Pro-democracy demonstrations continue in Honduras

New analysis

On June 28, the Honduran army overthrew the democratically elected government of left-wing president Manuel 'Mel' Zelaya and bundled him onto an airplane into exile in Costa Rica. This action, in spite of being given a constitutional veneer, was not accepted by workers and poor farmers in Honduras, who constitute Zelaya's support base, or by the international community.

The Organization of American States, the United Nations General Assembly, the European Union and other international organizations and individual governments, including that of the United States, immediately denounced the coup and stated their support for Zelaya's return.

But several weeks later Zelaya is still on the outside while labor unions and peasant and student organizations within Honduras have been left to battle against the coup regime, headed by former President of Congress Roberto Micheletti, without enough practical international support to reverse the coup.

The coup was carried out in fear that a non-binding referendum that President Zelaya, at the behest of unions and other popular organizations had scheduled for that same day, would encourage a groundswell of support for the calling of a constituent assembly to rewrite the current Honduran constitution to open up a bigger role for mass participation in decision making. So an intrigue was set in motion among the Honduran oligarchy of landowners, wealthy businessmen and U.S. trained army officers and their powerful U.S. supporters.

The Bush administration had clashed with Zelaya because of the latter's refusal to let his country be used for attacks against Cuba and Venezuela, and likely helped to set the coup in motion, using strong US military and CIA links to the Honduran armed forces and the activities of agencies such as the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Endowment for Democracy. Numerous former figures from the Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush administrations, including John Negroponte, Otto Reich and Roger Noriega are suspected of involvement in the coup planning.

Now the bulk of the Republican Party is actively supporting the coup, including former presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ), the chair of the IRI. A figure with ties to Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, paid lobbyist Lanny Davis, has been very active on Capitol Hill as a hireling of Honduran business interests, putting out various kinds of misleading anti-Zelaya spin, which is retailed in our corporate media.

Right after the coup, Secretary of State Clinton promoted the idea of having Oscar Arias, the president of Costa Rica, play the role of mediator between Zelaya's government in exile and Micheletti's 'de facto' coup regime in Tegucigalpa. Zelaya accepted this, saying that he thought it necessary to prove to the United States that he and his supporters were reasonable. However, Arias' mediation has gone nowhere. Arias proposed, in exchange for the return of Zelaya to the presidency, a government of national unity to include both Zelaya and Micheletti supporters, an amnesty for sides, earlier elections and abandonment by Zelaya of the idea of the referendum, among other things. Zelaya accepted these items on principle, but Micheletti has refused any pact that includes Zelaya's return, so the negotiations have stalled. Currently the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Jose Miguel Insulza, is making a last-ditch effort to restart negotiations by organizing a visit of OAS foreign ministers to Honduras to talk to the coup regime, but the Micheletti crowd is turning this into a farce. First Micheletti demanded that no foreign ministers from the left-leaning ALBA countries (Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Antigua and St Vincent, besides Honduras itself) be part of the delegation. Then at the last minute, Micheletti cancelled the visit because of the involvement of Insulza, a former member of Chilean Socialist President Salvador Allende's government. Then Micheletti changed his mind and said Insulza could attend as an observer, but now the visit seems to be off again.

Within Honduras, even though 47 days have now passed since the coup and in spite of increasingly violent repression, resistance appears to be mounting. A number of labor unions and union federations are on strike with a demand that Zelaya be returned, including teachers, nurses and hospital workers, taxi drivers and airport workers.

Though Zelaya started out his presidency in 2006 as a fairly conservative figure, he has gained support among the 70% of Hondurans classified as poor because of actions such as raising the minimum wage by 60% for most workers, and this is reflected in the resistance. On Tuesday August 11, two large columns of Zelaya supporters arrived in Honduras' largest cities, the capital, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula in the north of the country. For the rest of the week, there have been protests and clashes with police in the streets, with many injured and arrested (accounts differ, but there appear to have been at least nine deaths overall since the coup).

At this writing, the coup government has announced it is going to prosecute some of the arrestees for 'sedition' on the basis of the burning of a Popeyes chicken franchise and a city bus. Leaders of the protests organized by the Honduran National Front Against the Coup claim that these acts were carried out not by the persons charged but by pro-coup agent-provocateurs. The government is also claiming to have 'evidence' that the marches are being financed by the Colombian 'FARC' a charge that is met with derision by the protesters.

The demands of the protesters are for an end to the coup, the return of Zelaya, the carrying out of the referendum that was stopped on June 28 and no impunity for the coup perpetrators. President Zelaya has said that he appreciates President Obama's statements against the coup, but he wants to see firm action by the United States including the canceling of the US visas of the coup leaders, the freezing of their bank accounts in the US and the suspension of all non-humanitarian aid. The U.S. State Department has cancelled the special diplomatic visas of some of the coup leaders, but has not cancelled their regular visas so this is largely a symbolic action. No action has been taken on freezing bank accounts, a strategy that the U.S. has used with other regimes it disapproves of. Some U.S. aid has been cut off, but much continues to flow and visitors to Honduras say that there is still coordination between the U.S. and Honduran military at U.S. bases there.

The AFL-CIO, SEIU, Workers Uniting (U.S., Canadian, British and Irish unionized steelworkers) and other labor and civic bodies have denounced the coup and asked the Obama administration to take firm action to bring it to an end. U.S. representative Bill DelaHunt (D-MA) has introduced a resolution denouncing the coup and asking for Zelaya's return into the House of Representatives (H.RES. 630). This resolution now has 44 cosponsors. U.S. Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and 14 colleagues have sent a letter to President Obama asking him to move more forcefully against the coup regime.

The national elections for president and Congress were originally scheduled for November 29, but Micheletti has been saying that he wants this date to be moved up to October 25, or a little more than 3 months for now. Opponents of the coup in Honduras and abroad suspect that the Micheletti game plan is to use delaying tactics to the point that the election takes place without the return of either President Zelaya or constitutional normality.

This would stack the deck against left-wing candidates who support Zelaya and oppose the coup. Both the resistance within Honduras and many foreign governments and leaders, mostly recently the UNASUR bloc of South American Nations (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and Chile), have stated that if elections are carried out under such circumstances, they will not recognize the results.

Meanwhile the massive demonstrations continue on the streets of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, and Micheletti continues to play games with the OAS.

For daily updates on Honduras, see the author's blog: Click on 'blog' at the upper right hand corner of the home page of pww.org