Sunday, December 10, 2017

A nonviolent option in Honduras?

A few days ago I heard a commentator on Radio Progreso, the Jesuit-supported radio in Honduras, speak of “la opción noviolenta.”

I have been thinking about this a lot these days as Honduras lives through an intense crisis. Two weeks after the elections, there are still no official results. Worse, there is little confidence in the TSE, the government Supreme Electoral Tribunal. Even the Mission of Observers of the Organization of American States has expressed serious concerns “over the lack of guarantees and transparency as well as the accumulation of irregularities, errors, and system problems which have been part of this electoral process, in the preliminary phase, on election day, and in the post-election phase.”

The first results that emerged from the TSE put the opposition Alianza coalition candidate in the lead over the National Party candidate by about 5 percent points. But after some anomalies, including a computer shut down, the reported results changed in favor of the National Party candidate who is the current president, Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH).

In the face of this, the opposition took to the streets, at times blocking streets and highways, sometime burning tires to prevent passage. Blocking streets and highways have often been used here and in other parts of the world, when people feel that their voice isn’t been heard.

What is notable is the high percentage of young people in the protests.

There were some cases of violence. In some of the cities there was also looting.

From my experience of protesting in the US, I know that there is often a small group that is so frustrated that they resort to violence. Thus I got involved in nonviolence training.

From my US experience I also know the possibility of the infiltration of agentes provacatuers,  sometime paid for by forces connected with those in power.

What I kept wondering was whether there had been serious efforts at nonviolence-training. I don’t mean this as a critique of the opposition in Honduras but as a critique of the advocates of nonviolence. Have we really made efforts to promote nonviolence training? Recall that the US civil rights movement emphasized training, even in the face of violence.

Late on the evening of December 1, supposedly in light of the looting and violence, the government declared a curfew (toque de queda) from 6 pm to 6 am (except for a few tourist sites.)

In response to this, one form of protest became more pronounced – the cacerolazo, beating pots and pans. Even in Dulce Nombre, people were shouting “Fuera JOH’- “get out, Juan Orlando Henriquez." A friend in Santa Rosa told me how he was beating a pot inside his house, but in view of the street. The police passed by and looked up. He told them that he was inside his house and they proceeded on. There were reports in other parts of the country that military or police forces entered houses where people were beating pots and pans.

But then something unexpected happened.

On December 5, members of the COBRAS, a special police force, withdrew to their barracks in what they called a strike of brazos caidos, literally “fallen arms,” maybe better called “putting down our weapons.” They were joined by members of the National Police. Some tried to claim it was for salaries, but a document released by the National Police as well as police on television stated that they didn’t want to repress their fellow Hondurans.

The next day the commander of the COBRAs was replaced. The police also returned to the streets but wanted nothing to do with violent repression. The reports are that much of the government violence is due to the Army and the Military.

But something remains that could be quite important. One Liberal Party leader, a former mayor of Santa Rosa de Copán and an elected member of the new Honduran Congress stated in an online interview that this was a “transcendental moment.”

After he was interviewed, a fiery political activist spoke to the interviewer. He noted that now “The police are our friends and we are theirs.” I also saw videos of the police in pick-ups passing through lines of protestors – both sides openly showing their support of each other.

People celebrated the police “strike.” Even the Franciscans in Tegucigalpa got into this – praying with the police and giving them bread and coffee.

 If that spirit prevails, there is a great opportunity in Honduras, beginning of a way out of the polarizing and the antipathy that so often characterizes the relation between police and protestors. I truly hope that continues and grows.

Gradually the curfew is being lifted. Who knows why? Perhaps because of opposition.

Where will this go?

First of all, much of the protest has been provisional, coming from people without being called out by leaders. Organization is needed, but there is, in my opinion, the danger that political leaders will try to take over and try to control. My hope is that there is grassroots organization.

Secondly, many of the protestors are young, which is a good sign. I hope that they are growing in their political maturity and also embrace the nonviolent option.

Thirdly, I am concerned about violence.

Tomorrow there is a call for a national wide paro – a strike. I hope there is no violence on the part of those protesting and that infiltrators and agentes provacateurs are isolated.

