People's Democracy

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


No. 52

December 27, 2009

Honduras: US Legtimises Coup


Yohannan Chemarapally


THE victory of the right wing candidate preferred by the oligarchy and the military, Porfirio �Pepe� Lobo, in the elections held on November 29 did not come as a surprise. A majority of the people had abstained from voting, heeding the calls by the democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya, trade unions and civil rights groups to boycott the polls held under the barrel of the gun. The Obama administration was, however, quick to give the elections the stamp of legitimacy. After the June 28 military coup, Washington had, after initially hesitating, reluctantly added its voice to the international condemnation that followed. With the other members of the Organisation of American States (OAS), the Obama administration had demanded the restoration of Zelaya to the presidency. But in the last few months, it was clear that Washington had started backtracking on its commitment to restore democracy and the rule of law in the Central American nation.




The isolated military backed Honduran government could not have survived long without the tacit support from Washington. The US has the largest military base in Latin America in the country. The Honduran army is trained and armed by the US. The country�s economy is almost totally dependent on the largesse from Washington. Despite the inherent illegitimacy of the electoral exercise, the Obama administration hailed the results as a �very important step forward for Honduras� and the �legitimate way out� of the crisis that engulfed the country after the military coup.

The US assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, said that the election was �consistent with the constitutional mandate to elect the president.� The US also sent election observers, under the auspices of International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, showing the bipartisan support the coup makers had come to enjoy in Washington. Both the organisations are supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The NED was an enthusiastic backer of the 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela and the �colour revolutions� in Eastern Europe.

In the five months that have elapsed after the ouster of Zelaya, Washington went through the motions of negotiating an agreement between Zelaya and the military backed government. The first one was the San Jose accord which the military backed government failed to implement. The accord, mediated by the Costa Rican president, Oscar Aria, was to have restored Zelaya as a �figurehead� president. The deal also included an agreement by Zelaya that he would not tamper with the constitution. It was Zelaya�s decision to hold a �consultative non-binding plebiscite� on the constitution that led to his ouster. The constitution itself is a legacy of the American backed military dictatorship which left office in 1983.

Then came the �Tegucigalpa agreement� which called for the formation of a government of �national unity and reconciliation.� After initially pretending to be flexible, the military backed government has now refused Zelaya the dignity of serving out the remainder of his term which was to formally end in February 2010. The Honduran parliament, in the first week of December, voted to deny Zelaya the opportunity to serve out the rest of his term. As part of the earlier US sponsored deal, the Honduran parliament was supposed to reinstate Zelaya in exchange for international recognition of the November 28 election. The latest move by the anti-Zelaya forces will only result in the hardening of international opinion against the new government which will be taking over in February.




Zelaya, who had courageously returned to the country in October, remains holed up in the Brazilian embassy in the capital, Tegucigalpa, where he had taken refuge. Zelaya had called for a boycott of the elections. He remains defiant, saying that he will stay on within the confines of the Brazilian embassy until �the dictatorship is defeated.� Zelaya told the media that according to information gathered by his supporters from polling stations, two thirds of the registered voters boycotted the elections making the exercise a farce.

The election was held under the shadow of the gun. Since the coup, the military has been riding roughshod over trade union groups and poor neighbourhoods, which constitute the main support base of Zelaya. On election day, 40,000 troops were mobilised to intimidate the electorate. Rallies protesting against the lections were brutally broken up. In many places, people were forcibly made to cast their votes. The Honduran Election Commission claimed that more than 65 per cent of the population cast their votes. In the last presidential elections, when comparative peace prevailed, only 55 per cent had turned out to vote.

The so-called �fair and free elections� were held under the supervision of the military which had control over the ballot boxes and the computers which tabulated the results. The leading opposition candidate, Carlos H Reyes, withdrew in protest. Hundreds of candidates who were concurrently running for Congress and municipal offices also withdrew, questioning the fairness of the elections. The three main trade unions along with human rights organisations and women�s groups united under the umbrella grouping --- the National Front against the Coup d�Etat, which characterised the elections as fraudulent. The military backed government had told citizens that not voting would be considered an illegal act. The two presidential candidates who remained in the fray had both supported the military coup.

Washington�s decision to recognise the legitimacy of the elections has emboldened the right wing Honduran political establishment. The �victor� of the November election, Porfirio Lobo pronounced that the military coup and the derailment of democracy are things of the past. �Zelaya is just part of the past, it is over,� he told reporters after his victory. Zelaya had defeated Lobo in the presidential elections held four years ago.




It will, however, be difficult for the country to re-enter the Latin American mainstream that easily under the present dispensation. The �Rio Group,� a 25 member organisation comprising of the entire Latin American nations, issued a statement in early November, declaring that it will not recognise the elections of November 28, if President Zelaya is not first restored to office.

The leaders assembled at the Ibero-American summit in Portugal in the last week of November were also quick to criticise the attempts to legitimise the military coup. They issued a statement demanding the �reinstatement of President Manuel Zelaya to the position that he was democratically elected for.� The statement said that this was �a fundamental step� required for the return of constitutional normality. The Brazilian president, Lula da Silva, said through his spokesman that the election was �an attempt to whitewash the coup.� The US government had been very critical about Brazil�s decision to give refuge to Zelaya in its embassy in Tegucigalpa. Brazil, which has emerged as the regional superpower, has taken a leadership role in Latin America to the consternation of US policymakers who still like to consider Latin America as their political backyard.

But Washington�s close allies in the region, like Colombia, Peru, Panama and Costa Rica, welcomed the elections and have indicated that they would follow the Obama administration�s lead in recognising Lobo as the next president of Honduras. But the majority of Latin American nations remain steadfast in their rejection of the sham election. As President Lula said: �It�s not possible to accept a coup, whether it�s a military coup or dressed up as a civilian coup.� President Obama�s endorsement of the election after his initial criticism of the coup has been a further cause of disappointment for many of his supporters. Obama had said in July that �it would be a bad precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeking military coups as a means of political transition, rather than democratic elections.�

At the OAS summit held earlier this year, Obama had told his fellow Latin American and Caribbean heads of state that the US seeks �a new chapter of engagement� with the region. The US state department had also issued statement after the coup that the US �would not be able to support� the outcome of an election� because they would not be �fair, free and transparent.� But the Obama administration under pressure mainly from the Republican right wing abruptly changed tack and granted legitimacy to the elections and the military backed government. The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, had warned against trusting Washington on the issue of restoring democracy in Honduras from the very outset. Zelaya made the mistake of trusting Washington to be an honest broker and is now paying the price for his political naivety.