Showdown in Honduras: The Rise and Uncertain Future of the Coup

Worldwide condemnation has followed the coup that unseated President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras on Sunday, June 28. Nation-wide mobilizations and a general strike demanding that Zelaya be returned to power are growing in spite of increased military repression.

By Ben Dangl - UpsideDownWorld
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Worldwide condemnation has followed the coupthat unseated President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras on Sunday, June 28.Nation-wide mobilizations and a general strike demanding that Zelaya bereturned to power are growing in spite of increased military repression. Oneprotester outside the government palace in Honduras told reporters that ifRoberto Micheletti, the leader installed by the coup, wants to enter thepalace, "he had better do so by air" because if he goes by land"we will stop him."

On early Sunday morning, approximately 100soldiers entered the home of the left-leaning Zelaya, forcefully removed himand, while he was still in his pajamas, ushered him on to a plane to Costa Rica. Thetension that led to the coup involved a struggle for power between left andright political factions in the country. Besides the brutal challenges facingthe Honduran people, this political crisis is a test for regional solidarityand Washington-Latin American relations.

ManuelZelaya Takes a Left Turn

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, withapproximately 70% of its population of 7.5 million living under the povertyline. Though siding himself with the region's left in recent years as a newmember of the leftist trade bloc, Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas(ALBA), Zelaya did sign the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2004.

However, Zelaya has been criticizing andtaking on the sweatshop and corporate media industry in his country, andincreased the minimum wage by 60%. He said the increase, whichangered the country's elite but expanded his support among unions, would"force the business oligarchy to start paying what is fair." 

At a meeting of regional anti-drug officials,Zelaya spoke ofan unconventional way to combat the drug trafficking and related violence thathas been plaguing his country: "Instead of pursuing drug traffickers,societies should invest resources in educating drug addicts and curbing theirdemand."

After his election, Zelaya's left-leaningpolicies began generating "resistance and anger among Liberal [party]leaders and lawmakers on the one hand, and attracting support from theopposition, civil society organizations and popular movements on theother," IPS reported.

The social organization Via Campesinastated, "The government of President Zelaya has been characterized by itsdefense of workers and campesinos, it is a defender of the BolivarianAlternative of the Americas (ALBA), and during his administration it haspromoted actions that benefit Honduran campesinos."

As his popularity rose over the years amongthese sectors of society, the right wing and elite of Honduras workedto undermine the leader, eventually resulting in the recent coup.

Leadingup to the Coup

The key question leading up to the coup was whetheror not to hold a referendum on Sunday, June 28 - as Zelaya wanted - onorganizing an assembly to re-write the country's constitution.

As one media analyst pointed out, while many major news outlets in the US, including theMiami Herald, Wall St. Journal and Washington Post, said an impetus for thecoup was specifically Zelaya's plans for a vote to allow him to extend his termin office, the actual ballot question was to be: "Do you agree that, during the generalelections of November 2009 there should be a fourth ballot to decide whether tohold a Constituent National Assembly that will approve a new politicalconstitution?"

Nations across LatinAmerica, including Venezuela,Boliviaand Ecuador,have recently re-written their constitutions. In many aspects the changes tothese documents enshrined new rights for marginalized people and protected thenations' economies from the destabilizing effects of free trade and corporatelooting.

Leading up to the coup, on June 10, membersof teacher, student, indigenous and union groups marched to demand thatCongress back the referendum on the constitution, chanting, "The people,aware, defend the Constituent [Assembly]." The Honduran Front of TeachersOrganizations [FOM], with some 48,000 members, also supported the referendum.FOM leader Eulogio Chávez asked teachers to organize the expected referendumthis past Sunday in schools, according to the Weekly News Update on the Americas.

The Supreme Court ruled that the referendumviolated the constitution as it was taking place during an election year. WhenHonduran military General Romeo Vasquez refused to distribute ballots tocitizens and participate in the preparations for the Sunday referendum, Zelayafired him on June 24. The Court called for the reinstatement of Vasquez, butZelaya refused to recognize the reinstatement, and proceeded with thereferendum, distributing the ballots and planning for the Sunday vote.

Crackdownin Honduras

Vasquez, a former student at the infamous School of the Americas, now known as Western Hemisphere Institute forSecurity Cooperation (WHINSEC), went on to be a key leader in the June 28 coup.

After Zelaya had been taken to Costa Rica, a falsified resignation letter from Zelaya was presented to Congress, and formerParliament leader Roberto Micheletti was sworn in by Congress as the newpresident of the country. Micheletti immediately declared a curfew as protestsand mobilizations continued nation-wide.

Since the coup took place, military planesand helicopters have been circling the city, the electricity and internet hasbeen cut off, and only music is being played on the few radio stations that arestill operating, according to IPSNews.

Telesurjournalists, who have been reporting consistently throughout the conflict, weredetained by the de facto government in Honduras. They werethen released thanks to international pressure.

The ambassadors to Honduras from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua werearrested. Patricia Rodas, the Foreign Minister of Honduras under Zelaya has also been arrested. Rodas recently presided over an OAS meeting in whichCubawas finally admitted into the organization.

The military-installed government has issuedarrest warrants for Honduran social leaders for the Popular Bloc CoordinatingCommittee, Via Campesina and the Civic Council of Grassroots and IndigenousOrganizations of Honduras, according to the Weekly News Update on the Americas.

Human rights activist Dr. Juan Almendares,reporting from from Tegucigalpa,the capital of Honduras,told Democracy Now!that due to government crackdowns and the electrical blackout, there is"not really access to information, no freedom of the press." He said,"We have also a curfew, because after 9:00you can be shot if you are on the streets. So we have a curfew from 9:00 to 6:00 a.m."

