The Military Coup in Honduras

by George Saunders, co-managing editor, Labor Standard


The Honduran military is very closely tied to the pro-corporate, anti-labor U.S. military establishment through Task Force Bravo of the U.S. Southern Command, based in Honduras at an air force base which the U.S. military shares with its Honduran counterparts, and through the many Honduran officers who have attended the SOA/WHISC. (The U.S. Army’s notorious School of the Americas, a school of assassins, torturers, and coup-makers, was renamed a few years ago to try to reduce the stench of its name; its official name now is Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, or WHISC.)

The U.S. military presence in Honduras is a major outpost of the U.S. corporate Empire, especially since the U.S. base in Panama was closed.

(Another outpost of U.S. militarism, by the way, is the three-way U.S.-Canada-Mexico security treaty—which in many ways is even more dangerous than NAFTA. Under this new agreement U.S. military personnel have direct influence in the Mexican military structure.)

The mentality promoted by U.S. militarism is expressed in the intransigence of the Honduran SOA graduates, who declare “impossible” any collaboration with or concessions to the grassroots people’s movements with whom the ousted President Zelaya had allied himself (and which the SOA graduates undoubtedly brand as “Communist”). Those SOA alumni now populate many ministries of the coup government.

Undoubtedly they (the Honduran military and the U.S. militarist inspiration behind them) would like to see military dictatorship restored in neighboring Guatemala and El Salvador, and then they could all go on the offensive and remove the “Communists” from Nicaragua. That would sweep the area south of Mexico clean for U.S. domination, making it safe for Big Business and making possible the reassertion of the good old Plan Pueblo-Panama. Left-populist electoral victories in Nicaragua and El Salvador had begun to make that plan look difficult to accomplish.

We should not forget that it was not so very long ago that pro-U.S. military dictatorships were in power almost everywhere in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Brazil, the military was forced to allow the return of civilian rule only in the 1980s, after a wave of workers’ strikes led by Lula (who then established and led an independent Workers Party and who was more radical than he is now) threatened to develop into a popular uprising. The military stepped back from direct rule in Argentina and Uruguay around the same time. In Chile, it was not until the 1990s that the U.S.-inspired Pinochet military dictatorship gave way to legal elections and civilian politicians.

A mix of authoritarian civilian rule with military backing, supported by the U.S. and its “war on drugs,” has prevailed for decades in Peru and still prevails in Colombia. In Paraguay, nearly 40 years of U.S.-backed dictatorship by Alfredo Stroessner finally ended, and in 2008 a left-populist bishop was elected president of Paraguay. In neighboring Bolivia, after decades of military dictatorship, popular movements emerged and asserted their power: the “water war” of 2000 in Cochabamba, the coca-leaf farmers movement, and the “gas wars” of 2003 and 2005, centered on La Paz, found their indirect reflection in the election of the current left-populist government headed by cocalero leader Evo Morales. In Peru, grassroots social movements—an alliance of indigenous people in the Amazon region with organizations of the indigenous in the highlands (such as the one led by Hugo Blanco), trade unions, and other popular organizations—recently forced the elected civilian government of Alan Garcia to back away from new laws it had imposed giving multinational corporations a free hand to exploit the natural resources of Peru’s Amazon region. The social movements in Peru are now demanding cancellation of Peru’s “Free Trade” pact with U.S. corporate power.

In Venezuela, as long ago as 1958, a U.S.-backed military dictatorship, headed by Perez Jimenez, was overthrown by the people. That was just one year before the July 26 movement in Cuba managed to defeat and overthrow the U.S.-backed military dictatorship of Batista.

Direct military rule of the Perez Jimenez type was not restored in Venezuela. Instead alternating civilian governments, under a power-sharing agreement between the two political parties of the oligarchy, administered the colonially exploited capitalist economy. Then something new began to happen in Venezuela, after the social rebellion of 1989 and the left-populist military revolt led by Hugo Chávez in 1991. Social ferment steadily intensified, culminating in the election of Chávez as president in 1998, then an attempted coup against him in March 2002, thwarted by a massive outpouring of the people in alliance with pro-Chávez soldiers, then a bosses’ lockout aimed at removing him (Dec. 2002–Feb.2003), which also failed in the face of mass mobilization by the workers, peasants, soldiers, and the poor. Since then, despite a slow pace and hesitations, the Chávez government has taken many steps that tend to weaken capitalist rule, and a highly radicalized workers’ movement has emerged. With Venezuela’s oil wealth, the Chávez government has given aid to many other countries and social movements, including the oil-poor workers’ state in Cuba.

