Interviewees: Bryn Wolfe (long time development worker in numerous parts of the world), Elly Alvarado (resident of Tegucigalpa and Bryn’s wife) and Mauricio Santos (member of the Artists in Resistance Collective, Honduras)
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth, Amy Haworth Johns and Lucy Goodman
Location: Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Date: Wed. 22nd August 2010
Theme: Resistance to the 2009 coup; post-coup developments in Honduras.
Notes: Mostly in English, but with 3 small parts translated from Spanish and inserted in the transcription of the English conversation.
Mauricio Santos (MS): [Translation / Mauricio 0 file] … the moment the coup occurred, social meetings became well tuned. But now that the coup is a little behind us, now there are developing some internal tensions. There are different definitions and differences demonstrated – the first difference is that a meeting of the liberals is a meeting of the Resistance which, without a presence retained in the two parties – that’s always been the system – but there are many movements, the workers, the feminists, the indigenous; and it’s there where the first tension appears.
Elly Alvarado (EA): [Translation] As time passed, the coup lost its strength. … Now it’s almost a year away.
MS: [Translation] It’s a movement which is structured due to the political situation brought about by the coup, but there has been no precedent for sharing agendas. The coup allowed each sector that was fighting its own battles to communicate with each other; and so the LGBT movement had direct contact with the workers’ movement. The feminist movement had never worked with other sectors like the teachers. There’d never been any communication. So, …
Martin Mowforth (MM): [Translation] Now there is?
MS: [Translation] Now there is, but … So, up to now a new movement has begun. The difference, for example, between the indigenous movement, horizontal movements creates a lot of conflict with certain tendencies which now accept a vertical structure. So there’s a bit of tension within the Resistence.
Bryn Wolfe (BW): In terms of resistance, for me as a Quaker and a pacifist, there’s been a lot of terrible things – Nicaragua was a huge tragedy/turning point for me, because for a long time I endorsed violent revolution, because what option was there … you’ve got a Somoza what do you do? But in hindsight I felt like, you know it’s like hearts and minds and stuff, and there was no Nelson Mandela, nobody with a vision, and the problem was in Nicaragua there was a lot of people who never changed in their hearts. So it’s so tragic, you can achieve a certain amount of change for a while, but then things shift. Had the Sandinistas genuinely been dictators, you know, then they would have kept the regime that they did. But they didn’t and things swung back and so all the sacrifice and tragedy and blood … things are a mess. But the resistance is genuinely a kind of postmodern thing. It’s odd, and not as glamorous as the ‘….. something in something’, but it’s something new and different that people are perceiving in a different way, because this strange collection of people who most people dismiss as idealists and feminists and crazies, they are methodical and talk about strategies and what they want to do. They insist on deciding things in a consensual way and moving in unity, and if they don’t have unity they don’t go forward on that issue. Something definitely has to change because everybody has observed that the political system is broken in Honduras. And this is not unfamiliar to us from Britain because for the last 10 years we’ve been talking about the democratic deficit; how can we have 1.5-2 million people marching in the streets of London in 2003 and the government completely ignores them. Clearly the people were in non-favor of entering the war and yet the government ignored them. Another thing is, how many people in Britain feel disfranchised because there isn’t a political group that can actually reflect their interests, and the political system is controlled by money. The US is the worst example of that where it’s all about money. Here the political party … I think Ellie has voted only once in her life …. one time was enough. Mauricio has only voted once too. So nobody believes in the legitimacy of the process despite wanting to vote. It’s an interesting thing, the people at the front are saying let’s make a difference, so I felt there’s a great need for something like CAP – the peace centre in San José, to allow the different organisations to meet and communicate and explore ideas and do things and talk about how society might change and what they could do. I haven’t read anything for a bit about work that’s been done recently about people talking about writing a new constitution and talking about a new form of the state, but I know that work is going on. I know that there are people in the Resistance that are drafting and talking about the new constitution and I think that’s really important because when the time comes it won’t be vague and they’ll say look we have ideas written down.
