March 24, 2011, Washington, D.C. – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) launched litigation against two United States agencies seeking information relating to the coup d’état in Honduras on June 28, 2009. Also, the Honduran Commission of Truth and CCR announced a separate round of requests for additional documents and records relating to the coup under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). They called for the U.S. administration to cooperate with the requests and support the Commission’s effort which they said could help lead to genuine truth and reconciliation. Initial FOIA requests have been either unanswered, denied or heavily redacted.
“The events in Honduras cannot be viewed or fully understood in isolation,” said Thomas Loudon, Executive Secretary of the Commission of Truth in Honduras, which was established by the Platform for Human Rights. “Information about the role that various U.S. interests, actors, or agencies may have played in these events is essential to complete the picture, to fully understand how and why this rupture happened, to ensure accountability for the coup and ongoing human rights violations stemming from it.”
Advocates note that one key U.S. interest affecting the situation in Honduras today is the U.S.’s longstanding military presence there. The U.S. carried out covert and illegal training and support of Contra forces in Honduras for the war in Nicaragua in the 1980’s and trained a number of military officers and others involved in the notorious Battalion 316 which was widely documented as responsible for disappearances, murder and torture in Honduras in the 1980’s. Today, the U.S. Department of Defense describes its primary base of operations in Honduras as a “forward operating location” to support U.S. interests in Central America and has established two more bases there since the coup.
Some of the documents requested so far relate to an allegation made by Roland Valenzuela, former minister under ousted President Manuel Zelaya, who was murdered shortly after making public statements about the origins and planning of the coup, notes Jeremy Bigwood, an investigative journalist who made a number of FOIA requests relating to these events. In a radio interview nearly a year after the coup, Valenzuela asserted that he had documentation and information revealing the architects of the coup, their planning and that U.S. officials were aware of their intentions.
“Valenzuela stated in the interview that he was afraid he would be killed for coming out with that information. And in a matter of days, he was dead,” Bigwood said. “If the U.S. has information that can shed light on these events, it is imperative that this information is made public – in the interests of transparency, accountability and to head off a deteriorating human rights situation.”
Honduran human rights defender Bertha Oliva stated that her organization, the Committee of Relatives of Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), has documented over 120 murders of members of the Honduran resistance, including union leaders and members of the LGBT community. COFADEH also reports that by October 2010 there were at least 157 resistance members with some level of leadership in their communities who have gone into exile due to political repression. Many of the murders, as well as the killings of journalists, have occurred after the controversial elections the U.S. recognized as legitimate and after it normalized relations with Honduras.
Honduran Judge and Advisor to the Association of Judges for Democracy in Honduras, Ramon Barrios Maldonado, described the deepening institutional and judicial crisis stemming from the coup. He noted that widespread impunity and remilitarization leaves the population defenseless and without access to justice in the face of systemic political violence and human rights abuses.
“This crisis is far from over,” said Anjana Samant, CCR staff attorney. “Many have died and more lives are still at risk given the worsening human rights situation in Honduras. To pretend that all is well and that the country is on the road to reconciliation after controversial elections that were neither free nor fair is to enable the continuation of repressive tactics and human rights violations.”
For more information on the FOIA, visit CCR’s legal case page at http://www.ccrjustice.org/honduras-foia.