Sunday’s overthrow of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya has vividly raised the spectre of Latin America’s dark history: coups d’état and brutal military dictatorships. But in a break with the past, the region is speaking in unison – condemning the new dictatorship and calling for Zelaya to be reinstated as president. And significantly, the US government has joined its southern neighbours in rejecting the new dictatorship and recognising Zelaya as Honduras’ only legitimate president.
Regional bodies such as the OAS, the Rio Group, ALBA, Mercosur and UNASUR have also called for the restoration of the constitutionally elected president. Furthermore, Zelaya has received the support of the Inter American Human Rights Commission, and been invited to address the UN General Assembly ‘as soon as possible’ by its President, Miguel D’Escoto. After this address, Zelaya plans to return to Honduras, accompanied by Jose Miguel Insulza, the Secretary General of the OAS, and possibly other regional heads of state, with the aim of being reinstated as president.
The story behind the coup
Honduras is a deeply unequal country, with the richest 10 per cent of the population taking home 43.7 per cent of the national income. In contrast, the poorest 30 per cent take just 7.4 per cent, and just under 40 per cent of the population live in poverty (defined as earning less than double the cost of the basic food basket). Only 4.7 per cent of Hondurans have access to the internet, which might go some way to explaining the social background of Honduran coup cheerleaders on English-language websites such as the BBC.
Since coming to power in 2006 president Zelaya has gradually moved to the left, and at the time of the coup was taking steps to address Honduras’ gross levels of inequality. Predictably, these moves earned him the enmity of much of congress, whose ties to the country’s traditional elites run deep. Zelaya also angered these elites by pursuing a leftist foreign policy, joining the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an alternative regional trade group composed of nine left-leaning Latin American and Caribbean countries. The arrival of Cuban doctors to provide healthcare to the poorest sectors of Honduran society was met with particular hostility by Zelaya’s opponents.
Honduras’ leftward turn also undoubtedly caused significant discomfort among some in Washington, especially at a time when much of Latin America has seemed to move beyond the reach of US political influence.
The catalyst for the assault on the presidential home by the Honduran armed forces, and the subsequent detention and expulsion of the president from the country was the non-binding consultative poll that was due to take place on Sunday (28 June) on whether a referendum ought to be held on the convocation of a constituent assembly, alongside the presidential election ballot in November 2010 (when Zelaya’s term ends). In other words, the coup was sparked by a non-binding vote intended to consult Hondurans on whether or not they wanted to be asked about a constitutional reform, and not because Zelaya wished to extend his term indefinitely, as has been widely reported in the mainstream international media.
This last point is one of several lies and misleading statements issued by the new dictatorship, which have been amply covered uncritically in the mainstream media. Another key one is that the coup is in fact a ‘constitutional transfer of power’. This requires a bizarre leap in logic if we consider the facts of Zelaya’s overthrow: the president’s home was assaulted by the military; after 15 minutes of combat the president himself was kidnapped and bundled into a military aircraft in his pyjamas and flown into exile; his ministers were detained and beaten, alongside the ambassadors of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
While Honduras’ new and illegally installed ‘president’, Roberto Micheletti (the former leader of congress), has declared that ’80 or 90 per cent of the population support what happened today’, this is highly doubtful given the imposition of a curfew, the ongoing street demonstrations by Zelaya’s supporters, road blockades in the west of the country, and the general strike called for by social organisations and the trade union movement. However, as is the norm with coups against progressive leaders in Latin America, Micheletti has received expressions of support from the country’s business sector.
Role of the US
What remains to be seen is whether the Honduran military will be prepared to shed the blood of its people to protect an illegal government with no visible international backing.
And here, as is also the norm with coups against progressive governments in Latin America, the words and actions of the US government, closely watched as ever, will be decisive. While the Obama administration has joined Latin America’s governments in condemning the coup, the US precise role in the days running up to the coup still remains unclear.
While there is little direct evidence of US interference in Honduras’ coup, Eva Golinger has indicated certain similarities between the US-supported coup that briefly removed Hugo Chavez from power in Venezuela in 2002, and the current situation in Honduras. Golinger points out that a New York Times article states that the US government was working for ‘several days’ with the Honduran coup planners in order to ‘prevent’ the coup. Given that around 70 per cent of Honduras’ trade is with the US, its army is heavily backed by Washington, and the Pentagon maintains a military base in the country, equipped with approximately 500 troops and numerous air force combat planes and helicopters, it would seem naïve not to believe that if the US government had expressed their firm opposition to the coup, it would never have occurred. Furthermore, the US track record of undermining and supporting and participating in the overthrow of democratically elected government in Latin America cannot be overlooked.
Regardless of the extent of US involvement in, or support for the coup, the US position in the next couple of days will go a long way to determining whether its already precarious relationship with much of Latin America will deteriorate. The US has several options here: it can send a representative to accompany president Zelaya back to Honduras on Thursday, and it can threaten military, economic and political sanctions, all of which would have a strong effect on the usurpers of power in Tegucigalpa.
If Obama’s government wants to send a powerful message about the sincerity behind the US rhetoric on liberty, democracy, and respect for the rule of law, it needs to accompany words with actions, and use its considerable influence in Honduras to actively support the reinstatement of Manuel Zelaya as the country’s legitimate president.
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself