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.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

While State Department Waffles, Honduran University Members are Beaten

As news comes that the State Department has assured Senator Richard Lugar that they do not actually support President Zelaya (confirming the opinions of most of my Honduran correspondents), that they blame him for "provoking" the coup (recalling other forms of blaming the victim whose actions draw violent responses), and that they have no intention to use their economic leverage (reassuring the Micheletti regime that they can dig in and wait and eventually they will get away with their coup), the regime's threatened escalation of violence comes to fruition, unfolding as I write in the National University campus in Tegucigalpa.

Here, reports from multiple correspondents, echoed by Telesur and Tiempo (of Hondurs), note that the National Police are using tear gas, beatings, and shooting at students and faculty who were engaged in peaceful protest of the illegitimate regime that is stealing their freedoms.

Among those victimized by this violence: Julietta Castellano, Rector (equivalent to Chancellor) and respected symbol of the integrity of this institution. According to Olvin Rodriguez, member of the Junta Directiva (executive committee) of the university, as they were exiting with their hands up in response to police demands, they were set upon, beaten, and thrown to the ground. He writes that "Not even in the epoch of repression by the bloody General Alvarez Martinez in the 1980s was the autonomy of the university violated as it was today."

The reference is to the dictator who preceded the period of almost thirty years of constitutional rule destroyed in the coup of June 28. As Honduran commentators have argued, the damage being done to the fabric of civil society will not easily be repaired.

An email report from the scene sent to me at 1:45 describes a scene of horror:

A half hour ago, the police force and military of the dictatorial regime imposed on Honduras, has initiated a vandalistic offensive against the National Autonomous University of Honduras. With the pretext of dissolving a peaceful demonstration of resistance that the students were carrying out at the entry to the University in Tegucigalpa, they began to throw tear gas, and as the students fled to the interior of the university grounds, they have pursued them and continue their human hunt at this moment, with SHOTS. The Rector and members of the Junta Directiva of the University, who had come out to dialogue with the police and military, have been assaulted in their physical integrity, thrown on the ground, grabbed with blows.

There are wounded, the cruel repression continues in the present moments. Colleagues, students and administrators from within the University are calling us, anguished, they cannot exit, they are shooting at them, breaking in the windows and walls, the tear gas has entered the university halls, they feel they are suffocating and are afraid to come out and be shot with bullets.
Meanwhile, a second correspondent, whose father is among those trapped on the campus, writes that Radio Globo is reporting that at least three wounded have been transported by a Red Cross ambulance for medical care. These reports also say the Police Commander Somoza, supposedly in charge, disclaims any knowledge of whoever is giving orders to this contingent of police and military. Radio Globo reports that students have armed themselves with stones and are attacking the police and commandos, pushing them back, but that strong reinforcements are coming for the military.
It is imperative that the US State Department NOT BE ALLOWED to ignore these latest acts of violent repression by the Honduran regime. The State Department MUST DENOUNCE these actions, and must take action to punish the regime and induce it to cease its campaign of terror against its citizens.


Doug Zylstra said...


Any thoughts on the significance of Elvin Santos distancing himself from the Coup?

Seems as if the Hondurans are by themselves at this point, but perhaps more effective as a result?

RAJ said...

Elvin Santos was thrown out by students of a second university in Tegucigalpa yesterday (the Pedagogica, or teacher's college). The students have voted not to allow political candidates on campus and vow not to participate in November's elections if the regime is in power.

Santos tried to distance himself from the coup earlier, when congress members from the Liberal Party declared they had not voted yes on Sunday June 28. Santos' claims were dismissed at the time as self-serving post facto politics. I judge the same applies here.

If the US truly means that it will not apply pressure Hondurans are indeed on their own-- but that is not good. More people will die or be injured invisible in US media and similar authoritarians will be able to act with impunity.

Mark said...

