Manuel Zelaya supporters say there's no justice for the dead
Human-rights groups say dozens of allies of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya have turned up dead, but government officials say the deaths are not related.
BY FRANCES ROBLES
JUTICALPA, Honduras -- Ulises Sarmiento, a devout and wealthy follower of ousted Honduran President Manuel ``Mel'' Zelaya, paid a heavy price for his loyalty: A few weeks ago, hit men attacked with grenade launchers and a deluge of bullets, killing his two bodyguards.
An iron door kept the assassins at bay.
``Why do they come with grenades? You could hear this from a half mile away,'' said Sarmiento, 65, an Olancho businessman and a leader of Honduras' ``Resistance Movement,'' formed after Zelaya was kicked out of the country at gunpoint in June.
``They knew the police were never coming, and, sure enough, they did not come,'' said Sarmiento, now watched by six men, one of whom stays perched beside his bullet-ridden armored Ford F-250.
As Zelaya approaches his sixth month of banishment, human-rights organizations here and abroad say Honduras has experienced a serious deterioration of civil rights in a country where death squads and extrajudicial killings already were commonplace.
Resistance members say they have been subjected to a campaign by police, the military and paramilitaries to execute their leaders and members. Human-rights activists have documented the deaths of 26 members who have been stabbed or shot across the country.
Activists say more than 3,000 people have been illegally detained, 450 beaten, and 114 now are political prisoners since the June coup.
``It seems now that anytime something goes wrong, the people of the Resistance are trying to connect it with being part of the Resistance when there could be other factors involved,'' said National Police spokesman Orlin Cerrato. He disputes that there are political prisoners, saying those arrested at rallies and protests were detained for criminal infractions like painting graffiti.
But investigations have been stymied by a deep distrust of authorities, diminishing any chances victims may have had for justice.
``I don't know what people think can be done when there is a state policy to do nothing,'' said Bertha Oliva, head of the Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees, a human-rights group here known by its Spanish acronym, COFADEH.
As she flipped through her records of names of the dead, her phone rang. The caller said that teacher Gradis Espinal, missing after police stopped him, was found dead in Tegucigalpa.
``I am so angry,'' she said, choking back tears. ``I feel helpless.''
Teachers have been targeted for taking part in national strikes, she and other human-rights leaders said.
Some of the clashes have been volatile. Two of the Resistance Movement's most publicized death cases were teachers who died weeks apart.
``I was at a protest when I saw a police officer fall off the back of a truck, so other officers started shooting in the air to keep the protesters back,'' said Johnny Rodríguez, a math teacher in Tegucigalpa. ``The next thing I know, there's Roger, with a bullet in his head.''
Roger Vallejo died Aug. 1 in one of the few cases that prosecutors acknowledge was directly tied to the police.
Félix Murillo López, a teacher standing beside him, picked up shell casings and brought them to prosecutors. Two months later, Murillo died in what investigators say was a motorcycle accident. His friends call his death a murder because his bike turned up in one place and his body in another.
Authorities say the teacher was drunk and that his death was not the result of foul play...