Honduras Coup: A Template for Hemispheric Assault on Democracy

The people of Honduras have now suffered more than 40 days of military rule.  The generals’ June 28 coup, crudely re-packaged in constitutional guise, ousted the country’s elected government and unleashed severe, targeted, and relentless repression.

The grassroots protests have matched the regime in endurance and outmatched it in political support within the country and internationally.  Its scope and duration is unprecedented in Honduras history.  Popular resistance is the main factor affecting the international forces attempting to shape the outcome of the governmental crisis.  It weighs heavy on the minds of the coup’s authors and their international backers.

As Eva Golinger has convincingly documented, the United States took part in conceiving, planning, and staging the coup.  (See www.chavezcode.com/.)   The U.S. ambassador in Tegucigalpa, Hugo Llorens, coordinates a team of high-ranking U.S. and Honduran military officials, and creatures from the old Bush administration, using the Soto Cano (Palmerola) U.S. Air Force base.

But when the army assaulted President Zelaya’s house, machine guns blazing, kidnapped him, and dumped him — still in pajamas — in Costa Rica, this forged unprecedented unity in Latin America and the Caribbean against the coup regime, and enraged hundreds of thousands within the country.

Latin American Unity

In the first days after the coup, it appeared that the whole world was coming out against the Honduran generals and their civilian front menALBA — the nine-nation Bolivarian alliance initiated by Venezuela and Cuba — took the initiative in uniting Latin American governments around a common stand.  Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, became the temporary capital of Our America.  Many Latin American presidents knew only too well that they could soon suffer Zelaya’s fate.

Argentina’s Cristina Fermandez devoted her entire speech to this theme at the OAS general assembly, which took a unanimous stand against the golpistas (coupsters).  That was followed quickly by a UN General Assembly meeting, convened by its president Father Miguel d’Escoto  (a veteran Nicaraguan Sandinista leader), which also passed a unanimous resolution repudiating the coup and recognizing Zelaya as the legitimate president of Honduras.

Faced with this reality, the U.S. government hastened to portray itself as a key opponent of the military take-over and a supporter of Zelaya’s return.  It was politically urgent for the Obama regime, not only in Latin America but domestically, to disclaim involvement in the coup.

There has been much speculation that Obama may disagree with his government’s duplicitous policy on the coup.  That can of course not be excluded.  But what counts for the people of Honduras and their supporters is not Obama’s possible private opinions but his government’s actions.  Its walk betrayed its pronouncements.

The U.S. has not acted to cut the legs out from under the coup regime.  It could topple the coup through a five-minute phone call that included a few bottom-line dollar figures.  Its words, as time has shown, were mainly those of deceit and of manipulation of different forces acting on the Honduran crisis.

Main Aims of the Coup

Washington staged the coup to promote a number of closely interacting aims:

  • To strike a blow at the ALBA alliance, by taking out its assumed “weakest link”: the ALBA member government of Honduras, headed by Zelaya.
  • To prepare for an assault on revolutionary Venezuela, prefaced through the announcement of new U.S. military bases that will convert Colombia into a gigantic aircraft carrier and platform for staging hostile operations against ALBA countries, with Ecuador and Bolivia also high up on the list.
  • To “take back” Honduras and again use it as a platform to strike out against left-wing presidencies and mass movements in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, and to demoralize and discourage the grassroots support for those disobedient or defiant regimes.
  • To test the waters for a revival of coup-making in Latin America and the Caribbean.  And, to use Honduras as a laboratory for coup-making under present 21st-Century conditions.  This involves attempting to re-inspire and regroup right-wing supporters in both political and military spheres across the hemisphere.  It also took a measure of where the powerful Catholic Church would fall.  A free Bible if you guess right.
  • To probe South America’s “soft underbelly” — mainly Brazil and Chile — to see if they were amenable to a deal, or at least if their silence could  be purchased.  This involves an effort to drive a wedge between the ALBA Alliance and so-called centre-left regimes (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Chile).