Are you here in Honduras? These "reports" couldn't be more wrong. I drove up on this incident today and it is not what you have described at all. What actually happened was that students that are part of Fuerza Universitaria Revolucionaria had been blocking the entrance to UNAH and were already creating difficulty for the people there. The police were called to come and break it up and the students began throwing rocks. The police retreated and the crowd of students began marching down Bulevar Suyapa. As they marched, they were throwing rocks through the windows of businesses and restaurants on the street. A Burger King, Campero's, and Dunkin Donuts were all destroyed. There were people inside eating at all these establishments. They also lit a car on fire and were burning tires so as to block the road from traffic. I had to turn around, jump the median, and find another way to get where I was going.

I asked the two teenagers that were with me what they thought of this and all they could say was that the people protesting were "tanto y loco". There is no way what I witnessed could be called a peaceful protest. I wish it was. You would think they would have more impact if they were.

RAJ said...

No, I am not currently in Honduras-- the students, faculty and other scholars sending me email are.

And they were there from the beginning of what was a peaceful protest using a tactic with long history in Honduras-- impeding access to roads and facilities. It is a well-known form of civil disobedience. The fact that the military announced last Thursday that they were going to "dislodge" anyway engaged in these actions was the initial threat of violence, implemented that same day in actions that resulted in the death of a peaceful protestor.

In the present case, the police were the initial aggressors including beating the administrators who came to mediate the initial confrontation.

I don't doubt students then lashed out. But coming in, as you did, on the end of events doesn't mean you have a complete view of them. It is a tragedy when police violence against citizens is unleashed. The armed forces are responsible for not initiating violence and at present their policy is the opposite.

Finally: there is a difference between a peaceful protest and an inconvenient one. Civil disobedience doesn't take place out of sight and will indeed cause "difficulty". It's supposed to do so.

Mark said...


I am well aware of the well known practice of blocking roads in demonstrations and protests here in Honduras. I have been coming here for over 10 years, lived here part-time for 4 of those and full-time for almost 16 months. It is definitely a common occurrence. That is not what hacks me off though. What is really frustrating is that these demonstrations are not just civil disobedience, they are criminal. They cross the line when they are throwing rocks and bottles and sticks at other citizens and restaurants. That is unnecessary. Those people and those businesses should not be on the receiving end of the violence.

Civil disobedience is a valid method of protest. It is actually more effective when there is no fighting back at all. The "attack" (it was just bags of water) of Elvin Santos yesterday was also uncalled for. These types of criminal activity will, unfortunately, do nothing but escalate the problems. Civil disobedience makes a valid statement. Criminal activity just doesn't.

Mark said...

OK... I have read a few more reports and this is how it seemed to go down. The students were blocking Suyapa in an acy of civil disobedience. When the police came to break it up, they ran into the university. The police followed. when the chancellor came out to discuss it, the police did force her to the ground. the students then drove the police back with rocks and then marched down the street throwing the rocks at everything. the police used tear gas and a water cannon to disperse the students.

i hate that both sides are stepping over the line in what they are doing.

RAJ said...

And I've been working in Honduras for 32 years. Through the entire transition to constitutional government. I've had to accompany Hondurans working with me when the then-military police arbitrarily seized then, hoping my presence would avoid a beating or worse.

I never expected those days to return. When the regime in power authorizes the use of force against citizens they lose their legitimacy. It is back to might makes right; with press suppression added, you have a dictatorship. I do not advocate violence but I recognize who has the power and responsibility to stop it.

Anonymous said...

Mark, suppose the Russians took over the United States.

Would you consider it "criminal" if people threw rocks at them?

This is a military coup, for heaven's sake, not some Sunday School exercise. Nine people are dead, hundreds wounded, and thousands imprisoned.

There's something that RAJ hasn't verbalized, but anyone who knows Latin America has a feel for: universities are quasi-autonomous zones. For the police to enter a university is so unusual that it is a marker of state power out of control. They manhandled the Rector to make a statement that they don't respect the institution. And they probably did it to get even for the harassment that Elvin Santos got the day before-- in other words, for completely petty reasons.

