Judging by the relative disinterest – in both the mainstream and left media in North America – towards the situation in Honduras, you would think that the crisis in this country was over. Yet, almost everyone I have talked to in my most recent stay here has told me that the situation is grave; twice in one week alone, I was sitting with an activist in the movement when they received news of the assassination of one of their compañeros.
Left International Solidarity in Post-Coup Honduras[i]
Judging by the relative disinterest – in both the mainstream and left media in North America – towards the situation in Honduras, you would think that the crisis in this country was over. Yet, almost everyone I have talked to in my most recent stay here has told me that the situation is grave; twice in one week alone, I was sitting with an activist in the movement when they received news of the assassination of one of their compañeros. These moments – an absurd but real part of the daily routine here – provoke a particular kind of reflection among movement activists, who need to develop the emotional capacity to compartmentalize their grief and fear in order to stay in the struggle, while at the same time maintaining their ability to feel that very sadness and human compassion that separates them from the callous forces they are struggling against. As I sat with friends one night in April 2012, a call came in that Erick Martinez, an LGBT activist and political candidate, had been killed; the one among us who knew him said that in spite of the danger and difficulty of the struggle, news of these assassinations “reminds you that you have to live well because you may not live long.”
I offer this as introduction in order to highlight the fact that while most international attention has turned away from Honduras since 2009, the low intensity warfare against the social movement in resistance has continued unabated. The movement itself, however, has gone through significant changes, and in this piece I will outline the new contours of the resistance movement, summarize the forces that are stacked against it, and conclude with a call for increased international solidarity. While this article is rooted in the immediate circumstances facing the Honduran social movement, there is an overarching purpose informing this piece, addressed to North American activists: it is to insist on a particular form of left international solidarity that supports principled and progressive forces within the Honduran movement, but leaves discussions of tactics and strategy to be determined by those forces.
Much of the critical writing in North America on the situation in Honduras begins with, and is focused on, centre-left president Manuel Zelaya Rosales, who was kidnapped on June 28, 2009 in his pyjamas and whisked to a U.S. military base[ii] – and then to exile in Costa Rica – provoking 161 days of uninterrupted demonstrations which marked the launch of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (FNRP). Zelaya briefly returned to Honduras in 2010, but was forced to hole up in the Brazilian embassy, guarded by the Honduran military in case he tried to leave, until January 2012, when he was granted passage to the Dominican Republic. While Zelaya was under siege in the embassy, the de facto regime held elections that were widely understood in Honduras to be a farce – an illegitimate and fraudulent process designed to regain international recognition. The elections were held in a climate of state terror and violent silencing of critical media and public protest that was manifest in hundreds of targeted assassinations, disappearances, detentions and all manner of violent assaults. Meanwhile, liberal international organizations like the Carter Centre and the United Nations refused to send elections observers, and hundreds of political candidates withdrew their names after receiving violence and intimidation – including presidential frontrunner, Carlos H. Reyes, a union leader who was running as an independent candidate with Zelaya’s endorsement.
In the week leading up to the elections, the Resistance called for a nationwide boycott. Hundreds of thousands of Hondurans refused to cast ballots despite a campaign of state terror intended to coerce people into participating. Since the military regime was relying on the election process to legitimate its rule over the country, it released fraudulent numbers inflating the total number of ballots cast, though it was patently obvious to anyone in Honduras that the boycott had been successful and the overwhelming majority of Hondurans had made it clear that they considered themselves to be living under a dictatorship.[iii] Nevertheless, a handful of foreign governments – with Canada taking the lead – ignored or denied the boycott, and instead used the opportunity to heap legitimacy on the coup government. A new president, Porfirio ‘Pepe’ Lobo, was inaugurated and soon recognized by Canada and the United States, while repression and violence continued alongside a rejuvenated neoliberal push. Manuel Zelaya remained in exile until the signing of the Cartagena Accords in 2011, which gave him full right of return to Honduras and political amnesty, while, at the same time, cementing the international legitimacy of the coup government, a point to which I will return below.
