The 2009 coup in the Central American nation of Honduras continues to reverberate four months after a new president, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo of the right-wing National Party, took power. Killings and conflict continue within the country and international pressure still keeps Lobo from achieving full legitimacy in the eyes of Latin America.
The coup on June 28, 2009, ousted the legally elected president, Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, and replaced him with a junta headed by millionaire businessmen Roberto Micheletti. The coup was followed by resistance by labor, social, women’s, gay and indigenous organizations and activists. At least a hundred Zelaya supporters were killed in the aftermath of the coup. The purpose of the coup was to halt and reverse progressive policies carried out by Zelaya’s government, including the expansion of the rights of workers, peasants, women and others, and especially to stop the increasingly cordial ties between Honduras and left-wing governments such as those of Venezuela and Cuba.
The coup was strongly supported, both materially and economically, by the right wing in the U.S. The Obama administration at first denounced the coup, but is accused by Zelaya and others of waffling and lack of firmness in backing up those denunciations.
On Sept. 22, 2009, Zelaya managed to return surreptitiously to the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, where he ended up besieged in the embassy of Brazil, one of the majority of Latin American countries which continued to recognize him as the legitimate president. In spite of international and internal objections and a partial boycott by Zelaya supporters, the Micheletti regime carried out the scheduled national elections on Nov. 29, with Lobo and his National Party the victors.
Since then, Lobo, supported by the United States, has been working to get his regime recognized by the international community. But the pro-Zelaya forces, grouped into the National Front of the Honduran Resistance, with support from countries such as Venezuela and Ecuador who strongly opposed the coup, have tried to use Lobo’s need for this legitimization as leverage to get concessions from the government.
As Zelaya’s normal term in office ended on Jan. 29, the return of Zelaya to power is no longer a demand. But the former president, although invited to return by Lobo, has been threatened with arrest and jail if he does return. Besides allowing Zelaya to return safely as a citizen with full rights, the resistance is calling for a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution to allow a larger role for the mass of the people in government, and for an end to repression that continues to be directed against all who opposed the coup and stand for progressive change.
And death squad type repression continues. On May 27, labor activist Douglas Gomez, of the Union of Beverage and Allied Workers, which has been key in resistance to the coup, was attacked and beaten in the union’s office in the northern city of San Pedro Sula. Neither Gomez nor the office was robbed of anything, which suggests that government claims that such incidents result from Honduras’ high crime rate is false.
On May 18, Olayo Hernandez Sorto, a member of the anti-coup Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH in Spanish) in the town of Pueblo Viejo, in Intibuca province, was murdered by parties unknown. He was shot three times and slashed on the head, probably by a machete blow. Olayo is one of several anti-coup activists slain since Lobo took power. At least seven journalists have also been killed under suspicious circumstances. There have also been threatening moves by landowners to oust peasant farmers who have occupied their former properties.
The resistance is continuing to come up with new actions. One is a hunger strike by judges who were fired for opposing the coup. Now there is a similar strike by educational administrators who claim that the Lobo government has replaced them with people affiliated with Lobo’s National Party. Marches and demonstrations also continue.
At the international level, a large number of Latin American countries said they would boycott a scheduled summit of Latin American and European countries if Lobo was allowed to attend; Lobo himself withdrew from the get-together.
To the surprise of many, this past week Lobo openly stated that the ouster of Zelaya was a coup (“golpe”) and not an orderly transition of power. This puts Lobo in a strange position, because it constitutes an admission that he now is holding power due to an illegal act. Why he did this at this point is not quite clear but may be an indication that the external and internal pressure on his government is working.
Photo: Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, center, is welcomed by Colombia’s Defense Minister Gabriel Silva, left, President Alvaro Uribe, second right, and Armed Forces commander Gen. Freddy Padilla, at the presidential palace in Bogota, May 24. Lobo was on a one-day official visit to Colombia. (AP/Fernando Vergara)