Honduras’ military led government prepared the ground for the farcical elections of 29 November with a combination of severe repression against the mass movement and diplomatic manoeuvres. The winner of the elections, Porfirio Pepe Lobo Sosa from the National Party, now calls for “national unity”. Apparently, now we should forget the coup, the 20 activists or more who have been killed and the coup government’s repression!
But the social movements of Honduras know that the coup was not just a one-off event, but represents a constant threat to those who struggle against the country’s rotten elite, and sets a dangerous precedent for movements in other countries in the region.
The National Resistance Front, which led the mass mobilisations against the coup, is comprised of trade unions, social movements and left organisations. There are important lessons to be drawn for the working class in Honduras and internationally after 5 months of struggle in Honduras. The first lesson is that the position of Zelaya in putting his trust in “diplomatic” negotiations was a mistake and a failure. The working class must rely on its own force and ability to struggle to achieve its aims.
The elite deposed Zelaya
Zelaya was deposed in a coup on 28 June by the military and the Supreme Court. The national congress played its part by appointing the speaker, Micheletti, as the new President. The coup was carried through on the same day that Zelaya proposed a non-binding plebiscite, to ask the population if they were in favour of an election of a Constituent Assembly to revise the constitution.
The justification for the coup was that the current constitution forbids any president to advocate a change in the constitution that would allow for his re-election, though Zelaya never stated that he had that intention. The congress also based its decision to appoint Micheletti on a forged letter of resignation from Zelaya.
The real reason behind the coup was the discontent amongst the elite over the mild but popular reforms of Zelaya, which went against their interests.
Zelaya actually comes from the elite. He is a rich landowner and was elected as president in 2005, as the representative of the Liberal Party, the same party as Micheletti. Zelaya beat Pepe Lobo from the other traditional capitalist party, the National Party. However, during 2007 Zelaya started to collaborate with Chavez’s government in Venezuela and also applied for Honduras to join ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), the alliance which also includes Bolivia’s MAS government of Evo Morales.
Zelaya increased the minimum wage and lowered the price of fuel, by joining Petrocaribe (an oil alliance with Venezuela) which allowed for the purchase of cheaper oil.
All these reforms caused outrage and revolt amongst the elite. Honduras is a country where the ruling clique has traditionally sided with US-imperialism. The country has been used as base for right-wing forces that fought against anti-imperialist movements. The right-wing Contra guerillas, which fought against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua in the 1980s, were based in Honduras. The country is also extremely poor. Just 10 families control 90% of the economy.
Despite Zelayas reforms, his was not a socialist government, or even a left government along the lines of Chavez and Morales. He said to the BBC in Brazil that his inspiration was more Lula in Brazil than Chávez in Venezuela: “In Honduras we have social liberalism. Not socialism”.
Zelaya’s background and politics was reflected in his position towards the popular resistance against the coup. Straight after the coup, the mass protests started, including a general strike, coordinated by “National Resistance Front against the Coup d’Etat in Honduras”. The resistance reached its peak when Zelaya managed get past the nilitary back into the country on 21 September, taking refuge in the Brazilian Embassy.
However, Zelaya saw the mass mobilisations merely as assistance to his main ‘weapon’, diplomatic negotiations. It’s true that the coup regime was isolated, as all the governments in the continent condemned Zelaya’s removal from power. But the US government played a dubious role right from the beginning.
The US administration never recognised Micheletti’s government, but refuse to acknowledge that what happened on 28 June was a coup. According to US law, Obama’s government would have been forced to implement sanctions in the case of a coup. Though Obama did implement some minor sanctions, at the same time that he stressed the need for “negotiations” with the coup government.
The “deal” was a trap
After the direct intervention of the Washington emissary, Thomas Shannon, a deal was struck between Zelaya and Micheletti. This deal represented a capitulation on virtually all the demands of the resistance, reflecting the fact that, after months of protests, the mobilisations had lost some momentum.
The deal did not fulfil two of the main demands of the National Front of Resistance: the establishment of a constituent assembly and the bringing to justice of the coup plotters. Zelaya agreed in the deal not to advocate “directly or indirectly” a constituent assembly. The coup makers would not only avoid being brought to justice, they would remain in power. There would be a new government with both sides represented. Control over the armed forces would not be in the hands of the president, but of the Supreme Court, until new elections.
Even the central issue, the return of Zelaya to the presidency, remained unclear under the deal. The deal said that the congress would vote on the issue, after consulting the Supreme Court and others. The deal set a deadline for a new “government of reconciliation” (November 5), but not for the reinstatement of Zelaya. On 5 November Micheletti announced a new government unilaterally.
Zelaya refused to recognise the new government and declared that the deal was dead. But the US representative, Thomas Shannon, stated that the deal itself was enough for the US government to recognise the elections, and the sanctions could be lifted.
Zelaya falls into the trap.
The Resistance Front and Zelaya rightly called for a boycott of the elections and the main left candidate, the trade union leader, Carlos H Reyes, withdraw his candidacy. It was an election organised by the same forces that implemented the coup, after months of repression against the social movements. The elections were a way to white-wash the coup.
The real results of the election remain unclear. The Resistance Front claims that the election was a fiasco, with 65-70% abstaining. But the Supreme Electoral Court claims it was a success, with 61% voting, 10% up compared with the last election. What sort of democratic elections were these, presided over by a military government!
The Resistance Front must draw the necessary lessons from this struggle. The workers must rely on their own forces, not on “diplomatic” negotiations. To what extent negotiations can lead to progress depends on the pressure from the movement. But the deal struck on 30 October was a delaying tactic, intended to tire out the movement.
The Resistance Front must now gather its forces to continue the struggle against the capitalist coup plotters’ government of Pepe Lobo. Despite its talk of “national unity”, his government will try to return to business as usual, representing the rotten elite of Honduras. The Resistance Front must keep up the fight, linking the struggle for a constituent assembly, with the concrete demands of the working people and the struggle to end the rotten capitalist system. A majority workers’ and poor people’s government could carry out far reaching socialist policies, abolishing capitalism and expelling imperialism and taking industry and resources into democratic control and management of the working class and landless poor.