Honduras: Obama's first coup d'etat?

By Eva Golinger

[As of 11:15 am, June 28, Caracas time, President Manuel Zelaya is speaking live on Telesur from San Jose, Costa Rica. He has verified the soldiers entered his residence in the early morning hours, firing guns and threatening to kill him and his family if he resisted the coup. He was forced to go with the soldiers who took him to the air base and flew him to Costa Rica. He has requested the US government make a public statement condemning the coup, otherwise, it will indicate their compliance. At 5 pm, Roberto Micheletti, head of Honduras' Congress was sworn in as de facto president. At 7 pm, the Organization of American States condemned the coup. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has formally condemned the coup. For continuing updates, visit Eva Golinger's web site at http://www.chavezcode.com/.]

June 28, 2009 -- Caracas, Venezuela --  The text message that beeped on my cell phone this morning read: “Alert, Zelaya has been kidnapped, coup d’etat underway in Honduras, spread the word.” It’s a rude awakening for a Sunday morning, especially for the millions of Hondurans who were preparing to exercise their sacred right to vote today for the first time on a consultative referendum concerning the future convening of a constitutional assembly to reform the constitution. Supposedly at the centre of the controversary is today’s scheduled referendum, which is not a binding vote but merely an opinion poll to determine whether or not a majority of Hondurans desire to eventually enter into a process to modify their constitution.

Such an initiative has never taken place in the Central American nation, which has a very limited constitution that allows minimal participation by the people of Honduras in their political processes. The current constitution, written in 1982 during the height of the US administration’s dirty war in Central America, was designed to ensure those in power, both economic and political, would retain it with little interference from the people.

Zelaya, elected in November 2005 on the platform of Honduras’ Liberal Party, had proposed the poll be conducted to determine if a majority of citizens agreed that constitutional reform was necessary. He was backed by a majority of labour unions and social movements in the country. If the poll had occured, depending on the results, a referendum would have been conducted during the elections in November.

In fact, several days before the poll was to occur, Honduras’ Supreme Court ruled it illegal, upon request by the Congress, both of which are led by anti-Zelaya majorities, and members of the ultra-conservative party, National Party of Honduras (PNH). This move led to massive protests in the streets in favour of President Zelaya. On June 24, the president fired the head of the high military command, General Romeo Vásquez, after he refused to allow the military to distribute the electoral material for Sunday’s elections. Vásquez held the material under tight military control, refusing to release it even to the president’s followers, stating that the scheduled referendum had been determined illegal by the Supreme Court and therefore he could not comply with the president’s order. As in the Unted States, the president of Honduras is commander in chief and has the final say on the military’s actions, and so he ordered the general’s removal. Minister of Defence Angel Edmundo Orellana also resigned in response to this increasingly tense situation.

But the following day, Honduras’ Supreme Court reinstated General Vásquez to the high military command, ruling his firing as “unconstitutional’. Thousands poured into the streets of Honduras’ capital, Tegucigalpa, showing support for President Zelaya and evidencing their determination to ensure the June 28 non-binding referendum would take place. On June 26, the president and a group of hundreds of supporters, marched to the nearby air base to collect the electoral material that had been previously held by the military. That evening, Zelaya gave a national press conference along with a group of politicians from different political parties and social movements, calling for unity and peace in the country.

As of June 27, the situation in Honduras was reported as calm. But early Sunday morning, June 28, a group of approximately 60 armed soldiers entered the presidential residence and took Zelaya hostage. After several hours of confusion, reports surfaced claiming the president had been taken to a nearby airforce base and flown to neighbouring Costa Rica. No images have been seen of the president so far and it is unknown whether or not his life is still endangered.

President Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, speaking live on Telesur at approximately 10 am Caracas time, announced that in early hours of Sunday morning, the soldiers stormed their residence, firing shots throughout the house, beating and then taking the president. “It was an act of cowardness”, said the first lady, referring to the illegal kidnapping occuring during a time when no one would know or react until it was all over. Casto de Zelaya also called for the “preservation” of her husband’s life, indicating that she herself is unaware of his whereabouts. She claimed their lives are all still in “serious danger” and made a call for the international community to denounce this illegal coup d’etat and to act rapidly to reinstate constitutional order in the country, which includes the rescue and return of the democratically elected Zelaya.

Coup condemned

Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela have both made public statements on Sunday morning condemning the coup d’etat in Honduras and calling on the international community to react to ensure democracy is restored and the constitutional president is reinstated. Last Wednesday, June 24, an extraordinary meeting of the member nations of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), of which Honduras is a member, was convened in Venezuela to welcome Ecuador, Antigua and Barbados, and St. Vincent to its ranks. During the meeting, which was attended by Honduras’ Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas, a statement was read supporting President Zelaya and condemning any attempts to undermine his mandate and Honduras’ democratic processes.

Reports coming out of Honduras have revealed that the public television channel Canal 8 has been shut down by the coup forces. Just minutes ago, Telesur announced that the military in Honduras is shutting down all electricity throughout the country. Those television and radio stations still transmitting are not reporting the coup d’etat or the kidnapping of President Zelaya, according to Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas. “Telephones and electricity are being cut off”, confirmed Rodas just minutes ago via Telesur. “The media are showing cartoons and soap operas and are not informing the people of Honduras about what is happening.” The situation is eerily reminiscent of the April 2002 coup d’etat against President Chávez in Venezuela, when the media played a key role by first manipulating information to support the coup and then later blacking out all information when the people began protesting and eventually overcame and defeated the coup forces, rescuing Chávez (who had also been kidnapped by the military) and restoring constitutional order.

Honduras is a nation that has been the victim of dictatorships and massive US intervention during the past century, including several military invasions. The last major US government intervention in Honduras occured during the 1980s, when the Reagain administration funded death squads and paramilitaries to eliminate any potential “communist threats” in Central America. At the time, John Negroponte was the US ambassador in Honduras and was responsible for directly funding and training Honduran death squads that were responsible for thousands of people being disappeared and assassinated throughout the region.

On June 26, the Organization of American States (OAS) convened a special meeting to discuss the crisis in Honduras, later issuing a statement condeming the threats to democracy and authorising a convoy of representatives to travel to OAS to investigate further. Nevertheless, on June 26, US assistant secretary of state Phillip J. Crowley refused to clarify the US government’s position in reference to a potential coup against President Zelaya, and instead issued a more ambiguous statement that implied Washington’s support for the opposition to the Honduran president. While most other Latin American governments had clearly indicated their adamant condemnation of the coup plans underway in Honduras and their solid support for Honduras’ constitutionally elected president, Manual Zelaya, the US spokesperson stated the following,  “We are concerned about the breakdown in the political dialogue among Honduran politicians over the proposed June 28 poll on constitutional reform. We urge all sides to seek a consensual democratic resolution in the current political impasse that adheres to the Honduran constitution and to Honduran laws consistent with the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter."

US role

As of 10:30 am on June 28, no further statements have been issued by the Washington concerning the military coup in Honduras. The Central American nation is highly dependent on the US economy, which ensures one of its top sources of income, the monies sent from Hondurans working in the US under the “temporary protected status” program that was implemented during Washington’s dirty war in the
1980s as a result of massive immigration to US territory to escape the war zone. Another major source of funding in Honduras is USAID, providing over US$50 million annually for “democracy promotion” programs, which generally supports NGOs and political parties favourable to US interests, as has been the case in Venezuela, Bolivia and other countries in the region. The Pentagon also maintains a military base in Honduras in Soto Cano, with approximately 500 troops and numerous airforce combat planes and helicopters.

