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General strike resists Honduras coup

Mass movements oppose military regime

Published Jul 1, 2009 5:23 PM

June 30—Some 200 heavily armed soldiers from the Honduran army surrounded the house of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya at dawn on June 28. After firing on the house, soldiers forced their way in, pointed their rifles at Zelaya’s head and chest, and forced him into a vehicle. They drove him to an airplane that flew him to Costa Rica.

This blatant military coup has thrown down a challenge to all of progressive Latin America. It aroused immediate mass resistance from Honduran mass organizations and active hostility from progressive governments throughout Latin America and progressive organizations worldwide. It has received no open diplomatic support anywhere in the world, even from reactionary imperialist powers.

Protest at UN hits Honduras coup, U.S. role

Chanting in Spanish, “Zelaya, friend, the people are with you!” and “Army of the coup, imperialist instrument!” 200 demonstrators rallied and marched to the United Nations in New York on June 29 protesting the military coup in Honduras. Coup leader Romeo Vasquez got his training at the U.S. Army’s “School of the Americas” in Fort Benning, Ga., along with the rest of the Honduran military officers.

—Heather Cottin

According to a Cuban press agency report from Honduras, “The main trade unions, farmers, youth and social organizations in Honduras are on the second day of a strike against the dictatorial government in the country.” (June 30, Prensa Latina)

Zelaya has promised to return to Honduras after he addresses the Organization of American States in Washington. OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza, United Nations General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and Ecuador President Rafael Correa will accompany him.

Though the coup forces have already issued an arrest warrant for Zelaya should he come home, every social and progressive sector is organizing to welcome Zelaya with a massive march.

Who backs the coup

This military coup served the interests of the tiny group of wealthy oligarchs and right-wing, pro-U.S. political forces in Honduras that oppose the Zelaya administration. These rightists are against reforms Zelaya has been making that aim to help low-income people, workers and the disadvantaged. They abhor Honduras’ decision last year to join the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an organization promoting regional cooperation that already includes Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, the Grenadines, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and Venezuela.

ALBA member countries commit to work for the benefit of the peoples, not the multinational corporations, to put people first before profits, to make solidarity their slogan for trade and cooperation in cultural, sports, science and every other endeavor, and to work as a non-competitive group for the integration of the region.

This is in sharp contrast to trading relations with the U.S., the Honduran economy’s dominant trading partner.

Zelaya took office in 2005. Although he comes from the center-right Liberal Party, he has more recently taken progressive positions, even expressing solidarity with the Cuban Revolution.

Leading up to the coup

The coup plotters struck just as a poll was about to take place. The voters were being asked to express their opinion about having a non-binding poll during the next elections in November on the question of whether they wanted to change Honduras’ Constitution. The poll was non-binding because the Legislature’s anti-Zelaya majority had passed a law preventing any referendum from being conducted 180 days before the end of a president’s term, and Zelaya’s term ends in early 2010.

The Honduran people had sent 400,000 signatures to the president’s office requesting a referendum on changing the current Constitution, which they perceive as inadequate for the needs of the majority of the population.

On June 24, Zelaya ordered Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Vásquez, a graduate of the notorious School of the Americas in the U.S., to distribute the polling material to the voting centers throughout the country. Vásquez refused, claiming the consultation was “illegal.” Zelaya then ordered Vásquez removed from office. Later the Supreme Court, also opposed to Zelaya, reinstated Vásquez.

The ballot boxes, which had been held on a military airbase, were later liberated by the people and by Zelaya himself.

Before the coup, many sectors allied to the oligarchy, including members of Congress, opposition groups, clergy and businesspeople, called on people to stay home and abstain from voting.

Zelaya and his cabinet under attack

When Zelaya arrived at the airport in Costa Rica on June 28, he and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias gave a joint press conference. Arias expressed his opposition to the coup and solidarity with Zelaya, who for the first time was able to publicly denounce the coup.

Back in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, the military tried to hunt down every one of Zelaya’s cabinet members, who are still at risk. The army surrounded the home of Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas, who called on the ambassadors of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela for protection. As the military broke into the house, the ambassadors embraced Rodas to prevent the troops from harming her.

Soldiers beat them away and then took Rodas and the Cuban ambassador away with them. They forcibly took Rodas to a military air force base and sent her to Mexico. They left the Cuban Ambassador in the middle of a road.

