Honduras: Interview with Juan Barahona, leader of the National Resistance Front Against the Coup

Juan Barahona. Photo: Telesur.

By Pedro Fuentes, Tegucigalpa

October 1, 2009 -- “We will not stop. We will continue to be against the coup until the last day they are in power,” Juan Barahona said in an interview at the headquarters of STYBIS, the beverage workers’ trade union. Barahona is the principal leader of the resistance, together with Carlos Reyes, president of the trade union, a close comrade of Barahona and an independent candidate for the next presidential election. Reyes is injured and cannot participate, which makes Juan appear to be most visible face of the resistance.

Barahona is 55 years’ old and began his activism in 1975 in the student movement. In 1977 he joined the Communist Party of Honduras. He was active in the party until it was dissolved. It is worth recalling that the party dissolved itself following the fall of the Berlin Wall. But this did not stop Barahona being active. A large chunk of the cadres and activists of the Honduran CP were left without an organisation until they formed the Tendencia Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Tendency, TR) in 1995. TR formed following a meeting with El Salvadoran activists involved with the Tendencia Revolucionaria that was part of the Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, FMLN) in El Salvador. The Tendencia Revolucionaria later left the FMLN as [TR claimed it] began to shift towards electoralism and opportunism.

Juan Barahona never rests. He was able to take time out for this interview in the offices of STYBIS, which is part of the Federation of Honduran Workers (FUT). Barahona is president of FUT and also president of SINTRAINA, the union organised in the National Agrarian Institute, which was occupied by its workers two days ago.

`What we lost in the 1990s, we regained in 2000’

Barahona began the interview talking about this history and that of the Bloque Popular (Popular Bloc, BP), which was formed in 2000 and today is a decisive element in the resistance. The Bloque Popular represented the coming together of peasant unions in the FUT, and left parties and organisations, including the TR. The BP was the motor force behind the mobilisations that dominated the since 2000.

“In the 1990s, the struggle was extremely defensive. In the case of our union, SINTRAINA, in charge of relations between the government and the peasants, we were fired in 1993. We held a hunger strike in front of the gringo [US] embassy for 10 days, which we halted after negotiations in which we were promised that we would be rehired. But they fired us again, which forced us to return to our hunger strike 20 days later, and there we won, they were forced to rehire us.

“Beginning in 2000, the situation changed. Since then the struggle has been against the neoliberal model and the system. Beginning that year, the FUT organised the Bloque Popular, together with peasant organisations, teachers and community activists, and since then the Bloque has been on the streets.”

These organisation was behind a number of big battles. They held road blockades and strikes. Last year they initiated a strike against corruption, “an exemplary movement which ended with road blockades across the whole country and which basically paralysed the country”. There was another general strike in August and October 2009, behind a 12-point platform that was presented to the government and negotiated with Mel [President Manuel Zelaya].”

“The National Resistance Front is a coalition between the Bloque Popular, UD (Unificación Democrática, Democratic Unification), union confederations and the popular sector of the Liberal Party that defends Mel. Here, we unite the majority of the people”, Juan Barahona explained.

“Honduras changed completely, and all of this will leave a very positive result; an organisation and a great experience. During these days of struggle [since the June 28, 2009, coup], the level of consciousness has greatly risen, much more than would in 100 days of classes about class struggle. There has been a parting of waters. This is a struggle between classes: on one side the exploited people, and on the other the capitalists, the large capitalists that dominate this country. Even the Liberal Party supporters that are part of the resistance understand it as such. It is very easy to explain this as a struggle of the poor against the rich, to put them all into the same group.”

The current situation

“We are faced with a complicated scenario. As the repression continues, now they are talking about negotiations. We, as the resistance, are in favour of participation in negotiations; we have not closed ourselves off to dialogue. We see that there are fissures in the regime. The visit by the deputies [MPs] from Brazil is important in supporting the presence of Zelaya in Brazil’s embassy. That the Organization of American States and the UN come as well is good. Until now they have done nothing because they are on the side of imperialism. We hope that they will now show some commitment. We are in favour of participating in negotiations, but at the same time we say to the coup regime that we will not stop, we will continue to be against the coup until the last day they are in power.

