Gary Cozette on Honduras

Thoughts on My Recent Trip to Honduras

Dear CRLN Members & Friends -  


From January 22-30, 2011, CRLN Board member Sidney Hollander and I visited Honduras as part of a delegation organized by La Voz de los de Abajo, a Chicago-based Honduras solidarity organization.  In Honduras, we visited indigenous, African descendent and campesino communities that are working non-violently for social and economic change, but are under threat by U.S. funded police and military - and their illegal paramilitary partners. 


We visited Faluma Bemetu "Coco Dulce" (Sweet Coconut), an Afro-Honduran Garifuna community radio station which, due to threats, was forced to temporarily close so its equipment would not be destroyed again and its leaders assaulted.  Small, low-power community radio stations, which have a reach of only three or four miles, are very popular in isolated, rural communities.  They have proven to be vital in disseminating alternative sources for news and information.  Several of them have been burned down over the last 18 months.  Others have been threatened.  Currently, the Lobo government and the Honduras Congress are proposing legislation to shut down the community radio movement.  


A day later, we visited the "Buenos Amigos" community of 100 previously landless campesino families.  We had heard they were scheduled to be evicted from the vacant land onto which they had moved two months earlier.  The land was owned by a bank, since it had fallen into foreclosure.  Since this land was in a zone designated for agrarian reform, the campesino families had been negotiating to acquire the land through the Hondurans Agrarian Reform Institute.  The day after our visit, all 100 families were violently evicted by police, accompanied by and the former landowner.  All the farmers' meager possessions were burned.  Despite this violent repression, the farmers plan to move back onto the land and continue their negotiations to secure title through the Agrarian Reform Institute.


We were told that our presence in the region saved lives. It was shocking to personally witness two heavily armed paramilitaries in civilian dress walking along the side of the highway from our vehicle as we travelled through agrarian reform lands which are under siege by wealthy landowners who are seeking to invalidate agrarian reform laws and forcibly displace campesino farming families from their lands.  These are the very kind of paramilitaries on the very same roads that have now killed a dozen unarmed campesinos, sowing terror with total impunity without a single public denunciation from the U.S. State Department.  


Our delegation also observed a coordinated national blockade of highways by campesino farmers protesting the annulment of a national agricultural reform law which would assure the transfer of long designated agricultural reform lands into the hands of landless campesinos, which will make it more difficult for landless farmers like the 100 "Buenos Amigos" families to secure land. 


These themes and concerns were raised in a December 2010 letter to the State Department, signed by a dozen human rights and religious organizational leaders, including CRLN (see attachment):


"We believe it is not in the interest of the U.S. government, which is supporting a post-coup government that has failed to meet the most minimal standards of respect for human rights, to stand by as entire communities of farming families are forcibly and violently displaced from land to which they have legitimate claims. Our hope is that the U.S. State Department would be standing in solidarity with these campesinos who have struggled tenaciously for two decades to lift themselves out of poverty rather than with wealthy landowners, private security forces, illegal paramilitaries, and the police and military carrying out violent operations at the behest of powerful, violent economic interests among Honduras' traditional political elite.  An ongoing U.S. alliance with these violent, unjust actors in Honduras is inconsistent with stated U.S. foreign policy goals of promoting democracy, human rights and poverty reduction in our hemisphere.  Rather, it undermines them." 



Finally, our delegation visited with Jesuit priest Padre "Melo" Moreno, who was CRLN's November 2010 luncheon speaker.  Speaking to 270 religious and community leaders, he called for the U.S. policymakers to change its partners in Honduras from the traditional wealthy oligarchy who have long controlled Honduras for their exclusive benefit to those in civil society who are working to "refound" Honduras by convening a national constituent assembly to create of a new Honduran Constitution for a fully, inclusive democracy. 


I am including a brief article below about Honduras which appeared in The Nation magazine last month.  The article asks, as did Padre Melo and the attached NGO sign-on letter to State Department, why the U.S. has once again allied itself with the wrong partners in post coup Honduras.  Grandin's brief article also includes links to an excellent article by Dana Frank, who visited many of the same areas as our delegation, and an important analysis by Human Rights Watch, which Grandin claims has been ignored by the media.


Thank you for your participation in CRLN to stand with vital human rights and justice struggles in our hemisphere.