What you are doing is called "apologism." This coup has been declared illegal by every government on earth. Every act of violence they commit is a crime. Every act of resistance against them is an act to uphold the law.

--Charles of MercuryRising

Unknown said...

Mark, when you wrote that the demonstrators were members "Fuerza Universitaria Revolucionaria" it struck me as very strange that someone inadvertently driving up on the incident would know that. So I checked out your profile, which led me to your blog
where you describe your same eye-witness account. Only it is not the same at all - in that you left the scene right-off and later watched the story on local TV at a friend's house. Dang, kid, that's patently dishonest - especially with your "Are you here in Honduras" comment. So you're just regurgitating what the golpista controlled media is saying, and trying to pass it off as an eye-witness account. Wow...that's all I can say.

RAJ said...

Thanks to EAM for uncovering this dishonesty, and to others for articulating points I was too upset to make.

I moderate comments here to ensure we shed light, not just heat. I generally assume good faith, and if someone disagrees with me drawing on real evidence, but as Mark appeared to be doing, without sufficient knowledge, I try to add the missing context.

My sources are Hondurans who in many cases could be safe outside the country. I have colleagues who teach at UNAH and students I taught in Honduras who are now embattled. Even if Mark had actually witnessed, not just appropriated, what he reported, his account would remain unreliable and uninformed.

Unknown said...

There's also the "Rashomon Effect", Raj. Eye witness accounts are notoriously unreliable. At any rate, I'm happy to have helped out in a little way. Honestly, I'm so appreciative of the great work you are doing, especially with the translation which somehow compensates for the Press blackout we have here in the US for Honduran news. Thank you.

Honduras catches my heart because it reminds me so much of my involvement with the Maya of Guatemala in the early 1980s. We didn't have an Internet in those days, so it was an old type writer pounding out desperate messages trying to compensate for the news blackout.

There is one thing that I would like to know, however. Who are the "8 ruling families of Honduras." I can guess a few, but I can't find the whole list (or perhaps its just legendary).

RAJ said...

We also wonder which families specifically these are.

The idea that eight families control Honduras wealth developed over the last 20 years.

We have seen the Facusse, Rosenthal, and Canahuati families named explicitly. They own much of the media.

We will look into this with Honduran contacts and update.

Mark said...

RAJ and others....

I was not being patently dishonest in my thoughts. I said (and it is true if you read my blog) that I drove up on the incident. I didn't say I sat there watching (although I did probably leave that impression) as I clearly didn't. I had two children with me and did not want to put them in any danger. Sorry if it cam across otherwise.


we are not talking about one country (Russia) invading another (the US). I have trouble equating those as the same thing. I also have stated that I have no problem with the demonstrations or the civil disobedience. I do struggle with making sense of the criminal nature of some of those protesting. Throwing rocks at restaurants where people are eating is not something that any of us should be in favor of or support as an action.


I watched the account on channel 36, an independent cable network which is not "golpista controlled". It, as well as radio globo, is one of the stations that is certainly more disposed toward a pro-zelaya view. Also, it was my house, not a friend's.

Anyway, I was just trying to add my personal account to what was being reported. Unfortunately, I am finding that there is very little "truth" available and that there is much misinformation being given from both sides of the conflict.

Look, I am here trying to make a small difference in the lives of those who are enmeshed in the poverty that plagues this country. I honestly just wish that they would settle this thing so that the interruptions to the work would stop and we can continue to bring some relief to those who need it.

RAJ said...

We also wonder which families specifically these are.

The idea that eight families control Honduras wealth developed over the last 20 years.

We have seen the Facusse, Rosenthal, and Canahuati families named explicitly. They own much of the media.

We will look into this with Honduran contacts and update.

RAJ said...

