Honduras: Return of pro-big business, repressive Lobo regime politicises society

Report from People’s Alternative Summit

Below we publish a report by Tanya Niemeier on Honduras held at the recent Alternative People´s Summit in Madrid. Speakers included workers and democratic and human rights’ activists from Honduras and also Joe Higgins, Socialist Party Member of the European Parliament (MEP).

It is almost a year since Honduras’ elected President, Manuel Zelaya, from the centre right Liberal Party, and were removed from power by a military coup.

Zelaya was kidnapped by military forces and flown out of the country on 28 June, 2009. He eventually returned to Honduras but had to find refuge in the Brazilian Embassy.

Stitched up elections – widely seen as fraudulent by independent observers – put Porfirio Lobo in office in early December 2009. Lobo had been president of Honduras before and lost his post to Manuel Zelaya in the 2005 national elections.

Zelaya is a wealthy landowner but under pressure from the impoverished masses, he carried out some reforms to alleviate the suffering of the poor, including a 60% increase in the minimum wage. In 2008, Zelaya brought Honduras into the regional alliance promoted by Venezuela – the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) – and reached an agreement with Venezuela over fuel importation, breaking the monopoly of the multinationals. This caused outrage and concern amongst the ruling elite and is one of the triggers that led to the coup a year ago (for more detailed background see previous articles on Honduras on www.socialistworld.net)

To highlight current developments in the country, representatives from the social and trade union movements in Honduras spoke at a meeting during the recent Alternative People´s Summit in Madrid.

Speakers pointed at the pro-big business character of Lobo´s regime. One of the objectives of the new regime is to what they refer to as the “ALBA- process” in Latin America. As explained above, ALBA is an alternative trade agreement between different Latin American countries with elected ‘left’ governments (Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and others) which claims to emphasis the need to exchange goods and services in the interests of people, rather than following a profit orientated agenda. In that context, Cuban doctors and teachers worked in the social programmes in Venezuela, in exchange for Venezuelan subsidised oil. And indeed; one of the first moves of Lobo was to withdraw from ALBA.

In his short period in office, Lobo has implemented new concessions for multinational corporations.

Various speakers at the People´s Summit alluded to the complicit role of the United States in this process and pointed out that the Obama administration does not represent a fundamental shift in US foreign policy. The Obama administration accepted the election of Porfirio Loba and shows no intentions to break with the policy of military presence in Latin America. According to speakers from the Resistance Front Honduras, the US are involved in setting up 7 additional military bases in Latin America, and one of them will be in Honduras.

“Commission of Lies”

One year after the coup, the domestic human and civil rights situation is alarming. Basic democratic rights are under attack. First and foremost is the right of freedom of expression and the freedom of press. Community radios are shut down, journalists are arrested, many have disappeared, and at least seven journalists, among them Georgino Orellana, were killed in the past two months. Three hundred violations of human rights have been registered since the coming into office of Lobo.

A former judge reported about the systematic cleansing of the courts and other institutions and the putting into office of government supporters. The so-called Reconciliation Commission that has been put in place to investigate the breaches of human rights etc under the coup regime of Micheletti is broadly referred to as the “Commission of Lies”.

The crisis in Honduras is accelerated by the crisis in the world economy. A female worker from the Hanes Inc textile company explained to the People´s Summit how the workload in her factory was increased in the past period. Today, workers at Hanes need to produce the same amount in four days compared to what they previously produced in one week; through increased pressure and extra shifts. Very graphically, this brave worker explained how the coup regime intimidated the pro-Zelaya workforce and abused the situation to increase exploitation. The textile worker explained how supporters of the coup financed pro-coup demonstrations and how they forced the workforce to attend such demonstrations if they did not want to take the risk of losing their job. Women who were identified as Zelaya supporters were the first ones to be fired and replaced by temporary workers. Another speaker explained how society has been politicised through the events; graffiti has become far more political, people’s consciousness has broadened and people are ready to draw more general conclusions about the character of this system.

“Rely on our own forces, the trade unions and the social movements”

Joe Higgins Socialist Party MEP (CWI), who was invited to speak from the platform during the commission on Honduras at the People´s Summit, expressed his solidarity with the struggle of the people in Honduras. Joe explained how he had confronted EU Commissioner for International Trade, Karl De Gucht at a recent International Trade Committee because of Mr. Lobo’s presence at the negotiation table at the EU Latin American summit in Madrid. “But I do not only reject Mr. Lobo’s presence [due to pressure from other Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil and others), his presence was minimised to a meeting re the Central American Association Agreement] in Madrid, I do reject the concept of the Central American Association Agreement as well as the concept of the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia and Peru”. Joe said. “Those agreements do not develop the Latin American countries or assist regional integration and a diversification of the economies; in the main they guarantee access for European based multinational corporation. As with most free trade agreements; we see industrial jobs disappear and an increasing gap between rich and poor develop. I will therefore vote against those agreements once they are put to the vote in the European Parliament”.

Joe went on to explain, “However, given the composition of the European Parliament and its overwhelmingly pro-free-trade and pro-privatisation majority, it is more than likely that those agreements will pass”, Joe warned. “It is therefore important that we rely on our own forces, the trade unions and the social movements in order to continue the mobilisations and to develop a programme that can break with the logic of this barbaric system”; Joe concluded.

The People´s Summit meeting provided detailed information about the situation in Honduras. Many speakers referred to the militant traditions in Honduras. The importance of international solidarity was repeatedly underlined. However, it seemed as if there is an attempt to unite the opposition behind an anti-coup, anti-Lobo and pro- Zelaya front. Of course, it is important to defend the gains for the working class and the poor that were made under Zelaya. But it is equally important to discuss the economic alternatives to today’s capitalist system. A real and lasting change in the living standards and in the lives of the majority of the population in Honduras, Central America, South America and in the Caribbean can only be brought about if the majority of people in the cities and on the country side have control over the country’s wealth and can use it in the interest of developing living standards with full respect for the environment.

Concretely, this means the nationalisation of natural resources and real land reform that distributes land to the landless and poor farmers and breaks the power of the giant latifundistas. In the cities, workers need to take control of the big, mainly multinational corporations that suck the wealth out of the region and place it into the pockets of a tiny, super rich clique. A consequent break with capitalism is necessary and can only be achieved if independent class organisations exist across the Latin American continent and defend this programme. The working class and the poor masses are a powerful force; they are the only force that has the potential to defend such a programme and build a socialist Honduras, as part of a voluntary, socialist federation of Latin America.

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June 2010