Although the Chávez government has not expropriated the capitalists and big landowners in Venezuela as a whole (the way the July 26 movement did in Cuba in 1960), it does advocate socialism as its ultimate goal, along with the independence of Latin America and the Caribbean from the U.S. Empire. For the U.S. government, dominated by the giant corporations and conglomerates of finance capital, with a military-industrial-prison complex that uses any means necessary to achieve its goals (wars, covert operations, torture, assassinations, coups d’état, you name it), the very existence of the radical Chávez regime and its encouragement of movements to break free from U.S. domination is regarded as a threat and an obstacle that somehow must be removed.

The coup in Honduras, which is supported in fact by the U.S. power structure and U.S. militarism, despite hypocritical statements pretending to oppose the coup, is clearly aimed against all the radical movements and developments that have occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean during the past decade or two. In the long run the Honduras coup points toward the reassertion of direct U.S. power in the region through military dictatorships—that is, a return to Operation Condor and the time, not long ago, when pro-U.S. military “gorillas” dominated virtually the entire region.

That is reason enough for every pro-labor or socialist-minded American, every supporter of workers’ rights and human rights, of genuine democracy and just plain human decency, to do everything in our power to help reverse the coup in Honduras and support the Front of National Resistance Against the Coup, in which the three union federations of Honduras participate.

Stop all U.S. military and economic aid to the coup-makers’ government!

Withdraw all U.S. forces and military bases from Honduras!


[Note: Readers can get a good idea of the composition and character of the National Front of Resistance Against the Coup from the following passage in a July 12, 2009, report by a member of a delegation to Honduras by the organization SOA Watch (School of the Americas Watch):]

We were invited to a strategy meeting with the leaders of the resistance movement (Frente Nacional de Resistencia contra el Golpe en Honduras) and found a dynamic, diverse, focused, unified, and efficient group, whose common goal—the return of their president and the reinstatement of the constitutional reform process—would not be deterred by any amount of barriers. Just a few minutes with this group—labor leaders, teachers, bus drivers, indigenous movements, human rights activists, artists, journalists, and campesinos—made it clear that this was not the first time they were gathering. It is this joint expression [or alliance] of social movements that initiated a process calling for a new constitution over 5 years ago, as a radical step toward creating a society of participatory rather than “representative” democracy. It was they who invited Mel [Zelaya], as they call their president, to join them in this goal, not vice-versa. The folks who write those Washington Post editorials should spend 30 seconds with this group to realize not only their determination, but that the motivation behind the June 28th consultation, which led to Zelaya’s removal, had nothing to do with a re-election push by one person [Zelaya], and everything to do with the dreams of these social movements that “another world is possible.”


[Also of interest to our readers is the following report on U.S. trade union opposition to the coup in Honduras:]

Union Decision to Defend Democracy in Honduras

[The resolution below was passed after being handed out and presented for discussion at the regular meeting of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 393 in San Jose, California, on Wednesday, July 8, 2009. About 80 pipe trades workers were present and the resolution received an overwhelming aye vote. — Fred Hirsch]

TAKE ACTION TO PROTECT TRADE UNIONISTS AND DEFEND DEMOCRACY IN HONDURAS

WHEREAS: the AFL-CIO has expressed solidarity with the three union federations of Honduras—the Unitary Central of Honduran Workers (CUTH), the Confederation of Honduran Workers (CTH), and the General Workers Central (CGT)—and with the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA), representing over 45 million workers of this hemisphere, in condemning the military coup that resulted in the illegal ouster of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya; and

WHEREAS: the AFL-CIO has denounced the coup as an unconscionable attack on the fundamental rights and liberties of the Honduran people—in flagrant violation of the most basic democratic principles and of the rule

of law and has called upon the U.S. government and the international community, particularly the Organization of American States and the United Nations, not only to condemn the coup and withhold recognition of the current government, but to make every effort to help achieve restitution of constitutional order and reinstatement of the democratically elected president; and

