Anatomy of the Golpe in Honduras: Interview with Manuel Antonio Villa

On my last day in Tegucigalpa, I conducted an interview with writer/documentarian Manuel Antonio Villa, 37, who for the last seven years has traveled through his country studying the economic circumstances of the peasantry and the workers.  For Villa, Honduras has entered a new, revolutionary era, while the golpe against Mel Zelaya has commenced a decisive moment for the history of Latin America.

What has your involvement been in the current struggle?

I involved myself in the social process, (I don’t want to call it a struggle yet), because since my first book I have postulated that the decisions of government aren’t made in the common interest, especially in the National Congress.  Currently I have been making audio-visual works about what is taking place, because we have to circumvent the media blackout.  Also we have contributed to information and networking on the internet, and have maintained an active presence in the marches against the golpe.

I have to mention that not only I, but also a great number of writers and filmmakers, have seen over the last four years a polarization of wealth that has made us react.

Is this due to neoliberalism?

Of course, in the first place it is for this, but also because neoliberalism has entered a crisis.  The famous “trickle-down” ended up regionalizing, being realized only in the maquiladora zones.  This doesn’t imply that the quality of life in these zones is much higher.  There is more money, but there are also fewer social programs, greater delinquency, and less power for the popular organizations to make decisions.

You have spoken about the worsening division of wealth in the country and, for this, the increase in class consciousness among the poor.

The Honduran people are always going to be against the candidate of the wealthy.  “If the rich are with this one, I have to be in contra.”  Now there is a clear, clear manifestation of intuitive class division.  Now there is class consciousness in Honduras.  “If Mel Zelaya is against the rich, and he proposes the fourth ballot [the proposal for a constitutional assembly], I have to be in favor of the fourth ballot.”

But many of the people I’ve spoken with, taxistas, workers, etc, begin speaking of how Mel was threatening the sovereignty, how Chavez this and the constitution that…

This is just the propaganda.  But the class consciousness has been sown.  If you had seen this country two years ago!  To see the graffiti in the streets.  It’s incredible!  Never, never, never would it have been like this.  And this is just beginning.  It doesn’t matter that it’s Mel Zelaya.  What is clear is that Honduras has already changed.

Now, the golpe isn’t just an ideological matter of the right.  Rather, given the global economic crisis, the rich expect the government to socialize their losses.  The path that Manuel Zelaya was on, and the opening of the fourth ballot, was the exact opposite of what the rich wanted, because in the fourth ballot they could have asked the people: “Do you agree that the state should subsidize the losses of private enterprise?”  And the people say “No,” and the rich say, “Go to hell, because we can’t sustain our businesses.”

So the situation here has everything to do with the global economic crisis?

Of course!  Honduran private enterprise needs to maintain the current institutional order, and the laws as they currently are, so that in the coming period, with the worsening of the financial crisis in Honduras, the state will subsidize the losses.

And what was Manuel Zelaya proposing?

The complete opposite.  He was one of the first ones to denounce, internationally, the hypocrisy of the neoliberal system.  Zelaya said private enterprise would continue, but the state will no longer finance its losses.

The Strategy for the Reduction of Poverty, which was implemented in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, did nothing that would have harmed the wealthy class.  When Zelaya arrived, he ordered subsidies for the poorest sectors, something which was unimaginable for the previous governments.  Zelaya saw that there was an extreme poverty, of 1.7 million people who live on less than one dollar a day, and decided to alleviate that sector and move the extreme poor closer to the normal poor.  Zelaya reduced poverty by 60-65% in Honduras, but mainly he was focusing on the extreme poor, something for which he received extreme criticism.  In this he was moving us towards the socialist countries.

And the golpistas wanted none of it.

It’s not that they didn’t want to reduce poverty, it’s that this reduction implies giving more power to the people.  In the second place, they knew that such a high public investment in poverty reduction would mean they could no longer concentrate public investment in the places where the most wealth is generated for them, such as infrastructure, energy, highways, etc.  Therefore the COEPH [Council of Private Enterprise in Honduras] had to ensure, with Micheletti as their strongman, that we don’t realize the changes that are happening in the rest of Latin America.

How do you account for the support of the golpe by certain working-class sectors?

Remember that there is a very partisan sentiment in this country that doesn’t permit a clean class analysis.  We are a country that is either Liberal or Nationalist, and this is present in all the classes.

But this is changing.

Yes.  The poorest class is getting more and more involved in political matters.  Those who live in extreme poverty, the ones you don’t see in the marches because they’ve been prevented from entering the city, are all with Mel Zelaya.  I know this because I know the countryside.  Even the most Nationalist of the campesinos have renounced their party because they believe in Zelaya.  On the other hand, those who have the most resources and the most education are against him.