Most North American analyses of the coup – left and mainstream – foreground the social-democratic reforms that Zelaya had put forward, between 2006-2009, and imagine that the coup was an interruption of Zelaya’s attempts to re-orient the country away from neoliberalism and towards the Bolivarian alternative. Left and mainstream observers tend to disagree on whether that was a good or bad thing; but, either way, Zelaya is credited as the leader of a left populist project of reform, and the dramatic resistance movement that captured international headlines after the coup is read as a spontaneous response to the military’s move against a beloved leader. Consequently, Zelaya’s return to Honduras in 2011 has meant that even less international attention and solidarity is directed at Honduras, since the struggle is imagined to be centred around Zelaya himself, who has been allowed to go home. However, his term in office would much better be understood as the culmination – not the start – of a long period of reorganizing and rebuilding of social movements in this country that had, by the time Zelaya took power, already reached levels of mobilization not seen since the 1970s.
THE REBUILDING OF A SOCIAL MOVEMENT
The militarization of Honduras under the U.S. occupation in the 1980s, and the repression and death-squad activity that accompanied it, significantly weakened much of the radical left and the impressive campesino organizing that had characterized the period from the 1950s-1970s. As a result, there was limited capacity to muster up opposition to the imposition of neoliberalism in the 1990s, especially as the Callejas government was setting up alternative parallel structures to existing social organizations in order to weaken and divide the movement. So the hammer of structural adjustment, privatizations, foreign concessions, theft of campesino and Indigenous land, cuts to social and state services and infrastructure, and other austerity measures fell hard on Hondurans already reeling from the violence and insecurity of the 1980s. The devastating consequences of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 – during which 11,000 people were killed and upwards of 2 million displaced, most of them suburban poor who had fled the countryside desperate for work in the city and were living in flimsy shantytown dwellings on recently deforested hills outside the capital – were as clear a signal as any that conditions in Honduras had become intolerable.
It is no surprise, then, that it was around this time that a new generation of social movements was beginning to consolidate itself, initially in regional activist organizations based loosely around the different departments, or provinces, of the country, from the Asamblea Popular Permanente (APP) in El Progreso to the Cansejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares y Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH) in Intibucá to the Bloque Popular around the capital region. Many of these organizations began linking up in the late 1990s and organized coordinated actions in the early 2000s, including a dramatic blockade of the four main highways into Tegucigalpa in 2003. The blockade was held from 4am until 2pm, at which point it proceeded to the National Congress to confront then-President Maduro directly. The success of this demonstration encouraged further cooperation, and thus was created the Coordinadora Nacional de Resistencia Popular (CNRP). If this sounds familiar, it is because it was precisely this structure that was converted into the FNRP in the months following the coup.
The CNRP rotated its leadership between its different member groups. I spoke with Juan Barahona, who was the coordinator of the Bloque Popular and became one of the central leaders of the FNRP after the coup. “The social movement was not born with the coup,” he explained, “but strengthened by it. We had been mobilized for a decade, we had fought against Mel Zelaya for two years.”[iv] There were over two hundred strikes in the first year of Zelaya’s term, including impressive shows of strength by the teachers’ unions, and many of the gains won by the social movements during Zelaya’s term – from the significant raising of the minimum wage to the moratorium on new mining concessions – were products of the burgeoning strength of the CNRP and associated groups in the social movement. This is a piece often missed by those who imagine that Honduras’ dramatic uprising began in response to the coup, or out of loyalty to Zelaya himself. Quite the contrary, before the coup, Zelaya had been the target of social movement pressure, not the leader of it.
Nevertheless, there is quickness in some circles of the North American left to cast Zelaya as a bourgeois opportunist who switched sides and took on the role of the ‘socialist cowboy’ when he ran afoul of the oligarchy and was deposed in the coup, and this reading is similarly misguided. While Zelaya was a traditional politician who emerged as part of the Liberal Party at the height of the neoliberal push, his presidency was markedly different from the outset because, as Honduran sociologist Tomás Andino explained to me, Zelaya came from a fraction of the Honduran oligarchy that was being left behind by the embrace of neoliberalism and transnational capital.[v] As such, he quickly established a government that had different priorities from his predecessors and, significantly, his separation from the most powerful elements of the Honduran oligarchy and transnational capital meant that he needed to cultivate relationships with other elements of Honduran society. This would prove to be of critical importance, because it explains Zelaya’s openness to building a less oppositional relationship with the social movements that had coalesced into the CNRP.
