on his concern for campesino and indigenous rights. In captivity, Fausto was subjected to a schedule of sitting in rooms with torture instruments and being removed whenever someone needed to be tortured physically rather than psychologically. He subsequently spent a number of years in exile in Mexico; as for other Hondurans in exile, Fausto boasted that Zelaya had spoken with him and other Hondurans for four hours the previous day in Managua, neglecting a group of visiting European parliamentarians.
According to the Padre, Zelaya told a story during the meeting about an incident that reportedly occurred in 2006, involving a longstanding deal with Texaco, Shell, and other fuel companies in which the Honduran government paid them an extra three cents for every dollar’s worth of gas imported. In Padre Fausto’s version, Zelaya had asked the companies if they intended to maintain a monopoly on fuel imports or if any old “Juan or Pedro” could import, as well. Texaco and Shell had denied having any problems with Juan and Pedro’s entrepreneurial endeavors.
Slapping his knee, Padre Fausto reenacted the emphatic interjection he made to Zelaya at that point in the exiled president’s story: “¡Allí comenzó el golpe!”—“That’s where the coup began!” He then expressed his desire to change the Honduran national anthem to “Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo,” an anti-coup song composed by presidential daughter Hortensia “Pichu” Zelaya meaning “they are scared of us because we are not scared of them.” The Padre tried out the anthem a few times with accompanying hand gestures.
While tracing the history of his own lack of fear, Padre Fausto described being taken into the mountains to sleep at night by his father, whose whereabouts required concealing based on the fact that he displayed greater solidarity with the indigenous population than that era’s dictatorship. The Padre lost his father at age four after the latter was forced into exile in El Salvador, but he still attributes his spirit of rebeldía to the mountain nights. Manifestations of said spirit have ranged from defiance of death threats and opposition to military massacres to defiance of Coca Cola and other non-organic materials.
As for potential outlets for the Padre’s proposed new national anthem, he noted that on Sunday night, during a live broadcast of a resistance concert in Tegucigalpa, Radio Globo was attacked with acid meant to melt its transmitter. The failure of the operation was confirmed when Al and I tuned into the station after our meeting with the Padre to find a live interview with Zelaya from Nicaragua, augmented by a new composition to the tune of Mexican ranchero star Vicente Fernández’ “Estos celos,” in which the refrain “ay, ay amor” is supplanted by “ay, Micheletti” in honor of the coup president.
Padre Fausto pronounced the coup resistance a novel social phenomenon in Honduras and likened the Honduran people to a tsunami that cannot be stopped. One effect of this similarity, according to Fausto, is that unless Zelaya is reinstated prior to the November elections a natural disaster will effectively befall the ballot boxes. The possibility of more proximate natural disasters meanwhile surfaced Tuesday afternoon with the announcement regarding potential US suspension of Honduran travel visas, generating panic among certain pro-coup sectors.
During our Monday meeting with the Padre, community resistance members dropped by to seek counsel and news from him. One such citizen was Héctor Arita, candidate of the Unificación Democrática political party for mayor of Santa Rosa de Copán, who explained that western Honduras was not typically known for its tsunami-like properties due to low standards of living. He noted, however, that the coup had proven a catalyst for political conscience and cited the July 31 blockade of the highway near a gas station in Santa Rosa, a town of almost 50,000 inhabitants near the Guatemalan border.
As for Juan and Pedro’s attempted fuel-related takeover, Padre Fausto continued his report on what had happened in Managua following his revelation as to the cause of the coup. According to Fausto, Zelaya had first asked his visitors to multiply three US cents by the amount of fuel not imported by Juan and Pedro, after which he asked them how much corn cost in Honduras and what the average annual familial corn budget was, which the visitors calculated as 6,000 Lempira (roughly $300 US dollars). Moving on to the next calculation requested by the president, Padre Fausto triumphantly raised his hands toward the sky in an indication of the amount of corn that could be distributed to the population if the government was not paying three extra cents per dollar for gasoline.
The possibility that Juan and Pedro were Venezuelan was not directly addressed in the discussion with Padre Fausto, although Zelaya’s reported style of educating the public by eliciting responses was not unlike methods used by Hugo Chávez on his television program Aló Presidente. Chávez’ aptitude for tsunami management was reinforced through the allocation of Venezuelan aid to Sri Lanka in 2005; Zelaya has meanwhile demonstrated a way to hold public consultations of Honduran citizens without being prosecuted for violating the constitution, which is to hold the consultations in Nicaragua.
Returning to the political orientation of the Honduran populace, Padre Fausto outlined the mentality of those citizens not located within the tsunami, who thought that the main tenet of socialism was that if you had three chickens and two of your neighbors had none, it was up to you to see that all three of you ended up with one chicken. Fausto had addressed in his homilies the issue of how such a situation would not be so bad, but had stressed that the division of poultry should ideally arise from a change in popular mentality and not be imposed from above.
Evidence of the incorporation of the Honduran middle class into the coup resistance was meanwhile found in nationwide vehicular caravans, which this past weekend had attracted a reported 200 vehicles in Santa Rosa. Fausto conceded that the new resistance tactic was probably not so much a sign of mental evolution as a sign of the fact that people with cars preferred to drive than to march across the country, a preference that would have presumably been cheaper had Juan and Pedro been fueling the caravans.
First published in Narco News, 25 August 2009