WHEREAS: the AFL-CIO reports reliable eyewitness testimony that the thousands of people from civil society organizations, including trade unions, who assemble to demand that democratic order be restored and the president returned, have been tear-gassed by the armed forces, with many injured and arrested. Late word (7/7/09) is that two protesters have been killed, death squads are threatening activists and media people, lists have been reported of trade union leaders who are under threat and whose safety is at risk, and

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has called upon the Obama administration to do all it can within its diplomatic powers to ensure that all Hondurans, particularly trade unionists and social activists denouncing the coup, are safe, secure and will not be victimized by violence and repression; and

WHEREAS: The coup was led, on behalf of the corporate and financial elite, by Gen. Romeo Velazquez and Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo, graduates of the School of the Americas, which the AFL-CIO has in the past said should be closed as “a relic of a past era of violence” that “undermines U.S. government efforts” by “training of Latin American officers in practices which have led to the violation of human rights” and “is out of step with the emerging climate of democracy and human rights throughout the region”; and

WHEREAS: It is longstanding AFL-CIO policy that “No U.S. military assistance shall be provided to any country practicing terror against its own people.”

Therefore Be It

RESOLVED that we call upon President Barack Obama to take immediate action to cut off all military, development, and economic aid to Honduras until President Manuel Zelaya is restored to his democratically elected office, to then support bringing the coup plotters to justice and to investigate, and take appropriate action against, any U. S. official who may have been involved in this criminal, violent, and internationally destabilizing assault on democracy: and

Be It

FURTHER RESOLVED that we ask for concurrence in this resolution on the part of the Labor Councils to which we are affiliated, the California Labor Federation, the U. A., and the AFL-CIO, and that we send this resolution to the President and to our Senators and Representatives in Congress.


[The following article by Eva Golinger exposes the hypocritical policy toward the coup in Honduras being followed by the Democratic Party and its administration in Washington.]

Honduras: Coup Leaders Hire Top Democrat Lobbyists to Justify Their De Facto Government

by Eva Golinger

July 13, 2009

Things are getting worse each day inside Honduras. Over the weekend, two well-known social leaders were assassinated by the coup forces. Roger Bados, a trade unionist and leader of the Bloque Popular and the National Resistance Front Against the Coup, was killed in the northern city of San Pedro Sula. Approximately at 8 pm on Saturday evening [July 11], Bados was assassinated, killed immediately by three gun shots. Bados was also a member of the leftist party, Democratic Unity (Unificación Democrática), and was president of a union representing workers in a cement factory. His death was denounced as part of the repressive atmosphere and repressive actions taken by the coup government to silence all dissent.

Ramon Garcia, another social leader in Honduras, was also killed on Saturday evening by military forces who boarded a bus he was riding in Santa Barbara and forced him off, subsequently shooting him and wounding his sister. Juan Barahona, National Coordinator of the Bloque Popular and the National Resistance Front Against the Coup, stated that these actions are committed by the coup government “as the only way to maintain themselves in power, by terrorizing and killing the people.”

Despite statements made by representatives of the coup government, the national curfew remains in place. Different social organizers from Honduras have been denouncing that the curfew is still in effect and that the coup government is lying about lifting it, so as to seem less repressive to the international community.

However, over the weekend, foreign journalists from Telesur, Venezolana de Televisión (VTV—Venezuelan State TV), and EFE were detained by military forces and expelled from Honduras. The Venezuelan journalists returned last night to Venezuela, while Telesur is still trying to find a way to maintain its correspondents on the ground. For now, they are all in Nicaragua after being forcibly expelled from the country. This means few, if any, international media are left in Honduras covering the reality on the ground of a coup d’état now 15 days in the making.

The Honduran media, which supports the coup, reported on the journalists’ detention, stating that the police arrested and deported them due to “car theft.” The massive censorship inside Honduras by the media and coup government is already taking an extraordinary toll on the people of Honduras, who each day are finding it more difficult to resist.

