latin america’s future is being played out in honduras

Roberto Sáenz writes of a new situation of crisis, reactionary offensives, polarisation and growing popular resistance in the region, as exemplified by the recent military coup against Honduras’s centre-left president Zelaya.


“What happened in Honduras is no trivial matter. There is no use taking the word of the constitutionalists who claim that no coup took place since the executive was saved and the other powers of state have been kept ‘intact’. It is not a question of yes to Zelaya, no to Zelaya, yes to Chávez, no to Chávez. They took the president away in his pyjamas: the outcome which is concretising represents a massive backwards step for the democracies of the region and a serious threat to their political systems. Two years ago not even the most fervent conspirator could have imagined a military coup in Latin America. Today, given certain circumstances and taking certain factors into consideration, once again all such options are on the table. This is well-known to those who would split Bolivia, the banana magnates of Guatemala and Ecuador, the followers of General Lino Oviedo in Paraguay and Major Roberto D’Aubuisson Arrieta in El Salvador, the ex-contras in Nicaragua, the Venezuelan employers’ federation and the Argentinian landowners with their blockades”[1].

The military’s entry into political life in Latin America has now created a new situation of reactionary forces and polarisation in the region. It is related to the four-part cycle since the beginning of the current stage of popular rebellions at the start of the 21st century, a cycle which is still playing out. This firstly meant popular rebellions, properly speaking; secondly, the rise to power of various sorts of “progressives” (from Chávez to Lula); and thirdly, the mediation of rebellion by these same “people’s” governments and the emergence of right-wing conservative oppositions. The fourth part is that signalled by the coup d’état in Honduras.

This means a situation with growing reactionary elements, growing polarisation between certain states (between Colombia and Venezuela and Ecuador), but also the emergence of a new process of popular resistance do these same reactionary offensives (as in Honduras).

Part of this same tendency is the deployment of seven US bases in Colombia, an event representing another significant factor in recent weeks. The fact is that the Obama administration’s policies for Latin America have increasingly turned to the right with the deepening of the Honduran crisis.

However, we must not forget that at the heart of any political situation is the concrete evolution of the class struggle, and reactionary offensives, as a ‘rebound’ effect, can follow a radicalisation of the exploited and oppressed such as has simultaneously taken place in Honduras.

This exactly what has happened in that country now key to all developments in the region: the Honduran masses’ resistance to the coup continues, but it is interlinked with the aforementioned trend.

When the military factor returns to the scene

The primary aspect to be taken into account in the new situation is how the military have returned to the political scene. In the region’s history it has been commonplace – all the more so in Central America – for the ruling class, in the hands of US imperialism, to call upon its ‘naked’ power: its weapon of repression, the armed forces.

Unlike in recent decades when the armed forces were the guarantors of bourgeois power but the mechanism par excellence of domination was the deception of the masses via elections, in different times this domination was exercised directly manu militari. The history of coups across the region is evidence enough to remind us of this.

But in recent decades the bourgeoisies of the region and the USA had pushed the other way, calling upon the means of deception as the main way to carry out their class interests.

This meant “contradictions” in recent years. In a context where, through electoral means, a series of reformist bourgeois governments not responding directly to the diktats of Empire have emerged, Honduras represents the fact that military coups – or at least an ‘attenuated’ 21st century version being experimented with in Honduras – are again becoming an option as a means of exercising power.

It is clear that neither method has ever been “ruled out”: certain political systems such as that of Uribe in Colombia today have combined both elements in different degrees: the stick and the carrot.

What is new in the coup in Honduras and the establishment of new US bases in Colombia is the introduction of the military factor, a qualitative jump which cannot but be a danger to the process of popular rebellion in Latin America:

“It does not take a military expert to understand that with the deployment of these bases Venezuela is left totally surrounded, subject to constant harassment by imperialist troops stationed in Colombia as well as the local armed forces and the ‘paramilitaries’. To this we have to add the support brought to this offensive against the Bolivarian revolution by the US bases in Aruba, Curaçao and Guantánamo; at Palmerola, in Honduras; and the Fourth Fleet which has sufficient resources at its disposal to effectively patrol the entire Venezuelan coast. In Paraguay, the USA has guaranteed control of the strategic base of Mariscal Estigarribia and can count on one of the largest and best-defended airfields in South America. In that country it also has at hand an enormous base in Pedro Juan Caballero.[2]

For these reasons the outcome  of the current struggle against the coup in Honduras (an outcome which, we insist, is still not yet determined) cannot but be of the greatest importance: elements of the “militarisation” of political life in the region will be reaffirmed or not depending on the result of this heroic struggle.


