“The outside world sees us as bad guys but inside the country we are the ones who saved democracy… We did it out of duty and for love of country because democracy was at risk.” – Honduran General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, justifying his participation in June 28th coup d’etat in Honduras
On June 28th the world was shocked to learn that Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had been removed by force from the country by members of the Honduran military, and a new government under Roberto Michelleti imposed in his place. Condemnation came quickly from around the world as the United Nations, Organization of American States, and European Union all denounced the coup, and not one country has officially recognized the newly imposed government. It is obvious then why General Velasquez and others has taken to the airwaves to try and justify the “democratic” and “constitutional” nature of their new and brutal regime in Honduras. To understand the truth of the situation, we must look at who organized the coup, how they did it, and why they have attempted to overthrow the democratically elected President of Honduras.
Roots of the Conflict
“Some say Manuel Zelaya threatened democracy by proposing a constitutional assembly. But the poor of Honduras know that Zelaya raised the minimum salary… They know he defended the poor by sharing money with mayors and small towns. That’s why they are out in the streets closing highways and protesting (to demand Zelaya’s return),” - Honduran Bishop Luis Santos in a July 30th interview with the Catholic News Service.
The coup was a culmination of tensions which have been boiling over in Honduras as President Zelaya demonstrated increasing willingness to implement reforms in favour of the Honduran people. He increased the minimum wage by 60 percent in a country known for its huge sweatshop industry, worked towards ensuring public control of telecommunications, and increased spending in health and education.
Importantly, he also joined ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americans) in August of 2008. ALBA, which was created by Cuba and Venezuela as an alternative to the US Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), emphasizes solidarity and cooperation over the economic domination and privatization which has characterized US initiated trade agreements in Latin-America. Honduras joined Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Nicaragua and Venezuela in the initiative, and Honduras’ business elite and their US backers were furious. To them, Zelaya responded, “When I met George W. Bush, no one called me an anti-imperialist and the business community applauded me. Now that I am meeting with the impoverished peoples of the world, they criticise me…Who has told them they have an absolute right to privatise?"
The confrontation heightened on March 24th, when Zelaya called for a non-binding referendum on June 28, to allow Hondurans to vote on whether or not to create a committee to examine the possibilities of changes to the constitution. The Supreme Court, ruled by the country’s oligarchy, called the referendum illegal, and when the now infamous General Velasquez refused to mobilize the military in its established election duties, Zelaya then ordered him to be fired. Soon after, the military showed up at Zelaya’s door.
The right-wing in Honduras and North America have tried to justify the violent removal of the democratically elected President before the end of his term by saying Zelaya violated the Honduran constitution in proposing to extend his Presidential term, and that the constitution allows for such a manoeuvre against him based on this. False. There is no proof the proposed constitutional convention would have even discussed presidential terms. In fact, the only one in Honduras to have tried to commit such an act is Michelletti, who in 1982 led various congressmen in trying to introduce legislation that would have done just that!
Negotiation or Consolidation?
On July 7th, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that US ally Oscar Arias, President of Costa Rica, would be the mediator of talks between Zelaya and the coup-government to resolve the crisis. After one month of back and forths and watered down proposals which have all been refused by the coup government, it is clear that the negotiations were never meant to accomplish any sort of resolution. Juan Barahona, leader of the National Front Against the Coup, the broad Honduran coalition coordinating many of the protests, has already said, “We don’t see any possibilities to arrive at an agreement in the talks in Costa Rica. These talks could just be a way to buy time for the coup to consolidate its power and also to buy time to exhaust the resistance.”
On June 24th when Zelaya briefly crossed the Honduran border by land from Nicaragua to meet with supporters, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quick to condemn him as “reckless” and working against “the broader efforts to restore democratic and constitutional order” (read: US organized negotiations). This looks very sensible to say from Washington, but how can she balance that statement with her silence as the coup government imposes military rule over Honduras and murders pro-Zelaya demonstrators? What kind of incentive would the coup government, which imposes itself by force, have to negotiate away its power anyways? Who is really the reckless partner in this twisted soap opera?
Coup in Honduras – Made in America?
“…the Honduran coup leaders can’t even breathe without the support of the United States.” - Fidel Castro, in June 28th Reflection on the coup
There are some who say that because the US spoke publicly against the removal of Zelaya from Honduras, and has suspended some aid to Honduras, that this is a sign of the new US policy towards Latin-America based on peace and good-will. This is unfortunately false.
Consider this – the US has proven links to the rich oligarchs who attempted to overthrow democratically elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2002, and they immediately recognized that coup-government before Chavez was brought back to power by the massive mobilization of the Venezuela people. The US Ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, was also expelled from Bolivia on September 11, 2008 when it was documented that he met with opposition leaders, and was involved in coordinating and funding their terror in an attempted coup.