The picture that emerges, then, is more complicated than a polarized debate about Zelaya’s role in the movement – radical populist vs. liberal opportunist – would allow. The Honduran left is quick to remind that Zelaya was no hero to the poor – Gilberto Rios, founder of Los Necios, a Marxist organization that worked in the Bloque Popular, remembers that Zelaya cracked down on CNRP actions, especially in the first years of his presidency, explaining that in 2006 he was “totally right wing” and that he had repressed teachers’ movements without a second thought.[vi] But Rios, who has worked closely with Zelaya since the coup, also insists that his willingness to work with the left was the catalyst for some of his most important progressive steps during his presidency, from the raising of the minimum wage, to his joining of ALBA, to the move towards constitutional reform.[vii]
THE CARTAGENA ACCORDS AND ZELAYA’S RETURN
Even with that in mind, it may still come as a surprise that Juan Barahona, Gilberto Rios and many others who were active in groups like the Bloque Popular supported Zelaya’s decision in 2011 to sign the Cartagena Accords, come back to Honduras, and encourage the resistance movement to form a political party and pursue an electoral path to power in the 2013 elections. After all, while Zelaya’s popularity soared as a result of the coup against him, many former and current organizers in the FNRP have insisted that he is fundamentally reformist, not revolutionary, and that his leadership drew the movement back at precisely the moments when it might have been able to storm the barricades and demand fundamental change. Luis Mendez, longtime activist and poet in the movement, challenged Zelaya at a public forum on his socialist credentials, demanding an answer to the question, “will you nationalize the El Mochito mine?”[viii]
Eighteen months after the 2009 elections, Zelaya was back in the country after signing off on the Cartagena Accords with de facto president Pepe Lobo, in an agreement that changed very little with respect to the daily violence – to which I will return shortly – inflicted on Honduran organizers, activists, workers, peasants and campesinos, among them especially women, Indigenous and Garífuna, and members of the LGBT community. The only thing Cartagena guaranteed was that Zelaya himself could return to Honduras and would be free to form a new political party while, in the meantime, the agreement served to legitimate the regime and paved the way for its re-integration into the OAS. Since I am based in Canada, I should note that this country has been one of the closest allies of the golpistas (coup leaders), and also took the coup as an opportunity to hammer out the final details of a new bilateral free trade agreement which will no doubt please its significant business interests in the country, in the mining, tourism and garment industries.
Understandably, then, many in Honduras were suspicious of the Cartagena Accord and of Zelaya’s motivations in signing on. Many others in the movement, however, considered the return of the man who became the symbolic leader of the Resistance, after the coup, a significant shot in the arm, especially at a moment when repression levels were high and international attention to those violations was low. The crowd that gathered to greet Zelaya at the airport marked the largest single gathering of Hondurans in one place in the country’s history, and organizers in the FNRP had to take seriously the fact that – while he did not emerge from the social movement itself – the coup had made him, by far, its most popular figure and, indeed, the most popular figure in the country. The movement had been fully mobilized for eighteen months and its organizers and supporters were exhausted and demoralized; if Zelaya could rejuvenate the movement, it would make a world of difference.
If the coup regime hoped to provoke division within the movement, then, the Accord certainly offered fertile ground for that project. It was a complicated moment in Honduras, and shortly after Zelaya’s return, the movement was split between those who supported his bid to create a political party and pursue the 2013 elections, on the one hand, and those who wanted to keep the movements’ energy in the streets and in the communities, maintaining an Espacio Refundacional (refoundational space) to rebuild the country from the ground up. Though most Hondurans got behind the electoral project, the organizers who became the Espacio Refundacional insisted that engaging in an electoral process would divert peoples’ attention into easily manipulated political channels and would raise expectations around a legal process that would likely be stolen or co-opted by the very powers that were behind the coup itself, potentially undermining the entire foundation of the social movement.
