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Honduras coup: Dress rehearsal for imperial coups across Latin America

Mass opposition has surged since the June 28 coup. Photos from Honduran Resists.

By Felipe Stuart Cournoyer

August 8, 2009 -- The people of Honduras have now suffered more than 40 days of military rule. The generals’ June 28 coup, crudely re-packaged in constitutional guise, ousted the country’s elected government and unleashed severe, targeted and relentless repression.

Grassroots protests have matched the regime in endurance and outmatched it in political support within the country and internationally. Its scope and duration is unprecedented in Honduran history. Popular resistance is the main factor affecting the international forces attempting to shape the outcome of the crisis. It weighs heavily on the minds of the coup’s authors and their international backers.

As Eva Golinger has convincingly documented, the United States took part in conceiving, planning and staging the coup (see US ambassador in Tegucigalpa Hugo Llorens coordinates a team of high-ranking US and Honduran military officials, and creatures from the old Bush administration, using the Soto Cano (Palmerola) US airforce base.

But when the army assaulted President Zelayas house, machine guns blazing, kidnapped him and dumped him – still in pajamas – in Costa Rica, this forged unprecedented unity in Latin America and the Caribbean against the coup regime and enraged hundreds of thousands within the country. 

Latin American unity

In the first days after the coup, it appeared that the whole world was coming out against the Honduran generals and their civilian front men. ALBA – the nine-nation Bolivarian alliance initiated by Venezuela and Cuba – took the initiative in uniting Latin American governments around a common stand. Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, became the temporary capital of ``Our America’’. Many Latin American presidents knew only too well that they could also suffer Zelayas fate.

Argentinas Cristina Fermandez devoted her entire speech to this theme at the Organization of American States (OAS) general assembly, which took a unanimous stand against the golpistas (coup makers). That was followed quickly by a UN General Assembly meeting, convened by its president Father Miguel dEscoto  (a veteran Nicaraguan Sandinista leader), which also passed a unanimous resolution repudiating the coup and recognising Zelaya as the legitimate president of Honduras.

Faced with this reality, the US government hastened to portray itself as a key opponent of the military takeover and a supporter of Zelaya’s return. It was politically urgent for US President Barack Obama’s regime, not only in Latin America but domestically, to disclaim  involvement in the coup. 

There has been much speculation that Obama may disagree with his government’s duplicitous policy on the coup. That can of course not be excluded. But what counts for the people of Honduras and their supporters is not Obama’s possible private opinions but his government’s actions. Its walk betrayed its pronouncements.

The US has not acted to cut the legs out from under the coup regime. It could topple the coup with a five-minute phone call that includes a few bottom-line dollar figures. Its words, as time has shown, were mainly those of deceit and the manipulation of different forces acting on the Honduran crisis.

Main aims of the coup

Washington staged the coup to promote a number of closely interacting aims:

  • To strike a blow at the ALBA alliance, by taking out its assumed weakest link – Honduras and its government headed by Zelaya.
  • To  prepare for an assault on revolutionary Venezuela, prefaced through the announcement of new US military bases that will convert Colombia into a gigantic aircraft carrier and platform for staging hostile operations against ALBA countries, with Ecuador and Bolivia also high on the list.
  • To take back Honduras and again use it as a platform to strike against leftwing presidencies and mass movements in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, and to demoralise and discourage the grassroots’ support for disobedient or defiant regimes.
  • To test Latin Americas turbulent waters for a revival of coup making in Latin America and the Caribbean. This involves attempting to re-inspire and regroup rightwing supporters in both political and military spheres across the hemisphere. It also took a measure of where the powerful Catholic Church would fall. A free Bible if you guess right.
  • To probe South Americas soft underbelly – mainly Brazil and Chile – to see if they were amenable to a deal, or at least if their silence could  be purchased. This involves an effort to drive a wedge between the ALBA alliance and  so-called centre-left regimes (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile).

