A cry for the invisible country

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noche negra toqu de queda

“Enjoy your time in Nicaragua”.

“Honduras, but thanks anyway” I corrected him. My acquaintance couldn’t even recall what country I was talking about just a few minutes ago. At that time I wasn’t aware yet that this perhaps wasn’t an accidental slip of the tongue, but in fact characteristic for our unfamiliarity with Honduras. Back in 2011 I went there to investigate theater organizations and the cultural infrastructure of the country. Since I lived in Mexico City for more than 3 years, when organized crime proliferated after a governmental change, experiencing the tough side of society from nearby, for me that was still a very manageable situation. Thus, Latin American street-wise, I considered myself well prepared for this interesting assignment in Honduras.

Once there, first thing I did was trying to understand more of the context I was going to work in and get my network involved by writing a blog. This unexpectedly became my first personal experience with restricted freedom of speech. We, from countries that take democracy for granted and tend to confuse freedom of speech with being rude, are not used to think twice about what to publish. So I wrote about how the country still hadn’t overcome the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, how the 2009 coup d’etat worsened the situation, and how I admired the people who I was going to work with because of their limitless efforts to educate and cheer up the people with theater.

Not much later I was called by a high official ranting to me for about 40 minutes that a coup was never proved, that I was defaming the country with these lies, that it was dangerous to write something like that. “You know, I don’t want to see you leave the country in a coffin, and by the way, your visa is not valid long enough, I must warn you that Honduran prisons aren’t very comfortable either. Oh, by the way, that time I had to search for those Dutch journalists and that couple, the state I found them in… that was dirty, you don’t want to know, it was such a hassle to bring their bodies back to the Netherlands. So that blog of yours, you can choose, delete it, or leave the country between 6 planks. It’s up to you of course.”

Well ..

I deleted the blog because I couldn’t oversee how it would affect me and the people I worked with. During my stay I learned more about local politics and interviewed someone who researched the ties between the government and organized crime. The names he mentioned now show up in the articles of for example BBC Mundo, names of close relatives of the current and previous president. Organized crime is deeply infiltrated in the government and governmental bodies like the police. Honduras is a free zone for organized crime, facilitating the drug production chain of the region, involving the many local organized gangs as their operators.

I’m sorry to say that the country has by far the highest murder rate of the world, a disturbing femicide rate and impunity of 95%, and has the most inequality of Latin America. I can wander off and go in detail about these problems, but Honduras is much more than crime. People like you and me try to live there and move forward. I know brave and well educated people investing their lives in contributing to a healthier future for the country. They are my friends and deserve to be seen, like the majority of the people who just want to live a humble life in peace in a country with so much beauty.

noche negra Choloma

Why this article, why now? At this moment Honduras needs attention for the huge irregularities in the latest elections that lead the country more and more into a dictatorship. Now martial law is imposed. From a reliable source I receive messages like:

Latest: The constitutional guarantees are suspended from 10 o’clock on Friday night, due to the looting of shops and supermarkets and the demonstrations that are taking place all over the country … It is getting ugly, hopefully nothing bad happens. God take care of us all and Honduras.

I GOT THIS NOTICE. Regulation of the Ministry of the Interior. Starting tomorrow, there are new rules of communication. All calls are recorded. All records of telephone calls are recorded. WhatsApp is monitored. Twitter is monitored, Facebook is monitored. All social media and forums are monitored. Inform those who do not know. Your devices are connected to departmental systems. Be careful not to send unnecessary messages. Avoid saying anything with friends or family. Tell your children and be careful. It is important to convey the message because there is another form of surveillance in the country. Incredible but true. Please transmit as I did to your loved ones. IT IS SUGGESTED TO ERASE ALL PHOTOS AND VIDEO MESSAGES FROM YOUR CELL PHONES DAILY. DO NOT MENTION NAMES AND SURNAMES AND ADDRESSES OF YOUR CONTACTS AND FAMILIES THROUGH MESSAGES .

These messages go with tanks driving in the streets. The images of tanks are not unfamiliar to my Honduran friends. During the 2009 coup, when communication was shut off, street lighting switched off, helicopters in the air, they saw those tanks in their streets too.

To help you understand the news (if any) you’ll see, I’ll stick to an overview of some facts. Since 1982, after democracy just returned to the country, the constitution prohibits reelection of the president. The coup in 2009 was to prevent a referendum about a change in the constitution in favor of a 2nd term presidency. Coup organizers were using the argument that then president Manuel Zelaya of the liberal party was seeking dictatorship. The people involved in the coup, the National Party and the country’s elite, took power since then.

One of the key figures of the coup, Juan Orlando Hernández, is the current president. During his term he replaced 4 magistrates of the supreme court of justice who are against reelection of the president. Then the court decreed the constitution unconstitutional… uhm yes, paving the way to reelection. With these actions in mind of course one could question credibility of the president with regard to democracy. And against this background the elections of last week took place.

I cite from the declaration of Honduran intellectuals and artists(2):

From the very moment that a politicized Supreme Court of Justice authorized the unconstitutional re-election of the person who currently holds the Presidency of the Republic, we knew that we were facing a process marked by illegality. However, when the options were closed, the Honduran people decided to participate. The preliminary results show a marked decrease in the high degree of abstention that characterized the two previous electoral processes.

With the motivation to bring change to the country by the ballot the election attendance was much higher than previous times. From my friends I heard about irregularities at the ballot box. Now the opposition, directed by Salvador Nasralla of the Anti-Corruption Party, as well as the current president claim victory. Despite or probably due to the disputable decree of the supreme court, for the opposition reelection of Orlando Hernández is considered unconstitutional, which is understandable.

The riots of the last few days are not just protests about disagreement with the results of the elections. Given the context of power being in the hands of an undemocratic and organized crime related elite, Honduras is undergoing a next step towards dictatorship. And that fact deserves much more attention than it gets now.

Even when you don’t care about the Honduran people, people like you and me, living so far away from your own comfortable bed, be aware that a country so corrupt and heavily involved in organized crime destabilizes the region, which in turn affects global stability. So, please become aware and please share this message.

Thanks for reading.

Marie-Thérèse Woltering

Rotterdam, 2nd of December 2017

More info:

Latest footage on Youtube: Noche Negra Honduras

Sources (Spanish translates pretty well to English in Google Translate):

  1. BBC Mundo: http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-42079038, and more recent articles.
  2. Manifesto of Honduran intellectuals and artists http://79.170.44.136/elzanganotuerto.hn/manifiesto-de-los-intelectuales-y-artistas-de-honduras-sobre-la-situacion-politica-de-los-comicios-electorales-2017/
  3. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/honduras
  4. http://abcnews.go.com/International/men-women-honduras-inside-dangerous-places-earth-woman/story?id=47135328

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