In a statement on the coup, Via Campesinasaid, "We believe that these deeds are the desperate acts of the nationaloligarchy and the hardcore right to preserve the interests of capital, and inparticular, of the large transnational corporations."

Mobilizationsand Strikes in Support of Zelaya

Members of social, indigenous and labororganizations from around the country have concentrated in the city's capital,organizing barricades around the presidential palace, demanding Zelaya's returnto power. "Thousands of Hondurans gathered outside the presidential palacesinging the national hymn," Telesur reported. "While the battalions mobilized against protesters at thePresidential House, the TV channels did not report on the tense events."Bertha Cáceres, the leader of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares yIndígenas, said that the ethnic communities of the country are ready forresistance and do not recognize the Micheletti government.

Dr. Almendares reported thatin spite of massive repression on the part of the military leaders, "Wehave almost a national strike for workers, people, students and intellectuals,and they are organized in a popular resistance-run pacific movement againstthis violation of the democracy. ... There are many sectors involved in thismovement trying to restitute the constitutional rights, the human rights."

Rafael Alegría, a leader of Via Campesina in Honduras, told Telesur,"The resistance of the people continues and is growing, already in thewestern part of the country campesinos are taking over highways, and themilitary troops are impeding bus travel, which is why many people have decidedto travel to Tegucigalpaon foot. The resistance continues in spite of the hostility of the militarypatrols."

A general strike was also organized byvarious social and labor sectors in the country. Regarding the strike, Alegríasaid it is happening across state institutions and "progressively in theprivate sector."

The 4th Army Battalion from the AtlántidaDepartment in Hondurashas declared that it will not respect orders from the Micheletti government,and the major highways of the country are blocked by protesters, according to aradio interview with Alegría.

The Civic Council of Popular and IndigenousOrganizations of Honduras (COPINH), condemned the coup, media crackdowns andrepression, saying in a statement: "[T]he Honduran people are carrying out largedemonstrations, actions in their communities, in the municipalities; there areoccupations of bridges, and a protest in front of the presidential residence,among others. From the lands of Lempira, Morazán and Visitación Padilla, wecall on the Honduran people in general to demonstrate in defense of theirrights and of real and direct democracy for the people, to the fascists we saythat they will NOT silence us, that this cowardly act will turn back on them,with great force."

Washington Responds

On Sunday, Obama spoke of the events in Honduras:"I am deeply concerned by reports coming out of Honduras regarding the detentionand expulsion of President Mel Zelaya. As the Organization of American Statesdid on Friday, I call on all political and social actors in Honduras torespect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-AmericanDemocratic Charter. Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolvedpeacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference."

But the US hasn't actually called what'shappened in Hondurasa coup. Hillary Clinton said, "We are withholding any formal legal determination." Andregarding whether or not the USis calling for Zelaya's return, Clintonsaid, "We haven't laid out any demands that we're insisting on, becausewe're working with others on behalf of our ultimate objectives."

If the White House declares that what'shappening in Hondurasis a coup, they would have to block aid to the rogue Honduran government. A provision of US law regarding funds directed by the US Congress saysthat, "None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available ...shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to thegovernment of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed bymilitary coup or decree."

"The State Department has requested$68.2 million in aid for fiscal year 2010 [for Honduras], which begins on October1, up from $43.2 million in the current fiscal year and $40.5 million a yearearlier," according to Reuters.

The US military has a base in SotoCano, Honduras,which, according to investigative journalist Eva Golinger, is home toapproximately 500 troops and a number of air force planes and helicopters.

Regarding US relations with the Honduranmilitary, Latin American History professor and journalist Greg Grandin said on Democracy Now!:"The Honduran military is effectively a subsidiary of the United Statesgovernment. Honduras,as a whole, if any Latin American country is fully owned by the United States,it's Honduras.Its economy is wholly based on trade, foreign aid and remittances. So if the US is opposedto this coup going forward, it won't go forward. Zelaya will return..."

TheRegional Response

The Organization of American States, and theUnited Nations has condemned the coup. Condemnation of the coup has come infrom major leaders across the globe, and all over Latin America, as reported byReuters: thePresidents of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Cuba have been outspoken in theirprotests against the coup. The French Foreign Ministry said, "France firmlycondemns the coup that has just taken place in Honduras." Argentine PresidentCristina Fernandez said, "I'm deeply worried about the situation in Honduras... itreminds us of the worst years in Latin America'shistory."

Even Augusto Ramírez Ocampo, a former foreignminister of Colombiatold the NY Times, "It is a legal obligation to defend democracy in Honduras."

Only time will tell what the internationaland national support for Zelaya means for Honduras. Regional support forBolivian President Evo Morales during an attempted coup in 2008 empowered his fight against right wing destabilizingforces. Popular support in the streets proved vital during the attempted coup against Venezuelan President Chavez in 2002.

Meanwhile, Zelaya supporters continue toconvene at the government palace, yelling at the armed soldiers while tanksroam the streets.

"We're defending our president,"protester Umberto Guebara told a NY Timesreporter. "I'm not afraid. I'd give my life for my country."

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TakingAction:

If you are interested in rallying in supportfor the Honduran people and against the coup, hereis a list of Honduran Embassies andConsulates in the US.

People in the US could call politicalrepresentatives to denounce the coup, and demand US cut off all aid to therogue government until Zelaya is back in power. Click hereto send a message to Barack Obama about the coup.

Visit SOA Watchfor more photos and suggested actions.

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BenjaminDangl is the author of The Price of Fire:Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press). He isthe editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, andUpsideDownWorld.org, a website covering activism and politics in Latin America. Contact: Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com