Honduras: “Democracy” Obfuscates Raw Oppression


I wrote an article earlier this year, in reference to the politically motivated murder of Vanessa Yamileth Zepeda, who happened to be a leader of a labor union in Honduras.

Since the 2009 coup against the democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya,   the aftermath has been sparsely covered, if not ignored by western mainstream media outlets.

In analyzing what data is available, it appears that the successors to Zelaya have have, at the least, implicitly condoned the suppression of  anyone in opposition, be it a journalist or a political opponent.

The Toll Exacted for “Democracy”

The Inter-American Commisson on Human Rights(IACHR), as well as the Committee to Protect Journalists(CPJ), compiled comprehensive reports, here and here, describing a bloody pattern of oppression that has rollicked the Honduran opposition ever since the Coup.

According to the CPJ, “From the first of March to the middle of June, seven Honduran broadcast journalists were shot to death, an astonishing number of murders in such a short time in a country of 7.5 million.” Most of the journalist murders appear, but cannot be confirmed, to arise out of their activities as journalists in opposition to the Coup.

However, out of all of the journalists murders, at least one is of the reverse variety: a journalist in favor of the government, and another seems to be related to coverage of a topic entirely unrelated to the coup.

The CPJ article did not make any firm conclusions on whether there was a a government orchestrated  suppression of the journalists. Given the above example, they are right in doing so. They concluded, broadly, that impunity was the root cause of the increase in murders of journalists. But, when one looks outside of the murders of journalists, a more concrete pattern emerges:

Political Murder

According to the IACHR, the following has taken place in Honduras post-coup:

“On December 16, 2009, Walter Orlando Trochez, a human rights defender and activist from the LGBT community who had given testimony to the IACHR during its in loco visit in August 2009, was murdered in the city of Tegucigalpa, with two gunshots fired from a moving vehicle.

…on February 3, 2010, Vanessa Zepeda Alonzo, age 29, an active member of the Resistance Front and a member of the Social Security Employees Union, was found dead in Tegucigalpa.

On February 15, 2010, Julio Fúnez Benítez, an active member of the resistance and a member of the SANAA Workers Union, was shot twice and killed as he was chatting on the sidewalk outside his home in Colonia Brisas de Olancho, by unknown persons traveling on a motorcycle.

On February 24, 2010, Claudia Maritza Brizuela, age 36, was killed at home.  She was the daughter of union and social leader Pedro Brizuela, who participates actively in the resistance.

Francisco Castillo was murdered on March 17, 2010.  He was an active member of the resistance.

Mr. Juan Manuel Flores Arguijo, leader of the National Resistance Front and a member of the association of secondary-school teachers, was murdered on March 23, 2010,

Gilberto Alexander Núñez Ochoa, said to have been a member of the security committee of the Resistance, was murdered on May 13, 2010.  He was shot 17 times.

On May 26, 2010, Pedro Antonio Durón Gómez, brother of Arcadia Gómez -minister to President Zelaya and an active member of the National Resistance Front-, and Oscar Tulio Martínez, an agent with the General Bureau of Special Investigative Services (DGSEI) were shot several times and killed by individuals who intercepted the vehicle they were driving.”

None of these murders have been solved. Worse, the number of politically-motivated murders is probably higher, given that ” A small number of powerful business magnates…owned most of the country’s news media”, according to the State Department.

Thus, if the government’s ignorance of these murders is beneficial to the business magnates, then many attacks have undoubtedly been actively erased, if not simply ignored.

The Obfuscation, With the Aid of the United States Government

The evidence of the murders is not strong enough to directly link those responsible to the Honduran government.

But a strong inference of culpability can be drawn: the victims were explicitly against the government of Honduras. They were subsequently murdered. The murders have not been solved.

This strong pattern of political repression should be throughly condemned by those interested in Human Rights. The IACHR did so: “the IACHR[63] condemned and lamented the murders of three persons in Honduras who were active in the resistance to the coup d’état.”

The United States Government has ignored*, entirely, all of the murders of political activists and journalists in Honduras that have transpired subsequent to the Coup.

