Interview with Honduras resistance leader: `The US is sustaining the coup'
During an August 17-19, 2009, international seminar on the economic crisis hosted by the Party of Liberty and Socialism in Sao Paolo, Brazil, Green Left Weekly/Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal journalists Kiraz Janicke and Federico Fuentes, together with journalists from Marea Socialista (Venezuela) and Alternativa Socialista (Argentina), were able to interview Gilberto Rios from the international relations commission of the National Popular Resistance Front against the Coup about the growing resistance movement against the US backed coup which ousted the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, on June 28.
How is the Honduran oligarchy managing to sustain itself in the face of the growing mass movement against the coup which has developed in Honduras?
In our opinion the oligarchy does not have the capacity to orchestrate a media campaign as well as is happening now throughout the country. Although only three families control 98% of the media, the harmony that exists between the media campaign, government policy, the mobilisation of the police, and the army's presence, and are more a result of CIA planning. It is confirmed that there is a CIA group working in Tegucigalpa directing all the actions of the coup.
Two months of resistance have put the kibosh on the economy. All small and medium enterprises are broken. Other sectors are also part of the resistance. So, there is [little] political and popular support for the coup.
It is really the support of the US -- in terms logistics and control of the coup -- and the oligarchy in Latin America, especially Venezuela and El Salvador, which has strong interests in Honduras, that has sustained the coup.
So it's a coup made in the USA. But what prospects does the resistance have? What do you think will happen in Honduras in the next period?
Well, the coup is politically untenable because the international community still does not recognise the de facto government. And elections are approaching in November, important for it to legitimise the process and return to normality. But the people do not want to participate in an electoral process that is supervised by the coup government. It will not be a democratic process nor is the international community going to endorse it.
The continuation of the struggle is going to go beyond November, unless the President Manuel Zelaya is returned. But the president also has proposed that for each day he misses in office he will have to be given an extra day, and that puts more pressure on the right wing. And what’s happening is a continuation of the struggle in which more sectors are being organised against the coup, and with ever greater political awareness of who staged the coup: In domestic terms it is the oligarchy, and those who must be isolated from political power in the country are members of the oligarchy.
What is the situation within the armed forces?
Honduras’ armed forces are a very small. There are only 15,000 soldiers but it is not just the armed forces who are operating in the framework of the coup, the police are also involved, which is another 14,000 officers. There is also a rearguard to both these, which is the private police force which account for more than 17,000 in the country, larger than both the police and the army.
There are officials, above all in the police force, who are not in agreement with the coup but who are maintaining discipline from the higher commands, but there is also a strong resentment because the high command were subordinated to the CIA and the oligarchy in order to carry out the coup. So it is possible that the armed forces may fracture, and also the police, in the case that tension increased in the streets and above all if the CIA reduced its support to the oligarchy.
Since the coup the social movements appear to be more visible and it gives the impression that there is a rising level of struggle. The coup served to spark the fire?
There was a very interesting popular movement in Honduras; it was the most developed of the region. In Central America there is nothing like the National Resistance Coordinator, which is the body of popular movements in which all are involved: the Indigenous movement, the labour movement, the peasant movement, feminists, the gay-lesbian and transexual movement ... this existed before the coup.
But after the coup important sections of the Liberal Party, which is the traditional party from which President Zelaya comes, also became involved. Also honest sectors of the population and democratic and progressive political parties who are also against the coup.
So, yes there is a revival of struggle, but we must take into account that those who have supported the struggle most, with three national civil strikes, is the National Resistance Coordinator, which involves the majority of the workers and the minorities who are excluded by the capitalist system .
So there existed a previously articulated self-organisation of the social movements. But it has consolidated in the face of the coup?
That's right. There was an organisation that was present in 17 of the 18 departments [provinces] of the country, and when we called for people to protest in the streets they came out, not in the same numbers or with the same level of participation that is happening now. In recent days we have had protests in the morning that remain in the streets all day, and at night there are convoys of cars in major cities. And that shows that at a popular level the workers are participating, and the middle class is also coming out onto the streets. There are more and more sections of the population involved in peaceful protests against the coup.
Could you explain how people are organising in the working-class and poor areas, and also which political organisations are participating in the resistance?
