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Honduras: A Defining Moment – The West Discredited

Honduras : A Defining Moment – The West Discredited, ALBA Vindicated

by toni solo, July 5th 2009

The coup in Honduras has made it clearer than ever that rich country corporate media and their regional media partners deliberately misinform and disinform.

Over the last year, events like the municipal elections in Nicaragua, Israel's genocidal war on Gaza, the elections in Lebanon and in Iran have all demonstrated the deep-rooted cynicism and hypocrisy of Western Bloc governments and of the corporate media so resolutely at their service.

That cynicism and hypocrisy is steadily tainting progressive media too. On Nicaragua, Iran, Gaza and Honduras progressive coverage and debate tends to be framed heavily in terms defined by the mainstream corporate media. Solidarity with Hamas and Hizbollah, for example, or with the FSLN in Nicaragua is generally looked at askance. Few independent voices get to be heard. Those that do, struggle against the vast background noise of a media agenda defined essentially by Western Bloc governments, most importantly that of the United States.

Limited coverage of what has been happening in Honduras has appeared in English. Mostly relating to events around the coup on June 28th with scrappy bits and pieces of context. Little has been published in relation to the events of the week as they affect the tens of thousands of people protesting against the coup d'etat. Both adequate context and accurate-as-possible up to date information are necessary to get a good idea of what the coup in Honduras means.

General background

The defining factor in the history of Honduras through the 20th century was its decisive subordination to the economic and political interests of the United States. Sam Zemurray of the Cuyamel Fruit Company famously declared that it was cheaper to buy a parliamentary deputy in Honduras than a mule. That venality and corruption in the Honduran political system facilitated the domination of US corporate and strategic interests. The current coup d'etat offers a grim reprise of that history.

As in the rest of Central America, the natural resources of Honduras - its land, its metals, its timber – were plundered ruthlessly by US companies together with their local Honduran allies in the country's land owning and business oligarchy. Just prior to the 1954 CIA coup against the reformist government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, a mass strike in Honduras mobilized industrial and rural workers throughout the country to demand better terms and conditions of employment.

The strike was successful and lead to significant advances in social legislation, especially labor legislation. Women got the right to vote in 1955. Those advances eventually provoked consternation among the country's oligarchy and armed forces.

In 1963, the army lead a coup against the centrist President Ramon Villeda Morales, accusing him of leading the country into communism. The resulting government was recognized by President Lyndon Johnson. From that coup through the 1960s and 1970s, Honduras took its lead on every important regional issue in accordance with the exigencies of the US government's regional policy.

In the 1980s, with John Negroponte as the US proconsul in the country's capital Tegucigalpa, ably abetted by current US ambassador to Managua, Robert Callahan, Honduras was run as a police State under the fanatical control of General Alvarez Martinez. Amnesty International's report for the period was entitled “Civilian Authority: Military Power”. Hundreds of people suffered forced disappearance. Torture was routine. Forced recruitment by the army was habitual. Honduras became a base for the corrupt narcotics-linked counterrevolutionary terror war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

Less extreme senior officers in the Honduran army reacted against Alvarez Martinez and forced him into exile in 1984. The repression eased somewhat, with fewer murders and disappearances. But torture and forced recruitment remained constant features of the country's security policy. Likewise, virtually unconditional support continued for the US government's terror war against Nicaragua.

After the 1990 election in Nicaragua, and through the subsequent decade, national politics in Honduras tended to turn around issues of poverty reduction, economic progress and social problems, especially crime. The government of the relatively progressive Carlos Roberto Reina enabled a re-examination of the period of the dirty war under Alvarez Martinez. But neither under Reina nor under the subsequent governments of Carlos Flores Facussé or Ricardo Maduro did government policy seriously address the country's deep social and economic problems.

Manuel Zelaya served in the governments of both Carlos Reina and Flores Facussé. Under Flores Facussé, he coordinated reconstruction following the devastating Hurricane Mitch. He has a solid understanding of the deep structural problems that keep most of the country's population in poverty. Apart from those deep structural issues perhaps the most dramatic social problem in Honduras is the gang phenomenon which has reached intractable proportions over the last decade.

The government of Manuel Zelaya

Manuel Zelaya took office as President in January 2006. Immediately, and surprisingly, he managed to push through the reactionary legislature – the Congreso Nacional – the Law of Citizens' Participation. From the start, he regarded efforts towards active consultation and participation of ordinary Hondurans in the decisions that affected their lives as a fundamental tool necessary to implement his programme. As regards poverty reduction, he and his colleagues became increasingly frustrated at the lack of support in terms of resources from the international structures of aid and development.