The motive behind the U.S.’s nonfeasance is political, and apparent from comparing  the state department press releases in 2009 and 2010 on Cuba and Honduras.

In November of 2009, the State Department issued a special press statement condemning an assault on Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez:

“On November 6, these three activists were forcibly detained by plain clothes security personnel and beaten while en route to a peaceful demonstration in Havana.”

The State Department also released several other special releases in reference to the  dire human rights situation in Cuba in ’09 and 10.

Revealingly, the State Department made no announcements on the numerous, horrific politically motivated murders that took place in the same time period in Honduras. The extent of the content on Honduras was wishy-washy language about democracy, good bilateral relations, and a bunch of other nonsensical generalities, unlike the very specific language used to describe events in Cuba.

I, too, deplore what happens in Cuba. But why cover a physical assault and ignore a murder, which is a human rights violation of a much greater magnitude? Raw political preference that underline the respective contexts, and a bit of intellectual laziness.

The Rationale

As one can see, the facts which underly the political murders in Honduras can be twisted in various directions, depending on what one wants to believe, or what is in one’s personal interests. Cuba, not so much. There, in a country which is  not “democratic”, the culpability of human rights violations can be drawn directly to a nucleus of power, namely Raul Castro.

In Honduras, which has the veil of a democracy, the actors multiply, and blame for human rights is subject to conjecture( a strong one at that). But the U.S. Government cannot, if it is to be taken seriously in any of its condemnatory human rights language(as directed to Cuba, for example), allow these grave human rights violations be erased from the record by not fully and zealously publishing the events.

Yes, the leftist Latin American countries, such as Venezuela and Cuba, are not beneficial to the U.S. government’s interests. Yes, countries such as Honduras and Colombia are beneficial. But it is a crime, a crime of humanity, to allow the “best interests” have a disproportionate effect on the U.S.’s official policy of furthering Human Rights throughout the world.

In the end, if the U.S. continues to do this, not only will people suffer unjustifiably in the interim, our best interests may well be undermined, in the form of a multiplication of  false prophets, and the cycle will thus exact its toll on the people that human rights are designed to protect. Just ask the Cuban people about this.

*By ignored, I refer to the State Department Press Releases, which I have combed through for the purposes of this article.

The Human Rights Reports have covered events in Honduras in more detail. However, those Reports do not carry the same weight, nor are they as heavily read in the mainstream press, as a specially prepared press release.


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One Response to “Honduras: “Democracy” Obfuscates Raw Oppression”

  1. Charles II Says:

    Thanks for stopping by Mercury Rising.

    The human rights situation is actually much, much worse than even what you link suggests. One simple example. CPJ lists seven murders of journalists as of the date of their report. Most other sources, including respected mainstream outlets like The Economist, list eight or nine. I also question whether any of the murdered journalists were pro-government. Hernandez Ochoa was with pro-coup Karol Cabrera, but he was not pro-coup, and it’s not at all clear that the assailants were interested in Cabrera.

    My personal guess for the actual number of politically-motivated murders is that it is several hundred. Honduran human rights groups claim to have documentation sufficient to label them political murders for ca. 50-100. COFADEH, for example, lists ca. 47. Given the suppression of routine information, the true number is surely much higher.

    And murder is the tip of the iceberg. There are kidnappings, many of which are never resolved. There are beatings, unjust jailings, and constant threats.

    As you point out, the hypocrisy in US foreign policy is extreme. The US government continues to deny that there is any evidence that the dictatorship is engaged in systematic violence.

    I think you are mistaken to characterize support for certain governments as beneficial or adverse to US interests based on simple economic interests. US interest, I believe, is served by behaving in a way that other nations genuinely admire and want to emulate. If countries like us and trust us, business will follow. If we are seen hostile, our products will be boycotted. We think we can get away with this because our policy mostly disadvantages the poor, who don’t have the income to buy our products anyway. But I believe we are alienating the middle class who, even if they don’t dare oppose us openly, harbor great resentment against the US. I do agree that we need to have the same standards for socialist and capitalist countries.

    You might be interested in the five part series I did on Daily Kos. Part 5 is here, and the other parts are linked from it.

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