In Honduras, Resistance Against Ruling Party Continues Despite Peril

Kari Lydersen

Edgardo Castro, an outspoken TV and radio reporter, was recently elected to Congress—which puts him in even greater danger. (Kari Lydersen)

Hon­duras has been named one of the most dan­ger­ous coun­tries for jour­nal­ists. In the last four years, at least 15 have been assas­si­nat­ed, with the mur­ders wide­ly attrib­uted to the nation’s envi­ron­ment of polit­i­cal strife, repres­sion, drug traf­fick­ing and cor­rup­tion. And since Juan Orlan­do Hernán­dez of the con­ser­v­a­tive Nation­al Par­ty won the now-con­test­ed Novem­ber 24 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, many jour­nal­ists say they’ve faced even more hazards.

Edgar­do Cas­tro, an out­spo­ken TV and radio reporter with the major media com­pa­ny Globo, told In These Times that when he returns to Hon­duras from a trip to Chica­go to talk with sup­port­ers and escape the imme­di­ate risk of vio­lence post-elec­tion, he will be in dan­ger every­where, all the time.” In Novem­ber, Cas­tro was also elect­ed to Con­gress as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the oppo­si­tion LIBRE par­ty, which formed after the 2009 coup that removed then-Pres­i­dent Manuel Zelaya from power.

Like many LIBRE politi­cians and advo­cates, Cas­tro has been receiv­ing an increas­ing num­ber of death threats in the last few weeks. The evening before the elec­tion, two lead­ers of a rur­al farm­ers’ group, who were also LIBRE mem­bers, were mur­dered after leav­ing a poll-watch­er train­ing. A week lat­er, high-pro­file LIBRE activist José Anto­nio Ardon was kid­napped and then found dead. And on Decem­ber 7, Castro’s Globo col­league Juan Car­los Argeñal Med­i­na — a LIBRE sup­port­er — was mur­dered in his home.

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Despite the obvi­ous per­il, Cas­tro said he will keep report­ing about cor­rup­tion and polit­i­cal repres­sion. And he will con­tin­ue work­ing with the resis­tance move­ment, which is chal­leng­ing the elec­tion results and demand­ing polit­i­cal reform.

LIBRE’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in Novem­ber was Xiomara Cas­tro, wife of deposed pres­i­dent Zelaya (and no rela­tion to Edgar­do). She and her fol­low­ers are stri­dent­ly opposed to the poli­cies of out­go­ing pres­i­dent Por­firio Pepe” Lobo, a Nation­al Par­ty mem­ber who has spent the last four years imple­ment­ing aus­ter­i­ty and pri­va­ti­za­tion pro­grams, includ­ing a World Bank-backed con­ser­v­a­tive edu­ca­tion over­haul and var­i­ous moves to increase for­eign invest­ment. Xiomara Cas­tro, by con­trast, advo­cat­ed for more con­trols on min­ing and ener­gy invest­ment by for­eign com­pa­nies, more scruti­ny of big busi­ness own­ers and more sup­port for small farm­ers and workers.

In the years since the coup, union mem­bers, includ­ing teach­ers, civ­il ser­vants and fac­to­ry work­ers, have been tar­gets of vio­lence and intim­i­da­tion. Human-rights and labor lead­ers believe that these attempts at repres­sion are tac­it­ly or direct­ly backed by the gov­ern­ment and the mem­bers of the oli­garchy—a small num­ber of fam­i­lies who have much polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic power.

In Hon­duras it is pro­hib­it­ed to have more than a cer­tain amount of land under agrar­i­an reform laws, yet a few fam­i­lies con­trol [almost] all the land, all the air­ports, the police,” said Cas­tro. They’re dis­man­tling our pub­lic edu­ca­tion, our pub­lic health care … Hon­durans don’t have access to their own institutions.”

Novem­ber report by the Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based Cen­ter for Eco­nom­ic and Pol­i­cy Research found that income inequal­i­ty, pover­ty and unem­ploy­ment wors­ened sig­nif­i­cant­ly in Hon­duras after the 2009 coup, while spend­ing on social ser­vices was cut dras­ti­cal­ly. Unem­ploy­ment and invol­un­tary part-time work” has risen from 6.8 per­cent to 14.1 per­cent since 2008, and the num­ber of peo­ple work­ing full-time but not mak­ing min­i­mum wage went from 28.8 per­cent of the labor force to 43.6 per­cent in 2012.

