The drum beat of violence and assassinations targeting union members and others in the National Resistance Front continues in Honduras, as human rights defender Berta Oliva described during a Chicago visit before receiving the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington D.C. Wednesday on behalf of a coalition of Honduran human rights groups including her group, COFADEH. (The award is named for Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and IPS staffer Ronni Karpen Moffitt, murdered by agents of then-Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1976.)
Just in the last month, numerous acts of violence and intimidation have occurred: a social security unionist and a member of the campesino group MUCA were killed; 22 university union employees were illegally ordered arrested; and an opposition journalist survived an attempted murder. Oliva noted that 83 members of the resistance movement have been murdered or disappeared since current president Pepe Lobo Sosa took office in January.
And on Sept. 17 – National Teachers Day – union secondary school teacher and prominent resistance activist Felix Murillo Lopez was killed in a hit and run many believe to be a murder. He was a member of the COPEMH union.
The organization Education International, of which COPEMH is an affiliate, describes the situation:
His worried family members had reported his disappearance to the police but, because his personal documents were missing, Murillo’s body remained unidentified until 24 hours later when his brother visited the morgue. The police have launched an investigation upon suspicion that the crash may well have been intentional. COPEMH President Eulogio Chávez told the press that Murillo had received threats as a consequence of his involvement in protest actions since the military coup in August.
Indeed, Murillo was active in the Resistance and, as a member of the Committee for Security and Discipline, he often led demonstrations. Murillo was also a key witness to the murder of fellow teacher Roger Vallejo, who was shot in the head during violent repression by police forces in July. At the wake held to honour Vallejo’s memory, teacher Martín Florencio Rivera was stabbed to death.
Also on September 17, the president of Section 2 of the Union of Workers of the Honduran Social Security Union was gunned down on the way home from a meeting at union headquarters. “They were in the midst of negotiations,” Oliva said of the social security unionist.
The blog Honduras Resiste, drawing on local reports, describes the assassination:
Juana Bustillo was driving a car with other union members in it after attending a meeting at the IHSS headquarters. Witnesses reported that a gunman walked up to the window of the vehicle and shot Ms. Bustillo and then got into a beige colored car and escaped the scene.
Juana Bustillo was 49 years old, she was a nurse in the IHSS hospital system for 20 years and a union activist for 11 years.
Union teachers and staff in primary and secondary schools and universities have been a mainstay of the resistance movement, and Oliva said in recent weeks the repression against teachers has been especially intense. “Things are very hard for teachers and it’s going to get worse,” she said. She added that divisions within the country’s various teachers unions also make the situation more dangerous.
In September, arrest orders were issued for 22 union employees of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (SITRAUNAH), and police occupied the campus for more than a week. Honduras Resiste described the situation:
At the head of the long list are the top leaders of the union organization, Rene Andino and Marco Antonio Moreno. The capture of the secretary of section number one of the union, Cristian Duron, who has immunity due to his union position, already occurred despite his legal guarantee (of immunity).
Violence against journalists also continues, as on Sept. 16 gunmen attempted to kill Radio Globo reporter Luis Galdámez Álvarez. Radio Globo, a mainstream radio station, was one of few that reported accurately on events unfolding during the coup. It was shut down for a month last fall and Radio Globo reporters have since been targets of harassment and violence.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reports:
Radio Globo has also been the target of serious attacks and multiple broadcasting disruptions. On September 28, 2009, during the interim government of Roberto Micheletti, the station was forced off the air after security forces raided their offices and confiscated equipment. It returned to the air on October 20.
The Washington-based Inter-American Commission of Human Rights ordered the Honduran government to provide Galdámez protection in July 2009 after repeated threats. Honduran authorities never enforced the order, the reporter said. “Those orders coming from Inter-American Commission don’t mean anything in Honduras,” he said.
Oliva said human rights leaders consider it crucial for people outside Honduras – elected officials and even regular citizens – to contact Honduran officials to voice their awareness of and opposition to the ongoing repression and violence. “This is a dictatorship of silence,” she said. “The government has convinced the international community that everything is in order. It’s a matter of language. Order does not mean normalcy.”
Oliva, head of the Honduran human rights group COFADEH, noted that the ongoing government- and United Nations-sponsored “truth commission” is an affront and in fact represents a danger to the large and diverse resistance movement, in that it legitimizes government actors who human rights leaders say are behind a concerted campaign of assassination and repression ongoing since the coup.
The resistance movement has launched its own truth commission, which is investigating ongoing attacks on union members and others; as opposed to the official commission’s mandate to investigate only events immediately surrounding the coup.
She said U.S. and international unions have expressed solidarity with their Honduran cohorts, and Hondurans hope such support will continue even as Honduras drops off the international radar screen and most people think things have returned to “normal.”
Kari Lydersen is a Chicago-based journalist, author and assistant professor at Northwestern University, where she leads the investigative specialization at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Her books include Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99%.