Speaking softly but carrying a big stick

“It represents an excessive and unprecedented increase in US military presence in the region, at a time in which no South American country’s security is directly under threat. The Cold War has gone, but this has increasingly put Brazil on the stage as a global player. The strategic focus of US policy in the region, is Brazil.[3]

One important factor in the regional situation has to be the policies of Barack Obama. His commitment to stability in the region is marked by his ever more reactionary role in Honduras (and now with the bases in Colombia). As the political analyst Atilio Baron acerbically commented, “Barack Obama, who the constantly-disoriented European and Latin America ‘progressives’ keep confusing with Malcolm X, is at root following to the letter the advice of Theodore Roosevelt, the father of US imperialism’s great expansion into the Caribbean and Central America, when he said “speak softly and carry a big stick”. With his policy of forced remilitarisation of Latin America and the Caribbean, Obama is returning to the path taken by his predecessor”[4].

Indeed, as regards the Honduran situation, the Obama administration has been letting itself drift ever more to the right. In the first days of the coup, Obama had appeared in the media “condemning” it, perhaps still preoccupied by the need to win back the legitimacy the USA had lost in the eyes of the peoples of the region and the world. However, with the passing of weeks, what we see is the same as what is happening on almost all the other fronts of his government: a constant galloping to the right.

With respect to Honduras the imperial hegemony championed by Obama shows ever less “hegemony” and more signs of what we might call the defence of the fundamental interests of imperialism in its back yard: “In 1929, wanting to express how easy it was to buy the support of a politician, Samuel Zamurray (alias ‘Banana Sam’), president of Cuyamel Fruit, a rival of United Fruit, commented ‘A member of parliament in Honduras costs less than a donkey’. In the late ‘80s president José Azcona Hoyos admitted the submission of Honduras to US strategy, confessing ‘A country as small as Honduras cannot afford itself the luxury of keeping its dignity’. Today, its economic relationship with the great US power is one of almost total dependence: 70% of its exports (bananas, coffee, sugar) go there, and some three billion dollars are sent back by the 800,000 Honduran migrants in the USA in remittances for their families. The biggest investor (40%) in textile factories (with cheap labour) in the Free Trade Zones is United States capital”[5].

With almost-as-open cynicism unmasked, ‘Obama Sam’ recently declared that he “didn’t have a button” to press to re-install Mel Zelaya in government in Honduras (but we all know the USA does indeed have ‘a button’ and that it has been pressed several times, not to mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki…). Furthermore, he accused those “speaking out against US intervention in Latin America” of “double standards”, now that they want his government to act against those who staged the coup…

The double game here is scandalous: the policy of verbal condemnation and the absence of any action to take any effective measures against those who carried out the coup, bringing down the mask Obama had thus far managed to hold in place: being put on the spot over Honduras is forcing him to abandon his vacillation, since the truth is that the USA is much more comfortable with Micheletti than with Zelaya.

Moreover, for the US administration the most important thing is that, given the heroic popular resistance in Honduras, an eventual end of the dictatorship – even if mediated by the deceitful negotiations in San José, Costa Rica – could be seen as a triumph for the people: Obama’s main preoccupation in the region is that the cycle of popular rebellions does not reach a stage where it begins to put into question much more profoundly its subordination to imperialism, even when the latter is disguised by having a black president.

The tactics of appeasement: when words fail

Appeasement is the name given to the failed policy of the governments of the imperialist bourgeois democracies faced with the Spanish civil war and Hitler’s coming to power in Germany. It is clear that this policy failed… apart from the obvious differences, Latin American progressivism – including its most garrulous representatives, like Hugo Chávez – has taken a similar position faced with the Honduran coup, given its fatal class limitations.

