More than a month after Manuel Zelaya, the democratically-elected and progressive president of Honduras, was kidnapped and expelled from his country in a fascist coup d’état, the tiny Central American nation remains on the frontline of the steadily sharpening struggle between the popular masses of Latin America and their progressive governments on the one hand, and the old oligarchic, pro-fascist elites, backed by imperialism, on the other. The outcome of this struggle is of vital significance, not only to the Honduran people but to the whole of Latin America and, consequently, the entire world.
If the fascist coup is overturned and President Zelaya is returned to office, thanks to the courageous resistance of the Honduran masses, supported by the united solidarity of the broad progressive and patriotic forces of the continent, with Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua in the forefront, then not only will the road be opened to the deepening of a revolutionary process in Honduras, but the united Latin American peoples will have served notice on the empire to their north that they have the strength to defend their sovereignty and dignity and that the days are gone when Washington could impose its choices and solutions with impunity.
On the other hand, if the reactionary usurpation of power is allowed to stand, or if President Zelaya is forced to accept a shoddy compromise whereby he is allowed to return home, but shorn of real power, forced into coalition with the criminals who kidnapped and expelled him from his country, and made to serve out a final few months in office as a lame-duck president, then not only will the Honduran people be forced back into conditions of renewed impoverishment, with the return of torture, disappearances and death squads; a template will also have been created to start rolling back the recent gains of the Latin American people elsewhere, with renewed attempts to overthrow their democratic governments, whether reforming or revolutionary.
Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala are widely acknowledged to be the countries most immediately at risk in this eventuality.
A 2 July statement issued by the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (CPGB-ML), expressing solidarity with the Honduran people, outlined the events of the coup and its background as follows:
“In the early hours of Sunday 28 June 2009, some 200 soldiers, under the command of a general trained at the School of the Americas, a notorious US military facility long used to train its Latin American hirelings in subversion and torture, seized the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, placed him under arrest and forcibly bundled him out of the country, still in his pyjamas.
“This criminal act followed days of rising political tension and occurred just hours before the people of Honduras were due to vote in a non-binding national consultation as to whether they would agree to hold referenda at the end of the year to create a new constitutional assembly and a new constitution, which would, among other things, allow the president of the country to stand for election beyond the present restriction of a single four-year term.”
The CPGB-ML statement continued: “Honduras is the third-poorest nation in the western hemisphere, with more than 70 percent of its population living in dire poverty. For most of the last hundred or more years, the country was little more than a plantation for US monopolies, such as the United Fruit Company, whose modern descendant is Chiquita. Between the years 1903-1925 alone, US marines invaded the country no less than seven times. In later decades, the war criminal John Negroponte served as US ambassador, directing the ‘contra’ death squads in neighbouring Nicaragua and El Salvador from the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.
Zelaya’s popular reforms
“This brutal and tragic history only began to change with the election of President Zelaya, who has consistently pursued progressive policies at home and abroad, steadily consolidating the country’s unity with regional anti-imperialist forces led by Cuba and Venezuela.
“After raising the minimum wage by 60 percent, Zelaya declared: ‘This is a government of great social transformations committed to the poor.’
“His boldest move was to join the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA), the regional, socialist-oriented trading and economic alliance. This brought huge benefits to the country, including a pledge by President Hugo Chávez guaranteeing Honduras cheap oil for at least 100 years, along with debt write-offs and food aid. On joining ALBA, President Zelaya declared:
“‘Today we are taking a step towards becoming a government of the centre left and if anyone dislikes this, well just remove the word centre and keep the second one.’
“It is moves such as these that evoked the raw class hatred of the exploiters, the US-trained generals and their political hangers-on.” (Hands off Honduras!)
An article carried by the US-based email newsletter, Nicaragua Network, outlined some of the other reforms introduced by Zelaya that aroused the ire of the oligarchy:
“Zelaya abolished fees for primary education resulting in 400,000 more children attending elementary schools. One million children received a meal (breakfast or lunch) during the school day. Nearly US$1bn was spent by the government on education in 2008, according to El Heraldo newspaper … Hospitals have more medicines in stock and the programme of childhood immunisations has been expanded, including a vaccination against the rotavirus which is a major cause of diarrhoea in small children. Beginning in February 2009, the government expected to vaccinate 180,000 children …
“The government brought electricity to more homes in both urban and rural areas. The Zelaya government estimated that its programmes had lowered the poverty level 9.8 percent from 46 percent of the population to 36 percent in 2008, based on a survey of 133,681 households, and created 313,000 new jobs nationally ..002E
“In the area of agriculture, production of basic food grains under Zelaya increased from 650,000 tons per year to 950,000 tons and the strategic reserve of food grains was four times larger than in 2005. Secretary of Agriculture Hector Hernandez said in January that for 2009, the goal was to produce 1.3 million tons from 1.3 million acres, noting that Honduras had the land and the capacity.” (‘Zelaya was overthrown because of his policies that favoured the poor!’)
