Honduras Update—July 28, 2009

For International Labor Solidarity with Honduras Workers


The union federations of Honduras announced last week that on Thursday, July 23, they would begin another two-day general strike demanding the return to office of the country’s democratically elected president, Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya, and the ouster of the pseudo government of Roberto Micheletti (now known in Honduras as “Pinocheletti”). That illegitimate “government” was installed by the U.S.-trained and U.S.-backed Honduran military after they forcibly removed Zelaya from the country on June 28.

It is urgent for organized labor in the United States to speak up and act in solidarity with its sisters and brothers in the trade unions of Honduras. It remains to be seen how much practical and effective labor solidarity on the ground will develop in the heartland of the U.S. corporate empire, even though the AFL-CIO has at least verbally denounced the military coup and gone on record in support of the elected president, Zelaya.

The following, for example, appeared on the AFL-CIO Blog:

AFL-CIO: Honduras Coup Is “Unconscionable”

by James Parks
AFL-CIO Blog
June 30, 2009

http://blog.aflcio.org/2009/06/30/afl-cio-honduras-coup-is-unconscionable/

The AFL-CIO today called on the U.S. government and the international community, particularly the Organization of American States and the United Nations, to “make every effort” to restore constitutional order in Honduras and reinstate democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a military coup Sunday [June 28].

In a statement, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called the coup “an unconscionable attack on the fundamental rights and liberties of the Honduran people.” He urged governments to condemn the coup and withhold recognition of the current government. Zelaya was ousted after pushing for a referendum on proposed changes that would…create new procedures for amending the constitution.

The recent internal conflict relating to the proposed constitutional referendum cannot in any way justify the extra-constitutional measures undertaken by the armed forces. These measures are a flagrant violation of the most basic democratic principles and of the rule of law.

Sweeney said eyewitness reports are coming in that thousands of people, including trade union members, were tear-gassed by the military simply for assembling to demand the return to democratic order and the reinstating of Zelaya.

[Sweeney also said:] “We call on the United States government to also take all measures within its diplomatic powers to ensure that all Honduran civilians, and particularly trade unionists and social activists denouncing the coup, are safe and secure and will not be victimized by violence and repression.”

Sweeney said the federation stands in solidarity with our sister organizations of Honduras, the national trade union centrals—the Unitary Central of Honduran Workers (CUTH), the Confederation of Honduran Workers (CTH), and the General Workers Central (CGT)—as well as with the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA), representing more than 45 million workers of this hemisphere, in condemning the military coup that resulted in the illegal ouster of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya.

Meanwhile, three major public-sector unions in Honduras announced plans for a general strike today in support of Zelaya, according to CNN. “It will be an indefinite strike,” Oscar Garcia, vice president of the Honduran water workers union told CNN. “We don’t recognize this new government imposed by the oligarchy and we will mount our campaign of resistance until President Manuel Zelaya is restored to power.”

Garcia estimated that 30,000 public-sector workers, as well as some private-sector workers and peasant farmers, might join the strike.

Finally, a group of five U.S. union members led by Bill Camp, executive secretary of the Sacramento (Calif.) Labor Council, who were visiting Honduras and got caught up in the turmoil of the coup, were able to leave the country yesterday and return home.

[To repeat:] The AFL-CIO denounces this unconscionable attack on the fundamental rights and liberties of the Honduran people. The recent internal conflict relating to the proposed constitutional referendum cannot in any way justify the extra-constitutional measures undertaken by the armed forces, which were later ratified by the Honduran congress when it voted to depose President Zelaya and install Congressman Roberto Micheletti immediately following the coup. These measures are a flagrant violation of the most basic democratic principles and of the rule of law.

At least two international labor organizations have also made solidarity statements that we hope will have an impact. The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) made the following statement on July 17:

The ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) today called for all its union members to oppose the coup in Honduras by focusing protests on the Honduran merchant fleet.