MS: [Translation / Mauricio 00 file] I think that the most important change was that before we were in a relatively bad way, and nobody knew exactly why things weren’t working. But the coup allowed us to see the other side of the people who run this country. So in a certain way it was good because in the end it became known who were the people who were taking advantage of the country and exploiting the people. That was good. That was a fact that allowed the people to mature a little – much more than if there were a process of political formation. Now everybody in the streets talks about the oligarchy.
BW: For a little while at the beginning of the coup, I was writing diary thesis for ‘Red Pepper’ in Britain, for Fiona, whatever her name is, and I kept trying to tell her the Resistance is the real story here, that’s what interesting for the researchers and sociologists, that’s what’s new and so interesting in Honduras. My friend came back to me and said it’s just not a story so they’re not interested, and I thought they might just be interested in the formation of the left of the progression. But its outstanding the control of the international media, because I think back to the things we read about … something … or Nicaragua, and now with everything that’s gone down to do with the situation here, or even what’s going on in Costa Rica with the militarisation. It’s just not on their radar.
MM: I’ve heard very little about Costa Rica, only through the CAP.
BW: But the Guardian had some terrible editorial pieces analysing … and one time I wrote on their website saying this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
MM: The one thing I wanted to ask you was for your analysis of how the situation is with the Resistance. What you’ve told me already …. but anyway, let’s start with the effect of the women’s movements on the Resistance.
BW: Well I think the women’s organisations insisted that the movement work democratically and by consensus, and I think that historically and traditionally in Honduras there were 2 or 3 left wing parties in the campesino organisations, and they had a constituency but you know, when there were marches and protests in Tegucigalpa, I remember the first year I came there was one with 300 or 400 people, not huge numbers, and I think before the coup d’état, the traditional left wing parties didn’t talk much to the women’s orgs or the indigenous peoples, but when they threw them together in the ‘Frente’ there was genuinely sharing of ideas and talk of strategy. Also, significantly important was, whether people were prepared for it or not, but the women’s orgs and indigenous people argued for peaceful protests and Ghandian sort of direct action, not that people had the knowledge of Ghandian methods, but things like civil disobedience and resistance. I think that’s had a dramatic effect and it still goes on today. I was telling you about before the ….. conference in Tocoa, some of the women’s org and indigenous chose not to be involved in the selection of the executive leader. They didn’t want to have delegates and they didn’t withdraw from the Frente but said they didn’t want to take part. Sure enough I think their caution was quite useful because from …… somewhere to somewhere ….. the liberals tried to pack in 25 more delegates, and you know nobody accepted that.
MM: That was the conference you were telling me about in Tocoa with people turning up in 4 wheel drives and …….
BW: They had a lot of weapons and guns there.
So I think Tocoa was quite crucial, because nobody would have predicted that this broad movement with so many people in it, given the way the left was and the campesino organisations were, that it would still be going on a year later so strong, and still putting people out collecting over a million signatures for the Constituyente. Again the movement, interestingly, has always stayed disciplined, that their goal is to get the constituent assembly core to draft the constitution. Lots of things, and groups and individuals have tried to divert them from their agenda, and lots of people have said they should have formed a political party and stood for elections, but the movement seems consistently to have decided to stick with a Constituyente – that’s the goal.
MS: I think that the goal was important because all the movements fight for the same reason … opposition. All the things ….. become one force.
