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Honduras : back to 1963

Honduras : back to 1963

by Toni Solo

The democratization of Honduran society - any society - requires a significant redistribution of wealth. Recognizing that, Manuel Zelaya tried implementing a programme of government to deliver the benefits of the nation's resources to the impoverished majority. Over 50% of Hondurans live in poverty. Zelaya's attempt at some moderate level of social justice brought a vicious response from the country's entrenched plutocrat elite. In Latin America, this is an ancient political motif.

Some history

The pattern of reform and reaction in the region became fixed in the decades before the Second World War. In Central America, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala were all ruled by brutal dictatorships through the 1930s until the mid and late 1940s. One reading of the murder of the reformist Liberal politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitan in 1948 in Colombia is that it defined the permanent rejection of reform by regional oligarchies allied to powerful foreign corporate interests, especially those of the United States.

But it took some years for that rejection to consolidate itself fully in Central America. The overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 was preceded by the great popular strike in Honduras of the same year. Moderate reformist programmes by governments like those of Arbenz in Guatemala and of Ramon Villeda Morales in Honduras were paralleled in El Salvador under the Partido Revolucionario de Unificación Democrática lead by army lieutenant-colonels Oscar Osorio and José María Lemus.

It was the violent United States government reaction to the Cuban revolution, especially after the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, which ended prospects of broad democratic reform in the region. 1963 saw two clear embodiments of this reality. First, in September of that year in the Dominican Republic, reformist President Juan Bosch was overthrown in a military coup effectively supported by the United States. Then just a few days later, in Honduras, Colonel Lopez Arellano overthrew the Liberal Party government of Ramon Villeda Morales.

Lopez Arellano's coup was staged ten days before general elections in which the progressive Liberal Party candidate Modesto Rodas Alvarado was the overwhelming favourite to win the Presidency. US policy in regard to such coups has hardly changed at all in fifty years. Kirk Bowman writes of the coup by Lopez Arellano :

"When López went ahead with the coup, his conservative allies scoffed at the threatened suspension of U.S. aid and a break in diplomatic relations: The U.S. 'would be back in six months'. The U.S. threat was hollow. Numerous democratic presidents were ousted in 1962 and 1963 and all of them were friends of Villeda. Coups in El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and Ecuador were followed closely in the press and the conservative opposition in Honduras could track the pattern: The U.S. in every case suspended relations, publicly exclaimed support of democracy, and then quickly renewed relations with the generals. The pattern would be no different in Honduras. "(1)

Little has changed. US policy remains almost exactly the same now as it was in 1963. The European Union and its member governments will eventually follow the lead of President Obama. Some formula in the name of stability - for rich country corporations and banks, not for ordinary people in Honduras - will be agreed. Foreign governments will probably make every effort to legitimize the practical anti-democratic effects of the coup so as to protect their corporate sectors' investments.

Specific local context in Honduras

Honduran indigenous peoples' leader Salvador Zuniga remarked in a recent interview that the coup against Manuel Zelaya meant a regression of 30 years in Honduran politics. He might well have said over 45 years, because Manuel Zelaya very much represents a return to the original sense of the rodista current of the Honduran Liberal Party. That is why descriptions of Zelaya as a "leftist" are ridiculous. Rodas, was a moderate reformer anxious to modernize the country and turn it into a successful capitalist social democracy similar to the Costa Rica of Pepe Figueres.

Manuel Zelaya's political project was an effort to take up again the meaning of the political programme that Modesto Rodas Alvarado originally put to the Honduran people in the election campaign of 1963. One can see this in the development of the Liberal Party since the country's tenuous, nominal return to electoral democracy in 1981. In Honduras, the National Party, whose members are called "cachurecos", has always been the party of the conservative landowners and their allies. The Liberal Party is disparaged by its opponents as the party of the "chusma", the rabble, the impoverished majority.

In Honduras, the effective period of military dominance lasted thirty years - from 1963 until 1993. Throughout that period, the armed forces dictated the acceptable parameters of political action. Political disagreements in the army high command were at least as important as political arguments within the two traditional political parties. Constantly overseeing matters was the United States government, regularly brokering policy arrangements and smoothing over fractious splits between its local corporate allies in the Honduran plutocrat elite and its proxies in the Honduran military high command.