US in a quandary
Right from the start of the present crisis, the US has been in a quandary. Having previously made no secret of its disdain for Zelaya and his policies at home and abroad, no tears were shed in Washington at his enforced departure from his country. However, to openly endorse his forcible overthrow would completely expose all Obama’s fancy rhetoric, delivered on the campaign trail and subsequently in speeches in Cairo, Trinidad, Accra and elsewhere, promising a fresh start and a less bullying, less hegemonic approach on the part of US imperialism as the silken but ultimately empty rhetoric it is, at a time when significant sections of the people of the world, not least in Latin America, have, up until now, been prepared to give the new Democrat administration the benefit of the doubt, at least insofar as its intentions are concerned.
The US response has, therefore, been possibly the best illustration to date of what is meant by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s concept of “smart power”, triangulating “hard power” (such as wars of aggression) with “soft power” (such as feigned support for democracy and progress as a fig leaf to promote intervention in the affairs of other countries) as the most effective way to defend and promote US hegemony under current conditions.
In its statement, the CPGB-ML identified the situation facing the United States as follows:
“US imperialism is facing a dilemma. Long used to treating Honduras as its backyard, it has been profoundly angered by the actions of the Zelaya government. In September 2008, Honduras delayed the accreditation of the US ambassador in solidarity with Bolivia and Venezuela, then in a diplomatic face-off with Washington. Three months ago, Honduras joined Nicaragua in boycotting a Central American regional meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden. And it was President Zelaya who personally spearheaded the recent move by the Organisation of American States (OAS) to revoke the unjust exclusion of socialist Cuba.
“But whilst all this is clearly bound to displease the US administration, it is presently, to some extent, a prisoner of its own incessant rhetoric about ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’, with which it seeks to speciously attack socialist and progressive countries. Hence, the Obama administration has presently joined the international verbal condemnation of the coup. However, it would be dangerous and short-sighted to take such verbal protestations at face value. As the Wall Street Journal noted:
“‘While the US position put it on the same side as leftist [sic] such as Messrs Chavez and Ortega, who normally clash with the US over regional issues, Mrs Clinton also signalled the US might try to find a negotiated solution to the crisis that didn’t necessarily mean Mr Zelaya would be returned to power.’ (‘Nations condemn Honduras coup’, 30 June 2009)”
Events over the ensuing month have fully confirmed this analysis. Whilst every other country in the Americas has withdrawn its ambassador from Tegucigalpa, the US ambassador, a George W Bush appointee, remains in the Honduran capital. Moreover, he freely admits to having held discussions with the coup leaders in the days immediately before they acted.
The US continues to describe the seizure of power by Roberto Micheletti, who claims to have succeeded Zelaya to the presidency, as “not legal”, one presumes in a jesuitical manoeuvre to prevent themselves from actually describing it as “illegal”. But, more than one month after the event, the US is still formally refusing to conclude that the actions of Micheletti and his supporters constitute a coup – a blindingly obvious fact that was clear to the entire world from the moment they acted.
It is not as though the question is not being regularly put to the US administration. For example, at the State Department Daily Press Briefing of 20 July, Assistant Secretary of State Philip J Crowley was asked:
“Have you ruled this as a coup d’état there legally?”
Crowley’s answer could not be construed as anything other than straightforward and to the point, consisting, as it did, of one word: “No.” (State Department transcript)
One might wonder at the scale of the double standards on the part of the United States, which can, on the one hand, declare a free and fair election in Iran to have been rigged even before the polls were closed, but cannot, after a month and more, see what the rest of the world could grasp instantly, namely that the overthrow, kidnapping and deportation of an elected president, and preventing him from returning to his country, constitutes a coup.
However, in the time-honoured words spoken in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “though this be madness, yet there be reason in it”. What prevents the United States from stating the obvious in the case of Honduras is that, under domestic US law, no aid, other than for the “promotion of democracy”, may be provided to a country whose elected head of government has been toppled in a military coup.
The key provision of US law governing most funds appropriated by the US Congress reads:
“None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available … shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree. ”
It adds that the law does not apply to aid “to promote democratic elections or public participation in democratic processes”.
In a word, the stubborn US refusal to utter a simple four-letter word, coup, says more about its real agenda in Honduras than any amount of mealy-mouthed and sanctimonious words about its supposed new-found regard for democracy.
