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Crisis Building in Honduras

June 2009

Grassroots International supports peasants’ and indigenous people’s movements throughout Mesoamerica, including in Honduras. As described below by our colleagues at Rights Action, Honduras currently faces a significant threat, including a potential coup. Please read and circulate the information below and stay tuned for updates.

Crisis in Honduras: Democracy in the Balance

The Honduran Armed Forces are in the street, as thousands of citizens mobilize peacefully to defend democracy and the presidency.  Repression is feared.
BELOW:  an update of the crisis, by Rights Action, and two on-the-spot updates (in Spanish) by the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH).  COPINH is a long-time partner of Rights Action, and a powerful community based organization involved in these pro-democracy and reform efforts.  A Rights Action activist-staffer is in Honduras working with COPINH.
WHAT TO DO: see below.
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Democratic rule is on the line, a military coup is feared, but tens of thousands of Hondurans rushed to the defense of the President, filling and surrounding the presidential palace.  The crisis is a tipping point in a political transformation of the country that has taken shape during Manuel Zelaya’s presidency.

Months ago, “Mel”, as Hondurans refer to their president, proposed that this Sunday, June 28, a national referendum be held to present Hondurans with the question whether a ballot box (the Cuarta Urna) should be established during the November 29, 2009 national elections in which Hondurans could vote whether or not to convoke a Constituent National Assembly (CNA) to write a new constitution in Honduras.  Click here for background information.

The current constitution was written in 1982 in the midst of repression and State terrorism that blanketed Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1980’s.  Honduras was controlled, at that time, by a US-backed military regime; the United States had 14 military bases in Honduras.

The Honduran Armed Forces initially pledged support to the President and commander in chief, and provide logistical support for Sunday’s referendum, to be administered by the National Statistics Institute.

Then, on Tuesday June 23, the Honduran army informed the president they would not support the referendum.  The president fired the head of the armed forces, General Romeo Vasquez, and the Minister of Defense resigned.

Fearing for the safety of the President, thousands of Hondurans surrounded the Presidential Palace.

The National Congress is strongly opposed to the referendum, and today met to draft a letter of resignation for the President.  The Congress has also called upon the OAS to withdraw the elections observers currently arriving to observe Sunday’s referendum, and entertained initiatives to block their entry to the country.  Efforts to intimidate the voters include public statements by influential political figures claiming that if voters participate in Sunday’s referendum, they could face 10 to 15 years in prison.

Around midday today, June 25, President Zelaya and thousands of civilian supporters left the presidential palace in city buses and headed to the Air Force base and successfully (!) recovered the ballot boxed needed for Sunday’s referendum.

The proposal to draft a new constitution, via the establishing of a CNA, is the culmination of a series of positive measures undertaken during “Mel’s” presidency, including: a raise in the minimum wage; measures to re-nationalize energy generation plants and the telephone system; signing a bill that improves labor conditions for teachers; joining the Venezuelan Petrocaribe program which provides soft loans for development initiatives via petroleum sales; delaying recognition of the new US ambassador after the Bolivian government implicated the US embassy in supporting fascist paramilitary groups destabilizing Bolivia, and others.

In the measure that popular support has grown, with a reported 80% of population in support, opposition has grown in the economically and politically powerful minority sectors.  The president has been blocked from the press, and important events have gone virtually unreported.

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