There is also the violence that has been used by government forces against protestors. This must be noted and denounced by the international community, including, especially, by the United States government which has given tens of millions to the Honduran government and has trained members of the Honduran police and military. Note the report from Amnesty International.

Last of all, I feel that the church here in Honduras missed an opportunity. Caritas Honduras has been doing work on conflict transformation for several years, including work with youth. But more is needed.

 Last year, Pope Francis wrote an extraordinary message for the World Day of Peace, entitled: “Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace.”

 I wish peace to every man, woman and child, and I pray that the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity. Especially in situations of conflict, let us respect this, our “deepest dignity”, and make active nonviolence our way of life.

I believe that we have not done enough to make this message known and real, helping people develop the capacity to live and work nonviolently, in pursuit of truth, justice, and peace.

What to do now?

For me, I will continue to try to be present to the people as a witness to God’s love and justice.

And I ask all to join us in prayer – but in a prayer that is rooted in reality and moves us to live and act as instruments of peace and justice.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Election, curfew, and coffee

Late Friday night, December 1, the Honduran government declared a curfew for ten days from 6 pm to 6 am. Though elections had been held last Sunday, there were no official final results, but a series of delays and anomalies. Many suspect fraud on the part of the governing party to maintain its control of the three branches of government. On Monday night, December 4, the hours of the curfew were shortened: 8 pm to 5 am.

Still there are no final results and not only the opposition alliance but the Organization of American States are calling for an open and transparent review of the election results.

It has been tense. People have taken to the streets in many cities in generally peaceful marches and occupation of the streets. There has been some violence, not only about 10 deaths from government forces but destruction of some public property – a city hall in one place and highly-contested toll booths in another. There also has been some looting in major cities. There are suspicions of government infiltrators as well as common criminals taking advantage of the instability.

Where I am it is peaceful. Saturday night I stayed in Dulce Nombre. The only disturbance was at 9 pm when I heard some people making noise and shouting, “Fuera JOH” – “Get out, JOH.” (JOH are the initials of the president, Juan Orlando Hernández, who is running for a second term. Many consider his candidacy illegal since the Constitution rules out presidents running for a second term; Juan Orlando managed to get Congress and the Supreme Court to overturn this article of the constitution which was supposed to be irrevocable!)

In the midst of this, the parish of Dulce Nombre is hosting two seminarians on a three-week pastoral experience. Since our pastor is gone for a well-merited vacation, I am working with them.

I met them on Saturday at the ordination of two new priests in Cucuyagua and brought them to Dulce Nombre. Sunday morning after a 7:00 am Celebration of the Word and communion in nearby Concepción, I presided at the Rite of Entry into the Catechumenate of 51, mostly young, people at 10 am in Dulce Nombre. They will continue their formation and discernment and will God willing, be baptized at the Easter Vigil next year.

I was going to stay in Dulce Nombre Sunday night with the seminarians but since we were going to a Celebration of the Word with Communion in Plan Grande that afternoon, I decided that we’d stay at my home in Plan Grande.

Monday, we planned to finish harvesting coffee in the parish coffee field which is in Plan Grande. We had two groups come last week but still there was plenty to be harvested. I went and picked up about 15 people in Delicias, Concepción, and made a second trip to pick up three people in El Zapote. There were about 68 people harvesting coffee, including the two seminarians, Dany and Marvin.

We finished the harvest about 2:30 and I took the two seminarians and the others to Delicias.  When I was about to leave I got a call from people in the other car which had gotten stuck taking people to Buena Vista Concepción. This was a long process and we ended up driving in the dark past 6 pm, not knowing that the start of the curfew had changed.

Today, I left my car for follow ups to the major rebuilding of the motor that had to be done a few weeks ago.

Though life has been tense for people in the cities and in some other parts of the country, it’s been calm here. But I must be careful lest this calm clouds my perception of the problems that have come to a point of crisis here in Honduras.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Can this be happening?

Swords into plowshares

Can this really be happening?

The special police forces, the COBRAS, and several other groups of the National Police are refusing to take part in any repressive measures against their fellow Hondurans. Some of them are calling it a strike of ‘brazos cruzados” – arms crossed. (Correction: brazos caidos - arms down. Basically a stand down.)

