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Internal Pressure Forces Honduran Coup Regime to Reverse Civil Liberties Crackdown, But Repression Continues

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The Honduran coup regime has been forced to reverse a harsh crackdown on civil liberties amidst growing protests for the restoration of the ousted President Manuel Zelaya. But Honduran forces still blocked a large protest march and shut down two media outlets that have criticized the coup regime. Meanwhile, a top US diplomat criticized the coup regime’s decision but then turned around to issue a harsh condemnation of ousted Zelaya. We go to Honduras to speak with Andrés Conteris from inside the embassy where Zelaya is hiding and speak to Luther Castillo, a Honduran doctor who is in Washington to speak with US lawmakers. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The coup regime in Honduras appears to be backing off its attempt to shut down protests and limit free speech amidst growing protests for the restoration of the ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

On Sunday, the coup government of Roberto Micheletti announced a forty-five-day decree that imposed sweeping restrictions on civil liberties, including banning unauthorized public meetings, allowing the government to shut down broadcasters, and giving police the authority to make arrests without warrants.

After congressional leaders warned they would not approve the decree, Micheletti gave a televised news conference Monday evening asking for, quote, “forgiveness from the Honduran people” and said he would lift the decree as, quote, “quickly as possible.”

Earlier that day, masked police officers and soldiers shut down two media outlets that have criticized the coup regime. Government forces also cordoned off a street to prevent a march of several hundred supporters of ousted President Zelaya.

Zelaya has remained inside the Brazilian embassy since defiantly returning to Honduras one week ago. The Micheletti government has now given Brazil a ten-day deadline to hand over Zelaya or face the embassy’s closure. The coup regime issued the threat as its soldiers continued to surround the embassy and limit the delivery of supplies. Brazil has rejected the ultimatum and says Zelaya will stay as long as he needs. Brazil’s representative to the Organization of American States, Ruy de Lima Casaes e Silva, warned of the severity of the crisis.

    RUY DE LIMA CASAES E SILVA: [translated] The situation in the embassy is a grave situation with a potential for drama. For that reason, the Brazilian government, by way of their foreign minister, solicited the UN Security Council to conduct a meeting to specifically deal with the insecurity of Brazil’s embassy in Tegucigalpa, especially as regards disrespecting the norms established in international charters regarding diplomatic missions.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The coup regime on Monday refused entry to a delegation from the Organization of American States that had come to seek a negotiated solution to the crisis. Speaking in Washington, the US ambassador to the OAS, Lewis Amselem, criticized the coup regime’s decision but then turned around to issue a harsh condemnation of ousted Zelaya.

    LEWIS AMSELEM: We therefore call on all within Honduras and outside Honduras to avoid actions and pronouncements which foment unrest and violence. The return of President Zelaya to Honduras, absent an agreement, is irresponsible and foolish and serves neither the interests of the Honduran people nor of those seeking the peaceful reestablishment of the democratic order in Honduras.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: On Monday night, Zelaya addressed the United Nations General Assembly via a mobile phone that his foreign minister held up to the podium.

    PRESIDENT MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] My greetings to the United Nations. My greetings to the United Nations. Anybody who had any doubt that a dictatorship is taking hold of my country, now with what has happened in the last ninety-three days of repression, I think that any of those doubts that might have subsisted are dispelled. But besides being subject to a coup d’état, Honduras is being subjected to a fascist rule, which is suppressing the rights of its citizens and which is oppressing the Honduran people.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We go now to the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, where we’re joined via Democracy Now! video stream by Andrés Conteris. He is the Program on the Americas director for Nonviolence International and also works at Democracy Now! en Español. He has been inside the Brazilian embassy for the past week.

We’re also joined from Washington, DC by Dr. Luther Castillo. He’s an indigenous physician from the Atlantic Coast of Honduras. He founded the first hospital and health center in that region. He is also secretary of communications for the National Resistance Front Against the Coup in Honduras. Shortly before the coup, he had been named director of International Cooperation in the Honduran Foreign Ministry.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! First, we’re going to go to Andrés Conteris. He’s joining us on the telephone, actually, from the — inside the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. Andrés, welcome to Democracy Now!

ANDRÉS CONTERIS: It’s a pleasure, Sharif.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Can you start off by telling us what exactly is happening right now inside the embassy? What do you see outside? Are soldiers outside the embassy?

