Honduras: Whitewashing the Coup

March 8, 2010

The Honduran government of Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo remains unrecognized by the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and most Latin American countries. The Lobo administration, having come to power through an election widely viewed as illegitimate in the international community, is struggling to restore the country’s badly needed diplomatic ties. Lobo has also made overtures toward “national reconciliation”—even as a decree has come into force granting impunity to those who undertook the June 28 coup and committed “political crimes,” such as “treason against the fatherland, crimes against the form of government, terrorism, and sedition.”

Meanwhile, dissidents remain in the crosshairs. The latest victim, at the time of this writing, is Claudia Brizuela, 36, a member of the nonviolent resistance who was shot to death February 24 in her home in San Pedro Sula in front of her two children, aged two and eight. She was the daughter of Pedro Brizuela, a well-known figure in the resistance and program host for the anti-coup Radio Uno. Honduran authorities have said they are looking for suspected gang members as the perpetrators, suggesting that Brizuela’s killing was unconnected to her political activities and connections. Members of the resistance have a different theory: that she was killed by coup supporters aiming to send a message to her father, and anyone else with funny ideas about speaking out.

Such political terrorism under apolitical cover would be just one more manifestation of the Honduran golpistas’ by now well-established track record of concealing their anti-democratic, violent disposition. At the official level, this has amounted to political whitewashing on a grand scale. This edition of the NACLA Report features two long-form essays on this process of whitewashing, both in Honduras and in Washington. Rosemary A. Joyce describes the lengths to which Honduran coup authorities went both to undertake a show election in November, portraying it as legitimate (false claims of massive electoral participation, unaccredited electoral observers) while using coercive practices against dissidents in the run-up to the election (police attacks on protesters, blacklists of resistance members, shuttered anti-coup media). The result? No future Honduran president can count on fulfilling a term in office if the country’s new oligarchs don’t approve, Joyce writes. Moreover, the election that brought Lobo to office has ensured the continuity of the golpista agenda in Tegucigalpa.

Adrienne Pine shines a light on Washington’s coup supporters in the State Department and various think tanks, who launched a savvy PR campaign almost immediately after the coup. They succeeded in persuading many legislators to recognize the coup government and the elections that installed its successor, while seeking to bury the well-documented record of post-coup state violence in Honduras. The campaign’s success, according to Pine, resulted from the absence of a real democratic process in Washington. The “debate” in Washington over who owns the concept of democracy, she emphasizes, was itself shaped by markedly anti-democratic practices.

Reporting from Honduras in the post-coup aftermath, Daniel Altschuler describes how the coup government successfully co-opted a group of parents’ organizations that came together after teachers’ unions called a strike in protest of the coup. Long-simmering tensions between teachers and parents came to a head during the strike, as many parents denounced the teachers as self-interested, while the unions retaliated that the parents were mere pawns of the golpistas. And Honduran historian Darío A. Euraque, formerly the director of a government institute charged with protecting Honduran cultural patrimony, provides a firsthand account of his efforts to remake cultural policy and the conflict with the coup government that resulted in his firing.

Honduras, and particularly the resistance movement, is at a critical juncture. The November election and the inauguration of a new government have failed to erase the coup and its aftermath from public memory. The struggle in Honduras hardly seems over, whatever we may hear about “reconciliation” from officials in Tegucigalpa or Washington. Two days after Brizuela’s death, a massive resistance march took place in Tegucigalpa. Marchers chanted, “Neither forgive nor forget!”


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