In the article below, Federico Fuentes, from the Green Left Weekly Caracas bureau, provides an overview of the brutal repression of the coup regime and heroic resistance against it occurring right now in the Central American nation of Honduras. Fuentes has conducted daily interviews with leaders of the Honduran resistance since September 21, and a series of daily articles since then can be read here. A September 25 audio interview with Democracy Now! journalist Andres Conteris, from inside the Brazilian embassy where legitimate President Manuel Zelaya has been, can be heard at LatinRadical.
Eighty-eight days after being overthrow in a military coup and forced into exile, elected Honduran President Manuel Zelaya stunned the world on September 21 by announcing he had re-entered the country and was inside the Brazilian embassy in Central American nation's capital, Tegucigalpa.
His announcement set off an explosive new wave of street protests from the poor majority — building on the daily protests, strikes and road blockades by the anti-coup resistance demanding Zelaya's reinstatement since Zelaya was overthrown on June 28.
Zelaya's pro-poor policies — including raising the minimum wage by 60% and blocking privatisations — outraged the Honduran elite and US corporations.
Zelaya's government also aligned itself with the pro-poor, anti-imperialist bloc in Latin America seeking to unite the region to challenge US domination, developing closer relations with the revolutionary governments of Cuba and Venezuela.
Under Zelaya, Honduras joined the Bolivarian Alliance of Our Americas (ALBA) bloc led by Venezuela and Cuba. ALBA recognised the coup as part of an offensive by the US and regional elites to reverse the gains made by the Latin American oppressed in recent years and has spearheaded the international campaign for Zelaya's re-instatement.
Zelaya's biggest crime, however, was to open a democratic process to change the constitution.
Similar democratic processes have occurred in recent years in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador — with the poor and indigenous peoples winning many important rights for the first time.
A non-binding referendum had been organised for June 28, asking whether the Honduran people supported a constituent assembly to discuss, debate and vote on a new constitution.
Zelaya was kidnapped at gunpoint before the vote could be held.
The coup regime that replaced Zelaya has used brutal repression against the ongoing peaceful protests demanding the legitimate president return. Activists have reported that dozens of people have been killed and many more have disappeared. Large numbers of activists have been arrested and often tortured or raped.
Armando Licona, a leader from the Revolutionary University Student Front, told Green Left Weekly over the phone from Tegucigalpa: "The whole world knows that what we have here in Honduras is a coup regime."
Despite the repression, Licona said: "Our dignity will not allow us to give up.
"We will not rest until President Zelaya is restored to power and the national constituent assembly is called, which will allow these great changes that we dream of become reality."
Licona's group is part of the mass-based National Resistance Front Against the Coup (FNRG), which has been coordinating the resistance since June 28.
Repression and insurrection
When Zelaya's return to Honduras became known on September 21, tens of thousands of his supporters gathered around the Brazilian embassy to welcome back "their" president.
Early the next morning, the armed forces and police, enforcing a total curfew imposed by the regime, brutally dispersed protesters.
Dirian Pereira, from the FNRG international commission, told GLW the military began "raiding houses and launching tear gas canisters everywhere".
"Some 2000 people were detained on the outskirts of the city."
A large numbers of protesters were rounded up and held in a Tegucigalpa soccer stadium.
That night, FNRG activist Arturo Salgado told GLW there was an "intense reaction on the part of the resistance in many zones across Tegucigalpa, in what we call barrios and colonias [poor neighbourhoods].
"There are around 15-20 highly populated barrios that frankly find themselves in a situation of total insurrection, fighting against the police, against the army and even against paramilitaries.
"The police are trying to retake positions but the people's insurrection is occurring in places that geographically are very far apart from one another.
"In the interior of the country there are strong insurrectional mobilisations in very small zones."
These scenes have been repeated night after night. On September 23, Pereira told GLW: "There have been a number of shoot outs in the different colonias.
"There are colonias that have declared themselves liberated zones.
"They are well organised, they have set up three, fours layers of barricades to stop the police entering."
"Everything is possible", said Gilberto Rios, an FNRG leader who also spoke to GLW, said that night.
"Where I live, the police repressed peaceful protests and even more people, who although against the coup had not joined the resistance, came to join the street battles."
Several times since Zelaya's return, mass demonstrations have occurred in the centre of Tegucigalpa — and faced a wall of repression.
Events took another dramatic turn on September 25.
