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  • Democracy in Honduras: Chronicle of a Death Foretold

    Posted on January 8th, 2010 Administrator No comments

    Written by Benjamin Dangl

    Wednesday, 09 December 2009

    First published by Toward Freedom

    Before right wing candidate Porfirio Lobo was pronounced the winner of the November 29 elections in Honduras, one senior US official spoke anonymously to reporters of his administration’s position on Honduras: “What are we going to do, sit for four years and just condemn the coup?” Instead, Washington offered its pivotal blessing for the elections, allowing a bloody dictatorship to paint itself in a democratic light.

    The US could have put more pressure on the coup government, refusing to recognize the elections, denouncing the human rights violations and calling, as so many other governments around the world have, for the immediate reinstatement of President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a coup on June 28.

    But the Obama administration decided to support the vote, which took place in a climate of repression, torture, political persecution and fear, and was marked by massive levels of abstention.

    “[W]e face a militarized state with a defined and systematic practice against those who oppose the coup,” Honduran human rights activist Berta Oliva told the Real News. “[The coup leaders] have a clear objective, which is to silence and intimidate.”

    On November 4, after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a US-brokered deal to return Zelaya to power, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Affairs Tom Shannon told CNN that the US would recognize the November 29 elections regardless of whether or not Zelaya was reinstated.

    Leading up to this drastic turn of events, South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint had been blocking Shannon’s nomination as the ambassador to Brazil and Arturo Valenzuela as the replacement for Shannon. DeMint said he would lift the hold if Shannon established a deal for the US to recognize elections in Honduras without Zelaya’s return to power. (DeMint traveled to Honduras in October to meet with members of the coup regime.)

    When Shannon changed the Honduran deal to fit DeMint’s request, the Republican Senator went ahead with his nomination of Shannon and Valenzuela to their new posts.

    The US-brokered deal then called on the Honduran congress to decide Zelaya’s fate – even though the congress had approved the coup in the first place. When the vote on Zelaya’s return to finish his term in office took place on December 3, congress voted against reinstatement by 111 to 14.

    Washington’s crucial support in this process helped the Honduran oligarchy carry on with their electoral farce and prevent Zelaya’s return to office. Perhaps that was the plan all along.

    US Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens said the elections “will return Honduras to the path of democracy.” But many Hondurans aren’t interested in Llorens’ version of democracy.

    Betty Vasquez of the Women in Resistance of Santa Bárbara, Honduras is one of many activists looking beyond the ballot box toward a popular assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution. Vasquez told Honduras Resiste, “We believe that the State powers have been so weakened that only through a constitutional assembly could a new democratic process be initiated.”

  • US Establishes Military Bases in Colombia as Honduran Crisis Continues

    Posted on November 9th, 2009 Administrator No comments

    Written by Benjamin Dangl

    Thursday, 05 November 2009

    In a quiet ceremony behind closed doors in the Colombian Presidential Palace, US Ambassador William Brownfield sat down with three Colombian ministers to sign a deal allowing for 1,400 US military and private contractors to operate in seven expanded military bases in the country. The date was October 30, just one day after an apparent solution had been reached to allow ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to return to power. These two developments are central to the mixed messages the Obama administration is sending to Latin America.

    On June 28, Zelaya was overthrown in a military coup. He returned to the country on September 21 and has taken refuge in the Brazilian embassy ever since. Though the recent negotiations appeared to offer somewhat of a solution to the crisis that has gripped the country, it is still unclear whether or not the Honduran Congress and coup leaders will actually respect the agreement, and allow Zelaya to return to power.

    The US further complicated matters when Tom Shannon, the US Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, recently told CNN that the US will officially recognize the results of the November 29 election whether or not Zelaya is in office. In response, Zelaya sent US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a letter asking for clarification on the US stance. Such conflicting signals have defined the US response to the situation in Honduras since the coup took place.

    The US sent another troubling message to the region when it signed the military bases agreement with Colombia. Most aspects of the deal remain unknown as the Colombian government has not responded to requests from various Latin American presidents for more information and transparency. The leaders are concerned that the expanded US military presence poses a regional security threat and violates Latin American sovereignty.

    One of the bases is to be expanded to allow for the use of C-17 planes. “The idea”, the Associated Press reported, “is to make Colombia a regional hub for Pentagon operations… nearly half the continent can be covered by a C-17 [military transport] without refueling”, which “helps achieve the regional engagement strategy”.

    Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose country neighbors Colombia, has been a major critic of the deal from the start. He has asked why C-17 planes, with “warfighting capability” and the capacity to carry 200 paratroopers, would be used at these bases. Chavez pointed out that the plane that kidnapped Zelaya from Honduras stopped at a US air force base in the country before heading to Costa Rica.

