Honduras coup sparks mass resistance

By Roberto Jorquera

In the early hours of June 28, a coup d’état was instigated against the popularly elected Honduran government of President Manuel Zelaya. The coup was organised by an alliance of congressional leaders and the military high command. Zelaya was forcibly removed from his bed when more than 100 soldiers surrounded his house and then, without explanation, put him on a plane to Costa Rica. That same day Roberto Micheletti, congressional leader and a member of Zelaya’s Liberal Party, was elected president by the Congress for a period extending to January 27.

Speaking to the Telesur television network in the early hours of July 4, Zelaya said: “My life is in the hands of the people of Honduras. By force I was removed from my country. Those people [the coup leaders] do not defend our country or our democracy. I urge the people to continue to show their support. We can overcome these problems and move forward. You [coup leaders] are surrounded and should give up now. The people of the world are against you. I am organising my return to Honduras.”

“I ask the peasants, heads of households, the workers, indigenous people, the youth, workers’ groups and organisations, friendly businesses, political organisations throughout the country, mayors and deputies to accompany me in my return to Honduras. This is a return of a president that was elected freely by the people, who are the only ones able to elect or dismiss a president. Let’s not lose our rights, let us not permit others to make decisions that can only be made by the people”, said Zelaya. “I am ready to make any effort and sacrifice necessary to achieve the liberty that our people deserve. We will be free or permanent slaves if we do not have the valour to defend ourselves.”

Washington’s role

In an article titled “The US is compromising democracy in Honduras”, Shamus Cooke wrote on the Upside Down World website: “And while Obama has recently repeated that President Zelaya should be returned to finish out his presidential term, [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton … stopped short of calling for his reinstatement, a departure from statements by President Obama earlier Tuesday…’ (New York Times, July 7, 2009) This good-cop-bad-cop routine  appears to be a signature of Obama’s emerging forked tongue political method: he says what he thinks people want to hear, while his officials pursue a different course…”

Cooke pointed out that, “In fact, all of Obama’s rhetoric about leaving South America to the South Americans is a conscious ploy at public relations. In reality, the economic and military screws continue to be tightened, and U.S. foreign policy continues as it always has. After the coup first happened, the entire world reacted with horror, condemnation, and sanctions of various kinds, while everyone understood that only one country had the economic and military influence to actually reverse it … instantly.

“Obama purposely dragged his feet. He cleverly tagged the U.S. name on UN and OAS. resolutions, while doing absolutely nothing in the realm of guns, trade, or aid — the places where actual power is wielded. The New York Times correctly noted that ‘the mixed messages have emboldened Honduras’s de facto government...’ (July 7, 2009).”

Soon afterwards, Washington finally announced it would withhold US$16.5 million in military assistance to Honduras and announced that a further $165 million could be in jeopardy. This is nothing compared to what Washington could do if it were serious about helping to reinstate Honduras’ elected president. If the US cut all military ties and targeted economic sanctions at Honduran big business, the coup government of Micheletti would not survive a day. It is only due to Washington’s de facto support that the coup leaders have been able to survive in power for over a month.

On July 24 Clinton called on Zelaya not to attempt to re-enter Honduras. On the same day, the president of the Organization of American States, Miguel Insulza, also called on Zelaya not to return to Honduras. Zelaya responded  by saying, “It would be irresponsible not to return”.

Four days earlier, the US administration publicly revealed its pleasure at the “lesson” being given to Hondurans. State Department spokesperson Phillip Crowley said he hoped Zelaya now understood that in “choosing a model government and a model leader for countries of the region to follow”, the US believes “the current leadership in Venezuela would not be a particular model. If that is the lesson that President Zelaya has learned from this episode, that would be a good lesson.”

The same day, the deputy foreign minister of the coup regime, Marta Alvarado, said: “Honduras is playing a very important role in the sense that the continuity or otherwise of the avalanche of the ALBA [Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our Americas] countries depends on Honduras, and whether the people who are under the pressure of the ALBA countries wake up”.

The US ruling capitalist class is firmly against ALBA, which Honduras joined under Zelaya. This political, economic, social and cultural alliance initiated by the revolutionary socialist governments of Cuba and Venezuela has become a real alternative for the peoples of the Americas and has increasingly isolated the schemes of US big business in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The continuing realignment toward the left of many governments throughout the continent has been turning the relationship of forces in favour of the working people. The ruling elites of the continent and in the US have decided that this leftward tide must be confronted head on and stopped. The Honduras coup marks the opening of this imperialist-led counter-offensive. The US and the government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe are strengthening their military alliance to ensure a strong pro-imperialist military and political presence in the heart of the continent.

The Honduran coup shows that the military option for the US rulers is still in place; it is only a matter of time before it is tried again elsewhere in Latin America. Currently the Colombian government is running a propaganda campaign against President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, accusing him of receiving funds from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country’s largest guerrilla army. In 2008, the US supported an attempt to oust the leftist government of Bolivian President Evo Morales through violent protests organised by the country’s wealthy elite. Washington continues to strongly support the right-wing oppositions in Venezuela, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Resistance grows

After the coup, hundreds of thousands resisted and mobilised in the streets throughout Honduras. On July 5, Zelaya attempted to return to Honduras together with Miguel D’Escoto, president of the UN General Assembly. At the same time, another delegation led by OAS president Insulza, and the presidents of Argentina (Cristina Fernandez), Paraguay (Fernando Lugo) and Ecuador (Rafael Correa) flew to neighbouring El Salvador.

