In post-coup Honduras, liberation far from realised

September 19, 2016

Protesters demand justice for murdered Indigenous environmentalist leader, Berta Caceres.

Honduras marked 195 years since winning its independence from Spain on September 15, but the small Central American country remains deprived of true independence. It is stuck under ongoing domination of wealthy local oligarchs, foreign corporations, and US imperialism.

The 2009 US-backed coup in Honduras consolidated the power of the country’s elite and reaffirmed the prominent role of the United States in steering the country to favour its political and economic interests.

The coup-plotting soldiers stormed the house of democratically elected left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009, sweeping him out of the country in his pyjamas. The way was paved for an aggressive onslaught of neoliberal policies amid harsh repression of social movements.

The “disaster capitalism” rolled out in the wake of the coup unraveled the modest reforms pursued by Zelaya under the pressure of social movements. Internationally, Honduras under Zelaya joined the anti-imperialist Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), the political bloc established by Venezuela and Cuba.

Most contentiously, he planned to hold a non-binding poll on whether to have a referendum to rewrite the Honduran constitution. Social movements, particularly the unprecedented and broad-based anti-coup resistance, have long insisted that convening a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the 1982 constitution is key to “re-found” Honduras and strengthen its weak democracy.

The coup-backers — including members of Honduras’ traditional oligarchy and then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — used Zelaya’s non-binding poll to justify his ouster. They falsely accused him of manipulating the constitution to prolong his presidency.

Under the subsequent National Party governments in the wake of the coup, Honduras’ elite have overturned Zelaya’s moratorium on new mining activity. The country has been opened up to a wave of contested mining and hydroelectric concessions to foreign companies.

Negotiations with land rights movements in the northern Aguan Valley — home to a bloody conflict between communities and large landowners that has killed more than 100 campesinos since 2010. Instead, the post-coup regime has heavily militarised the region.

Post-coup administrations have also attacked public health care and education with privatisation.

The neoliberal agenda has been backed by repression from state security forces and death squads. This has recalled the violence and targeted assassinations of Cold War-era counterinsurgency in Honduras under the CIA-trained secret army unit Battalion 316.

The assault on human rights and plunder of Honduras’ resources has not gone uncontested. Protesters took to the streets in historic numbers in the immediate aftermath of the coup to reject the new regime.

Last year, weekly protests rocked Honduras in numbers not seen since 2009 to protest rampant government corruption. The movement, dubbed the Indignados, united Hondurans across class and partisan lines, even bringing to the streets groups that did not protest the coup.

Radical sectors insisted that government fraud was systematically linked the elite stranglehold on power and its love affair with neoliberalism. This systemic critique draws out the continuities between present-day Honduran politics and economics and the country’s history of imperialist domination.

Honduras was the original “Banana Republic” — a moniker earned from its reliance on banana exports from the late 19th century as an economic enclave that overwhelmingly benefited foreign investors. US fruit giants, most notoriously the United Fruit Company and Standard Fruit Company, dominated the economy and politics — finding a strong ally in the National Party dictatorship in power from 1932 to 1949.

Foreign domination of Honduras’ economy deepened when the fruit companies diversified their business holdings in other industries.

Decades later, neoliberalism hit Honduras hard at the turn of the 1990s. Hardline President Rafael Callejas — charged last year with bribery in the FIFA corruption scandal — ushered in austerity, privatisation, structural adjustment, currency devaluation, and an export-oriented economic model.

The new Washington Consensus came on the heels of US military occupation of Honduras in the 1980s as the headquarters for the regional counterinsurgency strategy against left-wing uprisings in Central America — known as the Contra Wars.

Hundreds of US soldiers are still stationed at the Palmerola Air Base, located over 50 miles outside of the capital city Tegucigalpa. Washington continues to funnel military aid to Honduras despite human rights violations, including allegations of extrajudicial killings.

Callejas’ policies paved the way for the expansion of sweatshops, free trade agreements and industrial export agriculture. This filled the pockets of foreign corporations while exploiting Honduran workers.

These policies also consolidated economic power in the hands of the local oligarchy that backed the cop against Zelaya when he threatened their interests. The coup opened the door to radical, free market schemes like model cities — a plan that essentially proposed to privatise indigenous and campesino land to be run by corporations or foreign governments.

Repression in defence of elite interests is represented in the murder in March of renowned indigenous leader Berta Caceres. The environmental activist was shot dead in her home after leading resistance against an unwanted hydroelectric dam pushed by Honduran company DESA on Lenca territory in western Honduras.

Human rights defenders have slammed official investigation for failing to probe the role of DESA executives in ordering the murder. They have also blamed government officials for failing to shield Caceres despite orders for her protection.

Many activists have also highlighted US complicity in the murder, due to its ongoing backing of corrupt security forces.

It is clear the Honduran still await liberation from the clutches of the transnational capitalist class, including Honduran and US elites.

[Abridged from TeleSUR English.]

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