Latin America’s second political and military coup d’état of the 21st century took place in the small and largely invisible ‘Banana Republic’ of Honduras in June 2009.
The coup was a direct result of efforts by de facto local powers to topple President Manuel Zelaya’s democratically elected government. These local powers comprise the country’s traditional political and economic elites and their ideological proponents in the judiciary, church and national media. There is undoubtedly an international component too; Honduras is a critical strategic ally of the United States and home to one of the largest US military bases in the hemisphere. Indeed, it is impossible that this coup could have happened without the prior knowledge of the US government.
All these main forces have strong economic and political ties; sharing a common interest in Honduras’s major economic sectors (banana, tobacco, mining and biofuels) and a common enemy in Honduras’s poor majority. This political alliance has also forged its own discourse about the coup, one that emphasises its legality, as well as the democratic credentials of the coup perpetrators.
Nevertheless, this alliance faces serious resistance from within Honduras. Social and popular movements, including environmentalists, human rights defenders, writers, artists, church communities, feminists, lesbians, gays, and even some fractions of the Liberal Party, have formed the ‘National Resistance Front against the Coup’. This resistance movement also includes Madre Tierra / Friends of the Earth Honduras, the organisation that I chair.
For non-governmental organisations like Madre Tierra, the coup represents the consolidation of historical exploitation – led by the country’s long-standing oligarchy that controls approximately 80 per cent of Honduran wealth – and a worsening of the situation for the poorest and most vulnerable people in Honduras. This ongoing plunder includes expelling impoverished peasants, settlers and indigenous peoples from their lands and polluting land and water; all actions that constitute the flagrant violation of individual, collective and environmental rights.
As a result of the coup, Madre Tierra has received the national and international support and solidarity from other social movements, especially their sister organisations in Friends of the Earth International and Friends of the Earth Latin America, Via Campesina, and Food Sovereignty and Agrarian Reform (SARA). For many of these organisations, the coup brings back the phantom of the 1980s dictatorial regimes of Latin America, and gives the green light to similar anti-democratic practices in the region – again putting at risk the most vulnerable people of Latin America.
To avoid that, the resistance movement is working to recognise the electoral process, which will only come with the return of the ousted president, constitutional order and the unconditional respect for human rights in the country. Additionally, it calls for a Constituent Assembly to revise the Honduran constitution through the participation of social actors that truly represent the Honduran people and their interests.
The main principle of the National Resistance Front against the Coup is the principle of non-violence. On the other side, the coup’s supporters systematically use persecution, torture, arbitrary detentions, murder of social leaders and violence against the civilian population.
Yet despite this widespread resistance, the fate of Honduras largely rests on developments outside the country. The entire international community, including the Organisation of American States (OAS), the United Nations and numerous international human rights organisations, has condemned the coup but the US has taken almost two months to take any significant measures to pressure the de facto regime. Even contradicting its own legislation, which under a coup d’état compels the country to suspend diplomatic, economic, and military relations.
On the role of the US, some questions need to be posed: why has Washington contributed to prolong the new, illegal regime? Why have the negotiations been transferred from an international organisation to Rica Oscar Arias, the president of Costa Rica, under Hilary Clinton’s instructions, regardless of the unanimous decision against the coup from the OAS and US?
Who authorised those decisions and what kind of legal power does Hilary Clinton have? Why is the United Nations, which condemned the coup d’état, helping the de facto regime in the forthcoming electoral process? Is it ethical to legitimate an electoral process that is being implemented by the new, illegal regime?
The only way to resolve the current situation in Honduras is to restore full constitutional order – including the return of President Zelaya. Our people want peace and justice and our hope is to mobilise people to support non-violent actions. We hope to end the business of war, the hunger and poverty, which come as consequence of a structural and hegemonic violence.
Juan Almendares is the director of Madre Tierra / Friends of the Earth Honduras and a well-known doctor. He is a human rights defender and a torture survivor who believes that social and economic injustices are strongly related to the exploitation of Mother Earth.
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