The coup d’état against president Manuel “Mel” Zelaya is first of all a sign of how the global crisis has opened up a new political situation across the world. Last year, at the outbreak of the crisis, we warned that it would mean more polarised politics, as much in a right-wing direction as to the left, and that this would mean increasing abandonment of the political “centre” and sharper confrontations.
Honduras, a country hit hard by the global crisis, is itself one of the weakest links in the Central American semi-colonial chain… which for more than three years has seen the highest level of struggle in Central America, with national mobilisations (the “civic stoppages”) which have several times managed to paralyse the country. One aspect of this previous polarisation was the birth of the CNRP (National Popular Resistance Council) which brought together union federations and social movements calling for “civic stoppages” and other mobilisations.
In the economic sphere this has meant the bankruptcy of the 1990s’ new mode of accumulation which was meant to replace the “banana republic” model which had existed throughout almost the entire twentieth century.
The formula “maquila” (garment factories) + export of workers to the USA to send money back + agricultural exports under free trade treaties has gone from bad to worse. Now, with the economic crisis, it has fallen to pieces. But even before this its contradictions had important repercussions, both from below… and from above.
By “from below” we mean the “civic stoppages” and the rise of the CNRP. By “from above” we mean the phenomenon of the “left turn” of the government of “Mel” Zelaya, a president with origins in the oligarchy and belonging to one of the traditional right-wing parties, the Partido Liberal.
The Zelayas, a family of (mainly rancher) landowners since the eighteenth century, are among the white “aristocrats” who have been the main bosses in Honduras since independence, associated with Yankee corporations and protected by the colonial powers, in particular as regards the Honduran Armed Forces, a direct product of the Pentagon’s “American School”.
Mel’s father José Manuel Zelaya was implicated in the infamous “massacre of Los Horcones” in June 1975, where two priests and 13 peasant activists holding protests demanding land were murdered.
It would have been difficult to imagine that 24 years later, with political, family and social ancestors like this, his son “Mel” would end up overthrown by a coup, accused of being a “communist”!
The division of the bourgeoisie and its political and judicial personnel
The socio-economic splits which existed in Honduras even before the crisis aggravated them have created this situation.
In November 2005 Mel Zelaya won the presidency as a candidate of the Partido Liberal without making any “progressive” noises. At the time one analyst described the new Zelaya government as “centre-right but very traditional, tightly linked to the principles of free enterprise, the defence of private property and a special relationship with the USA” .
In the early days of his presidency he faced a tough teachers’ strike, ultimately making concessions. Then popular struggles began to grow – including those against water privatisation – reaching their height in the “civic stoppages” and the CNRP.
But Zelaya himself also started to have trouble with the bourgeoisie and foreign corporations. Honduras was confronted with an energy crisis, which became all the more stark as oil prices soared. At the same time, the breakdown of the maquila + sending money home + agricultural exports model meant insufficient currency to confront the problem. For its part the IMF began to exact pressure, demanding the privatisation of state-owned enterprises and cutting social service costs: dangerous initiatives at a time of growing mass movements.
The “salvation” of Mel Zelaya was the turn to Chávez. He sought to solve the energy crisis by investing in Petroamérica (Petróleos de America), one of Chávez’s initiatives, and then ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean). This guaranteed him preferential-rate oil but also meant a break with Exxon-Mobil, Texaco-Chevron and Shell, Honduras’s traditional providers.
The turn to Chávez and other economic and political measures taken by Mel Zelaya deeply divided the miserable sell-out Honduran bourgeoisie, its middle class entourage and the state apparatus (politicians, functionaries, judges and the military). The great majority aligned themselves ever more against him.
In this situation, a classic situation started to come about: a bourgeois government, which is opposed by the majority of the bourgeoisie, tries to survive on the basis on mass-movement support. In Honduras the rise of struggles led by the CNRP gave substance to this option.
This “left turn”, seeking support among the mass movement was done without making significant material concessions to the working class or peasantry. Beyond small increases in the minimum wage, suspension of water privatisation and other small concessions, Mel’s populist turn was more a matter of speeches, embracing Chávez and the Castro brothers and meetings with the CNRP.
However, this was intolerable for Honduras’s cave-dwelling bosses and their middle-class servants. An initiative which was unquestionable from a democratic point of view exploded the whole situation: the plan for a referendum on Sunday 28th so that citizens could decide if November’s elections would include a “fourth ballot” to vote on whether or not to call a Constituent Assembly next year.
This was, besides, unobjectionable from the point of view of the existing Constitution, which has a mechanism which could have been enacted in this case with a petition of 400,000 signatures.
Of course, Mel Zelaya’s Constituent Assembly would not have proposed bringing about socialism or finishing with capitalist property: rather, a bourgeois-democratic institution whose perspective would have been bringing about small changes in the political system. But even small changes in the structures of capitalism would have been unbearable for these cave-dwellers.
