Responses to the Coup d'etat in Honduras on Sunday June 28, with special emphasis on producing English-language versions of commentaries by Honduran scholars and editorial writers and addressing the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Echoes of Voices from Honduras

Today finally I am receiving email from colleagues in the country, many sending on passionate statements by educated members of the younger generation decrying the return to conditions most never knew, having been born after the end of the last military government with the Constitution of 1982. It is important to underline that, contrary to some emerging reporting, support for President Zelaya is not limited to the poor and poorly educated in the country whose material conditions his action in raising the minimum wage did indeed improve. Zelaya is not Huey Long. Support for the legal government of the country and a return to rule of law, freedom of speech and press, freedom to assemble, and freedom to circulate comes as well from the most promising members of the future generation of leaders that Honduras can ill-afford to lose.

I cannot expect readers of this blog to read Spanish, and could not possibly reproduce the long statements I am receiving. Here, I will simply excerpt some of the highlights.

One of my Honduran correspondents sends a long commentary placing the present "military-corporate" coup in perspective. The author, a faculty member at a Colombian university, writes for the journal "Viento del Sur". He rejects the widely published summary of the causes of the coup d'etat, in which the Honduran state acted to reject unconstitutional attempts by the President to move to a Chavez-style permanent presidency. Instead, he notes that the coup was engineered by a coalition of business interests opposed to the economic effects of President Zelaya's policies. He traces the coalition between the military and the business interests to the foundation in 1981 of APROH (Asociación para el Progreso de Honduras). This was precisely the moment when the present constitution was being shaped, when the transition from dictatorship to electoral republic was underway, and according to this author, it forged an alliance between the military and the two major parties that persisted until now. He characterizes this period as a time of conversion of the military into a bourgeoisie.

Throughout the next decade, Honduras saw a rise in the development of maquilas-- sweatshops-- benefiting financially the business sector of the country by exploiting the desperation of the unemployed, for whom even these poorly-paid jobs were welcome ways to meet the rising costs of living. Meanwhile, agricultural production continued to be converted from support of the food needs of the people to production for export, creating increased dependency on even poorly-paid employment on the part of what once had been a largely rural, farming population. The author suggests 90% of the wealth of the country is concentrated in the hands of a few families. (These changes I have witnessed personally, along with a shocking increase in differential wealth that has created an urban elite with access to all the latest North American consumer goods in the midst of a populace living without basic sanitation, food, and adequate shelter.) Over a million Hondurans live outside the country, and the money they send back home is now one of the major sources of income in the country.

Popular movements declined throughout the 1980s and 1990s, although the author notes the success of the afro-caribbean Garifuna on the North Coast and a coalition of indigenous groups, COPINH, in actions against economic exploitation threatening their communities.

The author summarizes the transition of Manuel Zelaya, elected as a Liberal party member with links to the business powers in the country, to the positions that led to the current confrontation. He singles out a confrontation with the US in 2007 over the effective monopoly of oil imports by Exxon, Texaco, and Shell, opening the way for Conoco Phillips to compete and lowering the cost of gasoline, as a key turning point in Zelaya's Presidency. The actions taken benefitted the working class of taxi drivers in the country, positioning Zelaya with a different constituency.

It was at this juncture, threatened with reprisals by the US ambassador, that Zelaya turned to Petrocaribe, and thus to Hugo Chávez, to ensure a stable source of affordable gasoline for which Honduras needed only to pay 50% at first, and the rest over 25 years with low interest (1%) and with the ability to invest the saved capital in social projects. By 2008, Zelaya proposed Honduras join ALBA, a move fiercely opposed by the business sector and members of congress including the current head of congress who claimed the title of "interim president".

The third move that cemented business opposition to Zelaya was his increase in the minimum wage this year, to just about $10 a day.

Finally, with the proposal to poll popular opinion about whether to open a constitutional convention, Zelaya finally crossed the threshold of tolerance of his former allies in his party and wealthy class. Rather than being afraid this non-binding poll would have somehow allowed Zelaya to stay in power, this author suggests the real fear behind the coup was the specter of a broader public emboldened by being given an opportunity to express their opinion-- even if on such a weak question as whether or not to place on the binding ballot in November a question about whether or not to convene a constitutional convention. Giving a voice to the people was apparently too much, too fast, too soon, too far.

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