Roberto Sosa, Presente! In Honduras, the Walls Are Talking

Editor’s Note: Roberto Sosa, the most prominent poet in Honduras, died on Monday, May 23. Here is the cover story he wrote for The Progressive in November 2009.

At 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, June -28 (Black June), under the light of the first star of dawn, I woke from a sound sleep to a barrage of gunshots. Soon Radio Globo broke the story that the president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya Rosales, had been abducted, taken to Toncontín Airport in the capital, Tegucigalpa, and transported, still in his pajamas, to San José, Costa Rica. We later learned that the navy plane carrying him landed at another airfield before it left Honduras—the U.S. military base in Palmerola. Upon landing there, Zelaya managed to record a message in which he named those responsible for the military coup—which his abductors refer to as “a presidential succession.”

Mel, as Manuel Zelaya is affectionately known to the Honduran people, had suffered a coup d’état with malice aforethought. When I realized what had happened, my mind was flooded with images of the ’80s. Hit lists, disappearances, harassment of dissidents (threats, firings, seizure of wages), and the grisly operations of the death squad Battalion 3-16 ordered by professional criminals like Gustavo Alvarez Martínez and Billy Joya, masters of programmed assassination.

In that lost decade my poetry had been branded subversive and anti-military. At the National Autonomous University of Honduras, I became the object of many abuses. My salary was withheld for an entire year, at the end of which I was fired and forced to sign a document saying that I would never again teach a course there.

The harassment was the work of one Oswaldo Ramos Soto, otherwise known as Rata Gorda (Fat Rat).

This time around, just as in the ’80s, close friends advised me that it would be best to leave the country, and so as things got worse, I left for Managua, Nicaragua. Right after I arrived, I was horrified to hear that the two-headed monster General Romeo Vásquez-Roberto Micheletti had seized power with the support of the private sector and set up a fascist-style dictatorship complete with a full range of persecution: killings, beatings, and sexual attacks on women; curfews; and armed attacks on Channel 36 and Radio Globo, the only media outlets that were attempting to broadcast the truth.

Miraculously, out of this bloodbath emerged “Peaceful Resistance”—the protest marches of an angry populace that extend to the four cardinal points of sweet Honduras.

Mel has been blessed with a bombproof, coup-proof solidarity with the people, along with a gift for plain, unpretentious speech and great personal warmth. He has a huge heart, and, contrary to what his detractors say, he is open-minded and very intelligent. Moreover, he is a lover of poetry.

While in Nicaragua, I had several talks with him. In one of these I mentioned that I had been asked to write a short essay about the present situation, and he told me I should be sure to mention the political and ideological persecution that was already being felt in Honduras and to emphasize the fascist character of the coup. Later we got to talking about books, and I told him I had always wanted to publish an Enciclopedia Morazánica—a sourcebook on the visionary Honduran leader Francisco Morazán—and he said, “When I get back home” we can work on this.

At a gathering of friends at the Honduran Embassy in Managua, I heard him say, “I’m a diehard democrat and I tried to honor my commitment to the poor. This got me branded as a communist, a socialist, and a maniac.” He seemed tired but optimistic to the point that he kept making funny cracks about his life as an expat.

I returned home at the end of July, almost afraid of what I would find. Everywhere I went I could see and hear that the walls were talking. On walls everywhere I read phrases like “We need Mel,” “Mel is on the way!” “Goriletti Go Home!” (“Goriletti,” or “Little Gorilla,” is the popular nickname for Micheletti, brilliantly bestowed on him by Hugo Chávez.) There are rhythmic chants like, “Adelante, adelante, la lucha es constante” and “Against the Golpe Militar, Resistencia Popular!” And there are graphic ones, like, “Cheese for the Rats of Congress!”

These slogans point a flaming finger at the seven heads of the hydra that authored the coup. They are: General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez (a graduate of the School of the Americas), Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, Elvin Santos Ordóñez, Carlos Flores Facussé (the gray eminence behind the coup), Ramón Abad Custodio López (National Human Rights Commissioner), Ricardo Maduro (a Panamanian, ex-president of Honduras), and Roberto Micheletti.
We must also include—they mustn’t remain in the inkwell—the mass media, where literate swine defend the bogus values that sustain the ruling class: H.R.N. (Honduras Radio Nacional); Radio América; TV Channels 3, 5, 7, 8, and 10; and the newspapers El Heraldo and La Prensa. These media played a prominent role in the June 28 military coup.

Along with Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, other Catholic and Protestant church dignitaries have been linked to the military coup, including Oswaldo Canales and Evelio Reyes. Nevertheless, two priests, pure from here to the horizon, have shown heroic strength and solidarity in the face of lethal fire from the military/political criminal enterprise. Their names are Andrés Tamayo and Monsignor Luis Alfonso Santos, bishop of the archdiocese of Santa Rosa de Copán.

