In the weeks preceding his forcible removal from power, Zelaya had come into conflict with the Honduran Congress; had twice been accused of acting illegally by the Supreme Court; had been called upon to resign by his Attorney General; and had clashed publicly with the heads of the Defence Staff, Army, Navy and Air Force, all of whom were subsequently either fired or resigned.
And the reason for the ‘State’ and military coming into conflict with President Zelaya and finally electing to depose him? Because, as President, he had the temerity to ask the people of Honduras for their input into how the country should be run. Zelaya has been unequivocal in his assertion that the coup has been carried out “by a very voracious elite, an elite which wants only to keep this country isolated, in an extreme level of poverty”.
Having come to the realisation that the Honduran economic, political and social system grossly favoured the wealthy and propertied classes, Zelaya pushed for a referendum as to whether or not the Honduran constitution should be re-written. The intention being, given social realities, that any new constitution arising out of a national process of debate and consultation would be one based upon more egalitarian principles. In this he had been influenced by the process that led to the Venezuelan Constitution being re-written to give legal effect to a new and qualitatively different understanding of the economic, political and social rights of the people of Venezuela.
As is the case in much of Latin America, in Honduras egregious wealth exists cheek-by-jowl with the most grinding poverty. The available figures show that in a country of 7.5 million people it is estimated that 44.4% of the population live on less that $2 per day, with 23.8% living on less than $1. This equates to 3.3 million Hondurans living on less than $2 a day (United Nations Human Development Report, 2001).
According to the United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), “rural poverty in Honduras is among the most severe in Latin America. Approximately 53% of the population is rural, and it is estimated that 75% of the rural population lives below the poverty line, unable to meet basic needs. The country still has high rates of population growth, infant mortality, child malnutrition and illiteracy. These and other social and economic factors reflect its status as the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti.”
Zelaya’s deposing in such dramatic fashion demonstrates how little the Honduran military, oligarchy, and anti-democratic forces were willing to countenance even the most modest of political and economic changes required in that country. To do so would have been to surrender the privileges that they enjoy at the expense of the majority of Hondurans who are exploited and forced to live lives of misery. In this regard, what is happening in Honduras is reflective of a wider battle that is taking place over the future of Latin America.
Those behind the coup in Honduras are trying by their actions to insure that Honduras doesn’t go the way of all those other Lain American countries that over the last decade have set their faces to the construction of more decent and inclusive societies, and a Latin America that functions in a more integrated and co-operative manner. The reaction of the governments and peoples of the region to the coup is indicative of the manner in which the politics of Latin America have changed; the reaction is indicative of the extent to which the peoples of that part of the American continent are rising to assert their rights and beginning to draw the simple conclusion that the realisation of their rights necessarily requires that the yoke of neo-liberalism and imperialism be cast off.
Almost all of the governments of Latin America have closed ranks in condemning the coup. A number (Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua) have indicated that the situation might necessitate military intervention (a number of diplomats from Venezuela and Cuba were assaulted when the Honduran Foreign Minister was taken away by the military in the middle of a meeting with said diplomats). Leading the charge in defence of the integrity of Honduras are the countries that comprise ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), of which Honduras is a member.
ALBA is a bloc of nine member countries (Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Dominica, Ecuador, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Antigua and Barbuda – and two observers, namely Paraguay and Grenada) which sees its primary role being to increase co-operation between the countries of the region on terms that are mutually beneficial and non-exploitative. Its ideology is decidedly left-wing in orientation. From the ALBA process has arisen the notion of ‘Our America’, indicative as it is of the rise of democratic and progressive social forces in the region that reject the pernicious influence of the US and its various neo-liberal institutions of plunder.
The term is an explicit rejection of the notion that the American continent be defined by, and for, white North Americans and their assorted interests. Central to the recent shift in the political landscape of Latin America is an understanding that the fate of the people of Latin America rests upon a collective approach. Outside of the ALBA bloc, recent elections have also brought left-wing governments to power in Paraguay and El Salvador. The governments of both countries have also condemned the putschists. In fact, not a single country has, of now, recognised the illegal government of Roberto Michelletti.
The Organisation of American States (OAS) has moved to expel Honduras, coming only weeks as it does after the Organisation, formerly Washington’s lapdog and mouthpiece in the region, moved to rebuke the US itself for its decades-old enmity towards Cuba. Even Colombia has declared Zelaya to be the lawful President.
That Colombian President Uribe and the US both condemn the coup is further indication of where the balance of power lies in the region. This is not to suggest that either is in favour of Zelaya or the modest reforms he proposes. Their real concern is of course that he represents another leftist ‘domino’ that will further contribute to the growing opposition to US imperialism in the region. In particular the US fear that a progressive government in Honduras will end the state of affairs that sees several hundred US troops stationed at Soto Cano Air Base, a Honduran military installation that is also the headquarters for a regional U.S. joint task force.
In fact, such are the interests at stake there is mounting evidence to suggest that the US was indeed involved in the coup in Honduras. Writing in the Cuban daily Rebelión in response to reports of the involvement of the US, Hugo Morliz Mercado notes that “renouncing subversion and counterinsurgency would be to deny its (the US’s) very nature. For Honduras not to become the Nicaragua of the 1980s and the Haiti of 2004, it is necessary for the peoples and governments of "Our America" to increase the pressure and to maintain their guard as to what the United States is going to do”. (For more on this issue see Eva Golinger’s article at http://www.chavezcode.com/2009/07/role-of-international-republican.html).
But the US and its allies are limited in what they can say publicly owing to the widespread groundswell of opinion against the coup, and this is significant in and of itself. The public reaction of the US administration is certainly different to its reaction to the coup it helped orchestrate against Hugo Chávez in 2002. Then, the US State Department expressed its support for the coup, declaring that “undemocratic actions committed or encouraged by the Chavez administration provoked yesterday's crisis in Venezuela” (US State Department press statement, April 12, 2002). All of this would tend to confirm that the forces of capitalism and reaction are reeling in the region, and indeed right across the globe. Economically, in terms of people losing faith in the orthodoxies of the past, and militarily in Afghanistan, Iraq and their inability to intervene in other areas where they would if they could.
On the streets of the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa and right across the region the cry that is heard is that of “the people united, will never be defeated.” Leaders from the Popular Resistance Front, a newly created broad-front comprised of trade unions, farmers, youth organizations, and students etc., have called for an escalation of protests to secure the return of President Zelaya.
From his refuge in Costa Rica President Zelaya has announced his willingness to talk to the putschists. He has however indicated that this will only happen on the basis that it results in the reinstatement of his government, stating as that “there are things that cannot be negotiated, such as the reestablishment of democracy and the return to power of the deposed president. The restoration of the government is not on the table, I will not betray the people that are in the streets”.
The Honduran masses are mobilizing and it looks like it is only a matter of time until the reactionary capitalist and military putschists are removed from power.
While Zelaya might be in exile at present, his wife has come out of hiding in the last few days and appears to be prepared to assume a leadership role in his absence. At a rally on Tuesday 7th July Xiomara Castro appealed to the Honduran masses to continue the struggle, stating that
The struggle on the streets of Honduras is in its essence a struggle between the past and the future, between the forces of reaction and progress, between the forces of capital and the rights and needs of people. The dignity of Latin America has been reclaimed by the hard work and struggle of the masses during the past decade. The maintenance of its dignity depends upon the overthrow of the putschists and the continuation of the project to build a Latin America based upon the principles of solidarity and co-operation.