Despite being a beneficiary of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative and other debt relief measures, wiping out around US$4 billion of onerous foreign debt, Zelaya felt rightly that progress on poverty reduction in Honduras was unacceptably slow. When he sought cooperation from the rich countries, their response was either tepid or negative. For example, here's a State Department press release on a meeting President Bush held with Manuel Zelaya back in September 2006, only a few months after Zelaya had taken office.

"Zelaya and Bush also discussed the energy situation in Honduras. Honduras is one of the Western Hemisphere nations most dependent on imported oil, including oil to generate electricity, (Dan) Fisk said. "This is something of great concern to President Zelaya and Hondurans," he explained, "President Zelaya wanted to give the President a brief on his thinking on how to proceed on this and to offer (President Zelaya's) proposal to create a mechanism to try to lower energy costs." The White House official said that Bush's response to the Honduran leader stressed the importance of relying on market mechanisms and of limits on government interference. Bush also reaffirmed his strong interest in considering alternative sources of fuel and energy, discussed ethanol and other fuel alternatives, and encouraged Central Americans to explore how sugar cane can be converted into ethanol.”

Put briefly, Zelaya asked Bush for help with his energy problems and Bush offered him nothing. That disappointment for Zelaya occurred at a time when, from 2006 into 2007, he found himself taking on foreign oil companies and their local allies who operated unfair practices distorting fuel prices in Honduras. That long drawn out episode lead to sharp exchanges with the US ambassador – a sign of awkward relations that have cooled progressively ever since. Also in 2007, President Zelaya's government opened up diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in over 40 years.

Zelaya's efforts to lower fuel prices eventually lead him to join the Venezuelan and Cuban inspired energy security initiative, Petrocaribe, in December 2007. Later, ever more concerned to secure access to resources for rural and agricultural development, literacy and health care as well as resources to promote energy and food security, Zelaya decided to join ALBA – the Venezuelan and Cuban led Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas. Honduras joined ALBA in July 2008.

That move confirmed to the United States government and its local allies in the Honduran landowning and business oligarchy that Zelaya and his colleagues were determined to break out of the country's traditional dependence on and submission to the United States in the matter of foreign policy. Zelaya had already bitterly criticized the United States for its immigration policy towards Central American migrants. He had also broached the idea of using the Palmerola-Soto Cano US air base near Comayagua as the main international airport for Honduras.

He was also a fervent support of Central American integration with a view to creating a stronger voice for the region in international affairs. However, it is easy to forget that at the same time Zelaya had been in talks with Guatemala and Mexico about how to develop the Plan Puebla Panama Initiative. Along with Tony Saca of El Salvador and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Zelaya enthusiastically promoted the various initiatives of the CA-4 group in the Central American Integration System, such as lifting migration controls and easing customs formalities.

While Zelaya alienated the traditional overseers of his country's destiny in the United States, he also antagonized powerful domestic interests. In May 2007, he forced 10 radio and television stations to broadcast for a period ten days daily bulletins informing the population of government programmes and activities on behalf of the impoverished majority. Later, towards the end of 2007, Zelaya's government made clear they intended to increase the country's minimum wage. This measure was fiercely criticized and resisted by the country's employers' organizations.

At the end of 2008, Zelaya increased the minimum wage for large sectors of the Honduran work force from an average of around US$180 to US$289 (5,500 lempiras) in urban areas and US$213 (4055 lempiras) in rural areas. The cost of the basic basket of food in Honduras then was US$325 (6200 lempiras) Zelaya said to employers, “you can employ someone but you cannot tell them they can only eat twice a day. It cannot be like that. It cannot be permitted that people get hired at a cost less than that necessary to be able to eat.”

The period up to the crisis of June 24th-28th 2009

For all those reasons and more, the political establishment in Honduras, dominated by business and landowning interests irremediably submissive to the country's traditional alliance with and dependence on the United States worked to undermine President Zelaya. Zelaya has been criticized, perhaps accurately, for having tended to abandon the essential networking necessary to sustain his grass roots support in the Liberal Party political machine. While Zelaya was distracted by wider problems, mediocre opportunists like the leader of the current coup, Roberto Micheletti, dedicated themselves to shoving supporters of Zelaya to the margins inside the Liberal Party.

Much coverage of Manuel Zelaya describes him as “leftist”. The uselessness of that label, and the foolish “pink tide” cliché analysis that tends to accompany it, is self-evident from the facts. Zelaya is an old style Liberal Party politician, albeit from one of its more progressive currents. As such, he benefited from the party machine and used it to become President. His progressive brand of nationalism emphasizes the need for regional unity and integration across political boundaries. That emphasis he has shared with politicians as diverse as the right wing former Salvadoran President, Tony Saca, as well as with Daniel Ortega and middle-of-the-road President Alvaro Colom of Guatemala.