The global union organization, which represents 656 unions worldwide with four and a half million members, has made the call as its latest move to defend democracy in the coup-stricken Central American nation, and in support of the Organization of American States’ (OAS) condemnation of the military takeover. The action call is likely to affect the loading and unloading of the 650 ships flying the Honduran flag, which the ITF considers a flag of convenience—a low-cost cosmetic ship registration by companies with no link to the country and no intention of employing its citizens onboard.

ITF General Secretary David Cockroft stated: “We have to put real pressure on the Honduran military to allow the country to revert to democracy. We are therefore calling on our member unions to consider taking lawful action to defend the rights of the citizens of Honduras. That is likely to include protests that center on Honduran ships. All such actions will be peaceful, will respect the rights of the seafarers on the ships, but will send a clear message to those in authority—for now—in Honduras, that the outside world does not accept their seizure of power.”

Following the coup the ITF mobilized trade unionists in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, after its member unions within Honduras asked it to help them by organizing peaceful demonstrations at its borders with the three neighboring countries. The Federation has also sent a message to the OAS Secretary General and the President of the Honduran Congress to declare the military’s action illegal and indefensible, and issued an urgent action alert to its member trade unions asking for their support in backing those trying to reestablish democracy in the country.  The alert also mobilizes the ITF’s worldwide membership to protest against the illegal grab of power and seek the support of their own governments.

ITF Inter-Americas Regional Secretary Antonio Rodriguez Fritz commented: “The situation in Honduras is bad and getting worse, with violent military attacks on demonstrations, two trade unionists killed and others in hiding from arrest. We’re also fearful of the future, based on the experience of the 1970s and ‘80s, when similar economic and military groupings used death squads to repress dissent and murder trade unionists.”

He continued: “The Organization of American States has made itself clear. It condemned the coup and called for the reinstallation of democracy and has now suspended Honduras from membership.”

The International Textile Workers Federation also made a statement against the coup. As many as 100,000 Hondurans are employed in extremely low-wage textile manufacturing in the maquiladoras of Honduras. U.S.-owned and multinational textile corporations operating in Honduras, which enjoy advantages there through the so-called Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), have called on the Obama administration to maintain business as usual with Honduras in spite of the coup. The employers’ sympathies are clearly with the military coup-makers and not with Zelaya, because the elected president recently increased the minimum wage for Honduran workers, in an attempt to keep up with inflation. The textile corporations clearly regard the increased minimum wage as an encroachment on their profits.

Here is the text of the July 14 press release by the International Textile Workers Federation:

U.S. Trade Associations Putting Profits before Human Rights in Honduras

[The International Textile, Garment, and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF) is a global union federation bringing together 220 affiliated organizations in 110 countries with a combined membership of 10 million workers.]

The Global Union representing workers in the apparel and footwear sectors has dubbed as “disgusting” a letter from leading U.S. trade associations to President Obama calling for business as usual with Honduras following last week’s coup which was supported by key elements of the country’s business community.

Seven trade groups, including the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), the Emergency Committee for American Trade, the National Council of Textile Organizations, the National Retail Federation, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, the Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wrote to President Obama on July 11 urging him to secure the U.S. economic relationship with Honduras.

Says Neil Kearney, General Secretary of the Brussels-based International Textile, Garment, and Leather Workers’ Federation: “This approach, which overlooks democracy, civil liberties, and the rule of law, is an affront to democracy and a negation of American values.

“Since the coup there has been growing concern at the threat to trade union and popular leaders, and it appears there is a list of leaders who are threatened with detention and whose personal safety is at risk. There have been reports that on Saturday evening, two leaders of the popular opposition to the coup, [union leader] Roger Ivan Bados and Ramon Garcia, were murdered in two separate incidents by unidentified gunmen.

“There is also growing concern about worsening working conditions, and in particular at efforts to claw back a wage increase ordered by President Zelaya six months ago in order to reflect the increased cost of food and other essentials. In reality the increased wage barely covered 90% of basic food needs and less than a third of a living wage covering basic needs such as food, rent, transport, education, and medical care.”