Since then, a lot of water has gone down the Rio Coco (between Honduras and Nicaragua).

The coup regime threatened to become a millstone around Washington’s neck and hinder its renewed drive to find leverage and points of support, especially in South America.  Hence Washington’s efforts for plausible denial with no qualms about letting the golpistas hang out to dry if necessary.

Events over the past months show some success for Washington, but mainly on the international level.  Latin American unity, for example is now being sorely tested by the provocative decision to place U.S. military air and naval bases in Colombia.  While both Brazil and Chile have reluctantly bowed down with the argument the issue is a “sovereign” decision for Colombia, others like Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Cuba have denounced the measure.

An Effective Resistance

Meanwhile, the Honduran resistance has had immense impact on the population, the regime, the national and regional economy, and international opinion.  This outcome is horrifying to the local ruling class and to Washington.

The Honduran economy is in tatters.  Estimates indicate that import-export activity is down by 60 per cent.  Zelaya reported in a press conference in Mexico City that over 200 road barricades had been erected, most of them heavily repressed by the army in an attempt to keep produce moving.  Public schools have not functioned since the coup because of teachers’ strikes and student boycotts.  Health workers have maintained a long strike, and many other workplaces have been hit by shorter strikes and slowdowns.

The de facto government has been unable to meet payrolls, and profits of the ten ruling families are starting to dry up.  Adidas, Nike, and GAP — flagships of the maquila sector — have urged the U.S. government to accelerate Zelaya’s return because its products are not being exported.  They are suffering losses in the millions.  The crisis is also hitting hard Nicaraguan and El Salvadoran import-export enterprises that depend on the northern Honduran port of Cortés for commerce with the eastern and southern U.S. and with Europe.

Yet despite stiff resistance and surprises on the international front, de facto President Roberto Micheletti’s “government” has not collapsed.  Its main weapon, aside from Catholic Church sermons and virtual monopoly control over media, has been targeted killings and arrests of unarmed protesters, who take nothing into their actions but conviction, courage, and picket signs.  Disappearances and torture are selectively carried out, the right to free circulation permanently violated, curfews often lengthened.

The regime has now moved to close down Globo Radio, the only station that has dared to oppose the coup, support Zelaya as the country’s legitimate president, and give the resistance a voice.  It is still on the air as of August 6.  Hundreds of supporters have surrounded it with defense guards.  If the regime hangs on, it will likely also close down TV Cholusat Sur (Channel 36/34), which works hand-in-glove with Globo.

The Arias Plan

The plan of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias for surmounting the coup and restoring “stability” to Honduras is misnamed.  It should be called the “Obama-Clinton-Lula Plan.”  Santiago O’Donnell, regular journalist for the Argentine Pagina 12, wrote on July 26 that the Arias Plan was traced out in a Moscow meeting between Lula and Obama.  “Lula wanted Zelaya to return but Obama didn’t want him to stay on, so they agreed in Moscow that Zelaya should return but remain [with any real power]” (see “Made in Washington”).  The plan’s evident but unstated intent was to marginalize Zelaya from any real power and block any possible return to office in the future.  And, above all, to debilitate the mass resistance movement.  The two presidents met again at the G-8 summit in Italy.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose Arias, whose skills in serving imperialism won him a Nobel Peace prize, to host talks between the Zelaya government (in exile) and the coup leaders.  He “mediated” in San José between representatives of “both sides.”  With the OAS pushed out of the picture, the talks moved away from the demand for the immediate and unconditional return of Zelaya to a framework of conditional and delayed return (and ipso facto, the conditioned and delayed retirement of the de facto regime!).

The talks began as a means to delay Zelaya’s return and to buy time for the coup regime, in the hope it could stabilize its rule within the country.  Zelaya accepted the Plan as a basis for discussion.  But talks soon collapsed, because the coup regime categorically rejected Zelaya’s return as President.  A second attempt by Arias failed for the same reason.

