Program on the Americas director for Nonviolence International. He is in Honduras as part of the Emergency Delegation to Honduras. He worked as a human rights advocate in Honduras from 1994 to 1999 and is a co-producer of Hidden in Plain Sight, a documentary film about US policy in Latin America and the School of the Americas. He also works at Democracy Now! en Español.
One week after a military coup in Honduras, soldiers and riot police blocked the airport runway Sunday evening, preventing ousted President Manuel Zelaya from returning to the country. Heavily armed Honduran soldiers also used tear gas and machine guns to disperse an unarmed crowd of tens of thousands of people who had come from all over the country, despite military blockades, to wait at the airport and welcome back their ousted president. At least two people were reportedly killed and more wounded. We go to Tegucigalpa to speak with Andrés Conteris, who was at the scene. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: A week after a military coup in Honduras, soldiers and riot police blocked the airport runway Sunday evening, preventing ousted president Manuel Zelaya from returning to the country. Heavily armed Honduran soldiers also used tear gas and machine guns to disperse an unarmed crowd of over tens of thousands of people who had come from all over the country, despite military blockades, to wait at the airport and welcome back their ousted president. At least two people were reportedly killed and more wounded.
After several failed attempts to touch down at the Tegucigalpa airport, Zelaya’s plane eventually flew to Nicaragua, where he met President Daniel Ortega. He was accompanied by the president of the UN General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, on the plane. Zelaya then went on to El Salvador, where he’s due to meet the presidents of Argentina, Ecuador, Paraguay, and the head of the Organization of American States.
On Saturday, the OAS suspended Honduras. It marked the organization’s first suspension of a country in over forty-five years.
For more from Honduras, we’re joined on the phone from Tegucigalpa by Andrés Conteris. He is the Program on the Americas director for Nonviolence International. He worked as a human rights advocate in Honduras from 1994 to 1999. He is co-producer of Hidden in Plain Sight, a documentary film about US policy in Latin America and the School of the Americas. And he works with Democracy Now! en Espanol.
Andrés, welcome to Democracy Now! Tell us what happened. You were at the airport?
ANDRÉS CONTERIS: Yes, I was at the airport, Amy, and it was a day of mostly peaceful demonstration. The estimates on the numbers were well over 100,000 people in the streets of Tegucigalpa going to the airport. The police would block the marchers, but then, every half hour or so, they would retreat, and therefore, causing a pause in the march, but creating a sense of peace on both sides. So most of the day was very, very coordinated, and there was no problems.
The violence erupted later in the afternoon, and it’s very clear that a sharpshooter was the one responsible for killing one of the protesters near the airport entrance.
AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us throughout the weekend how things went down and when — what happened when President Zelaya, the ousted president, was flying over the airport.
ANDRÉS CONTERIS: Throughout the weekend, things have been getting more and more intense, because, first, the expected arrival of President Zelaya was last Thursday. He, himself, announced that. And then the OAS said they needed some time to give Honduras a chance to return to constitutional order and return him to power. That was — so the OAS gave Honduras, the regime here, three days. Then Mel Zelaya said he would come on Saturday, and then that was postponed until yesterday, Sunday.
Throughout this time, the repression in the country has become more and more intensified. People from around the country have been trying to get to the capital to show their support for their president. And dozens of buses have been prevented from coming into the capital. One of the buses was machine-gunned on its tires. And Father Andrés Tamayo from Olancho was beaten, along with others, while trying to come to the capital. This, along with the fear and intimidation tactics that are used against human rights leaders and especially members of the press that are trying to get the word out about those in the country who are against the coup.
AMY GOODMAN: Andrés, what exactly is happening with the media in Honduras right now?
ANDRÉS CONTERIS: The media, overwhelmingly, in this country is controlled by an oligarchy that is very supportive of this coup. And so, they are only trying to get out the story about some of the demonstrations that have been in favor of Roberto Micheletti taking power a week ago yesterday.
