Honduras: masses mobilise against coup regime

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FRFI 210 August / September 2009

On Sunday 28 June, Honduran military leaders led a coup against President Manuel Zelaya on the orders of the reactionary Supreme Court. At dawn, over 200 troops went to the President’s home and told him to surrender or they would shoot him and his family. The soldiers seized him and he was exiled to Costa Rica. In the weeks since, the coup regime has increased repression of the Honduran people, hundreds of thousands of whom have been demonstrating on the streets for Zelaya’s return. The two-faced response of the US has made clear their role in the coup, while Zelaya has been supported by the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America (ALBA) of which Honduras is a member.

Zelaya was originally elected as a representative of the business elite; he is a member of the Liberal party in a country which has strong military and economic ties with the US and, as Fidel Castro said, he ‘cannot be accused of being either a Marxist or a communist’. However, since the end of 2007, he had begun to adopt some more progressive positions, clearly under ALBA’s influence. With ALBA’s help, Zelaya had brought 500,000 Hondurans out of poverty, begun a reforestation campaign and was aiming to eradicate illiteracy in the country by January 2010.

The Honduran ruling class organised the coup because it could feel its power slipping away under Zelaya’s presidency. Zelaya had planned a non-binding referendum on 28 June to ask Hondurans whether they wanted to vote in the November general elections on a constituent assembly to rewrite the 1982 Constitution. The ruling class feared that this would put more power into the hands of the masses. These fears are real: vibrant grassroots movements have been created by Hondurans over the past years which have pushed Zelaya to bring in reforms that reflect the interests of the poor and oppressed. When a Honduran who has been demonstrating on the streets was asked why she supported Zelaya, she replied:

‘He raised the minimum wage, gave out free school lunches, provided milk for the babies and pensions for the elderly, distributed energy-saving light bulbs, decreased the price of public transportation, made more scholarships available for students, fixed the roads, put schools in remote rural areas that never had them before and let anyone go into the Presidential Palace and converted it from an elite residence to the people’s house. That’s why the elite classes can’t stand him and why we want him back. This is really a class struggle.’

The coup could not have happened without Washington’s approval. The Honduran military and transnational corporations rely on US support. While Obama has publicly joined the rest of the world in condemning the coup, he has been applauding it under the table. A New York Times article showed that the US government knew about the planned coup ‘several days’ before it happened. The Obama administration says it was in negotiations with the plotters. If the US had really wanted to prevent the coup, it would have informed the Honduran government of the situation and told the plotters that if the coup went ahead the US government would cut off all economic aid and blockade Honduras. It did neither.

The US has declared the military’s action illegal, but has avoided calling it a coup because that would mandate an immediate suspension of all military and economic aid. The National Endowment for Democracy, created by US Congress, has been and still is providing approximately $49 million a year to ‘think tanks’ and ‘pressure groups’ in Honduras. The majority of these are organisations directly linked to the coup. Two of the coup leaders, Romeo Vasquez and Luis Javier Prince Suazo, like many leaders of the 2002 Venezuela coup, are graduates of the US School of the Americas which has been a training camp for dictators and repressive forces in Latin America.

The Honduran working class has co-ordinated massive protests against the coup. A general strike has been in effect since 29 June, universities have been occupied and over 100,000 people have been demonstrating in support of Zelaya in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, alone. The Organisation of American States gave a deadline to the coup regime to reinstate Zelaya. On Sunday 5 July, after the deadline expired, Zelaya, accompanied by the Secretary General of the United Nations Miguel D’Escoto, returned by plane to Tegucigalpa airport. Over 100,000 Hondurans marched to the airport, intending to greet him on arrival. Instead what greeted them was military repression. The army and police, most of whom have been loyal to the coup regime, shut down all the nation’s airports and surrounded the one in Tegucigalpa. They prevented the people from getting inside and blocked the runway with military vehicles and armed soldiers, preventing Zelaya’s plane from landing and eventually forcing him to divert to Nicaragua. Meanwhile, as the massive crowd of people cheered on Zelaya from outside the airport fence, a soldier pointed his weapon directly at the crowd and fired. A woman reported that ‘A young boy was hit right in the head, his brains gushing out. He was killed instantly. His mother came running, screaming, “My son, my son, they’ve killed my son.” Others in the crowd were wounded and another person was killed.’

A report from the Honduran Committee of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared, a human rights organisation, says that in less than three weeks the coup regime carried out four political assassinations (including the murder of two activists who were leading the demonstrations in support of Zelaya), issued 16 death threats, injured 59 protestors, closed or censored 13 media outlets, detained or deported 14 journalists, and arrested 1,046 demonstrators. The regime has also brought in repressive laws which attack civil liberties, enforce a curfew from 6.30pm at night and restrict the freedom to assemble. However, this has completely failed to defeat the mass movement. On Friday 24 July, troops forced Zelaya back from the border when he tried to return to the country; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described his action as ‘reckless’, demonstrating clearly whose side the US is on.

Victory to the Honduran resistance!

Luke Lucas

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