Honduras: Corporate plunder and US-backed coups

July 9, 2009

The coup in Honduras against elected President Manuel Zelaya has made it clearer than ever that rich-country corporate media and their regional media partners deliberately misinform.

Limited coverage of what has been happening in Honduras has appeared in English, mostly relating to events around the coup on June 28 with scrappy bits and pieces of context.

Adequate context and accurate-as-possible up-to-date information are necessary to get a good idea of what the coup in Honduras means.

Corporate plunder

The defining factor in the history of Honduras through the 20th century was its decisive subordination to the economic and political interests of the United States.

Sam Zemurray of the Cuyamel Fruit Company famously declared it was cheaper to buy a parliamentary deputy in Honduras than a mule. That venality and corruption in the Honduran political system facilitated the domination of US corporate and strategic interests.

The current coup d'etat offers a grim reprise of this history.

As in the rest of Central America, the natural resources of Honduras — its land, its metals, its timber — were plundered ruthlessly by US companies together with their local Honduran allies in the country's landowning and business oligarchy.

Just prior to the 1954 CIA-organised coup against the reformist government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, a mass strike in Honduras mobilised industrial and rural workers throughout the country to demand better terms and conditions of employment.

The strike was successful and lead to significant advances in social legislation, especially labour legislation. Women got the right to vote in 1955.

Those advances eventually provoked consternation among the country's oligarchy and armed forces.

In 1963, the army led a coup against the centrist President Ramon Villeda Morales, accusing him of leading the country into communism. The resulting government was recognised by US president Lyndon Johnson.

From that coup through the 1960s and '70s, Honduras took its lead on every important regional issue in accordance with the exigencies of the US government's regional policy.

In the 1980s, under US direction, Honduras was run as a police state.

Hundreds of people suffered forced disappearance. Torture was routine. Forced recruitment by the army was habitual.

Honduras became a base for the corrupt narcotics-linked counter-revolutionary terror war in the 1980s against Nicaragua's left-wing Sandinista government.

For the decade after the 1990 electoral defeat of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, Honduran politics tended to turn around issues of poverty reduction, economic progress and social problems — especially crime. The government of the relatively progressive Carlos Roberto Reina enabled a re-examination of the period of the 1980s dirty war.

But neither under Reina, nor under the subsequent governments of Carlos Flores Facusse or Ricardo Maduro, did government policy seriously address the country's deep social and economic problems.

Zelaya served in the governments of both Reina and Flores Facusse. He has a solid understanding of the deep structural problems that keep most of the country's population in poverty.

Zelaya government

Zelaya took office in January 2006. Immediately, and surprisingly, he managed to push the law of citizens' participation through the right-wing Congress .

From the start, he regarded efforts towards active consultation and participation of ordinary Hondurans in the decisions that affected their lives as a fundamental tool necessary to implement his program.

As regards poverty reduction, he and his colleagues became increasingly frustrated at the lack of support in terms of resources from the international structures of aid and development.

When Zelaya sought cooperation from the rich countries, their response was either tepid or negative. Zelaya asked former US president George Bush for help with energy problems, but Bush offered him nothing.

During 2006 and '07, he found himself taking on foreign oil companies and their local allies who operated unfair practices distorting fuel prices in Honduras. That long drawn-out episode led to sharp exchanges with the US ambassador — a sign of awkward relations that have cooled progressively ever since.

Also in 2007, Zelaya's government opened up diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in more than 40 years.

Zelaya's efforts to lower fuel prices eventually led Honduras to join the Venezuelan and Cuban-inspired energy security initiative, Petrocaribe, in December 2007. Through Petrocaribe, Venezuela provides Caribbean nations oil at low prices and investment in state-run energy industries.

In July 2008, ever more concerned to secure access to resources for rural and agricultural development, literacy and health care as well as resources to promote energy and food security, Zelaya decided to join the solidarity-based trading bloc led by Venezuela and Cuba, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA).

That move confirmed to the US government and its local allies in the Honduran landowning and business oligarchy that the Zelaya government was determined to break out of the country's traditional dependence on and submission to the US.