BW: So it’s united and has a united executive and has a very definite strategy and objective and it’s still growing. I think for the media, the Honduran media, the ………. names of paper and Radio stations, other than Radio Globo and channel 56, they have tried to ignore the Frente, and called the same policy as Lobo, to dismiss and ignore them. But I think the strength of the Frente has been counted as an achievement, because when the North Americans had to call off the 30th of July meeting of the OAS, because they still didn’t have the votes to get Honduras restored, and that’s because of the agitation, the protests, and the lobbying of the Frente. The US media also tries to ignore and suppress the Frente and the lobby, it is very strong and well organised for the Golpistas and the oligarchy in the US, but they have not been able to budge the southern group, the Cono Sur . They have not been able to budge that group even though they have detached Chile and another county to support, the other countries are standing firm and are saying no. Of course Daniel Ortega’s position in … something …. is very clear, saying that I didn’t vote for this and I won’t support it, and we’re supposed to move forward by consensus. So I think in that sense, and I was telling you about the article of the analysis by Rights Watch, that the state department in …… somewhere, have accepted that the Constituyente assembly, to draft a new constitution is probably inevitable. So I think it’s quite significant that the North Americans have recognised that even though they’re not saying it. I was trying to nudge Mauricio the other day thinking about if Maria Otero had actually been able to meet with the Frente, there’s lots of talk and lots of gossip about how she had tried to meet the Frente representatives, but the media is not really clear about it.
MM: She’s one of the undersecretaries of state of the US government.
BW: She was dispatched during the ….. something July meeting. She also made a statement saying that the human rights situation would not preclude Honduras’ readmission to OAS. So the thing continues with the North Americans, the State Department, not acknowledging the human rights crisis. I’d love to have a meeting with the American ambassador Lorenz, or one of these visiting people, about all the human rights reports since June 2009, there have been 7,8,9 lives of all kinds of diverse groups, there must be a huge stack of cases now, and I’d love to hear what these people think on the matter.
So I think its focus (the Frente), they’ve collected a million signatures, they have a million where only a half a million were required to trigger and call for a constituent assembly, and they intend to present that on the 12th of September, at congress, and then have activities. So that’s really where we stand, and the Frente remains united despite continued assassinations and everything else. There was a woman leader of an indigenous organisation who had 8 or 9 kids and was assassinated, all in the same pattern. What is fascinating here in terms of that, is for those of us with longer memories of operation Condor and low intensity conflict, and the techniques developed by the State Department and engineered throughout South and Central America in the 1980’s, it’s the same thing but the scale is not so big, but they do have a dirty war going on. They collect intelligence, they target individuals and in a drip drip way, you know 3 or 4 for a while maybe, or a whole group of journalists they’ll try and intimidate, and there was a brief spell when they were assassinating …..
MM: 7 journalists were assassinated …..
MS: ……….. In the 80s I think 300 people were killed, but now 100 people have been killed already in one year.
BW: In the 80s the US media, some of it was interested and would report violations, especially the famous human rights cases in El Salvador and Guatemala, and they would highlight these things, and the issues of Nicaragua were well known. But now except for the blogs and journals, the mainstream media doesn’t say anything about Honduras at all.
Compared to Sri Lanka where there’s a full-on war and you didn’t go out on the streets at night and lots of people vanished …. But nevertheless it’s quite significant, the number of people that have been lost. I want to make a point, because we were talking about Opus Dei before; in the early months of the coup, one of the really significant things, and really nasty, was that there were a lot of really committed activists in the Gay and Lesbian groups, and these groups, especially the transvestites got targeted. There were a lot of really grisly murders of transvestites with their heads cut off etc – really dreadful. So they were a definite targeted group. And a number of prominent media like …. someone. But then every sector, like the nurses, there was a very popular nurse leader and her husband is still being harassed now, although it happened a month ago.
MM: It’s the same in Olancho, like Padre Andres Tamayo. And Adalberto Figueroa has recently been the 13th member of the MAO to be assassinated. René is now at the top of the list of being targeted by the death squads.
BW: So whether its journalists, teenagers active in the barrios, prominent trade unionists, environmental activists – like with Goldcorp. The mining practices by Goldcorp involve cyanide heap leaching and you can imagine what effect this has on the watershed as it leaches into the river system.
