Honduras: Talks stall, British unions demand action

October 17, 2009

An October 16 deadline set by Honduran President Manual Zelaya for the regime that ousted him in a military coup to agree to his reinstatement has passed without a settlement. Zelaya had warned that if his reinstatement was not agreed to by that time, Honduras would become "ungovernable".

Zelaya extended the deadline by two days, while the mass-based National Resistance Front against the Coup (FNRG) said there would be a new round mass protests, blockades and potentially a general strike if the coup regime did not agree to Zelaya's reinstatement.

Zelaya, whose pro-people reforms angered US and Honduran corporate interests, was kidnapped and exiled in a coup on June 28. Since then, mass resistance by the poor majority has brought the Central American country to a standstill. This resistance has continued for more than 100 days despite brutal repression that has resulted in thousands being detained and dozens killed or disappeared.

Days of intense negotiations between Zelaya and the coup regime failed to resolve the central issue of Zelaya's return. News reports said agreement on the framework for a deal was found on a number of points, including no immunity for members of the coup regime and an end to attempts by Zelaya to promote constitutional reform.

However, the best the coup regime could offer was to allow the Supreme Court, which had helped orchestrate the June 28 coup, to decide whether Zelaya should return or not.

The FNRG has combined the demand to reinstate Zelaya with its demand for a constituent assembly to create a new, pro-people constitution. The FNRG withdrew its representative from negotiations on October 14 when the agreement being negotiated excluded this demand.

However, it continued to support Zelaya in the negotiations.

The desperate regime, forced to the negotiating table by its inability to break the mass resistance with violent repression, is seeking to hold on until scheduled November 29 poll. Zelaya and the FNRG insist any election organised by the regime is not legitimate and say Zelaya's reinsttement is a pre-requisite for free elections. However, the regime hopes the poll will ease its international isolation.

However, the economy is losing millions of dollars every day. The regime is likely to respond to more protests with more repression,makin international solidarity becomes more important.

The behind-the-scenes- support of the US government is possibly all that is preventing the coup regime from falling. This means international solidarity could be the key to tipping the balance in favour of the Honduran people fighting for democracy and social justice.

The British Trade Union Congress (TUC), the national federation of trade unions in Britain representing nearly 7 million workers, issued a statement on October 14 demanding tougher action from European governments against the regime. The statement is printed below.

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The TUC is calling on the European Commission to suspend its preferential trade agreement with Honduras because of repeated human rights abuses since the military regime overthrew the democratically elected government on June 28.

Since the military coup, 20 people have been killed (12 of whom were trade unionists), while another 500 people have been injured and thousands arrested.

Honduran trade unions have reported their members being subjected to physical and psychological torture, including rape.

Last month, the TUC wrote to European Commissioner Baroness Catherine Ashton calling on the European Commission to suspend its Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) trade agreement with Honduras.

Under its scheme, the European Union rewards countries that are implementing fundamental human and labour rights conventions with additional trade preferences.

The TUC believes the Honduran regime has violated several United Nations and International Labour Organisation human and workers' rights conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and the ILO conventions concerning Freedom of Association.

Despite acknowledging concerns about the military regime, the European Commission has refused to withdraw GSP status from Honduras. In her response, Baroness Ashton claimed: "We have not yet received any indication that the situation is yet affecting the implementation of the Conventions linked to GSP+".

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "Despite [the regime's] appalling human rights abuses, the European Union continues to give the regime legitimacy through preferential trade rights.

"Rather than standing idly by, the international community must put political and economic pressure on the regime to end its human rights abuses and restore the democratically elected government."

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