The immediate pretext of the coup was Zelaya's attempt to hold a consultative vote on whether or not to propose to the Honduran electorate in the November 2009 national elections the possibility of a Constituent Assembly. That process was based on the very same Law of Citizen's Participation passed by the Congreso Nacional early in 2006. Zelaya's government received nearly 500,000 petitions requesting to be consulted on the possibility of establishing a Constituent Assembly to review the country's constitution.

Events immediately prior to the coup

Leaders of the opposition to Zelaya immediately distorted the president's consultative initiative, mendaciously claiming that he sought re-election. That claim was taken up and amplified by the international corporate media. As progress continued towards the consultative vote, scheduled for Sunday June 28th, the opposition to Zelaya intensified in the powers of State controlled by the country's oligarchy – the legislature and the Supreme Court. A lower circuit court ruled that the consultative vote was illegal – thereby encroaching directly and unconstitutionally on the powers of the Executive.

The generals of the armed forces used that ruling to justify their refusal to obey a Presidential order to distribute the ballot boxes and ballot papers necessary for the consultative vote. In the face of that constitutional crisis, President Zelaya lead a demonstration of over 1000 people to the airbase where the voting materials had been confiscated. As Commander-in-Chief of the Honduran armed forces, Zelaya ordered the base commander to hand over the materials. The officer obeyed. The materials were then distributed to 15000 voting places throughout he country by organizations of all kinds, including community development NGOS, trades unions and church groups – all the organizations that supported the consultative vote.

Zelaya announced that he would dismiss the head of the military high command. In response, the Supreme Court ruled, even before the formal letter of dismissal had been presented and in complete contradiction of the country's constitution, that the dismissal of that officer was unconstitutional. That moment defined the complicity of the two powers of State – the judiciary and the legislature - in a completely illegal technical coup.

All that was necessary from that point on to complete a full coup d'etat was for the armed forces to strike. They did so in the dawn of Sunday June 28th, acting, in clear violation of the constitution, under the orders of the political and judicial powers. In the Congreso Nacional, at noon on that day, Roberto Micheletti read out a forged letter of resignation from Manuel Zelaya.

The legislators used that farce as the basis for a comic operetta vote confirming him as President until the end of Manuel Zelaya's term. But the basis of the coup government is the complicity of the armed forces who forcibly abducted and expelled the legitimate President Manuel Zelaya. By doing so the coup plotters violated fundamental articles of the Honduran constitution which in its first few articles explicitly condemns and excludes the use of armed force to take power:

“Article 3.- No one owes obedience to a usurper government nor to those who assume public office or functions by armed force or using ways and procedures that violate or ignore what this Constitution and the laws establish. The actions validated by such authorities are null. The people has the right to take recourse to insurrection in defence of the constitutional order.”

The coup and its sequel to date

Now, because the country is under a State of Siege with fierce repression of news media loyal to President Zelaya, it is almost impossible to get anything like a complete picture or detailed account of what is happening nationally. Still numerous local sources of information confirm many things that merit reporting are:

- the illegal armed assault on President Zelaya's house, his abduction and forced expulsion to Costa Rica

- the illegal armed assault on Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas, and on the Venezuelan, Cuban and Nicaraguan ambassadors who attempted to physically protect her – the abduction of Rodas and her subsequent expulsion to Mexico

- the suspension of fundamental liberties by the coup regime affecting the rights to due process, habeas corpus, freedom of association and freedom of expression

- the imposition of a State of Siege throughout the country with an evening to dawn curfew

- reliable reports of hundreds of detentions across the whole country with some people disappeared

- reliable reports of hundreds of people injured in constant protest demonstrations around the country especially in the main cities San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and La Ceiba

- at least two deaths at the hands of the security forces

- the militarization of local municipal offices in towns with mayors loyal to President Zelaya, like Sonaguera in the department of Atlantida

- illegal persecution of those mayors loyal to President Zelaya, for example in San Pedro Sula and in Tocoa

- widespread forced recruitment of youths by the army in rural communities and in marginal urban barrios, including children as young as 10 years old

- forced displacement of families regarded as supporters of Manuel Zelaya in rural areas in the department of Atlantida

- machine gunning of vehicles carrying protesters so as to terrorize the occupants and render the vehicles unusable

- persistent suppression of news media opposed to the coup

- the national teachers' strike affecting all schools in Tegucigalpa's public education system

- intimidation of employees and students to make them take part in pro-government demonstrations

- persecution of members of the government of Manuel Zelaya still in Honduras

- persecution of up to 100 Nicaraguans in Honduras on the pretext that they are in the country to subvert the government

Media coverage

Foreign news media have not reported these events and their context either accurately or fairly. Among other inaccuracies, one especially pernicious has been the lie that Zelaya sought re-election. This lie was constantly repeated. A tiny handful of writers have worked to try and give a true and fair view of events in Honduras over the last week.

