People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 27

July 05, 2009


Military Coup in Honduras


Yohannan Chemarapally

THE  military coup which has temporarily ousted the Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya, has earned the opprobrium of almost the entire international community. Initially, it was the ALBA countries led by Cuba and Venezuela that took up the cudgels on behalf of the Honduran president. ALBA ----the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas is a regional grouping that seeks to chart an independent path for Latin America and the Caribbean. Honduras had recently become a member of ALBA. When he signed on to ALBA, president Zelaya had stated that �we need no one�s permission to sign this commitment. Today we are taking a step towards becoming a government of the center-left, and if anyone dislikes this, well just remove the word �center� and keep the second one�.


The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez pointed out the eerie parallels between the coup in Honduras and the abortive attempt in Venezuela in April 2002 which had the backing of the CIA. Chavez was briefly ousted before he was reinstated following massive street protests. Chavez has called for international investigations into possible American involvement in the military coup in Honduras. �It�s a brutal coup d�etat, one of many that happened over ten years in Latin America. Behind these soldiers are the Honduran bourgeois, the rich who converted the Honduras into a banana republic, into a political and military base for American imperialism�, said the Venezuelan Head of State. Thousands of people poured on to the streets of the capital, Tegucigalpa, to show their solidarity with the deposed president.


The coup took place just hours before the Honduran people were about to cast their votes for a non-binding referendum on proposed constitutional changes. The exercise was meant to be an opinion poll to determine whether a majority of the Hondurans were for or against the drafting of a new constitution. The Honduran president had been talking about the need for changing the constitution that was drawn up in 1982 when the country was under a military dominated government.  At the time, Honduras was a key ally of Washington in the �dirty war� it was prosecuting in Central America. John Negroponte was Washington�s ambassador to the country and busy bankrolling right wing death squads in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Students, workers, peasants and indigenous groups had marched to demand that the legislature and the army back the referendum on the constitution.


It is unlikely that the Honduran army would have dared to stage a coup without getting some sort of a green signal from Washington. The Honduran military is almost completely financed and trained by the Americans. The major American military base in the country is less than 100 kilometers from the capital. This year the US provided $50 million as aid to the country. The Obama administration had announced a further increase for the coming year.  




Zelaya, who till becoming president in 2005, had not differentiated himself from the right wing policies of his predecessors. He was elected on the ticket of the Liberal Party. The party, like the main opposition party, ----the National Party, represents the class interests of the wealthy minority. The elite, which has been running the country for a long time with Washington�s backing, was infuriated when Zelaya started introducing a series of progressive reforms. Earlier in the year, he increased the minimum wages of workers from $170 to $280 a month. The factory owners had responded by firing a large number of workers. As it is, the unemployment rate in Honduras is among the highest in the region. The poverty rate hovers around 70 per cent. Via Campesina, an umbrella international group which coordinates the activities of peasant organisations world wide characterised the Zelaya government as one which protected the rights of workers and peasants


Zelaya had also proposed that the president should be allowed to contest for a second four year term in office. The current constitution allows for only one four year term in office. The right wing dominated organs of the state and the oligarch controlled media had tried their best through other means, constitutional as well as non-constitutional, to thwart the non-official referendum that was due to be held in June end. The allegation was that Zelaya was taking a leaf out of the script followed by Chavez, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa. Zelaya had repeatedly said that he was not interested in running again but wanted his successors to have that option. The presidents of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador had successfully got new progressive constitutions approved by their people.




Zelaya had also infuriated Washington by his decision to make Honduras a full fledged member of ALBA and his criticism of the US initiated Central American Free Trade Area (CAFTA) for the region. In recent months, he was also very critical of Washington�s policies on drug trafficking. �The legitimate struggle against drug trafficking should not be used as an excuse to carry out interventionist activities in other countries�, Zelaya wrote in a letter to the newly elected president, Barack Obama. Before Zelaya came on the scene, Honduras was viewed as a �quintessential banana republic�.  Things changed dramatically in the last couple of years. Today, Washington can no longer take Honduras for granted.  


The countdown to the crisis began in earnest when the country�s Supreme Court ruled the sacking of the army chief, Gen Romeo Velasquez, by the president, as illegal. The army had refused to move ballot boxes and papers necessary for the holding of the referendum. After that, the Supreme Court had gone ahead and ruled that the holding of the non-binding referendum itself was illegal. But president Zelaya stuck to his guns and decided to go ahead with the democratic exercise to ascertain the peoples view.


Gen Velasquez, along with his fellow coup plotter, the Air Force Chief, Gen Luis Javier Prince Suazo, are products of the infamous School of the Americas (SOA)---a military training facility the US administration had set up in the forties. It was established to train military officers serving in the armies of pro-American governments in the region. Ten officers who trained there had gone on to be among the most notorious dictators in Latin America. Hundreds of officers trained here have been accused of torture and other serious human rights violations when military regimes were in power in countries like Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, El Salvador and other Latin American countries. The SOA, according to a 1996 US Intelligence Oversight Board Report condoned �executions of guerrillas, extortion, physical abuse, coercion, and false imprisonment�.



Honduras, a nation of 7 million, is among the poorest countries in the region. Its economy is mainly dependent on remittances of Honduran workers settled in the US. US aid also plays a key role in sustaining the Honduran economy. Interestingly, though the US president, Barack Obama and his secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, have belatedly termed the military coup as illegal, there has been no official communiqu� from the US government to that effect. An official communiqu� would have automatically meant the suspension of US aid to the country. The US State department released a statement that there was no plan to suspend aid and other forms of assistance to the country.


President Obama�s remarks that it would be a �terrible precedent� for Latin America to move backwards into an era of military coups, seems to have had no impact on the coup makers in Tegucigalpa. President Obama seems to bending over backwards to improve America�s image in the region. Any overt support for the military coup would only further damage Washington�s standing in the region.     


In a way, the US has very little option but to fall in line with the rest of the international community on the situation in Honduras. The Organisation of American States (OAS) was quick to condemn the illegal ouster of the Honduran president. The OAS secretary general, Jose Miguel Insulza has declared that Zelaya�s reinstatement as president was a precondition for the successful resolution of the crisis.  The UN secretary general, Ban ki-Moon while criticising the putschists called for the re-installation of the democratically elected government. Just a couple of days after the military takeover, president Zelaya spoke to the UN general assembly about the prevailing situation in his country. In response the UN general assembly unanimously demanded that the president be restored immediately back to his office. The UN general assembly passed a resolution that called for the �immediate and unconditional� return of Manuel Zelaya to the presidency.


The OAS has given an ultimatum to the putschists to abdicate or face sanctions and expulsion from the group. There are reports coming in from Honduras of the civil unrest spreading. Some Latin American news outlets have reported that sections of the army have raised the banner of revolt against the cabal of officers who led the coup against a democratically elected president.