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they are afraid of us, because we are not afraid!

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

Posted by Tyler Shipley on November 24th 2009 at 8:51pm

It is with excitement and apprehension that I prepare for my arrival in Tegucigalpa, from where I will be posting reports this week in the lead-up to the boycott of the Nov. 29th elections. I am excited by the prospect of meeting people like Berta Caceres, an indigenous leader of the resistance whose incendiary speeches in the streets of the capital have stirred me with admiration for the bravery of the Honduran people facing daily repression and violence but refusing to back down from the project of building a new country. I am apprehensive at the prospect of meeting any one of the 2000 soldiers, 15,000 police and 5000 reservists that have been mobilized by the Micheletti regime to ensure “free and fair elections.”

As Honduras lurches towards confrontation between the perpetrators of electoral farce and the people who are demanding that their voices be heard, it seems instructive to revisit the moment that, in many respects, set the scene for the current crisis. Indeed, what is perhaps most striking about the struggle for constitutional reform in 2009 is the similarity it bears to the context that led to the signing of the 1982 constitution that the resistance is seeking to reform.

The 1980s were not a pleasant time in Central America. The revolutionary social movements that had achieved some success in the 60s and 70s were in the process of being ‘rolled back’ by the United States and its local allies in what amounted to a low-intensity war; a truly terrorist campaign that left thousands of bodies in its wake. The political Left in Honduras, perhaps best represented by the National Federation of Honduras Peasants (FENACH), had not been able to achieve the kind of military and political success that characterized the guerillas in Guatemala or the Sandanistas in Nicaragua. As a result, Honduras became a primary base from which the United States launched its campaigns of terror against those neighbouring countries. In addition to the 18 military bases it established and the 10,000 American troops stationed there, the U.S. also provided the Honduran armed forces with over $100 million between 1980-84.

This infusion of money and technical support to the military and business elite reinforced the strength of the oligarchy in Tegucigalpa and led to dramatic increases in poverty, inequality and political repression. The 1982 constitution was written after decades of military dictatorship while Honduras was playing host to a US-led paramilitary contra force of over 15,000 soldiers trained in what we now call ‘counter-insurgency’ – specializing in campaigns of terror against primarily poor and ill-equipped guerilla forces and their supporters. In the period 1981-84, when the new constitution was being written, ratified and established into political order, the regime carried out 214 political assassinations, 110 ‘disappearances,’ and 1,947 illegal detentions. Given that context, calling that constitution ‘representative’ of any but the most elite strata of Honduran society would be patently absurd; the vast majority of people in the country were living in abject poverty and ceaseless fear of their own soldiers and police.

Fast forward to 2009, and the struggle for a re-opening of that same constitution. The Honduran oligarchy wasn’t happy when Manuel Zelaya refused to grant new mining concessions, or when he raised the minimum wage, or when he vetoed a new law prohibiting birth-control pills (which has subsequently been passed under the coup regime.) But the proposal to open up the 1982 constitution for reform was, evidently, the last straw. Despite the rhetoric so happily repeated for North American audiences, the constitution was not being re-opened in order to keep Zelaya in power; the vote that was to happen on June 28th, the morning of the coup, was a non-binding referendum to determine whether there was, indeed, an appetite to re-write the constitution. A strong ‘yes’ vote would have prompted Zelaya to form an assembly to evaluate and re-constitute the nation’s most fundamental code of laws. That assembly would present its efforts to the congress, where the new constitution would have to be accepted. This complicated process could never have taken place in the few months that remained in Zelaya’s term.

But the Zelaya-as-Chavez story has played perfectly in the United States and Canada, where leaders have stubbornly refused to condemn the coup and have recently claimed that they will support the results of the Nov. 29th elections despite the fact that hundreds of candidates at various levels have withdrawn in boycott. And sure enough, as Hondurans have struggled in the streets for the right to write a new constitution that truly represents their needs, the repression has looked exactly like that of the early 1980s. Just as Hondurans could not possibly expect a legitimate constitution to be written for them in the context of assassinations, disappearances and 15,000 contra soldiers in 1982, the resistance of 2009 knows that it cannot expect free and fair elections to be administered by a regime that has killed people in the streets for daring to believe that their most basic democratic processes would be respected.

