Saturday, December 31, 2011

Whither Free Speech

It is customary at the end of each year for some Hondurans to construct paper maché, wood, and fabric figures of the bad things that happened that year and burn them, to symbolically kill all the bad of the current year and usher in the good of the next year. Normally these would be filled with fireworks: rockets, mortars, and firecrackers, but this year there's a complete ban on fireworks, so they'll reportedly be stuffed with paper, grass, and other combustible materials.

It's New Years Eve and a weekend, so the reporters stayed close to home this year (coverage: El Heraldo, El Tiempo, La Tribuna, and La Prensa, and international press coverage in EFE and Univision.). Here's what Hondurans in Tegucigalpa want to leave behind.

One figure is a Transit Police vehicle with the bodies of Rafael Alejandro Vargas Castellanos and Carlos David Pineda Rodriguez thrown carelessly in the back.

Another is a tank driven by Porfirio Lobo Sosa and ENEE boss Roberto Martin Lozano with text that calls into question the final thermo-electric generation deal. To quote one of the creators,
"They have been cruel to the people of Honduras with the increases in the cost of electricity....It's a government that has the people on their knees, and they cannot do anything to get out of poverty."

Still another is a figure of a police officer, in a uniform and orange colored official vest donated by a police officer disgruntled by the corruption, holding up a sign that says "A Bribe or Your License".

Another figure is an assassin standing before a tree labeled, the "Tree of the Poor". "This is the assassin, we have to kill him so that he won't kill more people," said the creator.

The owners of an upholstery shop constructed a figure of a man and a woman riding a red motorcycle. They want to protest the new law that restricts who can be a passenger on a motorcycle.

The creators of the Transit Police Car report receiving death threats:
The figures were almost done; we had them outside the house but mysteriously the (figure of) the driver of the patrol car disappeared. Another day, around 6 pm as we were finishing up the final touches, someone shot at us from a moving car."

This morning, Police officers came by and confiscated all the figures related to police corruption. The commander of the National Police, José Ricardo Ramirez del Cid, ordered that the Police "not retain the figures", noting that:
The people have a right to protest. I call on all the police, and we are talking here about an order, that they let people protest; we do not have a reason to be offended; we are subject to criticism. If we have committed errors we'll try to fix them.

So far, not sign of anyone returning the confiscated figures.

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