    “The official signing of the agreement, which allows the United States to deploy seven military bases in the heart of our America… threatens not only Venezuela, but all the peoples in the center and the south of our hemisphere,” Fidel Castro wrote in a recent column. “A country like Cuba is well aware that after the United States imposes its military bases, it leaves only when it desires to do so.”

    Colombia decided to hand over its sovereignty to the United StatesColombia no longer governs its territory,” President Chavez said on a Venezuelan TV program. “Colombia today is no longer a sovereign country… it is a kind of colony.”

    The US-funded Plan Colombia in the so-called war on drugs in Colombia has been characterized by terrible human rights violations – violations that are only likely to increase with this military escalation.

    “The Colombian regime, which backs death squads and has the continent’s worst human rights record, has received US military support second in scale only to Israel,” political commentator John Pilger pointed out.

    While the crisis drags on in Honduras, relations between Washington and Latin America have taken another turn for the worse. As George Withers of the Washington Office on Latin America told the Associated Press, “At a time when we should be pursuing every kind of diplomatic avenue to reduce tensions, this appears to be a military decision that may increase tension.”

  • The Road to Zelaya’s Return: Money, Guns and Social Movements in Honduras

    Posted on October 20th, 2009 Administrator No comments

    Written by Benjamin Dangl

    Monday, 21 September 2009

    Nearly three months after being overthrown by a violent military coup, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has returned to Honduras. “I am here in Tegucigalpa. I am here for the restoration of democracy, to call for dialogue,” he told reporters. The embattled road to his return tested regional diplomacy, challenged Washington and galvanized Honduran social movements.

    During a recent beach-side interview, with tropical breezes blowing along a sandy shore in the background, Honduran coup leader Roberto Micheletti told a Fox News reporter, “This is a quiet country, and a happy country.”[1] However, since Micheletti took over on June 28, Honduras has been anything but quiet and content.

    Micheletti’s de facto regime has ruled the country with an iron fist while popular movements for democracy have gained steam with nearly constant strikes, road blockades and massive street protests. The coup inspired a movement that is now seeking more than just the reinstatement of Zelaya, but the transformation of the country through a new Constitution. Micheletti says presidential elections in November will proceed as planned, though few Hondurans, governments and international institutions say they will recognize the results given the violent situation in the country.

    At least 11 anti-coup activists have been killed since Zelaya was ousted.[2] Following the coup, approximately 1,500 people have been jailed for political purposes, and many Zelaya supporters have been beaten.[3] Via Campesina offices have been attacked, and the Feminists of Honduras in Resistance said that there have been 19 documented cases of rape by police officers since the coup took place.[4] The newspaper El Tiempo reported that armed groups in Colombia have been recruiting demobilized paramilitaries for mercenary work in Honduras. Honduras business leaders are hiring these paramilitaries for their own private security.[5]

    Though Zelaya was a relatively moderate president, his policies challenged the elite enough to inspire a right wing coup. While in office, he passed a 60 percent increase in minimum wage, bringing income up from around $6 a day to $9.60 a day.[6] Zelaya also gave subsidies to small farmers, cut bank interest rates and reduced poverty.[7] Salvador Zuniga, a leader of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) said, “One of the things that provoked the coup d’etat was that the president accepted a petition from the feminist movement regarding the day-after pill. Opus Dei mobilized, the fundamentalist evangelical churches mobilized, along with all the reactionary groups.”[8]

    “Maybe he made mistakes,” Honduran school teacher Hedme Castro said of Zelaya, “but he always erred on the side of the poor. That is why they will fight to the end for him.” She continued, “This is not about President Zelaya. This is about my country. Many people gave their lives so that we could have a democracy. And we cannot let a group of elites take that away.”[9]

    Ignoring the relevance of the Organization of American States, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Zelaya and Micheletti to meet with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to work out a solution to the crisis. Many believe Clinton made the move to impose conditions on Zelaya’s return and kill time as the November elections neared. Zelaya has accepted Arias’ proposed solution, which entails his return to the presidency with limited powers, plus amnesty for those who have committed political crimes in the country. Micheletti rejected the Arias’ solution.[10]

    While repression of anti-coup activists increases, so does the movement for democracy in Honduras. This broad coalition of activists has the support of many of the governments in the hemisphere, and has the backing of the country’s 1982 Constitution, which explains, “No one owes obedience to a government which usurps power nor those who assume public functions or employment through the use of arms…. The people [of this country] have the right to recur to insurrection in defense of constitutional order.”[11] This insurrection is taking place right now.

    Voices of the Resistance in Honduras

    Protests, strikes and road blockades have been going on in the country almost daily since Zelaya was ousted. Many of the interviews with activists participating in these protests offer insight into the relationship between Zelaya and the movement, and what might lie ahead for the country.

