Honduras: Coup struggle a battle for the Americas


The people of Honduras have now suffered more than 40 days of military rule. The generals' June 28 coup ousted the country's elected government and unleashed severe, targeted, and relentless repression.

The grassroots protests demanding the restoration of President Manuel Zelaya have matched the regime in endurance and outmatched it in political support nationally and internationally. Its scope and duration is unprecedented in Honduran history.

Popular resistance is the main factor affecting the international forces attempting to shape the outcome of the governmental crisis.

It weighs heavy on the minds of the coup's authors and their international backers.

Venezuelan-American lawyer Eva Golinger has convincingly documented the role of the United States in conceiving, planning, and staging the coup. (See .)

The US ambassador in Tegucigalpa, Hugo Llorens, coordinates a team of high-ranking US and Honduran military officials, using the US air force base in Honduras.

But when the army kidnapped Zelaya, and dumped him in Costa Rica, this forged unprecedented unity in Latin America and the Caribbean against the coup regime and enraged hundreds of thousands within Honduras.

Latin American unity

In the days after the coup, it appeared the whole world was against the Honduran generals and their civilian front men. The Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA, the nine-nation anti-imperialist alliance initiated by Venezuela and Cuba) took the lead in uniting Latin American governments around a common stand.

Managua, the capital of ALBA nation Nicaragua, became the temporary capital of Our America. Many Latin American presidents knew only too well that they could soon suffer Zelaya's fate.

Faced with this reality, the US government hastened to portray itself as a key opponent of the military takeover and a supporter of Zelaya's return. It was politically urgent for the Obama regime, domestically as well as in Latin America, to deny involvement in the coup.

However the US government's actions betrayed its words. If it wanted, the US could topple the coup through a five-minute phone call that included a few bottom-line dollar figures.

Time has shown its words were mainly those of deceit and manipulation.

Coup aims

Washington staged the coup to achieve closely interacting aims:

• To strike a blow at the ALBA alliance, by taking out its assumed "weakest link" — Zelaya's government.

• To prepare for an assault on revolutionary Venezuela, prefaced by the announcement of five new US military bases in neighbouring Colombia. Ecuador and Bolivia are also high on the list.

• To "take back" Honduras and again use it as a platform to strike out against left-wing governments and movements in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, as Honduras was used in the 1980s.

• To test Latin America's turbulent waters for a revival of coup-making and use Honduras as a laboratory for 21st century coups. This involves trying to re-inspire and regroup right-wing supporters in political and military spheres across the hemisphere. It also took a measure of which side the powerful Catholic Church would fall on. A free Bible if you guess right.

• To probe South America's "soft underbelly" —mainly Brazil and Chile — to see if they were amenable to a deal, or at least if their silence could be bought. This aimed to drive a wedge between the ALBA alliance and so-called centre-left regimes (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Chile).

However, the coup regime threatened to become a millstone around Washington's neck and hinder its drive to find leverage and points of support, especially in South America.

Washington will have no qualms about letting the coup plotters hang out to dry if necessary.

The past months show some success for Washington, but mainly on the international level. Latin American unity, for example, is being sorely tested by the provocative decision to place US military air and naval bases in Colombia.

Brazil and Chile reluctantly bowed down, saying it was a "sovereign" decision for Colombia. But others, such as Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Uruguay, Venezuela and Cuba, have denounced the measure.


Meanwhile, the Honduran resistance has had immense impact on the population, the regime, the national and regional economy, and international opinion.

This is horrifying the local ruling class and Washington.

The Honduran economy is in tatters. Estimates indicate that import-export activity is down by 60%.

From Mexico City, Zelaya said more than 200 road barricades had been erected, facing repression by the army trying to keep produce moving.

Public schools have stayed closed since the coup because of teacher strikes and student boycotts. Health workers have maintained a long strike. Many other workplaces have been hit by strikes and slowdowns.

The de facto government has been unable to meet payrolls, and the profits of the 10 ruling families are starting to dry up.

Textile giants Adidas, Nike and GAP have urged the US government to hasten Zelaya's return because its products are not being exported. They are suffering losses in the millions.

The crisis is also hitting hard Nicaraguan and El Salvadoran import-export enterprises that depend on the northern Honduran port of Cortes for commerce.

