UN Fact-Finding Mission Arrives and the Hunger Strike Grows*
Yesterday a UN fact-finding team arrived in the country, invited by the President Juan Orlando Hernández, to investigate how the UN might help resolve the crisis. This development shows the impact of the burgeoning opposition movement but there remains a great deal of doubt among the Indignados that I talked to as to what the UN can achieve.
The Indignados’ key demand is for an independent International Commission against Impunity in Honduras (“CICIH” in its Spanish initials), based on the UN-backed process currently underway in Guatemala. But for the last two weeks Hernández has been pushing for his own form of Corruption Commission, called confusingly “SIHCIC”, or “Integral Honduran System to Combat Impunity and Corruption”. The Indignados consider this proposal a hollow smoke screen behind which Hernandez hopes to get himself out of trouble.
At its heart the SIHCIC process would be integrated within the existing institutions and courts. But the Indignados movement has shown how corruption has spread perniciously throughout the structure of these institutions. As a result, they are demanding an independent, international mechanism to hold these systems to account from outside – something that only the CICIH would provide.
Hunger striker Germán Ayala in the camp Photo: James Watson
However, Hernández’s “integrated system” has already started to roll into action. The government has been carrying out a “dialogue” holding what it says are “open” and “inclusive” talks with civil society groups. The Indignados say the talks are being held with the same corrupt groups that need to be purged, and are in fact simply a monologue – the perpetrators of the corruption repeating their lies back to themselves. What the Indignados fear is that the UN group, invited by the government, will simply be shown this same monologue smoke screen, the whole experience managed by Hernández.
The Indignados hunger strikers confront the police this morning. Photo: James Watson
At the site of the hunger strike this morning, they told me that they’ve not been invited to Hernández’s “dialogue”, and have not received either any invitation to talk to the UN delegation. Just before I arrived, the strike site suffered the worst intrusion by the police since it was first started. At about 5 a.m. this morning, the police dismantled their own road block, pulling down several of the strikers’ tents that were attached to them.
The strikers told me that the action was an attempt to evict them, as they hadn’t the strength to resist in their weakened state. They believe that with the UN mission here, Hernández wants to hide the resistance to his SIHCIC. Thankfully, a bus load of COPINH members arrived just in time to support the strikers and prevent them from being forced out. But the calm of the hunger strike’s camp has been broken today, and the police line is now right on top of the camp.
Five of the Tolupan indigenous now on hunger strike for eight days. From left to right: Juan San Miel, Darlin Hermélio, Santos Antonio, Sergio Abila and Ramon Santiago Matate. Photo: James Watson
The Indignados movement brings together people from all sectors of Honduran society, and all political persuasions. The corruption, which has robbed millions from the country’s public services, has affected everyone, and the movement encompasses many points of view. The organisers of the protest are keen to point out that they cannot act as figureheads for this diverse movement. However, several of them were invited this morning to talk to the UN delegation, and I talked to them after their meeting.
Indignado Gabriela Blen told me that they went there mainly to voice the broad concerns of the movement – especially that the UN group would only see a filtered version of Honduran reality, and fall for the president’s hollow SIHCIC mechanism. She offered hopeful news that the UN group seems determined to get as broad a range of opinions as they can. Blen said that today the delegation had also met with key opposition party leaders, including leaders of the newly formed Anti-Corruption Party and former President José Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in the 2009 military coup that brought the National Party to power.
Tonight I am sleeping at the hunger strike camp, and the atmosphere is a mixture of uncertainty and hope, nervousness and defiance. The hunger strikers have shown that they intend to make their camp last. Indeed, as some have left the strike for health reasons, others have appeared, including seven Tolupan indigenous people who told me that in their economic marginalisation they are well used to long periods of near starvation.
The arrival of the UN mission shows that the protests are at least bothering Hernández, but they can only guess at what this might lead to. If Honduras is to have a CICIH process similar to the one in Guatemala, it must be invited into the country by the government, and Hernández’s actions so far have shown he’s determined to ignore this option in favour of his shadow SIHCIC. Blen told me that the indignados organisers were up late last night poring through Guatamalan records trying to find loopholes to allow a CICIH to be instigated without a presidential invitation.
Meanwhile, the hunger strikers hope they can remain where they are long enough to keep up the pressure. Even if a CICIH is put in place, the Guatemalan process has lasted years and the Honduran people are suffering now and want rapid action. Ultimately, as I reported in a previous blog, the influence of the US and European powers in Honduran politics is crucial. Guatemala’s commission was supported by the United States as they lost faith in the government there. Honduras’ corruption is deeply entwined in its trade and economic relationships with the global North.
Politicians and businesses from the North benefit from the weak state to arrange trade deals that put money in their pockets and suck resources out of the country. In response, the Honduran people need our support to bring international pressure to break Hernández’s current hold on the Honduran state.
Please visit ENCA’s action page for quick ways to support the Honduran people in this movement – the country’s best opportunity for real change since their 2009 military coup. Sign our petition to the UK government, or use our links to email your representatives in Canada or the US.
*This blog was written on 7 July 2015.