Armed troops broke into the home of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, Sunday June 28th. They beat him and threatened his family, then put them onto an airplane bound for Costa Rica.
Zelaya survived the ordeal and spoke defiantly from exile later in the day. According to some reports, Honduran troops assassinated Cesar Ham, a leading opposition presidential candidate for the November elections. Further, they arrested Honduran Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas and other government, labor and mass organization leaders.
Despite the violence by the armed forces and a crackdown on the media, reports of widespread and active popular resistance against the coup leaked out of the country all day Sunday.
People poured into the streets to oppose the coup all day Sunday. A military crackdown on all forms of popular resistance took effect as the coup leaders ordered an 48-hour curfew. Some reports stated that soldiers gunned down Cesar Ham, the leftist presidential candidate, for “resisting arrest.” Military forces closed the government’s TV channel and clamped down on other electronic means of communication. Reports tell of the arrest of a number of labor and popular leaders, but resistance continues.
The military attack on the media prompted a sharp response from the Latin American Federation of Journalists (FELAP), based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. ‘On behalf of the 80,000 members of our organization, we condemn the outrage against our colleagues in Honduras, who are trying to offer truthful information to the peoples of the world in the face of military sedition,’ the organization stated.
The army and its allies installed the President of the National Congress Roberto Micheletti as “acting president” until the November elections.
The international community sharply condemned the military coup. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Organization of American States Secretary General Miguel Insulza, and the leaders of almost all the countries of Latin America, including conservative figures such as Mexican President Felipe Calderon, denounced the coup as illegal and demanded that Zelaya be returned to power. Naturally, the countries of the ALBA group, especially Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua whose ambassadors had been beaten up by the troops, were particularly strong in their denunciations.
The Obama administration also condemned the coup and insisted on the return of President Zelaya to power. Early on Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated: “The action taken against Honduran President Mel Zelaya violates the precepts of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and thus should be condemned by all.”
In a conference call with reporters Sunday afternoon, a senior Obama administration added, ‘We view President Zelaya as the constitutional president of Honduras, and we’ve called for a full restoration of democratic order in Honduras.’ When pressed if the administration supported the return of Zelaya to power, the official said, ‘Correct.’
By Monday, June 29th, labor unions, led by the General Workers Union, declared a general strike. Angel Alvarado, a leader of the People’s Union Bloc, told reporters that some 20,000 Hondurans gathered at presidential residence to protest the coup. The Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras joined the protests.
President Zelaya was elected in 2005 as the candidate of the Liberal Party, a right-of-center political party. During his term in office, however, he adopted a progressive program and aligned his country with other Latin American countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Ecuador.
Zelaya denounced the Bush administration’s effort to use Honduras as a base for subversion against other Latin American countries, and accepted economic help from Venezuela. Honduras also joined the trade treaty known as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA).
The Honduran president sought an escape from the US dominated “neo-liberal” system of trade through this re-alignment.
As he moved away from his Liberal Party base, Zelaya clashed repeatedly with the conservative political oligarchy and the US-trained officer corps of the Honduran armed forces. Zelaya wanted to create a new social base for his program by joining forces with Honduras’ labor unions and organizations of poor farmers and others who have been harmed by previous governments’ right-wing economic and social policies.
Presidential elections are scheduled for this November, and the Honduran Constitution prohibits Zelaya from running for a second term. He had been building relationships with the Democratic Unification of Honduras, the only left-wing party registered to participate in Honduran national elections. Most observers expected Zelaya to swing his support to Democratic Unification candidate Cesar Ham, who, according to some reports, was killed by military forces in Sunday’s violence.
Zelaya had also sought to break the power of the military-backed oligarchy with a non-binding referendum designed to find out if the Honduran people favor a constitutional convention to write a new constitution. His goal was to open up a bigger role for the popular masses in the political system. The existing constitution has a number of non-amendable clauses, including the one that prohibits reelection. Although Zelaya promised not to run in November, the right-wing opposition accused him of wanting to be re-elected.
The Supreme Court declared the non-binding referendum to be illegal, but Zelaya argued that it was authorized by a 2006 law. Allegedly, they ordered army commander General Romeo Vazquez to refuse to distribute electoral materials such as ballot boxes, which are controlled by the military in Honduras.
In response, President Zelaya fired the general and marched with a crowd of supporters last Thursday (June 25th) to the military base where ballot boxes were held. Zelaya managed to convince the officers in charge to hand over the materials so that the Sunday referendum could proceed. The Supreme Court declared the dismissal of General Vazquez illegal.
Subsequently, the army moved in and arrested Zelaya and his family, as well as members of his cabinet. When army forces arrested Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas, they also detained the Venezuelan, Cuban and Nicaraguan ambassadors to Honduras. According to media reports, those foreign diplomats were beaten by Honduran military forces. The foreign ambassadors were released later in the day Sunday.
Honduran Foreign Minister Rodas was released Monday morning, Jun 29th and forced onto a plane to Mexico.
Much of the US media has tried to justify the undemocratic actions of the military by falsely claiming Zelaya sought to defy the country’s constitution and stay in power.
Joel Wendland contributed to this story.