Foreign Minister Rodas has stated that she has repeatedly tried to make contact with the US ambassador in Honduras, Hugo Llorens, who has not responded to any of her calls thus far. The modus operandi of the coup makes clear that Washington is involved. Neither the Honduran military, which is majority trained by US forces, nor the political and economic elite, would act to oust a democratically elected president without the backing and support of the US government.

President Zelaya has increasingly come under attack by the conservative forces in Honduras for his growing relationship with the ALBA countries, and particularly Venezuela and President Chávez. Many believe the coup has been executed as a method of ensuring Honduras does not continue to unify with the more leftist and socialist countries in Latin America.

[Eva Golinger is Venezuelan-American attorney, writer and investigator living in Caracas. She is author of The Chávez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela (2005) and Bush vs. Chávez: Washington's War on Venezuela.]


Coup in Honduras: President Zelaya Ousted by Military

Resistance and Repression in Honduras

Venezuelan, Cuban, and Nicaraguan Ambassadors to Honduras Kidnapped
Honduras: Indigenous people condemn plot
Honduras: Military Coup a Blow to Democracy
"In Solidarity with the Organizations of Via Campesina and the People of
North American Imperialism and the Extreme Right are Behind Coup in Honduras:

Demand a Call from Barack Obama for the Reinstatement of Honduran President

"We Will Not Be Silenced or Humiliated"

Honduran Congress names provisional president
RT - Military Coup in Honduras



Atenas, 28 de junio de 2009

Organización Internacional del Trabajo

Organización de Naciones Unidas


Tema: Golpe de Estado en Honduras

La Federación Sindical Mundial expresa su solidaridad con la clase trabajadora y el pueblo de Honduras. Condenamos el golpe de estado militar y pedimos la inmediata liberación de todos los detenidos. Apoyamos todas las movilizaciones populares y pedimos a la OIT, ONU y UNESCO que condenen el golpe de estado.

Solamente el pueblo está capacitado para decidir el presente y el futuro de su propio país y nadie más.

Hacemos un llamado a todos los afiliados y amigos de la FSM en Honduras para que luchen por las libertades democráticas y sindicales; por el progreso y la abolición de la explotación.

En nombre de los setenta millones de afiliados de la FSM en todo el mundo pedimos que cesen de inmediato las interferencias de la CIA en los asuntos internos de los estados.

Los pueblos de América Latina han padecido muchos problemas a causa de la política de los imperialistas y especialmente de la política de los EE.UU. Actualmente, en el siglo XXI, los pueblos y los trabajadores no toleran  los métodos y las prácticas fascistas.

Los organismos internacionales no tienen derecho a mantenerse en silencio. Tienen el compromiso de actuar en favor de las justas peticiones del pueblo de Honduras.

El fascismo no conseguirá pasar.

La democracia ganará.

Solidaridad Internacional Obrera ya.




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Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA)

Proclamation of the Extraordinary Presidential Council
Managua, Republic of Nicaragua 29 June 2009

On Sunday the 28th of June in early hours of the morning, when the Honduran people were getting ready to exercise their democratic will through a poll with a consultative character, promoted by the President of the Republic Manuel Zelaya Rosales to deepen participative democracy, a group of hooded soldiers, who affirmed they had received orders from the High Command of the Armed Forces, assaulted the residence of President Zelaya, in order to kidnap him, disappear him for a number of hours and later expel him violently from his homeland.

Immediately, the people of Honduras reacted like the noble heirs of the legacy of Francisco Morazán [1], in the streets of the cities and towns of Honduras. From the early hours of the morning hundreds of electoral booths received thousands of men and women who attended to exercise their right to vote, and on being informed of the kidnapping of their president, spilled out onto the streets to protest the coup d'etat, giving an example of heroism, to confront, unarmed, the guns and tanks.

Through the screens of Telesur, they managed to break the national and international silence that the dictatorship wanted to impose through closing the state television channel and cutting the electricity supply, aiming to conceal and justify the coup d'etat against their people and the international community - demonstrating an attitude that recalls the worst epoch of the dictatorships experienced in the 20th century in our continent.

With one single voice, the governments and peoples of the continent reacted condemning the coup d'etat, making clear that in Honduras there is only one President and one government: that of President Manuel Zelaya Rosales. At the same time, we salute the declarations of condemnation, that from very early, other governments of the world began to issue.

In the face of the urgency of the situation, the governments of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America immediately convoke an Extraordinary Presidential Council, with the objective of agreeing on forceful actions to defeat the coup d'etat in Honduras, to support the heroic people of Morazán and to unconditionally re-establish the President Manuel Zelaya Rosales in his legitimate duties.

After analyzing the circumstances which have produced this coup d'etat, in the face of the gravity of the violations of International Law, the multilateral agreements and the accords of our countries with the Republic of Honduras, and in view of the categorical rejection that the international community has manifested in front of the dictatorial government that is trying to impose itself, the member countries of ALBA have decided to withdraw our Ambassadors and leave a minimum expression of our diplomatic representation in Tegucigalpa until the legitimate government of President Manuel Zelaya Rosales is reinstated in its duties.

Likewise we recognise as the only diplomatic representatives of Honduras in our countries, the personnel designated by President Zelaya. Under no circumstances will we accredit personnel designated by the usurpers.

Equally, as full members of the various systems of integration of the continent, we insist that our brother countries of UNASUR, SICA, CARICOM, the Rio Group, the UN and the OAS proceed in the same way in the face of the assailants of the Honduran people.

On the other hand, we have agreed to declare ourselves in permanent alert in order to accompany the valiant people of Honduras in the actions of struggle that they have convoked, and we invoke the content of Articles 2 and 3 of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Honduras:

"Art. 2: Sovereignty corresponds to the People from which emanate all the Powers of the State that are exercised through representation. The Sovereignty of the People can also be exercised in a direct manner through a Plebiscite or Referendum. The supplanting of popular Sovereignty and the usurpation of the constituted powers are classified as crimes of Treason against the Fatherland. The responsibility in these cases is imprescriptible and can be deduced to the role or petition of any citizen."

"Art. 3: No one has to obey neither a usurper government nor those who assume functions or public employment through the force of arms or using measures or procedures that break or fail to recognise that which the Constitution and the laws establish. The acts verified by such authorities are invalid. The people have the right to resort to insurrection in defense of constitutional order."

As well as the principles of International Law respect the acts of resistance and rebellion of the people confronting the attempts at domination. To the teachers, workers, women, youth, peasants, indigenous peoples, honest business people, intellectuals and other actors of Honduran society, we assure that together we will win a great victory against the coup plotters that aim to impose themselves on the brave people of Francisco Morazán.

Invoking the spirit and though of Francisco Morazán, together with him, we proclaim to the coup plotters: "Men, you who have abused the rights of the people for a sordid and stingy interest! With you I speak, enemies of independence and liberty. If our actions, aimed at acquiring a homeland, can suffer a parallel to those Central Americans that you have persecuted and exiled, I challenge you to present them. Those same people, who have been humiliated, insulted, debased and betrayed so many times, that today are the arbiters of their destiny and ask for our advice, those people will be your judge."

Those who are leading the coup d'etat must know that it will be impossible to prevail and to make fun of international justice, to which sooner or later they will be subjected. We call on the officials and the soldiers of the Armed Forces of Honduras to rectify and to put their weapons at the service of the people of Honduras and their general commander, President Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales.

