By Dick Emanuelsson and Mirian Huezo Emanuelsson
Youth and Union Workers Targeted by Coup Police
The Honduran people have set an example for people throughout Latin America through three months of steady resistance to the coup in their country. But there are powerful groups within Honduras and abroad organizing to neutralize this unprecedented force and block the resistance from growing in strength and numbers. These groups above all seek to prevent the nation from carrying out a Constitutional Assembly to modify the outdated constitution. Along with the reinstatement of the elected President Manuel Zelaya, this demand is central to the popular movement against the coup as a necessary tool to bring the country and its people out of poverty.
In this Special Report, Tegucigalpa reporter Dick Emanuelsson and photographer Mirian Huezo Emanuelsson chronicle the terror and repression unleashed by the coup to maintain power. Despite promises to lift the executive decree that imposed a state of siege, the violence continues.
These are firsthand accounts from the victims of the strategy of force being employed by the coup. All were wounded by security forces since the return of Zelaya on Sept. 21. This strategy has only intensified, despite talk of an official dialogue, largely frustrated during the recent visit of the Organization of American States (OAS). Even as the OAS ministers and other dignitaries were meeting on Oct. 7 in Tegucigalpa to promote dialogue, the coup and armed forces again attacked peaceful demonstrators in the streets.
The pain is intense and tears stream down the sun-browned face. Mauricio Maldonado, 18, was shot by the police when he went out to the corner store to buy a bag of churros. It was 8:30 at night on Sept. 24 and the curfew had been imposed since 5 in the afternoon the previous day in the combative neighborhood of La Cañada, in the capital city of Tegucigalpa.
“A white Mazda drove into the neighborhood and stopped for a little while in the dark. One of the men said ‘shut off the lights,’ they backed up a little and started to shoot. I fell on the ground, they got me in the stomach,” Maldonaldo tells us.
He says that the people of La Cañada are not happy with the June 28 coup d’etat. La Cañada is a poor neighborhood of mostly teachers. The teachers have been at the forefront of the Honduran uprising against the coup due to the union leadership which from the first day began marching and demonstrating in the streets and striking for a return to democracy. In the last weeks, they have been attacked by security forces and many have been arrested.
The violence against people living in extreme poverty in urban neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and other Honduran cities began the day after Zelaya’s return to Honduras. It was, and is, horrible. Mauricio lies in the Hospital Escuela, the public hospital for the poor. He is a flesh-and-blood example of the repression that has moved on to using bullets and beatings to control rebellious sectors of the population.
It’s a Crime to Be Young in Honduras
He removes the bed sheet that covers him and shows where the bullet entered at his waist, crossed his stomach and came out the other side of his waist. En route, the shot damaged part of his spine. The family had to pay for a magnetic resonance image of the spinal column that cost 6,000 lempiras (USD$350) to find out if the spine was damaged. Mauricio´s mother Marbeli Pastrana is the head of the household; she makes half of the minimum wage at her job as a domestic servant.
“The neighbors helped us out and I managed to lower the cost to 4,200 lempiras,” Pastrana explains. She is crying from the sadness of seeing Mauricio seriously wounded and is concerned about the consequences of the Sept. 24 assault on her son.
“I was inside when I heard the shooting. I ran out barefoot and I saw all the kids running except him”, she says, as the knot in her throat grows. “And then I saw him on the ground.”
But your son was lucky, he survived, we tell her to keep her spirits up.
“Thank God, yes! But it was horrible having to go through this—they shot more than thirty times.”
How is the situation now among the people of La Cañada?
“They are very supportive of him. They all got together some money and I’m thankful that they helped me,” answers the mother of four children, the youngest only 13. “We trust God that it will all work out.”
At 4 pm on Monday, Sept. 21—just hours after Zelaya arrived in Tegucigalpa, the de facto regime imposed a round-the-clock curfew. The Honduran people were held hostage in their own homes for more than 38 hours. The curfew was lifted for seven hours on Wednesday Sept. 23 at 10 A.M. During these hours, tens of thousands of residents in the neighborhoods of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula rebelled until they were able to take control of several police posts.
It is typical for the poor of these neighborhoods to buy their daily groceries at local corner stores. That’s why there was so much rage against the decision to impose a curfew. It not only violates the constitution but it also leaves people stranded in their houses without food. It was received with a fury rarely seen before in Honduras. The decision reinforced the rejection of the coup leaders and enhanced the political consciousness of the people.
We entered another room in the hospital where we found Junior Adalberto Rodríguez, 18 year of age, a young man among the thousands that go out to demonstrate daily in the resistance marches. The youth of the popular neighborhoods often prove difficult for the resistance leadership to control because their rebellion draws not only on their opposition to the coup but also on a deep resentment against a society that represses youth instead of offering education and employment opportunities.
He is sitting up in bed staring at the wall. He and six friends were shot at on Sept. 22 during the curfew.
His mother, Carmen, says, “He is part of the resistance and was in the street in front of the house when a man dressed in black appeared and shot him. The bullet went in the right side of his jaw and exited the other side. It broke his jaw and his teeth.”
“As a mother, I felt really bad. You can’t even go out now for fear of being in the streets because anything can happen. That night everyone was in an uproar there…”
The youth themselves say that to be young in Honduras is considered a crime today. The soldiers and police see the young people as a subversive group and would rather strike out against them to neutralize their rebellion than see them organize in the resistance.
“These are real bullets”
Mario Valladares, 47, of the neighborhood of Israel Sur, is another victim we came across in a room on the fourth floor of the Hospital Escuela. The hospital is full of victims of a regime that has been condemned by the entire world but that continues to victimize the Honduran people.
