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From The Socialist newspaper, 30 September 2009

Honduras: Coup leaders step up repression

The right-wing leader of the 28 June coup in Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, has announced that the police have been given full powers to break up the 'unauthorised' meetings that have mushroomed since the elected and deposed president, Mel Zelaya, unexpectedly returned to Honduras' capital, Tegucigalpa, on 21 September. NIALL MULHOLLAND gives the background to a political situation that is reaching crisis point.

AFTER THE deposed and exiled president Zelaya's return, large crowds of supporters, many from poor rural areas, welcomed him, surrounding the Brazilian embassy building where Zelaya addressed them. However, on 23 September, the coup regime unleashed rubber bullets and tear gas against the thousands of Zelaya supporters outside the embassy, causing scores of injuries and reportedly two deaths.

After Zelaya's return, Micheletti's regime declared a state of emergency, suspending the right of assembly. Civilian airports are under military control and the borders are sealed. Most of the country has been shut down, with schools and many businesses closed.

Reportedly the army cut off road traffic into Tegucigalpa, cut off the electricity supply to a TV station to stop it reporting Zelaya's return and arrested hundreds of Zelaya supporters. However, reports tell of the masses reacting bravely, erecting barricades in Tegucigalpa's working class areas and other towns.

Until recently, Zelaya was in neighbouring Nicaragua, which has been in ferment since the coup with continuous mass protests, meetings and strikes by working people, students and the poor.

Counter-revolution

Micheletti no doubt hoped his coup would end the 'Leftist' administration and intimidate the masses into accepting the rule of big landlords and oligarchs. But the 'whip of counter-revolution' spurred on the poor and workers, who have had enough of huge social inequalities, unemployment and poverty. Half of Honduras' population lives below the poverty line. Official unemployment of 28% forced over one million of the 7.8 million population to emigrate to the US to try to find work.

Zelaya, a wealthy landowner, was elected president in 2005 for the centre-right Liberal Party. Once in power, however, under pressure from the masses, he carried out some reforms to alleviate the suffering of the poor, including a 60% increase in the minimum wage. In 2008, Zelaya brought Honduras into the ALBA regional alliance promoted by Chavez's Venezuela and reached an agreement with Venezuela over fuel importation, breaking the multinationals' monopoly.

Zelaya's policies angered the Honduran ruling class, long tied to US imperialist interests and the 1980s launch-pad for the US-backed right-wing Contras terrorists, who fought to defeat Nicaragua's revolution. Honduras' people have suffered many military coups, as the rich elite do everything to stop distribution of wealth to the masses.

Zelaya's attempts to change the constitution (drafted by a right wing military regime in the 1980s), along with his dismissal of the armed forces' commander, triggered June's coup. Zelaya said a referendum would be held alongside the 29 November elections. The Supreme Court, the right wing dominated Congress and the military, who organise elections in Honduras, all opposed the referendum.

When Zelaya refused to back down, these forces overthrew him. Even Zelaya's limited reforms threatened Honduras' ruling class, who feared that the idea of a Constituent Assembly could arouse the masses to mobilise for fundamental social change.

Most Latin American countries formally condemned the coup. Obama's administration made cautious criticisms, but fell short of any condemnation that would mean imposing sanctions against the coup regime. At least sections of the US military/intelligence complex, linked to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, may have had foreknowledge of Micheletti's coup.

Honduras' poor and exploited people courageously resisted the coup regime. The National Front of Resistance has organised regular mass actions and held assemblies of workers and the poor to chart a way forward.

The situation is reaching a critical point. Zelaya's return re-energised the masses. How will the coup regime react? Brazil's government has warned the regime not to try to storm its embassy, but attempts to arrest or even kill Zelaya are not ruled out. Coupled with a brutal nationwide military clampdown, the regime would hope to end the masses' revolt. Such a scenario, however, could lead to a mass insurrectionary movement. Even if the masses' revolt were crushed, it would only prepare the way for further upsurges of mass struggle.

The Micheletti regime, fearing that a radicalised mass opposition movement could arise, is under pressure from the US to cut a deal with Zelaya. Until now, Micheletti's conditions on Zelaya's return to Honduras were completely unacceptable (i.e. that Zelaya cannot be president, that he must accept the 29 November elections being organised by the coup regime and that he must face trial). But Micheletti's regime, or elements in it, may be prepared to compromise with Zelaya, to try to stop the spread of radical opposition from threatening the entire regime and ruling class.

Micheletti has said he is prepared to talk to Zelaya but that Zelaya must first accept that planned presidential elections would be held in November. The US has backed the 'San Jose Accord' where Zelaya would return to the presidential palace as nominal head of a 'unity and reconciliation' government also involving the coup plotters.

The coup leaders would be absolved of any crimes and Zelaya would have to vow not to try to change the constitution. This plan, backed by Hillary Clinton, would amount to a victory for the coup plotters.

Brutal regime

For the masses, there can be no negotiations or compromise with an illegal, brutal regime that denies democratic, civil and human rights and will do everything to make sure big capital keeps ruling at the expense of working people and the poor.

The key task for working people, youth and the unemployed is to develop the mass resistance and independent working-class policies. No to 'unity' with the capitalist and landlord classes and imperialist interests, who diametrically oppose the Honduran masses' class interests.

The masses have shown courage in the fight for democratic rights, the right to organise and for independent trade unions. To overthrow the coup regime and bring about real, lasting democratic rights and social gains entails using the methods of mass class struggle, with the organised working class to the fore: the general strike, mass demonstrations and, ultimately, an insurrectionary movement to get rid of the coup regime and imperialist interference.

The local community-based committees and other structures set up by the Resistance Front need to be developed, locally, regionally and nationally, and run democratically. These mass representative structures, involving local communities, workers and trade unions, youth, students and the wider community, can become the real base of power in Honduras and form the basis of a national government of workers and the poor: for a revolutionary Constituent Assembly with majority representation for workers and the poor!

A national workers' government with socialist policies can fundamentally change the situation in Honduras, bringing the country's wealth under the working class' democratic control and management. This would be a powerful attraction to the masses of the Americas, hugely speeding up the process of radicalisation and revolution already starting on the continent.

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