The member countries of ALBA, in consultation with the governments of the continent and with various institutions that guarantee the fulfilment of International Law, we are bringing forward measures so that the grave violations and the crimes that are being committed aren't gotten away with.

The only path that remains for the coup makers to abandon their attitude and to guarantee immediately, unconditionally, and definitely, the return of President Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales to his constitutional functions.

The Republic of Honduras is a full member of ALBA, and likewise of other regional integration and multilateral organisations, whose membership demand respect of the sovereignty of the people and the constitution. These fundamental conditions, having been violated by the coup makers, the governments of ALBA have decided to maintain all the cooperation programs that we have pre-empted with Honduras through President Zelaya.

Likewise, we propose that punitive measures are applied by all the multilateral integration organisations and mechanisms, which would help to enforce the immediate return to constitutional order in Honduras and would bring about the principles of action that Jose Marti referred to when he said, "Each person does their duty, and nothing can defeat us."

The governments of ALBA declare ourselves in a permanent consultation session, with all the governments of the continent, in order to evaluate further joint actions that enable us to accompany the Honduran people in the re-establishment of legality and the restitution of the President Manuel Zelaya Rosales.

Two hundreds years since the historic gesture that our peoples have developed throughout the continent, following the timeless example of the General of free men Augusto Cesar Sandino, of Francisco Morazan and faithful to the word of The Liberator Simon Bolivar, we put our hope with the people of Honduras and the peoples of the world for the sureness of victory, as, "all the peoples of the world who have wrestled for freedom have, in the end, exterminated their tyrants."

[1] Central American statesman, lawyer, orator, and general born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in 1792

Translated by Kiraz Janicke and Tamara Pearson for Venezuelanalysis.com

Source URL (retrieved on Jun 29 2009 - 21:50): http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/4564
License: Published under a Creative Commons license (publicdomain). See creativecommons.org for more information.

Published on National Catholic Reporter (http://ncronline.org)

Jun. 29, 2009

By Linda Cooper and James Hodge

The general who overthrew the democratically elected president of Honduras is a two-time graduate of the U.S. Army School of the Americas, an institution that has trained hundreds of coup leaders and human rights abusers in Latin America.

Gen. Romeo Orlando Vásquez Velásquez toppled President Manuel Zelaya in a pre-dawn coup on Sunday, surrounding the presidential palace with more than 200 soldiers and tanks and tear-gassing a crowd outside. The president was abducted and taken to an Air Force base before being flown to Costa Rica.

The overthrow followed a showdown over a controversial term-limit referendum that was to have taken place the day of the coup.

The military moved quickly against media outlets in an attempt to stem the flow of news about the ouster and the protests that followed.

Jesuit Fr. Joe Mulligan provided NCR with a copy of an email he received about the media crackdown from fellow Jesuit, Fr. Ismael Moreno, director of Radio Progreso, the order’s radio station in Honduras.

The station was transmitting news about the coup Sunday morning when about 25 military troops stormed the building and ordered them to cancel their programming, the email said. While the soldiers were inside the station, a large group of people gathered outside to support the station’s personnel. The standoff was apparently resolved without violence, but the station had not resumed operations by Monday night. Meanwhile, protests were growing in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, and strikes were being planned by Zelaya supporters.

The events came as no shock to Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch, which has sought for years to shut down the Army school, which was closed in 2000 and re-opened as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. “We’re not surprised. Vásquez is one of the key players, an SOA grad” who’s keeping alive the school’s nickname, “School of Coups.”

The overthrow is re-fueling the latest effort by US peace activists to shut the school once and for all. Eric LeCompte, the national organizer for SOA Watch, said there are two pieces of legislation that are gaining support.

One is Rep. Jim McGovern’s House Bill 2567, which calls for suspending operations at the SOA/WHINSEC and investigating the torture manuals and human rights abuses associated with the school.

The second is an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2010, which would force the release of the names of the school’s graduates, including their rank, country of origin and the courses they’ve taken.

While the Defense Department promised transparency when it re-opened SOA as WHINSEC, LeCompte said it has refused to release the names of the instructors and the graduates since 2005 — after it was revealed that the school was enrolling well-known human rights abusers. One — Salvadoran Col. Francisco del Cid Diaz, a 2003 graduate — was cited by the 1993 U.N. Truth Commission for commanding a unit that dragged people from their homes and shot them at point-blank range.

Last week the House approved the amendment, but the measure still has to survive a House and Senate conference committee later this summer.

In overthrowing the government Sunday, Vásquez Velásquez joins two other Honduran SOA graduates who deposed heads of state, Gen. Juan Melgar Castro and Gen. Policarpo Paz Garcia.

Melgar Castro ruled the country from 1975 to 1978, the years when two of his SOA underlings — Maj. Jose Enrique Chinchilla and Lt. Benjamin Plata — conducted an operation that tortured and executed two priests, Michael Cypher and Ivan Betancur. The priests’ bodies were thrown in a well along with two women and five peasants who were baked alive in bread ovens. The massacre took place on the Los Horcones hacienda, which was owned by the father of Manuel Zelaya, the Honduran president ousted Sunday.

Melgar was overthrown in 1978 by fellow SOA graduate, Paz Garcia, whom the U.S. Army installed into SOA’s “Hall of Fame” ten years later. Paz Garcia’s tenure was also marked by brutal military repression and the formation of Battalion 3-16, a military death squad that worked closely with the CIA in targeting suspected leftists in the ’80s. Paz Garcia’s military commander was another SOA grad, Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, who ran 3-16 and ordered the execution of Fr. James Carney, a U.S. missionary to Honduras.

The three Honduran generals fit into the larger picture of coup leaders trained by the U.S. Army school, which used to boast about how many of the school’s graduates had become heads of their countries.

The boasting, which stopped after the graduates’ undemocratic paths to power became better known, celebrated such figures as:


* Argentine Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri, who seized power in a bloody coup, bringing down another SOA grad, Gen. Roberto Viola, who came to power during Argentina’s Dirty War.

* Guatemalan dictator Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, who seized power in a coup in 1982 and conducted a scorched earth campaign against the Mayan Indians.

* Panamanian dictators Gen. Omar Torrijos, who overthrew a civilian government in a 1968 coup, and Gen. Manuel Noriega, a five-time SOA graduate, who ruled the country and dealt in drugs while on the CIA payroll.

* Ecuadoran dictator Gen. Guillermo Rodriguez, who overthrew the elected civilian government in 1972.

* Bolivian dictators Gen. Hugo Banzer Suarez, who seized power in a violent coup in 1971, and Gen. Guido Vildoso Calderon, who grabbed power in 1982.

* Peruvian strongman Gen. Juan Velasco Alvarado, who in 1968 toppled the elected civilian government.

In ousting the Honduran president Sunday, Vásquez Velásquez had the help of other SOA graduates, including Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo, the head of the Honduran Air Force.

Another two-time SOA grad, retired Gen. Daniel López Carballo, told CNN that the coup was justified because Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez would be running Honduras by proxy if the military had not acted.

Records show that Vásquez Velásquez took a basic combat arms course at SOA in 1976 and another course on small military units in 1984, while Prince Suazo took a 1996 course on joint operations.

President Zelaya — whom the Honduran Congress replaced Sunday with Roberto Micheletti — was a businessman who had leaned to the right when he was elected in 2006. Zelaya surprised many when he started to loosen the strong ties Honduras has had with the United States, which has controlled the country to such a degree that it was once called the U.S.S. Honduras.