Since then, a lot of water has gone down the Rio Coco (between Honduras and Nicaragua).

The coup regime threatened to become a millstone around Washingtons neck and hinder its renewed drive to find leverage and points of support, especially in South America. Hence Washington’s efforts for plausible denial with no qualms about letting the golpistas hang out to dry if necessary.

Events over the past months have shown some success for Washington, but mainly on the international level. Latin American unity, for example, is now being sorely tested by the provocative decision to place US military air and naval bases in Colombia. While both Brazil and Chile have reluctantly bowed down before the argument that the issue is a "sovereign" decision for Colombia, others including Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Uruguay, Venezuela and Cuba have denounced the measure.

An effective resistance

Meanwhile, the Honduran resistance has had immense impact on the population, the regime, the national and regional economy and international opinion. This outcome is horrifying to the local ruling class and to Washington.

The Honduran economy is in tatters. Estimates indicate that import-export activity is down by 60 per cent. Zelaya reported in a press conference in Mexico City that more than 200 road barricades had been erected, most of them heavily repressed by the army in an attempt to keep produce moving. Public schools have not functioned since the coup because of teachers strikes and student boycotts. Health workers have maintained a long strike and many other work centres have been hit by shorter strikes and slowdowns.

The de facto government has been unable to meet payrolls and profits of the ten ruling families are starting to dry up.  Adidas, Nike and GAP – flagships of the maquila [sweatshop] sector – have urged the US government to accelerate Zelaya’s return because its products are not being exported. They are suffering losses in the millions of dollars. The crisis is also hitting Nicaraguan and El Salvadoran import-export enterprises that depend on the northern Honduran port of Cortés for commerce with the eastern and southern US and with Europe.

Yet despite stiff resistance and surprises on the international front, de facto President Roberto Michelettis government has not collapsed. Its main weapon, aside from Catholic Church sermons and a virtual monopoly control over media, has been targeted killings and arrests of unarmed protesters, who take nothing into their actions but conviction, courage and picket signs. Disappearances and torture are selectively carried out, the right to free movement permanently violated, curfews often lengthened.

The regime has now moved to close down Globo Radio, the only station that has dared to oppose the coup and support Zelaya as the countrys legitimate president, and give the resistance a voice. It was still on air as of August 6. Hundreds of supporters have surrounded it with defence guards. If the regime hangs on, it will likely also close down TV Cholusat Sur (Channel 36/34), which works hand-in-glove with Globo.

The Arias Plan

The plan of Costa Rica’s President Oscar Arias for surmounting the coup and restoring stability to Honduras is misnamed. It should be called the Obama-Clinton-Lula Plan”. Santiago O'Donnell, regular journalist for Argentine Pagina 12, wrote on July 26 that the Arias Plan was traced out in a Moscow meeting between Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Da Silva (“Lula”) and Obama. "Lula wanted Zelaya to return but Obama didn't want him to stay on, so they agreed in Moscow that Zelaya should return but remain" [without any real power] -- see ``Made in Washington’’. The plan's unstated intent was to marginalise Zelaya from any real power and block any possible return to office in the future. And, above all, to debilitate the mass resistance movement. The two presidents met again at the G-8 summit in Italy.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose Arias, whose skills in serving imperialism won him a Nobel Peace prize, to host talks between the Zelaya government (-in-exile) and the coup leaders. He "mediated" in San José between representatives of "both sides". With the OAS pushed out of the picture, the talks moved away from the demand for the immediate and unconditional return of Zelaya, to a framework of conditional and delayed return (and ipso facto, the conditioned and delayed retirement of the de facto regime!).

The talks began as a means to delay Zelaya’s return and to buy time for the coup regime, in the hope it could stabilise its rule within the country. Zelaya accepted the plan as a basis for discussion. But talks soon collapsed, because the coup regime categorically rejected Zelaya’s return as president. A second attempt by Arias failed for the same reason.

