Honduran Leader in Resistance to the Coup d’état Speaks at School of the Americas Vigil

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Patrick Sudlow, head of the SOA Watch Club at USF, with Bertha Oliva.  Photo by Judith Liteky
Patrick Sudlow, head of the SOA Watch Club at USF, with Bertha Oliva. Photo by Judith Liteky

USF’s School of Americas Watch (SOA) group rushed into a room in Columbus, Georgia, inching in to hear the words of Bertha Oliva, a leader in the Resistance against the Honduran military coup and founder and coordinator of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared (COFADEH). Lisa Sullivan from the School of the Americas Watch laid out the context of the coup in Honduras during the break-out session the night before the SOA/WHINSEC protest on November 21, 2009.  Although Oliva is a woman in constant threat of danger in Honduras, her presence announces the determination to fight for her people against the violence that has taken place. It is a violence that has violated more than just the physical lives of those involved in the resistance.

Standing as a leader in the Resistance, Oliva denounces the actions taken by the regime as they suspend individual and constitutional rights, which translates to her as “suspending and removing human rights of expression and citizenship.” She is fearful for not only her life, but also for her fellow Honduran people. Having been held at gun-point four times since the coup began, she remains strong refusing to walk when told “CAMINA!”  (“WALK!”) by the person holding the gun. “Dispará!” (“Shoot!”) she responds, because she prefers to lay on the ground breathless rather than be taken away and added to the list of desaparecidos, or the disappeared. Oliva is chased politically as well, receiving false accusations of political offenses to which she takes her own stand and speaks on the radio waves, calls on press conferences, and proves herself innocent to the tribunal.

Having a female activist lead a movement may seem uncommon, but to Oliva, who lost her husband to the list of desaparecidos, it is natural for women to stand and not only defend human rights, but also women’s rights. She speaks to groups of women in rural areas, proclaiming that they take a stand and use their voices, mobilizing even the most oppressed people under the coup. The prosecution of women in the resistance continues; on the evening of November 26, while most Americans were filled with cranberry sauce and green-bean casserole, a leader of one of the feminist resistance groups was detained for damage against government property, even though the can of spray paint in her car was untouched. Sullivan went on a visit to the “crumbling city jail, [passed] through stench and cold cement walls to the cell that held Merly Eguigure. She reached out through the bars with a smile that contrasted with her red eyes. Without knowing me, she held on tightly, and kept holding on as I told her that the streets were filled with women from her group who were refusing to budge,” Sullivan said.

The coup d’etat on June 28, 2009 has met resistance from day one and it has not ceased. According to Oliva, the Resistance has named three stages of the coup beginning with “Operation 72,” where it was believed that resistance would subside after three days. Second follows “Operation Silence,” where citizens were stripped of their constitutional rights and have to follow a curfew that changes every 24 hours. At this stage, the military regime went into communities throughout Honduras and opened fire at civilians and used tear gas to terrorize people. Military checkpoints were set up in sixteen of the eighteen departments. At these checkpoints, they detain people, block the flow of water, milk, and gasoline into some of the municipalities.

In the third stage,“Operation Selection,” the military regime begins to selectively murder those in the resistance. Oliva announces the release of two letters issued by the military regime. One that demands the names of those leading the resistance from municipal communities and the second that suggests, in “anticipated suspension of activity,” hospitals hold all routine activity, re-schedule surgeries, and in preparation for the contingent emergency that will take place on the day of the elections, November 29, 2009. This third stage has already begun, with Eguigure as a prime example, but it seems there will be elevated numbers of injuries and deaths after the election.

In the Bay Area, immigrant Hondurans alongside other Latin Americans not only stand in solidarity with the people of Honduras, but also act to join the resistance and defend human rights. Porfirio Quintano, a member of the Bay Area Latin America Solidarity Coalition (BALASC), works as a medium of communication between the leaders of the resistance and the different coalitions throughout the nation. Apart from BALASC, there are coalitions in Washington D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, and New York, creating a network throughout the nation. By setting up conference calls during meetings and maintaining open, direct, and constant communication with the leaders, Quintano gives power to those outside of Honduras, providing information and knowledge that would not otherwise be able to escape through the restricted borders of militarized Honduras. Quintano comments that while the coup d’état has been legitimized and the presidential elections supported by the United States, Panama, Peru, Colombia, and Costa Rica, “the struggle doesn’t end there… the struggle against the hunger and inequality in Honduras continues.”

The closed borders of the Central American country are evidence of continued instability in the Latin American region. Even as the century begins, oligarchies continue to take matter in their own hands by force in order to maintain power. The Honduran coup continues and it has been met by 156 days of resistance—a resistance that will not surrender.

To find out more, visit: www.quixote.org.

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