“Carlos Reyes is an independent [presidential] candidate of the resistance and the popular movement. If we participate or not (in the elections) is a question of [the coup regime] accepting certain conditions and with Zelaya [returned to] power. Depending on the situation we will study what we do. The future is ours, nothing will ever be the same in Honduras, the dispute for power is posed now and will continue to be posed afterwards. The resistance has the conditions to organise a political-social organisation to fight for power.

“We just received good news from the US. They have informed us that the dockers have decided to boycott the unloading of products from the maquiladoras [sweat shops] here. This is a good blow to the business owners. If it wasn’t for the business owners and the right wing in Latin America, there would be no coup in Honduras.

“We are continuing to organise the resistance and continuing on the streets. Yesterday [September 30] we were dispersed but today we were back on the streets again; we marched to the US embassy, passing by the CORE [regional headquarters of the police], where the peasants who were kicked out of the INA are being held and finished up in the centre of the city.”

[Pedro Fuentes is international relations secretary, Party of Socialism and Liberty (PSOL), Brazil.]


Below are two items: A section of US PBS reporter's Marcelo Ballve's interview with President Zelaya, done for the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer; and a report based on his notebook of events surrounding the questions raised in the interview. The report was aired on PBS today (October 13, 2009)..

Felipe Stuart
Posted: October 13, 2009, 12:15 PM ET   

Zelaya Forecasts Dim Prospects for Honduras Negotiations

Manuel Zelaya, who Hondurans elected president in 2005, has now been out of office for more than 100 days. Marcelo Ballve of New America Media spoke with him Monday night in the Brazilian Embassy there, where the deposed leader has taken refuge.

A military-backed coup toppled Zelaya on June 28 and flew him to a forced exile in Costa Rica the same day. Zelaya's opponents said it was necessary to remove him because he was trying to muster support for changing Constitutionally-backed presidential term limits. Zelaya denies this, arguing that a referendum he planned was intended only to gauge Hondurans' attitudes toward constitutional reform.
On Sept. 21, Zelaya was able to travel back into Honduras to rally his supporters, and sought refuge at the Brazilian Embassy, where he remains. Negotiations between Zelaya's representatives and the interim government, brokered by the Organization of American States, restarted in Honduras on Tuesday.

Following is a portion of Ballve's cell phone interview with Zelaya:
QUESTION: You have demanded that the international community and United States do more to push for your reinstatement. What more can they do, other than imposing sanctions and isolating the interim government, which they already have done?

MANUEL ZELAYA: The international community has done plenty. It has acted energetically like never before in its history. There are no precedents for this situation, we are trailblazing. We are all working together to teach the coup leaders a lesson, with the world as witness. Both the United Nations and the Organization of American States have condemned the coup, which is unprecedented. The United States could do more, but I am grateful for what it has done up to now.

QUESTION: In negotiations this week, it's possible that your negotiators will strike a deal with the side representing interim President Roberto Micheletti and return you to the presidency.

MANUEL ZELAYA: That's a very hypothetical scenario. There are a whole series of obstacles and pitfalls that need to be surmounted before that could happen.

QUESTION: What will you do if negotiations fail?

MANUEL ZELAYA: That's the more probable scenario. Not because I lack the will to come to an agreement, but because the de facto government doesn't desire it. Basically, my position will remain the same, I will insist with my efforts. I want to show the de facto government that staging a coup is not a game, it's a serious matter. Anyone who stages a coup has serious problems with their perception of reality. I want to send a message to the coup leaders, and the world as a whole, that this kind of thing just isn't acceptable.

QUESTION: Your critics say that before the coup toppled you from power, you planned to transform Honduran society much like President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has changed his country over the last decade.