Yet, despite stiff resistance, coup-installed president Roberto Micheletti's "government" has not collapsed. Its main weapon, aside from Catholic Church sermons and virtual monopoly control over media, has been targeted killings and arrests of unarmed protesters.

Those targeted take action with nothing but conviction, courage and picket signs. Disappearances and torture are selectively carried out.

The regime has now moved to close down Globo Radio, the only station that dared oppose the coup and give the resistance a voice.

As of August 6, it was still air and hundreds of supporters were surrounding it in defence guards.

Arias Plan

The plan of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias for a negotiated settlement to overcome the coup and restore "stability" to Honduras is misnamed. It should be called the "Obama-Clinton-Lula Plan".

Santiago O'Donnell wrote in Argentine Pagine 12on July 26 that the Arias Plan was traced out in a Moscow meeting between Brazilian President Lula da Silva and US President Barack Obama. "Lula wanted Zelaya to return but Obama didn't want him to stay on, so they agreed in Moscow that Zelaya should return but remain [without any real power]."

The plan's unstated intent was to marginalise Zelaya from any real power and block any future return to office once his current term expires at the end of the year. And, above all to debilitate the mass resistance movement.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose Arias, whose skills in serving imperialism won him a Nobel Peace prize, to host talks between the Zelaya government (in exile) and the coup leaders. He "mediated" in San Jose between representatives of "both sides".

With the Organisation of American States pushed out of the picture, the talks moved from the demand for the immediate and unconditional return of Zelaya to a framework of conditional and delayed return.

The talks began as a means to delay Zelaya's return and to buy time for the coup regime, in the hope it could stabilise its rule.

Zelaya accepted the plan as a basis for discussion. But talks soon collapsed when the coup regime categorically rejected Zelaya's return as president.

A second attempt by Arias failed for the same reason.

Zelaya then turned away from the talks and refocused on building resistance and diplomatic outreach. His government in exile operates mainly on the Honduran-Nicaraguan border and at the Honduran embassy in Managua.

Mass opposition resurged, inspired by Zelaya's attempts to return via the Nicaraguan border and the work done by his wife (Xiamara Castro de Zelaya) within the country.

Obama responded with another more pointed reiteration of the US stand that the coup regime had to accept Zelaya's return through the Arias Plan. Brazil and Mexico backed this stance, as did OAS general secretary Jose Miguel Insulza.

The coup regime continues to refuse. Meanwhile, Zelaya has agreed to big concessions.

Zelaya has accepted the principle of a national unity government, whose main task would be to stabilise the country, restart the economy and organise the November national elections.

Zelaya's team feels it has no choice but to accept returning as a debilitated and hand-tied regime with the involvement of major figures of the coup. The authors of the Arias Plan hope this will leave the ruling class and the army with significant leverage to politically defeat the mass movement and the Zelaya current in the coming elections.

However, this is not certain.

In Mexico, Zelaya sent a message to Washington and other hemispheric governments — either coup making by the extreme right will be contained, or Latin America's left-wing guerrillas will be reborn.

He again asserted the people's right to armed insurrection against military dictatorships.

To the grassroots

The Honduran resistance movement has emerged as a new force, much more sophisticated and powerful than before June 28. Greater unity between mestizo (mixed-race), indigenous, and Afro-Honduran peoples augurs well.

Their international ties are more varied and stronger. Activists have been through a great, intense school of class struggle.

Zelaya's political current is not the same as it was before the coup. The interim period, with or without Zelaya's return, can be used to mature and consolidate this movement and to build its capacity to take on the ruling class in the electoral process and ongoing battle for the hearts and minds of the majority.

The outcome depends, above all, on the capacities of the grassroots to remain on guard and active in political struggle. Their activity is likely to be under the twin banners of an election campaign and building support for a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution.

Anti-imperialist fighters will do well to keep their focus on defending the mass movement and its leaders in Honduras, and the goal of continental unity of Our America against imperial domination.

[Felipe Stuart Cournoyer is a Canadian-born Nicaraguan citizen who divides his time between the two countries. He is a member of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in Nicaragua and a contributing editor to the Canada-based Socialist Voice, Socialistvoice.ca].]