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Honduras: Zelaya and the popular movement

Honduras: Zelaya and the popular movement deepen the war of attrition

by toni solo, July 25th 2009

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Honduran President Manuel Zelaya arrived at the Honduran frontier post of Las Manos on the Nicaraguan border at about 1.00pm on Friday July 24th. His purpose was to try and open a dialogue with Honduran police and army officials in order to try and enter Honduras, reunite with his wife and children and his mother, and attempt to resume his role as the country's elected President. He was accompanied to the border by a throng of international news media who covered his every move at times making it almost impossible for him to proceed.

Shortly after arriving at the no-man's-land between the respective Nicaraguan and Honduran immigration offices, President Zelaya was able to converse with the local army commander, the colonel in charge of theemilitary forces deployed in the area between Las Manos and the nearest Honduran town, El Paraíso, about 15km from the border. It became clear that he ran the risk of immediate detention were he to enter Honduras.

That moment must have been one of great anguish for President Zelaya, kidnapped at gunpoint nearly a month ago and expelled to Costa Rica by the usurper coup regime of General Vasquez and Roberto Micheletti . That regime is rejected as illegitimate by every government in the world. Honduras has been expelled from the Organization of American States. Aid donors like the European Union have suspended hundreds of millions of aid funds. Likewise, for the moment, the World Bank has also suspended loan disbursements to the Honduran coup regime.

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President Zelaya's presence at Las Manos represents the latest stage in what has turned into a war of attrition. On one side are deployed President Zelaya himself, his team of ministers, the governments of the ALBA countries - Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela and three Caribbean island nations - and the growing movement of popular resistance inside Honduras. On the other side are the business elite leaders of the coup regime, totally dependent on the repressive power of the army, the administration of Barack Obama that has refused to accept that the current regime is the result of a coup d'etat, right-wing US Senators like Connie Mack, and Latin America's network of oligarchies represented by leaders like narco-terror Presidentt Alvaro Uribe of Colombia or Nicaraguan opposition politicians like Eduardo Montealegre.

The fundamental reality of the current situation is that President Zelaya needs to keep up as much pressure as he can on the coup regime by mobilizing both international support as well as encouraging or inspiring popular resistance inside Honduras. He has the unconditional support of the ALBA countries which in economic terms means he can keep up the pressure indefinitely. On the other hand the coup regime has to rely on diminishing resources that can only be partly replenished by the reactionary right-wing networks of the Americas coordinating frantically now in this crucial battle of wills for control of a country that is a vital to sustain US imperial domination in the region.

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Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's Foreign Minister said of the situation, President Zelaya "is invested with all the legality, the whole world's moral support to begin his way back to his post as President of Honduras. This is the beginning of that path. It could well be a difficult path, a complicated path. And as he himself has said, President Zelaya wants this to be a peaceful process. He is a man of peace..he has the legitimacy given him by the people of Honduras who have heroically resisted 27 days of struggle in the streets...and it has already been demonstrated now that the power of the Honduran people is not going to be defeated. This is a process that is just beginning."

Inside Honduras

While international opinion seems overwhelmingly favourable to President Zelaya, inside Honduras popular resistance seems to be growing. International corporate media coverage of the crisis has been at best patchy and at worst non-existent. But the crisis is at least as strategically important as the post-election crisis in Iran an popular resistance has been at least if not more widespread than in that country.

Every day for the last two weeks the country's main roads have been blocked for long periods by mass demonstrations. One demonstration blocking the commercially vital road link between the main industrial town, San Pedro Sula, and the country's biggest port, Puerto Cortes, was reported by its organizers to have involved at one time up to 18,000 people. Other vital roads that have been persistently blocked by demonstrations include the four main roads out of the capital Tegucigalpa, the main highway through the vast fruit and palm-oil plantations between La Ceiba and Trujillo and the main highway through the huge agricultural area of the department of Olancho.

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Report by international human rights delegations in Honduras to verify accusations of serious widespread abuses and violations have confirmed a dramatic deterioration in the protection of basic rights throughout the country. Honduras is under a state of emergency with all the normal constitutional guarantees suspended. The number of murders of demonstrators and popular movement activists grew this weekend with the discovery of the badly mutilated body of 23 year old Pedro Magdiel Muñoz Salvador in El Paraíso on the morning of July 25th.