Meanwhile, the tortuous process of U.S. policy regarding the use of the term “military coup” was insulting to watch from afar. While President Obama immediately called the coup a coup, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stubbornly refused to do so. And she tossed around adjectives “reckless” and “imprudent” to describe an earlier attempt by Mel to return. Then, when Zelaya took asylum in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States, Lewis Amselem, echoed Clinton by calling his return “irresponsible and foolish.” The parallel lines Obama/Clinton will never meet.
I see democracy in Honduras as a hazy horizon, the planks of its creed mere coffin planks unless the legitimate president is restored to power.

Out of the crisis caused by the military coup a new class consciousness has arisen. Its core is the majority of citizens historically humiliated and offended by a denationalized elite comprised of ten families, enthroned at the top of the social pyramid where they do exactly as they wish.

The resistance movement consists of workers, elementary and high school teachers, campesinos who have walked—hungry, blistered by the sun, their shoes in shreds—from remote areas to Honduras’ main cities: Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, Santa Rosa de Copán, El Progreso (supposed birthplace of Roberto Micheletti Bain, although it is whispered that he is a faux Honduran actually born in Sicily).

As they march, the protesters sing these songs:

They Fear Us

They fear us for we’ re not afraid

. . . They’re at the rear, walking
backwards, thinking backwards,
they’re dead weight! Behind their
armor plate

they watch us laughing, fighting,
making love.

From behind their military armor plate
they watch us play!

. . . They fear us for we’re not afraid.

Hymn of the Resistance

In the center of America a country
came to life
blazing a trail to make a revolution.
The mighty want to hush us, to
crush us—
to steal our freedom from us at gun
In a dawn of terror and great apes
our president was seized, our consti
tution raped.
Against the golpe militar,
resistencia popular!
The sons of Morazán are marching
Honduras, your people are with you,
Honduras, your voice will be heard!
Honduras, you’ll never stop fighting
for your faithful protector’s return!
. . . All of the earth’ s people are one
This is what all of them shout:
Viva, viva Honduras,
Viva su revolucion!
All of the earth’s people, unite!
Everyone’s going to fight
For Zelaya’ s triumphant return.

The ousting of our president has universalized the word Honduras, a country that was scarcely known.

Mel had declared publicly that he would return to his native land though his life may be at risk, though the sky may fall from the heavens.

On September 21, the legitimate president of Honduras did just that, as he moved into the Brazilian Embassy.

On September 22, the armed forces, the police, and the paramilitary forces dispersed a multitude that had gathered to guard the president and his family. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez and Roberto Micheletti warned that they would take over the Brazilian Embassy. Four hundred soldiers armed with high-caliber weapons, small tanks filled with water and acid, tear gas bombs, and ear-splitting noise devices surrounded the embassy. Adding to this bedlam, the repressive forces destroyed people’s cars and ransacked private property.

The office of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras has been raided. Radio Globo and Channel 36 have reported the participation of Israeli military advisers and those of Opus Dei. Channel 36 was taken off the air. The repression extends throughout the country. Several people have been killed and many more have been wounded.

From his place of asylum, Mel has maintained that his basic goal is a dialogue on safeguarding democracy and securing his reinstatement as president. But for the de facto government such a view is irrelevant. Painstaking and brilliant in their planning, the powerbrokers understand only the mechanical precision of the deed, and they are thrilled to be smelling blood again.

Shrouded in lies, the triangular power base of the de facto government rests on the tips of bayonets. The leaders control the flow of information. They suppress the news of soldiers firing into massive crowds of resisters and black out reports of the dead and wounded and the abduction of youths spirited off to sports clubs—makeshift detention camps. Final proof that these leaders are in power by might and not by right is their belief that repeating a lie to the point of exhaustion eventually confers on it the status of truth.

The de facto regime published an executive decree suspending civil liberties, including freedom of movement, freedom of the press, the right of assembly, individual and collective guarantees, the right of dissent, and the right to criticize those in power, though it said it would back down. We are living in a state of siege. I am talking about the coronation of death.

Nevertheless, in the midst of this desolation, hope—holiest of values—raises her flag. The Honduran people have awakened. On the walls of our cities the slogans have changed: “Mel is back!” “Mel, amigo, the people are with you.” “Mel, hang tough, the people are up.” “Constituent assembly yes, elections, no!” “Where are the people? The people are in the streets!”

In Honduras, the walls are talking.

This essay was translated by Jo Anne Engelbert.


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