If it had not been for the Venezuelan news channel Telesur, a great deal of what has been reported would simply never have reached as wide a global audience as has in fact been achieved. The role of the main North American and European news media has been uniformly deplorable. The comparison with what happened in Iran is dramatically telling. The double standard is obvious. Human rights violations and alleged wrongdoing and by US enemies are magnified. Those by regional US allies are minimized.

One can say unequivocally now that the foreign news coverage by corporate media of the Western countries overwhelmingly serves the foreign policy agendas of their governments. But the main sites of the progressive and alternative Western media have also been extremely disappointing. Even when they have published accurate accounts and fact-based analysis, with very few exceptions these have stuck to the mainstream corporate media framework, providing little context, tending to understate the global significance of the events occurring in Honduras and often equivocal about the role of President Obama and his functionaries.

One can also say that the progressive or alternative media in those countries are steadily rendering themselves largely irrelevant. Perhaps it has always been like that. They often falsely legitimize the mainstream view, as in the case of the municipal elections in Nicaragua in 2008 and the national elections in Iran this year. Fact-based analysis that contradicts their consensus view is often censored and excluded in just the same way as takes place in the corporate mainstream media. That was certainly the case in their coverage of that electoral crisis in Nicaragua.

But the essential point about almost all the media coverage seems to be that very very few outlets clearly explained the reason for the proposed consultative vote. Consequently, they were unable to explain convincingly the reason for he coup. This nitty gritty of the story tended to get lost in often tendentious comment. Another telling point is that these supposedly alternative media almost uniformly failed to give their readers a list of news sources - either in English or Spanish - from which to get information about what was happening – a good indication of their general narcissism.

Just to recap, the reason for the consultative vote, at the request of almost 500,000 petitions, was to suggest the possibility of a constituent assembly under the government to be elected on November 29th, so as to be able to discuss a more participative way of involving the people of Honduras in decision taking. The business and landowning elite in the country dreaded an affirmative result from the vote for that proposal. They, like their patrons in the US government, fear and reject change That is why they staged the coup.

The role of the United States

The historical role of the United States in Honduras has always been a reactionary one. President Franklin D. Roosevelt supported the military dictator General Carias Andino all through the 1930s. The US government supported the Honduran government's attempts to crush the great workers strike of 1954. We seem now to be reverting to Roosevelt's “Good Neighbour” policy. The coup has been frowned on by President Obama, but little has been done to squash it. The US government seems unable to shake its recidivist historical affinity to corporate-friendly repressive regimes.

The US government supported the military coup of 1963 against the moderate reformist President Ramon Villeda Morales. In the 1980s, the US authorities virtually imposed the National Security State regime, dominated by General of Alvarez Martinez. US ambassador John Negroponte oversaw the dirty war Alvarez Martinez imposed on the Honduran people between 1982 and 1984. Subsequently the US government and its representatives in the World Bank and the IMF imposed the grotesquely unjust arrangements of the Washington Consensus on Honduras.

The extremely limp condemnation by Obama administration officials, by President Obama himself and by Secretary of State Clinton is very clearly geared to waste time and promote spurious “dialogue”. It was clear from day one of the coup that the US hopes to be able to recognize the new government that will result from the presidential elections scheduled for November 29th this year. The United States has not initiated any diplomatic initiative to condemn the coup. It is Latin American countries that have made the running.

The US has tagged grudgingly along. While other countries have withdrawn their ambassadors – even the consummately hypocritical Europeans felt compelled to do so – the United States has not. Other measures have been taken – like the alleged suspension of military cooperation or the announced suspension of funding from the IMF and the World Bank which presumably required the OK of the US Treasury. But these moves will do little to affect the usurper regime in the short term and will almost certainly be reversed once a newly elected President takes power in just a few months.

