Truth in Honduras: 1 Year After Coup, Battle Over Who Gets to Expose –or Avoid– Recent History Begins

Posted on June 11, 2010



JUNE 11.2010

One year after the coup, the battle over who gets to expose---or
avoid---recent history begins.

By *Jeremy Bigwood* -- see Bigwood's profile

Army soldiers clash with members of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) workers union during a protest against the establishment of the Truth Commission, on May 4, 2010, outside the Government House in Tegucigalpa. (Photo by Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images)

 “The only purpose of [Lobo’s Truth Commission] is to support the Honduran regime’s continued efforts to whitewash those responsible for the coup and its violent aftermath.”

One year after Latin America’s first coup of the century, two opposing truth commissions—one official, one not—have set to work to determine why and how Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was removed from power. At stake is the legitimacy of the Honduran state and its president, issues of hegemony versus democracy, and, not least, the historical record.


The Honduran Armed Forces staged a coup d'?tat against Zelaya on June 


28, 2009. Upset by Zelaya's leftward drift, Honduras' oligarchy, which 
has long ruled the impoverished Central American nation of 7.3 million, 
backed the coup.

In response, Zelaya supporters, as well as those simply opposed to the 
rupture of democratic rule, formed a vocal opposition movement, the 
National Front of Popular Resistance. The coup government's reaction, 
which was immediate and continues to the present, has involved 
"thousands of human-rights violations," according to the human-rights 
organization Center for Justice and International Law. Scores of 
opposition activists have been assassinated, according to Honduran 
human-rights organizations.

On January 26, the Honduran Congress granted amnesty to all those 
involved in political crimes during the coup. The next day, President 
Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo was inaugurated. Yet with the exception of the 
United States and allies like Mexico, Canada and Colombia, most of the 
hemisphere's nations, including Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina, and the 
Organization of American States still did not recognize Lobo's government.

On May 4, Lobo came up with a remedy, launching "La Comisi?n de Verdad" 
(known in English as the "Truth Commission"). Although truth commissions 
are usually conducted in post-conflict situations---like in El Salvador 
or South Africa in the 1990s---Honduras' is to take place during ongoing 
conflict. The commission's stated aims are to clarify what happened 
before, during and after the coup that removed Zelaya from power, and to 
produce recommendations so that last year's events will never be 
repeated. Eduardo Stein, a former vice president of Guatemala, was 
picked by Lobo to lead it.

Lobo's "Truth Commission" has already yielded diplomatic results: since 
its incorporation, eight nations have joined the United States in 
normalizing relations with Honduras.

Along with Stein, the government commission will comprise two academics 
(the present and former presidents of Honduran National University), a 
Canadian career diplomat and the ex-head of the Peruvian Supreme Court. 
Spain, Japan, Sweden, Canada and the United States will fund the 
commission, rather than the Honduran government.

Bertha Oliva, director of the Honduran Committee of the Detained and 
Disappeared, is not impressed. "The only purpose of [Lobo's Truth 
Commission] is to support the Honduran regime's continued efforts to 
whitewash those responsible for the coup and its violent aftermath," she 
wrote on Huffington Post.

To counter the official commission, the Honduran opposition movement is 
establishing its own investigative body. Six human-rights organizations 
will launch "Comisi?n de la Verdad" (known in English as "Commission of 
the Truth") on June 28, the coup's anniversary. It will be "responsible 
for making known the human rights violations committed against thousands 
of Hondurans," according to a May 6 commission press release. The 
commission---which will include a Nobel laureate, a writer and a 
priest---will last one year.

With the official "Truth Commission" backed by the Honduran oligarchy 
and the U.S. government, and the oppositionist "Commission of the Truth" 
backed by the Latin American Left, the two commissions will likely 
become respective standard-bearers for the Honduran government and the 
still-vibrant opposition movement---and the continuing continental 
struggle between haves and have-nots. Truth or no truth, don't expect an 
amicable resolution to Honduras' continuing political crisis any time soon.