There was, and is, good reason for their concern. Rule of law and civil society in Honduras have, for all intents and purposes, broken down entirely under the combined pressure of political corruption and repression, the hyper-militarization of the country, the complete infiltration of organized crime at every level of the Honduran state and security forces, and the colonizing of the country by transnational capital. The state and its armed forces act with total impunity on behalf of private capital, which encompasses both the expansive narcotics cartels and the transnational corporations that, together, make up the most powerful classes in Honduran society. As Nectali Rodezno, a lawyer with the movement, put it, “narcos escape the jails by paying off the police, wearing police uniforms. And when the people complain, the police set up bodies of police to investigate police. They are a unit. […] We have no doubt that police are carrying out killings, that they are protecting the politicians but not the people.”[ix]
Not surprisingly, then, violence in Honduras is manifested often and in a variety of forms. Rodezno links the rising levels of violence against women to the corruption of the police, and it is clear that domestic gender-based violence is reinforced by state and economic violence. Maria Luisa Regalado, of the women’s organization Colectiva de Mujeres Hondureñas (CODEMUH), reports on the treatment of the mostly female workers in Canadian-owned maquiladoras, who often work eleven-hour shifts, who avoid getting up to go to the bathroom for fear of not meeting their quotas, who develop serious health problems and are injected with painkillers by company doctors in order to prolong their ability to work; as their bodies collapse, they are dropped into lower wage categories, and when the painkillers are no longer enough, they are often fired for their lack of productivity.[x]
Meanwhile, violent repression continues – often in the form of paramilitary assaults – against campesino communities in the Valle del Aguán, who have been trying to take back land that has been siezed by large landowners for African palm plantations. When a prison fire in Comayagua earlier this year killed 360 people, many of them were imprisoned without even having been changed with a crime. Taxi cooperatives in the cities are forced to pay monthly war taxes to organized criminal gangs made up of heavily-armed police; when they don’t, they face violent retribution.
It is worth taking note of recent announcements – as in a laudatory piece in the New York Times in April 2012[xi] – that more U.S. and Canadian troops are amassing in this country under the auspices of ‘training exercises’ and ‘counter narcotics’ projects, while dramatic busts of police, military and state authorities involved in the drug trade go unpunished and well-known airstrips and ports for drug trafficking are left unattended (and supposedly unnoticed) by the high-tech counter insurgency forces arriving from Iraq and Afghanistan. Small wonder that when a suspended police officer was recently caught in his second drug bust, he laughed it off in front of TV cameras. The utter impunity with which the armed forces operate is widely understood and offers a chilling reminder to anyone who would take political action of any kind.
Of course, it would be misleading to suggest that the spiralling violence in Honduras is a simply a consequence of the increasing influence of narcotics cartels. Bertha Oliva, director of human rights organization Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH), offered me a brief checklist of politically targeted golpista violence in April 2012: since the coup, twenty-three journalists killed, with no investigation. Some sixty campesinos in the Aguán, more than sixty people from the LGBT community, some forty-seven lawyers, never any investigation. “Three, four, five, six or more youths killed every single day,” she concludes. “It is impossible to keep track.”[xii] And these are the lowest estimates, counting only the assassinations that can be incontrovertibly and directly tied to political repression. Gladys Lanza, veteran of many decades of feminist organizing in Honduras reports that, since the coup, there have been more than three hundred women killed every year, and far from being investigated by the police, the attacks are often carried out by them: “how can we trust the police? Many times it is in police stations where [women] are raped and attacked.”[xiii]
All the while, foreign capital reaps the benefits of a social movement under siege. Wealth is already deeply polarized in Honduras, where a handful of the richest families – Ferrari, Facussé, Rosenthal – control most of Honduran industry, often in partnership with foreign companies. For instance, the details of Canada’s free trade agreement with Honduras are as yet unreleased, but it is reasonable to assume that it will follow the patterns established in Canada’s relationships with other Latin American countries: it will secure the highest possible freedom and flexibility for Canadian capital in Honduras, will offer incentives for Canadian businesses that choose to invest in Honduras, and will protect Canadian investments against disruptions to their profits by keeping labour and social and environmental codes minimal and guaranteeing a security apparatus that will insulate Canadian businesses from strikes, demonstrations, expropriations, occupations and other re-distributive measures.
