By Rebecca Van Horn, Program Coordinator, USLEAP
The September 30 violence in Ecuador precipitated by cuts to police benefits and salary increases offers a stark reminder of the successful June 2009 Honduran coup that left a trail of violence and threats to worker rights. Nine months after President Lobo took control of the de facto coup government, the repression of human rights defenders, pro-democratic opposition, and union leaders is as high as it was in the days immediately following the overthrow; Honduras is now one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a journalist, and more than seven opposition leaders have been assassinated since the beginning of August, including two labor leaders.
In August and September alone, attempts to silence opposition voices include:
• On August 13, peaceful demonstrators in Choloma were met by tear gas, beatings, and detentions.
• On August 20, police attacked four leaders of the Honduras Secondary School Teachers Union, prohibiting them from receiving medical care for more than 12 hours while they were detained.
• On August 26 and 27, police and military personnel repressed peaceful demonstrators in the teachers union strike by beating and detaining protestors, poisoning many with tear gas and shooting live ammunition into the crowds.
• In early September, four peasants were murdered in the Aguan region as a result of their attempts to secure plots for landless peasants to build homes.
• On September 15, Honduran Independence Day, police attacked opposition radio station Radio Uno in San Pedro Sula, tear gassing the office and brutally beating community leader Ernesto Bardales. Police and military personnel also tear gassed and beat some of the 50,000 peaceful marchers speaking out against the Lobo regime, including a group of high school drum corps members, and attacked musicians and audience members participating in a “What Independence?” concert minutes after it began.
• On September 17, unknown assailants assassinated Social Security labor union leader Juana Bustillo while she accompanied the union’s president, Hector Escoto. Escoto was hospitalized.
• On September 19, an unknown assailant shot at opposition radio host and TV commenter Luis Galdamez as he arrived home with his young son. The police neglected to show up for an hour and a half.
The threats to labor leaders and pro-democracy activists could intensify if Lobo proceeds with his plan to end full-time, permanent employment and allow companies to pay workers 30 percent of their salary in company scrip, with prices established by the company. The new measures would not only prevent the formation or continuation of unions in Honduras, but also catapult Honduras back to the age of serfdom. Labor unions who are helping lead the resistance also report that President Lobo has refused to institute a new minimum wage, as he has been legally mandated to do for months.
Despite the rising levels of human rights violations perpetrated or permitted by the government and increasing threats to labor rights, the Obama Administration has restored all military aid to Honduras and advocated strongly for Honduras to reenter the Organization of American States (OAS). On the same day that police violently repressed peaceful demonstrators in San Pedro Sula, Secretary of State Clinton praised the “resumption of democratic and constitutional government" in Honduras.
If Ecuador is any example of the anti-democratic violence to come, it is time for the United States to stop legitimating the de facto coup government in Honduras that threatens the lives of labor leaders and the strength of labor laws.
Action: Congressional opponents of U.S. policy in Honduras are circulating a sign-on letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking the Obama Administration to suspend aid to Honduras and oppose the Honduran government’s reentry into the Organization of American States (OAS). Strengthening congressional opposition to the Administration’s policy in Honduras is critical to moving it in a direction that supports democracy and basic human rights, including worker rights. Contact your member of Congress and urge them to sign-on!