Zelaya then turned away from the Arias exercise and again focused on building the resistance and on diplomatic outreach. His government in exile operates mainly on the Honduran-Nicaraguan border (Ocotal) and at the Honduran embassy in Managua.

Impact of resistance

Mass opposition has surged, inspired by Zelayas attempts to return via the Nicaraguan border and by the effective work done by Xiamara Castro de Zelaya, his wife, within the country. This had its effect. Obama came out with another more pointed reiteration of the US stand that the coup regime had to accept Zelayas return through the San José-Arias path. Brazil and Mexico backed this stance, as did OAS general secretary Jose Miguel Insulza.

The coup regime has continued to defy this course. On the heels of Obama's statement, Insulza, Arias and Spain’s vice-president Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega proposed sending an OAS ministerial-level delegation to Honduras to try to convince the military regime to accept Zelaya's return and perhaps try to extract more teeth from Zelaya. Coup leader Micheletti says he would accept such a delegation only if no ministers from ALBA countries are included. The mission will arrive on August 11. It is made up of the foreign ministers of Argentina, Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, accompanied by José Miguel Insulza of the OAS.

Meanwhile, Zelaya has agreed to major concessions. He has accepted the principle of a national unity government, whose main task would be to stabilise the country, get the economy moving again, restore services such as education and health and organise the November national elections.

In essence, Zelaya’s team feels it has no choice but to accept returning as a hand-tied regime with major figures involved in the coup. The authors of the Arias Plan hope this will leave the ruling class and the army with significant leverage to politically defeat the mass movement and the Zelaya current in the coming elections. That is not certain.

At a press conference in Mexico during a state visit, Zelaya sent a message to Washington and other hemispheric governments – either golpismo (coup making) by the extreme right will be contained or Latin America’s left-wing guerrillas will be reborn. He again asserted the people’s right to and the possibility of insurrection under conditions of military dictatorship.

To the grassroots

Anyone who leaves the mass movement out of their calculations may come up short. The resistance movement has emerged as a new force, much more sophisticated and powerful than before June 28. Greater unity between mestizo, Indigenous and Afro-Honduran peoples augurs well. Their international ties are more varied and stronger. Activists have been through a great school of class struggle of the most acute nature and brutal form.

The Zelaya current itself is not the same as it was before the coup. There is every possibility that the interim period, with or without Zelayas return, can be used to mature and consolidate this movement and to build its capacity to take on the ruling class in the electoral process and the ongoing battle of for the hearts and minds of the great majority of the nation.

The next day of action is August 11, when feeder marches from all over Honduras will converge on the industrial centre San Pedro Sula and the capital Tegucigalpa. Hondura's National Resistance Front Against the Coup d'Etat has appealed for simultaneous solidarity protests around the world on that day.

The outcome depends, above all, on the capacities of the grassroots to remain on guard and active in the political struggle. Their activity will likely unfold under the twin banners of an election campaign and building support for convoking a constituent assembly.

Anti-imperialist fighters will do well to keep their focus on defending the mass movement and its leaders in Honduras and the goal of continental unity against imperial domination.

The Honduran coup of June 28 was an imperial dress rehearsal for the coup instigators across Latin America. The coup is also school for the Hondura’s grassroots movement. Hondurans, no matter the short-term twists and turns among contending forces, will never be the same.

[Felipe Stuart Cournoyer is a Canadian-born Nicaraguan citizen who divides his time between the two countries. He is a member of the FSLN and a contributing editor to Socialist Voice, published in Canada. He wishes to acknowledge sources that inform this article, including Radio Globo (Honduras), Radio La Primerisima (Nicaragua), El19, Pagina 12 (Buenos Aires), La Jornada (Mexico), Rebelion, Latin-American-Australian journalist Fred Fuentes (Green Left Weekly), Tortilla con Sal (Nicaragua), Via Campesina, Honduran Resists and Rights Action.]

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