One year ago, on June 28, 2009, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was awakened by gunfire. A coup was carried out by US-trained military officers, including graduates of the infamous US Army School of the Americas (WHINSEC) in Georgia. President Zelaya was illegally taken to Costa Rica.
Democracy in Honduras ended as a de facto government of the rich and powerful seized control. A sham election backed by the US confirmed the leadership of the coup powers. The US and powerful lobbyists continue to roam the hemisphere trying to convince other Latin American countries to normalize relations with the coup government.
The media has ignored the revival of US hard power in the Americas and the widespread resistance which challenges it.
A pro-democracy movement, the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (FNRP) formed in the coup’s aftermath. Despite horrendous repression, it has organized the anger and passion of a multitude of mass-based popular movements — landless workers, farmers, women, LGBTQ folks, unions, youth and others– and spread a palpable energy of possibility and hope throughout the country.
These forces of democracy have been subjected to police killings, arbitrary detentions, beatings, rape and other sexual abuse of women and girls, torture and harassment of journalists, judges and activists. Prominent LGBTQ activists, labor organizers, campesinos and youth working with the resistance have been assassinated. Leaders have been driven into exile.
Four judges, including the president of Honduran Judges for Democracy, were fired in May 2010 for criticizing the illegality of the coup. Two of them went on a widely-supported hunger strike in the nation’s capital. Judges who participated in public demonstrations in favor of the de facto government remain in power.
In 2010 alone, seven journalists have been murdered. Many others have been threatened. Reporters without Borders calls Honduras the most dangerous country in the world for journalists.
Why was there a coup? Honduras was planning to hold a June 28 poll on whether or not a referendum for forming a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution should be on the November ballot. Many among the poor correctly view the current constitution as favoring corporations and wealthy landowners. As a result of the constitutional preference for the rich and powerful, Honduras has one of the largest wealth gaps between the rich and poor in Latin America. Washington and the Honduran elite were also angered that President Zelaya signed an agreement to join the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). ALBA is a regional trade agreement that provides an alternative to the free trade agreements such as CAFTA that have been pushed by Washington yet opposed by many popular movements through the Americas. Zelaya’s proposal to transform Soto Cano Air Base, historically important to the US military, into a much-needed civilian airport was unpopular in Washington as was his lack of support for the privatization of the telecommunications industry.
Forces in the US provided critical support for the coup. As members of the resistance have explained, coups do not happen in Latin America without the support of those with power in the US. Right wing ideologues and shell NGOs based out of Washington played a critical role in the coup and since. A leadership vacuum in the Obama Administration regarding Honduras has led to extreme right-wing ideologues directing US policy there. These people are hell bent on stopping the growing populist movements throughout Latin America from gaining more influence and power. Some, such as Otto Reich and Roger Noriega, have moved from positions in the State Department and United Nations into private lobbying firms or conservative think tanks. Others, such as Robert Carmona-Borjas, who was granted asylum in the US after his involvement in the attempted coup against Hugo Chavez, are working for so-called NGOs that use vague missions such as “anti-corruption” to mask the foreign policy work they do.
In the past year, the business elite in Honduras have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Washington-based lobbying and PR firms to get the U.S. Democratic and Republican parties in line. For example, the Asociación Hondureña de Maquiladoras (Honduran Association of Maquiladoras) hired the Cormac Group to lobby the US government regarding “foreign relations” just days after the coup. Close Clinton confidant Lanny Davis lobbied for the coup powers in DC. A delegation of Republican Senators travelled to Honduras in the fall to support the coup government and organized for wider Congressional support upon their return.
Despite initially condemning the coup, the Obama Administration has completely shifted its position. It provided critical, life-giving approval to the widely denounced elections that were boycotted by much of the Honduran population. The military that was killing people in the streets was also guarding the ballot boxes. Major candidates such as Carlos H. Reyes, now a leader of the resistance, refused to run. The Carter Center, the United Nations, and other respected election observers refused to observe. The FNRP called on people to stay home.
The Organization of American States suspended Honduras and has continued to resist efforts of Secretary of State Clinton to pressure them into readmitting Honduras. However, the US pushed for and was able to secure the formation of a high-level OAS panel to “study” the re-entry of Honduras at its recent meeting in Peru. We may well start to see the international community beginning to normalize relations with this illegitimate government.
As it stands now the coup government of Honduras’ biggest ally is the United States.
A year after the coup, US activists and pro-democracy supporters need to increase their knowledge about what is going on with our neighbors in Honduras and stand in solidarity with the resistance. For democracy to mean anything, it has to mean that plans for a national referendum to rewrite a Constitution to better serve a nation’s people should not be met with a US-supported military coup.
Once again the US is on the wrong side in Latin America.
Once again, the US government is undermining democracy and actively supporting a government that is murdering its own people.
Once again, the US has sided with anti-democracy forces and is trying to bully the world into rubber-stamp approval of our mistakes.
Moving forward from this unfortunate anniversary, one thing is certain – the people’s movement in Honduras is only growing. The resistance has gone ahead with organizing for a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. Today there will be massive demonstrations throughout Honduras. We must stand with this dramatic and powerful social movement and challenge our own government to support the forces of democracy, not destroy them.
CCR will be hosting the NYC premiere of a film about the Resistance on July 7, 7pm at Tribeca Cinemas in lower Manhattan. It will also premiere in DC and Berkeley.
For more information about the Honduran resistance, please see their website (and click on the “English” tab): http://www.resistenciahonduras.net/
BILL QUIGLEY is legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org