“The elections,” says Berta Caceres at a speech in early November, “would have to be between the resistance and the coup-makers” in order to be legitimate. That clearly is not the way things are going. But the project of reforming the constitution that was forced upon Honduras in 1982 will not go away. Says Berta, “I’ve been to those marginal barrios in Tegucigalpa, to those neighbourhoods at night, and you see and listen to the strength with which people propose that national constituent assembly. We should learn to define, to build collectively the nature, the concepts, the content of that assembly. We shouldn’t wait any longer.” As the speech finishes, the crowd chants “they are afraid of us because we are not afraid!” Perhaps my apprehensions were misguided.

Tyler Shipley is a graduate student and activist from Toronto, Canada. He is in Tegucigalpa with a delegation organized by Rights Action reporting on the resistance to the coup and the Nov. 29 elections.


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987 words




Shipley's drivel

Mr. Shipley, PLEASE GO HOME. I am a proud Canadian who has lived in Honduras for the last 35 years. You are a professional activist who, in this country, are part of a tiny minority. If you believe that Zelaya wasn't trying to emulate Chavez and his presidential ambitions (permenant office) you probably believe in Santa Claus as well. Please go home and shoot off your big mouth where we don't hear it.

Nelson/San Pedro Sula

Lies and deceit

It's so sad how some foreigners come to our country and misinform others about what's really going on in Honduras. You people are inciting a bloodshed against those that not share your views, or your so-called "revolution". The truth is that only Hondurans can decide the path of our nation, by standing against populist leaders like Zelaya, we had showed the world, and will continue to show that we are people who has given an example of struggle, dignity and our self-determination will be respected. This Sundays we will decide our fate through an electoral process. Elections will create a clean start for the future of the country; Zelaya and Micheletti will finally become part of the past.

Thank you for your thoughts,

Thank you for your thoughts, Nelson, however disrespectfully you choose to present them.  There are not many Canadians who have lived in San Pedro Sula for so long - most of them own large enterprises that pay very little to their employees and even less to the state of Honduras, but I will not presume anything about your profession.  And I would ask the same of you - I am not a professional activist, but rather a teacher.  And I will have plenty to tell my students on my return.


I will tell them about the dozens of people who have 'disappeared' under the coup regime - one of those missing people (a retired teacher) turned up dead yesterday.  I will tell them about the way that the press has been systematically repressed unless it tows the golpista line.  I had a long conversation today with Felix Molina who has been a journalist here for two decades and had much to say on the subject.  I will tell them about complete militarization of the country - actually, I will show them, as nearly every picture I take in Tegucigalpa has a police or military officer in it.


I will be here for another few days, and would be happy to speak to you about your thoughts on the coup and the prospects for Zelaya to hold permanent office.  It has been thoroughly explained to me by a judge, a civil prosocuter, and many many others here that the constituyente could not possibly have taken place in the few months that were left in Zelaya's term.  Indeed, people here find it rather absurd that what is, to them, such obvious nonsense has gained so much ground in the North American press.


In Tegucigalpa,

Tyler Shipley

Look at what Sen. Kerry said

Look at what liberal icon and former US presidential candidate from the Democratic party said about Zelaya:

"a push to rewrite the constitution over the objections of Honduras's top court, legislature, attorney general, and military is deeply disturbing"


Alternately, you can find many videos on youtube where Zelaya violates article 239 of the Constitution of Honduras.


Viva Honduras!  Viva 15-0!


Many people on different sides of the conflict have cited the Constitution in making their claims that one or the other side is acting 'illegally.'