So in practice the US government has done little - and that in the most unconvincing way - to move against and reverse the coup in Honduras. Obama administration officials readily acknowledge US government functionaries consulted with the individuals plotting the coup – supposedly trying to dissuade them. Such disinformation is impossible to take seriously. The more so since what has not been heard is a clear statement that the US government will not recognize any government resulting from this rupture of the constitutional order in Honduras. That is a fundamental principle on which Latin American governments are insisting

The Bolivarian Alliance of the peoples of the Americas

In that regard, the role of the ALBA governments in the international political and diplomatic sphere has been as decisive as the integral corresponding role played by Telesur in the media sphere. The Bolivarian Alliance of the peoples of the Americas now includes Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Venezuela. They form an economic trade and cooperation bloc of over 76 million people.

Petrocaribe, a regional food security and energy security cooperation framework that is a subsidiary project of the wider ALBA initiative includes, Antigua and Barbuda,the Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, San Vicente and the Grenadines, Suriname, Venezuela. The total population of the coutnries in the Petrocaribe framework is over 90 million.

The right-wing writer of the relevant Wikipedia entry disparages the results of Petrocaribe. That disgracefully skewed Wikipedia account omits the very important food security initiatives implemented since May 2008 and fails to acknowledge efforts within the Petrocaribe scheme to promote the use of renewable fuels. The reason countries like Guatemala, Honduras and soon Costa Rica have been anxious to join Petrocaribe is that it dramatically improves their public sector cash flow and frees up tens of millions of dollars for development purposes.

So when US government officials and their media shills falsely allege that Venezuela is destabilizing the region the absurdity is obvious. If Venezuela is destabilizing the region why have 18 countries in the region joined Petrocaribe and why have 9 countries in the region joined ALBA? Overall, 20 countries are members of those two organizations with a combined population of over 114 million people. Those countries have every kind of government. In fact the majority of those governments might be well described as centrist.

ALBA represents the future – a future based on solidarity and cooperation rather than rivalry and competition. So the ALBA model is a direct and unanswerable challenge to the failed system of corporate capitalism. That system now cannot even guarantee people in a country like the United States access to adequate health care and education.

One of its wealthiest states, California, is effectively bankrupt, implementing vicious cuts in public services. While ALBA and Petrocaribe free up hundreds of millions of dollars for investment throughout Central America, the Caribbean and its Andean members. So ALBA makes the neocolonial debt and aid model look as fake and obsolete as that model in fact is.

Faced with that implacable reality, it seems the United States government and its regional allies have now resorted to the methods deployed in Venezuela in 2002, in Haiti in 2004, in Bolivia last year. Faced with a new electoral round throughout Latin America over the next couple of years, they are recreating the ambience of terror, of fear, of sinister cynicism and hypocrisy that has always characterized US government policy in Latin America.

So far the Honduran coup d'etat has shown up more clearly than ever the irremediable cynicism of the United States government and the thorough mendacity of Western corporate media. It has also indicated the virtual irrelevance of Western alternative media and emphasized the tenuous validity of international human rights structures. On the other hand it has demonstrated the dramatic urgency and importance of supporting in every possible way the positions of the ALBA country governments who are the only ones with the experience, dynamism, creativity and imagination to define a successful strategy to defeat the developing neocolonial offensive.

One crucial position advanced by the ALBA bloc of countries is that they will refuse to recognize any government resulting from the current rupture of constitutional continuity in Honduras. The United States government must have thought that neither Manuel Zelaya nor the popular movement in Honduras would resist the coup so categorically and with such bravery and fortitude. If they thought that, they have been proved profoundly mistaken.

Now the likely US strategy of delaying tactics has been shredded by Zelaya, by the Honduran people and, crucially, by the ALBA countries forcing the hand of the Organization of American States. A vital ally has been UN General Secretary Miguel D'Escoto. A scheduled meeting early this week between President Manuel Zelaya and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may well reveal the extent and nature of any commitment to genuine democracy on the part of President Obama and his administration.

Todays events when peaceful demonstrators were fired on by Honduran Army Special Forces at Tegucigalpa's international airport may well dramatically polarize the situation. Two protestors were killed, several were badly wounded. The corporate media are reporting that the protestors died in “clashes”. There were no clashes. Watching the protest live on Telesur one could see that the protestors were behind the airport's perimeter fence waiting for the arrival of Manuel Zelaya.

They were mercilessly cut down by the cold blooded murderers the coup have mobilized to terrorize the Honduran people into submission. But unless the coup regime concedes power to Manuel Zelaya again, the country may well be only a couple of army murders away from outright armed conflict. Perhaps the coup leaders have forgotten that almost every adult male in Honduras in their 30s and 40s will have done two years military service. They can pull the trigger too.


toni solo is an activist based in Central America - contact via

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