Gary L. Cozette, Program Director
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN)
Tel: 773.293.2964  Web:


Democracy Here, Democracy There: Honduras

From The Nation, Greg Grandin, February 2011

The Nation has done great coverage of the June 2009 Honduran coup, most recently a update this past January by Dana Frank on the Washington-approved tragedy that continues to unfold there. Watching the maneuvers of Hillary Clinton's State Department and Middle East hands like Frank Wisner to shore up the old order in Tunisia and Egypt puts US actions in Honduras into perspective.  


Washington's betrayal of democracy in Honduras was stunning even in the light of its own astounding record in the region. Without rehearsing all the sordid details, the Obama administration negotiated a deal that people of good will believed would have allowed the country's ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, to return as head of a provisional government. In fact, the wording of the agreement contained a carefully crafted loophole that allowed the coup to consolidate itself, after which the US pressured its allies to recognize Honduras's new government. Washington, for instance, threatened El Salvador with not extending Temporary Protected Status (which grants a reprieve from deportation to some 200,000 Salvadorans) unless it moved to normalize relations with Honduras. This Faustian bargain nicely encapsulates the essence of "democracy" as Washington would define it, as a menu choice between two distasteful items. Pick one: sacrifice your most vulnerable citizens or betray those of your neighbor.


Over in Egypt, Mohamed El Baradei criticizes the mixed messages coming out of Washington, which has "created a lot of confusion, a lot of disappointment." Obama says the will of the people can't be detained. Wisner says not so much. In Honduras, the mixed messages circulated around what the word "coup" meant, with the United States refusing to use it describe what happened in Honduras. This, even though a Wikileaks released memo from the US embassy in Tegucigalpa unambiguously called the overthrow of Zelaya a coup and took a scalpel to each and every argument that tried to say otherwise. But publicly, Clinton and her diplomats dissembled and stalled, even as the bodies of those who resisted the coup piled up.


The killing continues, though you wouldn't know it watching the news or reading the papers here. The media ignored a December 2010 Human Rights Watch sixty-five-page report, "After the Coup: Ongoing Violence, Intimidation, and Impunity in Honduras" as it did HRW's call last month for the coup government to investigate the killing of six transgendered woman that have taken place just since November 29, 2010. The very first person murdered in the coup was a transgendered woman, Vicky Hernández Castillo. These murders are not usually classified as traditional "political" killings-that is, understood in relation to the coup. But they are profoundly political; the democracy movement that so scared the coup backers was multifaceted, comprised of trade unionists, environmentalists, progressive religious folks, indigenous communities, feminists and gay rights activists. As such, the coup reaction was equally multifaceted, and the ferocity of its ongoing repression is meant to restore authority in all its forms, including sexual authority.


Another thing that the coup has restored is the old cold war alliance between the landed aristocracy and death squads, yet updated to serve the new bio-fuel economy. As Dana Frank wrote in her last Nation piece, "On November 15, paramilitaries allegedly working for Miguel Facussé, a wealthy oligarch and key backer of the coup, assassinated five more campesino activists in the Aguán Valley, which remains under military occupation." Facussé's Aguán plantations, according to Jeff Conant in a recent report at Alternet, are largely given over to African Palm, part of a larger UN- and Washington-funded effort to turn much of Central America into a cheap, close and quiescent supplier of biofuels to the US market.  


There are ironies: coup supporters justified overthrowing Zelaya by claiming he wanted to amend the constitution (in fact, he was only holding a non-binding opinion poll to see if Hondurans favored changing the constitution). But two weeks ago, the coup congress did amend the constitution to allow Paul Romer, a US economist and currently visiting professor at NYU's business school, to build a 10,000 square kilometer "charter city" on "uninhabited" land from scratch, supposedly modeled on what the British did in Hong Kong.  


We thought the coup plotters wanted to turn back the clock to the cold war, but they are packing for a much longer time travel, back to halcyon days of colonialism. The coup congress passed the bill to alter the constitution with only one "no" vote.


For those wanting to keep current on events in Honduras, and elsewhere in Latin America and the world, there is no better place than Adrienne Pine's blog, Quotha.  Pine is an anthropologist at American University in DC, and her analysis is always excellent. She has been particularly tireless in exposing Florida International University's shameful deal with the Pentagon to contract academics to produce strategic analyses of countries, including Guatemala, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and, of course, Honduras. 


Greg Grandin teaches history at New York University and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is author of "Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States and the Rise of the New Imperialism".  His most recent book, "Fordlandia", was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history.