Muñoz Salvador was allegedly arrested by police on the evening of Friday the 24th. His sinister murder adds to those of two popular movement activists in the north of the country and the cold blooded murder of Isis Obed Murillo by an army sniper on July 5th. The obvious interpretation of Muñoz Salvador's murder is as an attempt by the security forces to terrorize his fellow protesters and deter them from continuing to protest so assertively.

The same day of Muñoz Salvador's murder the security forces detained Rafael Alegría, Via Campesina leader and deputy for the left-wing Unificación Democrática political party in the Honduran National Congress. Alegría is a leading member of the Honduran popular movement and a key organizer of the national protests against the coup regime. His detention was confirmed by fellow popular movement leader Dr Juan Almendares to Radio Globo. Radio Globo is now almost the only independent national news media in the country reporting the nationwide protests.

There can be no doubt now that Honduras is in practice a military regime. Confirmation of that view came on Friday morning in an interview on a Radio Globo phone-in when the head of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Honduras, Andres Pavón, made precisely that argument. Pavon explained that when he goes to the local courts to process the various cases he is handling, he finds soldiers patrolling the law courts. Further confirmation of the military character of the coup regime was given by President Manuel Zelaya's Vice-Minister for Health, Dr. Alfonso Diaz Pon.

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Interviewed in Las Manos on July 24th, Dr Pon related his efforts to travel home to Tegucigalpa only to find that the militarization of the highway made it almost impossible for ordinary people to travel freely. He said, "We are in a militarized country. You go out on the street and find military vehicles there. You drive down the highway and you find soldiers searching people. There is a curfew. Constitutional guarantees have been suspended. All the institutions are militarized. You go to Hondutel (the national phone company) and you find soldiers running the administration. You go to the Presidential offices and they are full of soldiers. Freedoms are restricted everywhere in the country."

Despite the strong and apparently growing repression, popular resistance too seems to be growing. The general strike called for last Thursday and Friday virtually shut the country down. The strike call has been renewed for Monday and into the rest of the coming week. The policy of military and police repression seems to be counterproductive. This was made clear on Thursday23rd and Friday 24th when people from all over the country responded to President Zelaya's call to travel to meet him at Las Manos.

Thousands of people headed for El Paraíso from all over the country, from the western departments of Intibucá and Lempira, from the northern departments of Colon, Copán and Atlantida and from the big eastern department of Olancho. Buses carrying people headed for El Paraíso were stopped by police and soldiers in various places. At El Zamorano, about 60 kilometres from El Paraíso, people from the northern towns of Tocoa, Sonaguera and Olanchito were forced to get off several buses and told they would be shot if they tried to proceed further. Despite those threats thousands of people managed to make it to El Paraíso and small groups totalling between 300 to 500 made it to Las Manos on the Nicaragua side by trekking tens of kilometres over daunting hill terrain.

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Zelaya's position now in Nicaragua

Manuel Zelaya's strategy of attrition depends on the support he is getting from the ALBA countries. Most immediately he depends on the support of the Nicaraguan government to be able to sustain his campaign at Las Manos. Right wing politicians like Eduardo Montealegre have called for President Zelaya's expulsion from Nicaragua. That is most unlikely to happen. But it dramatically demonstrates the great sympathy leaders of the Central American oligarchies have for their Hounduran counterparts who provoked the military coup on Honduras.

Even so, the Nicaraguan government has been very careful not to figure publicly alongside Manuel Zelaya and his Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas in their activities at Las Manos. The Sandinista government remains very much in the background. On Friday night, local community organizations assisted the Sandinista mayor of Ocotal in organizing accommodation for the hundreds of Zelaya supporters from Honduras who had trekked overland to meet their president.

Over this weekend, a camp is being set up ready to receive more Hondurans determined to travel to Nicaragua one way or another to be with their elected President. If it were not for the vicious military repression there is no doubt at all thousands of Hondurans would be in Las Manos already. On Monday July 27th, the response to the renewed general strike call will give a good idea of whether or not the military repression is achieving its aim. But the death of Pedro Muñoz Salvador, rather than cowing people, is likely to inflame opinion in Honduras and put even more pressure on the illegitimate coup regime than ever.


toni writes for

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