    “This struggle is peaceful, organized, and is not getting desperate. The coup leaders are getting desperate – they haven’t been able to govern a single day in tranquility and we will defeat them,” said Israel Salinas, a leader of the National Front Against the Coup in Honduras and member of the Unified Confederation of Honduran Workers.[12]

    Honduran women’s rights activist Marielena spoke of the current reality under the Micheletti regime, “Today’s not the same as the ’80s because there’s a popular movement that the coup leaders never imagined … What Zelaya has done is symbolize the popular discontent accumulated over the years.”[13]

    Bertha Cáceres, a leader of COPINH, the Front Against the Coup, and a mother of four children, spoke of the importance of the constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s Constitution. It was partly this push for constitutional reform, which Zelaya backed along with broad support from the Honduran people, that led to the coup. When speaking of the assembly, Cáceres says, “For the first time we would be able to establish a precedent for the emancipation of women, to begin to break these forms of domination. The current constitution never mentions women, not once, so to establish our human rights, our reproductive, sexual, political, social, and economic rights as women would be to really confront this system of domination.”[14]

    Cáceres discussed the work of the women’s movement for the new Constitution “to dismantle this belief that others have the right to make decisions about our bodies, to start guaranteeing that women are the owners and have autonomous rights to their bodies. It is a political act; a political proposal…. The ability to have and guarantee access to land, territories, cultures, health, education, art, dignified and decent employment for women, and many other things, are elements that we must guarantee in this process of a new constitutional assembly that leads to a real process of liberation.”[15]

    Gilberto Rios, from the Front Against the Coup spoke of how the coup has galvanized a broad movement in the country. “In the past, when we called for people to protest in the streets, they came out, but not in the same numbers as what is happening now. In recent days, we have had protests that start in the morning and stay in the streets all day. At night, there are convoys of cars in major cities. It shows that the workers are participating, and the middle class is also coming out.” He also affirmed that the movement is entirely grassroots. “The leftist political parties recognize they do not control any part of the popular movement.”[16]

    Leticia Salomón, the director of Scientific Research for the National Autonomous University of Honduras said, “It doesn’t matter who wins the elections in November, the next government will have to deal with this important social force if it hopes to even minimally govern the country.”[17]

    World Isolates Coup Regime

    At the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico in August, President Barack Obama said, “Critics who say that the United States has not intervened enough in Honduras are the same people who say that we’re always intervening and the Yankees need to get out of Latin America. You can’t have it both ways.”[18] But as New York University history Professor and author Greg Grandin points out, all many are asking is for the US to act multilaterally with the OAS – it did the opposite by defying the OAS and appointing Arias as the mediator between Micheletti and Zelaya. In addition, through its financial support to the regime, the US has been far from taking a neutral stance.[19] Indeed, Washington has been acting unilaterally since the beginning by not refusing to follow the lead of other nations in putting more pressure on the coup government.[20]

    However, US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said on September 3, “At this moment, we would not be able to support the outcome of the [November] elections [in Honduras].”[21] Zelaya was happy to hear this news from Washington. He said the move “puts the United States in line with Latin America, because it was not said before.”[22]

    In addition to the US, the EU, the OAS, union leaders in Honduras and members of the Front Against the Coup say they will not recognize the election results.[23] Honduras business owners have devised their own plan to increase voting; they’ll be giving discounts to everyone who casts a ballot and then comes into their business with ink on their fingers, showing that they’ve voted.[24]

    The US State Department did end up revoking the US visas of over a dozen officials in the coup government, including Micheletti.[25] But the US could go further by blocking members of the regime from using US banks.[26]

    Various levels of funding to Honduras from the US and other governments and institutions have been cut since the coup took place. “On September 3, the State Department announced the termination of 33 million dollars, including $11 million in Millennium Challenge Funds and approximately $22 million in State Department funds,” according to Latin American analyst Laura Carlsen. The IMF said that due to the coup, Honduras won’t have access to $150 million in assistance.[27] A spokesperson from the IMF said the institution cut off all aid to the country three days after the coup.[28]

    On July 2, the US cut the following spending: $1.9 million from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and $16.5 million in military funding.[29] The Inter-American Development Bank and the Central American Bank of Economic Integration all cut lending to the Honduran government.[30] The UN has cut off various forms of aid to Honduras.[31] In addition, the EU froze $92 million in aid and the OAS froze aid and began trade blocks against the coup government.[32]

    However, “For legalistic reasons, [the US State Department] continued to fall short of calling the coup a ‘military’ coup,” explained Adam Isacson of the Center for International Policy. “This means that some anti-poverty aid is being maintained, soldiers whose training was already paid for won’t be sent back to Honduras, and State can flexibly restore aid once democracy returns.”[33]

    “State Department officials closed the door on determining legally that a military coup took place in Honduras and requiring application of Section 7008 of the Foreign Operations law,” Carlsen explained.