MM: They spray tonnes and tonnes of water onto the earth with a cyanide solution in it to separate out the gold or silver, and all the waste water goes into a reservoir and the CEO of Gold Corp was asked in a press conference to try and name a single reservoir of cyanide solution run off that hadn’t leaked at some point, anywhere in the world, and he was unable to do so. Every one of these pilas has leaked into water courses on which people depend, and into the water table. Their defense is that cyanide in a water solution evaporates quickly, but then inevitably it falls as acid rain and then spreads the damage. There’s lots of horrible photos of people with rashes and skin ailments.
Amy Haworth Johns (AHJ): But there was an incident when one woman spoke out about the contamination and a lot of the village turned against her because they worked for the mine.
MM: Not the whole village but it caused a split between those employed by the mine and those not ……….. It’s a classic case of gangsterism.
BW: Pseudo capitalism, gangster capitalism. In Sri Lanka they went through 3 waves of structural adjustment, they were one of the first countries in Asia from the late 70s onwards, and they called it ‘Cloney capitalism’ and they did things like privatise all the buses. But because there was such a strong tradition in Sri Lanka, the MPs and parliament etc, this was part of their thing; so that they had lots of jobs to hand out to their constituency, so that when the parties got in power … There was one regime when we asked our MP and we were always complaining to our leader where our goodies were, where’s our pork pie?
I want to get back to your question … so I mean the movement remains strong and is committed despite all the attacks and everything else. The signatures have been collected and will be presented. Where do we go from here, I ask my friend here (Mauricio), because I can’t see that anything has actually changed since June 2009. Although if Lobo makes any sort of noise that’s necessary, he is as one of my good friends says ………., so I can’t see him doing anything dramatic or making any sort of move to congress just because the petitioners say so and he would like to do it. I don’t see any evidence that the guys who insisted that they had nothing to be sorry for and refuse to reinstate Mel Zelaya in the Tegucigalpa – San José accord, they haven’t changed, and the oligarchy hasn’t changed, so the big question is what happens when the big petition gets presented? Now legality and what the rule of law is and what’s in the constitution hasn’t meant anything to the golpistas and golpista mark 2 and Pepe Lobo. So it’s difficult for me to see them conceding a constituent assembly. So I personally expect some trouble for maybe a week or a week and a half in September, depending on how harsh the police and military are on cracking down on what happens. As always, it’ll be critical on the North Americans, what levels of violence will they accept and how violent does it have to get and that’s a key question.
MS: The signatures don’t have any value because the constitution says in an article, that anybody can change the constitution ………. …… so we can do anything and the constitution won’t change.
BW: But what about the golpistas with their articles written in stone. This is the rhetoric of what they say, but in the constituent assembly everything is up for negotiation. That’s the conundrum and I wonder exactly what’s going to happen. Obviously they’ve had since the world cup, plenty of time to think and discuss what they’re going to do. They know that the petition is going to be presented and the reception outside ….
The other thing to say is that they’re desperate for money because the IMF has refused emergency loans. The IMF is coming back in September to talk again, but as it stands now, the government thought they would be readmitted by the OAS and they thought they would have emergency funds from the IMF and they don’t. I don’t think the payroll has been missed since February. The government couldn’t do the payroll for a while in Feb this year, just after Pepe was inaugurated as president there was a month or month and a half when they couldn’t pay salaries and public finances were really a mess. It’s difficult to see what will happen and how far they can keep going until another economic crunch. We had the taxistas protesting with the final raising of petrol prices and gas for a week and a half, two weeks ago. So it’s difficult to see what’s going to happen. But at the same time, if the government cracks down on the Frente, or if they refuse to recognise the petition, then I can see this solidifying the southern group. They’ll say no, things aren’t normal in Honduras and they’re not even accepting the rules, which the Frente has gone through all the proper processes to abide by, so legally they should do it. So there’s still a lot of talk about the North Americans who want to see the Supreme Court change and they want to see the justices who are dismissed and the magistrates justices put back, but all of those are side issues. It’s difficult to see, in the next two months, what’s going to happen. I don’t think the Frente is going anywhere though.
