Responses to the Coup d'etat in Honduras on Sunday June 28, with special emphasis on producing English-language versions of commentaries by Honduran scholars and editorial writers and addressing the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Education is dangerous: Police militarize Tegucigalpa's universities

The excerpts from a chilling first-hand account of the repression of anti-coup rallies really needs little explanation, other than to say it comes from a member of a delegation from the US, from the Quixote Center/Quest for Peace, that went to Honduras to see first-hand what the situation is.

As the author notes, the police are now claiming that the National Pedagogical University stored, and the UNAH produced, bombs, producing rows of devices lined up for photo opportunities as "evidence". The highly-respected sociologist, Julieta Castellanos, rector of UNAH, denies this in an article published in La Tribuna. Ironically, her main argument that the charges of bomb-making were inaccurate comes from the fact that the laboratories are unusable, never having been repaired after an explosion during the course of use. As anyone who has visited UNAH knows, it suffers from an entirely unmaintained set of facilities. Now they also have to contend with police rumor-mongering which, in the present atmosphere, could set up conditions for militarization as has already taken place in the Pedagogica, which trains the teachers who work in Honduras' under-funded, challenged schools.

Wednesday in Tegucigalpa

We had breathed a collective sigh of relief that the mass mobilizations of Tuesday had passed without major incident. In the morning on Wednesday, part of our delegation went to join that day’s march which, after an extended assembly at the University headed off towards downtown Tegucigalpa. Three of us who have been coordinating spent the morning writing a framework for an ongoing presence of delegations.

Our group had agreed to meet up in the mid afternoon at the human rights office, COFADEH. We were planning to participate in a press conference which COFADEH was convening, but had been continually delayed because the report they are issuing includes so many cases of human rights violations, they have not been able to get it finished


Suddenly a part of the crowd started moving backwards instead of forward. We ran to a different door, around the corner, closer to where the crowds were turning around, to see why it was happening. Down the side street, we could see a line of police and military advancing. They advanced on the crowd without the slightest provocation. Suddenly tear gas was flying everywhere and we could see that troops were attacking the crowd from other directions as well. Some people in the march responded by throwing rocks to chase the military and police back. What happened was obviously a previously planned assault. Soon the police and military were chasing people from every direction, and the march disintegrated, as people ran to escape being accosted by the repressive actions. What we would later discover is that assaults were happening somewhat simultaneously all over the city. Our view inside the mall afforded us scant perspective as to what was happening all over the city, and in San Pedro Sula as well. Members of our delegation would later recount of being sandwiched between soldiers from many directions, but fortunately they were able to escape without personal injury.


The army conducted an assault on the National University, and has turned it into a virtual military base. They arrested an undetermined number of people inside, some whose whereabouts are still unknown. Ambulances which left full of people who had been beaten, many reportedly with their faces battered apparently never arrived at the hospital that was their supposed destination. The headquarters of the STYBIS union was also surrounded, and remained under control of the army as of last night. There was also a similar kind of assault on the other city where protesters had converged on Tuesday, San Pedro Sula. We got a report that more than 300 people were detained there. [emphasis added]

We went out in a couple of vehicles to accompany COFADEH staff to rescue several young union activists who were in hiding and feared detention and worse. We brought them back to the COFADEH office, where it is presumed that they will be safer. On the way home we stopped by the University, which looked just like a military base. Outside was a group of lawyers who had been working for hours to secure the release of those who had been illegally detained there yesterday. We also passed in front of the STYBIS headquarters, which was still surrounded by the army. [emphasis added]

This morning our delegation, severely impacted emotionally by the events unfolding around them yesterday, will regroup and again head out to cover the mobilization which has been called for today and prepare reports detailing the breadth of abuses which were committed yesterday. Here in Honduras the coup government’s propaganda machine is fully cranked up this morning. The head of the police and a high military official were in full smile on a morning talk show. They are attempting to justify their criminalization of the protest, alleging that they uncovered bomb making activities by the resistance front, which they use as an excuse to justify their wanton attacks on all of the protesters.


Nell said...

From Oscar, Adrienne Pine's correspondent:

:: While [the police] carried on beating and arresting protesters in the [plaza near the Congress], in the gardens of the UPNFM (Universidad Pedag├│gica) an army combat unit entered by force, beating all the students and faculty who were preparing the grounds to receive the pilgrims who were marching on the other side of the city. Witnesses report that as they were being humiliated, the military soldiers took pictures of them, threatening to kill them if they were seen again among the protesters. One of the DA office attorneys from the common crime section who went to the site some five hours after the military attack, told the press that the people there had not been arrested, but rather "detained," and only as witnesses because they had found evidence of molotov cocktails in the place and were carrying out the necessary investigations.

What the attorney did not say was how the resistance discipline committee had managed to capture a police agent infiltrating the protesters with 20 bottles of molotov cocktails in his backpack, that it was they who brought the complaint to the DA's office asking that the make themselves present at the site to take witnesses' statements (and proof of this is available in the complaint, which was registered by [human rights organization] COFADEH), that it was just minutes after the DA's office was contacted when the army attacked, overtaking the facilities and using said cocktails in the cases that they are now pursuing against members of the resistance.

At the moment there are three official cases for crimes of Terrorism, Sedition, Aggravated Arson, Illicit Association which could carry sentences of 15-20 years. Tomorrow another group of accused will be brought before the judge, among them our compa├▒era, the artist Alba Ochoa, whom we all know and respect, and who was tortured by the police this afternoon. ::

Alba Ochoa is among the prisoners listed on the website of the Honduran embassy in Washington (hat tip Charles).

RAJ said...

Just as an aside: the legal distinction between detention and arrest, being cynically used by the police against protesters, is precisely the issue they blur when they claim the Supreme Court had ordered President Zelaya's arrest, when in fact the order was to detain him.