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Resistance in Honduras

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| Categories: Honduras, Reports, Statements

Will there be a negotiated solution after the coup?

Three weeks ago there was a coup in Honduras – on July 28, President Manuel Zelaya, still in his pajamas, was kidnapped by the army and put on a plane to Costa Rica.

It was the first coup in Latin America since the ousting of the President of Haiti in 2004. Western newspapers spent weeks reporting about the protests against the electoral fraud in Iran on their front pages. Although a democratic mass movement has also been repressed in Honduras; in the eyes of the western media it is of marginal significance.

It is very difficult to get an accurate assessment of the situation in Honduras as a result of the coup government’s suppression oppositional media [1]. But there are increasing signs that there will be a negotiated solution between the deposed president and the coupists in the coming weeks. Therefore, we want to examine the background to the coup and the potential of the protests against it.

Was it a coup?

Roberto Micheletti, who has been the de facto president of Honduras for the last three weeks, describes his inauguration as a normal, constitutional transition of power. He, neglects to indicate, however, which article of the Constitution regulates the army kidnapping the president and deporting him from the country!

The Government of Micheletti (also called “Goriletti”) has not yet been recognized by any other government. After series of very vague comments on July 28, Barack Obama spoke out on July 29 against the “illegal coup”. Subsequently, the Organization of American States (OAS) suspended Honduras’ membership.

On the streets of Honduras, it looks a lot like an ordinary military coup: the coupists have closed radio and TV stations, imposed a curfew, shot at demonstrators and arrested, abducted and murdered dozens of activists. Despite this, organizations of the workers, the farmers and the youth have been striking and demonstrating throughout the country for the last three weeks.

When Zelaya, on July 5, tried to fly back to the capital Tegucigalpa, somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 people marched to the airport – and that in a city with just over a million inhabitants under a state of emergency! At the airport fence, the army shot at the demonstration and at least two people were killed.

Who is Mel Zelaya?

The internationally recognized president of Honduras, Manuel (Mel) Zelaya, looks like a populist hero in the style of Hugo Chávez or Evo Morales when he calls for an uprising to defend democracy. Although one shouldn’t overestimate the rhetoric of Chávez and Morales, Zelaya has even less to offer in terms of concrete policies. From an old landowning family, he won the presidential election in 2005 for the Liberal Party, a traditional party of the oligarchic two-party system [2].

Only in 2008 did Zelaya become “leftist”: He joined the regional alliance ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) under the leadership of Venezuela and adopted the title of a “socialist liberal “. How does that work? Neo-liberal capitalism is so discredited amongst the masses of Latin America that every second head of state on the continent now calls him/herself a socialist – and the term loses any trace of meaning.

Zelaya’s “left turn” is not the result of a humanistic change in thinking – it came about under the pressure of the masses. Early in his presidency there were multiple mass strikes ( “civic stoppages”) because the country was spiraling into a crisis. Honduras wavers between the third and the fifth place on the list of the poorest countries in the Americas [3] and slightly more than half the population lives below the poverty line.

The neoliberal economic model of free trade – i.e. the export of agricultural products and cheap manufactured goods to the US, supplemented by money transfers from Hondurans living abroad as migrant workers [4] – threatened to collapse, especially under the current global economic crisis. The crisis meant that the demand for textile products from export factories ( “maquiladoras”) as well as the demand for the labor of Honduran migrant workers, especially in the construction sector in the US, rapidly fell off. However, even before this, cracks in the economic system had become visible.

Faced with this crisis, the Honduran bourgeoisie stood divided. They had two options: the first option – the one they have chosen again and again over the last 100 years – would be to intensify exploitation (and thus lower prices for export products) and to crush mass protests against this with more severe repression. At the time, soaring oil prices and a shortage of foreign exchange made this option very difficult.

Zelaya stands for second option: He represents a small minority of the ruling class in Honduras who see their rescue in a “left turn”, i.e. a certain decoupling from the US. Concretely this means co-opting the masses with rhetoric and handouts (in this case with “socialist liberalism” and a slightly higher minimum wage) and attempting to solve the energy crisis through regional cooperation, especially with Venezuela. Zelaya was unable to win significant sectors of the bourgeoisie for this left turn. The coup government, which is now busily implementing the first option, can base itself on a surprisingly cohesive ruling class: the congress, the judiciary, the church and the capitalists are standing almost as one behind the coup, despite all the difficulties.

What a banana republic!

The term “banana republic” was originally invented for Honduras [5]. At the end of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century, Honduras was, like other Central American countries, under the control of the United Fruit Company and other US corporations. Although there has always been a de jure independent Honduran government, the de facto control of US capital was guaranteed by numerous military interventions and coups. This also applies to the current situation.

