Honduran Independence Day marches in the Tegucigalpa capital turned violent Saturday, Sept. 15, as riot police threw tear gas containers and sprayed anti-government protesters with water cannons.
Demonstrators were out on the streets to protest against the presidency of Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH), whom they and several organizations accuse of stealing last November’s presidential elections from Salvador Nasralla of the Opposition Alliance coalition.
Protesters say the Hernandez administration and other government officials committed fraud in order for the incumbent to take last year's presidential election.
Between late November 2017 and January of this year, over 30 anti-JOH protesters were killed, which Honduran human rights organization, Cofadeh, said were killed at the hands of state security forces. Protests against the current president, who has U.S., Mexico, and Canadian support, have been sporadic since January for fear of military and police retaliation.
Hernandez and his political party - National Party - are also allegedly connected to several government corruption scandals.
At Saturday’s protests, journalists from canal UNE-TV were also attacked.
According to the Genesis Andean human rights organization: "A cameraman who was doing his job … the (cameraman) was targeted in an attack because he had his video camera with evidence of military and police abuse in against demonstrators."
Former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted by the Honduran military in a U.S.-backed coup, rallied at the Independence Day protests telling crowds: "People are running because the military is coming. With the last drop of my blood, of my soul, I promise that we (Libre party) will not rest until Juan Orlando (JOH) and his repressive dictatorship are removed from power,” said the Libre leader.
"Until victory, always," chanted Zelaya.
The day's parades were also filled with traditional dancers and celebrated Honduran culture as Air Force helicopters flew above.
The anti-JOH protesters carried banners with messages against the high cost of living, lack of public services, insecurity and government “death squads.” They were also protesting the impunity for the recent murders of two university students in the capital.
"I tell you, yes you can ... yes you can get out of the dictatorship, you can overcome poverty, you can set the gringos straight, you can achieve true independence," said Zelaya.
"I did not give this country to the gringos. My government gave dignity to the people and raised their standard of living, that's why they made a coup d'etat ... With the strength of my convictions, I swear that we will dedicate our energy to defeating the dictatorship."
The president of Honduras, also in Tegulquicalpa, held a rally of his own shouting to crowds: "Viva Honduras, Viva Honduras!" to celebrate the country’s 197 independence anniversary. He was flanked by the head of the Judiciary, Rolando Argueta, National Congress Vice President Gladis Aurora Lopez.
During his speech, the president emphasized, "We respect each other. Let us love each other as brothers from God. Together we are going to move forward."