Concludes Mr. Kearney: “These trade associations are protecting their profits on the backs of murdered leaders and worsening wages and working conditions.” The ITGLWF is calling on organizations linked with the AAFA and the six trade associations to publicly disassociate themselves from the statement.

The following July 21 report from the pro-labor British newspaper, Morning Star, which currently has a news correspondent in Honduras, gives a good description of the situation on the eve of the second two-day general strike (the previous one having been held on July 16–17):

In a direct challenge to Honduras’s military dictatorship, the country’s three main trade union federations have called [another] two-day general strike, beginning on Thursday [July 23].

Yesterday, 150 delegates representing both public and private- sector workers met in the capital city Tegucigalpa.

Speaker after speaker, most of whom were dressed in jeans and T-shirts, angrily denounced the military regime and demanded the return of elected President Manuel Zelaya.

Mr. Zelaya, who continues to be recognized by the international community as [Honduras’s] sole legitimate president, was expelled from Honduras three weeks ago by masked soldiers and bundled onto a plane to Costa Rica.

He has declared that he intends to re-enter the country within a week—with or without the agreement of the coup plotters.

Interrupted by applause and cries of “it’s now or never,” secretary-general of the CUTH federation Israel Salinas announced a mass demonstration in Tegucigalpa on Thursday to coincide with the strike.

The CUTH represents 250,000 workers in both urban and rural areas.

Previous protests against coup leader Roberto Micheletti have been confronted by large numbers of armed soldiers and police.

Mr. Salinas told the Morning Star that opposition to the coup is gathering strength. “We have been in the streets for 22 days and our movement is becoming stronger and stronger.

“Our aim is to stop production, trade, and transport,” he said.

Despite the resistance of the oligarchy, Mr. Zelaya’s government had doubled the minimum wage, and the trade unions predict that unless the coup regime is removed from power, it will attempt to reverse this and other progressive measures.

“Manuel Zelaya is the first president we have had who is with the poor people,” said Mr Salinas.

The trade union leader called on the British government to freeze all economic ties to Honduras and to use its influence in the United Nations to further isolate the military dictatorship.

Yesterday, the European Union announced that about £60 million worth of aid to Honduras would cease with immediate effect. The United States is still providing aid to the regime.

The Honduran unions are part of the National Front of Resistance Against the Coup in Honduras (Frente Nacional de Resistencia contra el Golpe en Honduras, or FNRGH). A statement issued by this Frente Nacional shows that it is not taken in by the maneuvers of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arranged “mediation” of the conflict by Costa Rican President Arias. The FNRGH accepted “point No. 1” of Arias’s mediation proposals—that is, the return of Zelaya to the presidency to which he was elected. But the FNRGH rejected the other points in Arias’s (read: Clinton’s) other proposals. We quote from a summary of the Frente’s July 9 communique, which was posted on the Marxmail discussion group:

Because of the intransigence of the coup regime, the FNRGH reiterates the impossibility of a successful outcome to the talks in Costa Rica.

It rejects the other proposals of Arias [i.e., other than point 1]:

Point 2, because of the possibility that people associated with the coup regime could end up in the proposed “national reconciliation government.”

Point 3, because it negates the citizenry’s right to have a participatory democracy.

Point 4, because it grants impunity to the coup plotters.

Point 5, because it allows for the possibility of electoral fraud.

Point 6, because it ignores our proposal to revise the constitutional role of the armed forces and ignores their involvement in the coup.

Point 7, because it has no reason to be there. It doesn’t clear up the problems of the previous points.

The talks ignore the following acts of repression perpetrated by the coup regime: 4 murders, 1,158 illegal detentions, persecution of the leadership of the popular movement, 14 media sources, 14 journalists, and 4 social organizations have suffered attacks on freedom of expression, militarization of various organizations, news outlets, communities, etc., the appearance of death squads, etc.

The FNRGH also restated its commitment to a nationwide Constituent Assembly in which all the people could participate.