    “They assured reporters that all funds that could be suspended under Section 7008 have now been suspended … The State Department has admitted that $70 million in aid – over twice the amount suspended – will still flow to the coup.”[34]

    The Kansas City-based Cross-Border Network went on a delegation to Honduras after the coup and reported, “We met the U.S Ambassador who agreed it was a military coup even though the State Department won’t call it that, thus invoking the law requiring cut off of all remaining aid.”[35]

    Declaring the coup a coup, according to Grandin, “would automatically trigger certain cutoffs, financial cutoffs, it also would have to be certified by Congress. And that’s a fight that I think Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton don’t want, because the Republicans, led by Connie Mack and other foreign policy conservatives, regime change conservatives, Republicans, have seized on this issue to basically try to link Obama with Hugo Chavez and the Latin American left. And they certainly don’t want to kick it into Congress, where it’ll be debated, because to call it a coup would have to be certified by Congress.”[36]

    But the Obama administration needs to understand that what’s at stake is more important than winning a political fight in Washington. The future of a nation, and perhaps the entire region, hangs in the balance.

    “The true significance of the coup, in one of the poorest and weakest countries in the hemisphere … lies in the test it poses to the inter-American system,” says Jorge Heine of the Balsillie School of International Affairs. “If the latter cannot succeed in restoring democracy in Honduras, it cannot do so anywhere. The message would thus be crystal clear: coup-makers can act with impunity.”[37]

    Washington’s Ties to the Coup

    Washington has played a bloody role in Central America for years and this coup carries on that legacy while setting some new precedents. Fernando “Billy” Joya has returned to the stage in Honduras as Micheletti’s security adviser after serving in Battalion 316 in the 1980s, according to Grandin. Battalion 316 was a paramilitary unit that disappeared hundreds of people.[38] Joya was trained in Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship by Chilean police, and his Battalion 316 was created by the CIA to apply the repressive techniques used against “subversives” in Argentina and Chile.[39]

    In 1981, John Negroponte arrived in Honduras as the US ambassador. While there, the military budget in the country rose from $3.6 million in 1981 to $77.8 million in 1985 “when his mission was completed – having created the Contras in Nicaragua and protected the El Salvadoran dictatorship,” according to Honduras-based reporter Dick Emanuelsson.[40] Negroponte met with Micheletti before the June 28 coup on a trip made primarily to convince Zelaya not to transform a US airbase in Palmerola, Honduras, into an airport for civilians.[41]

    Venezuelan Robert Carmona-Borjas has also joined the coup government in Honduras. He was involved in the attempted coup against President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 2002. Carmona-Borjas’ Arcadio Foundation began a media campaign against Zelaya in 2007.[42]

    Lanny Davis, a lawyer to Bill Clinton and campaign adviser to Hillary Clinton, has been lobbying in Washington for Honduran coup leaders and elites. Some of the businesses that support the coup in Honduras that Davis is representing in DC are US companies such as Russell, Fruit of the Loom and Hanes – all of which have benefited from the low wages, neoliberal policies and crackdowns on union rights in the country.[43] Davis recently testified before Congress on behalf of the coup leaders and backers, and has helped to get media on the coup’s side.[44]

    The week before the coup, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs Thomas Shannon and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Craig Kelly met with Honduran figures that ended up participating in the coup.[45] Days before the coup took place, John McCain and leaders from the International Republican Institute, invited future leaders of the coup to meetings in Washington.[46]

    US businesses also hold a considerable amount of weight in the country: In 2006, 70 percent of exports from Honduras went to the US, and 52 percent of imports were from the US. That same year, US investments in the country totaled more than $568 million, two thirds of foreign investment.[47]

    A Movement Larger Than Zelaya

    Just as the coup may change the geopolitical landscape of the region, the grassroots fervor in Honduras will likely alter the country forever. And that might be Micheletti’s legacy – that in ousting a moderate president, he inspired a revolution.

    When trying to break the political impasse Honduras finds itself in, Zelaya admits that much depends on the anti-coup movement of Honduras. “This movement is now very strong. It can never be destroyed,” he said.[48]

    The coup leaders “were wrong here, they miscalculated,” Honduran activist Bertha Cáceres of the Front Against the Coup and COPINH explained. “They said it would be two days of resistance, and they were wrong. This population has demonstrated that we are capable of … a much longer struggle.”[49]

    Gilberto Rios, from the Front Against the Coup, spoke of the similarities this coup has to others throughout the last century that still haunt the region: “The oligarchy made the coup with an old manual, but the people have changed and the world has changed.”[50]