Indeed, though it routinely presents itself as an innocuous force in international politics, Canadian investment in Honduras is significant and troubling. It is the largest foreign investor in mining, where its operations are responsible for some of Honduras’ worst public health crises; the notorious Goldcorp has, in the words of one activist, “condemned the Valle de Siria to death” with its toxic contamination.[xiv] It has a strong presence in the garment industry; Montreal-based Gildan owns some of Honduras’ largest maquiladora sweatshops implicated in deplorable, sexist, violent and inhumane treatment of its largely female workforce. And it is establishing a firm presence in the burgeoning tourist industry, where Canadian ‘entrepreneurs’ are snapping up traditional Indigenous and Garífuna land to turn it into highly exploitative resort hotels on Honduras’ Caribbean coast. Most recently, it recommended a measure – already approved by the golpista regime – to allow for the creation so-called ‘charter cities’ in Honduran territory, which would give quasi-statehood to the owners of these territorial concessions which, to most Hondurans, amount to little more than foreign colonization.
PROSPECTS FOR THE ELECTORAL PATH
The severity of the crisis in Honduras and the total collapse of legitimate civilian government begs the question, posed by people in the Espacio Refundacional, how can engaging in a political process possibly hope to change the system? It is the central question that has been debated in the movement since the signing of Cartagena. Indeed, even the North American left has been engaged in the debate, writing back and forth in heated articles and blogs about the relative strengths or weaknesses of the decision to pursue an electoral process.[xv]
Over the past year, predictably, the context for the debate has become ever more complicated and at this point, just over a year before the scheduled November 2013 elections, there are plenty of currents within which one could swim. Shortly after Zelaya’s return, a highly contested assembly of the FNRP chose to create a political party, the Partido Libertad y Refundacion (LIBRE). While many organizations chose to distance themselves and to continue their work in the FNRP, many others joined the party and, over time, there emerged five different currents within that party. Four of the five come out of the traditional Liberal Party apparatus and draw not-unfounded criticism and scepticism from the social movement side of the FNRP. The fifth, however, represents one of the most interesting elements of the current moment.
This fifth current is called the Fuerza de Refundacion Popular (FRP), and it represents those elements most closely connected to the social movements within the political party. The FRP’s presence in the LIBRE party is what most distinguishes LIBRE from the traditional Liberal party and the question that is perhaps most important here is whether FRP and other candidates drawn from the social movement will be able to significantly influence the direction that the new party takes, which will be put to the test this November when the party holds its internal primaries. Hope lies in the prospect of LIBRE putting forward candidates drawn largely from the social movements, who would stand a very good chance of winning in the national elections in 2013, assuming, for the moment, that a legitimate election process went forward. Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, Mel Zelaya’s wife, will be LIBRE’s Presidential candidate and she is considered a front-runner.
Groups that have stayed out of LIBRE do not believe that the FRP (and other movement-based candidates) can control the direction the party takes, and that it will become co-opted into the social-democratic mess that characterizes the left wing of the Liberal Party. But the majority of the movement has acknowledged that a continuation of the status quo cannot be sustained. The prospect of putting people into office who would end the repression and give the social movement access to the mechanisms of the state is a tantalizing prospect. This hope has galvanized people behind LIBRE, but the main concern within the party is that the coup regime will not allow them to win free elections. After all, the oligarchy successfully deposed an elected president, defied half-hearted international calls to reinstate him, and then pulled off a sham process to install their own man as president. What is more, given the regime’s commitment to ever-deepening neoliberalization of the country and the total infiltration of organized crime into the state apparatus, it seems likely that any threat to its uninterrupted progress would be targeted with violence.
For that reason, organizers in LIBRE have expressed serious concerns about the prospect of targeted assassinations and electoral fraud in the 2013 elections. They are right to be concerned; as I noted above, journalist and LGBT activist Erick Martinez was disappeared and assassinated, not long after being put forward as a potential LIBRE diputado candidate. It is for this reason that I will conclude with a plea for increased solidarity for the Honduran struggle, as it seems evident to everyone here that – for better or worse – a lot is riding on that process, and disinterest from the North American left will only make it easier for the regime to pursue its violent agenda with impunity.
