Posted with permission from Green Left Weekly
by Federico Fuentes
October 11, 2009
What began as a coup aimed at deposing a millionaire landowner president, whose “crime” had been to gradually shift Honduras away from US control and implement mild pro-people reforms, has spurned on a mass resistance movement with the potential to revolutionise the country.
Roberto Micheletti, installed as president after the military overthrew the elected government of President Manuel Zelaya, told the September 30 Argentine daily Clarin: “We removed Zelaya because he was a leftist … This worried us.”
However, more than 100 days since Zeyala was kidnapped at gunpoint and exiled to Coast Rica, Micheletti has even more to worry about.
Zelaya is back in the country, in the confines of the Brazilian embassy, and there is a mobilised population demanding more than just their president restored.
The ongoing peaceful protests, strikes and blockades have continued in the face of increasingly severe repression. The Honduras Resists website said, as of October 2, at least 4000 people had been detained and 17 killed, although many anti-coup activists believe the real number to be much higher
There are a number of reports of torture at the hands of the security forces.
The Committee in Defence of Human Rights in Honduras (CODEH) said more than 100 people have been injured by police using chains. wooden bats and other objects. CODEH also said more than 105 “homicides” had been officially registered during the coup-imposed curfew periods.
On October 9, Radio Globo said that snipers had begun firing into the Brazilian embassy, home to Zelaya and hundreds of his supporters. The Associated Press said the same day that right-wing Colombian paramilitaries, infamous for human rights abuses, were arriving in Honduras.
Gilberto Rios, a leader of the National Resistance Front Against the Coup (FNRG), told Green Left Weekly over the phone from the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa: “The resistance is standing firm and united, and is determined to go all the way in order to liberate Honduras.”
The FNRG unites left organisations, trade unions, teachers, peasant groups and popular organisations. It also includes the anti-coup wing of the Liberal party, one of the traditional parties of the Honduran political system to which both Zelaya and Micheletti belong.
Rios said: “It is clear that the opposition to this coup is class-based. The upper classes, in their majority, are with the coup. But they are the minority of the population.
“The lower classes are the majority — more than 65% of the population lives in poverty — and are identified with the resistance to the coup.”
The key demands of the resistance are for the restoration of Zelaya as president and the a constituent assembly to rewrite a new democratic constitution.
The FNRG has led the daily demonstrations by workers, peasants and other popular sectors. It has developed into a powerful social force for change, involving an estimated 100,000 activists.
Through this process of intense class struggle, thousands of new grassroots leaders have arisen throughout the barrios and colonias (poor neighbourhoods) of Tegucigalpa, and across the country.
The strategy of combining mass demonstrations in the centre of Tegucigalpa with protests in the poor neighborhoods has ensured that the message of the resistance has reached deep into the population.
It has also opened space for protests in the barrios, many of which have declared themselves “liberated zones”, away from the heavy repression in the city centre.
There have been nightly street battles as police try to move in, repress protests and arrest resistance leaders. But this has only created more local leaders who are leading the fight back.
Rios noted: “When the police come to repress [the popular sectors] in their own homes, including those that haven’t been involved, they have seen the need to involve themselves in the resistance.”
Rios said: “There are other sectors of the middle class that bit by bit have incorporated themselves [into the resistance] … as well as small and medium business owners who have gone broke due to the absurd measures of the totalitarian regime.”
Elections and dialogue
The resistance has caused a severe crisis for the coup regime and its supporters, with the economy losing tens of millions of dollars a day.
The desperate regime, which is showing increasing signs of internal disarray, is seeking to cling on until the general elections scheduled for November 29. The regime hopes the poll will gain it some legitimacy and break its international isolation by giving it a “democratic” face.
On September 28, Micheletti decreed a 45-day state of siege, suspending constitutional liberties and banning gatherings of more than 20 people.
The regime sent the military in to shut down the only two media outlets that supported the anti-coup resistance.
Behind this public display of strength, the regime is in trouble.
One sign is the regime’s decision to end the school term almost a month before its officially set date and before the scheduled November 29 elections. The teachers’ union has been one of the key forces within the resistance, organising regular general strikes.
Pressure is building within the coup regime to find a safe exit strategy. This is shown by the call by business leaders for a negotiated solution and opposition from the Congress to the state of siege. Both sectors were crucial backers of the coup.
The forces of repression, in particular the US-trained elite military force, remain solidly behind the regime.
Several attempts at dialogue have been established between the regime and Zelaya, who, like the FNRG, is insisting his restoration is essential to any negotiations. Zelaya has appointed five FNRG representatives to his negotiating team.
The latest attempt at dialogue involved a delegation from the Organisation of American States. The delegation’s aim is to win support for the San Jose Accord, a compromise document that restores Zelaya but creates a power-sharing arrangement and grants the coup leaders immunity for their crimes.
The central concern of the US government, which is helping prop up the coup regime while publicly pushing the accord, is to demobilise the masses and find an orderly way out of the crisis.
Brazil, which has been thrust onto centre stage in the dispute since Zelaya arrived at their embassy in Tegucigalpa on September 21, has said the solution is for Micheletti to step down and Zelaya be restored so genuinely free elections can occur.
In response, Mitcheletti said on October 7 for the first time that he would be willing to step down but only if he was replaced by a third person — not Zelaya.
“Elections will occur on November 29”, Mitcheletti insisted, unless someone “attacks or invades us”.
Fight for power
That same day, Zelaya issued a public statement saying that any election would lack all legitimacy if he was restored as president but repression continued and pro-resistance media outlets remained closed.
He said that if he was not restored before October 15, the elections would lack any credibility or legitimacy.
The FNRG said on October 7 that it could not be part of any dialogue while the coup regime refused to implement the decree passed under pressure to lift the state of siege, assassinated resistance activists and closed down alternative media outlets.
For the FNRG, “the unconditional restitution of [Zelaya] is non-negotiable … Similarly, we cannot negotiate our firm demand that all the coup plotters be tried and punished, and that a democratic, inclusive and participatory National Constituent Assembly be organised.”
Within the FNRG, the coup and repression is sparking discussion over the need for the constituent assembly to transform the military.
Another crucial discussion is the possibility of transforming the FNRG into a political force, particularly given the possible upcoming election. The resistance will only take part in a vote if Zelaya is restored beforehand. It is calling for a boycott of any poll organised by the coup regime.
There is growing momentum for a united candidate of the resistance, which polls indicate would have a very strong chance of winning elections.
Juan Barahona, a central FNRG leader, explained in an interview posted on socialist journal Links: “If we participate or not [in the elections] is a question of [the coup regime] accepting certain conditions and with Zelaya [returned to] power …
“The future is ours, nothing will ever be the same in Honduras. The dispute for power is posed now and will continue to be posed afterwards. The resistance has the conditions to organise a political-social organisation to fight for power.”