They have come out with talk, talk and more talk without being able to take a single practical measure against the Micheletti government: they have not called a single protest in repudiation of the coup in Honduras (and the growing militarisation of the continent’s political life) in their own countries, and still less at a continental level.

Or maybe someone has seen a mass demonstration in Caracas called by Hugo Chávez? Or one in La Paz or El Alto called by Evo Morales? Or in Central America itself, such a call coming from Ortega’s FSLN government or Funes’s FLNM? No-one has seen them, because no such call has come: this is disgraceful, a point-for-point repetition of the course of every reformist leadership in history![6]

Perhaps we need to remind ourselves here of the history of the ignominious downfalls of Juan Domingo Perón in Argentina in 1955, of a certain Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, the fall of Allende in Chile in 1973, in all cases cut down by the same ‘scissors’: the refusal of these “progressive” governments to organise the masses against the coup!

With the crocodile tears of the OAS (Organisation of American States), UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations), MERCOSUR (the Southern Common Market), so too ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of our America) and all the other institutions of the region, history repeats itself: the policy of appeasement cannot stop the coup. Nor can round table negotiations like those staged by President Arias in San José, Costa Rica, where everything has been conceded to those who made the coup, save the question of the conditional reinstatement of Zelaya… with the result that Micheletti not only continues to hold power, but can also refuse to receive Insulza (General Secretary of the OAS) himself, accusing him of “partiality”.

There are also recent precedents for this, and in Central America itself, with the “mediation” role played by that same Costa Rican president Arias at the time of the Nicaraguan revolution of the 1980s, “mediation” in which the Sandinistas and the Salvadorian FLMN capitulated along the line, giving up even the revolutionary process itself[7].

In any case, the impotence of these institutions whenever called to action in the interests of the masses shows once again their character as capitalist organisations in submission to US imperialism.


Coup by night, rebellion by day

“Are they afraid? No. Are they afraid? No. So, forward, forward, keep up the fight”[8].

However, the reality in the region is much less simple than superficial analyses might have up believe. As our comrades in the PST commented on the situation in Honduras: “We are not facing a normal situation in the class struggle but one of its highest points, where all everyday live breathes politics and the mobilisation of the masses is both generalised and constant”[9].

In the same sense, the openly pro-coup Argentinian daily La Nación informs us that “the Micheletti government finds itself harassed every day by demonstrations, road blockades and occupations by the members of the so-called Frente Nacional de Resistencia contra el golpe de Estado (National Front of Resistance to the Coup), which demands the reinstatement of Zelaya”[10].

That is to say that in the concrete case of Honduras, the coup represents a polarisation of the country’s class struggle in a way rarely seen before. However, there is also a tremendous contradiction in the character of the Honduran coup: the situation continues to be one which we might call “coup by night, popular rebellion by day”.

That is not to say that those who carried out the coup are not firmly installed in power and what the Honduran masses are confronting is not a done and dusted coup d’état. But there are not many precedents where, 40 days after a coup d’état, the resistance of the masses continues to prevent any normalisation of the situation in the country.

To explain further still: it is evident that having managed to stay at the helm for five weeks is a triumph for the gangsters. They have control of the country, control which for now it does not seem possible to challenge as such.

However, there continues to be an enormous contradiction in the Honduran political situation: not my any measure can we say that the country has been normalised: the resistance continues to be massive and defiant. When people are not afraid of a dictatorship, there is a very serious problem for the latter, since its own character demands that it can generate fear, respect, authority and terror to be a proper dictatorship: “The damage Honduras has now suffered and the risk that the social, political and economic situation will worsen, is sufficient reason to recognise errors, but not such that we should waste the possibility of dialogue to bring an end to the crisis and reconcile ourselves with a world which, without exception, does not consider the current government legitimate”. This editorial appeared on the website of the pro-coup Honduran daily El Heraldo on Monday 10th August.

