San Pedro Sula Driving through the cities of Honduras, there are stretches that seem like fast food heaven for global companies. It’s hard to know what to make of the many complexes that include Popeye’s, Dunkin Donuts, Subways, and Pizza Hut under the same roof virtually. Traffic is heavy and unregulated. Passing on the highways is random and reckless without regard to any road signage. In short, life in the years since the coup or golpista looks and feels normal.
Talking to people in all walks of life though the new normal post-golpista reality is living in a world with a thundercloud always hovering in the sky above.
Because some radio and television stations were shutdown because they expressed opposition in the coup or allowed contrary voices and opinions to be expressed, one reporter or station owner after another told us what they did not allow on the air. One mainly broadcast religious programming in Nicaragua because of the government there and had largely shifted that way in Honduras as well after the coup. Journalists would turn off their tape recorders or put the pen down on their pad after talking with us and then describe their interest in finding outlets for their writing outside of the country for fear that another shutdown of papers and journals expressing anything but fawning support of the government could come in the future.
Nothing any of these people had said was out of line or critical. No new laws were cited that expressly forbade what they could broadcast or print, but everyone seemed to be internalizing the experience of the coup as a permanent warning light instructing caution, drawing lines that should not be safely crossed, things that could not be said. Talking to lawyers who offered ACORN help in various ways there was always a warning that more care needed to be taken on all documents, because the government was hyper attentive to any nonprofit organizations with international connections. This is what is meant when people talk about governments chilling the rights of their citizens.
One of our organizers told us a story about going with several leaders to respond to interest in organizing in a new barrio in one of our cities. They were suddenly confronted by several individuals in police uniforms with guns drawn and pointed at them telling them they had to leave the neighborhood. Because gangs have regularly infiltrated the police ranks and many have simply obtained uniforms for their work, organizers are unsure if they are dealing with police or worse. In this case they kept talking so nothing got out of hand, but they kept talking while leaving the neighborhood. Because the government cannot protect the people and seems to have little interest in doing so, despite the fact that security is on everyone’s minds, we don’t articulate security as an issue, because we never know in our own meetings whether there may be gang members or relatives, so the issues have to be framed carefully.
To say nothing is as it seems ignores the screams masked by the silence shrouded in the fear of a people unsure of their place between a government that does not protect their rights or their safety and real experiences of violence from both the government forces and the forces of even worse evil.