Honduras: The hour of the grass roots


Three weeks after the June 28 military coup that expelled Honduran President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya, the Central American country remains shaken by a profound and dynamic popular upsurge demanding Zelaya's return and the restoration of democracy.

The collapse on July 18 of the much-touted "negotiation dialogue" between Zelaya's government delegation and representatives of the military coup was all but inevitable.

The talks foundered on the one issue that neither side could agree to discuss or give ground on — who is the constitutional president of Honduras?

Mass resistance and opinion polls show a strong majority of Hondurans back Zelaya as their elected president and demand his immediate return.

The coup has been denounced by all the relevant international organisations: the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), the Central American Integration System (SICA), the Rio Group, the Organisation of American States (OAS), the European Union and the United Nations.


However, the coup junta's delegation to the negotiations in Costa Rica's' capital San Jose broke off the talks, saying they could not even discuss the possibility of Zelaya continuing as president. The Zelaya delegation then withdrew from the talks and announced that the president would quickly "return to Honduras to help organise an insurrection against repression".

For Washington and the coup high command, Zelaya's return to Honduras may represent the only way to avoid an armed popular uprising. But the Honduran masses would see his return, even under onerous conditions, as an admission by the coup leaders of the illegality and disastrous impact of the military takeover.

Zelaya's return could fuel mass resistance and further undermine the pro-coup faction.

The coup leaders and their US supporters are in a bind. This explains why they tried to stall for time with the San Jose "mediation dialogue".

Lamenting the failure of his mediation, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias warned of imminent "civil war and bloodshed that the Honduran people do not deserve".

OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza said: "It is almost impossible to avoid conflict between Hondurans and call for calm when a dictatorship seeks to stay in power in full view of everyone".

Washington's complicity

The dictatorship has imposed brutal repression against unarmed civilian protesters, including assassinations and disappearances. Washington has pursued a two-faced and deceitful course.

The coup was planned in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, with the participation of the US embassy and US military officials at Honduras's Palmerola air force base.

The US then voted in favour of the unanimous OAS resolution in support of Zelaya. But the sincerity of this vote was undermined by statements by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama.

Although they sometimes used the word "coup" to describe the army takeover, they waffled when it came to action. More important than their talk was their walk: they refused to impose economic sanctions.

The Obama administration has since shown its hand. On July 20, state department spokesperson Phillip Crowley stated the administration did not consider the military takeover to be a coup in the "legal" sense. The coup was "not legal" — but by the same token it was not "illegal".

This distinction means it is not illegal to continue US military and economic aid to the coup administration and the armed forces.

Obama's duplicity should come as no surprise, despite the unusually intense hopes millions of people have for his promise of real change in a "post-Bush" world. US-Honduran policy continues the long history of US domination and intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega pointed out to a rally of hundreds of thousands in Managua on July 19 — the 30th anniversary of Nicaragua's popular revolution that overthrew a brutal US-backed dictatorship — the coup came just before the announcement of the opening of five new US military bases in Colombia.

This is a response to the forced closing of the US Manta airbase in Ecuador and the feared loss of US bases in Honduras under Zelaya.

ALBA's role

The US administration's tacit support for the coup leaders reflects their hatred of Zelaya's measures to support the poor and joining the anti-imperialist ALBA bloc. ALBA unites Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, and three English-speaking Caribbean countries. It is a spearhead of an anti-imperialist struggle to build social and economic solidarity among the partner nations.

ALBA led the Latin America-wide rejection of the coup, holding a series of emergency meetings to lay the basis for the unanimous OAS and UN resolutions.

When united Latin American determination to smash the coup became clear, Washington opted to try to camouflage its role. But there is no hiding the fact the coup is directed against all ALBA members and potential members.

As Latin American leaders have said, if the coup is consolidated, other countries will become coup victims again, even without Washington's prompting. US tacit support of the Honduran coup is a clear signal to military plotters.

