The Presidential residence is surrounded; the president is kidnapped and flown out of the country. Thousands take to the streets, but the mainstream television stations report nothing. No, this is not Venezuela in 2002. Nor is it Haiti, 2004. It’s Honduras, 2009, but roughly the same story is once again being told, on a different stage with different actors. But that difference could mean everything.
The Presidential residence is surrounded; the president is kidnapped and flown out of the country. The opposition says the president has resigned and a conservative pro-business leader is appointed de-facto president, immediately shutting down the state television and cracking down on the dissidence. Unconfirmed reports say arrest warrants have been issued for all mayors in support of the defunct government. Thousands take to the streets, but the mainstream television stations report nothing.
No, this is not Venezuela in 2002. Nor is it Haiti, 2004. It’s Honduras, 2009, but roughly the same story is once again being told, on a different stage with different actors. But that difference could mean everything.
Even as of halfway through last week, both the Civic Council of Indigenous and Grassroots Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales had already denounced the impending coup.
For months, Zelaya had been planning a non-binding consultative referendum to take place this Sunday that would have asked the Honduran people if the issue of a 2010 constitutional assembly should be added to the ballot of this November’s upcoming elections.
Then, last week, a politically motivated Honduran Supreme Court ruled the referendum "illegal." General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, head of the Armed Forces, refused to distribute the ballot boxes. Last Thursday, June 25th, Zelaya removed the general from his post, and accompanied by members of the country’s grassroots social movements, Zelaya went personally to recover the 15,000 ballot boxes.
But Defense Minister Ángel Edmundo Orellana resigned in solidarity with Vásquez Velásquez and soldiers took to the streets. An emergency session of the Organization of American States (OAS) was called to evaluate the deteriorating situation.
Despite opposition in the National Congress, the Supreme Court, the majority of the major parties, the chamber of commerce, and the Catholic Church, Zelaya was steadfast. Supported by the grassroots movements, the non-binding referendum would go on.
Just a day later, the world has changed.
President Zelaya is now in Nicaragua, after having been "kidnapped", and thrown on a plane to Costa Rica in the early hours of Sunday morning. The head of the National Congress, Roberto Micheletti was sworn in as de facto President of Honduras on Sunday afternoon, declaring, "I did not reach this position because of a coup. I am here because of an absolutely legal transition process."
Like Pedro Carmona—the head of the Venezuelan chamber of commerce, Fedecameras, who took power when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was briefly ousted on April 11, 2002—Micheletti received a round of applause as he was sworn in. Like Carmona, outside, the people protested.
But unlike Carmona, the rest of the planet doesn’t buy it. That is the difference. Not one country has recognized the de facto Micheletti government. On Sunday, the U.S. ambassador to Honduras declared, "The only president the United States recognizes is President Manuel Zelaya."
U.S. Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton declared, "The action taken against Honduran President Mel Zelaya violates the precepts of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and thus should be condemned by all."
The OAS, which held an emergency meeting on Sunday afternoon, issued a resolution condemning the coup and calling for the immediate reinstatement of Zelaya as president. The president of the United Nations General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, called the Honduran military intervention a "criminal action".
Although the Micheletti government has not been recognized, that hasn’t stopped the international media from acting as though it has. CNN online is airing an interview with the conservative former Venezuelan Ambassador Diego Arria, who blames not the military, but Zelaya for "attempting a coup against the [Honduran] constitution".
The BBC asked their English-speaking readers in Honduras if they thought the Honduran Constitution should be changed. By reading many of the comments, it would also appear as though Zelaya was the criminal: "The events that ocurred today ARE NOT an attack to the Honduran democracy. There is no coup in Honduras. Finally we have peace in our country."
Many in opposition to Sunday’s non-binding referendum feared Zelaya was attempting to alter the constitution in order to eliminate term limits and be re-elected beyond the end of his term early next year. Brazil’s largest media chain, Rede Globo, echoed the fears in an article on Sunday evening.
Nevertheless, Sunday’s non-binding referendum was simply meant to test the waters for the possibility for a referendum for a Venezuela-style Constitutional Assembly. Since the 1999 Constitution, Ecuador and Bolivia have followed, holding Constitutional Assemblies in each of their countries and passing democratically written constitutions with large participation. Zelaya’s re-election was not on Sunday’s ballot.
"Today’s proposed referendum was non-binding and merely consultative. Thus no one could argue that allowing it to go forward could cause irreparable harm," said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research on Sunday. "There was no excuse for the Honduran military to intervene, regardless of the constitutional issues at stake."
Meanwhile, in Honduras, thousands have been in the streets protesting.
COPINH wrote in a communiqué, "We tell everyone that the Honduran people are carrying out large demonstrations, actions in their communities, in the municipalities; there are occupations of bridges, and a protest in front of the presidential residence, among others. From the lands of Lempira, Morazán and Visitación Padilla, we call on the Honduran people in general to demonstrate in defense of their rights and of real and direct democracy for the people, to the fascists we say that they will NOT silence us, that this cowardly act will turn back on them, with great force."
Mexico-based reporter, Kristin Bricker, has been reporting for Narco News that according to Radio Es Lo De Menos, the military has set up roadblocks all over the country in an attempt to prevent Zelaya supporters from reaching the capital. The soldiers are also reportedly attempting to shut down public transportation.
Honduran labor leader Ángel Alvarado told TeleSUR that he has called a national strike for Monday in Honduras to protest of the coup. According to Daniel Ortega, President of Nicaragua, the Honduran military has closed the border between the two countries.
Only time will tell what course the next few days will bring, but the around the clock coverage by Telesur, and the immediate international solidarity echoed around the globe may have changed the face of military coup d’etats in Latin America.
Only a few short decades ago, military dictatorships ruled much of the region, and in Central America, those that weren’t, were steeped in brutal civil wars. In less than 24 hours after the Honduran coup, President Zelaya was joined by the countries of the progressive trading block, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, (ALBA) in Nicaragua for an emergency presidential summit. The Presidents of Ecuador, Rafael Correa; Venezuela, Hugo Chávez; Bolivia, Evo Morales; Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega and others joined together with Zelaya and demanded the Honduran president be returned to power.
This is the new face of Latin America, and only with this international solidarity, and overwhelming repudiation against the blatant disregard for the rule of law, will these actions be isolated, overturned and hopefully never again repeated.
That is the difference. It is the same story as before. Told with similar actors—some of whom even studied at the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia — only this time we live in a different age; under a shifting geo-political backdrop. On the presidential level, the coup has been denounced across the planet, and governments are standing behind Zelaya. On the local level, Honduras’ Radio Es Lo De Menos has called on international activists to march on Honduran embassies across the globe. There is a necessary active roll for all to play. The difference could mean everything.
Like in Venezuela, where the people remember the way they flooded into the streets to demand the return of their President Hugo Chavez just two days after he had been taken from office, "Every April 11th has its April 13th".
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