By Shari Phiel
For Berthoud High School graduate Neil Brandvold, the violence and unrest in Honduras for the past week has been more than some uprising in a country more than 2,000 miles away. Much more.
Brandvold has been in the small, Central American country since last Thursday and has witnessed first hand the violence and blood shed that began when President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a governmental coup.
“There was no violence directed to the military at any point, and they were repeatedly told not to fire because we were peaceful, and there was a heavy presence of women and children in the large protest,” said Brandvold of Sunday¹s protests at Toncontin Airport in the capital city of Tegucigalpa.
“Suddenly without notice, the military fired teargas and simultaneously open fired on the crowd. Everyone began screaming and running for cover,” he reported.
Brandvolt notes that propaganda reports released by the Honduran military claiming Zelaya¹s plane circled the airport and gave orders for protestors to attack the military were completely false.
“Zelaya¹s plane did not arrive and begin circling the airport until far after the shootings took place. Also the military is saying protesters attacked the military, I was on the very front of the protest against the fence when the shooting took place and no such provocations ever took place.”
Pinned against the wall while the crowd rushed to flee, Brandvold was finally able to make his way to safety despite being unable to see after being hit with teargas. After stumbling over three women trampled by the panicked crowd, whom he tried to help up but was pushed along the protestors, he ducked behind a fast food restaurant being riddled by bullets.
“As the shooting died down I made my way back to the fence and found a man next to me had been shot and killed — there was blood all over the streets,” he added. Brandvold made the decision to fly to Honduras to participate in the protests after learning the ousted president was planning to return to the country.
Zelayas was deposed by the military after attempting to implement a non-binding referendum that would lead to changes in the country¹s constitution. General Romeo Vasquez, leader of the Honduran Armed Forces, refused to assist the president because the Supreme Court, which later order Zelaya¹s arrest, had already declared the referendum illegal. Government supporters claim Zelaya¹s removal was both legal and necessary to prevent the country from being turned into a socialist state. Zelaya¹s supporters say he is only trying to help the poor. Nearly half of all Hondurans live in extreme poverty and the country is the third poorest in the Western Hemisphere.
A 1999 BHS graduate, Brandvold first came to Honduras in 2000 as a volunteer through the Church of Latter Day Saints and continued his volunteer work through 2002. He now resides in Washington, D.C. and is a membership director with the Wireless Communications Association International. He is also a former program manager with the National Association of Hispanic Publications Foundation. His father, Gary Brandvold still lives in Berthoud.
Brandvold is working on making his way back to the U.S. and to his home. Currently, airports in the country are closed to prevent Zelaya from returning. Brandvold remains in touch with family and friends through e-mail and by phone, but added that phone lines and electricity have been randomly cut by the military.
Video shot by Brandvold during the protests can be found at www.YouTube.com/user/NeilBrandvold
www.youtube.com/user/NeilBrandvold. He has also posted numerous photos at www.flickr.com/photos/40144233@N05.