MANUEL ZELAYA: To begin with, President Chavez has been used as a scapegoat to justify this coup. Invoking his name is not a valid justification for a coup, it's an irrational one. Secondly, in a 30-year political career, I have always defended democracy. I have participated in 12 elections. Reaching the presidency has been my life's work. I have never broken a law in my life. The coup organizers are simply an ambitious group of powerful people who want to hang on to their privileges and accumulate even more power.

QUESTION: Media accounts of your political trajectory say you began your presidential term as a conservative politician from a wealthy background who had a change of heart in office and became a populist.

MANUEL ZELAYA: That's not true. When in office, I didn't do anything I had not announced when on the campaign trail. I campaigned on direct, participatory democracy, a fair economy, dignified employment, anti-poverty programs, and global engagement. Everything I said I would do in my campaign I followed up during my presidency. The elite business interests became angry with me when I increased the minimum wage (in March 2009), and lowered interest rates. But I achieved more economic growth than Honduras had seen in a long time. Even in the middle of the financial crisis our economy was growing by 4.5 percent annually.

QUESTION: Your critics believe that if you are returned to power you may somehow try to remain as president, despite the elections scheduled for Nov. 29, and the end of your term in late January.

MANUEL ZELAYA: I think that's silly. It's silliness the size of Mount Everest. A person like me, a proven pacifist and democrat with thirty years experience, but who doesn't have the backing of the economic powers in Honduras, the big media, and the army, which is allied with the economic elite, how could I carry out a plan of that nature? I've never planned to remain in office for a single day longer than what is allotted by law, I wouldn't stay longer for all the money in the world, or if Pope Benedict XVI asked me to do it. I'm fighting against a government that usurped power. I've never usurped power. I'm only fighting for a right that is mine.

QUESTION: Costa Rican mediator Oscar Arias recently called the Honduran Constitution a "travesty." Do you consider the Constitution a travesty?

MANUEL ZELAYA: If you followed the events over the course of the three or four months that preceded the coup, you would know I was championing a popular referendum to find out what the people thought about the Constitution and its reform. I believed this to be necessary. I know the Constitution well. It has been continuously and flagrantly violated over the last 30 years. It fences politicians in to such a degree they see themselves obligated to skirt its provisions in order to advance their interests. However, only the Honduran people can request a reform to the Constitution. I can't do it. That's why I created the idea of the fourth urn (the referendum), which would have asked Hondurans what they thought about the idea of Constitutional reform.

QUESTION: Along with a few dozen of your supporters, you have been refuged in the Brazilian Embassy for exactly three weeks as of this evening. Please tell us about the conditions inside the embassy, and the mood and morale inside its walls?

MANUEL ZELAYA: Spiritually, we feel very strong, because of the solidarity and support we've had from the international community and the Honduran people. But we're living under military siege, with soldiers surrounding the embassy at all times.

QUESTION: In the 1950s radical Peruvian political leader Victor Haya de la Torre was refuged in the Colombian Embassy in his own country for five years. Would you be willing to persist for that long to advance your cause?

MANUEL ZELAYA: On the one hand it's a good question, but it's also captious. It contains a masochistic component. I am not a masochist. I came here to resolve a problem, and that's what I intend to do.

QUESTION: What else can you tell us about American involvement in the events that took place in Honduras?

MANUEL ZELAYA: There are U.S. politicians who pretend to be champions of democracy but in reality have an antidemocratic vocation. The American voters should watch their politicians, because some are hypocrites, they express themselves in one manner to their voters, but send a different message to the rest of the world by supporting a coup. Several members of the U.S. Congress have visited the de facto government in Honduras, and some former officials ... have made statements supporting the coup. That's worrisome.
Editor's Note: Reporting from Honduras is a partnership between the NewsHour and New America Media. More interviews and coverage to come.

