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Fallout from President Mel Zelaya’s removal from power by the Honduran military four years ago, on June 28, 2009, affects much of what happened there since, especially revived struggle for national independence and social justice. Yet economic and humanitarian disaster, the government’s return to oligarchic hands, and U.S. intrusion serve as daunting impediments to the project of an alternative politics.
U.S. meddling is a fact. Hugo Llorens, U.S. ambassador in Tegucigalpa, had “participated in meetings in which coup plans were discussed.” Subsequently, the U.S. government overlooked voting irregularities to praise the election of President Porfirio Lobo. It pushed for Honduras’ readmission to the Organization of American States.
A repressive post – coup government enforcing privatization presumably suits U.S. interests. It recently stepped up efforts to encourage mining projects, large-scale monoculture, and regions called “model cities” where the Constitution doesn’t apply. A “technical coup” by which the Congress in late 2012 assigned four compliant judges to the Supreme Court eased the way. The Congress opened up rivers to hydroelectric developers. In a reversal of Zelaya – era steps to implement earlier land redistribution policies, the government has opened up large tracts of land to take-over by industrial-scale farm operators. State security forces expel small farmers from such land.
Now, according to close observer Giorgio Trucchi, there is a “level of violence and impunity [that is] directly proportional to the grade of corruption and infiltration of organized crime and narco-trafficking in state institutions.” A U.S. analyst confirms that “the Honduran government and the elites who control it are widely alleged to be implicated in drug trafficking [which is] “rampant, murderous and growing.” She notes too that, “State security forces still enjoy near-complete impunity for thousands of alleged human rights abuses and even murders since the 2009 coup.”
Change is brewing, however. The National Front for Popular Resistance (FNRP), formed in the wake of the coup, launched the “Libre Party,” officially known as the “Liberty and Refoundation Party.” Proclaiming its social democratic orientation, the party ratified Xiomara Castro’s candidacy at a national assembly on June 16. She is ex-President Zelaya’s wife. Polling data in May indicated 28 percent of likely voters in elections set for November, 24, 2013 prefer her over five other candidates. The second-place candidate representing the conservative National Party gained 18 percent approval.
Yet Honduras is seething. Its 2012 murder rate of 86 per 100,000 inhabitants was the world’s highest. Victims include human and environmental rights defenders, most recently Tomás Gómez. Security officers detained and roughed him up in May along with Bertha Cáceres, head of the COPINH indigenous advocacy group they both belonged to. On July 15 soldiers killed Gomez and wounded his son. COPINH had been leading demonstrations against a large hydroelectric project.
On June 24 TV talk show host Aníbal Barrow interviewed three Libre Party candidates. Thugs kidnapped and killed him later that day. Barrow’s murder marks the 36th journalist killed over 10 years, the 29th killed since the coup. Only one perpetrator has gone to prison. Increasingly, says an observer, victims “are not common citizens but are journalists, humanitarian activists, pastors, and lawyers [whose deaths] have more impact on the social collective.”
In Aguan, attacks by security forces and private police over four years have killed 60 small farmers. On June 24, police and soldiers violently attacked and dispersed 150 families in Rigores municipality. They destroyed churches, schools, crops, and 120 homes. For the fourth time in a year troops in early July evicted small farmers from land in Yoro department coveted by the foreign-owned SABMiller sugar- producing corporation. A victim observed, “We live under a regime where the security apparatus doesn’t serve the people, but rather the big landowners and the national and international impresarios.”
An estimated 67 percent of Hondurans lived in poverty in 2012 – half in extreme poverty. Government debt now exceeds 70 percent of GDP. Banks that issued the coup government short terms loans at 15 percent interest are thriving. With 50% of governmental income being applied to debt service and salaries, public investment is nil. At least 80 percent of the population is unemployed or under-employed. Commerce depends largely on remittances from abroad worth $3 billion annually.
“North American priorities” like military build-up take precedence over any local agenda,” says close observer Giorgio Trucchi. “There are some 10 groups inside the Honduran security apparatus controlled, directed, and structured by the United States,” he adds. High U.S. State Department official William Brownfield recently expressed admiration for Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, chief of the Honduran police who organizes death squads. Tried for multiple murders and kidnappings, he went free, said an inside source, because “top agency officials” short-circuited his prosecution. The Bonilla case was one reason U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy blocked $30 million in aid for Honduras’ security forces. State Department official Brownfield, however, indicated in March they’d be receiving $16.3 million.
The pretext often given for U.S. military intrusion is drug war. U.S. military build-up in Latin America has consumed more than $20 billion since 2002. The U.S. government sent $1.3 billion to Honduras in 2011 for a regional military electronics center, also $89 million and $25 million in 2012 for U.S. troops and for barracks, respectively, at the Soto Cano air base. U.S. military expenditure in Honduras has risen every year since coup – by 71 percent, for example, in 2011. There are new U.S. bases in the Mosquitia region and in tourist-destination Guanaja.
Giorgio Trucchi views Honduras elites as “the most conservative in Latin America.” He suspects, “They are in a true state of panic over the possibility the Libre Party could win in the next elections.” Presidential candidate Castro’s remarks at the party’s national assembly on June 1 were not likely to have reassured them. She promised “a new social pact through a national constituent assembly that is original, inclusive, with deep popular participation,” also supported food sovereignty, public education and health care for all. Interviewed a month later, she called for democratic, peaceful transformation, repeal of post – coup neoliberal laws, an end to impunity, and soldiers returning to their barracks.”
Human rights activist Bertha Oliva fears that “if the polls continue pointing to a possible victory for Xiomara Castro, coup perpetrators will do anything to sew chaos and justify suspending the electoral process.” “Blood will run” if Libre wins, conservative Tegucigalpa mayor Ricardo Álvarez threatened. For former Zelaya –era government minister Enrique Flores Lanza, “The forces joined together within the Libre Party confront not only the power of the national oligarchy, but also the interests of North American imperialism and the whole international right.”
Indeed, U.S. trade with Honduras totaled $10.6 billion in 2011, when the United States provided 46.2 percent of Honduras’ imports and accepted 33.4 percent of its exports. In Honduras, suggests analyst Laura Carlsen, the U.S. government “wants to have more control over internal security strategies of the Central American countries, [and] is trying to strengthen its military presence in order to confront what it sees as a threat to its traditional hegemony in the region.”
Whether or not the U.S. government will try to block Libre Party advances is unknown. A notorious U.S. record does exist, however, of undermining popular movements in the region either when they are in power or in their formative stages – as with the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965. If augmented U.S. intervention materializes in Honduras in any form, solidarity movements worldwide – especially in the United States – will, or ought to, pick up the challenge to join the Honduran people’s fight.
W. T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.