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I’ve just returned from a week-long emergency delegation to Honduras, urgently requested from religious leaders and human right activists who have been protesting since the fraudulent November 2017 elections. During our time we were asked to accompany the people still brave enough to turn out for demonstrations in the face of unremitting state violence.

One of the most chilling things I saw was the scores of troops, armed and in uniform, lining the streets in wait of the protests. They often covered their faces with balaclavas, and wore little or no identifying information and insignia on their uniforms. It’s not accidental that their appearance is evocative of death squads.

Troops line the march route.

We were repeatedly told, throughout our time in Honduras, that the only reason beatings, arrests, and even live ammunition had not been used against the demonstrations we witnessed was because of our presence and the assurance that international attention would prove too costly to the government. Elsewhere in the country at the same moment, demonstrators were indeed met with violence, adding to the over 30 individuals already killed by security forces in the past two months.

The delegation marches with community members on day two of the trip.

As evening approached on a day that had begun with prayer and vigils and ended with tear gas, I got a ride back to the retreat center with Bartolo Fuentes and his wife, Dunia Montoya. Both are journalists and human rights observers active with Radio Progreso (website is in Spanish), one of the few remaining sources of independent reporting in Honduras. Fuentes has also just finished a four-year term as a deputy in the National Congress. His outspoken activism has earned him an ominous status, and he regularly receives death threats.

The cost of dissent is very high in a country like Honduras. However, people like Fuentes and Montoya continue their activism and dissent anyway, with exceptional courage, and are not deterred from speaking truth to power.

A few miles from their home, they received a panicked phone call from their 16-year-old son, telling them that police had broken into their home and were beating up a family member. Fuentes careened us out of the line of traffic we’d been in, detouring down a series of rough side roads, the truck bouncing and sliding along ruts as he raced for their home. As we arrived, the headlights illuminated four uniformed police kicking a young man in the road, who turned out to be Montoya’s brother. The police roared off on their motorcycles when we pulled up, Montoya’s mother screaming after them, “¡Asesinos! ¡Cobardes!” (Murderers! Cowards!), shaking with fear and rage. She flung herself on her son to keep him from being dragged off or more brutally hurt.

This violence is state-sponsored terror, and while Montoya’s brother was the victim this time, the message was ultimately for Fuentes: We’re warning you: you’re next.

The cost of dissent is very high in a country like Honduras. However, people like Fuentes and Montoya continue their activism and dissent anyway, with exceptional courage, and are not deterred from speaking truth to power.

A child lights a candle during an evening vigil.

Those of us in solidarity with them, who believe in human rights and dignity, need to amplify their voices and to speak our own truth to power as well. The United States has played a critical role in supporting Honduras’ ability to terrorize its people. The Washington Post reports that the “government gets millions of dollars in U.S. aid each year, and its elite police units have received training from the U.S. military.” This support only fuels violence the government is perpetrating against bystanders like Montoya’s brother and other Hondurans who are engaged in peaceful dissent. It’s time for us to use U.S. leverage for good and act now.

TAKE ACTION

Follow the instructions below to contact your Members of Congress and support the people of Honduras today.

  1. Call (202) 224-3121. This number will direct you to the Capitol switchboard.
  2. Ask to be connected to your senator or representative. The operator will direct your call to their office. Note that you will need to make three calls to reach all your legislators. Not sure who your senators or representatives are? Look them up here.
  3. A legislative assistant or answering machine will answer the phone. Give them this message, filling in your details:

“Hello, my name is ____ ____. I’m a constituent of [State and zip code]. I’m calling to express my deep concern about the violence and repression in Honduras and the U.S. support of its government and military. I urge Senator/Representative [last name of member] to support all efforts to suspend U.S. police and military aid to Honduras immediately, and ensure that any future aid meets human rights conditions under U.S. law. I also urge you to support credible, independent investigations into electoral fraud and violence during and since the November 26, 2017 Honduran elections. Thank you.

  1. Call again to connect with your other legislators, repeating steps 1-3.
  2. Invite your friends, family, and colleagues to join you in this action!