Honduras shows the scope but also the limitations of this situation, with its reactionary elements: it seems there is space for hope of mounting a coup d’état in the 21st century, but apparently not such that it would produce a bloodbath, even if in recent days repressive measures have been stepped up and at any point circumstances could take it much further…

But a dictatorship which is challenged day-to-day, a dictatorship which at the same time co-exists with popular rebellion, is a contradiction which has to be resolved.

A tendency towards the extremes

Lula and Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner did not like what Hugo Chávez said at the last UNASUR meeting when he asserted that “war drums” were starting to be heard in the region. For our part, we can be clear that the bravado in the Venezuelan president’s words never results in action. However, that does not mean that what he referred to is not something real. As the analyst Juan Tokatlian said, “Undoubtedly, in the whole Latin American situation, what we face today in the Andean region is unusual in terms of its tensions and quarrels. If we take a historic perspective, this region, the most stable in the last half century, now has the highest levels of polarisation and conflict”[11].

The political polarisation introduced by the emergence of the military factor in Latin American political life brings with it the idea Chávez suggests: the region could end up sliding to a more polarised scenario marked by conflicts in the relations between given states, including the eventuality of military clashes and/or more reactionary coups. But, remember, also more radicalisation of the masses and – even now – revolutionary responses. This is the classic dialectic of the social and political polarisation of the class struggle.

In the context of the region’s political cycle, and the current global economic crisis, the introduction of the military factory contains elements of polarisation of the situation not only towards the right, but eventually also to the left.

Exactly for this reason, this situation has its own flip-side, a concrete danger for those in power: in recent decades the privileged form of capitalist politics has been “mediation” via bourgeois democracy, avoiding extremism like the plague: not only the far right, but also leftists. A year ago we wrote: “The conjuncture of these factors is taking place under conditions of a growing global economic crisis as well as a crisis of hegemony for US imperialism. These global factors tend to the creation of an international situation with more ‘classic’ features, in the sense that perhaps in the near future we will see more conflicts between states and bourgeoisies than we have been accustomed to in the last two or three decades. That is to say, hints of crises, wars and revolutions”[12].

The reactionary course weakens the mediation of bourgeois democracy and introduces an element of unpredictability: the eventuality that among the polarisation will be opened a way forward for the left, a revolutionary opportunity, a factor which has been absent in all these years.

In the event that in tandem with this tendency towards polarisation of economic, social and class interests, comes the paring-down of the traditional mechanisms of the bosses’ democracy via reactionary offensives, it will result in the opening of a new period of crises, wars and revolutions. That is the reckoning of our international current ‘Socialismo o Barbarie’.

Spanish-language updates on the coup in Honduras and the resistance:

[1] “Dictadura posbananera”, Santiago O’ Doncel, Página 12, 2nd August 2009.

[2] Atilio Boron, Página 12, 8th August 2009. Furthermore, consider the disproportionately large Colombian army – second on the continent after Brazil but largest relative to population size and best equipped by the USA: it has no less than 253,900 troops!

[3] Andres Tokatlian, La Nación, 9th August 2009.

[4] Página 12, ibid.

[5] El Diplo, August 2009. In the same issue are cited many very illustrative statements by Manuel Zelaya. “I thought I could make changes within a neoliberal framework. But the rich would not concede a penny. They wanted everything for themselves. So, logically, to make changes it was necessary to rely on the people”.

[6] In the same way, the mass organisations loyal to them – like the CGT and CTA unions in Argentina – have disgracefully failed to lift a finger. For example, the CTA has now sent its general secretary Hugo Yasky to Honduras… but it is apparently unable to call a national day of action against the coup.

[7] See Historia General de Centroamérica, volume 6, FLACSO, Madrid 1993.

[8] Slogan chanted daily in the streets of Honduras. In Spanish, it rhymes “¿Tienen miedo? No. ¿Tienen miedo? No. Entonces, adelante, adelante, que la lucha es constante”.

[9] Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores (of Honduras) internal bulletin no. 36.

[10] La Nación, 9th August 2009.

[11] La Nación, 9th August 2009.

[12] Socialismo o Barbarie no. 121

One thought on “latin america’s future is being played out in honduras

Comments are closed.