Zelaya enjoyed wide support among the poor and union leaders, but increasingly drew the wrath of the powers that be and clashed with foreign oil companies and the U.S. Embassy when he sought to reduce the price of oil for Hondurans.

Restricted by law to a 4-year term, he attempted to have a referendum that would ask voters to change the constitution and permit a second presidential term. Zelaya said a single term makes it impossible to address long-standing poverty issues in a country where half of the residents live on less than one dollar a day and have little voice in how the government operates.

The controversy heated up when Zelaya dismissed a Supreme Court ruling that held that the referendum was illegal. “The court,” he said, “offers justice for the rich, the powerful and the bankers, but only causes problems for democracy.”

Zelaya had also replaced Vásquez Velásquez as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces after he refused to give logistical support for the referendum.

The coup has brought wide-spread condemnation by world leaders, and the Organization of American States called for Zelaya's reinstatement.

U.N. General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann “categorically” condemned what he called “the criminal action by the army” and asked the U.N. to find a way to restore the president to power.

D'Escoto also called for President Obama to condemn the coup, noting that Obama announced a new policy toward Latin America at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad last month. But he added, "Many are now asking if this coup is part of this new policy as it is well known that the army in Honduras has a history of total collaboration with the United States."

The U.S. has sent mixed signals about the coup. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the US was not insisting that Zelaya be restored to office. But later, Obama stiffened his stand, calling for his return to power. Still, he stopped short of calling for sanctions or threatening a cut off of U.S. aid to the country.

Linda Cooper and James Hodge are the authors of Disturbing the Peace: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas.


June 30, 2009

In a Coup in Honduras, Ghosts of Past U.S. Policies

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Monday strongly condemned the ouster of Honduras’s president as an illegal coup that set a “terrible precedent” for the region, as the country’s new government defied international calls to return the toppled president to power and clashed with thousands of protesters.

“We do not want to go back to a dark past,” Mr. Obama said, in which military coups override elections. “We always want to stand with democracy,” he added.

The crisis in Honduras, where members of the country’s military abruptly awakened President Manuel Zelaya on Sunday and forced him out of the country in his bedclothes, is pitting Mr. Obama against the ghosts of past American foreign policy in Latin America.

The United States has a history of backing rival political factions and instigating coups in the region, and administration officials have found themselves on the defensive in recent days, dismissing repeated allegations by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela that the C.I.A. may have had a hand in the president’s removal.

Obama administration officials said that they were surprised by the coup on Sunday. But they also said that they had been working for several weeks to try to head off a political crisis in Honduras as the confrontation between Mr. Zelaya and the military over his efforts to lift presidential term limits escalated.

The United States has long had strong ties to the Honduras military and helps train Honduran military forces. Those close ties have put the Obama administration in a difficult position, opening it up to accusations that it may have turned a blind eye to the pending coup. Administration officials strongly deny the charges, and Mr. Obama’s quick response to the Honduran president’s removal has differed sharply from the actions of the Bush administration, which in 2002 offered a rapid, tacit endorsement of a short-lived coup against Mr. Chávez.

On June 2, Obama administration officials got a firsthand look at the brewing political battle when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled to Honduras for an Organization of American States conference. Mrs. Clinton met with Mr. Zelaya, and he reportedly annoyed her when he summoned her to a private room late in the night after her arrival and had her shake hands with his extended family.

During a more formal meeting afterward, they discussed Mr. Zelaya’s plans for a referendum that would have laid the groundwork for an assembly to remake the Constitution, a senior administration official said.

But American officials did not believe that Mr. Zelaya’s plans for the referendum were in line with the Constitution, and were worried that it would further inflame tensions with the military and other political factions, administration officials said.

Even so, one administration official said that while the United States thought the referendum was a bad idea, it did not justify a coup.

“On the one instance, we’re talking about conducting a survey, a nonbinding survey; in the other instance, we’re talking about the forcible removal of a president from a country,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity during a teleconference call with reporters.

As the situation in Honduras worsened, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon Jr., along with Hugo Llorens, the American ambassador to Honduras, spoke with Mr. Zelaya, military officials and opposition leaders, administration officials said. Then things reached a boil last Wednesday and Thursday, when Mr. Zelaya fired the leader of the armed forces and the Supreme Court followed up with a declaration that Mr. Zelaya’s planned referendum was illegal.

The White House and the State Department had Mr. Llorens “talk with the parties involved, to tell them, ‘You have to talk your way through this,’ ” a senior administration official said Monday. “ ‘You can’t do anything outside the bounds of your constitution.’ ”

Still, administration officials said that they did not expect that the military would go so far as to carry out a coup. “There was talk of how they might remove the president from office, how he could be arrested, on whose authority they could do that,” the administration official said. But the official said that the speculation had focused on legal maneuvers to remove the president, not a coup.

Whether Mr. Zelaya merited removal remains a strong point of debate in Honduras. Fierce clashes erupted Monday between thousands of soldiers and thousands of Mr. Zelaya’s backers. The protesters blocked streets, set fires and hurled stones at the soldiers, who fired tear gas in response. But opponents of Mr. Zelaya said they intended to rally Tuesday in support of his ouster.

On the diplomatic front, three of the country’s neighbors — Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua — said they would halt commerce along their borders for 48 hours. Beyond that, Venezuela and some of its allies, including Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba, said they were withdrawing their ambassadors from Honduras in an effort to isolate the new government. Brazil also said it had ordered its ambassador to Honduras, who was out of the country at the time of the coup, not to return until further notice.

In the face of criticism from across the hemisphere, the new government hunkered down in Mr. Zelaya’s old office, ringed by soldiers and defending its actions as a bid to save the country’s democracy, not undermine it.

Roberto Micheletti, the veteran congressional leader who was sworn in by his fellow lawmakers on Sunday to replace Mr. Zelaya, seemed to plead with the world to understand that Mr. Zelaya’s arrest by the army had been under an official arrest warrant based on his flouting of the Constitution.

“We respect the whole world, and we only ask that they respect us and leave us in peace,” Mr. Micheletti said in a radio interview, noting that previously scheduled elections called for November would go on as planned.

Mr. Zelaya said from Nicaragua late Monday that he would return to Honduras on Thursday with the secretary general of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, Reuters reported.

“He’s the former president of Honduras now,” said Ramón Abad Custodio, the president of the National Commission of Human Rights, who defends the replacement of Mr. Zelaya as constitutional. “He may feel like he’s still president, but he’s a common citizen now.”

Helene Cooper reported from Washington, and Marc Lacey from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Simon Romero contributed reporting from Bogotá, Colombia, Elisabeth Malkin from Mexico City, and Blake Schmidt from Managua, Nicaragua.

From Marxmail, June 30, 2009

Right now the NY Times web site has as its top story a story confirming U.S.
conspiring with the plotters who overthrew the president of Honduras.

Students of journalism will want to look carefully at this effort, a story
cleverly written to communicate certain information while ostensibly seeming
to say exactly the opposite.

Why would one do such a thing? Because the gig is up. With the help of his
friends, President Zelaya has more or less cornered the U.S. into admitting
that, yes, this is a coup and, yes, the right thing to do is to restore the
president to his position. Unsaid, because it doesn't really need to be, is
that those who usurped the power should be dumped in jail.