Zelaya then turned away from the Arias exercise and began again to refocus on building the resistance and on diplomatic outreach.  His government in exile operates mainly on the Honduran-Nicaraguan border (Ocotal) and at the Honduran embassy in Managua.

Impact of Resistance

Mass opposition resurged, inspired by Zelaya’s attempts to return via the Nicaraguan border, and by the effective work done by his wife (Xiamara Castro de Zelaya) within the country.  This had its effect.  Obama then came out with another more pointed reiteration of the U.S. stand that the coup regime had to accept Zelaya’s return through the San José-Arias path.  Brazil and Mexico backed this stance, as did OAS General Secretary Insulza.

The coup regime has continued to defy this course.  On the heels of Obama’s statement, José Miguel Insulza, Oscar Arias, and Spanish vice-president Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega proposed sending an OAS ministerial-level delegation to Honduras to try to convince the military regime to accept Zelaya’s return, and perhaps try to extract more teeth from Zelaya.  Coup leader Micheletti says he would accept such a delegation only if no ministers from ALBA countries are included.  The mission will arrive on Aug 11.  It is made up of foreign ministers of Argentina, Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic, accompanied by José Miguel Insulza of the OAS

Meanwhile, Zelaya has agreed to major concessions.  He has accepted the principle of a national unity government, whose main task would be to stabilize the country, get the economy moving again, restore services such as education and health, and organize the November national elections.

In essence, Zelaya’s team feels it has no choice but to accept returning as a debilitated and hand-tied regime with involvement of major figures of the coup.  The authors of the Arias Plan hope this would leave the ruling class and the army with significant leverage to politically defeat the mass movement and the Zelaya current in the coming elections.  That is not certain.

In a press conference in Mexico during his state visit this week, Zelaya sent a message to Washington and other hemispheric governments — either golpismo (coup making) by the extreme right will be contained, or Latin America’s left-wing guerrillas will be reborn.  He again asserted the people’s right and possibility of insurrection under conditions of military dictatorship.

To the Grassroots

Anyone who leaves the mass movement out of their calculations may come up short.  The resistance movement has emerged as a new force, much more sophisticated and powerful than before June 28.  Greater unity between mestizo, indigenous, and Afro-Honduran peoples augurs well.  Their international ties are more varied and stronger.  Activists have been through a great school of class struggle of the most acute nature and brutal form.

The Zelaya current itself is not the same as it was before the coup.  There is every possibility that the interim period, with or without Zelaya’s return, can be used to mature and consolidate this movement and to build its capacity to take on the ruling class in the electoral process and the ongoing battle of for the hearts and minds of the great majority of the nation.  The next Day of Action is Aug 11, when feeder marches from all over Honduras will converge on the industrial center San Pedro Sula and the capital Tegucigalpa.  Hondura’s National Resistance Front has appealed for simultaneous solidarity protests around the world on that day.

The outcome depends, above all, on the capacities of the grassroots to remain on guard and active in political struggle.  Their activity will likely unfold under the twin banners of an election campaign and building support for convoking a Constituent Assembly.

Anti-imperialist fighters will do well to keep their focus on defending the mass movement and its leaders in Honduras and the goal of continental unity of Our America against imperial domination.

The Honduran coup of June 28 was an imperial dress rehearsal, a harsh school for the coup instigators and for all of Latin America.  Above all, the coup is a school for the Honduran grassroots.  Hondurans, no matter the short-term twists and turns among contending forces, will never be the same.

Felipe Stuart Cournoyer is a Canadian-born Nicaraguan citizen, who divides his time between the two countries.  He is a member of the FSLN, and a contributing editor to Socialist Voice, published in Canada at www.socialistvoice.ca.  He wishes to acknowledge news and analytical sources that inform this article, including Radio Globo (Honduras), Radio La Primerisima (Nicaragua), El19, Pagina 12 (Buenos Aires), La Jornada (Mexico, D.F.), Rebelion, Latin-American-Australian journalist Fred Fuentes (Green Left Weekly), Tortilla con Sal (Nicaragua), Via Campesina, Honduran Resists, and Rights Action.