On Sunday 5 July Manuel Zelaya, the President of Honduras who was overthrown in a coup a week earlier, attempted to return to Honduras. The Honduran military blocked the airfield refusing to let him land. The army then started to fire live ammunition at the unarmed men, women and children gathered outside the airport, hoping to welcome Zelaya home. Zelaya was forced to retreat, and is now reduced to appealing to the US government to resolve the situation.
By Hannah Sell, Socialist Party England and Wales
Half of the population of Honduras lives below the poverty line. The official unemployment rate stands at 28%. More than one million of the 7.8 million population have had to emigrate to the US to try and find work.
Manuel Zelaya, a wealthy landowner, was elected as President in 2005 representing the centre-right Liberal Party. Once in power, however, impelled by pressure from below, he implemented a number of reforms to assist the poorest in society, most notably a 60% increase in the minimum wage. Having started as a supporter of US imperialism and the North America Free Trade Agreement he moved towards the left, and last year took Honduras into the regional alliance promoted by Venezuela, the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA). He has also ended the monopoly of the multinational on the importation of fuel through an agreement with Venezuela.
All of these actions enraged the Honduran ruling class. Historically the Honduran ruling class have been completely tied to US imperialism, with a long history of military coups when Presidents even mildly threatened the interests of US capitalism. In the 1980s it was the main base for the reactionary paramilitary, US-backed Contras, that fought to defeat the revolution in Nicaragua.
It was Zelaya’s move to try and change the constitution, which proved the final straw which led to the coup. On the day he was overthrown a non-binding referendum was due to be held to gauge popular support for the formation of a national constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. Had a majority supported the proposal Zelaya had declared that a referendum would be held on the same day as the 29 November elections. The Supreme Court, the right wing dominated Congress, and the military, which is responsible for organising election in Honduras, all opposed the referendum. When Zelaya refused to retreat, they overthrew him.
Supporters of the coup claim that Zelaya’s main motivation was to change the constitution so that he could run for a second term. Zelaya has denied this. It seems clear that the real fear of the Honduran ruling class and state apparatus was that Zelaya, mild as his reforms have been, was threatening their interests and that the call for a Constituent Assembly could, in an echo of Bolivia, raise the hopes of the masses that more fundamental social change is possible.
The coup organisers’ claim that they stood for democracy is blatant hypocrisy. Peaceful pro-Zelaya protesters have been fired at. Some trade union leaders have been arrested. During the five hours of the coup all power was cut so that no media could report what was taking place. Since power resumed most TV stations have just been playing soap operas and cartoons. The few that have reported what is taking place have been ordered to ‘moderate their coverage’ by the military.
The international capitalist powers, including US imperialism, have verbally condemned the coup and are anxious not to be seen as supporting a return to the ‘bad old days’ of military dictatorships in Central and Latin America. However, the US has de-facto accepted the coup, by insisting on keeping relations with the new regime open and up until now, more than a week after the coup, has not met Zelaya. In reality, the position of the majority of the imperialist powers was summed up by an editorial in the Spanish newspaper El Pais which declared, “we reject the coup, but we support its aims.”
Honduras is a warning to all left governments, including Venezuela and Bolivia. As long as capitalism remains in place it’s leading representatives will attempt to reverse any reforms that threaten their interests. As was shown by Pinochet’s bloody coup in Chile in 1973 the representatives of capitalism will be prepared when necessary to use the state, including the army, which ultimately act in the interests of the dominant class in society, in order to brutally defend their system.
In 2002 a ‘Honduran style’ coup was attempted against Chavez in Venezuela. The poor masses of Venezuela rose up and reversed the coup. Zelaya, a politician from a right wing background who has shifted left under pressure, does not have the same popular base as Chavez in 2002. However, the masses of Venuezuela heroically showed the limits of the power of the capitalist and landowning classes, even when backed by US imperialism.
A general strike is now needed in Honduras. Such a movement would also need to make an appeal to the rank-and-file of the army, who are overwhelmingly from poor backgrounds. Other demands that would politically arm the movement would be for the development of a revolutionary constituent assembly to determine the future of the country and for the establishment of a workers’ and peasants government standing for a decisive break with capitalism and the development of a democratically planned socialist economy.