    [1] Interview with Roberto Micheletti, Fox News, (September 17, 2009).http://www.foxnews.com/search-results/m/26446742/roberto-micheletti-pt-1.htm#q=micheletti
    [2] Greg Grandin, “The Battle for Honduras and the Region,” The Nation, (August 12, 2009). http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090831/grandin/print
    [3] Daniel Luban, “US-Honduras: State Dept Condemns ‘Coup d’Etat’, Curtails Aid,” IPS News, (September 3, 2009) http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=48323
    [4] “Group Says Honduran Cops on Rape Spree Since Coup,” Latin American Herald Tribune. http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=341851&CategoryId=23558
    [5] Unidad Investigativa, “Estarían reclutando ex paramilitares para que viajen como mercenarios a Honduras,” El Tiempo. http://www.eltiempo.com/colombia/justicia/estarian-reclutando-ex-paramilitares-para-que-viajen-como-mercenarios-a-honduras_6086547-1
    [6] Ginger Thompson, “President’s Ouster Highlights a Divide in Honduras,” The New York Times, (August 8, 2009). http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/09/world/americas/09honduras.html?pagewanted=print
    [7] Tom Hayden, “Zelaya Speaks,” The Nation, (September 4, 2009). http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090921/hayden_zelaya
    [8] Laura Carlsen, “Coup Catalyzes Honduran Women’s Movement,” America Program, (August 20, 2009). http://americas.irc-online.org/am/6369
    [9] Ginger Thompson, “President’s Ouster Highlights a Divide in Honduras,” The New York Times, (August 8, 2009). http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/09/world/americas/09honduras.html?pagewanted=print
    [10] Juan Ramón Durán, “Honduras: Vote to Go Ahead Despite Int’l Refusal to Recognise,” IPS News, (September 9, 2009). http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=48385
    [11] Jennifer Moore, “Honduras’ Historic Two Months,” América Latina en Movimiento, (August 28, 2009). http://alainet.org/active/32686ã
    [12] Dick Emanuelsson, “Military Forces Sow Terror and Fear in Honduras,” Americas Program, (August 13, 2009). http://americas.irc-online.org/am/6354
    [13] Laura Carlsen, “Coup Catalyzes Honduran Women’s Movement,” America Program, (August 20, 2009). http://americas.irc-online.org/am/6369
    [14] Ibid.
    [15] Laura Carlsen and Sara Lovera, “Honduran Constitutional Assembly Would Be a Step Toward the Emancipation of Women,” Americas Program, (August 19, 2009). http://americas.irc-online.org/am/6392
    [16] Kiraz Janicke and Federico Fuentes, “Honduras – Resistance leader: US is behind the coup,” Green Left Weekly, (September 7, 2009). http://www.greenleft.org.au/2009/809/41602
    [17] Jennifer Moore, “National opposition to coup becomes a social force,” América Latina en Movimiento, (September 12, 2009). http://alainet.org/active/32978?=en
    [18] Cheryl W. Thompson and William Booth, “Obama Vows to Focus on Borders,” Washington Post, (August 11, 2009). http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/10/AR2009081001797.html
    [19] Greg Grandin, “The Battle for Honduras and the Region,” The Nation, (August 12, 2009). http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090831/grandin/print
    [20] Amy Oyler, “The Resurgence of US Interventionism in Latin America,” Z Communications, (August 31, 2009). http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/22466
    [21] Ian Kelly, “Termination of Assistance and Other Measures Affecting the De Facto Regime in Honduras,” US Department of State, (September 3, 2009). http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2009/sept/128608.htm
    [22] Tom Hayden, “Zelaya’s Coup,” The Nation, (September 3, 2009). http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090921/hayden_web
    [23] Juan Ramón Durán, “Honduras: Vote to Go Ahead Despite Int’l Refusal to Recognise,” IPS News, (September 9, 2009). http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=48385
    [24] “Honduran Resistance Boycotts Elections,” Weekly News Update on the Americas, (September 13, 2009). http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/2009/09/wnu-1004-honduran-resistance-boycotts.html
    [25] “State Dept. Revokes Visa of Leader of Honduran Coup Government,” Democracy Now!, (September 14, 2009). http://www.democracynow.org/2009/9/14/headlines#7
    [26] “US stops issuing visas in Honduras,” Al Jazeera, (August 26, 2009). http://english.aljazeera.net/news/americas/2009/08/200982601353122962.html
    [27] Jorge Heine, “It’s time for Canada to take a strong stand on Honduras,” The Globe and Mail, (September 18, 2009). http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/its-time-for-canada-to-take-a-strong-stand-on-honduras/article1287401/
    [28] “Honduran Resistance Boycotts Elections,” Weekly News Update on the Americas, (September 13, 2009). http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com/2009/09/wnu-1004-honduran-resistance-boycotts.html
    [29] Ibid.
    [30] Mark Weisbrot, “IMF: Stop Funding Honduras,” The Guardian Unlimited, (September 3, 2009). http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/sep/03/imf-honduras-aid-zelaya
    [31] “EU threatens further sanctions on Honduras,” Reuters, (September 15, 2009). http://www.reuters.com/article/homepageCrisis/idUSLF361596._CH_.2400
    [32] Amy Oyler, “The Resurgence of US Interventionism in Latin America,” Z Communications, (August 31, 2009). http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/22466
    [33] Adam Isacson, “Another Baby Step on Honduras,” Huffington Post, (September 3, 2009). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adam-isacson/another-baby-step-on-hond_b_276972.html
    [34] Laura Carlsen, Americas MexicoBlog, “Honduran Coup Squeezed From Above and Below – But is it Enough to Restore Democracy?,” (September 10, 2009). http://americasmexico.blogspot.com/2009/09/honduran-coup-squeezed-from-above-and.html
    [35] OneWorld, “US Chided for Aiding Honduras Despite Coup,” Common Dreams, (September 9, 2009). http://www.commondreams.org/print/46772
    [36] “US Cuts More Aid to Honduras as Zelaya Meets Clinton in Washington,” Democracy Now!, (September 4, 2009). http://www.democracynow.org/2009/9/4/us_cuts_more_aid_to_honduras
    [37] Olivia Ward, “Raising the stakes in Honduras,” The Star, (September 6, 2009). http://www.thestar.com/printArticle/691633
    [38] Greg Grandin, “The Battle for Honduras and the Region,” The Nation, (August 12, 2009). http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090831/grandin/print
    [39] Dick Emanuelsson, “Honduras: The Frontline in the Battle for Democracy,” Americas Program, (August 10, 2009). http://americas.irc-online.org/am/6337
    [40] Ibid.
    [41] Michaela D’Ambrosio, “The Honduran Coup: Was it a Matter of Behind-the-Scenes Finagling by State Department Stonewallers?,” Council on Hemispheric Affairs, (September 16, 2009). http://www.coha.org/2009/09/the-honduran-coup-was-it-a-matter-of-behind-the-scenes-finagling-by-state-department-stonewallers/
    [42] Greg Grandin, “The Battle for Honduras and the Region,” The Nation, (August 12, 2009). http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090831/grandin/print
    [43] Amy Oyler, “The Resurgence of US Interventionism in Latin America,” Z Communications, (August 31, 2009). http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/22466
    [44] Mark Weisbrot, “Who’s in charge of US foreign policy?” The Guardian Unlimited, (July 16, 2009). http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/jul/16/honduras-coup-obama-clinton/print
    [45] Michaela D’Ambrosio, “The Honduran Coup: Was it a Matter of Behind-the-Scenes Finagling by State Department Stonewallers?,” Council on Hemispheric Affairs, (September 16, 2009). http://www.coha.org/2009/09/the-honduran-coup-was-it-a-matter-of-behind-the-scenes-finagling-by-state-department-stonewallers/
    [46] Amy Oyler, “The Resurgence of US Interventionism in Latin America,” Z Communications, (August 31, 2009). http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/22466
    [47] Amy Oyler, “The Resurgence of US Interventionism in Latin America,” Z Communications, (August 31, 2009). http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/22466
    [48] Tom Hayden, “Zelaya Speaks,” The Nation, (September 4, 2009). http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090921/hayden_zelaya
    [49] Laura Carlsen and Sara Lovera, “Honduran Constitutional Assembly Would Be a Step Toward the Emancipation of Women,” Americas Program, (August 19, 2009). http://americas.irc-online.org/am/6392
    [50] Kiraz Janicke and Federico Fuentes, “Honduras – Resistance leader: US is behind the coup,” Green Left Weekly, (September 7, 2009). http://www.greenleft.org.au/2009/809/41602