Meanwhile, the coup government has hired top-notch Democrat lobbyists in Washington to make their case before Congress and the White House and convince the U.S. people to recognize them as a legitimate government. The New York Times has confirmed that Clinton lobbyist Lanny Davis, former Special Counsel for President Bill Clinton in 1996-1998, and close adviser to Hillary’s campaign for president last year, has been hired by the Latin American Business Council—an ultraconservative group of Latin American businesses—to represent the coup leaders in the U.S.

Davis arranged a series of meetings with Congress last week, including a hearing before the House Foreign Relations Committee, where he testified in favor of the coup government alongside Iran-Contra propaganda man Otto Reich, as well as several private meetings in the State Department and interviews with U.S. media. Another lobbyist, Bennett Ratcliff of San Diego, another close friend and adviser of the Clintons, was also hired by the coup government in Honduras to advise them on the negotiations taking place in Costa Rica.

Ratcliff actually accompanied the coup representatives and dictator Roberto Micheletti himself to Costa Rica, presenting the “conditions” for a negotiated return of President Zelaya to Honduras.

So what’s up with the Clinton advisers and lobbyists hanging out with the coupsters? Obviously, it’s a clear indication of Washington’s support for the coup regime in Honduras, despite the rhetoric we heard last week “condemning the coup” and blah, blah, blah. The real actions show just the opposite: clear, undivided support for Micheletti and a definite rejection of President Zelaya’s return to the presidency in Honduras.

Ratcliff’s conditions for the negotiations—approved by Secretary of State Clinton in Washington—included the following five main terms:

  1. Zelaya can return to the presidency, but not to power. The presidency and the exercise of power are two different things.
  2. Zelaya must not pursue any plans to reform the Constitution or promote polls or referendums that give voice to the people.
  3. Zelaya must distance himself substantially from [Venezuelan] President Chávez. “This is essential,” they said.
  4. Zelaya must share governance with the Congress and those in the coup regime until the elections in November.
  5. Zelaya must give amnesty to all those involved in the coup.

Well, there you have it! Obama’s first coup and Hillary’s first use of “smart power” to achieve the ouster of a left-leaning president who was further opening the doors of Central America to Latin American integration and sovereignty. There is no doubt that this coup has been executed to stop the expansion of socialism and Latin American independence in the region.

(Eva Golinger is the author of The Chávez Code and Bush vs Chávez. This article was first published on her blog on 13 July 2009. Visit her blog Postcards from the Revolution: <www.Chávezcode.com>. )


[The following report of statements by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez about the Honduras coup is also revealing and informative.]

Chávez: U.S. Government Giving Oxygen to Honduran Coup

by Kiraz Janicke

July 15, 2009

Source: <http://www.Venezuelanalysis.com >       

Speaking during his weekly television show, “Hello, President,” on Sunday [July 12], Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez called on United States President Barack Obama to withdraw all support for the coup government in Honduras that deposed the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya on June 28.

Although Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton have made comments condemning the ouster of Zelaya, the U.S. government has thus far refused to legally recognize the coup as a “coup,” maintained diplomatic ties with the illegitimate coup government in Honduras, and continued to send millions of dollars in aid.

“Obama, withdraw your soldiers from Honduras, withdraw all support for the coup plotters, freeze their bank accounts, withdraw their visas, so that this government falls immediately,” the Venezuelan head of state said.

“If the U.S. government truly does not support the coup, it would withdraw all of its troops from the military base at Palmerola,” he added.

Chávez argued that it is imperative that his counterpart in the White House take a clear position on Honduras, and that this represents a test for Obama, who promised a shift away from previous President George Bush’s interventionist foreign policy approach.

“Don’t deceive the world with a discourse that contradicts your actions,” he warned Obama. “Demonstrate that it’s true that you are disposed to confront the imperialist hawks. If not, it’s better that you go away, because you will end up worse than Bush.”

U.S.-backed talks aimed at promoting “dialogue” between Zelaya and coup president Roberto Micheletti, mediated by Costa Rican president Oscar

Arias, ended last week without resolving the crisis.

During a press conference on Friday, Chávez slammed the U.S. initiative of promoting dialogue with the coup government as a “crass error.”

“A dialogue with who? With these usurpers? The same people who are now persecuting the Honduran people? Those who have killed people?” he asked.

“This would constitute a trap for democracy, a danger and a serious error, not only for Honduras, but for the whole American continent,” he said.

