By ANN MONTAGUE
At 3 a.m. on June 28, 2009, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and his wife Xiomara were kidnapped from their home at gunpoint by 10 hooded Honduran soldiers and put on a plane that flew directly to the U.S. military base on Honduran soil called Palmerola. From there they were eventually flown to Costa Rica, where they were dumped on the airstrip and spent 23 months in exile.
This was the first successful military coup in 25 years in Latin America, and it took place five months after President Obama’s election. When Zelaya returned to Honduras, he spoke to Amy Goodman on “Democracy Now!” His first words were, “This coup d’etat was made in the U.S., and was a conspiracy that needs to be investigated by the international community”.
Zelaya stated that the U.S. Ambassador, Charles Ford, was preparing the coup with the Southern Command. Ford had given President Zelaya the names of people the U.S. wanted him to appoint to his cabinet. He refused. At the time, Zelaya, a member of the center-right Liberal Party, was moving away from the expected neoliberal policies as he initiated literacy programs and increased services to the poor.
Honduras joined the Bolivarian Alternative For The Americas (ALBA) and developed relationships with Venezuela, Cuba, and Ecuador. According to Wikileaks documents, the CIA claimed Zelaya was threatening the security of the hemisphere. Currently, the so-called drug war is being used to justify sending 600 soldiers and opening three more military bases in Honduras.
Since the coup, there has been an increased number of killings specifically aimed at the campesino movement, unions, and members of the LGBT community. In response to the coup, a strong non-violent resistance movement has grown up. It has its base in the popular movements of unions, campesinos, indigenous communities, human rights groups, students, and the LGBT community. They united to form the National Front For Popular Resistance (FNRP). In November 2011 they submitted the required documentation, including 81,000 signatures to form a political party called Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE).
At the formal ceremony presenting the signatures, Manuel Zelaya spoke: “We are entering a new era, we are opening a new era of democracy, of democratic socialism for the Honduran people, and this new era has a name—Freedom and Refoundation Party, LIBERTAD.”
The Zelayas are large landowners in the central region of Olancho. In the Libre Party primary of November 2012, Xiomara Zelaya, running unopposed, was elected to be its presidential candidate. She has been holding large rallies throughout the country. The two other major parties are the National Party, the traditional party of the oligarchy, and Zelaya’s former party, the Liberal Party. It has been reported by election observers from the Alliance For Global Justice that in the primaries the Libre Party candidates received more votes than the combined total of the National and Liberal parties.
In December, I traveled to Honduras, and my friend encouraged me to meet her niece, who is a teacher and an activist in her union, as well as a supporter of Libre. Suyapa Almenderes is a teacher and proud union member. Earlier in the month she had participated in a strike called by the teachers unions. Some 30,000 Honduran public school teachers went on strike to protest the government’s delay in paying their salaries.
The strike began on a Monday, just as thousands of public school students were coming back to class after five consecutive weeks of street protests against a new Education Law promoted by the government, which they believe will result in privatization of the public school system. Half of those who work in the public school system joined the three-day work stoppage in 298 municipalities around the country. They had not received their salaries since before August.
Suyapa explained that they are struggling against attacks on public schools teachers. In the past their jobs were secure; they had a decent pension and health care when they retired and death benefits for their families. Currently, the government can fire any teacher for any reason. In the past they could retire at age 50, and now it has increased to age 65, and family death benefits have been eliminated. Suyapa sees her union as standing up for the dignity of teachers. She proudly states, “We will not compromise with the government.”
We talked about the recent Chicago Teachers Strike and how teachers in Chicago are struggling against the closing of public schools and the corporate take over of education in the United States. Suyapa said, “This is an international problem.” The government is also cutting art and music classes.
Suyapa took me to the offices of her union to meet the president, Oscar Recarte. He had the current copy of the Honduras newspaper, El Heraldo, spread out on his desk. It had a three-page article entitled “Los 10 Villanos [Villains] Nacionales.” There was his picture at number nine. They cited his opposition to the Fundamental Law Of Education and a protest against teacher evaluations based on student tests. He found it humorous.
Honduras is an important country to watch. The U.S. imperialist hold on Latin America has been weakening with the rise of mass movements in the past couple of decades. If the Libre Party continues to maintain popular support as it gets closer to the November 2013 elections, we should be aware of the strong possibility of U.S. intervention. Nil Nikandrov, writing for the Strategic Culture Foundation, stated, “The U.S. Department of State, the CIA, and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Department are not the only agencies diverting top-level human resources to Honduras. USAID and the Peace Corps are also there, and vast employment opportunities are open for contractors with combat experience or record of service in the special forces.”
The Civil And Human Rights Committee of SEIU 503 (Oregon) and the Alliance For Global Justice will be holding forums on Honduras in four cities (Portland, Salem, Corvallis, Eugene) on March 4-7 to educate workers and community members about attacks on unions and the LGBT community in Honduras as well as the role of the Obama administration.
Photo: Presidential candidate Xiomara Zelaya