In terms of political organisations, the left-wing political parties recognise that the Democratic Unification Party and other expressions of the left do not control any part of the popular movement. It's the opposite: we are part of the popular movement. It is a country in which all the political tendencies [of the left] converged in the social movements, even before the coup.
If we talk about trade unions, 95% of Honduras’ unions represent the public sector and only 5% of the organised unions represent private enterprise. That 5% are the most militant unions because they have the most direct class conflict with capital, such as the union in the cement industry, also the union of workers in the beverage industry.
STIBYS is the union currently most involved in politically coordinating the situation. In fact STIBYS just launched an independent presidential candidate -- Charles H. Reyes, who is also one of the main leaders of the struggle. He has been a popular leader for more than 30 years, with origins in the Communist Party and is recognised by broad sections of the population. He is attracting a lot of the vote. According to the latest polls, he has almost 40% acceptance.
Expanding on the subject of the presidential candidacy of this workers’ leader, is this part of a more comprehensive project of the National Resistance Front, or is participation in the coming electoral process simply an issue under discussion? How do you combine participation with the fact that this is a coup and Zelaya remains outside of the country? Are there two positions, one in favour of participation and one against?
Currently, there is no possibility of having two strategies with respect to the coup. Carlos H. Reyes has said publicly that if the president has not returned home then he will withdraw and will not endorse the process. But what would happen with the candidacy of Carlos H. Reyes? Although he has a chance of winning, we would only have a president but we would have no parliamentarians and then we would be defeated in the other two branches of power; the Congress and the Supreme Court.
Therefore greater alliances are proposed, something which is historic in Honduras, because it is the sector of the Liberal Party [that supports the resistance] that has candidates for mayors, that also defines local power and legislative candidates who are sympathetic to the president and who also have joined the National Popular Resistance Front, and this would be with the trade unions, workers, peasants -- the social base that traditionally supports Charles H. Rayes.
So what we see in the future is the transformation of this social movement into a political movement, rather broad and with more possibilities to transform and obtain changes in the country.
Does the resistance have the capacity to go further and really change the situation in Honduras?
Well, it is important to clarify that there are many parts of the country with a high concentration of weapons in the hands of the people. On the Atlantic coast, which is the northern, north-east of the country where there has been a presence of drug trafficking, the peasants have had to arm themselves for a long time. Here we have more than 5000 armed men. But they have proposed that the strategy remain peaceful. The same in the east and the south, where due to armed conflict in Central America, there remain many weapons and many with experience in weapons use.
But nationally it has been agreed not to take armed action because that would fall into the trap of what we think may be the strategy of the United States government -- to promote a civil war to achieve direct US intervention in the country. The US has problems now and needs to reactivate its war industry and it would also like to incorporate Central America in case the theatre of operations extends to Colombia and Venezuela. The Nicaraguan army also is not aligned to US imperialist policy. Therefore for us it is strategic to stay peacefully in the streets.
What is the relationship between the National Popular Resistance Front and Zelaya. There has been little information about who Zelaya was before the coup, apart from his participation in ALBA. Has that relationship changed after the coup?
In Honduras, like most of Latin America, no presidential candidate could come to power without having a clear intention not to support all the policies of the oligarchies of their countries. In that sense, Zelaya was no exception. When he became president, he told us that he had every intention to privatise all sectors. In fact, he wanted to be aggressive with privatisation in the first year: he wanted to privatise water, the country's largest port Puerto Cortes -- from which the Salvadoran oligarchy also exports, as well as the Costa Ricans and Nicaragua – and also electricity. All public services were to be privatised.
The first attempt at privatisation carried out by the Honduran oligarchy was the airports, which have been privatised for years, and are extremely inefficient and highly corrupt. They have not paid taxes, nor have they carried out the works that were promised when the concessions were granted. So he [Zelaya] checked, and found that privatisation does not answer social problems. Well, that's been somewhat traditional in the world, in Honduras, particularly in Latin America. But he expressed his surprise with such indignation that it seemed real. At first we were suspicious, then we realised that it was genuine surprise when, in a meeting with the government – meetings between the government and the popular movement were being held frequently -- he said that he had discovered that what existed in Honduras was neocolonialism. That to extract the wealth of countries it was not necessary to bring in armies, but could be done simply through a transnationalised economy... He made a theoretical effort to understand what had happened in our country... We began to understand that he had had a conversion.
