The following is an open letter sent by peace and social activist Tom Hayden to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis on the situation in Honduras.
Nov. 2, 2009
Hilda L. Solis
Secretary of Labor
United States of America
Dear Secretary Solis,
The peace, justice and labor communities no doubt are very pleased at your appointment to the commission monitoring the power-sharing arrangements and presidential elections this month in Honduras.
As one who recently interviewed President Manuel Zelaya for The Nation and has visited Honduras before, I wish to communicate a few observations.
The first is that the golpistas are unlikely to accept the latest agreement voluntarily. According to the interpretation of pro-Micheletti Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anastasia O”Grady, it is “quite likely” that President Zelaya will be refused both the presidency and amnesty by the Honduran parliament and Supreme Court. When he steps out of the Brazilian embassy, she adds, it is “fully expected” that he will be detained. Even despite such refusals and his detention, she emphasizes, the coup government expects to receive hemispheric recognition of the elections.
It is inconceivable [to myself] that the U.S. government and the OAS would lend themselves to such a dangerous debacle. But the coup regime seems determined to preserve through high-stakes diplomacy what they think they achieved through force on June 28.
The U.S. message should be that no presidential elections will be recognized as legitimate without the return of President Zelaya to serve what remains of his term and without recognition of the new reality of a vast social movement of Hondurans demanding a real voice in the future of their country.
In your role as our Secretary of Labor, I believe you are uniquely qualified to help in the transition to a fair and more democratic Honduras. Decades of deep U.S. engagement have only left Honduras as one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. When I was last there, I toured overflowing prisons and juvenile facilities where young people were packed 30 to a cell with only a pop bottle in which to urinate. At the American embassy, I was told that the rule of law was only a “work in progress.” There was virtually no social safety net, and thousands of young people roamed the streets, easy prey for vigilantes and mano dura advocates. One of the principle reasons that the elites moved to overthrow President Zelaya was his agenda of empowering and improving the lives of the poor, by such measures as a living wage – the same issue that you championed in California when we served in the Legislature. He pointed out in our interview that his enemies in Honduras share the same reactionary, often violent, outlook on social justice as do President Obama’s political enemies in this country.
From past collaborations on ending sweatshop labor, I know that you are aware of numerous U.S. garment manufacturers who subcontract for exploited labor in Honduras. I believe the US should adopt a new policy of lifting the hopes of the poor by enacting enforceable “sweatfree” provisions, including a living wage, on garments and other products now flowing from sweatshops to US consumers.
Two places to begin are Nike subcontractors like Hugger de Honduras and Vision Tex who have violated wage and hour laws in Honduras, leaving workers out on the streets, and Jerzees de Honduras owned by Russell/Fruit of the Loom, which recently closed a factory to crush a union. Jerzees has been the focus of a campus boycott here in the U.S.
The Honduran crisis is the focal point for new relationships between the U.S. and the continent to our south, a continent from which countless Americans like yourself have come with dreams of opportunity and memories of savage injustice. As Secretary of Labor, I pray that you will serve as a new bridge of hope between our continents.
Peace and Justice Resource Center
Culver City California