They were a very diverse group -- students, a lawyer, Sisters of Mercy and Notre Dame, a union organizer, a teacher, survivors of the brutal 1980s in Honduras. They were young and old, women and men, poor and not so poor. They spoke from very painful, firsthand experience about beatings, rape, harassment, and intimidation -- about arbitrary arrests and disappeared friends and family. One young woman spoke -- with great difficulty -- about the assassination of her father. We (and they) were horrified by the brutality inflicted by Honduran military and police forces upon ordinary people peacefully exercising basic civil rights.
What our small delegation to Honduras heard in the past week broke our hearts and evoked in us deep concern.
It also gave us hope as we met with many sectors of Honduran society that are demonstrating amazing courage and capacity to organize a strong popular resistance to the June 28 coup and subsequent repression. Their enduring hope for a country that promotes the common good, justice, and human rights was clear.
We were alarmed to see people and patterns of abuse re-emerging from the shadows of repression in earlier decades. Impunity in the past for criminals and violators of human rights has left Hondurans vulnerable to a painful repeat of history. Militarization, disinformation, extreme attempts to control the civilian population, and a terrible polarization are taking a terrible toll on people yearning for a just end to poverty and exclusion.
In our meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa we heard about the U.S. government's absolute rejection of the coup and commitment to the return of President Zelaya, but there were many rumors on the ground that the U.S. was really backing the coup. Hopefully, the U.S. response to the coup and especially to the human rights violations by official security forces will be stronger and more visible in the coming days.
We heard from many people while we were in Honduras about the deep hurt, anger, and loss of credibility occasioned by the July 3 statement of the Honduran Bishops' Conference and the subsequent silence of Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez -- even about the brutal repression of peaceful demonstrations against the coup. Despite many attempts, we were unable to secure a meeting with the cardinal to hear his perspective. At the same time, we met many priests, sisters, and pastoral workers who were accompanying the resistance movement and feeling themselves the impact of the repression.
The conflict in Honduras is not only about Mel Zelaya, although the return of the legitimate president to office is imperative, but about the abuse of political and military, and especially economic, power. The implications are serious for the future of the hemisphere or for any country in the world where the basic rights of citizens to a decent life, to a healthy environment, and to participate in important decisions that affect their lives challenge the privileges and power of a few -- be they individuals, institutions, or business interests.