Fortunately Zelaya walked out of the trap rapidly, Chávez said, but lamented the fact that Micheletti was received in Costa Rica as if he were a legitimate head of state.

Through these types of measures the U.S. government is “giving oxygen” to the de facto government of dictator Roberto Micheletti, Chávez continued on Sunday.

“The aim of imperialism, the continental bourgeoisie, and the media is to drag the game out…What the immoral coup plotters in Honduras are trying to do is wear out the people of Honduras, wear out the constitutional president, Manuel Zelaya, and his government, which is in exile, some of whom are prisoners or have gone underground,” he added.

“Then there are elections in Honduras in November,” Chávez explained.

“This is what the game is...We will not recognize any government that emerges, including from elections that this coup government carries out.”

“They want to close the path to democratic transformation because they are afraid of democracy and popular power, which is waking up and shaking Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.”

Chávez emphasized the necessity of protesting in the streets, “like the people of Honduras,” and building a solidarity movement around the world in order to defeat the coup.

“The situation in Honduras is explosive...This coup government will not be able to govern, the Honduran people won’t be governed by a tyrant like Roberto Micheletti, this coup plotter will not be able to take forward any kind of economic project,” he said.

Honduras is paralyzed, Chávez said. “There are no classes, the factories are closed, the people are in the street, the farmers have left their tractors and taken to the highways, blocking commerce in Central America, there is hardly any fuel. Honduras is a country on the verge of exploding.”

“There are soldiers who have refused to repress the people. The only thing is that they haven’t come out [against the coup government], but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if a military current pronounces against the actions that have been carried out against President Zelaya,” he declared.

Despite military repression Honduras has entered its third week of protest against the military coup. People are demanding the return of the democratically elected president.

The president of the United Workers Federation in Honduras, Juan Barahona, confirmed that protests are continuing this Monday, Venezuelan Radio YKVE Mundial reported.

“We are going to continue until the coup plotters abandon the power they have usurped,” Barahona told thousands of people who rallied in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, in a massive show of resistance to the coup government on Saturday.

Xiomara Castro, wife of the ousted Zelaya, also spoke at the rally, which then marched to the Toncontin international airport to commemorate the death of 19-year-old Isis Obed Murillo, shot by the military on July 5 as he protested the coup.

Chávez also condemned the murder in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, of Roger Iván Bados, a popular leader and left-wing activist.

Quoting Barahona, Chávez stated that unknown assailants killed Bados, a leader of the People’s Bloc and the National Resistance Front Against the Coup.

He explained that this killing was part of the selective repression being carried out against political and social movement leaders in Honduras by the coup government.


[The following article, written in early July, is a very useful analysis of the political situation in Honduras, which I agree with in most respects. — G.S.]

Support the General Strike in Honduras! Down with the Micheletti Government! No Negotiations with the Coup-Makers! 

by James Frickey and Clay Wadena

This 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 Chávez 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 [more than] 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’s 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 reported a march of 4,000 in Tegucigalpa July 2, and other sources put the number at 6,000. 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.

[Note by GS: On July 5, a huge crowd of 100,000 or more, said to be the largest demonstration in Honduras’s history, marched to the Tegucigalpa airport to welcome President Zelaya, who was trying to land there, but the military prevented his landing.]

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 Chávez government, and thereafter guided Honduras into the regional trade bloc known as ALBA [of which Cuba is a member, along with Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and a number of other, smaller countries]. 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 [from the oligarchy] 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’s 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 for the U.S., but otherwise impossible to verify and therefore unreliable.

Despite statements by President Obama expressing disapproval of 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 the long history of U.S. funding for 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 1,000 from 2005-07), and the binational 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 “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 asked 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’état 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 himself 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 need to make a permanent break with their ruling elite.


[The following “Reflection” by Fidel Castro, dated July 10, 2009, rightly places the Honduras coup in the context of democratic change and the fight for social justice and socialism in Latin America and the Caribbean.]

Reflections by Comrade Fidel Castro

THE COUP DIES OR CONSTITUTIONS DIE

The countries of Latin America were struggling against history’s worst financial crisis within relative institutional order.

