An Open Letter to Barack Obama
Dear President Obama:
Put simply, your support of the coup regime in Honduras is killing people. During a recent fact-finding tour of Honduras organized by the Chicago-based La Voz de los de Abajo, I was part of a delegation that spoke to dozens of people in several areas of the country who had lost friends, colleagues and loved ones due to the violence of Honduran government forces whom you support, and the private death squads associated with them.
The murder rate in Honduras now leads the world. Depending on how you count it, it is the second or third poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Over and over again, the stories we heard were very similar. The government doesn't respect its own laws, the judges are bought and sold by the few who can afford them, and all this is done to increase the power and wealth of that country's one percent. And your administration makes it worse by supporting this with guns and more guns.
Besides the many witnesses we interviewed, last Thursday afternoon we personally witnessed a small taste of what the Honduran people routinely endure.
While speaking with witnesses to a combined police/military/private security assault in the city of Tocoa on September 9th that killed an elderly man, Mr. Hector Navarro, we were threatened by five gunmen guarding property claimed by one Miguel Facusse, the country's wealthiest person and largest landowner. Nine of us on the La Voz delegation, plus Mr. Heriberto Aleman of The Permanent Human Rights Observatory of the Aguan, witnessed what followed.
Even though we were clearly not on the land claimed by Mr. Facusse, the masked gunmen threatened our lives. One guard said, "This is your last warning," and then fired a rifle at the ground in our direction from about 25 yards away. From that distance, most of us are visibly not Honduran citizens. I videotaped the incident and others took still photographs. The video and some of the still pictures of the incident are available at here and here.
Shortly after the incident, we visited the Tocoa police headquarters and made a report. There, one of the police officials who took the complaint was a Mr. Wilfredo Bautista, who is in charge of investigating murders in the Aguan Valley. He told three of our delegation, "even we [the police] can't go into that plantation; there [sic] are very bad people. We can't investigate because we can't go there; we might get killed."
There are three important take-aways from this incident:
1) Were not most of us visibly Anglo North Americans, chances are good that some of us would now be severely injured, if not dead. That most people in the country aren't privileged by our skin color goes a long way to explain why so many Hondurans are dying. The thugs we encountered may fear the repercussions of injuring or killing Americans, but clearly feel no threat of justice from their own government, and Mr. Bautista's statement simply confirms that.
2) It is absolutely unconscionable that your administration continues to spend a single dime on arms for the Honduran police and military. As Honduran military spending increased two and a half fold between 2005 and 2010, the murder rate in the country skyrocketed. During our visit there with local human rights experts, social justice activists and campesinos -- many who had lost loved ones to assassinations by the government and the wealthy -- they uniformly implored us to stop U.S. aid to the Honduran military and police.
When I asked an Afro-Honduran activist if she holds the United States partially responsible for the violence and other lawlessness by the Honduran government and its allies, she said "Yes, because the guns come from the United States. Honduras don't manufacture guns, we have machetes. Guns - they come from the United States." You must cut off all funding to the brutal government and its allies here immediately.
3) If you care about the violence against the Honduran people, then you also must take immediate action against Mr. Miguel Facusse and his hired thugs. Our delegation spoke with several people who have lost family members due to his associates' violence over the past three years.
He is by any definition a terrorist, and should be treated as such. Indeed, one of the cables exposed by Wikileaks indicates that former U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens has evidence that Facusse is a major narco trafficker. All U.S. bank accounts and properties of Mr. Facusse and his businesses should be frozen immediately. He should be banned from traveling to the United States.
I write this message as an open letter to you for a very simple reason. I am not so naïve as to think that you are ignorant as to what your policies do. As a former constitutional law scholar at the University of Chicago, your studied contempt for civil rights, as demonstrated by your full-court press to defend indefinite imprisonment with trial, is only exceeded by your contempt for the many lives lost as a result of your alliances with thugs like Mr. Facusse and the Honduran government.
Andy Thayer is a Chicago-based anti-war activist and co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network, and is producing a short film about Honduran LGBT activists. An earlier article he wrote about the Honduran delegation can be found here. He can be reached at LGBTliberation@aol.com