The Struggle Against the Coup in Honduras by Shaun Joseph and Paul Lynch
By Shaun Joseph and Paul Lynch
Published: Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, October 6, 2009
The popular struggle in Honduras is a struggle to defeat the coup organized by the armed forces and the country’s elite that ousted the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. However, the roots of the conflict touch on major changes in the economic structure of the country that took place under the neoliberal (i.e. free market-ideology and deregulation-driven) policies implemented over the last 30 years.
In 1980, 63 percent of economically active Hondurans were employed in agriculture, mostly as peasants; at the same time, only 16 percent of GDP came from manufacturing. These levels were roughly the same as in 1960. By 1999, only 13 percent of the active population was in agriculture, and 32 percent of GDP came from manufacturing. North American business also penetrated into Honduras far more deeply during the neoliberal period than previously.
Thus, neoliberalism in Honduras produced both an expanded working class and a Northern-oriented native oligarchy. This was accompanied by severe social dislocation, since the structural transformation of the Honduran economy was carried out under “free market principles” – that is, anarchically. A dramatic illustration of this came when Hurricane Mitch hit in 1998: 11,000 people were killed, and an additional 2 million were left homeless.
Zelaya came to power in 2006, when the crisis of neoliberalism was already evident in Latin America – as were the beginnings of an alternative center-left model, pursued most vigorously by Venezuela under Hugo Chávez. Though a candidate of one of the two main parties of Honduras’ elite, Zelaya, implemented a series of important reforms including increasing the minimum wage by 60 percent. He led Honduras into joining the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our Americas, an economic alliance initiated by Venezuela; and he pushed through a Citizen Participation Law allowing the president to initiate consultative referenda. Such reforms began to grate on the oligarchy.
The June 28 coup was undertaken by the Honduran ruling elite to arrest the process that was threatening their obscene social privilege. The golpistas (coup-makers) claim that Zelaya was attempting to hold a referendum to allow him to run for another term. This is simply untrue. Instead, Zelaya was trying to hold a non-binding national survey on whether the November ballot should include a referendum on whether to convoke a Constituent Assembly to consider constitutional reform. Zelaya could not have run for reelection, regardless of the results of the survey, as he has pointed out several times. Because the coup represents only the interests of the wealthy, it is opposed by a majority of Hondurans, especially workers and peasants. This is obvious to anyone who walks around the country with their eyes open. The democratic anti-coup resistance – organized primarily by labor, peasant and indigenous organizations – has broad political support, stretching well into the small business and professional layers.
The return of Zelaya to Honduras on Sept. 21, in defiance of the coup regime led by Roberto Micheletti, ushered in a new stage in the battle against the oligarchs. Within hours, thousands of people had gathered around the Brazilian embassy to welcome Zelaya home. The coup regime violently dispersed the nonviolent gathering and announced a blanket curfew that was extended for 48 continuous hours. This caused terrible disruption in people’s lives, especially since many Hondurans live hand-to-mouth on their daily wages.
Although the golpistas still control the machinery of state violence, they are near defeat. Because the popular resistance is so broad and powerful, the de facto regime never conquered the passive acquiescence of the people: that sense of “This sucks, but I’ll put up with it,” that is so essential for any society ruled by a wealthy elite. With Zelaya’s return, the people of Honduras are inspired to risk great sacrifices to win democracy. For this reason, they are likely to win. Sensing this, the world’s major powers are rapidly withdrawing support from the golpistas, even though they are natural allies due to their business and social class connections.
The Honduran people are very conscious of the fact that they are defending not just themselves, but all the progress that has been made for working people in Latin America. People in the United States should show solidarity with the Latin American workers, even though the US government has traditionally been the major opponent of independence and reform in that region. However, if people there are able to win their struggles, it would mean big benefits for us: an end to the “race to the bottom” of wages caused by so-called “free trade” agreements; a reduction of the wasteful military budget; an attack on racist and chauvinist attitudes against Latinos; and more. Their fight is our fight.
The authors are members of the International Socialist Organization.”