  • High Stakes For Honduras

    Posted on July 14th, 2009 Administrator No comments

    Written by Benjamin Dangl

    Published by The Guardian Unlimited

    When rallying in the streets of Tegucigalpa for the ousted President Manuel Zelaya, Alejandra Fernandez, a 23-year-old university student told a journalist why she supported Zelaya: “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.” Others gathered around to mention the roads and schools in rural areas the president had created.

    “That’s why the elite classes can’t stand him and why we want him back,” Alejandra explained. “This is really a class struggle.”

    But it’s not just because of these relatively progressive reforms that Zelaya enacted that he deserves our support. Nor is it simply because this democratically-elected leader was ousted in a repressive coup led by right-wing oligarchs and military officials trained at the infamous torture and counterinsurgency school, the School of the Americas, now known as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, based in Georgia.

    He also deserves our support because he was ultimately overthrown in response to his plans to organise a popular assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution.

    According to Central American political analyst Alberto Valiente Thoresen, Honduras‘s current constitution, written in 1982, “was the product of a context characterised by counter-insurgency policies supported by the US government, civil façade military governments and undemocratic policies.” In an assembly made up of elected representatives from various political parties and social sectors, a new, likely more progressive and inclusive constitution could have a lasting impact on the country’s corrupt politicians, powerful sweatshop owners and repressive military institutions.