When U.S. President Barack Obama—while on a trip to Moscow to discuss vital topics on the subject of nuclear weapons—was declaring that the only constitutional president of Honduras was Manuel Zelaya, the ultra right-wing and the hawks in Washington were making maneuvers for Zelaya to negotiate a humiliating pardon for the illegalities attributed to him by the perpetrators of the coup.

It was obvious that before his people and the world such an act would have been tantamount to his disappearance from the political stage. It is a proven fact that when Zelaya announced he would be returning on July 5th, he had decided to fulfill his promise to share the brutal repression of the coup with his people.

Traveling with the president was Miguel d’Escoto, the president pro tempore of the UN General Assembly, along with Patricia Rodas, the Honduran foreign minister, a Telesur journalist and others, a total of 9 persons. Zelaya maintained his decision to land. I know for a fact that in mid-flight, when they were nearing Tegucigalpa, he was informed from the ground by Telesur broadcasting about the moment when the enormous mass of people awaiting him outside of the airport was being attacked by soldiers with tear gas and automatic rifle fire.

His immediate reaction was to request that they regain altitude, so that he could denounce these events on Telesur and demand of the commanding officers of those troops that they cease the repression. Then he informed them that he would carry on with the landing. The high command then ordered the landing strip to be blocked. In a matter of seconds, motorized transport vehicles were obstructing the runway.

The Falcon jet made three passes, at a low altitude, over the airport. Specialists explain that the tensest and most dangerous moment for pilots is when fast, small planes—like the one carrying the president—reduce speed for touchdown. That’s why I think that attempt to return to Honduras was audacious and brave.

If they wanted to put him on trial for alleged constitutional crimes, why not allow him to land?

Zelaya knows that it was not only the Constitution of Honduras what was at stake, but also the right of the peoples of Latin America to elect the people who govern them.

Today Honduras is not just a country occupied by a coup, but it is also a country occupied by the armed forces of the United States.

The military base at Soto Cano, also known by its name of Palmerola—located less than 100 kilometers from Tegucigalpa and reactivated in 1981 under the Ronald Reagan administration—was used by Colonel Oliver North when he was running the dirty war against Nicaragua, and from there the U.S government directed the attacks against the Salvadoran and Guatemalan revolutionaries that cost tens of thousands of lives.

That is the location of the U.S. Joint Task Force-Bravo—made up of personnel from the three branches of the U.S. armed forces. It takes up 85 percent of the area of the base. Eva Golinger reveals its role in an article published on Rebelión web site on July 2, 2009, entitled “The U.S. military base in Honduras at the center of the coup.” She explains that “the Constitution of Honduras does not legally allow for a foreign military presence in the country. A ‘handshake-like’ agreement between Washington and Honduras authorizes the important and strategic presence of hundreds of U.S. soldiers on the base, under a ‘semi-permanent’ deal. The agreement was reached in 1954 as part of the military aid the United States was offering Honduras…the third poorest country in the hemisphere.” She adds that “…the agreement that allows the military presence of the United States in the Central American country can be canceled with no notice given.”

Soto Cano is also home of the Aviation Academy of Honduras. The components of the US military task force are partly made up of Honduran soldiers.

What is the objective of the military base, the planes, the helicopters, and the U.S. task force in Honduras? Without any doubt they are more than adequate for any needs in Central America. The war on drug trafficking does not require those weapons.

If President Zelaya is not returned to his position, a wave of coups threatens to sweep away many Latin American governments, or these will be at the mercy of the ultra right-wing military, educated in the security doctrine of the School of the Americas, experts in torture, psychological warfare, and terror. The authority of many civilian governments in Central and South America will become weakened. The dark days [of military dictatorship] are not very far back in time. The military perpetrators of the coup would not even pay any attention to the civilian administration of the United States. It can be very negative for a president who wants to improve that country’s image, as Barack Obama does. The Pentagon formally obeys the civilian power. The legions have not yet taken over control of the empire as they did in Rome.

It would not be understandable for Zelaya to now concede to stalling maneuvers that would wear out the considerable social forces that support him and only lead to an irreparable attrition.

The illegally overthrown president does not seek power, but he defends a principle, and as Martí said: “One just principle from the depths of a cave can be mightier than an army.”

Fidel Castro Ruz
July 10, 2009