For his part, President Zelaya has been making determined attempts to return to his country. At his first attempt, on 5 July, the junta prevented his plane from landing at Tegucigalpa airport, where a crowd estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands had gathered to try to welcome him back. At least two people, one of them a youth of 19, were killed, and many were injured as they fought with troops in attempts to break through the security cordon around the airport.
Since then, Zelaya has moved his base to the border between Nicaragua and Honduras. Thousands of Hondurans are braving curfews, multiple roadblocks and a massive military presence in attempts to reach him. On 24 July, Zelaya symbolically crossed the border into his country for some 15 minutes, an action which earned him a prompt rebuke from Hillary Clinton for supposedly being “reckless”.
Rather than see an emboldened Zelaya return to his country with the active support of the Honduran masses, the United States would rather send a chastened and enfeebled figure home to serve out a last few months in the presidency as a mere figurehead for the oligarchy, bringing an end to the masses’ hopes of a fundamental change in their wretched conditions and, above all, breaking the alliance with Venezuela.
As Assistant Secretary Crowley put it in his 20 July press briefing, when asked by a reporter, “Is Chávez out of the way and does that make Washington happy?”:
“We certainly think that if we were choosing a model government and a model leader for countries of the region to follow, that the current leadership in Venezuela would not be a particular model. If that is the lesson that President Zelaya has learned from this episode, that would be a good lesson.” (Op cit)
Arias’s treacherous role
To this end, the US has pressed into service the current president of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, to act as a supposedly ‘neutral’ mediator. A close and trusted US ally, Arias has previous form in this regard.
In the late 1980s, during a previous stint in his country’s presidency (one can but note in passing that serving repeated terms as head of state is not considered controversial when you are a loyal ally of imperialism), he brokered a series of ‘peace deals’ that forced the revolutionary Sandinista government of Nicaragua from office and disarmed the revolutionaries of El Salvador and Guatemala, who had been engaged in armed struggles against genocidal regimes.
Not much has changed in this regard. Under the current Arias plan, Zelaya would be allowed to return home as president, but would have to share power with the very people who overthrew him. All prospect of progressive and democratic constitutional change would be taken off the agenda, and a neutered Zelaya would simply be allowed to serve as a figurehead until scheduled presidential elections on 29 November, less than four months away, after which the oligarchs and generals would plan fully to resume business as usual.
It is as clear as daylight that this shoddy plan would reward the guilty and punish the innocent. As Cuban leader Fidel Castro put it: “Oscar Arias’s real history indicates that he is a neo-liberal politician, talented and fluid with words, extremely calculating and a loyal ally of the United States.” (‘Fidel Castro says Honduras talks were US ploy to buy time’, Bloomberg, 23 July 2009)
History is made by the people
But the future of Honduras will not be forged through tawdry manoeuvres by the likes of Arias, or his masters, Obama and Clinton, but by the oppressed masses presently flocking to join Zelaya at the border, and by the people inside the country – the workers, barrio (urban slum) dwellers, peasants, women, students, youth, indigenous peoples and Afro-Hondurans, who, in a daily-sharpening and clearly-defined class struggle, are defying curfews, torture and disappearances to stage general strikes and militant demonstrations, and to fight back with whatever means are at their disposal.
As President Zelaya has himself said: “It is now clear that the coup plotters are not going to give up the power that they won through violence. This is not surprising, as they are the representatives of an oligarchy that has exploited our country for decades. They are the ones who are responsible for the civil war that is already shedding the blood of our people.” (Quoted in ‘Zelaya’s decision to return to Honduras raises the stakes in the struggle for democracy and sovereignty’ by Canadian activist Alan Benjamin)
Inside the country, courageous leadership is being given by President Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya. Addressing a 7 July demonstration, she said:
“I want to demonstrate my solidarity with the people who, in one way or another, have been abused by our country’s armed forces, as well as with the families of those who have lost their children, who were killed not as delinquents, but because they were fighting for the return of constitutional order and democracy in the country.”
Affirming that it was the people who had given her strength and courage, Mrs Zelaya went on to say that “this blood that ran on this land is not in vain, it has meaning and will serve to achieve the return of democracy, the rights of our people and of peace in our country”.
Before appearing at this demonstration, the first lady had been in hiding for her security, but she declared that henceforth she would be with the people in all their struggles. Although her life was in danger, she said, she could not remain in hiding while “there are men and women who are giving their hearts and their lives to this cause”. (‘We have to go on fighting affirms first lady of Honduras’, Granma, 8 July 2009)
Speaking at a 16 July celebration in the Bolivian capital La Paz for that country’s 200th independence anniversary, Zelaya’s foreign minister, Patricia Rodas, aptly declared: “At this very moment, the army of millions of Honduran citizens hold in their hands the destiny of all the nations and peoples of Latin America.” (Quoted in Alan Benjamin, op cit)
Victory to the Honduran people!