“The president of Honduras is Micheletti”
by Fernando de Dios
San Salvador – Being a defender of human rights in Honduras these days is a job that carries with it the risk of imminent death.
As a member of the Comité de Defensa de los Derechos Humanos de Honduras (CODEH – Committee in Defense of Human Rights in Honduras) who has been denouncing abuses by state security forces in the Bajo Aguán area, where 47 campesinos have been assassinated in the past two years, Alexander Salgado knows this first hand.
Salgado tells how he and others were attacked by soldiers who lay in ambush for them and fired at them with combat rifles in that rural area of the department of Colón, in northern Honduras.
They managed to escape quickly and to hide, their attackers giving them up for dead and not verifying that their mission had been completed.
Since then, the activist has left the public scene and remained hidden in several places in Honduras. Finally, he left Tegucigalpa for El Salvador, where he is waiting to go to a European country.
This Honduran political exile analyzes what is happening in his country, the hushed reality that includes very serious abuses committed, presumably, by the security forces, the army and the police, as well as by the landowners’ private agents.
But it is not only the campesinos who suffer violations of their fundamental rights, among them the right to life. The freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate are seriously restricted in Honduras.
Recently, after the assassination of a journalist from the newspaper La Tribuna, a demonstration by journalists in Tegucigalpa against impunity was harshly repressed by the Honduran police.
The woman reporter is number 19 on the list of journalists assassinated in Honduras since the coup d’état that overthrew Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009. Not a single one of the cases has been clarified. Most of them worked in media critical of the coup and of the regime resulting from it.
Since the coup, a number of members of the political opposition and defenders of human rights have also been assassinated. As reported by several human rights organizations, like the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Honduran government is sheltering the assassins and allowing the crimes to go unpunished.
The director of the [Salvadoran] Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho (FESPAD – Foundation for the Study of Applied Law), María Silvia Guillén, on Wednesday compared the current situation in Honduras with that seen in El Salvador in the years before the armed conflict.
She also bemoaned the fact that since the election of Porfirio Lobo Sosa and the return to the country of Manuel Zelaya, the international community has decided that everything is fine in Honduras and has diverted its gaze from the situation existing in the country.
Alexander Salgado holds that life in Honduras today is much more difficult than it was two and a half years ago. And that the state is in the service of private interests and that impunity is principally what now rules the country.
What is your current personal situation?
The situation I find myself in here in El Salvador for a while is as an exile. Then what is planned is to go to a country in Europe, which has not yet been chosen.
The situation in Honduras that caused me to leave is because of persecution and an attempt on my life as a result of the denunciations we have made against Señor Miguel Facussé, against Don Eric Rivera, against René Morales and Reinaldo Canales, a Nicaraguan and a Salvadoran, who are the landowners the campesinos are fighting against in order to recover their lands in the Bajo Aguán, where I live.
How many campesinos have been assassinated so far in the Bajo Aguán?
In the report presented to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, there is a figure of 47 campesinos brutally assassinated, some who have been decapitated, others in confrontations over evictions. That is for adult campesinos.
There is one detail about minors, a figure I don’t have right now, children of campesinos who have been tortured and whose rights have been violated. The best known case internationally is that of Bernabé, a boy of 12 that the Honduran army, the police and the private guards burned with gasoline; they wanted to burn him alive for being the son of a campesino.
This is the greatest denunciation made to the international community, the violations against minors, to UNICEF, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the OAS organizations and the Inter-American Commission.
So, from what you say, what there is in Bajo Aguán is a struggle for land in which the government uses repressive measure in favor of the landowners.
In Honduras we live in a state of ungovernability, in a state of impunity and repression. It is not that the state is in agreement with a certain entrepreneurial sector of the country, but that in Honduras our president, our government, also belong to the Honduran oligarchy, the native oligarchy and the oligarchy that has come from other countries.
They have their own interests. In the case of Aguán, they have decided to reach an agreement between the Instituto Nacional Agrario and the campesinos, but a certain sector of campesinos has been favored.
