[by James Frickey & Clay Wadena – The following article will appear in the July issue of Socialist Action newspaper. The article reflects the views of the Political Committee of Socialist Action.]
On June 28, the Honduran army deposed the elected president of that nation, Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, waking him in the dead of night, abducting him from his bed in the presidential palace, and expelling him to Costa Rica, where he held a press conference in his pajamas alerting the world to the coup. The army replaced Zelaya with the president of the Honduran Congress, Roberto Micheletti, a move that met with near-unanimous approval from the Congress and Supreme Court, the latter of which had “authorized” the coup as a legal measure taken in defense of the national constitution.
The coup-makers have acted in accord with the wishes of a Honduran oligarchy that is unified in its hatred for the unexpected populist turn of Zelaya, whom it loathes for his minimalist reform program and his public association with the Chavez regime in Venezuela and other left-populist leaders in the region.
Viewed through the reckless actions of the oligarchy, the Honduran state has shown itself to be structurally incapable of weathering even the minimal reforms of a bourgeois liberal type. The unity of its state institutions in favor of the overthrow is not a sign of ruling-class strength, but an acknowledgement that it is totally alienated from the conditions of the masses in Honduras and incapable of relating to them in any but the most predatory ways.
Honduras is one of the poorest and most economically polarized countries in the Western Hemisphere, with half of its population living below the poverty line. Since the military restored formal democracy there in 1983, the country has been ruled by two political parties sustained by ties to the national oligarchy.
Voter turnout in Honduras was 46.0 percent in 2005, the lowest of any national election in Central America in the past four years–significantly lower than any of its neighbors. Regional experts have attributed the high rates of voter absenteeism to the extreme indifference with which the Honduran masses regard the two oligarchic parties, which have presided over a pauperized nation with no semblance of real political differences between them.
The coup-makers have gone to great lengths to prevent the Honduran masses from expressing their discontent with the toppling of the democratically elected government. The state-run television network and another network known for its loyalties to Zelaya were immediately blacked out by the coup-makers when they seized the presidency. Zelaya’s ministers and political allies have been detained.
The BBC reports from Honduras that soldiers are blockading the highways to the capital, preventing the arrival of caravans of protesters. Jose Antonio Zepeda, president of the Central American Union Movement, recounted in a video posted on YouTube that at one roadblock soldiers shot out the tires on buses carrying peasants and union members to Tegucigalpa (the capital city). The protesters continued the rest of the trip on foot.
Despite the ruling class’s efforts, the masses have braved severe repression from the police and military to take to the streets in opposition to the coup. The BBC reported that anti-coup protests have occurred in the majority of Honduras’ departments, and moreover that protesters have blocked major highways in Copan and Tocoa.
CNN quoted Oscar Garcia, vice president of the Honduran water workers’ union SANA, as saying that three major public-sector labor unions launched an indefinite general strike pending the restoration of Zelaya to power on June 30, claiming the participation of over 100,000 workers. “We don’t recognize this new government imposed by the oligarchy,” declared Garcia. “It will be an indefinite strike.” TeleSur reports that the teachers union has declared an open-ended national strike of the schools, also pending the restoration of Zelaya to power.
The Bolivarian News Agency reports a march of 4000 in Tegucigalpa July 2, and other sources put the number at 6000. A report coming out of Tegucigalpa from the Socialist Workers Party of Argentina claims that the banana workers have joined the national strike along with sections of the maquiladora workers.
In response to these demonstrations the government of coup leaders revoked the right to freely assemble at night and gave the police the power to detain anyone for longer than 24 hours without charge. There are reports that electricity has been cut to working-class districts, where anti-coup sentiments are highest.
Zelaya “converted” to populism
Zelaya was elected in 2005 as the candidate of the Liberal Party, one of two parties that has alternated in power in Honduras for the last 25 years. He is part of the elite of the country, having amassed a fortune as a rancher and landowner. Moreover, his populist credentials are belied by allegations that he supported the death-squads in their dirty war against the Honduran Left in the 1980s.
It wasn’t until Zelaya was elected to the presidency in 2005 that he showed signs of populist conversion. Until then he had advocated for Honduras to enter into the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., and was considered a reliable tool of the oligarchy, which had endorsed and funded his candidacy.
The rift opened when Zelaya began accepting shipments of subsidized petroleum from the Chavez government, and thereafter guided Honduras into the regional trade block known as the ALBA. These initiatives, along with some domestic reforms like raising the minimum wage, established a social base for Zelaya among the peasantry and some trade unions, but fomented the hatred of the oligarchy against him.
The fact that Zelaya’s own party was complicit in his overthrow is a clear indication of how isolated he has become. Micheletti, the army’s choice to replace Zelaya, is a member of the same Liberal Party.
The immediate cause of the coup is being widely attributed to Zelaya’s plan to reform the Honduran constitution, which opponents contend was simply a maneuver by Zelaya to stay in power beyond the one-term limit specified under the current constitution.