Mark, your post did leave a strong impression that you were in the midst of the violence. Having read your blog I presume your Christian beliefs would prevent you from deliberately lying. But you are still being very naive and you can't help Hondurans if you won't acknowledge the difference between official state violence and the actions taken by those attacked to defend themselves, and pehaps-- if the news you watched was accurate-- to express frustration at worldwide inaction.

It may not be an invasion you need to imagine how this feels; but no comparable situation is imaginable in the US. We do not have to fear abduction of the president by the army or beatings sanctioned, indeed ordered, by a usurper government.

Mark said...


I'm not sure naive is the right word, but I am always learning, that is for sure. Also, just to clarify, it is not my Christian beliefs that would keep me from deliberately lying. not lying is simply something that is appropriate for all of us. I am disappointed that I left the impression of being dishonest as it would never be my intent. My Christian beliefs simply help me to understand that there is something bigger than us out there and it provides me with hope in what is sometimes for me, a pretty hopeless world.

Again, just so we are clear, the manifestaciones that are taking place here is not something that I have any problem with. I'm a 70's "hippie" and have always been in favor of freedoms to express oneself in peaceful manners. It is the violence that is being directed at the various businesses and restaurants (especially when there are people in those establishments) that I can't seem to make sense of. I saw the remnants of those attacks) (the broken glass and holes through the windows less than two hours after the fact when I drove the kids home that were visiting at my house. Even if done out of frustration, it is certainly not something that should be acceptable. Maybe I am dead wrong, but I struggle to see how.

I appreciate your blog and being able to read from someone with a different opinion of some of what is happening here. I don't claim to have a handle on all that has occurred, but it seems pretty clear that there is plenty of blame to go around. Not many innocents in government and from my experience, that is true everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Mark, you fail to acknowledge that the coup is illegal under international law and in the eyes of the entire world. This is morally wrong, to pretend that you did not see the simple truth that I placed before you.

There is no question that a coup is morally identical and legally similar to the unprovoked invasion of a foreign country.

Where is the evidence of students throwing rocks at bystanders? I haven't seen that in footage, I haven't seen it alleged by anyone except you, and it makes no sense. If it happened, of course it would be wrong-- indeed, unlawful. But it would represent a minor crime relative to the shootings, beatings, and illegal detentions practiced on a mass scale by the police.

Jesus said "Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?" It was in direct reference to people who pointed to small sins to distract attention from larger ones.

--Charles of MercuryRising

RAJ said...

I am going to claim the right to the last word here, and it will be the last word on this thread which has become a distraction and does not fulfill the goal of sharing perspectives from Honduras that are being suppressed.

Mark, I still say " naive" in at least three ways:

First, as several of us have tried to suggest, your idea that protests should be entirely nonviolent ignores the power differential. The students were blocking the street, which is inconvenient to others, to call attention to the fact that it is not business as usual. They were not prepared to be attacked and seizing rocks is an act of desperation spurred by those who came armed to dislodge them. The violence that ensued is not equally the fault of both parties.

Second, and here us why it matters that you gave a spurious impression of first-hand witnessing, you continue to repeat that the students threw rocks for the purpose of breaking the windows of businesses. That is an interpretation. My correspondents who are there describe it differently; rocks were thrown in self-defense at the police attackers.

Finally, with all due respect, I think you are being naive about Honduran politics and history. It is easy to allocate blame to everyone as if administrative refusals to accept lower court rulings are somehow commensurate with suspending constitutional rights and invading autonomous university grounds. There is a great deal more blame to be laid at the feet of those who planned this coup and are suppressing dissent.

But as I said: I accept that you had no intent to deceive. But try to be more skeptical and realize that you are seeing tiny fragments of a larger story.

To all: peace on this. For now, I urge everyone to write to all Federal representatives to demand repudiation of the Lugar letter and it's promise to the regime of no sanctions, which directly underwrites ramped-up violence. A better use of all our time.

And I have some criminal law to explain, and another wrenching statement from a Honduran intellectual to translate.