Bolivian President Evo Morales stressed on July 21 that "this coup is a threat against the continued growth of ALBA".

Resistance on the streets

Despite repression, mass resistance continues to grow in Honduras. International solidarity up and down Indo-Black-Latin America and across the Caribbean has not waned.

Insurrection is in the air. Stay in the streets, Zelaya has appealled. "It's the only place that they have not been able to take away from us ... I am going to return to the country as soon as possible.… The right to insurrection is a constitutional right."

The coup regime has tried desperately to silence all critical media and has imposed a night-time curfew. Security forces have violently attacked peaceful protesters and arrested a large number of activists. Two protesters were killed on July 5 and two activists and members of the left-wing Democratic Unification Party (UD) have been assassinated by unknown gunmen.

Returning to Honduras that day, visibly exhausted UD Congressman Marvin Ponce said: "The people owe Honduras a revolution, and if the legitimate president, Manuel Zelaya, is not reinstated, there will be a confrontation between social classes.

"What I can say is that the days of peaceful resistance, like as we have had until now, are numbered."

On July 14, tens of thousands of workers, students, farmers, and indigenous people massed in front of the US embassy in the capital, Tegucigalpa. They came from all over the country in response to a call from the National Front to Resist the Coup d'Etat (FNRG).

The more than three weeks of mass resistance has paralysed the country and shattered its already feeble economy. At least two huge demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of workers and oppressed sectors have rocked the country.

On July 16, Central American labour unions staged solidarity protests, closing Honduras's borders with Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador. Export earnings and investments are in free fall.

Honduras's three main trade union federations, at a meeting involving public and private workers, called a two-day general strike starting on July 23. A mass demonstration was called to coincide with the strike's day.

\Israel Salinas, secretary-general of the CUTH federation that represents 250,000 urban and rural workers, said: "We have been in the streets for 22 days and our movement is becoming stronger and stronger.

"Manuel Zelaya is the first president we have had who is with the poor

Despite total press and media censorship within the country, and a near-blackout internationally, coup leaders have not been able to muffle ongoing reports and rumours of fissures in their "united front", including among lower echelons of the armed forces and police.

The demonstrations and strikes are not spontaneous. They are led by the mass organisations of campesinos (peasants), indigenous people, students, Afro-Hondurans, trade unions, teachers, journalists, professional associations, religious groups, and human rights groups.

The FNRG is made up of dozens of organisations well connected internationally. They have been influenced by previous struggles in the region, especially the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua during the 1980s. Ongoing advances for the oppressed in Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and El Salvador have inspired and assisted the Honduran mass movements.

The pro-poor reforms implemented by Zelaya since he was elected in 2005 responded to growing pressure from the grassroots, as his government faced dozens of big protests and industrial disputes. This helped create a new dynamic interplay between Zelaya and the exploited and oppressed grass roots.

A 'council' dynamic

The FNRG has managed to unite people across gender, ethnic, age and class lines. Its ability to resist savage repression, and maintain street and workplace protests, has proven its political maturity.

That's why the "Zelaya delegation" to the San Jose dialog included a rainbow of union, campesino, indigenous, and Afro-Honduran representatives.

On July 20, a large council gathering of grassroots leaders resolved to step up the resistance. Unions announced a general strike. They reaffirmed their support for Zelaya and their call for a constituent assembly to remake the country's constitution.

This assembly revealed the mass protests have taken on what historians of revolution and insurrection call a "council dynamic" — that is, organising the participation and representation of workers, campesinos, national minorities, students, and oppressed sectors through local and networked councils.

The FNRG has enabled a new, dynamic interplay between government-level leadership and the will and initiative of the grassroots. It is still only a beginning, but a vigorous one.

Whether it can be consolidated depends on the course of the struggle and on international solidarity.

How long can the mass resistance endure the ongoing repression? People have to make a living, and cannot remain in the streets forever. Campesinos will soon have to begin planting their fields. Time is now more than ever critical to victory.

[Abridged from .]

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