Honduras goes to the polls on Sunday to pick a new president.. ok wait.. that line sounds like what happens in American suburbs. Thelma Mejia reports "in the poor areas of Tegucigalpa, a city of 1.6 million, people have to make protection payments to the maras or gangs, which set curfews for entering and leaving the areas under their control.
"In some of the poor neighborhoods, the maras mark the limits of their territory by hanging dolls from the power lines, IPS saw.
"In the Nov. 24 elections, this society held hostage by soaring levels of violence crime will choose between hard-line zero tolerance and more integral approaches that take into account prevention and socioeconomic aspects, to combat the problem."
Polling is not allowed in the last month before the election although thankfully exit polls are conducted; the wife of coup-deposed President Manuel Zelaya, Xiomara Castro of the LIBRE Party (above), has a narrow lead over Juan Orlando Hernández from the center right PN that has presided over spiraling crime since replacing Zelaya in a coup-tarnished election.
"Juan Orlando Hernández, the president of Congress, which his party controls, is the architect of the recently created Military Police of Public Order (PMOP), which will carry out intelligence work to fight organized crime."
Demilitarization of Honduran police forces came in the mid-1980s while civilian leadership attempted to dismantle the military police apparatus of Battalion 3-16, which disappeared a reported 184 people: journalists, labor leaders, and activists, after receiving training from Argentinian officers of Pinochet's Operation Condor. Since the coup, veterans from 3-16 like Billy Joya have militarized the police anew, as President Zelaya himself said: ""With a different name, [Battalion 3-16 is] already operating. The crimes being committed are torture to create fear among the population, and that's being directed by Mr. Joya." Since the coup, "Amnesty International found over 4,000 human rights abuses, including arbitrary detentions, torture and targeted assassinations that had been carried out between the June 28th coup and August of the same year by military and police forces against coup opponents." In addition to labor leaders and activists, 31 journalists have been murdered since the coup, predominantly critics of the government using "unmarked vehicles" the way 3-16 used to do it.
The Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras, formed in 1982, recently released a statement that Juan Orlando Hernandez' proposal constitutes a "crude resurrection of the 3-16 of the disappearances and political murders of the Dirty War." "In reality, it is a package of seemingly legal measures, 'a la Honduran,' that permits the US Southern Command, the DEA, the CIA and, in short, the Pentagon, to take complete control of Honduras’ territory and population. This military-police body that is being created, independent of the Security Ministry, instead reporting to the President, this TIGRE with its own budget, is a repressive jungle animal similar to the Battalion of Death - Battalion 3-16 - financed and trained by the United States in 1981."
Adrienne Pine reports "numerous local candidates from the LIBRE political party have been killed in targeted assassinations in recent months. As Karen Spring of Rights Action notes in a recent report analyzing an exhaustively-researched list of pre-election violence, 18 LIBRE candidates and immediate family members of candidates were murdered between May 2012 and October 19, 2013, and 15 more suffered armed attacks. Spring writes: 'According to the list...LIBRE party...pre-candidates, candidates, their families and campaign leaders have suffered more killings and armed attacks than all other political parties combined. The disproportionate number of killings of LIBRE candidates seems a clear indication that many of the killings have been politically motivated."
24 US Senators* signed a letter to Secretary of State Kerry stating: "the freedom and fairness of [the November 24] election is very much at risk, as human rights abuses under the existing government continue to threaten basic civil liberties, opposition candidates do not enjoy a level playing field, and state security forces are taking on an increasingly central, and ominous role in context of the election... These challenges raise serious concerns over the Honduran government’s ability to conduct free and fair elections. The United States must press the Government of Honduras to ensure the right of all its citizens to peacefully assemble, campaign and vote."
Ominously, the Obama administration has yet to condemn the political killings.
This year, CEPR published a report that the bottom 90% of Honduran households saw income rise under Zelaya by 9% in three years, and since the coup they've seen their income sink 6.5% while the top 10% income grew 6.9%. Mark Weisbrot notes "Even private investment, despite the complaints of business people who supported the coup, grew much faster under Zelaya than under the current regime."
Pine blogged earlier this week: "Among all the black humor and terror, there is an incredible amount
of hope right now in Tegucigalpa. It's palpable, in the central park, in
cafés, on the streets, in my classrooms. It feels to me like there are
equal amounts of hope and terror, with one gaining as the other loses
ground, and then reversing direction. But my interlocutors tell me I'm
wrong. They tell me it's all hope (though they then often fall back into
talking about their perfectly legitimate fears). Whoever came up with
the LIBRE party name after Andrés Pavon stole the previous one for
himself really was a genius. Because when people I know come up to me to
exclaim that on Sunday they are finally going to be LIBRE/libre (as
several did today), they are talking about so much more than the party.
"I'm cynical about any political party, but it's hard not to be moved
by the faith people have that their struggle and sacrifices (including
so many martyrs) will pay off. And I think it's likely that this
movement will do a better job of holding its elected leaders accountable
than Democrats have with Obama. Should they succeed in electing them,
despite the fraud that will undoubtedly take place."
* Notable is the fact that the letter was written by Sen. Tim Kaine, who was passed over for Biden for VP and signed by likely presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. Hillary Clinton was a leading figure in defending, supporting, covering up, and lobbying for hemispheric support for the coup as Secretary of State and this issue highlights the policy differences between the two potential candidates.