    Many commentators have said that Zelaya sought to re-write the constitution to extend his time in office. Yet nothing indicates that that was the case. Leading up to the coup, Zelaya was pushing for a referendum on 28 June in which the ballot question was to be: “Do you agree that, during the general elections of November 2009 there should be a fourth ballot to decide whether to hold a Constituent National Assembly that will approve a new political constitution?” This non-binding referendum – not plans from Zelaya to expand his power – was enough to push right wing and military leaders to organise a coup.

    If the Honduran people approved the formation of a constitutional assembly in November, it would likely take years – as it did recently in Bolivia – to rewrite the document. Zelaya would not be president as he would not be running in the upcoming elections. His term in office finishes in January 2010, too short a time to complete a national assembly’s rewriting of the constitution.

    Given that it was the call for the constituent assembly that led to the coup, it appears that the coup leaders are more worried about an assembly in which the people could re-write their own constitution, than Zelaya himself. Clearly it’s the Honduran oligarchs, rather than Zelaya, who are more interested in concentrating and conserving their own power.

    US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Zelaya in Washington today, and one development was that Costa Rica’s president Oscar Arias will act as mediator for the return of Zelaya. But there still is plenty of room for improvement in the US’s stance. The Obama administration should listen to Zelaya’s demands rather than impose preconditions for US support. And it should avoid bullying Zelaya into dropping his plans for the new constitution, or limiting any progressive reforms he may want to enact upon returning to office. The Honduran people should decide what course Zelaya should take, not the Obama administration and certainly not any right wing junta.

    Although the Obama administration has been critical of the coup and relatively supportive of Zelaya, it should go much further. Some clear signs that Washington backs Zelaya would be withdrawing the US ambassador from the country, following in the footsteps of the other nations that have condemned the coup. The US should also cut off all of its aid to the rogue government, and end all military aid to the country. These actions would put pressure on the already weak military and send a clearer message to the region that, at this point, Washington is entirely against the coup, and willing to respect demands from Latin American leaders, all of whom have called for Zelaya’s reinstatement.

    This past Sunday, after his plane was turned back upon trying to land in Honduras, Zelaya told reporters: “the United States, which has tremendous power, should take action. Specifically, the strongest government in economic matters, in aspects of the sphere of the dollar, for us is the United States. If they decide to live with the coup, then democracy in the Americas is over.”

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

    Posted on July 14th, 2009 Administrator No comments

    Written by Benjamin Dangl

    Monday, 29 June 2009

    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. One protester outside the government palace in Honduras told reporters that if Roberto Micheletti, the leader installed by the coup, wants to enter the palace, “he had better do so by air” because if he goes by land “we will stop him.”

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

    Manuel Zelaya 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, with approximately 70% of its population of 7.5 million living under the poverty line. Though siding himself with the region’s left in recent years as a new member 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 and taking on the sweatshop and corporate media industry in his country, and increased the minimum wage by 60%. He said the increase, which angered 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 of an unconventional way to combat the drug trafficking and related violence that has been plaguing his country: “Instead of pursuing drug traffickers, societies should invest resources in educating drug addicts and curbing their demand.”

    After his election, Zelaya’s left-leaning policies began generating “resistance and anger among Liberal [party] leaders and lawmakers on the one hand, and attracting support from the opposition, civil society organizations and popular movements on the other,” IPS reported.

    The social organization Via Campesina stated, “The government of President Zelaya has been characterized by its defense of workers and campesinos, it is a defender of the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA), and during his administration it has promoted actions that benefit Honduran campesinos.”

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

    Leading up to the Coup

    The key question leading up to the coup was whether or not to hold a referendum on Sunday, June 28 – as Zelaya wanted – on organizing an assembly to re-write the country’s constitution.

    As one media analyst pointed out, while many major news outlets in the US, including the Miami Herald, Wall St. Journal and Washington Post, said an impetus for the coup was specifically Zelaya’s plans for a vote to allow him to extend his term in office, the actual ballot question was to be: “Do you agree that, during the general elections of November 2009 there should be a fourth ballot to decide whether to hold a Constituent National Assembly that will approve a new political constitution?”

    Nations across Latin America, including Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, have recently re-written their constitutions. In many aspects the changes to these documents enshrined new rights for marginalized people and protected the nations’ economies from the destabilizing effects of free trade and corporate looting.

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

    The Supreme Court ruled that the referendum violated the constitution as it was taking place during an election year. When Honduran military General Romeo Vasquez refused to distribute ballots to citizens and participate in the preparations for the Sunday referendum, Zelaya fired him on June 24. The Court called for the reinstatement of Vasquez, but Zelaya refused to recognize the reinstatement, and proceeded with the referendum, distributing the ballots and planning for the Sunday vote.

    Crackdown in Honduras

    Vasquez, a former student at the infamous School of the Americas, now known as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security 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 former Parliament leader Roberto Micheletti was sworn in by Congress as the new president of the country. Micheletti immediately declared a curfew as protests and mobilizations continued nation-wide.

