Less than a month into his term, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo is facing street protests, complaints of human rights violations, and criticism of the truth commission he set up to investigate the Jun. 28 coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya
Thousands of Zelaya supporters took to the streets Thursday to demand reforms of the constitution and an end to attacks on backers of the ousted president, denounce corruption and rights abuses since the coup, and protest the high cost of living and soaring poverty levels.
Several teachers unions demanding payment of back wages also took part in the protests organised by the National Front of Resistance Against the Coup, now known as the Popular Resistance Front.
In addition, the demonstrators were protesting Wednesday's murder of social activist Claudia Brizuela, the daughter of Pedro Brizuela, a veteran leftist leader who was a founder of the now-defunct Communist Party of Honduras and is a member of the Popular Resistance Front in the northern city of San Pedro Sula.
The 36-year-old Brizuela was shot dead in her home by unidentified gunmen. Her father said her death 'is clearly a message aimed at intimidating my family and the Popular Resistance Front.
'We are living in a police state that carries out surveillance on and persecutes the members of the resistance against the coup, and the death of my daughter can only be interpreted in this context,' Brizuela told the local media.
According to the Committee of Families of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), rights violations have continued under Lobo, despite his promise to ensure full respect for human rights.
COFADEH activist Mery Agurcia told IPS that the activist's murder was similar to previous 'selective killings used to eliminate supporters of the people's resistance movement.
'We are seeing two kinds of killings: shooting deaths, with a modus operandi typical of state security agents, and slayings in which there is no trace of any murder weapon, which are even more alarming, and where we cannot identify the perpetrators,' said Agurcia.
The human rights activist said that since Lobo took office on Jan. 27, there have been three murders, at least 53 illegal detentions, two cases of sexual attacks, eight cases of torture and 14 raids of homes or offices, as well as police harassment and 'profiling' of people in 23 working-class neighbourhoods in Tegucigalpa with high levels of activity in the Popular Resistance Front.
'We are extremely concerned' about these developments, she said, although she clarified that some of the incidents may have been cases of common crime, as Honduras is experiencing a wave of violent crime, with 10 murders a day (in a population of seven million) on average over the last year, according to the Observatorio de la Violencia of the public National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH).
Figures provided by COFADEH indicate that since Zelaya was overthrown, at least 150 people have fled into political exile, mainly to Canada and Spain, while others have moved house or even moved to a different city, to escape persecution or harassment.
The truth commission tasked with investigating the events leading up to, during and after the coup d'etat has come in for serious criticism from human rights groups and the Popular Resistance Front, which is made up of labour, peasant, and rights groups as well as left-wing parties.
Human rights organisations argue that the truth commission should carry out an in-depth inquiry into abuses reported in the last eight months, rather than merely focusing on the political and legal charges against Zelaya.
The coup, in which Zelaya was removed from his house by the military at gunpoint and put on a plane to Costa Rica, still in his pyjamas, was triggered by his attempt to hold a non-binding vote asking Hondurans if they wanted to install a constituent assembly to reform the constitution, which was deemed illegal by the courts and Congress.
Zelaya, a rich landowner, had alienated his own party and the rest of the country's wealthy conservative elites after taking a turn to the left and attempting to adopt mild reforms like a raise in the minimum wage.
The Popular Resistance Front, meanwhile, said in a statement that the truth commission is merely designed to 'whitewash the coup.'
The truth commission 'will not be able to do much to clarify what happened here during the coup, which is why we are insisting that the best way to bring about reconciliation in Honduras is to push for a constituent assembly (to rewrite the constitution), which would allow us to 'refound' the state,' Rafael Alegría, one of the leaders of the resistance movement, told IPS.
The creation of the truth commission was a result of pressure from the international community, which is also demanding that the right-wing Lobo make 'additional efforts' to achieve 'national reconciliation' in this highly polarised country.
Analysts say such efforts should involve constitutional reforms aimed at increased citizen participation.
Held up by criticism from both opponents and supporters of the coup, the truth commission will begin to operate in mid-March rather than this week, as originally planned. The government has decided to hold a prior dialogue with all concerned parties to define the methodology to be used and the scope of the commission's work.
The commission will be coordinated by former Guatemalan vice president Eduardo Stein, and will include UNAH president Julieta Castellanos and jurist Jorge Omar Casco. Two international experts, from Peru or Canada, are also expected to join, the government announced.
A report on the political outlook in Honduras by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which was presented to a small group of analysts and seen by IPS, says that despite the fact that Lobo has the support of 70 percent of the population, the country remains highly divided over the coup.
It also warns that social conflicts could break out again unless palliative economic measures and social reforms are adopted.
So far, Lobo has focused on gaining wider acceptance among the international community - a number of countries in Latin America have refused to recognise his government - while social conflicts at home appear set to intensify.
© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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