Zelaya had already bitterly criticised the US for its immigration policy towards Central American migrants. He had also broached the idea of using the Palmerola-Soto Cano US air base near Comayagua as the main international airport for Honduras.

Zelaya was also a fervent supporter of Central American integration with a view to creating a stronger voice for the region in international affairs. Along with the governments of El Salvador and Nicaragua, Zelaya enthusiastically promoted measures to promote Central American integration, such as lifting migration controls and easing customs formalities.

Zelaya also antagonised powerful domestic interests. In May 2007, he forced 10 radio and television stations to broadcast for ten days daily bulletins informing the population of government programs and activities on behalf of the impoverished majority.

In late 2008, Zelaya increased the minimum wage for large sectors of the Honduran work force from an average of around US$180 per month to $289 in urban areas and $213 in rural areas. The cost of a basic basket of food in Honduras then was US$325.

Zelaya told employers, "you can employ someone but you cannot tell them they can only eat twice a day. It cannot be like that.

"It cannot be permitted that people get hired at a cost less than that necessary to be able to eat."

For these reasons and more, the political establishment in Honduras, dominated by business and landowning interests submissive to the country's traditional alliance with and dependence on the US worked to undermine President Zelaya.

Much of the coverage has described Zelaya as a "leftist". Actually, he is an old style Liberal Party politician, albeit from one of its more progressive currents. As such, he benefited from the party machine and used it to become president.

His progressive brand of nationalism emphasises the need for regional unity and integration across political boundaries. That emphasis he has shared with politicians as diverse as the right-wing former Salvadoran president Tony Saca, Sandinista president of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega and middle-of-the-road Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom.

The immediate pretext of the coup was Zelaya's attempt to hold a consultative vote on whether or not to propose to the Honduran electorate in the November 2009 national elections the possibility of a constituent assembly to alter the constitution.

Leaders of the opposition immediately distorted the president's consultative initiative, claiming that he sought re-election. That claim was taken up and amplified by the international corporate media.

The coup occurred on the morning the consultative vote was due to take place, June 28.

Because the country is under a state of siege with fierce repression of news media loyal to Zelaya, it is almost impossible to get anything like a complete picture or detailed account of what is happening nationally.

However, widespread repression has been confirmed, including hundreds of people detained, numerous others disappeared, hundreds injured at pro-Zelaya demonstrations and at least two people killed by security forces.

Media coverage

Foreign news media have not reported these events and their context either accurately or fairly. Among other inaccuracies, one especially pernicious has been the lie that Zelaya sought re-election. This lie was constantly repeated.

If it had not been for the Venezuelan-initiated Latin America-wide news channel Telesur, a great deal of what has been reported would simply never have reached as wide a global audience.

The role of the main North American and European news media has been uniformly deplorable.

The comparison with what happened in Iran is dramatically telling. The double standard is obvious. Human rights violations and alleged wrongdoing by US enemies are magnified. Those by regional US allies are minimised.

One can say unequivocally now that the foreign news coverage by corporate media of the Western countries overwhelmingly serves the foreign policy agendas of their governments.

Very few outlets clearly explained the reason for the proposed consultative vote. Consequently, they were unable to explain convincingly the reason for the coup.

Just to recap, the reason for the consultative vote, at the request of petitions from almost 500,000 people, was to suggest the possibility of a constituent assembly so as to be able to discuss a more participative way of involving the people of Honduras in decisions.

The business and landowning elite in the country dreaded an affirmative result from the vote for that proposal.

They, like their patrons in the US government, fear and reject change. That is why they staged the coup.

US role

The historical role of the United States in Honduras has always been a reactionary one.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt supported the military dictator General Carias Andino through the 1930s. The US government supported the Honduran government's attempts to crush the great workers strike of 1954.

The coup has been frowned on by Obama, but little has been done to squash it. The US government seems unable to shake its historical affinity to corporate-friendly repressive regimes.

So far, the Honduran coup has shown up more clearly than ever the cynicism of the US government and the thorough mendacity of Western corporate media.

[Abridged from < ahref="http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0907/S00079.htm">Scoop.]

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