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Honduras: Crisis of Democracy & Human Rights

July 2009

Last April my colleague Saulo Araujo (Program Coordinator for Brazil & Mesoamerica) and I visited Honduras. What impressed us the most was the strength and vibrancy of social movements, like our partners the Via Campesina (Central America) and COCOCH (the Honduran Coordinating Council of Peasant Organizations), and our allies like COPINH (Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras) and OFRANEH (Honduran Black Fraternal Organization). And especially the strong and resilient women in the forefront of struggle. Afro-Hondurans like Leoncia and Wendy, Lencas like Pasqualita, and Mestizo women like Analina and Berta 

At a candidates forum convened by the Via every single presidential candidate attended. All of them from the Left to the Right spoke about the need for agrarian reform and publicly pledged to work with the peasant movement in Honduras. The president, Mel Zelaya came as well, and thanked the people for their leadership. It was interesting to see that both he and the leading opposition candidate (slated to win in November) were courting the Via’s leaders like Rafael Alegria for their advice and support. And it is obvious why. The strength of the mobilizations in reaction to the coup is evidence of the strength of movements organizing for structural reform, a more inclusive democracy and human rights in Honduras. They are out in the streets now facing the army, mobilizing in their tens of thousands and using technology to get the word out to the outside world like, CATTRACHAS a feminist organization that has been posting youtube videos on the demonstrations.

Those same movements are in increasing danger in the face of military repression. While there is no doubt that this was a coup led by the military, and supported by the political elite in the Honduran congress and the Supreme Court, as well as the media, we have to go beyond simply demanding – and demanding that our government do the same – the unconditional reinstatement of President Zelaya, imperative though it is. The human rights of peasant, indigenous, women, and Afro-Honduran activists must be guaranteed and at the core of our demands.

What most progressives know is that in the end this is not so much about Zelaya, even as we insist on his unconditional return. Zelaya was able to do what he did in terms of reforms only because he had a powerful social movement behind him. He faced off opposition from within the political oligarchy based on his support within the majority of Hondurans. The coup was never about Zelaya trying to extend his term even though that is what his opponents and many in Washington would have us believe. His term was set to expire as per the current constitution (which was created under military rule) in November. His non-binding referendum proposed putting on the November ballot a constituent assembly, which, if it passed, would fall on the next president – not Zelaya – to convene.

That it would pass because it had such overwhelming support from people hungry for genuine reform and participatory democracy, where peasants, workers, indigenous peoples, Afro-Hondurans and women would have equal rights and access to resources was the reason for the coup. Nearly 80% of the population supported Zelaya’s ballot initiative on a constitutional referendum. And it is those reforms and the promise of a vibrant democracy in Honduras (and throughout the region) that is at stake if the coup prevails.

In the face of all this the talk in Washington of the Obama Administration, which should be more forceful on this than it has, wanting to extract conditions from Zelaya in exchange for supporting his return raise questions about how much, if any, U.S. policy is likely to really change under this Administration. The less one says about U.S. conservatives, who so self-righteously rebuked President Obama over Iran and are now deafeningly silent, the better. Our government must demand of the coup leaders the unconditional return of President Zelaya, and that means it must not impose any conditions on Zelaya itself. The only conditions the United States should demand are an immediate end to the repression, the guarantee of all human rights, and for the popular referendum to continue unobstructed under President Zelaya. Today’s letter from Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a good start in that direction.

Our allies Global Exchange and Code Pink led an emergency delegation to Honduras. Others of our partners and allies are doing the same. Meanwhile, our friends at the Nation have a good analytical piece on the coup and the situation in Honduras. Stay tuned.

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