Myths and Facts about the Coup in Honduras
Now more than a month after the military ousted President Manuel Zelaya from Honduras, the coup regime remains in power. Below we attempt to dispel some of the myths and misinformation surrounding the crisis in Honduras. Our allies at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, DC provided much of the background and analysis for this article.
Myth #1: This was not a coup because Zelaya was impeached by the court. Fact #1: Zelaya’s ouster was not an impeachment. It is clearly a military coup – armed soldiers stormed into his bedroom and kidnapped him at gunpoint, bundled him on to a plane in his nightclothes and left him on the tarmac of the airport in San Jose, Costa Rica. As Zelaya himself has said, he was neither arrested nor tried (with regard to impeachment), but forcibly exiled. The United Nations and every single Latin American government (not just Hugo Chavez’s) a have recognized the illegality of this and called it for what it is – a military coup. And they have demanded the immediate and unconditional restoration of the democratically elected government of Zelaya. Not a single government in the world has recognized the legitimacy of the current de facto regime. Myth #2: Zelaya was removed because he was illegally seeking to extend his term in office. Fact #2: The vote that was to take place was not about giving Zelaya another term, and it was not technically a referendum. President Manuel Zelaya’s proposed survey, to have been conducted on June 28, would have been a non-binding polling of the public to gauge support for including a proposal for a Constituent Assembly, to redraft the Constitution, on the November ballot. Here is a translation of the actual question: “Do you agree that, during the general elections of November 2009 there should be a fourth ballot to decide whether to hold a Constituent National Assembly that will approve a new political constitution?” Zelaya himself was not on the November ballot being ineligible to run for a second term as per the current Honduran Constitution. The head of the military, General Romeo Vasquez refused to carry out the President’s orders to assist with conducting the survey. The president, as commander-in-chief of the military, then fired Vasquez, whereupon the Defense Minister resigned. The Supreme Court subsequently ruled that the president’s firing of Vasquez was illegal, and the majority of the Congress went against President Zelaya. The current Honduran Constitution was drafted during military rule and is not a good guarantor of equality and justice and did not involve all sections of the Honduran people in its drafting. Popular movements in Honduras, including our partners with the Via Campesina, stood in support of this non-binding public consultation before the coup took place. Zelaya also recently stated again, in front of the United Nations General Assembly, that he does not desire reelection or an extension of his term in office Myth #3: The Constitutional Assembly was a rouse to get Zelaya another term in office. Fact #3: Even if the non-binding public consultation supported the formation of a Constitutional Assembly, and even if the Constitution was ultimately changed, Zelaya would not have been able to run for president again until some time in the future since under the current constitution his term expires in November. If the vote on a new Constituent Assembly passed in November, the new president – whoever that might be, not Zelaya – would oversee the formation of that Assembly which would then begin discussion on a new Constitution and which would be a process that might take a few years. Myth #4: Zelaya is out of touch with the Honduran people, who are happy with the way things are. Fact #4: When Zelaya began his term in 2005 he was not seen as someone who is sympathetic to the poor. In fact, he has changed and become an advocate for Honduras’ poor majority. His call for a new Constitution is in recognition of the fact that the current Constitution favors the rich, especially the large landowners and disfavors the poor, especially indigenous people, Afro-Hondurans, and small farmers and farmworkers in the countryside who make up the majority of the population. According to the Via Campesina Central America, over 70% of the population support having a new Constitution that is more inclusive. Myth #5: The regime that overthrew Zelaya has popular support. Fact #5: The people opposing Zelaya and supporting the coup are mostly rich businessmen and large landowners. But, it also includes others in the urban middle class that have benefitted from a Constitution and an economic system that favors the few rather than the many. The Honduran media is largely controlled by the elite, and so a lot of people in Honduras have been getting misinformation on what is happening or what this whole constitutional reform issue is about. So for example, when someone hears that this is all about Zelaya wanting and trying to get another term (when the Constitution prohibits it) they might get worried about presidents amassing too much power given the history of that country with dictatorship. So it is understandable that not just the rich but even sections of the poor might oppose Zelaya, but in the latter case it is based on misinformation. The coup regime has repeatedly suspended civil liberties and used violence to crack down on protestors. There are media reports of deaths, dozens of injuries, and disappearances in the wake of the coup regime’s crackdown. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has stated its concern for over 30 people missing or detained following the coup. The IACHR also expressed concern over the persecution of civil society leaders whose homes had been surrounded and fired on by military forces. The regime enacted a decree on July 1 suspending civil liberties and allowing police and military to enter homes and detain people for more than 24 hours. Police violently dispersed thousands of people who gathered in Tegucigalpa on July 6 to protest the illegal military coup, using tear gas and guns. Civil society leaders including trade union leaders, heads of organizations of small farmers and the rural poor, indigenous leaders, opposition politicians, and others are reporting persecution by the coup regime and many are in hiding or exile. Carlos Reyes, a member of the Bloque Popular, and a candidate for the November elections was recently targeted and assaulted by the police leading to his hospitalization and needing two surgeries. The regime has shut down television and radio stations, and arrested and assaulted journalists as part of a media blackout. The IACHR notes “Alan McDonald, a cartoonist, was allegedly arbitrarily detained along with his 17-month-old daughter when a group of soldiers allegedly raided his house and destroyed his cartoons.” Human rights activists claim the Honduran military is forcibly recruiting young men into its ranks. Grassroots International joins many other organizations around the world calling for the restoration of democracy and human rights in Honduras. Across the board, in the United States, in Latin America and around the world civil society groups, non-governmental organizations and human rights advocates are demanding the same (see an example of a letter signed by multiple organizations here: http://www.lawg.org/storage/lawg/documents/faith-based_and_nongovernmental_statement_on_honduras_june_30__3_.pdf).
Photo by Steve Rhodes: Protest at the Honduran Consulate in San Francisco.