Now he has the discourse of a left-wing militant and not a traditional oligarch, although his background is totally bourgeois, above all from the landed gentry of the Honduran countryside. But we also see in him a politically audacious person, able to take risks, for instance, to become president, Zelaya sold his 17 companies to pay for his campaign. He risked everything to be there. He did something that was unthinkable, that a minority candidate not supported by the oligarchy could get to that position. Not only that, but two years after being elected, he betrayed them and changed to be more on the side of the people than of the oligarchy.
Taking this into account, what does Zelaya represent and what does the Honduras resistance represent for the possibility of political and social transformation in Honduras and Central America?
To begin, it represents a lesson and for the left and the social movements. Because we were distanced from president, we didn’t believe the [political] conversion of a human being was possible... It is said it is easier to conquer than convince. And in that sense I think we can improve a little more, the strategies of the left and the social movement to appeal more to the theoretical argument of our positions than simply direct confrontation, which ultimately strengthens the position of the right wing, a right wing that is very ignorant, very unjust and very repressive in Latin America.
It is also an example that when a people are attacked they really can magnify their ability to respond and to understand what happens in social processes.
What is the resistance’s view on the negotiations headed by Costa Rica’s president, Oscar Arias? Many of the points proposed would have left Zelaya severely weakened if he had returned under those conditions. Is a Constituent Assembly still a demand of the resistance?
Our analysis was that it was the CIA's strategy to weaken the resistance forces as well as the popular pressure for the president’s return to power. However, the president accepted ... in fact on important websites such as www.rebelion.org, it was said that Zelaya had capitulated. But the resistance expressed publicly that it did not accept the negotiations, even though the president said yes. But the president's strategy was to return home, and once again take power to continue the battle for the Constituent Assembly, with a stronger argument because the constitutional framework had been broken. We just had a coup and that is a fact that can be demonstrated.
Now, all of proposals of the resistance start with the first point, which is: nothing will happen in the country unless a Constituent Assembly is convened after the return to democracy. And now there is also the understanding from the popular movements that a Constituent Assembly is the political way out of what's happened.
You've mentioned twice a ``CIA strategy’’. What is the position of the National Front of Resistance on US President Obama’s statements and performance since the coup?
The popular movement ihas always been very anti-imperialist. And we do not believe a change in the US government actually changes its international policies. The same policy of aggression remains. Most likely in the case of Obama, as Eva Golinger said in a December article, the Pentagon's strategy will now be more to use ``dirty wars’’, as is occurring in Honduras, rather than direct invasions, as under George Bush, who ultimately inflamed major sections of the world against imperialism.
Now it seems that national strategies to destabilise governments are what are being implemented. What the US is doing at a public level is to promote democracy, but on the other it is promoting war and destabilisation [behind the scenes]. This is clear not only to the leadership of the resistance movement, but also to the Honduran people. The people are making a political analysis at a level that we did not expect ... in that sense, we say, they made the coup with an old manual, but the people have changed, the world has changed.
What is the importance of international solidarity for the resistance in Honduras?
When one leaves the country it is clear that internationally there is more opportunity to learn from the media about what is happening in the country. Domestically, media control is very strong. And for the resistance it is very important to know that the peoples of the world sympathise with the Honduran people. This boosts our morale for the struggle. Now one can see in the marches of the resistance, people marching with flags from every country in the world that have publicly opposed the coup. Therefore international solidarity is very important for us, it helps maintain our morale.
We are thinking about the possibility of an international forum in Tegucigalpa, with the presence of popular movements from around the world. We know that governments do not support, at least nominally, the coup, but it is also important for people and for the resistance in the streets to see popular opposition from the rest of the world in Tegucigalpa. What we are thinking is a forum in October involving trade unions and popular movements and politicians across Latin America, from progressives, democrats and revolutionaries, all united against the coup. For example, some US trade unions have offered to be present, and Europeans from all social movements could apply significant pressure.
What would be the response of the de facto government in Honduras to an event like that?
I believe that every time there's an international presence, which we strive for permanently, the level of psychological warfare against the people decreases and also the military presence on the streets decreases too. One can see police on the street, but when there is no international presence what you see more are the military, who ultimately have neither education nor methods to suppress a march, but instead fire bullets. A lot of people have been shot and wounded by that. They use repressive methods as if it were a civil war against unarmed and peaceful people in the street. So an international presence would be very positive for us.