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Honduras: Ten years after the 2009 coup

A decade of oligarchic rule after president Manuel Zelaya’s ousting has worsened state violence against the people, says FRANCISCO DOMINGUEZ

JUST over 10 years ago, on June 29 2009, masked soldiers kidnapped Honduras’s democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya, in pyjamas, flew him to Costa Rica and unceremoniously dropped him off in the tarmac of the capital city’s airport. 

The Guardian (June 29 2009) reported that Zelaya had been “ousted after clashing with the judiciary, congress and the army” over his proposed constitutional change and that the “country’s leading court said it had authorised the toppling of the president.” 

The Economist (July 2 2009) wrote: “Mr Zelaya, a businessman, alienated his own party and his country’s political establishment by his decision last year to forge an alliance with Mr Chavez, joining the Venezuelan’s anti-American bloc.” 

Thus, for the corporate media the crisis was Zelaya’s fault and his toppling legal. Zelaya’s referendum actually proposed to eliminate term limits for future presidents.

Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega’s appeal to the Supreme Court to be eligible to run for re-election in 2016, which the court approved, was condemned by the media, claiming that Ortega had “stacked” the court (The Washington Post November 5 2016).

Yet similar successful appeals made by presidents Oscar Arias and Alvaro Uribe to the Supreme Courts of Costa Rica and Colombia respectively did not receive such media treatment. 

The Honduras Supreme Court unconstitutionally allowed president Juan Orlando Hernandez to stand for re-election in 2017. 

There was no media outcry and no call for sanctions by the US or the EU, even though the Organisation of American States declared his re-election neither free nor fair, calling for a rerun.

Zelaya’s presidency (January 27 2006 to June 28 2009) led to a 10 per cent poverty reduction, an 80 per cent increase in the minimum wage, universal free education for children, subsidies to small farmers, and a close relationship between government and social movements. 

He led his country to join the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas and announced plans to replace the Toncontin airport (with one of the world’s most deadly runways) with the modern US Palmerola military air base — built with Honduran money.

Ten years of oligarchic rule after Zelaya’s ousting have worsened state violence against the people. 

According to the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras there have been 13 disappeared; Global Witness has reported that 123 land and environmental activists have been assassinated (among them Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras members Berta Caceres and Tomas Garcia), plus 31 people assassinated during the protests following the electoral fraud of November 2017. 

The protests were brutally repressed with the police and army using live ammunition — over 1,300 detainees were tortured while in custody. 

Between 2001 and 2015, 75 journalists have been assassinated: six between 2001 and June 2009, the rest (69) after that date. Forty three per cent took place during Juan Orlando Hernandez’s administration. Ninety-one of these cases remain unpunished.

In interview on June 30 2019, Zelaya accurately summarised the country’s situation: “The US has almost complete control over Honduras, it controls its justice system through the OAS; security through the US Southern Command; the economy through the IMF, the World Bank and the IADB [Inter-American Development Bank]; the main media networks of Honduras; it funds many churches, which receive donations from US NGOs; it finances Honduran NGOs, ie it controls public opinion; it controls state bodies and in that way it exerts a high level of interference in the decisions of poor, weak, states such as Honduras, where its rulers in order to receive US protection are prepared to give everything to the US.”

For Gilberto Rios, a national leader of the Libre, which was set up by the social movements after the 2009 coup, geopolitics explains the US’s heavy interference in Honduras’s internal affairs. 

The troops that ousted Guatemala’s president (1954) and the Dominican Republic’s president (1963) came from Honduras; the Salvadorian army was allowed to operate in Honduras against Salvadorian guerillas in the 1970s. It was central in the logistic support to Nicaragua’s Contras in the 1980s. Honduras has land and sea borders with 12 countries, which is ideal for US regional operations and Palmerola is one of the largest US military bases in the region.

“Thus having the military playing a pivotal role in the country’s politics is not just a policy of the local oligarchy but of the US Southern Command, thus making it impossible to reduce the military budget,” Rios says.

Total US control explains Honduras’s parlous state: poverty has increased sharply, crime and narco-trafficking has almost doubled (the president’s brother, Tony Hernandez, is in a US prison charged by the Justice Department with “large scale” narco-trafficking), the external debt has increased fourfold, plus privatisations (telecommunications, electricity, water, utilities, ports and airports) and neoliberal policies have worsened the population’s general impoverishment. 

Economic contraction and greater debt service payments led to drastic budget reductions in health and education, with mass lay-offs of teachers and doctors. Hence the mass social explosion engulfing the country since the end of April. 

Even the police went on strike and in many places they joined the people. The government deployed the army, militarising the social conflict.

To the 600-plus marines in Palmerola the US has sent 300 more for “training for natural hazards associated with climate change.” 

Libre has issued a statement demanding the immediate withdrawal of all regular and irregular US military forces from Honduras. 

Britain is busy selling “surveillance equipment” to Honduras’s illegitimate, repressive government. A favourite target of Honduran repression are human rights defenders — the subject of an intense hatred campaign. 

Between March 2018 and April 2019 they have suffered 118 attacks. Honduran human rights groups demand the British government cease selling “telecommunications interception equipment” about which Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America have a petition.

The people of Honduras face enormous odds. Nevertheless, they are mobilising for their rights against the illegitimate, corrupt and repressive Hernandez government; their motto: “Ten years of struggle, nobody here surrenders!”

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