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, September 23, 2009

Spinning resistance as vandalism

Listening to Radio Globo, it is clear that across the country, people have decided to defy the curfew and go out, even at night, to reclaim their country from the de facto regime and its military suppression of the right of free circulation and free association.

Among the many places from which people are calling are names of communities I know only from the historical documents attesting to the persistence of indigenous communities through centuries of the Spanish colonization.

Tatumbla, for example, where a woman calling in described the alcalde (mayor) as a golpista. A town mentioned throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In 1655, one of the earliest places from which we have seen a petition by an indigenous woman. Part of a grant of labor to one of the elites living in Comayagua in 1669. Today, home to brave women who refuse to stay penned in their houses, in what Juan Almendares calls "the world's largest jail".

These are people who know how to survive, and they are fighting against unbearable oppression.

So how does the English-language media spin it? A report by Associated Press just 20 minutes ago characterizes the arrests of the night-- which they surely are undercounting, based on the reporting on radio from Honduras-- as "for vandalism and looting".

The choice of that lead is important, and irresponsible. It is the way that the regime chooses to mischaracterize the astonishing choice people are making, knowing they risk arrest, beating, and being shot. This is not, as other media call it, "riots". Riots justify riot police. This is demonstrations by the sovereign people, and it is a violation of Honduran constitutional rights and a scene of human rights violations by those with weapons who seek to prevent the expression by the people of their desire for the restitution of their government.

Equally corrosive editorializing in this supposed "news story" is the description of the situation at the Brazilian Embassy:
Zelaya remained holed up with a shrinking core of supporters at the increasingly isolated Brazilian Embassy in Honduras. Diplomats and activists streamed out of the compound late Tuesday, and Brazil urged the U.N. Security Council to guarantee the embassy's safety.
This is a storyline being developed that creates the impression of a loss of support, rather than, for example, a more honest account which would emphasize the shocking violence being exerted against the diplomatic mission of a sovereign state. How might we rewrite this so that it was a truthful account?
President Zelaya maintained his presence in the Brazilian Embassy in Honduras, where the de facto regime strengthened its blockade to prevent demonstrators from assembling outside. Late Tuesday, some of those trapped inside left the compound, while Brazil urged the UN Security Council to guarantee the embassy's safety.
See what I mean? the choices of the more colorful "holed up"; the characterization of a "shrinking core of supporters" (what does that mean? the people in the Embassy? the crowds dislodged by force immediately outside? not the people across the city and country who are violating the curfew as a demonstration of support for the restitution of freedom and the legitimate government); of "increasingly isolated" instead of something that acknowledges that the Embassy is being cordoned off; and of "streamed out", an image of escape rather than simple departure: these choices spin the story.

Just as I could do if I wanted to rewrite it again as a polemic for the resistance:
President Zelaya, capping his heroic journey back to his country, remained defiant in the Embassy of Brazil, whose president called for the UN Security Council to sanction attempts by the de facto regime to isolate him from contact with the people. Meanwhile, the regime continued is oppression of the people, both by blockading the area around the Embassy, and by attacks throughout Tegucigalpa on citizens exercising their rights to demonstrate or simply to circulate. Late Tuesday, diplomats and others inside the Embassy left, leaving those still in residence better prepared to resist a long siege.
See? word choices matter. The article cites the police justifying their repression as normal policing of crime. The viewpoint adopted is entirely that of the regime, even if the reporter did not intend it.

Similarly, by reporting only the claims of the regime about the intentions President Zelaya had in returning now, the article advances the storyline of the illegal regime:
The interim government accused Zelaya of sneaking back into the country Monday to create disturbances and disrupt the Nov. 29 election scheduled to pick his successor
President Zelaya himself made a different call: not for violence, but for non-violence, not to disrupt the elections, but to open a direct negotiation with the de facto regime to end the conflict. The only reference to this is a sentence saying he
repeatedly asked to speak with interim President Roberto Micheletti.
How bad can one short sentence get?

First, no government in the world recognizes Micheletti as the President of Honduras. He is not the "interim" President. He is the former head of Congress who usurped the office of President.

And President Zelaya did not just ask to speak with Micheletti; he has been calling him, and other members of the de facto regime. Micheletti, according to reports, has refused his calls. Carlos Florés Facusse, also according to reports, did accept President Zelaya's call, and said he would see what he could do.

Let's try one last rewrite, and you decide if I am just being descriptive or advocating for the Resistance:
AP: The country remains shut down under the nearly round-the-clock curfew decreed by the interim government that ousted Zelaya in June.

RAJ: Despite the declared round-the-clock curfew which continued for more than 48 hours, dictated by the de facto regime that illegally removed President Zelaya from office in June, throughout the capital city and beyond people were in the streets in direct defiance of the order.
Micheletti is making himself irrelevant every time he insists he can define the terms of debate. The business community, the candidates for the November presidential election, and even members of his own inner circle of coup authors are issuing statements calling for negotiation, without the rejection of President Zelaya's reinstatement repeated every time Micheletti speaks.

And now, Micheletti's mask is off: he is reduced to having statements read for him, written in English (!), by whom? Whose puppet is he now?


John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

The New York Times has a slide show entitled "Riots in Honduras"
There is one picture that might be called a riot. Many others, showing people fleeing from the gas attacks, could be entitled "police riots."
The type of "spin" is found throughout Honduras as well.

John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

La gringita has just posted a long blog (which I haven't yet read completely to avoid getting bored or angry) with claims about a lot of violence and looting in Tegucigalpa, claiming that the cars were damaged by Resistance supporters. Does any one have solid evidence about who has been doing the looting and vandalism? A factual analysis would be helpful as long as it is truthful and willing to admit if Resistance supporters are responsible for some of the violence.

RAJ said...

This is a very tough one, and I have a very tough reply.

In theory, I would welcome proof that all these incidents were the work of provocateurs. But there would never be any way to be sure, really.

And in practice, I believe that we need to acknowledge that the intolerable circumstances that oppressed people experience may well bring them to the point of angry action against institutions, or even specific kinds of property, that for local reasons crystallize rage and symbolize oppression.

Nonviolence is the practice of saints; most people are not in a state of such grace.

Let me be clear: I do not excuse destruction of property simply because of real experiences of oppression. But just as the responsibiity for violent attacks on demonstrators rests with the regime, not Zelaya or the people themselves; the responsibility for the violence that can well up from people in such situations is the responsibility of the regime that has exacerbated divisions within the country.

I think we give up this ground too quickly when we go for denial, for the claim that any acts of violence are to be credited to opportunists or the regime. We need to understand the kind of rage that can come with great injustice; the rage that burned the suburbs of Paris; and then find ways to change the circumstances that, for example, can make a fast food restaurant a target of violence.

David in Atlanta said...

Is this the same reporter AP had covering Oaxaca? She was removed eventually when too many people pointed out she was simply rewriting the governors press releases.

RAJ said...

The AP reporter in this case was a man, Mark Stevenson. In my experience monitoring the news media on this story, as well as experience I had as a commentator on the Sarah Palin nomination and campaign as Republican Vice Presidential candidate, AP seemed to be consistent in what I would call a conservative bias, independent of who was reporting. This would mean that the slant comes, not from the reporter alone, but from the editorial desk.