    Since the coup took place, military planes and helicopters have been circling the city, the electricity and internet has been cut off, and only music is being played on the few radio stations that are still operating, according to IPS News.

    Telesur journalists, who have been reporting consistently throughout the conflict, were detained by the de facto government in Honduras. They were then released thanks to international pressure.

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

    The military-installed government has issued arrest warrants for Honduran social leaders for the Popular Bloc Coordinating Committee, Via Campesina and the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations 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 9:00 you 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 Campesina said, “We believe that these deeds are the desperate acts of the national oligarchy and the hardcore right to preserve the interests of capital, and in particular, of the large transnational corporations.”

    Mobilizations and Strikes in Support of Zelaya

    Members of social, indigenous and labor organizations from around the country have concentrated in the city’s capital, organizing barricades around the presidential palace, demanding Zelaya’s return to power. Sixty protesters have been injured and two have died in clashes with the coup’s security forces.

    “Thousands of Hondurans gathered outside the presidential palace singing the national hymn,” Telesur reported. “While the battalions mobilized against protesters at the Presidential House, the TV channels did not report on the tense events.” Bertha Cáceres, the leader of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares y Indígenas, said that the ethnic communities of the country are ready for resistance and do not recognize the Micheletti government.

    Dr. Almendares reported that in spite of massive repression on the part of the military leaders, “We have almost a national strike for workers, people, students and intellectuals, and they are organized in a popular resistance-run pacific movement against this violation of the democracy. … There are many sectors involved in this movement 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 the western part of the country campesinos are taking over highways, and the military troops are impeding bus travel, which is why many people have decided to travel to Tegucigalpa on foot. The resistance continues in spite of the hostility of the military patrols.”

    A general strike was also organized by various social and labor sectors in the country. Regarding the strike, Alegría said it is happening across state institutions and “progressively in the private sector.”

    The 4th Army Battalion from the Atlántida Department in Honduras has declared that it will not respect orders from the Micheletti government, and the major highways of the country are blocked by protesters, according to a radio interview with Alegría.

    The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), condemned the coup, media crackdowns and repression, saying in a statement: “[T]he Honduran people are carrying out large demonstrations, actions in their communities, in the municipalities; there are occupations of bridges, and a protest in front of the presidential residence, among others. From the lands of Lempira, Morazán and Visitación Padilla, we call on the Honduran people in general to demonstrate in defense of their rights and of real and direct democracy for the people, to the fascists we say that 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 detention and expulsion of President Mel Zelaya. As the Organization of American States did on Friday, I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference.”

    But the US hasn’t actually called what’s happened in Honduras a coup. Hillary Clinton said, “We are withholding any formal legal determination.” And regarding whether or not the US is calling for Zelaya’s return, Clinton said, “We haven’t laid out any demands that we’re insisting on, because we’re working with others on behalf of our ultimate objectives.”

    If the White House declares that what’s happening in Honduras is 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 says that, “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available … shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.”

    “The State Department has requested $68.2 million in aid for fiscal year 2010 [for Honduras], which begins on October 1, up from $43.2 million in the current fiscal year and $40.5 million a year earlier,” according to Reuters.

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

    Regarding US relations with the Honduran military, Latin American History professor and journalist Greg Grandin said on Democracy Now!: “The Honduran military is effectively a subsidiary of the United States government. 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 opposed to this coup going forward, it won’t go forward. Zelaya will return…”

    The Regional Response

    The Organization of American States, and the United Nations have condemned the coup. Outrage at the coup has been expressed by major leaders across the globe, and all over Latin America, as reported by Reuters: the Presidents of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Cuba have been outspoken in their protests against the coup. The French Foreign Ministry said, “France firmly condemns the coup that has just taken place in Honduras.” Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said, “I’m deeply worried about the situation in Honduras… it reminds us of the worst years in Latin America’s history.”

    Even Augusto Ramírez Ocampo, a former foreign minister of Colombia told the NY Times, “It is a legal obligation to defend democracy in Honduras.”

    Zelaya has announced a trip to the US to speak before the United Nations. He also stated that he will return to Honduras on Thursday, accompanied by Jose Miguel Insulza, the head of the Organization of American States. “I will fulfill my four year mandate [as President], whether you, the coup-plotters, like it or not,” Zelaya said.

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

    Meanwhile, Zelaya supporters continue to convene at the government palace, yelling at the armed soldiers while tanks roam the streets.

    “We’re defending our president,” protester Umberto Guebara told a NY Times reporter. “I’m not afraid. I’d give my life for my country.”


    Taking Action:

    If you are interested in rallying in support for the Honduran people and against the coup, here is a list of Honduran Embassies and Consulates in the US.

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

    Also see: Take Action: Stand in Solidarity with the People of Honduras

    Visit SOA Watch for more photos and suggested actions.


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