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Honduras: In Sabanagrande, Making Fun of Police is No Joke

Local police failed to see the joke during a satirical performance put on by youth in the town of Sabanagrande, south of Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. Every year Sabanagrande holds a cultural festival called Rey Feo, (Ugly King).

Blogger and poet Fabricio Estrada describes it as a “majestic tradition that each year brings together the largest demonstration of collective morbidity in the southern zone.” Around 40 youths in costume enthrone an “Ugly King” who reads a will full of town gossip and rhymed rumors. On February 4 of this year, the Ugly King directed his satire at local police.

Honduran police have been under fire for accusations of corruption, attacking citizens, and collaborating with criminals and gangs. Undoubtedly, tensions between civilians and the police are high.

In his blog Bitácora del Párvulo [es], Fabricio illustrates the atmosphere in the town on the day of this year's Rey Feo:

“Te digo que esta vez le tirarán duro a la chepa (la policía), yo tengo un primo que sale en el cortejo…” susurra un niño. Pero ya todos lo saben. Han tenido todo un año para meterse en la vida pública como privada, y lo de la policía es público y privado a la vez: público porque los medios masivos ya lo denunciaron y privado porque es mejor callarlo antes de ir “pechito de paloma” (apresado con esposas).

“I'm telling you, this time they will talk about the police, I have a cousin who is part of the cast…” a boy whispers. But everyone already knows. They've had a whole year to get into public and private life, and the issues with police are public and private a the same time: public because the mass media have already covered them and private because it's better to keep quiet rather than risking getting arrested.

Later in the post, Fabricio describes the police's reaction to the reading of the will:

La policía aprieta las mandíbulas y reciben la estocada anual: “Ay policía hijue… aquí te vamos a dar la batuta, porque solo por robar y por matar el sueldo te van a pagar”.

Solo se espera que termine la lectura cuando ya la policía se le va encima al cortejo completo, pero los soldados del primer batallón se interponen, defendiéndolos. ¡Esto es teatro señores, esto es teatro! grita el de los parlantes, pero soldados y policías hacen el suyo mientras el cortejo se escabulle entre las sombras. […]

De nuevo, el pueblo se ha salido con la suya. No hay censura que valga en la insurrección más antigua de Sabanagrande: el rey feo.

Police clench their jaws and receive the annual stab: “Oh policeman, son of a… here we are going to teach you a lesson, because just for stealing and killing they will pay you a salary.“They barely wait for the reading to be over before jumping on the enitre cast, but the soldiers of the first battalion get in the way, defending [the youth]. This is theater, gentlemen, this is theater! screams the guy on the loudspeakers, but soldiers and police do their thing as the cast sneaks amongst the shadows. […]

Once again, the people have gotten away with it. There is no censorship that can withstand the oldest insurrection in Sabanagrande: the ugly king.

Fabricio reports [es] that days later, police actively sought to arrest the youths involved in the performance. Around 150 people responded to the police's “arbitrary persecution and apprehension” of several young men.

Los ánimos lograron controlarse ante la promesa de mediación del COFADEH [Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras], quien asumió darle seguimiento a los testimonios y acompañar a las víctimas de la violación constitucional del derecho a la libre circulación y de las amenazas concretadas por la policía al detener la semana pasada a uno de los muchachos (Mauricio Canales), a quien golpearon y sometieron a burla y escarnio ante su preferencia sexual manifiesta.

The indignation was calmed down by the promise of mediation by the COFADEH [Committee of Relatives of Detained and Disappeared in Honduras], who took on the task of following up with the testimonies and assisting victims of the constitutional violation of the right to free movement and of the threats felaborated by police last week after detaining one of the boys (Mauricio Canales), who was beaten and subjected to ridicule and scorn due to to his sexual preference.

Anger had been building among the citizens of Sabanagrande due to a police-imposed curfew requiring that children under 17 be “sent to sleep” at 10pm or risk imprisonment for loitering or suspected delinquency. Fabricio observed how life in town changed under this unofficial curfew:

Un pavoroso silencio llena el pueblo y solo se ve a la patrulla recorriendo despaciosamente las calles. No se exagera cuando se puede comparar esta escena con cualquier registro histórico de una dictadura implantada sin vergüenza alguna.

A dreadful silence fills the town and you can only see the patrol car slowly driving through the streets. It is no exaggeration to say that you can compare this scene with any historical record of a dictatorship implanted without shame.

As a result of these clashes with the police, citizens decided to take matters into their own hands and create the first Sabanagrande Human Rights Committee under the direction of COFADEH. Fabricio, now an active part of this committee, says that “Honduran society has reached a dead end that should accelerate a process of unprecedented civic organization.” He shares images of the group's first meeting:

In an email, Fabricio tells Global Voices that the committee held a pro-human rights concert and poetry reading on Friday, March 2, and that the group is already seeing some success:

la presión del pueblo (plantones pacíficos durante toda la semana, en el parque, a partir de las 10 de la noche) más la acción del COFADEH, Radio Globo (periodista Félix Molina) y la Secretaría de Justicia y Derechos Humanos (que entró en juego gracias a enlaces amigos) revirtió lo que estaba sucediendo ordenando el relevo inmediato de seis de los policías más implicados en arbitrariedades.

Los jóvenes están más que felices, lo logramos!

pressure from the people (peaceful sit-ins throughout the week, in the park, starting at 10 pm) plus the action of COFADEH, Radio Globo (journalist Felix Molina) and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (which got involved thanks to ties of friendship) reversed what was happening by ordering the immediate replacement of six of the policemen involved in arbitrary actions.

The youth are more than happy, we did it!

Special thanks to Fabricio Estrada for allowing Global Voices to use his images and for collaborating in this post by providing information. Visit his photoblog País Fotogénico [es] for more images and stories from Honduras.

2 comments

  • […] Honduras: In Sabanagrande, Making Fun of Police is No Joke Local police didn’t laugh during a satirical performance put on by youth in the town of Sabanagrande, south of Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. Every year Sabanagrande holds a cultural festival called Rey Feo, (Ugly King). Blogger and poet Fabricio Estrada describes it as a “majestic tradition that each year brings together the largest demonstration of collective morbidity in the southern zone.” Around 40 youths in costume enthrone an “Ugly King” who reads a will full of town gossip and rhymed rumors. On February 4 of this year, the Ugly King directed his satire at local police. […]

  • […] Honduras: In Sabanagrande, Making Fun of Police is No Joke, me: Amidst numerous accusations of police corruption in Honduras, a cultural tradition held every year in the town of Sabanagrande increased the tension between civilians and police. A group of citizens responded to arbitrary police repression by creating the town’s first Human Rights Committee. Blogger Fabricio Estrada, a poet from Sabanagrande, shares the story in his blog. […]

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