-- By Marcelo Ballve for the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
Posted: October 12, 2009, 5:30 PM ET 

Reporter's Notebook: Negotiators to Renew Talks in Honduras

Honduras' political crisis deepened this week as negotiators for ousted President Manuel Zelaya and interim President Roberto Micheletti prepared to resume talks Tuesday, and candidates revved up for elections without a political solution in sight.

The Honduran presidential elections, less than seven weeks away, would seem to offer a clear way out of the political labyrinth the country has been stuck in since mid-summer. But in Honduras these days, nothing is that simple.

Interim President Roberto Micheletti certainly wants the Nov. 29 vote to go off successfully with the international community's approval. If that happens, he has said, Hondurans will finally be able to put months of uncertainty and divisiveness behind them.

"I ask you from the bottom of my heart, please don't be spiteful and withhold recognition of our elections," begged Micheletti last week, addressing a delegation from the Organization of American States, in Honduras to jump-start negotiations.

The elections were scheduled long before a June 28 military-backed coup forced out President Manuel Zelaya and upended Honduran politics. Already, six candidates are vigorously campaigning, and blitzing local TV channels with advertisements.

Honduras's two traditional political parties are pulling out the stops to promote their candidates, despite the distractions posed by the Zelaya-Micheletti dispute.

The Liberal Party candidate, Elvin Santos, calls himself the "employment candidate" in his ads. In another Santos TV spot, his wife, aspiring first lady Becky de Santos, speaks earnestly about her concern for Honduras's poor, which makes up 70 percent of the population. Micheletti and Zelaya both belong to the Liberal Party.

The leading candidate, Porfirio Lobo, of the National Party, appears in a competing ad in which he promises to push micro-financing to help women entrepreneurs.

However, a successful election is unlikely unless Micheletti and Zelaya first reach a deal in the OAS-supervised negotiations. In late September, the U.S. State Department said it would recognize the Honduran vote only if the sides reached an agreement.

The negotiations took as their starting point the proposed San Jose Accord drafted by Costa Rican President and Nobel peace laureate Oscar Arias. The accord's central demand is Zelaya's reinstatement.

To keep the pressure on Micheletti while the negotiations inch along, pro-Zelaya protesters, who call themselves "la resistencia," gather in the streets everyday. They accuse Micheletti's negotiators of foot-dragging in order to bring Honduras to the brink of elections without agreeing to Zelaya's reinstatement.

"They're playing at buying time," said Juan Barahona, union leader and one of Zelaya's three negotiators. But, he added, the country's extreme polarization means "the conditions just aren't there for elections."
Zelaya's supporters vow to boycott the Nov. 29 vote unless Zelaya is back in the Casa Presidencial.

At protest rallies, pro-Zelaya protesters urge one another to sabotage elections by "cleaning up" election flyers and signs. The idea is to show the interim government it won't be easy to push elections through without a broader political agreement.

"Elections? No!" was the chant heard again and again at a protest rally Monday at John F. Kennedy Square in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital. Zelaya supporters from around the country converged on the rally, which doubled as a strategic show-and-tell session.

"If you see election posters or flyers pasted up in your town or neighborhood, go out at night, companeros, and tear them down," said Nora Rios, a 40-year-old social worker from Divina Providencia, a two-hour drive north of Tegucigalpa.

She spoke into a microphone next to a sound van mounted with a cluster of megaphones.

Micheletti "believes that if the elections take place, everything will go back to normal," said Jovanis Salgado, a 37-year-old truck driver and union representative. "I don't think so, the world won't recognize them" unless there's a deal.

The Honduran political crisis escalated rapidly in late September after Zelaya snuck back into the country to rally his supporters. He ended up seeking refuge at the Brazilian Embassy.

The crisis was sparked by Zelaya's attempt to push through a referendum on whether Hondurans wanted to elect a constituent assembly to rewrite the Constitution.

Zelaya said he only wanted to gauge Hondurans' sentiments, but the courts and legislature accused him of wanting to lift term limits.

