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MARBLEHEAD REPORTER: Marblehead resident takes Honduras into her heart

October 14th, 2009

By Nikki Gamer

While what’s going on in Honduras might be far from the hearts and minds of most people in Marblehead, most people are not Linda Weltner.

The outspoken Marblehead resident is bringing the country’s fight to her hometown, having recently visited the Central American nation as part of a self-funded human-rights delegation organized through Witness for Peace, a D.C.-based grassroots non-profit organization, which attempts to influence U.S. Latin-American policy through education.

Speaking in front of a small group gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead Oct. 7, Weltner described a deteriorating human-rights situation in the country following the June 28 armed ousting of President Manuel Zelaya.

Wearing a red bandana tied over her shoulders and a Spanish-inscribed T-shirt, which, translated, read “Movement for Dignity and Justice,” Weltner also had a lot to say about the coup and what she considers to be a wealth of misinformation surrounding it. Her source of information, she explained, was a coup government official she met on her trip, who was also secretly working as part of the resistance.

Her first major point was that the coup was not legal — as the opposition party alleges. Further, Zelaya’s critics have argued that he wanted to extend illegally his four-year term in office, which Weltner said is not necessarily true.

On the morning of June 28, Zelaya had scheduled what the official explained as a legal, non-binding poll of public opinion to see if there would be popular support for a referendum in November to call a broad-based National Constitutional Assembly to write a new constitution.

Weltner said Zelaya’s actions were entirely legal.

The opposition, she said, makes claims that the coup was in fact a “constitutional transition.” Weltner begs to differ.

“Clearly this was an illegal military coup, and everyone in Honduras knows that,” Weltner said.

Weltner explained she thinks it’s the National Assembly that is running the country, not the president.

“The National Congress is overwhelmingly white and very wealthy,” Weltner said. “And when they finally got around to voting Micheletti president, the six pro-Zelaya members were conveniently not present.”

Her description of the National Assembly is one of a corrupt organization.

Going a step further, she explained that she thinks the opposition’s charges against Zelaya (including charges of critics outside the country) — that he is under Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s tutelage — are unfounded and belie what is really going on.

On that point, Weltner ripped into the media coverage of the Honduran coup.

Reading excerpts from esteemed publications like the Washington Post and the New York Times, Weltner pointed out misconstrued facts that she thinks were misreported due to corporate interests.

But more alarming were Weltner’s reports of human-rights abuses in the country. Since taking over the government, the newly instated Honduran leader Micheletti has reportedly shuttered independently owned media outlets, and under his leadership, freedom of assembly has been restricted.

Amnesty International reported in September scores of deaths due to police beatings or shootings during protests in the region. 

On her trip, Weltner met with several members of the resistance, who described to her the atrocities committed at the hands of their new government leaders. Beatings, rapes and disappearances are becoming commonplace, she said. Wiretapping and illegal curfews have become the norm.

“Their police are against them, their country is against them, they have no one to turn to,” Weltner said.

In fact, while attending a protest, Weltner said she had her own scare. A gentleman whom she described as good-looking approached her group and said that a bomb would be placed in their airplane on their flight home.

“It was creepy,” Weltner remembered.

Again, Weltner criticized the U.S. for not making such stories public. She described her meeting with a young U.S. Embassy worker in Honduras who said he hadn’t publicized most of the abuse stories because he needed verification — “not anecdotes.”

On top of that, Weltner believes the State Department and Congress funded and advised Honduran forces that participated in the coup, again and again coming back to the role she thinks politics played in the events.

Whatever the cause might have been, however, according to Weltner, the situation for Hondurans is only getting worse.

While Honduras will hold a presidential election at the end of November, during which neither Zelaya nor Micheletti will be allowed to run, parties from both the Micheletti camp and the resistance continue to butt heads on a day-to-day basis, according to published reports.

After her talk, Weltner said her stake in the affair comes from her longstanding love of Latin America and its people. A Boston Globe columnist for 19 years, Weltner now teaches classes in the Explorers Lifelong Learning Institute at Salem State College, the next of which will cover Bolivia. During her travels, she has been to Cuba, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize — the list goes on. 

“I’ve just fallen in love with the whole Latin American culture… I just care what happens to them,” Weltner said.

She hopes her talks inspire people to find out what she considers the truth behind the political events of today. 

“I think we have to get over the idea that the U.S. is a purely benevolent country so that we can understand why 9-11 happened,” Weltner said. “If we don’t learn the truth, then the world becomes in a state of confusion, and we become manipulated by leaders who have an agenda.”

To read the article in the Marblehead Reporter, click here.  

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