Unfortunately in the Honduran case those who have OPENLY acted to carry out
the coup include the Supreme Court, national legislature and military
command. The legalistic pretexts offered to justify these actions are
idiotic: for example, that the military gorilas who attacked Zelaya's home
were acting pursuant to a warrant issued by the Supreme Court.

Except that it's not within the competence of such a body to issue military
orders. The way THAT works is that the Supreme Court orders the executive
branch of government (that would be President Zelaya) to do something and
then ACTING THROUGH THE CHAIN OF COMMAND, the president as commander in
chief issues orders to the troops.

I guess, in theory, it could be argued that Zelaya, obeying the Supreme
Court, did order his own arrest and expulsion from the country, but NOT EVEN
the Honduran oligarchs have been able to pretend this is what happened.

Now, what is to be done if the president is in contempt of the court or laws
or whatever? The legislative branch of the government swings into action,
impeaches, tries him and gives him the boot. Now all the Honduran oligarchs
CLAIM that President Zelaya is guilty as sin, but the problem is that this
is not why the Congress replaced him. The Congress replaced him because he
had supposedly resigned.

But he hadn't, and unfortunately for the legislature, no sooner had they
finished reading the fabricated resignation letter than Zelaya was on the
phone from Costa Rica with CNN en Español's Glenda Umaña explaining hell no,
he hadn't resigned: he'd been kidnapped and put on a plane to Costa Rica.

So where does the NY Times story come into this? It described the
discussions among the coup plotters in the days LEADING UP to the coup:

* * *

"Obama administration officials said that they were surprised by the coup on
Sunday. But they also said that they had been working for several weeks to
try to head off a political crisis in Honduras as the confrontation between
Mr. Zelaya and the military over his efforts to lift presidential term
limits escalated.

"The United States has long had strong ties to the Honduras military and
helps train Honduran military forces. Those close ties have put the Obama
administration in a difficult position, opening it up to accusations that it
may have turned a blind eye to the pending coup. Administration officials
strongly deny the charges, and Mr. Obama?s quick response to the Honduran
president?s removal has differed sharply from the actions of the Bush
administration, which in 2002 offered a rapid, tacit endorsement of a
short-lived coup against Mr. Chávez.

"On June 2, Obama administration officials got a firsthand look at the
brewing political battle when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
traveled to Honduras for an Organization of American States conference. Mrs.
Clinton met with Mr. Zelaya, and he reportedly annoyed her when he summoned
her to a private room late in the night after her arrival and had her shake
hands with his extended family.

"During a more formal meeting afterward, they discussed Mr. Zelaya?s plans
for a referendum that would have laid the groundwork for an assembly to
remake the Constitution, a senior administration official said.

"But American officials did not believe that Mr. Zelaya?s plans for the
referendum were in line with the Constitution, and were worried that it
would further inflame tensions with the military and other political
factions, administration officials said.

"Even so, one administration official said that while the United States
thought the referendum was a bad idea, it did not justify a coup.

"'On the one instance, we?re talking about conducting a survey, a nonbinding
survey; in the other instance, we?re talking about the forcible removal of a
president from a country,' the official said, speaking on the condition of
anonymity during a teleconference call with reporters."

* * *

So the story as presented by the NY Times is simply that the US was, of
course meddling in the internal affairs of Honduras, backing the efforts of
the oligarchy to stop the developing national movement and especially
prevent the movement from cohering around the project for a constituent
assembly, which President Zelaya was pushing via the holding of a
non-binding referendum on whether, as part of the November elections, a
constituent assembly should be authorized.

The Honduran Supremes, Generals, Legislators and Oligarchs all claim this is
a crime of lese majeste and treason because, you see, when they switched
back to ostensibly civilian rule, they wrote a constitution saying you could
not change certain provisions in the constitution and most especially the
part about no re-election. The absurdity of such a clause is evident on its
face: Constituent Assemblies are, by their very nature, not subject to prior
restraint -- either that or they aren't really constituent assemblies. But
even more absurd is the claim that to hold a non-binding referendum on
whether or not to initiate a process of changing the constitution is in and
of itself criminally unconstitutional.

Of special interest in the NYTimes piece is identification of Mrs. Clinton
as having been *directly* involved in meddling in Honduras internal affairs.
Of course, all the stuff about how the US was caught completely by surprise
by the coup is BS. It *may* conceivably be true that the U.S. was not
officially informed of every last detail of the action before it happened,
but the escalating rhetoric by the oligarchy indicated a coup was afoot.

Moreover, how to explain Zelaya's being expelled to a neighboring country
from which he can denounce the coup and organize opposition to it than it
having been viewed by the Honduran coup plotters as a way of relieving the
fear of their American partners that they would be associated with a savage
murder or a blood bath?

This of course explains the original U.S. reaction, which was extremely lame
and very much in keeping with the Venezuelan precedent, contrary to what The
Times claims. For the time being, the U.S. appears to have been
outmaneuvered diplomatically, forcing it to speak more clearly than it would
have liked to.

Normally something like this would be shunted to the OAS, the yanqui
ministry of colonies, where solemn press releases would issue and that would
be the end of it.

But this time, instead the OAS, yes, had to adopt a condemnation but somehow
the progressive forces maneuvered Secretary General Insulza to head to
Central America directly to intervene in the crisis, moving the locus from

At the same time, previously scheduled summits of the Central American
nations and the ALBA bloc (which re-christened itself "Alliance," replacing
"Alternative) in Nicaragua kept the initiative in the hands of progressive
forces. And Nicaragua also used the happy coincidence that Miguel dÉscoto is
president of the United Nations General Assembly to seize on the issue, call
a special session of the Assembly to pillory Honduras.

So deftly had US diplomacy been outmaneuvered that Mrs. Clinton was forced
to come out this morning and give another press briefing on Honduras, where
she conceded that yes, it was a coup, and no, the U.S. did not believe what
was done was legitimate. But she insisted the situation was very fluid and
there had to be a "dialogue" between the legitimate President of Honduras,
universally recognized as such, and the criminal thugs trying to overthrow
the government by force and violence.

Then some hours later, either Mrs. Clinton or her mouthpiece held the
telephone off-the-record press briefing the NY Times article alludes to. It
should be noted that normally, the State Department will not allow this
level of detail to be reported, and usually not even that the briefing was
held. In this case it was necessary to alert ruling class circles and their
propagandists of the government's judgment that it could not in this
diplomatic playing field claim it had not known anything: the claim was
obviously absurd, making it would put the U.S. out of the game.



Tuesday, June 30, 2009 4:26 PM

Denounce the Human Rights Abuses in Honduras

The situation in Honduras turned violent when over 10,000 people gathered in the
streets to protest the coup Monday evening. Using tear gas, high-powered water
and guns (it is still not clear whether soldiers were armed with rubber bullets
or otherwise) many people were wounded and there has been one confirmed death in the capital, Tegucigalpa.

In the capital, pro-coup marches are occurring, defended by the police and
national guard.  As of Tuesday morning, the resistance movement to the coup is
gathering in Tegucigalpa, to determine how and where to take to the streets.

Therefore, there is anticipation of violence today, as soldiers are expected to
react violently today to protesters as they did yesterday.
Violence has also broken out outside of Tegucigalpa.

In the interior of the
country, especially in the state of Olancho, the military has been conducting
home invasions in order to capture and detain youth. Many youth have fled to
the mountains, and their whereabouts are unknown.