Zelaya was deposed from office on the eve of a non-binding national referendum that he had proposed as a means to measure popular support for a constituent assembly. Based on what he presumed would be a clear victory on that vote, Zelaya was planning to hold a legally binding second referendum during the upcoming November presidential elections.
Though Zelaya was noncommittal as to what type of constitutional reforms he proposed, the call for a constituent assembly had attracted the attention of Honduran farmers, workers, and leftist radicals. The oligarchy’s false cry of “dictatorship” was only a cover for its real pervasive fear that a constituent assembly could lead to numerous reforms (driven by involvement of the masses) that would curtail its economic and political domination of Honduras.
The Honduran oligarchy attempted to obstruct the referendum prior to the coup through various institutional means—from legislating against it in the Congress, to issuing a ruling from the Supreme Court declaring it unconstitutional, to instructing the army brass to refuse Zelaya’s order to conduct the vote. Zelaya responded, in turn, by firing the defense minister and the senior military commander, and then leading a dramatic march of peasant farmers and unionists to an airforce base to seize the ballot boxes that had been suppressed by the military.
Within days the Supreme Court reinstated the senior military commander and issued an arrest warrant for Zelaya that military personnel “served” to the president on the night that they overthrew his government.
A bastion of the U.S. military
U.S. officials—both civilian and military—were well aware that a coup was being plotted within Honduras, as they had been participating in high-level discussions between the Honduran Congress, military, and president in the weeks leading up to the overthrow. But the American government did not use its immense power—as Honduras’ leading trading partner and as a major donor of military and civilian aid—to prevent the coup from taking place. The claim by an anonymous official in the Obama administration that the army broke off the talks is convenient to the U.S., but otherwise impossible to verify and therefore unreliable.
Despite statements by President Obama expressing disapproval for the coup, his administration continues to quibble over whether the term “coup” is applicable to the nighttime abduction of the Honduran president by the army. “There is a process that we need to follow … it’s a legal matter,” said the State Department spokesman Ian Kelly. This is a primary consideration because the U.S., on making the determination that a coup has taken place, is required by its own laws to suspend all military and economic assistance to Honduras. The Obama administration is searching for a plausible legal argument to continue its long history of funding the Honduran military.
Honduras has long been a bastion of U.S military might in Central America, as it was a staging ground for the Reagan-era Contra attacks on the Sandinista-led revolution in Nicaragua, and has long been a training ground for death-squads that operated in many places around Central and Latin America, including Honduras itself. Hundreds of Honduran military officers participate in the counter-insurgency training programs at the U.S. School of the Americas (nearly 1000 from 2005-07) and the bi-national relationship in this regard is one of the most extensive that the U.S. enjoys with any Latin American nation.
Moreover, the Pentagon has maintained a constant presence in the country, where its Joint Task Force Bravo for the Southern Command coordinates joint exercises with Central American militaries. The U.S. shares the Soto-Cano air base in Honduras with the Honduran air force.
It is becoming increasingly clear that while the U.S. government is working publicly to isolate the Micheletti regime in Honduras—and endorsing similar efforts in the United Nations and the Organization of American States, it is privately setting terms on Zelaya’s return to power.
Obama has notably declined to join in the call for Zelaya’s “unconditional” restoration to power, instead advocating for “negotiations” with the coup-makers on the terms of the democratically- elected president’s return.
The Guardian newspaper in the UK published an article titled, “Does the US back the Honduran coup?” which observed, “the Obama administration claims that it tried to discourage the Honduran military from taking this action. … 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 Mexico City daily La Jornada reported that representatives of the Obama administration warned the press that the negotiations will be “complicated” because they seek to resolve conflicts that have been festering in Honduras for some time prior to the coup. All of this indicates that the Obama Administration intends above all to ensure that should Zelaya return to the presidency of Honduras, he will do so as a hostage of the military and the oligarchy, and at the mercy of the U.S. government which was responsible for restoring him.
The specific price for Zelaya’s return has been suggested in the most recent reports: Zelaya’s defense minister suggested yesterday a possible “peaceful arrangement” to the dispute in which Zelaya is willing to drop plans of pursuing a rewrite of the constitution in return for serving out the remainder of his term—a mere six months.
Socialist Action condemns the coup d’etat in Honduras and stands in solidarity with the Honduran workers and farmers and their supporters in the broad masses as they wield the weapons of mass street mobilizations and the political mass strike to cripple the putschist government of Robert Micheletti and the Honduran bourgeoisie. We support the self-determination of the people of Honduras and completely oppose any attempt to “negotiate” with the coup-makers or any similar disguise that imperialism designs for what is only its imposition of a government on a sovereign nation.
The explosive situation in Honduras brings sharply into focus once more the crisis of leadership at this phase of the international workers movement. No eccentric bourgeois politician has the political wherewithal to lead the masses in a determined struggle against the class that is responsible for the depredation of the land, the exploitation of the workers, and the impoverishment of the broad masses. With every subsequent crisis, and every “symbolic” leader who finds him or herself momentarily surging on the might of the discontented masses, the need for a revolutionary socialist party becomes increasingly clear to the best fighters in Honduras, who mean to make a permanent break with their ruling elite.