Honduran Coup Government Continues Attack on the Poor with Plan to Seize Indigenous Hospital

Dr. Luther Castillo, who was named "Honduran Doctor of the Year" in 2007 by Rotary International, has just sent out an alert through the non-profit group MEDICC, that he and his staff at the Indigenous Garifuna Community Hospital have received an order from the de facto Honduran government to leave the Hospital and discontinue their work there. The government has announced that it is downgrading the standing of the hospital and will be taking over with "new management."

2009-08-07-drluthercastilloexaminingchild150x150.jpg Dr. Castillo examining child (courtesy of CambioMilwaukee)

In the meantime, the de facto government has stopped paying the salary of the staff -- which includes locally-trained nurses and 10 physicians -- and will no longer guarantee medicines or vital supplies. In spite of this, the Hospital staff have vowed to stay and continue their work, serving the poor in the Garifuna indigenous region of Ionia and surrounding area.

As Dr. Luther Castillo explained to MEDICC, "We will not abandon our people. These are the poorest of the poor, the invisible poor. They are the real victims of the coup." The coup government has made Dr. Castillo's ability to continue his work on behalf of the poor particularly difficult, putting out a warrant for his arrest and capture right after the coup. Yet, Dr. Castillo perseveres.

This act on the part of the Honduran de facto government shows its true intentions in carrying out the coup against President Zelaya -- to roll back the modest social reforms Zelaya put in place to alleviate the suffering of the poor in that country.

As MEDICC explains, the Garifuna Community Hospital opened in December of 2007 under an agreement with the government of President Zelaya and in accordance with an International Labor Organization covenant that supports locally-managed health services for indigenous and tribal peoples. According to Dr. Castillo, the hospital has treated 175,000 cases since that time, providing such services as birthing, surgeries, hospitalization, dental care, laboratory tests and other outreach and prevention services. Now, the de facto Honduran government is threatening the lives of the poor in the Ionia coastal department and surrounding area by its move to oust the staff of this hospital.

While the coup government has claimed that it is protecting the Honduran constitution, this claim has never held weight. As Conn Hallinan explains succinctly in a recent article in Foreign Policy in Focus:

That story is a massive distortion of the facts. All Zelaya was trying to do is to put a non-binding referendum on the ballot calling for a constitutional convention, a move that trade unions, indigenous groups, and social activist organizations had long been lobbying for. The current constitution was written by the Honduran military in 1982, and the one-term limit allows the brass-hats to dominate the politics of the country. Since the convention would have been held in November, the same month as the upcoming presidential elections, there was no way Zelaya could have remained in office in any case. The most he could have done was to run four years from now.

Hallinan goes on to explain that Zelaya is "at best a liberal reformer whose major accomplishment was raising the minimum wage [by 60%]. "What Zelaya has done has been little reforms," Rafael Alegria, a leader of Via Campesina, told the Mexican daily La Jornada. "He isn't a socialist or a revolutionary, but these reforms, which didn't harm the oligarchy at all, have been enough for them to attack him furiously." Or, as an AP article from August 6, entitled, "Honduran Coup Shows Business Elite Still in Charge," put it well: "Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a military coup after betraying his own kind: a small clique of families that dominates the economy."

Now, the coup government is attempting to roll back Zelaya's modest reforms, threatening the lives of the poor living on the margins in the process. As Dr. Castillo explains, the current actions of the coup government with respect to the Gardifuna Community Hospital threaten to "condemn to death many of our old people, and stop all outreach and prevention services."

In the end, condemning the poor and the vulnerable to further marginalization, and even death, is part of the plan of the current regime in Honduras, for they intend not only to attack Zelaya himself, but also, and maybe even primarily, those who support him. And, Zelaya finds most of his support among the poor who, according to U.S. AID, make up 65% of the Honduran population.

This calls to mind the words of the repressive Guatemalan general, Rios Montt, who once explained his philosophy of fighting the insurgency in Guatemala as follows: "The guerrilla is the fish. The people are the sea. If you cannot catch the fish, you have to drain the sea." Carrying out this philosophy, Montt carried out death squad activities against the Guatemalan people, killing thousands of Guatemalans, most of them indigenous, in the process.

In the case of Honduras, the coup government, with such individuals as Billy Joya at the helm -- Joya, who ran death squad activities in the 1980's quite similar to those directed by Rios Montt in Guatemala, is now the "special security adviser" to the Honduran coup government -- similarly wants to drain Honduras of the sea of Zelaya supporters to prevent Zelaya and his modest reform government, or any other reform government for that matter, from ever returning.

And, just as social activists and their families were disappeared in the 1980's by the death squad (Batallion 3-16) linked to Billy Joya, the Committee for the Families of the Detained & Disappeared (COFADEH) as well as an international delegation led by the Quixote Center are reporting recent incidents of disappearances by the Honduran Armed Forces, such as the disappearance of 24 year-old Samuel David Flores Murillo on July 26. As the Quixote Center reported in a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Honduras, Samuel is the son of long-time activist Margarita Murillo, herself a survivor of twenty-two days of detention and torture in the 1980's. This is a frightening portend of the direction to which this coup government is headed.

Dan Kovalik is on the Board of Global Links which has provided the Garifuna Community Hospital with a great portion of its medical supplies since its inception in 2007. To continue to support the staff and work of this hospital, go to Global Links and donate to the Honduran emergency medical relief fund.