Honduras: A coup with no future

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 says Victor Figueroa-Clark and Pablo Navarrete

July 2, 2009
6 min read


Pablo NavarretePablo Navarrete is a British-Chilean journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is the founder of www.alborada.net and a correspondent for the Latin America Bureau (LAB)

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.


Pablo NavarretePablo Navarrete is a British-Chilean journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is the founder of www.alborada.net and a correspondent for the Latin America Bureau (LAB)


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

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

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

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility