Honduras: A Startling Murder


The Honduras Coup of last year, when then-president Manuel Zelaya was ousted from power because of an alleged illegal attempt at amending the constitution to allow the president to run indefinitely(i.e. no term limits), attracted the bright light of the international press.

In fact, it was such a hot topic that the interim president, Roberto Michelleti, felt the need to justify his actions by writing an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal(WSJ); it convinced me. Basically, according to Michelleti, Zelaya violated the constitution and, therefore, was legally removed from office.

But I, like most Americans, interpret things through an American perspective. Honduras is an alien planet compared to the United States; Honduras has, according to the World Bank and the CIA Factbook, respectively, “a huge wealth gap” and “an extraordinarily unequal distribution of income”. Accordingly, the “rule of law” in Honduras cannot be directly analogized with that of the United States; because in Honduras, the rule of law has only served to enrich a select few whereas in the United States it has served to protect many more individuals’ economic interests.(granted, we have our own problems).

It should be no surprise, then, that there is a small yet wealthy segment of Honduras’ society that has a strong vested interest in preventing a rogue politician, such as Zelaya, in taking their power away. The whole government of Honduras, regardless of which political party an individual belongs to, belong to this minority of Honduras’ population. Based on the following, ignoring whether Zelaya was in fact a man of the people, it appears that the powers currently in Honduras are actively suppressing dissenting Hondurans.

The Murder

Vivirlatino was where I  first became aware of the sad, suspicious murder of Vanessa Zepeda. The original story came from Kari Lyderson at inthesetimes.com. The short of it is as follows:

The body of 29-year-old Vanessa Yamileth Zepeda, still dressed in her nurse’s scrubs and killed by a bullet, turned up in the Loarque neighborhood of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on February 4. Zepeda had young children and was a leader of the SITRAIHSS labor union (Workers Union for the Honduran Social Security Institute). She had been abducted that afternoon while leaving a union meeting.

When a deeply politically active individual(the leader of a trade union!) is abducted and then murdered, an alarm bell should go off.

According to Lyderson, the police dismissed Zepeda’s murder as an instance of common criminality. This quick dismissal, without even an iota of a concession that the murder could have been politically motivated, is grounds for suspicion in itself. But the plot thickens.

Silence in the Honduran Press

I searched through all of Honduras’s major newspapers: La Tribuna, El Heraldo, La Prensa, and Tiempo (at least those that have internet versions) for the story of Vanessa Zepeda’s murder. The first three did not have any story on Vanessa Zepeda. Tiempo did, yet the short four paragraph article makes no mention of Zepeda’s affiliation as a union leader, or any facts related to her political activities. It only states her age, her employment as a nurse, and where her body was found.

The press in Honduras is likely owned and operated by those on the comfortable side of the division of wealth. Therefore, it is in their interests to ignore a potential thorn in their status. That is exactly what happened here when the murder of a union leader–which by a common sense standard is great for news ratings–is absolutely ignored.

Whether the  Honduran government is crushing its opposition is not clear. Nonetheless, they sure as hell do not care that others are doing it for them.


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13 Responses to “Honduras: A Startling Murder”

  1. Rey Lopez-Calderon Says:

    Good post, Bryan. Just two points:

    First, I was not convinced by the op-ed you cite. There is a clear rebuttal that was first adumbrated by Professor Cassell at Notre Dame: http://www.nd.edu/~ndlaw/news/ASIL.pdf. This is my take on the argument by way of cutting and pasting my own comment on another website:

    ” Cassel focuses on the due process of law owed to Zelaya with regard to whether or not he actually violated 239. They do not argue that had it been proven that he violated the law, that the arrest warrant would not be legitimate. They argue that there is no proof that his “opinion-survey” calling for a constituional convention (not a term-extension necessarily) did amount to such a violation in the absence of a legitimate trial. Regardless of the branch issuing the warrant, the claim that he violated 239 has not been proven up, period. In addition, he argues that the idea that the article is self-executing (even in the face of blatant proof) is not enough without a procedural mechanism for implementation (mainly because it is not clear what the procedure is for actual removal in the case where the president does”immediately cease in the exercise of his office. Personally, I think that Zelaya was trying to find a back-door way to sneak in another term which would in fact have violated the Honduran constitution. But as stupid a move as that was, respect for the rule of law AND for basic principles of due process require one to view his removal from power as suspect–again in the absence of an actual adjudication of the matter. The military’s “procedural errors” are quite significant here. The exile is merely the straw that broke the back of public opinion; it’s not the legal reason his removal from power qua “preemptive strike” is unconstitutional.”

    Second, I agree with you that the murder of Zepeda, is suspicious at best. Complicit at worst? I don’t see much coverage going on in the English media either. Coincidentally, I am meeting with Kari this week (an old friend); so, I will be sure to ask her for any insights.

    Here are some more details on the Zepeda murder: http://hondurasenlucha.blogspot.com/2010/02/vanessa-lucho-hasta-el-ultimo-dia-de-su.html

    Again, thanks for posting this.

  2. bjohns15 Says:

    No Problem, Rey.

    Thanks for the cite to the detailed legal analysis. When the coup first happened, there was so much inflated rhetoric on both sides that it was difficult for me to make a reasoned opinion.

    Yeah, the only coverage seems to be alternative media…

    It’s a small world! Tell her I said thanks for her posting the article.

  3. Rey Valle Says:

    “Whether the Honduran government is crushing its opposition is not clear.”
    For shit sake, man, read this:

    • bjohns15 Says:

      Hey Rey,

      Thanks for reading. It’s not clear, at least from the knowledge that I have. The interview you link to has a serious problem: It comes from Cuba, which has quite possibly the most repressive government in Latin America.

  4. Hector Najera Says:

    Bryan, I have not been following Honduras for a while, so I appreciate the update; I’ll post in on my facebook as well.

  5. bjohns15 Says:

    My pleasure, Hector. Thanks for sharing my link.

  6. rogerhollander Says:

    There is a growing body of evidence that repressive violence is occurring in Honduras.

    My blog contains serveral articles on the subject.

    But the question of the illegality of the coup is beyond doubt. You do not enforce a theory that a president may want to violate the constitution by seeking another term by sending soldiers to kidnap him in the night and fly him out of the country. This is reighfully called a military coup d’etat (golpe de estado).

    As a longtime resident of Ecuador it is crystal clear to me what Zelaya was attempting to do. As with Honduras, Ecuador had been plagued with presidents and parliaments in the pocket of ruling elites with air tight control over the major political parties and the media. Rafael did what Zelaya was trying to do, that is, go over the head of the entrenched political and econmic oligarchic elites to the people themselves, via a popular consultation. This worked

    • bjohns15 Says:

      Yeah, the link Rey showed me in the first comment is convincing in that the “coup” was not entirely legal. But that said, I thought Ecuador, before Rafael, was unique in that their congress got rid of the president whenever they pleased?

  7. rogerhollander Says:


    for Ecuador, where the people voted first overwhelmingly in favor of a consulta popular, then overwhelmingly in favor of a constitutional assembly, and then overwhelmingly in favor of an new pluri-national and more democratic constitution (which elimated a Congress that everyone know was corrupt). The interesting thing to note, is that these election results happened in spite of the fact that the mass media, the dominant Roman Catholic Church, and the major political parties oppossed them tooth and nail.

    There is absolutely no question that the military coup in Honduras was nothing more or less than a last ditch move by the policical and economcic elites to maintain their undemocratic privilege (to the detriment of the nation and its people). There is also no doubt that this could not have occurred without at least the tacit approval of the US government (although from what we know of the long history of CIA intervention in Latin America, it is hard to believe that there wasn’t active support).

    My blog (www.rogerhollander.com) contains dozens of posts and articles that document all this (look under Honduras in the index).

  8. rogerhollander Says:

    To Bjohns15: in Ecuador prior to Correa I lived through three bloodless coup d’etat, that ousted Presidents Bucaram, Mahuad and Gutierrez. In each case, however, although they were the product of massive popular unrest, the Congress succedded in replacing them with clones who were either just as corrupt or totally incompetent. And in each case the Congress continued to be a stumbling block to any progressive legislation. The term used in Ecuador for the stranglehold the elites had on the political process before Correa was “partidocracy”

  9. bjohns15 Says:


    Thanks for the information. Though it’s not too promising for the future.

  10. Honduran Repression Threatens What’s Left of Democracy - Cockroach People Says:

    […] might not know this given the lack of coverage in the mainstream media.  A fellow blogger wrote an interesting post about the continued resistance of Hondurans who believe that there was a bona fide coup […]

  11. Honduras: “Democracy” Obfuscates Raw Oppression « El Gringo Gigante Says:

    […] “Democracy” Obfuscates Raw Oppression By bjohns15 I wrote an article earlier this year, in reference to the politically motivated murder of Vanessa Yamileth Zepeda, who […]

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