But the perception that Zelaya was 'illegally' trying to change the Constitution is one that needs more careful analysis.  The Constitution (written in the conext I described above) had a clause in it that made *any re-writing of that constitution illegal.*  Thus, it was written with the absurd caveat that it could never be re-written.  The fact that it did not meaningfully represent the needs of the vast majority of Hondurans was the reason a movement towards the cration of a constitutional assembly gained strength.

Zelaya did not initiate the constituyente - he was pushed into it by a growing social movement in Honduras demanding that the people be given real voice in government.  The movement that has been demanding (and will continue to demand) constituyente had/have no interest in allowing Mel Zelaya any more power over them than Pepe Lobo or anyone else.  

Sen. Kerry, not surprisingly, misses the point.  The push to re-write the constitution was coming from the people.  It comes precisely because "Honduras's top court, legislature, attorney general, and military" do not represent them.  Here in Honduras, the Resistance is called the 'popular movement' even by the army and courts.  They recognize that this is a people's movement and that the only thing stopping it right now is that the military has guns and the people, by choice, do not.

Thinking about country comparisons and historys lessons



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Some strange things are going on in the U.S. press regarding this Honduran 'democracy story'.

For example, it appears very strange, but this sentence was expunged from Alexandra Olson's earlier 'print edition' of this reporting in today's Boston Globe:

"Zelaya has support among many poor Hondurans who believed in his promises to shake-up a political system dominated by two political parties with few ideological differences and influenced by a few wealthy families."

Perhaps the Globe's editors thought that the description of a phony "political system dominated by two political parties with few ideological differences and influenced by a few wealthy families" would cause too much confusion (or alarm) for American readers as to whether the reporting was about Honduras or the U.S.


The Question: "The United States has said that it will recognize a free and fair vote, but it had made no comment following the election."

The Answer: Hell, the U.S. has just recognized an 'election' in Afghanistan, in which only one candidate ran, and now Obama is committing to spending an extra $1B a month and more U.S. lives in a war to protect and extend that 'democracy'. Why would there be any doubt about Lobo in Honduras?

BTW, for those who, like Santayana learn from history, the U.S. was the first country in the world to recognize the 'Vichy' French government installed by the Nazi EMPIRE. Which explains the old adage, "It takes one, to know one" --- (empires that is)

Alan MacDonald
Sanford, Maine


Recognizing democracy and elections is the only way forwardd

 Good intentions aren't enough! You also have to be on the objectively correct side. I am a Canadian of Honduran heritage. I still have lots of friends and family in Honduras from all walks of life and my no means wealthy people. Like the average Honduran they wanted nothing more than to see Zelaya go as he threatened the stability of Honduras and now they want nothing more than this crisis to be put behind them and for the world to recognize the elections. This is what Hondurans want, only the radicals want to continue the crisis bolstered by Chavez and Castro.  I hope Canadians and Americans understand this. Peace is only possible through the recognition of the elections and by moving on.

God bless

- Jorge 

Stability in Honduras


You claim that Zelaya threatened the stability of Honduras.  Could you be more specific?  Honduras was quite stable (if still deeply unequal) on June 27th, under Zelaya's presidency.  Since June 28th, when he was exiled in his pyjamas, more than 35,000 new Hondurans have been given fatigues and weapons, a surge in militarism unseen since the 1980s.  There have been 33 people killed.  There have been hundreds more detained with warrant, beaten, raped and imprisoned without even being told what their crime was.  The police and military act with complete impunity.  All of this has been thoroughly and painstakingly documented and was presented to the Electoral Tribunal on Nov. 28th - it was ignored.  Sometimes even the groups trying to document these abuses have their own offices ransacked by police, computers taken, paperwork ripped up and money stolen.  I watched as police took over 4000 lempiras from a human rights organization in Ciguatepeque.  They have yet to be told why that money was taken and if they will get it back.

I have a hard time understanding how you can claim that it was Zelaya who has threatened stability.  It is absolutely true that Hondurans overwhelmingly want the crisis to end.  But the fact that only 1.7 million people voted, in a country of nearly 8 million, is a pretty clear indication that the vast majority did not see these sham elections as the solution.


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