Two years ago, the enemy of the organized bases was the State of Honduras.  The left hit the streets to fight against the state.  No longer!  Now people understand that the state has been instrumentalized by the dominant class, and that the enemy is not the state, rather, the cupolas of power, and it is against them that we are demonstrating.  No longer will you see written on the walls “Repressor State,” or “Presidente yo-se-que.”  Now you will see the names of the rich that have controlled the public wealth for the last thirty years, since the time the North Americans organized the Cold War.

How far will the golpistas go to maintain this order?

Let’s divide the golpistas in two: 1) the golpistas that are in government, and 2) those who are private entrepreneurs but don’t have government posts.  When we speak of the first group, nobody will be able to take them from power.  They will never, by diplomatic means, turn over the state.  They will have nowhere to go.  They know that the entire world has repudiated them and that the Honduran people don’t like them.  This golpe will go until the last moment, and when they have no more hope they will propose to advance the elections, then call for social reconciliation, something that will be impossible because the social organizations don’t want this type of reconciliation.  They want justice.

The Business people, and many have already left, miscalculated the political reaction of the world.  The first three days of strike generated tremendous losses for them that would have been less had Mel finished his term.  The ones who have stayed are protecting ideology and losing money.  You see?  Okay, the most wealthy will be able to survive this.  But the less wealthy have huge debts that they have to pay, isolated — the Business won’t be able to survive.

On the popular front, we have to take over the highways, especially the ones that are under construction, as this would screw up public investment in infrastructure.  We have to close the ports and the borders.

And how far will the resistance go?

The organized base organizations have been firm that they will continue in protest.  That is to say we will continue until the final consequences, complete repression: disappearances, selective kidnappings, massacres.  This doesn’t imply that we will use force.  Maybe a few from Olancho and Colon will take up arms.

There wouldn’t be a large-scale guerilla war?

I don’t think so.  We are still very much under the influence of religion.  We aren’t a people ready to take up arms to defend ideas.  But we are 100% street.  The people want to march, but they don’t want to go up against beatings and gunfire.  The most radical factions are well organized, fortunately, and are in agreement with the Frente, which has a clear position of “no to arms.”  More, we know that if we take arms we will be killed.  But if Mel Zelaya returns to the country, the golpistas will try to kill him.  If they take his life, the country will ignite.

The right have been weakened, because private enterprise is worried about its economic losses, but also because they are seeing that no longer is this about protest, this is about a popular social transformation that, under our social and educative conditions, is the closest Honduras can come to a revolution.  But it can’t be done with arms.

Do you think it would be possible for the pacific movement to topple the golpistas?

No.  If the international community is not firmer in their opposition to the golpe, the movement will begin taking actions against the law.  They could start killing businessmen, using arms to ambush cars of the bourgeoisie, etc.  We will see this if this government doesn’t leave.  This man who is in power is one of the blindest men in the history of the country.  That’s why the right decided to put him there.  So long as the armed forces stay loyal to Micheletti, he won’t leave the presidential palace.  Here’s a guy who cuts the energy of the entire country when the US ambassador is speaking on TV.  We’re talking about this type of golpista.  Not intelligent.  Not a diplomat.  We’re speaking of a dummy, a man capable of murder who won’t leave the presidential seat unless the United States asks him directly, with actions, not with words.

What could the United States do?

Cut every form of aid, economic and military. . . .

And remittances?

Remittances represent 25% of our GDP.  (This helps reduce poverty but doesn’t help with the development of the country because it’s spent on consumption.)  This is to say that if you cut remittances you’re cutting family nutrition.  This would be an anti-popular move.  What needs to be done is a military and economic blockade.  Listen: if today they announce an economic blockade, the dictatorship will fall tomorrow.  But I am sure this isn’t going to happen.  The one who has the most to benefit from the golpe in Honduras is the United States.  What just happened in one swift blow was the weakening of the OAS and of the ALBA.  This, right when, for the first time in history, decisions were being made to escape the trap, telling the US, “if you, today, don’t agree with us, tomorrow we will form the Organization of Latin American States,” which was promoted by Mel Zelaya.  If anyone else from the ALBA was given this task, they would have been run out of the meeting.  If it had been the Venezuelans, they would have been kicked out of Latin America, by the Colombians.  If it had been Ecuador, they’d have had problems with Peru.  If it were Bolivia, they’d have had problems with Chile, for reasons surrounding the maritime border.   Mel was the only one that could receive sympathy from all the leaders of Latin America, to ensure that Cuba enter the OAS.  This is what costs Mel Zelaya his head.  And so the overthrow of Zelaya works well for the USA, not the USA of Obama, but the transnational corporations that are owners of 68% of the USA’s GDP.

This is a decisive moment in the history of Latin America.  See?  Because if it works here, then the next fashion will be the Golpe-Lite, and the transitional golpe, they are going to show the new politicians that they can’t make decisions over the oligarchy, and thus the maintenance of bourgeois democracy.

Simón Ríos just returned from a weeklong delegation to Honduras, with Medea Benjamin, Andres Conteris,, and others.  His articles have been published by the NACLA, the ISR, and the Boston Globe among other publications.