Such a Constituent Assembly would have direct input by the masses of the working people, wage workers in industry, agricultural laborers, poor peasants, and the poor generally (in this third poorest country of the Western Hemisphere). Similar Constituent Assemblies in Venezuela and Ecuador have produced dramatic democratic changes—far more democratic, for example, that the much-touted constitution of the USA. The journalist Nicholas Kozloff describes some of the beneficial results authorized by the new constitutions in Venezuela and Ecuador:

[In Venezuela the new constitution written with popular, grassroots participation in 1999] provides for some of the most comprehensive human rights provisions of any constitution in the world while also including special protection for women, indigenous peoples, and the environment. The constitution moreover allows for broad citizen participation in national life. The preamble states that one of the Constitution’s goals is to establish a participatory democracy achieved through elected representatives, popular votes by referendum, and perhaps most importantly, popular mobilization. In Venezuela, it was [this 1999] constitution which helped to solidify [Hugo Chavez’s] alliance with traditionally marginalized sectors of the population.

[The new 2008 constitution in Ecuador] provides for free universal health care, a universal right to water and prohibition of its privatization, and the redistribution of large unused landholdings. Even more dramatically, the constitution…outlaws foreign military bases on Ecuadoran soil.

That means, of course, that the U.S. superpower has to get out of the military base it’s been occupying in Manta, Ecuador. (The deadline for the U.S. military to get out is the end of this year, 2009.) Significantly, it recently became known that the Obama administration is seeking the right to establish five U.S. military bases in Colombia! These would obviously be aimed against the revolutionary processes going on in Colombia’s neighbors, Venezuela and Ecuador.

Of course constitutions like those enacted with popular participation in Venezuela and Ecuador are only as strong as the grassroots movements and the power of rank-and-file organizations to enforce compliance with such laws, but just like the U.S. constitutional amendments that abolished slavery and ensured women’s right to vote, such constitutions definitely represent forward movement for humankind as a whole.

We should bear in mind that a nonbinding popular referendum, or “consultation” of public opinion, about a Constituent Assembly was scheduled for June 28—the day the military coup was carried out against referendum organizer, President Zelaya. The “consultation” was opposed by the Honduran oligarchy, the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court controlled by the oligarchy, and the U.S.-backed Honduran military.

The Honduran oligarchy, the U.S. and multinational corporate investors in Honduras, and their military agents fear the prospect of a Constituent Assembly. The grassroots social movements representing a majority of the Honduran people might very well, and probably would, introduce constitutional changes that would infringe on the property rights of the wealthy, the power of the military, and the exploitation of labor by the corporations. No wonder, as Kozloff pointed out, Clinton’s State Department urged that a limitation should be placed on Zelaya, if he returned to office. Kozloff quoted a July 8 AP report:

Clinton would not discuss specifics of the mediation process [to be conducted by Arias of Costa Rica], which she said would begin soon, but a senior U.S. official said one option being considered would be to forge a compromise under which Zelaya would be allowed to return and serve out his remaining six months in office with limited powers [italics added].  Zelaya, in return, would pledge to drop his aspirations for a constitutional change. [Italics added.]

Earlier, the U.S. ambassador to Honduras, a Cuban counter-revolutionary named Hugo Llorens, appointed by George W. Bush in mid-2008, had expressed open opposition to constitutional reform in Honduras. (No doubt he would also have opposed the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution if he had been around during the U.S. Civil War.) Llorens said: “One can’t violate the constitution to create a constitution, because if you don’t have a constitution the law of the jungle reigns.”

In Llorens’s view, then, if a majority of Hondurans chose to change their constitution through a popular assembly, they would be “violating the constitution.” In other words, they’re stuck for eternity with the “constitution” they now have (or more exactly, the one that U.S.-backed regimes have imposed in the past).

In the U.S., we should demand, among other things, the immediate ouster of Llorens as ambassador to Honduras. The sooner this Bush appointee (and undoubted supporter of the military coup) is withdrawn from Honduras, the better. And of course, along with Llorens all U.S. military forces and bases should be removed from Honduras, and all U.S. aid to the coup regime ended.