“I went out at 10:00 in the morning when two patrol cars appeared. I don´t deny that I am part of the Resistance. Because I’m going to defend my people. With things the way they are now, a lot of times people bow their heads but the people have awakened. And I say with pride that I will die for my people if necessary,” Valladares tells us.
“I was forming a resistance group when the patrols arrived and one of them took out a pistol. ‘Why are you drawing your gun, what’s going on? We’re Hondurans, we’re being peaceful, we don´t have arms, sticks or rocks,’ we told them.
“‘There’s no problem’, they answered us. But when they left, some boys started yelling slogans and they didn’t like that. When I saw that one of them aimed a FAL rifle, I threw myself on the ground but it was too late, I was already shot with the other six friends. They fired indiscriminately at the crowd. The bullet went in here,” he shows us his left thigh, “and came out the other side. I was really lucky because it only touched flesh and not bone or muscle.”
They were in the streets during the time the curfew had been lifted. In spite of this, the men were savagely attacked with high-caliber 7.62 mm. firearms.
“Do you know why they lifted the curfew? To kill the people! Because the order is simply to shoot people and the order comes from above. I know because I was in the army. A lower-level soldier doesn´t shoot like that without an order from above. They say they are shooting rubber bullets, that’s a lie. These are real bullets. They were shooting us from 25 meters away, that’s atrocious! They don’t think, they just think about killing.”
The same morning and hour that Mario Valladares and his six friends were shot, Jairo Sanchez was shot by uniformed officers under General Romeo Vázquez. The security agents of the National Department of Criminal Investigation (DICN) did not say a single word, they just opened fire on the crowd that protested against the dictatorship in the neighborhood of San Francisco.
“Unfortunately, they shot our companion in the left cheek, leaving him badly wounded,” says Abel Morales, Secretary of Acts in the National Union of Workers of the Professional Training Institute (SITRAINFOP) that has nearly a thousand members in Honduras.
As we were interviewing him in the beautiful park of the Institute, union members were holding a Marathon Event to raise funds for Sánchez’s operations and treatment, which costs half a million lempiras or approximately USD$27,000. The union leader is an inch away from death.
“Thank God, he’s conscious. Due to the operation they performed that same Wednesday that the attack took place, he can’t speak. He can only make hand gestures, and write notes to communicate with us,” says Morales.
But the curfew was lifted at the hour when they were attacked?
“Yes, at that moment the curfew was suspended. The Resistance called out to us and we are responding to that call.”
Sánchez was taken immediately to Hospital Escuela. But after three months of the coup there insufficient equipment at the hospital and due to the severity of his wound, he was transferred to the Medical Center, an elegant, private hospital with the best doctors, where he was immediately attended to.
“They took out projectile fragments as well as the remaining fragments of the bone that had broken. They repaired some of his arteries and veins that the shot had damaged,” related Morales.
“Right now, the doctors have decided not to remove the bullet itself because it is lodged really close to the aorta. (Sanchez) could have a severe hemorrhage and die.”
What was the reaction of union members to the attempted assassination?
“They called all of the union managers, investigating, because we have a very united base in this union. In cases like this one, the people react in a very orderly way.”
While we are talking you can hear the ruckus of the Great Marathon that the union has organized to raise funds to cover Sánchez’ medical costs.
“We are holding this Marathon in all of the local sections all over the country to support our fellow union member. We really appreciate all the support we’ve received from unions all over the world.”
Morales explains, “Conditions in Honduras re tough and we the union leaders are very exposed in this situation. At 6 in the afternoon on Wednesday, a contingent of four patrol units with a total of 60 officers and 60 patrolmen entered the neighborhood where I live. They come into many neighborhoods, not just mine, shooting, raiding homes, breaking down doors, taking a few members of the resistance.
“Thank God they haven’t come to my house. But we have received news that they are watching us, above all the union leaders who are at the forefront of the resistance that is known throughout the world as a peaceful movement. But the police and the army come and they repress us.”
“The situation is becoming difficult and international organizations must get involved in the issue.”
A Death List for Popular Leaders?
Speaking of the repression against union leaders, last year three DCIN agents were detained by members of the Autonomous University of Honduras Union (Sintraunah) when the agents were beginning to act strangely. They found a list of 130 names, photographs of the popular leaders, union headquarters, telephone numbers, etc. Was SITRAINFOP on that list?
“The members of Sintraunah, a very beligerant union, were able to detain three agents from the DCIN and from them they were able to attain a list with 130 names of union members and popular leaders. Among them was the SITRAINFOP leadership.”
A New Operation for Sánchez
We arrive at the Medical Center where the national president of Honduran polytechnic professors, Jairo Sánchez, is awaiting a second operation due to a high fever that has persisted over the last few days and has not broken. We find him conscious but unable to speak. His look is firm and fixed look and seems to speak to us with the words of the song that has become a slogan of the resistance to the coup:
“They are afraid of us because we have no fear!”
Audio of interviews with the victims:
Mauricio Maldonado, 18, was shot in the stomach by the police when he went out to the corner store during the curfew in Tegucigalpa on Sept 24, 2009.
Listen to the interview here.
Junior Adalberto Rodríguez, 18, active in the resistance, was shot in the right side of his jaw. His jaw and teeth were broken.
Listen to the interview here.
Mario Valladares, 47, active in the resistance, was shot by the police in the thigh.
Listen to the interview here.
Interview with Abel Morales, Secretary of Acts for SITRAINFOP, on the attempt of the DNIC to assassinate Jairo Sánchez, president of SITRAINFOP on Sept. 23, 2009.
Listen to the interview here.