PRINCIPLED LEFT SOLIDARITY
There is no question that Honduras needs profound, radical change. So when Hondurans assert the need for refoundational change, for a struggle against the unholy alliance of imperialism and capitalism that has run roughshod over their country, they are surely right. I do not believe that the role of left international solidarity is to pretend a kind of neutrality with respect to the movements we support. My experience with and around this movement has convinced me that the need for radical change is real, so I will support the movement in seeking that change, especially insofar as the Canadian state that claims to represent me is so deeply complicit in these problems.
Nonetheless, I do not believe that the role of left international solidarity is to get involved in, or exert significant influence over, the strategic decision-making process of the movement it is supporting. The difference may be subtle, but I would argue that it is crucial. Refoundational change is a goal that I share with the Honduran movement. I share it with respect not just to Honduras, but to every movement of which I am a part. The struggle to re-found Honduras is a struggle against capitalism and colonialism writ large and, as such, it cannot be separated from these same struggles in the colonial metropole; fighting for justice for migrant workers – often Hondurans – on Canadian farms and orchards, for instance, is just one of the many intersections between our respective movements.
But whether North American activists, myself included, would have preferred an armed struggle in Honduras, or a non-violent social movement, or an electoral process, or any number of different strategic approaches, should not be of consequence and should have minimal effect on the choices the Honduran movement makes. The social movement in Honduras grapples with these internal strategic questions vigorously and capably, just as we demand of our own movements in our own communities. However, the assumption that the Honduran movement needs our interference in their strategic decision-making is rather misguided, at best, and a replication of longstanding colonial arrogance, at worst. It is not our place to give or withdraw our support based on these questions; our role is to be in solidarity with the path to refoundation that the Honduran movement has chosen.
This necessitates a careful and complicated understanding of the dynamics at play in the Honduran movement and a thoughtful distinction between analysis and tactics. That is, while we have a responsibility to develop rigorous left analysis in order to adequately assess the different currents within the social movements we are supporting and make certain we are supporting the currents that offer the most profound and emancipatory prospects, we have a similar responsibility to resist the colonial urge to tell those movements how we think they should proceed.
In the case of Honduras in this moment, that means supporting the movements’ decision to engage in the middle-term strategy of pursuing the electoral process. This is a rather uncomfortable argument for me, personally, since I have been a strong supporter of campaigns for election boycotts in both Canada and Honduras in the past and have little faith in liberal parliamentary democracy as a way out of capitalist colonialism. But my analysis – developed out of engagement with the analyses of countless Hondurans in the movement – is that the train has left the station; although many in the social movement have very legitimate reservations regarding the electoral path, they have determined that the circumstances they face make it the best strategic option at this point. It is clear, then, that this process will go ahead, and the key role that the social movement has taken on, at least for now, will be to keep the LIBRE party on the side of the people.
For those of us trying to do international solidarity, then, our work seems clear. We must first support movement-based candidates within the LIBRE party, such that the party can maintain a strong left position in the party that represents the movement itself. Next, we must do everything we can to ensure that the LIBRE party is given a fair shot at the 2013 elections – this means working against the repressive terrorist apparatus of the Honduran state to try to minimize the effects of violence and intimidation on LIBRE candidates and the social movement that is supporting them. Finally, and most importantly, it means strengthening our connections and our support for the social movement as a whole, to make sure that if LIBRE is able to win the elections, the social movement will be there to insist that it stay true to the course it is promising to take. It was the social movement that pushed Manuel Zelaya to change directions in the first place, and as such, it was the strength of the social movement that provoked the coup itself. Thus it remains the social movement that can demand radical, refoundational change in Honduras and as left activists in solidarity, it is our responsibility to support that movement not in the ways that we would like to, but in the ways that it has asked. The analysis I’ve offered here best reflects what I have heard from the Honduran movement itself and, for that reason, it reflects the form that I believe our solidarity should take.
