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Trump and May must stop propping up Honduras’s reactionary regime

Western leaders are not bothered by blatant abuses of democratic norms and human rights, says COLIN BURGON

NEXT year will mark different anniversaries in Latin America, including 20 years since Hugo Chavez became president of Venezuela and 60 years since the Cuban revolution. Sadly, it will also mark 10 years since the coup in Honduras. 

The 2009 military coup saw Juan Orlando Hernandez come to power with the removal of elected president Manuel Zelaya, who had started to implement plans of wealth redistribution and joined the Alba regional bloc of left-wing governments that challenged US domination of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The coup was widely condemned by governments across Latin America, the EU, the Organisation of American States and other regional blocs.

In contrast, in the US president Barack Obama and secretary of state Hillary Clinton refused to label the political crisis a military coup.

I was among those who raised concerns in the British Parliament, including with regards to the US stance, which gave oxygen to the burgeoning dictatorship at the time.

Subsequent elections following the coup in Honduras have included a media blackout and political repression against left-wing opposition candidates. 

The murder in 2016 of internationally renowned environmental leader Berta Caceres illustrated the extent of human rights violations in Honduras, in which political dissent is criminalised and repressed.

It also illustrated how the imposition of severe neoliberalism in post-coup Honduras was not only directly leading to more poverty and inequality but also necessarily accompanied by severe repression against any resistance.

Discontent with the Honduran government grew in the wake of Caceres’s assassination. Revelations of widespread government corruption and embezzlement schemes led to thousands of Hondurans taking to the streets calling for the resignation of the president. 

Yet, following a controversial ruling by the Honduran Supreme Court which changed the constitution to eliminate term limits and allowed for re-election, Hernandez was permitted to run again in the 2017 presidential election.

Hernandez “won” the election in highly suspicious circumstances. The country’s electoral tribunal, which is allied with the president, has been accused of manipulating the vote to reverse a mid-count lead for opposition challenger Salvador Nasralla and ensure a narrow victory for the incumbent president.

Indeed, despite multiple allegations of fraud in the 2017 Honduran presidential election, Donald Trump recognised Hernandez, a conservative US ally, as the winner. 

In doing so, he ignored poll observers’ findings and calls for a new election by the OAS, members of Congress and the opposition Honduran Alliance Against Dictatorship party.

While other elections had been shot through with fraud and state violence, the 2017 election exhibited such blatant fraud that not a single foreign dignitary attended Hernandez’s inauguration and the months that followed the election saw mass protests against the government.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier this year published a shocking report on the deaths of 23 Honduran political activists in these protests.

But Trump is not bothered by these blatant abuses of democratic norms and human rights. The US preoccupation in Latin America is not with compliant states that bend to and serve US political, economic and military interests. Instead, it is focused on “regime change” against countries such as Nicaragua and Venezuela which do not follow the US lead in their agendas.

A similar criticism could be raised of the British government, which has been exposed as selling spyware to Honduras’s regime.

Earlier this year, 24 human rights organisations, from Honduras and Britain, called on International Trade Secretary Liam Fox to stop the export of surveillance equipment to Honduras. 

In their letter the organisations describe, with chilling examples, the alarming human rights record of Honduras. Political activists and human rights defenders generally are subject to targeted repression, through various means, including illegal surveillance.

Their call followed challenges by shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry and Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle to the government’s decision to allow sales of spyware.

As Chris Williamson MP put it, “The minority Conservative administration has sanctioned the sale of telecoms interception equipment to Honduras, despite its appalling human rights record and the current situation in the country.”

Now is the time to call out this hypocrisy and urge both the US and Britain to stop propping up Honduras’s illegitimate government.

Just as myself, Jeremy Corbyn and others raised the issue of the coup in Parliament in 2009, Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America will again be campaigning on the 10th anniversary and argue that the US and Britain should stop propping up Honduras’s reactionary and repressive regime. Please join us.

Colin Burgon was Labour MP for Elmet from 1997-2010 and is the honorary president of Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America. You can sign its petition against British spyware sales to Honduras at bit.ly/honduraspetition.

Join Colin, Chris Williamson MP, Dan Carden MP, Karen Lee MP and guests from Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Mexico and Cuba at the Latin America Conference at Congress House, London on December 1. Tickets and info at www.latinamericaconference.co.uk.

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