Left wing political input into Honduran public life was completely marginalized until the victory of Carlos Roberto Reina in the presidential elections of 1993. Carlos Reina represented the centre-left current in the Liberal Party. One has to remember that the Liberal Party has always included plutocrats like Jorge Bueso Arias, Miguel Facussé and Carlos Flores Facussé and Jaime Rosenthal, among several others.

In 1982, Reina and like-minded Liberal Party members had formed formed the Alianza Liberal del Pueblo in an attempt to counter the pro-US government policy of the rodista Roberto Suazo Cordoba. ALIPO failed to counteract the "dirty war" and the terror war against Nicaragua waged by Nicaraguan Contra from Honduran territory, supervised by US ambassador John Negroponte. Largely in protest, Carlos Reina and his brother Jorge Arturo formed the Movimiento Liberal Democrático Revolucionario (M-Lider).

But it was the moderate rodista Jose Azcona Hoyo, a keen supporter of United States regional policy, who easily won the 1985 Presidential elections. Manuel Zelaya back then supported Azcona, not Reina. When Carlos Reina did finally win the Presidency his administration was hobbled by a dreadful economic situation and dramatically worsening social problems, especially violent crime. Reina's main achievement was to advance the subordination of the military to civilian control.

Under Reina, Manuel Zelaya was director of the Honduran Social Investment Fund, an entity whose primary purpose was to mitigate the socially destructive effects of IMF and World Bank structural adjustment policies like public spending cutbacks, privatization and deregulation. Reina was succeeded as President by another Liberal Party boss, Carlos Flores Facussé, a plutocrat oligarch determined to maintain the status quo. Flores Facussé, a leading conservative rodista , had been an enthusiastically pro-US minister under the Suazo Cordoba regime duirng the "dirty war"era of the death squads.

Very close to Flores Facussé, Zelaya was given special responsibility for reconstruction following Hurricane Mitch. In 2001, Zelaya formed his own current within the Liberal Party, called Movimiento Esperanza Liberal (MEL). It is worth bearing in mind what Honduran activist Lidice Ortega thinks of Zelaya's political position, "At no time has Mel's government been a left wing government." (2)

Zelaya as President

By 2005 Zelaya was able to win sufficient support from the other Liberal party machine-bosses to secure his candidacy for the presidential elections of that year. He campaigned on a platform of poverty reduction and greater citizen participation in decision making. The actual election was tainted by a long delayed count lasting almost a month with very obvious negotiation around the results between the leadership of the Liberal and National parties. Zelaya's resulting administration represented a mosaic of power brokers from the various strands of the Liberal Party.

For Zelaya, the make or break measure of his government's success was always poverty reduction within a context of political democratization and economic modernization. The energy crisis of 2006 led to a showdown with the corrupt monopolistic oil companies that had rigged fuel prices for years so as to inflate their profits. Around the same time, Zelaya refused to privatize the Hondutel state telecommunications company, as urged by the International Monetary Fund. In both cases, Zelaya antagonized local big business as well as foreign multinationals.

Initial US government acceptance in 2006 of President Zelaya's proposal to recoup for civilian use the US military's Palmerola-Soto Cano air base, turned to antagonism through 2007 and 2008. Zelaya took Honduras into the Venezuelan-led Petrocaribe energy security initiative in December 2007, beginning his engagement with Venezuela and Cuba. Zelaya had already completely normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2007 by assigning an ambassador there for the first time since 1961.

In August 2008 Honduras joined the broader regional ALBA economic and trade bloc. That move made Honduras eligible for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of concessionary trade deals and lines of credit, valuable health care resources and participation in multifarious cultural, educational and sports programmes. That decision represented a challenge both to US government influence in Honduras and the control of the Honduran plutocrat oligarchy of important sectors of the Honduran economy, like pharmaceuticals or credit and other resources for small businesses and farmers .

At the end of 2008, the decision to increase the minimum wage by 60% outraged the Honduran business and land owning oligarchy even more. Finally, Zelaya's efforts to try and work out how to hold a Constituent Assembly posed a fundamental threat to the traditional political control of the country's most powerful business and media interests in both the National Party and, especially, in the Liberal Party. The obvious support and domestic political autonomy Zelaya had accumulated by July 2009 destabilized the corrupt Liberal Party leadership, epitomised by sharp, suave corporate gangsters like the Facussés and mediocre bullies like coup regime leader Roberto Micheletti.

