Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Intransigence is a terrible thing in managers, presidents, heads of security. It means an unwillingness to listen, to reconsider your position. It's a sign of a bad manager, bad president, bad cop.

Honduras has intransigent leadership. Porfirio Lobo is intransigent; Oscar Alvarez is intransigent. Intransigence will not resolve the strike or the human rights problem it reveals; it's an unwillingness to resolve; it is a child's tantrum. Porfirio Lobo Sosa said, "I won't talk to them until they go back to work" and then ordered the police to shut down the protests. That's not good government, that's a tantrum.

Today's La Tribuna carries a story of a split in the Tuesday cabinet meeting allegedly between those who support the teachers and those who support the security services. That sounds like a mischaracterization from the rest of the story. It sounds like the split is between those who believe the security forces are violating the protester's human rights, and those who believe the police can do no wrong.

On the side of the police is Oscar Alvarez, who asserts that he leads a force that is among the most professional police forces in the world. Really? Hands up anybody who believes that.

Alvarez says all the police actions were carried out under the constitution, citing Articles 78 and 58. He says Article 78 guarantees the right of free assembly, but also the right to freely walk around, for everyone. He then cites (according to the article in La Tribuna) Article 58 as allowing all people free transit (the right to walk around) anywhere in the country and that the Police have the obligation to support that right.

Article 78 does in fact allow for freedom of assembly and association provided it does not contravene the public order. Article 58 however, says that ordinary courts, regardless of privilege, will know all electoral crimes and misdemeanors. Oh my. Perhaps he meant Article 81, which does say that everyone has the right to circulate freely.

So Alvarez isn't so good at his constitution. Furthermore he ignores the rights of the teachers to assemble and protest peacefully. He ignores good police procedure, which is to negotiate with protesters to guarantee everyone's rights are observed. He needs a remedial police work course on crowd control, and his police force needs one as well.

On the other side of the argument is Ana Pineda, says La Tribuna. She apparently pointed out the negative effects of the death of Ilse Ivania Velásquez for the efforts of the government to establish a good human rights record. After all, they'd just finished earlier in the week whitewashing Honduras's human rights record before the UN (see our previous post where the government admits to only investigating 3.8 percent of crimes).
"With these events, (Mr.) President, our country is exposed, not only nationally and internationally, but it weakens our level of credibility which we had obtained in front of the members of the UN and other forums of human rights."

Oops. She said the Police and Armed Forces need an operational norm that regulates their operation so that they respect the human rights established in the constitution, international treaties, and Honduran law. She said that the indiscriminate use of explosives, guns, and other things in protests, which have been seen in the videos and still photos available, can wound and even kill. She said that before resorting to force, the security forces need to exhaust all possibility of dialogue with the protesters. She noted that the Channel 36 reporter had been attacked without justification. In short, she acknowledged that the security forces are violating human rights, something the international press already knows.

Pineda is right; there's a training issue which Alvarez refuses to recognize. The police aren't trained to respect the human rights of anyone; they're trained to use force to solve any problem. Training police cadets to sing "...we will bathe in a swimming pool full of blood..." is not a sign that they know to protect human rights. It glorifies the bloodshed they cause. Until Alvarez can recognize, and address this problem, Honduras will be deficient in human rights protection.

At the end of the discussion, Porfirio Lobo Sosa said:
"I maintain my position: street taken; I will dislodge them."



Pete said...

I agree that protesters should be allowed to protest peacefully. However, I fail to see how today's protesters (throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, armed with sticks embedded with nails)can be described as "peaceful".

RAJ said...

We have said it before, we will say it a thousand times: if you attack protestors with deadly force, leading some to fight back, that does not invalidate the commitment of peaceful protesters to peaceful protest: in indicates that some individuals have been pushed beyond their limits. When an army-- not just the police, but the armed forces-- takes up weapons against the people of a country, freely killing the innocent for their opinions, you may get something like the Egyptian protests-- where the protesters mainly managed to maintain nonviolence. Or you may get Libya, where desperate people are fighting back.

But you do not get an argument that invalidates the moral authority of the people to protest the denial of their rights simply by provoking some people to self-defense.

And of course, I leave aside here the question that is most germane in Honduras, which is what reliable reports could establish that protesters were actually using such weapons. We remind readers of the long history of disinformation: the supposed bombs made by university students in 2009, when the chemistry labs they supposedly used had been destroyed years earlier.

Pete said...

If you want reliable reports, then watch the TV channels such as Globo TV, Channel 36 and HCH who were all showing video of protesters today using the weapons I mentioned.

Also video was being shown of teachers travelling to Choluteca to protest there. Police stopped the bus they were using and searched both the vehicle and the teachers for weapons. Many catapults and bags of stones were discovered. I'm sure you're aware that a catapult can easily be a lethal weapon in the right hands.

Your arguments really doesn't hold water. These protesters just want to cause trouble and go out on the streets ready armed to do just that. In which case, the police have no option but to remove them.

Re your comments about Lobo's intransigence, please explain why the teachers' union refusal to negotiate with anyone but Lobo should also not be classed as intransigence.

RAJ said...

Ah Pete, always reliably on the side of fascism. To the main point here: again, there is never an excuse for the armed forces of a country to attack its own citizens. Yet in Honduras, you and people like you routinely endorse state violence against the people.

That argument holds water, because it is a consistent ethical position. Your response echoes the apologetics of power: protesters are just out to cause trouble, and so must be removed by disproportionate force.

The right to protest against the abrogation of contracts, to speak out against policies being imposed without sufficient consultation, and to register lack of support for a government that has lost any legitimacy it may have had, should be protected by the state.

You echo the propaganda claim of the Honduran state that protesters can be dimissed and treated violently because they are just trouble-makers. The kind of society envisioned by this logic is one in which no one speaks up against injustice.

And I remain skeptical about your reliance on press reports, including television reports, as representative of the actions of protesters. The images you see are selective, not representative. You are predisposed to accept them as typical because of your acceptance of fascist claims about the need for the exercise of absolute state power.

Anyone with any historical knowledge about protests, even in more open democracies, knows of a long history of police infiltration by agents inciting violence or otherwise trying to discredit protests that are nonviolent. We saw it most recently in Egypt.

And anyone with any historical memory knows that when legitimate protests are met with violence, some may be pushed beyond their limits and seek to defend themselves.

Your pitiful "sticks and stones are the same as guns and tear gas and water cannons" argument discredits itself.

Dr. Mathews said...

It never fails to amaze me how national police (or even, arguably, the army) seem to be deployed against public protests (usually carried out by citizens requesting the removal of barriers to progress in their societies), when they have more important jobs pending.