The pro-coup campaign: “kids are taking state power like in Communist Venezuela”
The pro-coup campaign in reaction to this bourgeois-democratic initiative represented the bourgeoisie and its “middle class” lackeys from head to toe.
For example, days before the coup, a front-page headline in the pro-coup paper La Prensa (24th June) said “kids are taking state power like in Communist Venezuela”. Who’d have thought the Constituent Assembly would take measures like this!
The opposition of the majority of the bourgeoisie implied potential elements of a break with the status quo… They feared that Mel’s proposals would give rise to wider questioning of the system. Indeed, the interests of the Honduran bourgeoisie (and its big allies in the Yankee corporations) are tied with the ossified hierarchies of the bi-partisan system, of liberals and “nationals” (conservatives).
This last point is a very concrete one, not only for the bourgeoisie but also the middle class gangs who live off these “arrangements”. They had seen the precedent of the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly, which finished off the traditional parties, and the widespread patronage based on them… which were then replaced by a new Chavista patronage structure.
The traditional liberal and “national” hierarchies did not want the same to happen to them with Mel Zelaya and his Constituent Assembly.
The Organisation of American States, the UN, Obama and the resistance of the masses
The coup d’état put back on the scene something which “progressive” illusions thought impossible, the thing of a past now definitely overcome: a military coup, backed by the majority of the bourgeoisie and far-right sections of the middle class.
Faced with the coup, there have been two oppositional responses, which are in their nature and perspectives completely different: first, condemnation by the “international community” (the OAS, UN, Latin American governments, the USA and EU); the other response is the fierce resistance of the working masses.
Although both attitudes – from the outside – appear to coincide, in truth every minute that passes shows that they are heading down very different paths.
The solemn unanimous votes condemning the coup at the OAS and UN – including the novelty, perhaps for the first time in history, of the White House appearing to condemn a coup in Latin America – in the last instance want to negotiate a “peaceful” outcome with the putschists. An “outcome” which will avoid greater evils and safe face for Obama and his Latin American colleagues in fornt of public opinion, particularly in Latin America.
This has also meant the delay of Mel’s return to the country. His return, had it happened on Thursday 2nd, would have served to unleash a real popular rebellion. The postponement of this has “frozen” matters and given a time margin for ever more brutal repression.
It is no coincidence that this postponement of his return had been suggested by the OAS. It gave the putschists valuable time to advance the other possible outcome of the scenario: the decisive consolidation of the coup, as is taking place at the moment, with the suspension of constitutional rights and the de facto establishment of a state of siege.
For those who go beyond this, the “exit route” proposed by the OAS would include the restoration of Mel Zelaya so that he can finish his mandate at the end of the year, but also an amnesty for the criminal putschists and the abandonment of the Constituent Assembly bill.
On the other hand, there is another thing which several bourgeois governments (including Obama) believe, as do the corporations, especially those with interests in Honduras and Latin America. That is that they absolutely must support the “firmness” which the Tegucigalpa putschists have shown until now. Papers like the Wall Street Journal openly justify the coup!
As for the OAS, its whole attitude is to serve as fire-fighters for the fire which has broken out in Central America. But its problem is that the putschists have apparently not tried to negotiate, and that its confrontation with the masses is ever more volatile.
The great OAS “threat” was to “suspend” Honduras unless Micheletti put Mel back in place by Saturday 4th. Words, more words… while time passes! As presidential elections are planned for November (totally managed by the thugs and their political friends), the OAS will have the opportunity to then discover that Honduras “has returned to democracy”.
The popular resistance has chosen another path… not one of negotiation. Among the masses, most of them taken by surprise, there began to develop a great hatred for “Pinocheletti” – as the thug Micheletti has been baptised – as well as the bosses, politicians and soldiers who back him. Their protests and mobilisations have been growing day by day in Tegucigalpa and the whole country, in spite of fierce and still-growing repression.
The mobilisation of the working and popular masses is the only guarantee of defeating the coup
Effectively, only the mobilisation of the Honduran masses, accompanied by the solidarity actions of the workers and peoples of Latin America and the rest of the world, can secure the categorical defeat of the coup.
For this, as the Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores comrades have argued, the widest possible unity of action within Honduras is necessary – with the CNRP at its head – uniting the working class, peasants, students and all those opposed to the thug “Pinocheletti”.
But at the same time, this does not mean placing the slightest political confidence in “Mel” Zelaya, nor in OAS-style negotiations, which will end up letting the moment where the coup could have been defeated pass.
A fundamental question here is the Constituent Assembly, which could be dropped as a “pay-off” to solve the problems between Mel and the thuggish bourgeoisie.
Against any such capitulation, it is necessary to raise the slogan of a Free and Sovereign Constituent Assembly or Revolutionary Constituent Assembly to sweep away all the institutions of the system.
 – Libardo Buitrago, “¿Quién es Manuel Zelaya Rosales?”, CIDOB, 1st December 2007.