On the morning of October 21, Jhonny Lagos – founder and director of El Libertador, the sole anti-coup newspaper in Honduras’ capital city – received a phone call from a military acquaintance sympathetic to the Resistance. The official reported a meeting between coup president Roberto Micheletti and assistant foreign minister Martha Lorena Alvarado in which the two had begun preparations for Lagos’ demise and Alvarado – evidently irked by her appearance on the list of golpista Opus Dei members in the paper’s October edition – had stipulated that El Libertador be made to pay dearly. Other forms of paying dearly had been proposed in the aftermath of the June 28 coup against President Mel Zelaya, when Lagos had been offered 10 million lempiras (over half a million dollars) in exchange for an alteration of Libertador principles.
The proposal had also called for Lagos to author two articles, one on the subject of national reconciliation and the other in support of the November elections. Lagos had joked to the golpista intermediary who had presented the scheme to him that El Libertador would gladly start featuring advertisements for fast food chains but that the ads would consist of a picture of a hamburger with the label: “Beware, this product is golpista.”
Lagos, 44, defended his rejection of the offer on the basis that he was not rich but that he was not a mercenary, either. As for characters who did qualify as mercenaries, these apparently included television host Renato Alvarez – who Lagos claimed had merely invited him to appear on his program Frente a Frente so that the United Nations would think there was freedom of expression in Honduras – and two individuals in ski masks who had kidnapped Libertador reporter Delmer Membreño on September 28.
According to Lagos, Membreño had been apprehended a few blocks from the paper’s office in downtown Tegucigalpa, thrown into a truck, and driven to a field 40 kilometers from the city. There he had been beaten, kicked, burned on the face and arms with cigarettes, relieved of 6000 USD worth of technology, and told to inform “Jhonnycito” that even worse treatment awaited the newspaper director and his family. Following the latest threat from Micheletti and Alvarado, it was decided that the Libertador office would be abandoned and that the staff would install themselves and their laptops in various locations in and around the capital.
Lagos categorized the dissemination of forces as an effort to obtain relative security, as it was not possible at the moment to speak of total security in Honduras. As for the level of security pertaining to our meeting at an outdoor coffee shop on a busy street, Lagos announced that the worst the golpistas could do was kill him and that he had never harbored illusions as to the eternity of existence – illusions I attempted to maintain by subtly repositioning my chair.
Sporting a blue T-shirt and beard, Lagos hailed from the department of El Paraíso on the border with Nicaragua, where he was raised by his grandmother and began work at a young age manually removing worms from tobacco plantations. He later progressed to shoe shining and a construction job, and at the age of 16 presided over his own tailor’s shop with 10 employees. Following a soccer career during which he studied at night, Lagos enrolled in college, where he changed his major from social work to economics to journalism, claiming that the final subject endowed him with the greatest sense of purpose. Lagos invoked this sense once again when outlining his reasons for not heeding the advice of his military acquaintance to flee the country, with the other reasons including his aversion to airport shoe removal processes and any situation in which there were too many rules.
As for the traditional rules of Honduran journalism, these were challenged six years ago with the founding of El Libertador. Employed as an economic analyst at the daily El Heraldo for 10 years, Lagos had arrived at the conclusion that Honduran newspapers did not safeguard societal values and decided to create a publication that would feature interviews with shoeless Honduran women instead of oligarch family trips to Milan runways. Contemporary examples of divergent journalistic approaches cited by Lagos include the failure of El Libertador to utilize the Photoshop program to disappear the blood of victims of military and police repression at anti-coup protests.
Prior to the birth of El Libertador, public surveys were undertaken to determine the name of the paper and the attributes its future readership deemed essential. Lagos meanwhile consulted colleagues for suggestions for funding the venture and received ideas ranging from selling meat in the tourist town of Valle de Angeles to producing a play; the first suggestion was discarded but the latter was not, resulting in Lagos’ theatrical debut in a tale of love in wartime which did not generate the intended financial returns.
The solution to the lack of startup capital presented itself one morning at Parque La Leona overlooking Tegucigalpa, 11 months after Lagos had left El Heraldo. He was at this point approximately 50 USD in coffee and cigarette debt to a park vendor who was rapidly losing faith in the possibility that El Libertador would materialize. Observing the city from above, it occurred to Lagos that newspaper production did not have to be confined to a single space and could rather be achieved via dispersed internet cafés.
Following his experience at La Leona, Lagos acquired nine collaborators from his university and took them to the same park for a speech about the birth of alternative journalism in Honduras, during which he attempted to avoid the inevitable question of where the headquarters of said journalism would be. A concrete headquarters was eventually acquired in accordance with the growth of the paper, which now sells 80-100,000 copies and boasts a staff of 30, in addition to an agreement with the National Autonomous University of Honduras permitting journalism students to train with El Libertador.
Additional figures cited by Lagos included his calculation that, in 2008, 20 percent of the Honduran population had consumed 75 percent of the country’s goods and services. He explained his penchant for mathematics as being due to the fact that they were more precise than statements that democracy did not exist in Honduras, and contended that golpista interactions with math consisted of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s calculation that democracy existed as long as there were two candidates at election time. Other relevant formulas appeared to include the equation of aspirations to constitutional change with terrorism, one of the accusations Lagos’ military informer had warned would be leveled against him by the coup government.
According to Lagos, the June 28 coup had taken place as a result of the collapse of the ideological apparatus of the Honduran elite, who were no longer capable of suppressing the population and were forced to resort to terror as a means of maintaining a defunct system. The coup itself had reinforced the vacuous and repetitive qualities of the oligarchic discourse, as well as the farcical nature of national institutions, and Lagos pinpointed a national constituent assembly as the only possible antidote to golpista defiance of the evolution of humanity.
The adaptability of organs of the Honduran Resistance is emphasized by the fact that El Libertador continues to publish without an office – an updated version of its original operational model of dispersed journalists connected to the internet. Golpista creativity meanwhile appears to be limited to exploiting overlapping institutional interests by stationing platforms that Lagos has identified as belonging to the Honduran soccer team outside the Brazilian embassy.
President Zelaya has confirmed to Lagos the use of the platforms in order to shine lights into embassy rooms at night. Honduran daily La Tribuna has offered a different interpretation, which is that the platforms merely enable police to monitor the movements of an elite Venezuelan security team which has somehow turned up inside embassy walls – further support for Lagos’ claim that the coup regime already has enough accomplices to absolve El Libertador from being one of them.
First published in Narco News, 26 October 2009