For over a century the US has owned much of Latin-America through direct military suppression and the organization of friendly client regimes. It continues to have massive economic interests there which have been jeopardized by a wave of popular movements demanding control of their country’s resources and political institutions, and the elections of left-leaning governments. Those economic interests did not disappear with the election of Barack Obama.
If Obama had really turned a new leaf, why did the US sign a new accord with the repressive Colombian government to lease seven more military bases and more than double the US troop presence there? Why does he still advocate for the criminal US blockade against Cuba, and the persecution of the Cuban 5 – imprisoned in US jails for exposing US sponsored terror against Cuba?
Beyond this context, and the obvious desire of the US to stop the political process in Honduras before it goes too far, there are other obvious connections:
- Coup leader General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez and Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo, head of the Air Force which transported the president to Costa Rica – were both trained in the US at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas. The school is also nicknamed “School of the Coups” for having trained the leaders of the many coups in Latin-America, and for its curriculum which has included assassination and torture.
- The Honduran coup leaders are just two of over 60,000 Latin American graduates of the school. All Honduran officers from captains and above are trained at the SOA. The “SOA Watch” database lists 3,566 graduates of the school from Honduras alone, and the US has continued to train Honduran military officers after the coup.
-The US also continues to operates the Soto Cano military base in Honduras, complete with over 550 U.S. military personal stationed at all times
- A close ally of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bennett Ratcliff, was appointed as an actual member of the negotiating team for the coup government in the Costa Rica negotiations. According to a source cited by the New York Times, “Every proposal that Micheletti’s group presented was written or approved by the American.”
- Although the US stopped $18.5 million in military aid to Honduras and suspended the visas of certain coup leaders, they have refused to officially designate forcible removal of Zelaya a “coup,” and continue to provide a reported $180 million of foreign aid. This is a violation of the Foreign Appropriations Act, which states the US must suspend all aid to any country “whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.”
As Zelaya said himself recently while in Mexico, if Obama really wanted to reverse the coup, “those putschists would only last five minutes, because the Honduran economy – all of our military, trade and migration activities – depend on the United States.”
Suppression and Resistance Continue
Despite the obvious fact that they are not only fighting against their own oligarchy, but the US as well, Hondurans have continued to mobilize against the coup and for the return of Zelaya.
Not one day has gone by since the coup d’etat where that hasn’t been massive mobilizations in the streets of Honduras. Honduras’ three principal labour centrals, the Unitary Confederation of Honduran Workers (CUTH), General Workers Central (CGT) and Confederation of Honduran Workers (CTH) have organized repeated national strikes. Thousands of teachers have been on a national strike since the day after the coup, and have been joined by 15,000 nurses and other workers at 28 hospitals who declared themselves on an indefinite strike. Around the country roads and bridges have been blockaded to disrupt “business as usual”. A national march was launched on August 5th, with protesters leaving from every corner of Honduras and marching up to 15 hours a day to meet in either one of the country’s main cities, San Pedro Sula or Tegucigalpa.
Curfews have been declared by the coup government across Honduras, and the military has also had a constant presence on the street. At least 10 people have been murdered for their participation in anti-coup protests, including 2 union organizers, an LGTBQ organizer, a radio journalist, and several young demonstrators. Thousands of arrests have been made, and Velasquez promised on Honduran television to “go after” demonstration organizers. Riot police in Tegucigalpa used tear gas and water cannons against over 3000 students rallying in support of Zelaya at the National Autonomous University. The university’s rector Julieta Castellanos was also beaten to the floor.
Every peace loving, justice seeking person around the world should denounce the coup in Honduras, and call for the return of President Manuel Zelaya.
The basis of this support need not come from complete political agreement with Zelaya. It is no secret that Zelaya has not yet developed the same revolutionary vision and objectives which exist in Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia and their leaders. He continues to be a wealthy Honduran with business interests in Honduras.
However, defending the democratic and constitutional rights of the Honduran people and their elected President is important, as the success of the coup would be a brutal step backwards against the rights of the majority of Hondurans. Success in this struggle will also put the working and oppressed masses in Honduras in a better and more confidant position to fight for further rights and further gains.
Our demand for Zelaya’s return should also come from the understanding of the huge stakes a play for US imperialism and oppressed people in all of Latin-America. The US is trying to open up the new era or war and occupation in Latin-America, trying to turn back its political and social clock to past decades of violence and foreign domination. As the US economy continues to spiral downwards, it will look increasingly to third world countries to occupy and exploit. We cannot allow them a foothold in Honduras, and any step backward for the huge social movements who have said, “Enough!” and have begun to move forward.
Honduras has become the latest battlefield in the new era of war and occupation. Honduran people are in motion in defence of their self-determination against US imperialism, and it is our duty to organize in solidarity with their demands for the return of President Manuel Zelaya unconditionally. This is ultimately a struggle for a better world.
REINSTATE ZELAYA NOW!
U.S. HANDS OFF HONDURAS!
U.S. HANDS OF LATIN-AMERICA!
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