President Zelaya returns to Honduras

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FRFI 211 October / November 2009

On the night of Sunday 20 September, after two days of travelling secretly through the mountains and countryside of Honduras, elected President Manuel Zelaya returned to the capital city of Tegucigalpa. His appearance in the Brazilian embassy, 86 days after he was ousted in a military coup on 28 June and expelled from the country, has electrified the mass of the Honduran people who rushed to surround the embassy before being forced away by the rubber bullets and tear gas of the coup regime’s police and military.

Zelaya’s return represents a humiliating defeat for US imperialism: for its intelligence services, who knew nothing about the plan for his return; for US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose department had given the coup government tacit support, and for President Obama, who had been unable to restrain the hawks in his administration. The Reuters view that, by opening its door to Zelaya, Brazil is placing ‘a high-risk bet that could harm its regional leadership ambitions’ completely misses the point: had Brazil not done this it would face marginalisation within the Organisation of American States and other groups where the US now holds little or no sway. As Brazil’s President Lula told the UN General Assembly on 23 September:

‘The international community demands that Mr Zelaya return immediately to the presidency of his country and must be alert to ensure the inviolability of Brazil’s diplomatic mission in the capital of Honduras.’

Zelaya’s return follows nearly three months of political struggle by the mass of the people. As we go to press he remains inside the Brazilian Embassy, while the people continue to demonstrate their support.

The coup was orchestrated by Honduran businessmen and military leaders and came as a response to the growing social movements within Honduras. Zelaya came into office as a right-wing politician but was pushed by the Honduran people to bring in social reforms and had started to play an active role in ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, of which Honduras was a member. The benefits of this for the Honduran people were literacy campaigns, a 60% increase in minimum wage and Zelaya’s proposal for a referendum to ask Hondurans if they wanted to vote on a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the reactionary 1982 Constitution.

The Honduran people reacted strongly against the coup despite violent repression. Progressive groups, activists and other civilians quickly came together under the banner of the National Front of Resistance Against The Coup and began organising protests in support of Zelaya around the country. Strikes, human road blocks, university occupations and marches, reported to number over half a million people, have been met with batons and tear gas from the military and police.

Before his clandestine return, Zelaya had already twice been prevented from re-entering the country: first in a plane which tried to land in Tegucigalpa Airport and, after that failed, on foot through the Nicaraguan border. The coup regime has been responsible for the murder of at least nine resistance members, thousands of arrests of demonstrators and the censorship of and physical attacks on the independent media. While Zelaya was at the Nicaraguan border the body of Pedro Muños, a demonstrator, was found on a roadside showing signs of torture. More recently the military has been using football stadiums to detain and sometimes ‘disappear’ protesters.

The international community, led by ALBA members and other Latin American nations, have shown their solidarity with the Honduran people and only one country in the world, Panama, will recognise whoever is chosen as President in the elections the coup regime are hoping to hold on 29 November.

Although nearly all the world’s governments condemned the coup, the United States was seen to be taking steps to legitimise it. Ten days after the coup Clinton announced there would be ‘negotiations’ between Zelaya and the coup leaders, mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. Arias presented both sides with a seven-point proposal which aimed to resolve the crisis. This proposal would have allowed Zelaya’s return to presidency but stripped away all his power and that of the people. However, the coup regime rejected the proposal and Arias declared the mediation failed.

US support for a regime in Latin America is now no longer a guarantee for its future. The international isolation of the coup regime has further emboldened the resistance who are now clear that the only way forward for their country is not just Zelaya’s return to the presidency but a Constituent Assembly to rewrite a Constitution which currently serves the interests of the rich.

Luke Lucas