ANDRÉS CONTERIS: Yes, there are many soldiers right outside the embassy. There are some hundreds, but the visible right outside here are probably a dozen. This place has been militarized since just over a week ago, right after the return of President Zelaya to Honduras. The repression was immediately felt in the very, very violent eviction that happened exactly one week ago this morning. Over 500 revelers who were dancing in the street were brutally repressed by the soldiers. Tear gas was used, and that tear gas completely filled the embassy here.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And Andrés, you’ve been there for a week now. We’ve heard reports of a sound weapon being used, similar to the one that we reported on used in Pittsburgh at the G-20. Can you confirm or deny that?

ANDRÉS CONTERIS: That weapon having to do with audio definitely was used: a very sharp, piercing noise that really, really causes deep, deep distress. Other weapons have been used. I have not been able to confirm gases used after the tear gas incident, but other people did feel a attack by gas during this past week.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And the coup regime has given the Brazilian embassy ten days to hand over Manuel Zelaya or grant him asylum in Brazil. Brazil has denied this, has refused to do so. What is President Zelaya saying right now about what’s happening?

ANDRÉS CONTERIS: What President Zelaya is saying is that the international community needs to follow up with the declarations that were approved by both the United Nations, the OAS, as well as the San Jose Accord. He is very open to dialogue in that framework of those documents. Every single one of them says that he needs to be restated — reinstated as the president, the democratically elected leader of Honduras. And this coup regime here is not willing to do that.

Other things that he says clearly are having to do with the incredible amount of repression that is being felt around Honduras. Just yesterday, they buried a young woman named Wendy, who died as a result of the tear gas a week ago here in the embassy area. She had asthma and suffered from that, was hospitalized and then later died. She’s just one of many, many who have passed away as a result of the brutality of the Micheletti regime.

And what is really disconcerting is that the United States, through the Obama administration, has not said one word condemning the human rights atrocities here, in spite of the fact that they have been very, very well documented by the most recognized human rights organizations in the world. Congressman Grijalva of Arizona wrote a very clear letter to Obama documenting all of this, and there has been no response by this administration in terms of publicly condemning the human rights violations by this regime.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And speaking of the US response, last night we heard possibly the harshest condemnation from a top diplomat, a US top diplomat, Lewis Amselem, the representative to the OAS. He called Zelaya’s return “irresponsible and foolish.” Your response?

ANDRÉS CONTERIS: This comment by Ambassador Amselem comes a week after Hillary Clinton clearly welcomed President Zelaya back to Honduras. So we’re seeing a double face in terms of the policy from the Obama administration in terms of, is he welcome, or is it foolish for him to have returned.

One thing to know about the background of Ambassador Amselem is that he was with the SOUTHCOM, the Pentagon’s organization in Latin America. And the military policy with regard to Honduras has to be mentioned, because it’s very key. The US continues to train Honduran soldiers at the School of the Americas, in spite of the fact that they have said that ties had been severed. Honduras remains invited to the military maneuvers called PANAMAX 2009, which were twenty-one countries invited from September 11th to September 22nd. And Honduras was on the list. The Pentagon never withdrew them. And the only reason they didn’t participate is because other countries in South America refused to go to the maneuvers if Honduras was going to remain as participating.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And this issue of the crackdown on civil liberties, Micheletti issued a decree on Sunday, a forty-five-day decree, with sweeping restrictions on civil liberties. He has pledged to reverse that, following congressional leaders not giving him support. But this did — the day after he issued the decree, he closed down two media stations, one of them being Radio Globo, that I believe President Zelaya has frequently done interviews on. What has been the effect of this inside the embassy?

ANDRÉS CONTERIS: Inside the embassy, what we have been feeling is a terrorism on the part of this regime as they issued this decree, which really defines them outright as an absolute dictatorship. Constitutional guarantees in the Honduran Constitution defend the right to gather, defend the right to movement and thinking and freedom of expression by the media. All of these were the articles that were suspended by this decree imposed by Micheletti, and because of pressure from the Congress, as well as international pressure, he was forced to back away from that. However, it did really cause a chill here at the embassy, as well as around the country.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We’re also joined in Washington, DC by Dr. Luther Castillo.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Dr. Castillo. You are the secretary of communications for the National Resistance Front Against the Coup in Honduras. You’re also a physician in Honduras, running a hospital there. First, tell us why you’re in Washington, DC.

DR. LUTHER CASTILLO: Well, good morning to everyone.

We are here in Washington, DC, trying to meet some human rights organizations and contact with some Congress representatives like Congressman Grijalva, who has been writing a great letter addressed to the President Obama to take immediately action on this violation of human right that is happening in Honduras every day.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And you have called for a boycott of the elections in November? Why?