The military is violently disbursing pro-Zelaya marches, and many protesters are
missing.  The local media is refusing to air any comments about the violence
and human rights abuses taking place in the country, insisting that nothing is

An international news crew from TeleSur was detained and beaten while
broadcasting the oppression of protesters by the military.

Yesterday in a meeting of the Rio Group, President Zelaya reiterated that he is
the only president of Honduras, and that he has not stepped down.  He declared
his plans to return to Honduras on Thursday, mostly likely accompanied by the
Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Jose Miguel
Insulza.  Argentine president Cristina Fernandez also plans to accompany Zelaya
on Thursday.

The coup in Honduras has been unanimously condemned throughout the Western
Hemisphere, and has also been condemned by the United Nations and European
Union. Zelaya spoke on Tuesday in front of the United Nations.
Notably, two army battalions have refused orders from the coup government. They
are the Fourth Infantry Battalion in the city of Tela and the Tenth Infantry
Battalion in La Ceiba (the second largest city in Honduras), both located in the
state of Atlantida.

The coup leaders include several well-known human rights abusers, such as the
retired Captain Billy Fernando Joya Amendola, who was a member of the
CIA-trained 3-16 batallion from 1984-91, one of the most notorious battalions
noted for human rights abuses during that time.

Bertha Oliva, of COFADEH, calls the coup advisers a line-up of the "Galley of

Furthermore, two coup leaders, Air Force Commander General Luis Javier Prince
Suazo and Army General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, were trained at the School of
the Americas (SOA, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security
Cooperation), a US army school located in Fort Benning, GA, whose graduates have
been linked to some of the largest human rights atrocities in Latin America's

COFADEH (Comite de Familiares de Detenidos y Desaparecidos en Honduras or the Honduran Committee of Families of the Disappeared or Detained), a leading Human Rights group in Honduras, has gone hospital to hospital attempting to document the cases of violence and human rights abuses. They are conducting this
documentation work because the national Human Rights Commission, headed by Ramon Custodio and the Fiscal (Attorney General), Sandra Ponce, have thus far refused to document and denounce human rights abuses since the coup began Monday morning and are fully supporting the coup government.

One of the first moves of the army and de facto government was to cut
electricity and telephone lines throughout most of the country. Later Monday two
television channels were re-established, both of which maintained that Zelaya
had voluntary resigned, the change of power was constitutionally legitimate and
that the new President had the support of the majority of the Honduran people.
Through TeleSur, a transnational South American television news station, the
public in South America has been able to see on the ground footage of protests
in Honduras as well as streamed footage from the Honduran pro-coup news

Hondurans within their country are much less informed than larger Latin America
because the coup government has been able to stop TeleSur from broadcasting.
Information is arriving to Honduran people about the whereabouts of President
Manuel Zelaya and the vast international support he has by way of people from
outside Honduras calling to cell phones of friends and family inside who are
inside the country. The biggest issue now are human rights abuses inside the

COFADEH calls on the international human rights community to denounce the
blatant disregard of human rights abuses by Ramon Custodio and Sandra Ponce.
Bertha Oliva, of COFADEH, is available for interviews (in Spanish) by the
media.  She can be reached in Honduras at 011-504-8991-0259 (cell) or
011-501-222-7144 (land line).


Why President Zelaya's Actions in Honduras Were Legal and Constitutional

Zelaya attempted to give Hondurans the gift of participatory democracy. It was the coup leaders who violated the constitution. Those who say otherwise are wrong.

By Alberto Valiente Thoresen, RebelReports Guest Contributor

EDITOR’S NOTE: RebelReports is publishing this original article as a response to those who claim that the coup in Honduras was legal and/or constitutional and to the reporting by those media outlets that consistently repeat false characterizations of Honduran law and President Zelaya’s actions.—JS

In the classic Greek tragedy, Prometheus Bound, the playwright observes: “Of wrath’s disease wise words the healers are.” Shortly put, this story is about Prometheus, a titan who was punished by the almighty gods for having given humanity the capacity to create fire. This generated a conflict, which ended with Prometheus’ banishment and exile.

Currently, there is a tragedy being staged in the Central American republic Honduras. Meanwhile, the rest of humanity follows the events, as spectators of an outdated event in Latin America, which could set a very unfortunate undemocratic precedent for the region. In their rage, the almighty gods of Honduran politics have punished an aspiring titan, President Manuel Zelaya, for attempting to give Hondurans the gift of participatory democracy. This generated a constitutional conflict that resulted in president Zelaya’s banishment and exile.  In this tragedy, words are once again the healers of enraged minds.  If we, the spectators, are not attentive to these words, we risk succumbing intellectually, willfully accepting the facts presented by the angry coup-makers and Honduran gods of politics.

In this respect, media coverage of the recent military coup in Honduras is often misleading; even when it is presenting a critical standpoint towards the events. Concentrating on which words are used to characterize the policies conducted by President Zelaya might seem trivial at first sight. But any familiarity to the notion of ‘manufacturing of consent’, and how slight semantic tricks can be used to manipulate public opinion and support, is enough to realize the magnitude of certain omissions. Such oversights rely on the public’s widespread ignorance about some apparently minor legal intricacies in the Honduran Constitution.

For example, most reports have stated that Manuel Zelaya was ousted from his country’s presidency after he tried to carry out a non-binding referendum to extend his term in office. But this is not completely accurate. Such presentation of “facts” merely contributes to legitimizing the propaganda, which is being employed by the coup-makers in Honduras to justify their actions. This interpretation is widespread in US-American liberal environments, especially after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the coup is unacceptable, but that “all parties have a responsibility to address the underlying problems that led to [Sunday]’s events.” However, President Zelaya cannot be held responsible for this flagrant violation of the Honduran democratic institutions that he has tried to expand. This is what has actually happened:

The Honduran Supreme Court of Justice, Attorney General, National Congress, Armed Forces and Supreme Electoral Tribunal have all falsely accused Manuel Zelaya of attempting a referendum to extend his term in office. 

According to Honduran law, this attempt would be illegal. Article 239 of the Honduran Constitution clearly states that persons, who have served as presidents, cannot be presidential candidates again. The same article also states that public officials who breach this article, as well as those that help them, directly or indirectly, will automatically lose their immunity and are subject to persecution by law. Additionally, articles 374 and 5 of the Honduran Constitution of 1982 (with amendments of 2005), clearly state that: “it is not possible to reform the Constitution regarding matters about the form of government, presidential periods, re-election and Honduran territory”, and that “reforms to article 374 of this Constitution are not subject to referendum.”

Nevertheless, this is far from what President Zelaya attempted to do in Honduras the past Sunday and which the Honduran political/military elites disliked so much.  President Zelaya intended to perform a non-binding public consultation, about the conformation of an elected National Constituent Assembly. To do this, he invoked article 5 of the Honduran “Civil Participation Act” of 2006.  According to this act, all public functionaries can perform non-binding public consultations to inquire what the population thinks about policy measures. This act was approved by the National Congress and it was not contested by the Supreme Court of Justice, when it was published in the Official Paper of 2006.  That is, until the president of the republic employed it in a manner that was not amicable to the interests of the members of these institutions.