Significantly the first reading in the Catholic lectionary today is Isaiah 2: 1-5, which includes this promise:

They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.

This morning I posted, in Spanish, part of Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero’s last Sunday homily, on 23 March 1980, the day before he was assassinated:

I would like to make a special appeal to the men of the army, and specifically to the ranks of the National Guard, the police and the military. Brothers, you come from our own people. You are killing your own brother peasants when any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God which says, "Thou shalt not kill." No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order.

I had no idea that Honduran police would take this message so seriously.

I hope and pray that this is true, that this peace revolution grows, and that those opposing the charges of fraud continue seeing the police as their brothers and sisters.


Here is a report from The Guardian on the police action.

Friday, December 01, 2017

2017 Honduran elections: first thoughts

Honduras is in crisis. I live in the countryside and so have little access to direct knowledge of what is happening in the major cities, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, or even what is happening in Santa Rosa de Copán, 24 kilometers from here. I have been listening to Radio Progreso and looking for information on the internet. 

Last Sunday elections were held throughout Honduras for president, congress, and mayors. All went quietly and well at the polls. But then the crisis began.

I had no internet connection on Sunday and so I didn’t realize until Monday morning that it appeared that the president elect would be Salvador Nasralla, the candidate of a coalition of parties called Alianza, the Alliance.

In past elections, results were known and divulged within a few hours. Yet, this year the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, responsible for the elections, said it would not make a definitive statement until Thursday. Thursday night they said that they would not release final results until Friday or Saturday. We will be waiting – as Honduras has waited all week.

Every delay raises suspicions of fraud and tampering of ballots. As the Catholic Bishops Conference of Honduras (CEH) noted in a communique issued this week, “Whatever delay in such information [the election result] only generates a suspicion that is not fitting [conveniente] and can detonate [detonar] the feelings of insecurity and division to which some politicians have brought us in the last few years.”

Initial results from the electoral tribunal saw the opposition Alliance Party presidential candidate leading the incumbent National party candidate. The candidate for the Liberal Party conceded to Alliance candidate, but the National Party candidate claimed victory, even before the first results were released. The Alliance candidate also claimed victory. Soon after the first tallies were released, the candidate for the Liberal Party conceded the victory of the Alliance candidate.

But soon after the initial results were released that showed the Alliance candidate ahead, the official vote count slowed but with the Alliance still in the lead.

After the two candidates signed an agreement to respect the results, the computer system supposedly went down for several hours. When the system came up, the count began to favor the incumbent National Party candidate. There are suspicions of fraud.

 Thus there is a lot of insecurity.  Many people fear that the results are being manipulated by the governing party, the National Party. This party controls the presidency, the supreme court, congress, the electoral tribunal, as well as the police and military.

Thursday people, mostly young, began taking to the streets to protest what they see as an effort to take away their vote. There has been some violence by the mostly young crowd but there has also been violence by the government's security forces. There are reports of looting and vandalism in some cities. On the other hand, there are also some reports of government security force members who are dialoguing with the demonstrators.

The violence weighs heavy on me. We pacifists may have failed the people for not helping them discover and deepen their resources for nonviolence. But I also know, from my experience in anti-war mobilizing in the US that the powers that be may incite the people with the use of agents provacateurs, persons paid or recruited to incite violence.

Thursday, coming home from Dulce Nombre, I came across a group of people I know in a truck with a flag of Libre/Alliance. I stopped and asked what was happening. They told me that they were defending democracy. They invited me to join them, but I reminded them that as a foreigner and a church official I cannot take direct part in this. I also mentioned that I need to be able to talk to all and reminded them that I know some activists of the National Party.  But I reminded them that is important for the future is to be organized and to work at the base to be a force for real social change. I am seriously thinking that I may have to discern how to accompany the people.

Having lived here during the 2009 coup, I feel that this is an even more precarious situation. So much is unknown, so much is up in the air, and emotions are running high.

Pray for us. Read, critically, what's being written. Demand that the US support efforts for transparency to undermine all fraudulent efforts.


The photo was taken on Tuesday in Mar Azul. Note the three flags - representing the three major political parties in Honduras.