A human tide that grew by the minute moved towards Tegucigalpa International Airport to welcome Zelaya. Military units tried a number of times to prevent Zelaya’s supporters from arriving at the airport. A wall of police and soldiers was forced to retreat as Zelaya’s supporters moved forward step by step. Throughout the day, military helicopters flew over the pro-Zelaya demonstrators, and hundreds of police and military continued to harass and intimidate them. Hundreds of soldiers also gathered inside the perimeter of the airport.

As the Sun began to set, the mobilisation started to arrive at the gates of the airport. Tens of thousands had walked for days and for hundreds of kilometres to support Zelaya. Many vehicles that were taking people to the rally had been stopped by the military and their tyres shot. At the airport, speaker after speaker condemned the coup and called on the people to celebrate the day of resistance. One protester said, “The army are the people; they cannot shoot at the mobilisation as they are their brothers and sisters”. Soon after these comments, sections of the military threw tear gas and began shooting at the mobilisation in an attempt to disperse it. It was confirmed by a Telesur reporter on the ground that at least two protesters were killed, one 16 years old.

Via phone from his plane, Zelaya told Telesur: “We are living in a period of social change. We can no longer accept military coups; we have passed this barbarity.” He also condemned the repression by the military. “I should be next to the people, in front of the people. I can’t wait to get to Honduras. In the name of God, the people and justice, I think the repression will stop when I arrive. I am ready to address the soldiers to stop the repression. I am the president of the republic. I will be arriving without arms and the military should obey me. The coup plotters cannot govern, for the people are in the streets. They will make the decisions.”

Telesur told Zelaya that the airstrip was filled with military personnel. Zelaya repeated that he wanted to attempt to land. However, the military parked vehicles across the runway, forcing Zelaya’s plane to divert to neighbouring Nicaragua. Zelaya then agreed to enter talks with representatives of Micheletti, convened in San Jose by the president of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias. After a week, the talks broke down. On July 20, Zelaya said the negotiations had been “exhausted” and repeated his July 14 call for a popular insurrection to oust the coup regime. “I am going to return to the country as soon as possible”, he said. “The right to insurrection is a constitutional right.”

Who is Manuel Zelaya?

Benjamin Dangl wrote on June 28 for Upside Down World: “When Manuel Zelaya was elected president on November 27, 2005 in a close victory, he became president of one of the poorest nations in the region, with approximately 70% of its population of 7.5 million living under the poverty line. Although siding himself with the region’s left in recent years as a new member of the leftist trade bloc … ALBA ... Zelaya did sign the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2004.

“However, Zelaya has been criticiz[ed for] taking on the sweatshop and corporate media industry in his country, and increased the minimum wage by 60%. He said the increase, which angered the country’s elite but expanded his support among unions, would ‘force the business oligarchy to start paying what is fair’.” Many of these progressive reforms were due to the direct pressure of the working masses. “As his popularity rose over the years among these sectors of society, the right wing and elite of Honduras worked to undermine the leader, eventually resulting in the recent coup.”

Although his domestic policies tended to favour the poor, it is Zelaya’s international stance that has particularly angered Washington and the Honduran capitalist oligarchy. Zelaya  has increasing declared his support for Venezuelan revolutionary socialist President Hugo Chavez and has said that Venezuela is a model that Honduras should look towards.

Throughout Honduras the working  people have continued to mobilise in the streets against the coup regime, even though the military continues to repress, intimidate and jail Zelaya’s supporters. A curfew continues throughout the country, in some places lasting up to 12 hours. However, a renewed sense of organisation and mobilisation has been reflected in the establishment of the National Front to Resist the Coup, which has helped to coordinate the resistance.

On July 26, the head of the Honduran military told Honduran broadcaster Radio Globo that his troops would not fire on Zelaya’s supporters. “We will not fire on our people”, General Romeo Vasquez said. Vasquez was a key figure in the June 28 coup, but has said he was only enforcing a Supreme Court ruling. “The armed forces are not the ones responsible for this internal division”, Vasquez said on the radio show, during which he also talked with Zelaya’s wife Xiomara Castro, who remained in Honduras and has been prevented from reaching the border. Reporting Vasquez’s remarks, Agence France Presse observed: “Vasquez’s comments were another sign that the Honduran military may be seeking to retreat from the turmoil created by Zelaya’s sudden ouster and the internal division and international isolation that followed.”

AFP noted that several days earlier a statement had been posted on the Honduran military’s website that said the military’s top brass hoped to see a resolution “in the framework of the San Jose Accord”, proposed by Arias. AFP noted that the accord “includes a call for Zelaya’s restoration to power in Honduras, with various limits. Micheletti and his government however have rejected the deal. The New York Times reported Sunday that the Honduran military communique, dated Friday, was drafted in Washington after days of talks between mid-level Honduran officers and US congressional aides, and was ‘significant’ because it was the first sign of support for the San Jose Accord by a powerful sector of the interim government.”

It is unclear how events will unfold in the next few weeks, but the coup has reminded the masses throughout Latin America that the business elite and the US imperialist rulers will not idly allow the radicalisation of the continent to continue. However, the masses of workers and peasants in Latin America have learned from the past and are much better organised and much more determined to resist attacks on their democratic right to fight for a life free of national oppression and social injustice.