Furthermore, the Honduran Constitution says nothing against the conformation of an elected National Constituent Assembly, with the mandate to draw up a completely new constitution, which the Honduran public would need to approve. Such a popular participatory process would bypass the current liberal democratic one specified in article 373 of the current constitution, in which the National Congress has to approve with 2/3 of the votes, any reform to the 1982 Constitution, excluding reforms to articles 239 and 374. This means that a perfectly legal National Constituent Assembly would have a greater mandate and fewer limitations than the National Congress, because such a National Constituent Assembly would not be reforming the Constitution, but re-writing it. The National Constituent Assembly’s mandate would come directly from the Honduran people, who would have to approve the new draft for a constitution, unlike constitutional amendments that only need 2/3 of the votes in Congress. This popular constitution would be more democratic and it would contrast with the current 1982 Constitution, which was the product of a context characterized by counter-insurgency policies supported by the US-government, civil façade military governments and undemocratic policies. In opposition to other legal systems in the Central American region that (directly or indirectly) participated in the civil wars of the 1980s, the Honduran one has not been deeply affected by peace agreements and a subsequent reformation of the role played by the Armed Forces.

Recalling these observations, we can once again take a look at the widespread assumption that Zelaya was ousted as president after he tried to carry out a non-binding referendum to extend his term in office. 

The poll was certainly non-binding, and therefore also not subject to prohibition.  However it was not a referendum, as such public consultations are generally understood. Even if it had been, the objective was not to extend Zelaya’s term in office. In this sense, it is important to point out that Zelaya’s term concludes in January 2010.  In line with article 239 of the Honduran Constitution of 1982, Zelaya is not participating in the presidential elections of November 2009, meaning that he could have not been reelected. Moreover, it is completely uncertain what the probable National Constituent Assembly would have suggested concerning matters of presidential periods and re-elections. These suggestions would have to be approved by all Hondurans and this would have happened at a time when Zelaya would have concluded his term. Likewise, even if the Honduran public had decided that earlier presidents could become presidential candidates again, this disposition would form a part of a completely new constitution. Therefore, it cannot be regarded as an amendment to the 1982 Constitution and it would not be in violation of articles 5, 239 and 374. The National Constituent Assembly, with a mandate from the people, would derogate the previous constitution before approving the new one. The people, not president Zelaya, who by that time would be ex-president Zelaya, would decide.

It is evident that the opposition had no legal case against President Zelaya. All they had was speculation about perfectly legal scenarios which they strongly disliked. Otherwise, they could have followed a legal procedure sheltered in article 205 nr. 22 of the 1982 Constitution, which states that public officials that are suspected to violate the law are subject to impeachment by the National Congress. As a result they helplessly unleashed a violent and barbaric preemptive strike, which has threatened civility, democracy and stability in the region.

It is fundamental that media channels do not fall into omissions that can delay the return of democracy to Honduras and can weaken the condemnation issued by strong institutions, like the United States government. It is also important that individuals are informed, so that they can have a critical attitude to media reports. Honduras needs democracy back now, and international society can play an important role in achieving this by not engaging in irresponsible oversimplifications.

Alberto Valiente Thoresen was born in San Salvador, El Salvador. He currently resides in Norway where he serves on the board of the Norwegian Solidarity Committee with Latin America

Latin America Drags a Reluctant Washington Into Supporting Democracy in Honduras

By Mark Weisbrot


This will be published in The Guardian Unlimited today. Please request permission by replying to this message before printing this column.


The military coup that overthrew Honduras' elected president Manuel Zelaya brought unanimous international condemnation. But some country's responses have been more reluctant than others, and Washington's ambivalence has begun to raise suspicions about what the U.S. government is really trying to accomplish in this situation.

The first statement from the White House in response to the coup was weak and non-committal. It did not denounce the coup but rather called upon "all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter."

This contrasted with statements from other presidents in the hemisphere, such as Lula da Silva of Brazil and President Cristina Fernandez of Argentina, who denounced the coup and called for the re-instatement of President Zelaya. The European Union issued a similar, less ambiguous, and more immediate response.

Later in the day, as the response of other nations became clear, Secretary of State Hil lary Clinton issued a stronger statement, that condemned the coup - without calling it a coup. But it still didn't say anything about Zelaya returning to the presidency.

The Organization of American States, the Rio Group (most of Latin America), and the United Nations General Assembly have all called for the "immediate and unconditional return" of President Zelaya.

The strong stances from the South brought statements from anonymous State Department officials that were more supportive of President Zelaya's return. And by Monday afternoon President Obama finally said, "We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras..."

But at a press conference later on Monday, Secretary of State Clinton was asked if "restoring the constitutional order" in Honduras meant returning Zelaya himself. She would not say yes.

Why such reluctance to openly call for the immediate and unconditional return of an elected president, as the rest of the hemisphere and the United Nations has done? One obvious possibility is that Washington does not share these goals. The coup leaders have no international support but they could still succeed by running out the clock - Zelaya has less than six months left in his term. Will the Obama administration support sanctions against the coup government in order to prevent this? The neighboring governments of Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El20Salvador have already fired a warning shot by announcing a 48-hour cut-off of trade.

By contrast, one reason for Hillary Clinton's reluctance to call the coup a coup is because the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act prohibits funds going to governments where the head of state has been deposed by a military coup.

Unconditional is also a key word here: the Administration may want to extract concessions from Zelaya as part of a deal for his return to office. But this is not how democracy works. If Zelaya wants to negotiate a settlement with his political opponents after he returns, that is another story. But nobody has the right to extract political concession from him in exile, over the barrel of a gun.

There is no excuse for this coup. A constitutional crisis came to a head when President Zelaya ordered the military to distribute materials for a non-binding referendum to be held last Sunday. The referendum asked citizens to vote on whether they were in favor of including a proposal for a constituent assembly, to redraft the constitution, on the November ballot. The head of the military, General Romeo Vasquez refused to carry out the President's orders. The president, as commander-in-chief of the military, then fired Vasquez, whereupon the Defense Minister resigned. The Supreme Court subsequently ruled that the president's firing of Vasquez was illegal, and the majority of the Congress has gone against President Zelaya.

Supporters of the coup argue that the president violated the law20by attempting to go ahead with the referendum after the Supreme Court ruled against it. This is a legal question; it may be true, or it may be that the Supreme Court had no legal basis for its ruling. But it is irrelevant to the what has happened: the military is not the arbiter of a constitutional dispute between the various branches of government. This is especially true in this case, in that the proposed referendum was a non-binding and merely consultative plebiscite. It would not have changed any law nor affected the structure of power; it was merely a poll of the electorate.

Therefore, the military cannot claim that it acted to prevent any irreparable harm. This is a military coup carried out for political purposes.

There are other issues where our government has been oddly silent. Reports of political repression, the closing of TV and radio stations, the detention of journalists, detention and physical abuse of diplomats, and what the Committee to Protect Journalists has called a "media blackout" have yet to draw a serious rebuke from Washington. By controlling information and repressing dissent, the Honduran de facto government is also setting the stage for unfair elections in November.

Many press reports have contrasted the Obama administration's rejection of the Honduran coup with the Bush administration's initial support for the 2002 military coup that briefly overthrew President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. But actually there are more similarities than differences between the U.S. r esponse to these two events. Within a day, the Bush administration reversed its official position on the Venezuelan coup, because the rest of the hemisphere had announced that it would not recognize the coup government. Similarly, in this case, the Obama administration is following the rest of the hemisphere, trying not to be the odd man out but at the same time not really sharing their commitment to democracy.

It was not until some months after the Venezuelan coup that the State Department admitted that it had given financial and other support "to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved in the brief ouster of the Chavez government." In the Honduran coup, the Obama administration claims that it tried to discourage the Honduran military from taking this action. It would be interesting to know what these discussions were like. Did administration officials say, "You know that we will have to say that we are against such a move if you do it, because everyone else will?" Or was it more like, "Don't do it, because we will do everything in our power to reverse any such coup."? The administration's actions since the coup indicate something more like the former, if not worse.