The rejection by the US government and the Organization of American States (also called the “US colonial ministry”) seem, at first glance, quite untypical for a coup in Latin America. However, the US Embassy was involved in this coup as well, even though they officially rejected it [6]. In the run-up there had been meetings between the US ambassador Hugo Llorens and the opposition in order to discuss the possibility of removing and arresting the president (although they of course told the press that these discussions only dealt with possibilities for a legal impeachment) [7].

The Obama administration has adopted an ambivalent attitude because of two different, partially contradictory goals: on the one hand, they want to dissociate themselves from the openly imperial foreign policy of the Bush administration in Latin America. The coup attempt in April 2002 in Venezuela, just like the destabilization strategy in September 2008 in Santa Cruz (Bolivia), failed – such actions have only radicalized the masses and weakened the control of the US in its “backyard”. So now they are aiming for the greatest possible aesthetic distance between Obama and open coupists Reagan, Bush Sr. or Bush Jr.

On the other hand, they still have an interest in the consolidation of the coup regime in order to defend their hegemony in the region by weakening the ALBA. So they pushed for a strategy of negotiations. Although they categorically rejected a recognition of the coup government, they are doing just that by organizing negotiations between Zelaya and Micheletti. While formal measures such as the suspension of Honduras from the OAS have been carried out, only a few countries (especially the ALBA countries) have removed their ambassadors from the country – economic sanctions, which could really bring the coup government to its knees, have not even been mentioned as a possibility.

These negotiations, which have been going on for the past two weeks and may soon lead to an agreement, are supposed to lull the masses to sleep with illusions about a “democratic” solution to the crisis. Against this background, the mass protests have lost momentum – not least because Zelaya called for an “uprising”, but only for a “peaceful uprising” and not for an indefinite general strike. In this way, he recognizes the army’s monopoly of power – i.e. the army that just deposed him!

Unfortunately, this son of the oligarchy would rather let himself be deposed than launch a movement that could seriously challenge the institutions of the oligarchic state. Nevertheless, he (like Obama) uses sharp words against the coup in order to prevent the masses from going down the path of open struggle.

What strategy is needed?

Precisely because Zelaya and the “international community” are not interested in economic sanctions against the coupists, it is a task for the mass organizations of the workers, the farmers and the youth to paralyze the economy with strikes and road blockades. The longer the negotiations between the old and the new government last, the more the coup government can consolidate itself and the harder it can crack down on the impoverished population.

The masses must have no illusions about “Honduran democracy” and the constitution of 1982. This constitution, which replaced the military dictatorship with an oligarchic two-party system, restricts the rights of voters, for example giving them no possibility to elect a president for more than one term or to remove him/her before the end of the term.

It was precisely Zelaya’s project to hold a non-binding survey about the election of a constituent assembly at the end of the year which led the large majority of the bourgeoisie to topple him. The Honduran bourgeoise can not tolerate changes to the reactionary constitution of 1982 – even the possibility of a new constitution would trigger broad discussions amongst the poor masses about the political system of the country. For this reason, all the negotiations are based on a concession Zelaya has already agreed to, namely distancing himself from the demand for a constituent assembly.

In truth, Zelaya wants nothing more than a slightly modified model of semi-colonial capitalism for Honduras. The poor masses cannot put their hopes in any assembly led by him. Only a revolutionary assembly, directly elected from the base that decides not only about the political institutions but also about the economic foundations of the country – that is, large land ownership, the private ownership of means of production etc. – can free the masses from poverty.

The protests against the coup have already gone further than Zelaya wanted: A general strike will begin next week, although Zelaya only called for peaceful demonstrations. The demand for a constituent assembly can still be raised despite Zelaya’s rotten compromises. Even Zelaya’s return as president would, from the perspective of most Hondurans, only a replace a political crisis with a different, social – or more precisely, capitalist – crisis.

by Wladek, Revo Berlin

[1] The blog of the Trotskyist party PST is an important exception. See:
[2] Roberto Ramírez: Mass Movement to Defeat “Pinocheletti”. Translation from the Spanish: The Commune. Http://
[3] List_of_Latin_American_countries_by_GDP_ (nominal)
[4] These remittances accounted for more than a fifth of gross domestic product of Honduras in 2007! See:
[6] An old joke in Latin America goes like this: Why has there never been a military coup in the U.S.? Because there is no U.S. embassy there!
[7] 2009/06/30/world/americas/30honduras.html

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