However, the press who is trying to give a balanced approach and to give voice to those who were in the streets yesterday and the recent days, in addition to yesterday, they are finding — they’re facing incredible repression. There was a journalist on Friday who was murdered after leaving Radio America in San Juan Pueblo in the rural area in the north. Then there are two journalists who are in hiding. One of them is the head of Channel 36; the other is the director of Radio Globo. Other journalists who have decided to continue their programming are facing death threats and fear and intimidation tactics. One journalist jumped three stories when the soldiers came to get him in Radio Globo on the day of the coup, and the reason he did is because he had been tortured in the ’80s, and he feared that this would happen once again. He fractured his shoulder and has lesions around his body. Another journalist has had his family threatened, and just two days ago his two sons on the street were threatened with a revolver by a car with darkened windows.
AMY GOODMAN: Also, a bomb, July 4th, Saturday, exploded at Channel 11 in Tegucigalpa?
ANDRÉS CONTERIS: That happened at 9:30 p.m. at night, and it was the first bomb that had been placed at any institution that actually went off. The material damage was severe. There was no one else hurt. But Channel 11 is not — has not been known as a channel that would give the side that is counter to this regime that is in power now, but they were attempting to do some small efforts to give a balanced approach. But even in doing that, that is what caused them to be a target of this bombing. Other channels closed. I said Channel 36, also Channel 45.
In terms of radio, Radio Globo in Tegucigalpa is the station that has most been under attack. I mentioned the man who jumped three stories. The director is in hiding. Other journalists are under life threat. One of the radio stations in the countryside, Radio Progreso, this was shut down. Radio Progreso is a very, very progressive voice, run by the Jesuit community. One station here in Tegucigalpa that carries the headline news for Democracy Now! was clearly forced to take headline news of Democracy Now! off of the air, because we have been reporting on the coup. So the press censorship has been very, very severe, and the intimidation and terror tactics against journalists have been in incrementing.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the curfew, the sunset-to-sunrise curfew that has been imposed? And also, BBC reported that as President Zelaya, the ousted president, wasn’t able to land, his supporters at the airport began shouting, “We want blue helmets!” meaning UN peacekeepers.
ANDRÉS CONTERIS: Yes, the curfew was first imposed very soon after the coup — the night of the coup, in fact. The coup happened very early in the morning a week ago Sunday, on the 28th of June, and the coup was — I’m sorry, the curfew was imposed that night from 9:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. That was put in place for the next few days, and then the Congress passed a law that extended the curfew, but not only that, it limited guaranteed constitutional rights of freedom of gathering, freedom of association, and basically freedom from any — freedom to protect their very rights. In other words, once the curfew is in force, which was 9:00 p.m., but that yesterday was changed to 6:30 p.m., until 5:00 a.m. in the morning. During that time, any house can be raided, and all the constitutional guarantees of the citizens here are canceled.
The international press has also received harassment, if they are trying to report an anti-coup position, and have been threatened with leaving the country, especially journalists from Telesur and others from Venezuela.
AMY GOODMAN: Andrés, very quickly, because we just have a minute, can you talk about the situation of the United States not calling it a coup in Honduras and the very close US relationship with Honduras, particularly the aid that has not been cut off, though military cooperation, the Obama administration has announced, has been cut off?
ANDRÉS CONTERIS: The US policy toward Honduras has historically been one of having a great deal of control, and the US policy continues to be that. It’s very clear that the US is trying to associate itself with not only Latin America, but the entire world. But even though the United States is not following even US law which says that no aid, either economic or military, can go to a country when it is declared that a coup has happened, both Obama and Hillary Clinton have said a coup has happened, but they have not legally declared that the case. That means that aid continues to flow, even though the State Department has used the word that there has been a “pause” and even though the Pentagon has said that associations between the US military and Honduran military have been minimized. Even those symbolic efforts, even if they have happened, it doesn’t mean that the aid should continue to flow, and therefore, the US is in violation of its own law in continuing to support this regime.
The history of the US in this country is also full of repression. The School of the Americas trained the coup leader here, the general who took over. And Billy Joya, also related to the Battalion 3-16, a death squad which was founded during the time of John Dimitri Negroponte, Billy Joya is a key security adviser to the so-called president Roberto Micheletti. And so, the ties of US policy here continue to be damaging, and the US is not taking an active role in resolving this crisis.
AMY GOODMAN: Andrés Conteris, I want to thank you for being with us, speaking to us from Tegucigalpa. This is Democracy Now!
When we come back, John Pilger, the award-winning filmmaker, on Honduras, Iran, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and more. Stay with us.