DR. LUTHER CASTILLO: Because we recognize that this election in November is an illegal election, who are going to be running in November. One of the strategies that the de facto government is trying to do in this illegal election is to do a continuation of a coup d’état in Honduras. Then all the issues that will be addressing by this de facto government is an illegal issue, then that makes that election in November to be illegal then. Our organization, that’s the national committee against the coup d’état, who is inside there, all the civil organization, indigenous organizations, unions and other organization in Honduras, are against this election in November, and we consider it illegal.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Now, Dr. Castillo, you founded the first hospital on the Atlantic Coast region in Honduras. Talk about what that hospital was providing and what has happened since then, since the coup.

DR. LUTHER CASTILLO: Then this hospital was founded by Garifuna doctors who was training in Cuba. Then we returned back to our community to give healthcare to all people that didn’t have healthcare before. Then we started to build the hospital with our own community. And with President Zelaya, we signed an agreement how to give support and sustainability to this process, where we have been attending more than 300,000 people for free in the area.

And now the de facto government have been cut and have been — deny the agreement that we signed before with President Zelaya. Then that make our hospital now without helps to attend all those people, who are in the deep mountain and the more forest area and the department of Colon and Gracias a Dios, near to La Mosquitia, then who really need our help in those areas.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And why has the coup regime tried to take over the hospital? Have they given you a reason for this?

DR. LUTHER CASTILLO: They just, I think — they just give us — tell us that we have to — we are working in the community as illegals there, and they just send us a new agreement to sign that new agreement, who didn’t recognize our doctors who are working there in the area with us. They don’t even give us any reason why they are doing that.

Then we are accustomed to fight against that. We live in Honduras. We really know what the discrimination that we have been facing as a poor people, as the Garifuna people in Honduras then. We decided, with our community and our doctors, to be there, to stay there and keep looking for solidarity and work, continue helping our people there.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And finally, Dr. Castillo, you, yourself, personally have been targeted by the regime. How are you returning to Honduras, and how are you surviving there?

DR. LUTHER CASTILLO: Then I will be returning back. We just came here to do this work with — that national committee give us to do here, because we have to be there with our people, fighting, and we have to be there with our people, demonstrating peacefully in the street that we are against that regime of brutality that is happening in Honduras.

One of the real things that we like to clarify that we have been listening to the — some of the representative of the OA — Organization of States of America, I think this issue is concern to Honduran people, you know, to appoint if he’s responsible or irresponsible, that action that President Zelaya took. We want to clarify that President Zelaya is the only president who was be elected for us as Honduran people. He’s the only constitutional president of Honduras. Then we decide and we think, as Honduran people, that it’s a responsible action of President Zelaya to return back to our country. He’s a Honduran, and we elect him as a president. Then I think that issue is concerning us, and we don’t think that it’s a irresponsible action that he is taking right now. Then we want him to return to Honduras. And when some people are talking about what is concerning to the peace of Honduran people, we have been more than ninety days in the street demanding the immediately return for President Zelaya. Now he’s in the country. I think we congratulate that action, that courage of President Zelaya to return back to Honduras. That represent one of the step that we have to take to bring peace to our country.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And what would you like to see the United States to be doing? What would you like to see President Obama to be doing regarding Honduras?

DR. LUTHER CASTILLO: Then we would like to see President Obama condemning all these violation of human right that have been happening in Honduras. We would like to see President Obama condemning and talking about all those people that have been killing in the street, all those young people who have been killing in the street, assassination. We would like to see President Obama talking to condemn all those women who — what military have been violating in the street of Honduras. And we would like to be — President Obama pushing more pressure on the — and the economic sanction to those [inaudible] family who are supporting the coup attack in Honduras. And we would like to see President Obama declaring definitely this issue as a military coup attack in Honduras.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And finally, Andrés Conteris, any final words from inside the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa?

ANDRÉS CONTERIS: The United States has been having a trade embargo against Cuba for decades. And if they would even consider an economic embargo against this regime, this coup would end. That’s because there’s more than 70 to 75 percent of Honduran trade is with the United States, and they could not withstand a trade embargo. So the US has arrows in its quiver that it could use to end this crisis, but it is choosing not to do so. And the US people must rise up and pressure the Obama administration to do more for Honduras and human rights here.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Andrés Conteris, thank you very much for joining us. He’s the Program on the Americas director for Nonviolence International, also works at Democracy Now! en Español. And special thanks also to Dr. Luther Castillo. He’s an indigenous physician from the Atlantic Coast of Honduras, secretary of communications for the National Resistance Front Against the Coup in Honduras.

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