The battle between Zelaya and his opponents pits a reform president who is supported by labor unions and social organizations against a mafia-like, drug-ridden, corrupt political elite who is acc ustomed to choosing not only the Supreme Court and the Congress, but also the president. It is a recurrent story in Latin America, and the United States has almost always sided with the elites. In this case, Washington has a very close relationship with the Honduran military, which goes back decades. During the 1980's, the U.S. used bases in Honduras to train and arm the Contras, Nicaraguan paramilitaries who became known for their atrocities in their war against the Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua.

The hemisphere has changed substantially since the Venezuelan coup in April of 2002, with 11 more left governments having been elected. A whole set of norms, institutions, and power relations between South and North in the hemisphere have been altered. The Obama administration today faces neighbors that are much more united and much less willing to compromise on fundamental questions of democracy. So Secretary of State Clinton will probably not have that much room to maneuver. Still, the administration's ambivalence will be noticed in Honduras and can very likely encourage the de facto government there to try and hang on to power. That could be very damaging.


Honduran coup tries to halt advance of Latin American left

New America Media, 3 July 2009The coup against Manuel Zelaya of Honduras represents a last ditch effort by Honduras’ entrenched economic and political interests to stave off the advance of the new left governments that have taken hold in Latin America over the past decade.
The coup against Manuel Zelaya of Honduras represents a last ditch effort by Honduras’ entrenched economic and political interests to stave off the advance of the new left governments that have taken hold in Latin America over the past decade. As Zelaya proclaimed after being forcibly dumped in Costa Rica: “This is a vicious plot planned by elites. The elites only want to keep the country isolated and in extreme poverty.”

Zelaya should know, since his roots are in the country’s large, land-owning class, having devoted most of his life to agriculture and forestry enterprises that he inherited. He ran for president as the head of the center-right Liberal Party on a fairly conservative platform, promising to be tough on crime and to cut the budget. Inaugurated in January, 2006, he supported the US-backed Central American Free Trade Agreement, which been signed two years earlier, and continued the economic policies of neo-liberalism, privatizing state held enterprises.

But about half way into his four year term, the winds of change blowing from the south caught his imagination, particularly those coming from Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, the largest regional power fronting on the Caribbean. With no petroleum resources, Honduras signed a generous oil subsidy deal with Venezuela, and then last year joined the emergent regional trade bloc, ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. Inspired by Venezuela it now has Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Dominica and Ecuador as members. Simultaneously, Zelaya implemented domestic reform policies, significantly increasing the minimum wage of workers and teachers’ salaries, while stepping up spending in health care and education.

The upshot is that a reform-minded president supported by labor unions and social organizations is now pitted against a mafia-like, drug-ridden, corrupt political elite that is accustomed to controlling the Supreme Court, as well as congress and the presidency. It is a story often repeated elsewhere in Latin America, with the United States almost always weighing in on the side of the established, entrenched interests.

The Honduran elites were outraged that a member of their class would carry out even modest reforms. They began to portray Zelaya as a demagogue, and demonized Hugo Chavez as trying to take over the country. When Zelaya announced that he would hold a plebiscite on June 28 to see if the country wanted to have the option in the upcoming November presidential elections to vote for the convening of a constituent assembly that would draft a new constitution, the political establishment would have none of it. They incorrectly claimed that Zelaya was trying to stand for re-election. In fact the possibility that a president might serve a second term could only emerge in a new constitution that would not be drafted until well after Zelaya left office in January, 2010. The elites did however have reason to fear a new magna carta, since this is the path that Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador have used to draft new constitutions to begin transforming their countries political, social and economic structures.

The political establishment decided to nip this process in the bud by quashing the plebiscite scheduled for Sunday, June 28. The Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional and the military refused to help distribute the ballots. Then Zelaya fired the head of the army, General Romeo Vasquez, and led workers and social movement activists to seize ballots stored at an air force base for distribution. On Sunday at 6AM, the day of the plebiscite, the military sent a special army unit to seize Zelaya in his pajamas and to deport him to Costa Rica. The next day the Supreme Court levied charges of treason against Zelaya, and the Congress elevated its president, Roberto Micheletti to be the interim president of the country.

The rest of the Americas, and most of the world, reacted with outrage against the coup. The Organization of the Americas convened an emergency session and voted unanimously to call upon the coup makers to restore Zelaya to power. Regional organizations like the Group of Rio also denounced the coup, while the European Economic Union and the World Bank announced that they were suspending economic assistance to Honduras. Even the governments of Alvaro Uribe of Colombia and Felipe Calderon of Mexico felt compelled to denounce the coup.

What explains this virtually unanimous opposition to the coup? Most of Latin America still remembers the dark days of the 1970s and 1980s when three-quarters of the continent’s population fell under military rule. Countries like Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil still bear the scars and traumas of this period, and do not want to contemplate any opening that would allow their militaries to begin interfering once again in the political sphere.

The United States is also opposed to the coup, with President Obama denouncing it, saying it set a “terrible precedent” and that “We do not want to go back to a dark past” in which coups often trumped elections. He added: “We always want to stand with democracy.”

Many observers are suspicious of how solid the US stand against the coup is. Obama given his emphasis on multilateralism, may have had little choice, knowing that his predecessor George W. Bush had roiled Latin America when he rushed to endorse the last coup attempt in the region against Hugo Chavez in October, 2002.

The State Department has taken a more tepid stance. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked if “restoring the constitutional order” in Honduras meant restoring Zelaya, she would not say yes. The New York Times reports that she did not take to the Honduran president when she met him on June 2 at the meeting of the OAS in Tegucigalpa. Zelaya annoyed her by asking her to a private room late at night to have her meet and shake hands with his extended family. In a more formal meeting Zelaya brought up his plans for the referendum on June 28 with US officials taking the position that it was unconstitutional and would inflame the political situation.

Washington also has a very close relationship with the Honduran military, which goes back decades. During the 1980s the US used bases in Honduras to train and arm the Contras, Nicaraguan paramilitaries who became known for their atrocities in their war against the Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua. John Negroponte who became the czar of intelligence during the Bush administration after serving as US ambassador to Iraq, first achieved notoriety when he served as US ambassador to Honduras in the early 1980s and granted US approval to death squads run by a special Honduran military unit against domestic opponents.

On Wednesday, the OAS meeting in Washington called for the restoration of Zelaya to office by Saturday, July 4. The head of the OAS, Jose Miguel Insulza of Chile, along with the president of the UN General Assembly Miguel d’Escota of Nicaragua, and Presidents Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Rafael Correa of Argentina and Ecuador respectively have said they will accompany Zelaya on his return.

But it is doubtful if he will be allowed to return by the coup leaders. For Micheletti and Vasquez, the Rubicon has been crossed and they cannot abandon power without suffering consequences. Any aircraft trying to descend with this list of dignitaries would require air-landing clearance by Honduran authorities and this would likely be denied. The key may well be whether the Obama administration is willing to bring inordinate pressure to bear on its historic allies or use its military air power to impose the deadline for Zelaya’s return. And if the external pressure gets Zelaya back in office, will he be allowed to get the vote for a constituent assembly that the country so badly needs to become a progressive society?

Roger Burbach is author of The Pinochet Affair and Director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) based in Berkeley, California.