The military, having cut off food, electricity and water to the Brazilian embassy housing Zelaya, began attacking the building with chemical weapons. Inside, people vomited and urinated blood.
Pereira said the International Red Cross, the Human Rights Committee of Honduras and Zelaya's doctors were denied entery by the military. The soldiers "said they had orders to not let anone pass".
"It seems clear that the order is to get Zelaya out dead or alive — but preferably dead."
The coup regime is clearly desperate and resorting to greater force in an attempt to crush the resistance.
Salgado told GLW: "Although it has attempted to maintain the facade of a strong regime backed by repression, it is clear that the country is in a very bad state and groups of business owners [who financed the coup] have said it is necessary to negotiate with the president."
The day before its chemical weapons attack on the Brazilian embassy, the regime had "negotiated" with Zelaya. Licona said this was "a pretext to claim that all possible avenues of dialogue have been exhausted".
"They are trying to buy time in order to hold the elections scheduled for November, and in doing so legitimise their coup."
A statement released by Zelaya just before the chemical attack said he had not found "any hint of willingness on the part of the de facto regime to restore the presidency to the president elected by the people".
Zelaya urged the FNRG to "maintain the resistance until together, the people and the president, we achieve the desired constitutional reforms and the fall of the usurpers".
The FNRG continue to stand firm on their demands to return Zelaya to the presidency and for a constituent assembly.
Pereira told GLW: "We will not back down."
Rios said: "The constituent assembly is also non-negotiable. The constitutional order was broken as a result of the coup and the constitution orders that a constitution assembly be held [in such a scenario], so that cannot be up for discussion."
He told GLW that Zelaya "has spoken with the resistance and that we have the same position in regards to what is up for discussion and what is non-negotiable".
International solidarity needed
With Honduran streets the scene of raging battles, the United Nations General Assembly met in New York on September 23-24.
Leaders of countries around the world denounced the coup regime and called for the UN not to accept elections held under the present conditions.
US President Barack Obama, however, managed to go through his entire hour-long speech without mentioning Honduras.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear the US position on the day of Zelaya's return. She told the press that "both sides have supporters who need to be restrained".
Zelaya's return to the presidency "would be opportune", Clinton said, but only "under appropriate circumstances".
What is important, Clinton said, is to "get on with the election that is currently scheduled for November, have a peaceful transition of presidential authority, and get Honduras back to constitutional and democratic order".
Clinton can apparantly see no reason why an illegal regime that has no qualms kidnapping the constitutional president, shuts down critical media, denies freedom of association, and kills and tortures its opponents should not be trusted to hold a free and fair vote.
The UN disagreed, announcing on September 24 it would not recognise the elections planned by the coup regime and was withdrawing all assistance (worth US$1.3 million).
Clinton added that "calm and peace" had to be restored on the streets of Tegucigalpa "so that there couldn't be unforeseen developments".
For Washington, the central issue is to demobilise — or crush — the resistance of the poor majority to prevent it developing into a full-blooded revolution.
Salgado told GLW that while resistance forces have "reached a high level of organisation", they have "not matured enough yet to be able to stage an insurrection capable of overthrowing the coup regime".
This situation is beginning to create a sense of despair and desperation in sections of the population.
Rios told GLW that "sections of the population are beginning to feel that some kind of foreign intervention can prevent a bloodbath".
This is also a possibility hinted at by various governments, and one that the coup regime could push for if the situation became too uncontrollable.
Brazil, which is currently leading the brutal UN occupation of Haiti, has already warned that it will defend itself if the sovereignty of its embassy is violated.
However, Rios insisted: "For us, the problem must be resolved internally."
If the US seriously wished to help the Honduran people, it would immediately freeze all the accounts held by representatives of the coup regime in US banks. Such an action would undoubtedly help bring the regime to its knees.
International solidarity with the people of Honduras is critical for ensure that the coup regime is brought down.
Rios said: "All of this [international solidarity] is important for saving lives."
Pereira urged people to "remain alert to what is occurring, denounce it, hold solidarity actions and remain up to date on news coming out of Honduras, because here the news is changing from hour to hour, it is changing every little while".
"I want to say to the whole world that we continue to stand firm resisting. We are not going to allow this to slip through our hands, because just now, we have the people with us."
[The Socialist Alliance was released an open letter calling on the Australian government to join others in completely isolating the coup regime, and to pressure the US to do the same. To read the letter, or add your name, visit www.socialist-aliance.org.]
Video: The siege of Tegucigalpa. The Real News Network.