Showdown in Honduras: The Rise, Repression and Uncertain Future of the Coup
Worldwide condemnation has followed the coup that unseated President Manuel Zelaya of
On early Sunday morning, approximately 100 soldiers entered the home of the left-leaning Zelaya, forcefully removed him and, while he was still in his pajamas, ushered him on to a plane to
Manuel Zelaya Takes a Left Turn
When Manuel Zelaya was elected president on November 27, 2005 in a close victory, he became president of one of the poorest nations in the region, with approximately 70% of its population of 7.5 million living under the poverty line. Though siding himself with the region's left in recent years as a new member of the leftist trade bloc, Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), Zelaya did sign the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2004.
However, Zelaya has been criticizing and taking on the sweatshop and corporate media industry in his country, and increased the minimum wage by 60%. He said the increase, which angered the country's elite but expanded his support among unions, would "force the business oligarchy to start paying what is fair."
At a meeting of regional anti-drug officials, Zelaya spoke of an unconventional way to combat the drug trafficking and related violence that has been plaguing his country: "Instead of pursuing drug traffickers, societies should invest resources in educating drug addicts and curbing their demand."
After his election, Zelaya's left-leaning policies began generating "resistance and anger among Liberal [party] leaders and lawmakers on the one hand, and attracting support from the opposition, civil society organizations and popular movements on the other," IPS reported.
The social organization Via Campesina stated, "The government of President Zelaya has been characterized by its defense of workers and campesinos, it is a defender of the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA), and during his administration it has promoted actions that benefit Honduran campesinos."
As his popularity rose over the years among these sectors of society, the right wing and elite of
Leading up to the Coup
The key question leading up to the coup was whether or not to hold a referendum on Sunday, June 28 - as Zelaya wanted - on organizing an assembly to re-write the country's constitution.
As one media analyst pointed out, while many major news outlets in the US, including the Miami Herald, Wall St. Journal and Washington Post, said an impetus for the coup was specifically Zelaya's plans for a vote to allow him to extend his term in office, the actual ballot question was to be: "Do you agree that, during the general elections of November 2009 there should be a fourth ballot to decide whether to hold a Constituent National Assembly that will approve a new political constitution?"
Nations across Latin America, including
Leading up to the coup, on June 10, members of teacher, student, indigenous and union groups marched to demand that Congress back the referendum on the constitution, chanting, "The people, aware, defend the Constituent [Assembly]." The Honduran Front of Teachers Organizations [FOM], with some 48,000 members, also supported the referendum. FOM leader Eulogio Chávez asked teachers to organize the expected referendum this past Sunday in schools, according to the Weekly News Update on the Americas.
The Supreme Court ruled that the referendum violated the constitution as it was taking place during an election year. When Honduran military General Romeo Vasquez refused to distribute ballots to citizens and participate in the preparations for the Sunday referendum, Zelaya fired him on June 24. The Court called for the reinstatement of Vasquez, but Zelaya refused to recognize the reinstatement, and proceeded with the referendum, distributing the ballots and planning for the Sunday vote.
Vasquez, a former student at the infamous School of the Americas, now known as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), went on to be a key leader in the June 28 coup.
After Zelaya had been taken to
Since the coup took place, military planes and helicopters have been circling the city, the electricity and internet has been cut off, and only music is being played on the few radio stations that are still operating, according to IPS News.
The ambassadors to
The military-installed government has issued arrest warrants for Honduran social leaders for the Popular Bloc Coordinating Committee, Via Campesina and the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, according to the Weekly News Update on the Americas.
Human rights activist Dr. Juan Almendares, reporting from from
In a statement on the coup, Via Campesina said, "We believe that these deeds are the desperate acts of the national oligarchy and the hardcore right to preserve the interests of capital, and in particular, of the large transnational corporations."
Mobilizations and Strikes in Support of Zelaya
Members of social, indigenous and labor organizations from around the country have concentrated in the city's capital, organizing barricades around the presidential palace, demanding Zelaya's return to power. Sixty protesters have been injured and two have died in clashes with the coup's security forces.
"Thousands of Hondurans gathered outside the presidential palace singing the national hymn," Telesur reported. "While the battalions mobilized against protesters at the Presidential House, the TV channels did not report on the tense events." Bertha Cáceres, the leader of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares y Indígenas, said that the ethnic communities of the country are ready for resistance and do not recognize the Micheletti government.
Dr. Almendares reported that in spite of massive repression on the part of the military leaders, "We have almost a national strike for workers, people, students and intellectuals, and they are organized in a popular resistance-run pacific movement against this violation of the democracy. ... There are many sectors involved in this movement trying to restitute the constitutional rights, the human rights."
Rafael Alegría, a leader of Via Campesina in
A general strike was also organized by various social and labor sectors in the country. Regarding the strike, Alegría said it is happening across state institutions and "progressively in the private sector."
The 4th Army Battalion from the Atlántida Department in
The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), condemned the coup, media crackdowns and repression, saying in a statement: "[T]he Honduran people are carrying out large demonstrations, actions in their communities, in the municipalities; there are occupations of bridges, and a protest in front of the presidential residence, among others. From the lands of Lempira, Morazán and Visitación Padilla, we call on the Honduran people in general to demonstrate in defense of their rights and of real and direct democracy for the people, to the fascists we say that they will NOT silence us, that this cowardly act will turn back on them, with great force."
On Sunday, Obama spoke of the events in
If the White House declares that what's happening in
"The State Department has requested $68.2 million in aid for fiscal year 2010 [for
The Regional Response
The Organization of American States, and the United Nations have condemned the coup. Outrage at the coup has been expressed by major leaders across the globe, and all over Latin America, as reported by Reuters: the Presidents of
Even Augusto Ramírez Ocampo, a former foreign minister of
Zelaya has announced a trip to the
Only time will tell what the international and national support for Zelaya means for
Meanwhile, Zelaya supporters continue to convene at the government palace, yelling at the armed soldiers while tanks roam the streets.
"We're defending our president," protester Umberto Guebara told a NY Times reporter. "I'm not afraid. I'd give my life for my country."
If you are interested in rallying in support for the Honduran people and against the coup, here is a list of Honduran Embassies and Consulates in the
People in the
Benjamin Dangl is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website covering activism and politics in