Saturday, August 8, 2009

A new old ghost

We've heard the arguments defending the newly self-installed regime in Honduras —that they were justified in ousting the democratically elected president at gunpoint —that it had been President Zelaya who was the real threat to law and order and democracy —what with his ballots and all. As proof positive it is pointed out that the Congress and the Courts had authorized the military to take action. And perhaps if you squint hard enough you can indeed blur the scene to fit the conjured image —of deliberate senators and sober justices calling upon dutiful soldiers to protect the nation.

But then open your eyes and you might regard another reality.

Today's New York Times featured a "Saturday Profile" —complete with a striking portrait—of the newly installed regime's "security advisor" and international media liaison, Billy Joya. The Times reporter observes "the smooth, elegant bearing of a leading man" in Mr. Joya. But look again —and read further and you find that Joya is considered "one of the most ruthless former operatives of an American-backed military unit, known as Battalion 316, responsible for kidnapping, torturing and murdering hundreds of people suspected of being leftists during the 1980s."

In 1989, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights determined that the Honduran military was responsible for systematic abuses against government opponents. Still, in the 27 years since this country returned to civilian rule, authorities say, Honduran courts have held only two military officials — Col. Juan Blas Salazar Mesa and Lt. Marco Tulio Regalado — accountable for human rights violations.

ONLY about a dozen other officers ever faced formal charges. And most of those cases, like Mr. Joya’s, remain unresolved by a judicial system that remains crippled by corruption.

...Edmundo Orellana, the former Honduran attorney general who was the first to try to prosecute human rights crimes, said it was “absurd” that Mr. Joya remained free.

“Billy Joya is proof that civilian rule has been a cruel hoax on the Honduran people,” Mr. Orellana said. “He shows that ignorance and complicity still reign inside our courts, especially when it comes to the armed forces.”

The Times article points out that it was only a matter of hours after the ouster of President Zelaya that Mr. Joya "made his reappearance on a popular evening talk show" in Honduras —apparently running on one of the media sources the new regime still allowed to broadcast. His purpose, he said,"was to defend the ouster and help calm a public that freed itself from military rule less than three decades ago."

But one has to wonder at the message from the new regime's new/old voice. There's the message in what was said. And there's the message in who was saying it. Somehow I doubt the different facets were lost on the Hondurans who heard. For some, I'm sure, it was comforting to hear —while for others it likely drew a shudder.

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