By Lisa Sullivan, SOA Watch, July 7, 2009
Greetings from the quiet of the curfew here in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The curfew has just begun, and the normal rattle of traffic outside this one-star hotel in the heart of the city is silenced.
Three of the seven of our delegation are tapping away at our computers, trying to put down some first impressions of this country that pulled our heart strings and brought us to Honduras, in spite of rather difficult odds of getting here. It took me 3 days from my home in Venezuela via Miami, San Salvador and lots of bus and taxi rides in the wee hours. Laura Slattery, former West Point graduate and SOA Watch prisoner of conscience bought her ticket to Honduras 2 hours after reading my email in California. Like all of us, she got stuck on Sunday when Honduras closed all its airports, as the president attempted, unsuccessfully, to return to his country. Never one to sit still for long, Laura then jumped on another plane to El Salvador to join me in coming over by land.
Kent Spriggs, human rights lawyer and SOAW activist from Florida made a similar quick decision to join us, and traveled from Atlanta together with Roy Bourgeois and Dan Kovalik of the United Steel Workers. They waited 2 days for the airport in Tegucigalpa to open, finally opted to fly to San Pedro Sula and go by land to the capital. Joe Mulligan, a Jesuit priest in Nicaragua and Tom Loudon of the Quixote Center, also gave up waiting for an air route, and left Managua at 4 a.m. to get here by bus this afternoon.
The 6-hour bus trip from that Laura and I took from San Salvador turned into 10+, due to military road checks and back ups at the entrance to this mountainous capital caused by blocked roads and marches. We got a flavor of the city with our first taxi ride from the bus station. Our driver, a gregarious and enterprising guy, piled several of us in to take us to 3 distant destinations. We got a good glimpse of the city and the massive amounts of graffiti on the walls:" fuera golpistas!" "no mas Pinochilettis" ."Mel te esperamos". As soon as the middle class lady who told us she was grateful to the new president for saving them from communism disembarked, the taxi driver turned to us to say that she was probably mad since Zelaya had raised minimum wages by 60 percent. Welcome to Honduras, a country divided, wounded, stunned and defiant.
After converging in our little hotel, the seven of us headed to the Committee of Family Members of the Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH) to meet with their director, Bertha Oliva, who has been keeping us in the loop by cell phone reports during this week. Her first words during our dinner were "This is a coup not only to Honduras, but to all of Latin America". Bertha narrated to us the days before the coup. It was becoming clear that winds of change were sweeping through the country, and many of those in power felt threatened.
Joe and I had sensed this only a month earlier, when we visited Honduras and met with Zelaya on an SOAW visit. We were invited to participate in what was, without a doubt, the most fascinating meeting of my 32 years in Latin America. It was a 6 hour frank and open dialogue between the president, several of his ministers and some 30 leaders of the social movement - peasants, workers, indigenous, human rights, women, in which deep issues such as whether to close the Palmarola base, to continue with the free trade agreement, to send troops to the SOA, etc. The president listened, debated, asked questions. I had never witnessed such frank dialogue between such a collection of high government officials and social movement leaders. When I returned to the states, I shared that - while most people were looking elsewhere - such as El Salvador, that Honduras was the most fascinating country in Latin America at the moment. Little did I know...
However, people like Bertha DID know that something was coming. On the night of June 25th, many leaders of the social movements gathered with the president. He was called to meet with four generals. Upon exiting the meeting, Zelaya told the close group of supporters, with a grave face, that he was going to announce the resignation of the Defense Minister, the destitution of the head of the armed forced (SOA grad Romeo Vasquez) and the cancellation of the consultative vote on the constitutional assembly, to be held on June 28th. The group insisted that he could not eliminate this consultation, that it belonged to the people. Betha said that she was one of them. While she said that as a human rights leader, it wasn't in her position to support or oppose a president, the consultation was something that had elevated the self esteem of the people. There was a sense, for the first time, that they were being taken into account in shaping the direction of their nation. The president agreed, and that night many knew that the coup was sealed. These powerful figures could not allow the consultation to win, as was clear would happen on June 28.
And, there are so many other stories, but bed calls us. Tomorrow we hope to meet with leaders of the social movements, participate in a scheduled march, try to meet with someone from the U.S. Embassy and do some interviews. But mostly, we hope to get a better sense of what Hondurans are experiencing at this moment, and to ask how we can help.
I"ll keep you posted, abrazos from Tegucigalpa, Lisa