People’s resistance to the coup regime

Roberto Micheletti, president of the National Congress and the main coup plotter, was quickly sworn in as the “new president” of Honduras in a replay of the 2002 Venezuela coup against President Hugo Chávez. Micheletti read a phony June 25 “letter of resignation” alleged to be from Zelaya, but where his signature had been forged. A few minutes later, Zelaya appeared on TeleSur television and on CNN in Spanish from Costa Rica saying that he did not resign at all, but was forcibly removed from office.

Upon learning of the coup, Honduran social movements began to gather before the Presidential Palace in support of Zelaya and rejecting the coup regime. They defied a curfew Micheletti had imposed and stayed through the night, vowing they would stop the usurper from reaching the palace. The people built barricades in several streets surrounding the palace, wrote pro-Zelaya and anti-Micheletti graffiti on walls, set tires on fire and parked water trucks in front of the presidential building.

Unions, students, women and other social sectors mobilized. An effective national strike was started on June 29 and all schools were closed. The next day three major public-sector labor unions launched a general strike. About 100,000 workers joined the strike, according to Oscar Garcia, vice president of SANAA, the Honduran water workers union. (CNN, June 30)

Micheletti started a reign of terror, ordering the dispersal of the demonstrators, by force if needed. The country was militarized. The army closed the roads, preventing groups of Indigenous peoples and others from traveling to Tegucigalpa to join the resistance.

Electricity was cut in most of Tegucigalpa, making both phone and Internet communication extremely difficult. The official television channel was shut down as were several other stations that had been reporting about the coup. Only private channels were on the air, broadcasting cartoons and other programs that had nothing to do with the events, and falsely reporting that there was complete calm in the country.

The repression intensified. Helicopters hovered, heavily armed troops and tanks reinforced the military and the police were called in. The armed forces inside the Presidential Palace grounds at one point started marching towards the demonstrators, who were outside the fence. Shots rang out and tear gas was thrown against the unarmed people. By the end of the day on June 29, it was reported that one person had been killed, more than 100 wounded and more than 300 imprisoned.

TeleSUR and the media

TeleSUR, which is based in Venezuela but serves all Latin America, was the only media consistently informing the world about this horrible event. Even CNN in Spanish showed footage from TeleSUR. This struggle showed the crucial role of the progressive media. The international progressive community was able to quickly respond because of TeleSUR. Its courageous video crews transmitted constantly, interviewing people in Tegucigalpa, showing images of the struggle that brought tears of condemnation.

Late June 29, because of their crucial role in exposing this criminal coup, the TeleSUR crew members were detained, their cell phones and personal documents confiscated. Thanks to the diligent action of many people involved in media work and the help of the Venezuelan ambassador, they were released and resumed broadcasting the next day.

Progressive Latin American leaders respond

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and Venezuelan President Chávez made it clear that never again would a Latin American country be abandoned to right-wing coups. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega quickly volunteered his country for three very important emergency conferences to discuss Honduras. All were set for June 29, the day after the coup. First ALBA met, then the System of Central American Integration (SICA), and finally the Rio Group, which has 24 Latin American and Caribbean member nations. The U.S. belongs to none of these three groups.

Expressing urgency, these leaders were firmly determined to prevent a right-wing coup from taking away the advances that the popular and progressive movements and governments throughout the region have attained. Even less progressive Latin American governments denounced the coup and demanded the immediate reinstatement of Zelaya.

The ALBA and the SICA countries both vowed to recall their ambassadors from Honduras until Zelaya was reinstated. Other measures taken were the closing of the borders with Honduras, a stop to loans and funding, including for sports and cultural events, and several other measures that would paralyze the coup regime.

Even OAS and U.N. working groups held emergency meetings that condemned the coup. The full OAS will meet on July 1 in Washington, D.C.

Nearly every progressive movement worldwide has condemned the coup. Most governments have publicly opposed it. Brazil, Chile and Mexico have joined ALBA and SICA in recalling their ambassadors from Honduras. The Spanish Foreign Minister says he will recommend similar actions by the European Union. Even the U.S. president, secretary of state and ambassador to Honduras have had to publicly oppose the coup and recognize Zelaya as the only Honduran president.

The U.S. role appears to be ambiguous. Because of the ongoing connection between the Pentagon and the Honduran military, it is doubtful that the Hondurans could move without the knowledge of significant figures in the U.S. government and the Pentagon. President Barack Obama’s public rejection of the coup—though relatively mild—is a first and raises the question of who in U.S. ruling circles is making policy.