Today marks the eighth anniversary of the coup d’etat in Honduras. On June 28, 2009, former President Manuel Zelaya, who was democratically elected and later embarked on a platform of progressive reform, was kidnapped by the Honduran army and flown out of the country in the middle of the night from an air field controlled by the U.S. military. Given the shrinking 21st century attention span and selective political memory loss plaguing these times, it bears repeating that long before the coup, which the U.S. government helped to solidify, Honduras served as a base from which U.S. Cold War-era operations were conducted in the region. Under the guise of fighting communism, the U.S. government supported or facilitated brutal, callous, and merciless strategies to sabotage peoples’ movements, leading to horrific and widespread human rights violations in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and farther south, in Chile, and Argentina, to name just a few. Hondurans suffered too – torture, disappearances, and murders, often undertaken by CIA-trained death squads.
The past is not past, as the saying goes, and this is certainly true in this context. People in all of these countries affected by U.S. policies that supported, encouraged, or facilitated horrific human rights abuses are still grappling with and trying to emerge from the social, political, and economic impacts of that era. In Honduras, where there was little to no real accountability on either side of the equation for the harms wrought back then (key players from that time still wield influence in the U.S. and Honduras), the 2009 coup was a foreseeable development along this trajectory. Zelaya’s kidnapping and forced exile was virtually a fait accompli as soon as he committed to land reform, economic independence, and raising the minimum wage. The vicious attacks on peoples’ movements, journalists, and political opposition that followed also tragically continued the patterns of the past.
Last year’s blog on the anniversary of the coup commemorated the life and work of beloved and visionary indigenous land rights leader Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated in her home by a death squad in March, 2016. Three months later, a former Honduran soldier came forward anonymously to report that Berta had been on a military hit list, given to his unit to carry out. His unit had reportedly received U.S. military training. Since then, two more members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations in Honduras (COPINH), the organization Berta founded, have been murdered and Honduras has been declared the most dangerous country in the world for land rights and environmental activists. Meanwhile, the U.S. has continued to maintain its presence in Honduras and alliances with antidemocratic figures, often under the umbrella of the “war on drugs,” which has spread like malware throughout the region. (Recently, after a lengthy investigation, the inspectors general of the departments of Justice and State released a scathing report in which they found that the Drug Enforcement Agency led a raid in which three people were killed, and then lied about it to Congress and the public.)
It’s not surprising then that the rising and pervasive violence and deep economic insecurity in Honduras and the region has resulted in unprecedented numbers of refugees and migrants fleeing to seek safety and security. The awful irony is that many must seek that shelter in a country that has in no small part contributed over the course of decades to the rapidly deteriorating conditions from which they are fleeing – and that is overtly unwelcoming and hostile. Reports indicate that refugees seeking asylum are being turned away at the border without any inquiry into their assertions of credible fear. Some have been sent back to their death. Both situations constitute serious violations of one of the most basic components of domestic and international refugee law – that of not returning refugees to countries where they will be persecuted, tortured, or killed.
Incredibly, in the face of escalating violence and economic scarcity, profound unfairness, hypocrisy, and callousness, the struggle in Honduras to realize a vision of a just future persists. “Bertha didn’t die, she multiplied,” goes a popular chant in Honduras. Earlier this month, COPINH secured a major victory in a campaign begun by Berta when, after years of pressure from the indigenous Lenca community to stop the construction of a hydroelectric dam on their sacred land, financial backers were pressured into revoking funding from the project.
Here in the United States, solidarity efforts continue to be vital to hold the government and individual actors accountable for their role in the plight of those in Honduras, and cut off the resources that fuel the corrupt and violent regime. One such effort is the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, a House bill that seeks to end U.S. financial support for the police and military in Honduras. It’s a start, and the very least that should be done. While the bill has garnered over 50 co-sponsors and 182 organizational endorsements already since it was introduced a year ago, more are needed.
This week, the Honduras Solidarity Network, Witness for Peace, and other organizations are hosting a Week of Action in support of the bill. Learn more, add your organizational endorsement, and ask your representative to co-sponsor here.
Last month, COPINH held its first General Assembly since Cáceres’s assassination. There, they recommitted with united “hearts and visions” to the “ancestral struggle of the Lenca people,” “the defense of our territories,” “consistent with the Lenca people’s worldview and in harmony with life.” As another oft-heard refrain reminds us, “¡Berta vive, la lucha sigue!” – Berta lives on, and the struggle continues. Likewise, in the U.S., we must commit to end generations of neoimperial violence, and build toward a new vision of a world that is in harmony with life and respectful of sovereignty in all its forms.