[i] The empirical work that frames the arguments contained in this paper is based primarily on interviews conducted in Honduras from 2009-2012. As such, it is essential that I foreground this paper with a sincere acknowledgement to the people without whom this work would not have been possible. First: Karen Spring, an activist with the organization Rights Action, who has been working in Honduras for over three years and who has built solid, trusting relationships with organizers from all corners of the country. These organizers have good reason to be wary of foreigners who periodically parachute in and out of the country, benefiting from local analysis while avoiding the dangerous consequences of it. Nonetheless, thanks to Karen, I have been able to connect with people across Honduras whose relationships to the struggle are many and varied. My thanks, then, must be extended first to Karen, and then to the countless Hondurans in resistance, who have shared their insights with me despite having far more important things to do with their time and energy and despite their legitimate scepticism regarding the utility of spending that time and energy on talking to foreigners. It is their insights upon which my work has been built over the years, and it is my hope that this piece will help to galvanize the solidarity that their struggle could desperately use.
[ii] Technically, Washington denies that Soto Cano is a U.S. base, referring to it as a Honduran base that the U.S. jointly uses, though there is little doubt in Honduras that the Americans run the show there.
[iii] I was in Honduras at that time and wrote about it extensively. For more detail and documentation of the farce elections and the boycott, see Tyler Shipley, “Honduras: The Coup That Never Happened,” The Bullet, No. 290, Dec. 22, 2009.
[iv] Interview with Juan Barahona, May 10, 2012.
[v] Zelaya’s family is from the eastern department of Olancho and much of their wealth comes from logging and ranching. But the structural adjustment policies imposed in the paquetazos of the 1990s had the effect of attracting more foreign capital and re-orienting the Honduran economy towards the production of exports, especially in industrial manufacturing. In addition, Hurricane Mitch in 1998 hit the traditional landowner sector – of which Zelaya was a part – much harder than the growing maquiladora sector, since the latter was neither reliant on the natural environment, nor on local or regional patterns of consumption, which dropped off as the fledgling Honduran economy was flattened. As a result, Zelaya came to represent a disaffected section within the oligarchy that was less connected to foreign capital and was not reaping the rewards of neoliberalism in the same way, especially under the government of Ricardo Maduro (2001-2005).
[vi] Interview with Gilberto Rios, May 8, 2012.
[vii] The immediate catalyst for the 2009 coup was Zelaya’s insistence on pursuing a referendum that, had it come back with a positive result, would have added an extra ballot in the 2009 elections asking voters whether they would support the striking of a national constituent assembly to re-write the Honduran constitution. This had long been a demand of the social movements, who rightly insist that the current constitution, drafted under military rule and U.S. occupation in the early 1980s, was never a genuine social pact and offered little support to the vast majority of Hondurans being chewed up in the gears of capitalism and colonialism. The Constituyente proposal was opposed vociferously by the oligarchy, which, naturally, feared that a genuinely democratic assembly would reconfigure Honduran law to undermine its complete dominance – with foreign capital – over the country. With few allies left in the oligarchy, Zelaya committed himself to the Constituyente, throwing in his lot with the Honduran social movements, and was promptly ousted from power, by a military that sided with the oligarchy and demonstrated its continued control over the country, on the morning of the scheduled referendum. The oligarchy trumped up a variety of charges against Zelaya, presented a fake resignation letter, and installed Roberto Micheletti as de facto President, as it initiated a full scale military crackdown on public dissent, all of which I document in more detail in Tyler Shipley, “Honduras: The Coup That Never Happened,” The Bullet, No. 290, Dec. 22, 2009.
[viii] El Mochito is a notorious Canadian-owned zinc mine in Santa Barbara department that is among the largest operations in Central America and has long been linked to uranium and cyanide poisoning in water and land nearby.
[ix] Interview with Nectali Rodezno, May 4, 2012.
[x] Interview with Maria Luisa Regalado, May 12, 2012.
[xi] Thom Shanker, “Lessons of Iraq Help U.S. Fight a Drug War in Honduras,” The New York Times, May 5, 2012.
[xii] Interview with Bertha Oliva, May 9, 2012.
[xiii] Interview with Gladys Lanza, May 7, 2010.
[xiv] Interview with Carlos Amaya, May 8, 2012.
[xv] An example of this debate can be found in this exchange between John Riddell and Richard Fidler, endorsing a Zelaya-led Popular Front, and Todd Gordon and Jeffrey Webber, rejecting the electoral process. http://johnriddell.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/honduras-accord-a-gain-for-ottawa/