Aguán is divided into two zones. The Aguán is a river in the department of Colón. The Aguán flows through the middle of the whole department. There is the right bank and the left bank of the river. The right bank reached an agreement with the government last year and the left bank is the one suffering the great problems and the atrocities that are happening right now.
The administration of Porfirio Lobo Sosa, which calls itself a government of Christian humanism, is favoring and backing all this neoliberal policy, all this state of impunity policy that Miguel Facussé is putting into practice.
We have a third militarization in Bajo Aguán: by the Honduran armed forces, by the Honduran police and a third by the United States army, which is in Honduras with five military bases.
That is interesting because officially there are two United States bases in Honduras but you say there are three more.
There are two official bases, which are the Palmerola Base, which is in Comayagua, and the base on the Cape of Gracias a Dios, on the border with Nicaragua. There is a third base, which we Hondurans know about, we know it is there, which is the base on the Island of Roatán, a very rich island, which has been declared a world heritage. The other is the one that is in the department of Colón, in Puerto Castillo. And the other is the one that we have in Amapala, on the Zacate Grande peninsula, close to El Salvador, where campesinos are also struggling against the same landowner, Miguel Facussé to recover their land.
A note: Miguel Facussé is the uncle of a former president of Honduras. So they reach agreements to exchange favors and that is how the government comes to favor these landowners and is against the Honduran campesinos.
Is the current government a central part or is it a collaborator of other powers? I am asking this because it was the army, together with political, judicial and economic sectors who carried out the coup d’état, but Porfirio Lobo Sosa was not part of that group.
The three branches of the Honduran government, according to our constitution, are autonomous. As you said, when the coup was staged, Lobo Sosa was not part of that group. To the international community, the president of Honduras is named Porfirio Lobo Sosa but in Honduras the military are still governing the country; in Honduras the president is still Roberto Micheletti.
So it is Micheletti who is still running the country.
The Truth Commission said in its report that Romeo Vásquez, the ex-head of the joint chiefs of staff in Honduras, had to be inside the Lobo Sosa administration, and we have him as dirctor of HONDUTEL (Empresa Hondureña de Telecomunicaciones). We have one in the Merchant Marines, in Migración y Extranjería, in the Ministry of Security and a lot of positions in the government where the military are. It is not the Lobo Sosa administration that governs.
Furthermore, the judicial powers have given a definitive stay to the entire military junta; nothing happened in Honduras. And all the deaths there have been, all the violations of human rights, the rights of children, of youth, of old people, the right to life, that have been violated, and all this has been taken care of.
On the other hand, the legislative power, which is the national assembly in Honduras, the congressmen, say, “We are going to give the authority to the armed forces of Honduras to carry out search orders like the national police.” More power is being given to these people, who are the armed forces.
Do you have proof that the army and the police are guilty of assassinations in Bajo Aguán?
It’s not me who’s is saying it, the international community is saying it and the people who have lived through it; it has been proven. I have been through the experience of going to Mozote and nobody has said that the bullets that killed those people came from the United States, gringo weapons. That the Salvadoran army was trained at the School of the Americas. We already have the School of the Americas in Honduras, we have United States paramilitaries who are training the Honduran army to commit these atrocities that were being committed here in El Salvador in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
We have a well known case; Comando 3:16, which in the ‘80s carried out forced disappearances, is still operating in Honduras.
What can be expected in Honduras in the immediate future?
In Honduras we are going to see change when we manage to defeat impunity. And as long as there is impunity, there will still be the social movement in Honduras, the popular movement, it will still take to the streets to denounce, to repudiate all the atrocities. Whatever government comes along.
Right now there is an effort to come to power through Xiomara (de Castro), (Manuel) Zelaya’s wife, with a party known as LIBRE, Libertad y Refundación, which is what we think can get us out of this morass the state is in. But if they change their minds once they are in power, we will be there again, repudiating all the activities they undertake.