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NewsNotes, May-June 2010
Vol. 35 No. 3


Honduras: Efforts continue for new constitution

Despite the portrayal by mainstream press of the return to normalcy in Honduras, the government continues to repress popular movements and ignore demands for a new constitution. To show the level of popular support for a new constitution, the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP by its Spanish title) recently launched a campaign to collect signatures in support of a new constitution. The recently established Truth Commission, which many hoped would help lead to reconciliation in the country, has received criticism from both sides of the dispute and is unlikely to resolve tensions.

Since the installment of Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo as president on January 27, the human rights situation has continued to decline, with members of the resistance facing threats, kidnapping, torture and assassination by police and military officials as well as by marauding death squads operating with impunity. Just in the first 30 days of the new government, a human rights organization documented at least 160 human rights violations that appeared to be politically motivated. Seven reporters were been killed during March and April.

This continued state repression is one of the reasons that the Truth Commission is likely to fail. The commission, coordinated by former Guatemalan vice president Eduardo Stein, has been attacked by both conservative and progressive activists as illegitimate. Its eight-month investigation is set to begin May 4, with the aim to “provide an ‘objective and impartial’ report on the events leading up to and following the June 28, 2009 coup.” Conservative forces have called for the removal of Julieta Castellanos, president of the public National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH), while the resistance has criticized the other national member, former UNAH president and jurist Jorge Omar Casco, for being from the fringe of the radical right. The international members of the commission, Michael Kergin, Canadian ambassador to the United States from 2000 to 2005, and María Amadilia, former minister of justice of Peru, have been criticized by both sides as being ineffectual and for being chosen simply for being from countries that have not criticized the coup.

Traditionally, truth commissions use extensive input from human rights abuse survivors, though this commission has not asked for any input from those who are part of the resistance. The continued political violence in the country also makes it difficult for the commission to function, as normally these types of panels are established after the end of such conflict. Finally, the fact that the commission will seal its records for 10 years implies that exposing the truth may not be its ultimate goal. Because of these and other concerns, human rights groups are forming an alternative commission to “monitor the process and conduct of those who make up the Truth Commission.”

Of greater concern to the FNRP is how the coup has stalled any advances toward writing a new constitution, its fundamental demand. The coup took place on June 28 last year, the day that the Honduran people were scheduled to vote on whether they wanted to rewrite the constitution or not. On April 20, thousands of members of the resistance mobilized throughout the country to collect signatures in favor of rewriting the constitution. They aim to collect at least one million signatures by the one-year anniversary of the coup. As Annie Bird with Upsidedown World writes, “The current constitution was written by a constituent assembly convoked during a military dictatorship, approved by congress and adopted during a military dictatorship. There was no national debate in regards to its content.”

In a sign of how difficult it is for Hondurans to act freely in their country, as the resistance launched its signature gathering campaign, Oscar Flores, a resistance leader famous for carrying a poster during marches showing the number of days since the coup, called the wife of a union leader who had been assassinated in February, and reported that he had been arrested by the police and taken to an unknown site before the call was cut off. He was released the next day with the police and government denying any involvement. The case shows the continued difficulties facing Hondurans working to bring about a more legitimate government and the importance of their eventual victory.

See other articles and alerts on Honduras on our Latin America page.

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