As Zelaya's Interior Minister Victor Meza has said, in 2008 Zelaya "became convinced that in order to change Honduras it was necessary to break with traditional bipartisan arrangements. His change of opinion has to do with, on the one hand his direct contact with ordinary people, which is intense and, on the other hand, with the obstacles created by the party leaderships and their economic interests to the reforms he proposed. Convinced that reforms, even minimal ones, would be impossible with the traditional parties, he bet on creating another party." (3)

Meza also makes clear that the conflict between Zelaya and the traditional party elites predated any relationship with Venezuela, "Zelaya's change predates his relationship with Hugo Chavez and conicided with the increasing opposition of the communications media who got more hostile by the day. So it is quite false that everything results from the influence of Chavez, as the de facto regime states, because the conflict had begun before the Venezuelan's arrival on the scene."(4)

Meza is absolutely clear that the coup d'etat originated among the business and media-owning oligarchy who then co-opted their political allies and the military. Along the way they seem to have readily secured permission to go ahead with the coup from the US government. Meza's view is confirmed by the Honduran sociologist Leticia Salomon, who asserts that the coup was "planned by a business grouping lead by Carlos Roberto Facussé" (5).

The never-ending story

The coup d'état in Honduras represents an attempt to prevent democratic change and economic renewal so as to benefit the country's tiny plutocrat elite of no more than ten or a dozen families. The United States government effectively supports the coup regime because it conveniently rolls back efforts at genuine social and economic reform in Central America, helpfully perpetuating US dominance in the region. A simple measure of this truth is literacy.

North American and European aid has poured into Central America to the tune of tens of billions of dollars since 1990. But literacy indicators have either worsened or stayed the same throughout that period. In 2006 Nicaragua joined ALBA. Three years later, UNESCO has now declared Nicaragua free of illiteracy. In Honduras, illiteracy is still around 20% in a country that never experienced the war devastation endured by Nicaragua and El Salvador.

The coup in Honduras is a symptom of the underlying imperialist cancer eating away at Latin America's natural resources and human potential. The complete cast of global corporate villainy nestles snugly within the interstices of rich country debt and trade extortion backed up by US militarism. The history of North American and European imperialist aggression and coercion applied to weaker, resource-rich countries, amounts to a never-ending war on the global poor.

The Latin American theatre of that war now pits the US and its allies - like Colombia, Honduras, Mexico and Peru - against the ALBA countries - Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Latin American ruling elites expect - and receive - foreign military and economic help to sustain their oligarchical power by denying their countries' impoverished majorities a decent life. In all the years since Simón Bolívar and Francisco Morazán, hardly anything has changed. As things stand now, the chances of defeating the coup depend almost entirely on the resistance of the Honduran popular movement.


toni writes for


1. "Militarization and Democracy in Honduras, 1954-1963", Kirk Bowman, The Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332-0610,
2. " En ningún momento el gobierno de Mel (Manuel Zelaya) ha sido un gobierno de izquierda.Eso si hay que dejarlo muy claro."Entrevista con Lídice Ortega, El movimiento de la resistencia va por la Asamblea Constituyente ALAI, Revista America Latina en Movimiento, Agosto 2009
3. "Dos años más tarde se convence de que para cambiar Honduras es necesario romper el bipartidismo tradicional. Su cambio de opinión tiene que ver, por un lado, con su contacto con la gente, que es intenso; y, por otro, con los obstáculos que las cúpulas partidistas y los intereses económicos ponen a las reformas que propone. Convencido de que son imposibles las reformas, así sean mínimas, con los partidos tradicionales, le apuesta a crear otro partido." Victor Meza, in an interview with Arturo Cano of La Jornada
4. "Ese giro de Zelaya es anterior a su relación con Hugo Chávez, y coincide con el agravamiento de la oposición de los medios de comunicación, que se tornan cada día más hostiles. Así que es falso, como dice el régimen *de facto*, que todo obedece a la influencia de Chávez, porque el conflicto había comenzado antes de la aparición del venezolano en el escenario." (Ibid)
5. "Diez familias financiaron el golpe" -


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