Honduran Coup Persists Despite International Protest: Grassroots Organizations Respond


Honduran Coup Persists Despite International Protest: Grassroots Organizations Respond

July 7, 2009

July 7, 2009

Throngs of supporters looked to the skies as Honduran President Manuel Zelaya flew over the capital on Sunday, July 5th in an effort to regain control over the country. The ousted leader's plane circled the city and attempted to land at the Honduran airport, only to be refused entry by soldiers blocking the airstrip. At least one supporter was killed and several others wounded by police forces when crowds pushed towards the airport.  Zelaya returned to El Salvador, where he has been in exile since his forced removal from office on June 28th. 

The coup occurred as a response to the ousted president's efforts to advance a process of constitutional reform in Honduras. As the Honduran people prepared to vote on June 28th on a referendum that would convene a constitutional assembly, soldiers entered Zelaya's residence, removed him at gunpoint, and forced him onto a plane to Costa Rica.

Inside the country, civil society groups are reporting a series of violations of fundamental rights. The coup government has issued arrest warrants for between 14 and 30 civil society leaders, shut down many internal communications and media outlets including CNN, declared a curfew for civilians and installed army troops on the streets of Honduras's cities and towns. On June 29th, civil society leaders called for an immediate general strike, mass demonstrations in front of the presidential palace and demonstrations around the country to call for the removal of the coup.

Governments throughout the Western hemisphere have uniformly called for Zelaya to be returned to power. The end of the coup and return to democratic rule would represent the beginning of a solution, but long-term rebuilding will require addressing the political and economic exclusion that defines life for many in Honduras.

AJWS is responding to the crisis by supporting two of our partners who have long been working for political and economic rights for poor people in Honduras. The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) has been a leader in the Honduran popular movement for years. COPINH has advocated vigorously for a constitutional assembly as a way to "re-found" the country on the basis of participatory democracy and social justice.

COPINH's leaders are potential targets of reprisals because of their support for democratic processes and their energetic denouncement of the coup. The home of one of COPINH's founders, Berta Cáceres, has been under police and military surveillance since Friday before the coup. Despite threats to their personal safety, the organization's leaders are mobilizing a groundswell of protest, urging Hondurans to go to the polls to make a peaceful statement that democracy will not be suppressed by armed force.

In their statement released Saturday, COPINH said:

The people are still participating in the non-binding referendum—even faced with repression, even as the campaign of fear continues, and even when confronted with the butt of soldiers' rifles. There is practically a state of siege in the capital and the rest of the country; electricity is cut off, they have a list of leaders to be captured, and Hondurans who are bravely demonstrating in front of the presidential residence are surrounded by tanks and helicopters. Even so, they have installed the polls and are exercising their right to participate in the consultation as a form of rebellion.

AJWS emergency grants support humanitarian efforts in Honduras

AJWS is providing COPINH with a rapid-relief grant to respond to the emerging situation and ensure its leaders' safety. The grant will also enable 100 Salvadoran international observers who have been working with COPINH to leave Honduras safely.

AJWS is also providing an emergency grant to Red de Comercialización Comunitaria Alternativa (Alternative Community Commercialization Network—"COMAL"), a longtime partner dedicated to promoting community social and economic development in Honduras. As the coup leaders have shut down all of Honduras's major media outlets, there is a critical need for sharing independent information and analysis among social groups. AJWS's grant will enable COMAL to support communication and information sharing among Honduran social movements. COMAL's training school has already been converted to an operations center for civil society organizations in western Honduras. With this grant, COMAL will host 12 information meetings for 500 people, and will distribute informational bulletins every three days to update Hondurans on the latest events in the crisis. The grant will also support communications and mobilization for COMAL's and other social movement leaders to and from the capital city of Tegucigalpa for negotiations, advocacy actions and strategy meetings.