The report con­clud­ed, In the two years after the coup, Hon­duras had the most rapid rise in inequal­i­ty in Latin Amer­i­ca and now stands as the coun­try with the most unequal dis­tri­b­u­tion of income in the region. … [More than] 100 per­cent of all real income gains in in 2010 and 2011 went to the wealth­i­est 10 per­cent of Hondurans.”

Cas­tro told In These Times he expects these dis­mal work­ing con­di­tions and the repres­sion of unions and pub­lic work­ers to only get worse if the elec­tion results are allowed to stand.

The Orga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States, the Euro­pean Union and the U.S. gov­ern­ment have deemed the elec­tion valid. But seri­ous con­cerns have been raised by promi­nent observers, includ­ing Span­ish judge Bal­tasar Gar­zon and EU del­e­gate and Aus­tri­an jour­nal­ist Leo Gabriel. Advo­ca­cy groups, includ­ing the Hon­duras Sol­i­dar­i­ty Net­work and the Nation­al Lawyers Guild, have also report­ed violations.

Cas­tro recent­ly spoke to sup­port­ers at a Chica­go event host­ed by the local sol­i­dar­i­ty group La Voz de los de Aba­jo to show­case their expe­ri­ence in Hon­duras as part of a del­e­ga­tion of offi­cial­ly cer­ti­fied U.S. elec­tion observers. In addi­tion to wit­ness­ing rel­a­tive­ly minor irreg­u­lar­i­ties them­selves at polling places, La Voz mem­bers said they heard tes­ti­mo­ny before and after the elec­tion from numer­ous cit­i­zens who described more seri­ous trans­gres­sions, includ­ing wide­spread reports that the Nation­al Par­ty was buy­ing votes with hun­dreds of dol­lars in cash or cement and build­ing mate­ri­als for poor areas.

Hon­durans told the U.S. vis­i­tors that vio­lence and threats have also played a seri­ous role in pre­emp­tive­ly sup­press­ing oppo­si­tion votes. At the Chica­go event, La Voz del­e­ga­tion mem­ber Eric Tor­res Alvarez showed video of the funer­als of the two lead­ers from the Cen­tral Nacional de Tra­ba­jadores del Cam­po (CNTC, or Nation­al Rur­al Work­ers Cen­ter) who were mur­dered on the eve of the election.

No one from that town vot­ed the next day,” not­ed La Voz mem­ber Vic­ki Cervantes.

In the town of El Paraí­so, which is head­ed by a Nation­al Par­ty may­or and on a major drug traf­fick­ing route, armed men report­ed­ly held elec­tion observers in a hotel with­out allow­ing them to do their work. The Cen­ter for Eco­nom­ic and Pol­i­cy Research report­ed that the intim­i­da­tion seems to have its desired effect,” as El Paraí­so logged 85 per­cent vot­er turnout with 81 per­cent of the vote going to the Nation­al Par­ty, “[more than] 11 per­cent­age points high­er than in any oth­er city in the entire country.”

Crit­ics say that in addi­tion to vot­er sup­pres­sion and intim­i­da­tion, the rul­ing par­ty may have stolen the elec­tion through mis­re­port­ing vote totals from indi­vid­ual polling places to the cen­tral elec­toral tri­bunal. LIBRE and anoth­er oppo­si­tion par­ty — which togeth­er got almost half the votes — have thus called for a recount of paper ballots. 

Through­out his talk in Chica­go, Cas­tro denounced the rul­ing party’s tac­tic of call­ing oppo­si­tion mem­bers ter­ror­ists” and Com­mu­nists.” In return, he vowed that the opposition’s resis­tance will con­tin­ue as a civ­il move­ment, like Gand­hi and Nel­son Mandela.”

We don’t have arms to fight,” Cas­tro said. Our only weapon is jus­tice and the desire to fight for a world where we can live and work freely. … We are fight­ing against a big giant … but we are stubborn.”

Kari Lyder­sen is a Chica­go-based reporter, author and jour­nal­ism instruc­tor, lead­ing the Social Jus­tice & Inves­tiga­tive spe­cial­iza­tion in the grad­u­ate pro­gram at North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty. She is the author of May­or 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99%.
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