The talks between Micheletti and Zelaya negotiators will resume Tuesday at a downtown hotel, after a three-day pause for a long holiday weekend.

The pro-Zelaya camp has imposed an Oct. 15 deadline for his reinstatement. Rafael Alegria, leader of the Via Campesina farm-workers' group, said there would be street and highway protests, and maybe a general strike, if the deadline wasn't met.

Before the weekend pause, Vilma Morales, a prominent jurist and one of Micheletti's negotiators, said she was "very optimistic" about the negotiations' progress. She urged Hondurans to put aside their differences and "clothe themselves in patriotism," in preparation for a looming political reconciliation.

Barahona, Zelaya's negotiator, was less optimistic. He said the two sides agreed on the concept of a "national unity" government to replace Micheletti, but had not yet discussed the main point of contention: Zelaya's return to office.

"That's the fundamental point," he said in a hotel lobby, his frayed white baseball cap with Che Guevara's image pulled low over his eyes. "If there's no progress on that, then what use are all the rest of the demands?"

Some 60 percent of the points had been agreed on, Barahona said, but he compared the talks so far to a labor negotiation in which the union reps ask for toilet paper in workplace bathrooms, but tiptoe around the more important issue of higher wages. "I'm still pessimistic," he said.
Editor's Note: Reporting from Honduras is a partnership between the NewsHour and New America Media.

-- By Marcelo Ballve for the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer


Communiqué No. 28
By the National Front of Resistance against the Coup d'État

October 13, 2009

The National Front of Resistance against the Coup d'État, in view of the latest developments at the table of dialogue established at the behest of the Organization of American States (OAS) announces that:

  • We withdrew our compañero Juan Barahona from the so-called Guaymuras dialogue.  Comrade Barahona served as representative of the National Front of Resistance against the Coup d'État in President Zelaya's delegation in that dialogue.

    The coup regime's delegation, in a typical act of intransigence to obstruct the progress of negotiation, was attempting to paralyze the dialogue by refusing to allow our representative to sign the San José Accord while attaching a reservation to Point No. 3 of the accord concerning the renunciation of the establishment of a National Constitutional Assembly, since in that reservation we wished to state that our front does not and will not renounce our struggle for this demand which is the demand of the Honduran people.  Aware that this was a ploy to use any pretext to derail the dialogue, given that signing with reservations was suggested by the coup leaders themselves at a previous meeting, we decided not to be manipulated by it, so we took this decision, leaving President Zelaya free to substitute for him another representative that he may trust.  Thus Attorney Rodil Rivera Rodil was delegated to be a member of President Zelaya's commission in substitution for our representative.
  • This means that the National Front of Resistance against the Coup d'État exits the Guaymuras dialogue and that we will continue to fight in the street for the demands that we have raised since 28 June: the return to the constitutional order; the restoration of President Zelaya to his office; and the convening of a Constitutional Assembly.
  • We make clear that we will respect the decision of our president if he decides to sign the San José Accord, even with all its conditions, and we declare that we are in full agreement with him regarding the demand that the coup leaders sign the accord which has them abandon power and the Presidency of the Republic be returned to him.
  • We warn the coup leaders that, if an accord returning the presidency to its legitimate holder is not signed before 15 October, the Resistance will initiate actions nationwide to disavow the electoral farce that they hope to stage on 29 November.
  • We call upon the popular sectors to redouble efforts to defeat the corporate-military dictatorship, demanding the end to repression, the repeal of the decrees that abridge the constitutional guarantees, freedom for political prisoners, and the re-opening of Radio Globo, Canal 36, and other independent media, and the end to censorship against them and other journalists.

108 Days of Struggle, and No One Is Surrendering Here

Tegucigalpa, Central District Municipality, 13 October 2009
From MRZine. The original communiqué in Spanish was published by HablaHonduras among other sites on 13 October 2009.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.