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no a las elecciones golpistas!

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
voters in jutiapa cast their ballots under the gaze of an M-16, as about 40 police and military patrol the escuela jose antonio domingo
voters in jutiapa cast their ballots under the gaze of an M-16, as about 40 police and military patrol the escuela jose antonio domingo
people in jutiapa risk more repression but refuse to participate in the sham elections, cheering underneath a banner that says "no the the elections, yes to the constitutional reform!"
people in jutiapa risk more repression but refuse to participate in the sham elections, cheering underneath a banner that says "no the the elections, yes to the constitutional reform!"

Bravery. Strength. Honour. Courage. I’ve spent most of my life developing an autonomic response – stomach sickness - whenever I hear these words. This is because they are almost exclusively reserved in Canada and the United States for the most repressive institutions in our society, most prominently the armies that are waging wars of occupation overseas as we speak.

So it is much to my own surprise that I find myself unable to resist the urge to use those words in trying to describe the people I have met in the past couple of days. In community after community, I sit in kitchens, living rooms, courtyards and staircases where people tell me about the times they’ve been arrested. The times their homes have been invaded. That they are interrogated, that they are beaten, that they are never told why, that the police refuse to explain themselves, that their families are being terrorized. And that it is only hardening their resolve to resist.

Victor Corrales Mejia was arrested last night and beaten in his home. His landlady told the authorities that he and his son were in the Frente Nacional de Resistencia, so they came to his home, hit him in the head and spine with batons and threatened to kill him. But Victor will not be moved. “They kicked in my door, they threw me out like I was a sack of corn, they want to intimidate us. But our desire for democracy is stronger than they are.”

His son, Victor Corrales Albarado, was even more resolute. After showing us the bruises and cuts he had received only hours before, he said, “how long should we live like this? I have been a student in Italy, in Spain, in the United States, and I felt like I was respected, like my rights were respected. I can’t believe they treat me and my father like this, in our own country. We cannot let ourselves be treated this way anymore.”

(For more stories of repression, see http://canadiandimension.com/blog/2606 )

And I believe that they will not. By now, the ‘results’ of the farce elections are starting to come through, and even the golpistas are admitting that the numbers are low, the official results just announced claimed that 1.6 million people voted - less than 30%. Networks of human rights observers and resistance members were on the phones all day sharing information about the various polling stations and they almost all came back with the same response – that they were quieter even than the Frente expected. In every place I went, people told me that this street or that street was usually packed with people, that election day is normally a huge event. That certainly wasn’t the case today.

In fact, it was my quietest day in Honduras yet. The police and military were mostly too busy ‘protecting’ the polling stations with M-16s to be out arresting people, and despite Mel Zelaya’s last minute call-to-action, most of the Resistencia stuck to the original plan and stayed home. It is likely that the regime will inflate the numbers to give their sham some legitimacy, but for the people in the colonias, in the barrios, in the pueblas of Honduras – the results are very clear. The people have rejected the farce.

Tonight is a victory and, even though it will be the catalyst for further repression and violence, there are millions of people in this country who feel like, in the days since June 28th, they have stood up for the first time. I spent half an hour with Rosa Mayda Martinez this afternoon, who told me that in her 23 years she had never seen the people of this country so defiant. She told me she was proud that her people were usually so pacifico, but even more proud that they were finally standing their ground. She and other members of the tiny community of Jutiapa risked major repression by hanging a banner across the main entrance to their town that said “Jutiapa es territorio melista! No a las votaciones, si a la constituyente!” I stood for a picture under the banner, with tears in my eyes, alongside some 40 or 50 of the most courageous people I’ve ever met, singing and cheering in defiance of the repression they had just been describing to me.

As I reflect on the day that just passed, I know that I will remember it for the rest of my life – but not because it represents an important political achievement. Not because of the overwhelming presence of military and police, who outnumbered civilians in most of the streets and polling stations I visited. Not even because of the heartbreaking stories that were recounted to me, in a certain kind of desperation, hoping that after telling me I might be able to tell the rest of the world and the interminable injustice would end. It was all of those things, yes, but it was something much simpler that will stick with me forever.

It was sitting down to dinner with people I had only met that afternoon and laughing about their parrot, Raki, who frequently surprises guests by squawking out “puta.” Or when I found a way to tease a stoutly built Honduran human rights observer, Jorge, for not finishing his soup, eliciting a raucous laughter from his companero. Or listening to our host, Maria Palma, recount a story after dinner about a march a few months ago during which people chanted “urge Mel” in support of President Zelaya’s return to the country. After many hours and much fervent chanting, her very young daughter looked up at her innocently and asked “quien es Urge Mel?”

As we laughed, I realized that I had been let into the richness of everyday life, that in my many interviews with victims of police repression or military violence, I had forgotten that struggling against golpistas is not what these people normally do on a Sunday afternoon. Normally, people live. And after many years – and five extremely severe months – of having their lives, their laughter, disrupted by raids and checkpoints and corruption and violence and, most of all, by relentless poverty, they have decided that those lives are worth struggling for. That the freedom to laugh about a shit-talking parrot, and to enjoy all of the richness of the human social experience, is worth fighting against all odds and against massive imbalances of power and force.

The Frente has called the people into the streets tomorrow. There may be a confrontation with the tens of thousands of heavily armed soldiers that are patrolling the cities and town and highways and schools and – especially – the banks and American fast food chains. But you can bet that the people will take to the streets, and at least one skinny white gringo with glasses and a Winnipeg Jets hat will be there beside them.


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