Honduras: Coup attempt threatens democracy


An attempted coup has broken out in Honduras in the lead-up to a referendum scheduled for June 28. The referendum is on whether a further vote should be held to decide to re-write the Central American nation's constitution.

The coup has threatened to bring down elected President Manuel Zelaya, although mass mobilisations of his supporters have filled the streets to defend the elected government.

Under Zelaya, Honduras has joined the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), which is led by Cuba and Venezuela. This is a trading and political bloc that seeks to create an alternative to US domination and foster regional integration based on solidarity, not competition. ALBA and the Organisation of American States have both backed Zelaya.

On June 26, Associated Press reported that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on his Alo Presidente television show: "There is a coup d'etat under way and it must be stopped."

In a June 25 article, former Cuban president Fidel Castro said: "[Zelaya] forcefully denounced the crude, reactionary attempt to block an important popular referendum. That is the 'democracy' that imperialism defends."

Bolivian President Evo Morales expressed his "absolute rejection of any coup attempt or threat to the democratic process in the sister republic of Honduras", AP said.

A June 26 ALBA statement offered the "firmest support for the government of President Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales, in his just and decisive actions to defend the right of the Honduran people to express their sovereign will and push forward with a process of social transformation within the democratic institutions.

ALBA nations pledged to "mobilise, together with the dignified Honduran people, in the face of any attempt by the oligarchy to break the constitutional and democratic order of this sister Central American republic".

The statement printed below was released on June 25 by Rights Action, a North American-based Central American solidarity group. Visit Rightsaction.org.

* * *

The Honduran Armed Forces are in the street, as thousands of citizens mobilise peacefully to defend democracy and the presidency. Repression is feared.

What happens now in Honduras will have a major impact on the future of the country — and Central America.

Democratic rule is on the line, a military coup is feared, but tens of thousands of Hondurans rushed to the defence of the president, filling and surrounding the presidential palace. The crisis is a tipping point in a political transformation of the country that has taken shape during Zelaya's presidency.

Months ago, Zelaya proposed that on June 28, a national referendum be held to present Hondurans with the question as to whether, during the November 29 national elections, Hondurans could vote on whether to call a constituent assembly to write a new constitution.

The current constitution was written in 1982 in the middle of the repression and state terrorism that blanketed Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala during the 1980s. Honduras was controlled by a US-backed military regime; the US had 14 military bases in Honduras.

The Honduran Armed Forces initially pledged to support Zelaya and provide logistical support for the June 28 poll, to be administered by the National Statistics Institute.

Then, on June 23, the Honduran army told the president they would not support the referendum. The president fired the head of the armed forces, General Romeo Vasquez, and the defence minister resigned.

Fearing for the president's safety, thousands of Hondurans surrounded the presidential palace.

The National Congress is strongly opposed to the referendum, and today met to draft a letter of resignation for Zelaya. The Congress has also called on the OAS to withdraw its elections observers for the referendum, and has entertained initiatives to block their entry to the country.

Efforts to intimidate the voters include public statements by influential political figures claiming that if voters take part in Sunday's referendum, they could face 10 to 15 years in prison.

Around midday on June 25, Zelaya and thousands of civilian supporters left the presidential palace in city buses and headed to the Air Force base and successfully recovered from the military the ballot boxes needed for the vote.

The proposal to draft a new constitution, via establishing a constituent assembly, is the culmination of a series of positive measures undertaken during Zelaya's presidency.

These include: a raise in the minimum wage; measures to re-nationalise energy generation plants and the telephone system; signing a bill that improves working conditions for teachers; joining the Venezuelan Petrocaribe program that provides soft loans for development initiatives via petroleum sales; delaying recognition of the new US ambassador after the Bolivian government implicated the US embassy in supporting fascist paramilitary groups destabilising Bolivia; and others.

With popular support for Zelaya growing, and a reported 80% in support, opposition has grown in the economically and politically powerful minority sectors. The president has been blocked from the press, and important events have gone almost unreported.