One thing I’ve said to you and you’re aware from Costa Rica, is that the CAP is sheltering at the moment 27 people, recommended to them by the Frente. We may well see more people leaving and another exodus of a lot of people who are under pressure. One thing for certain is that the economic situation is going to get harder. I was trying to talk about this with Ellie’s father, who of course has a perspective. He’s in his mid 70’s now and lived a long life and seen a lot of stuff. We were talking to him about the coup in the early 60s. I asked what the difference was with that one. He said there was a lot more shooting and more people got shot. The conclusion we came to was that somehow people keep going, as they always have.
MM: What about the Truth Commission?
BW: Well the Truth Commission is a joke and has no credibility in or outside of Honduras. The big question is if … Maria Otero … there was talk with her because the fact that the US has now recognised the Frente as important and significant resistance, whether they could find somebody to go along to the Whitewash Truth Commission. There’s no comparison, if you look at the two commissions, the one set up by the Frente and the people involved in the remit, I mean, the whitewash commission has no credibility what so ever. There’s lots of good analysis to say that these Truth Commissions, where they have been implemented in South Africa, etc – they happen after the conflict not in the middle of the conflict, and we’re still very much in the middle of the conflict.
MS: The new liberals want a new party. I think there are different visions, because all the different movements, social and indigenous movements, they are trying to think in another way, like something similar to Bolivia – not a party.
Lucy Goodman (LG): Would they have more effect if they were a party or would it be a completely different approach?
BW: There’s fear that if they became a political party, then they would simply be co-opted exactly like the liberal party started 50 or 60 years ago, supposedly as a progressive movement that intended to do all this good stuff, but clearly the liberal party got completely co-opted by the power structure.
MS: [Translation / Mauricio 000 file] I think that the conflict is between the visions which push for a structure which allows participation and those that simply want representation. There are people who are afraid of converting to a political party which would again use a platform of representation with leaders who would completely forget the grassroots. You can hear people in the streets – they say ‘No, we don’t want to see that.’ A campesino with a representative in the National Congress, ‘we don’t want to see people who ransack the country.’
MM: This is the crucial difference between participatory democracy and representative democracy, and the problem is the grassroots, the base, and the social movements get left out of representative democracy.
BW: The majority may not always be right. The majority can do horrific things and how do you protect the interests of minorities. I have one good student in Bolivia who works for an Italian movement offering good governance and efficiency training. She was very frustrated about why the Resistance hadn’t formed a political party. But I think it was the point that the political system is broken, and so people are saying it’s not about getting a new group in or new government – the whole system has to be changed. There’s a feeling, that unless the constitution can be changed, like in Bolivia, the constitution that is now the present one, was drafted in the early 80s in the State Department in the Reagan presidency with the military, and basically it’s engineered to preserve the power bases and oligarchs and protect them. So just like in Bolivia, they say they need to change to a greater franchise and have greater rights for people. The feminist organisation is a great example because they say that nothing in the constitution actually helps them or protects them. They say that there has to be actually guaranteed mechanisms in the constitution to protect women. The femicide here is horrific; I mean before the coup it was awful. The rates of violence were shocking.
LG: Do they leave the bodies on the streets as symbolism here too?
BW: Bodies are thrown anywhere.
MM: The social cleansing of street children is an ongoing issue to for both Guatemala and Honduras.
BW: That’s happened for the last 30 years.
AHJ: Who does the cleansing?
MM: The death squads.
AHJ: Who exactly are the death squads?
MM: Well, who are they?
MS: The movement, right now …… only has had one year, and the best thing right now is the talking and participation and discoveries of ways to move together.
BW: Moving together in unity. In usual democratic politics, minorities get shunted aside and have to accept the view of the majority and their views get lost. Like in our system, I think most people who have spent time looking at it objectively, in Britain, now conclude that the first past the post in not having a PR system like most of Europe, is really not working for us. We certainly don’t have governments that are objective to views. The places where there is PR, of course, we have green MPs, and green county councillors and extreme socialist worker parties.