August 04, 2009
Obama must help Honduras:The US could restore democracy to Honduras tomorrow if the president had the audacity to restore some hope, Calvin Tucker
guardian.co.uk, Monday 3 August 2009
The slogan of the coup regime in Honduras, relentlessly promoted on state and private TV channels, is "Peace and Democracy". A "fully constitutional process" is the phrase used to describe the kidnapping of the elected president and his expulsion from the country. As I discovered when I arrived in Honduras two weeks ago, both claims are demonstrably false.
Since the coup on 28 June, the regime has imposed military checkpoints and day and night-time curfews to prevent citizens from attending protests, used helicopters to spray tear gas on peaceful demonstrators and employed batons and live ammunition against those who are trying to restore President Manuel Zelaya to office.
As of 24 July, there have been at least seven documented assassinations, several cases of torture and over one thousand arrests. Since then, I have heard of two more murders. The mutilated body of Pedro Magdiel, a 23-year-old opponent of the regime, was dumped 400 yards from where I and three hundred other unarmed civilians had been pinned down by soldiers, snipers and hooded police gunmen on a road near the Nicaraguan border. The second victim was a 38-year-old teacher, who was gunned down by police at a peaceful demonstration near the capital last Thursday. Of the people I interviewed and spoke with during my visit, two have since been arrested; one hospitalised with a head wound and broken bones, the other released. Another man I talked to was followed after leaving a protest, and knifed.
The terrestrial TV stations and daily newspapers present a constant diet of pro-coup propaganda. The few remaining independent media outlets are subject to harassment and attempted closure. Last week, armed soldiers arrived at the offices of Radio Globo, one of only two anti-coup radio stations, and were only prevented from entering by a crowd of supporters who had gathered outside after receiving a tip-off from an anti-coup police officer. Channel 36, a low-budget satellite-only TV station, has had its banking facilities withdrawn, and contracts with commercial advertisers cancelled. Its signal is repeatedly interrupted.
The coup was timed to prevent a consultative referendum scheduled for the same day. The military regime has falsely claimed that this proposed ballot was an unconstitutional attempt by Zelaya to extend his term in office. This allegation has been taken up – naively or otherwise – by much of the international media.
The question on the ballot papers for 28 June refutes this lie. It was as follows:
Do you agree with the installation of a fourth ballot box during the 2009 general elections so that the people can decide on the calling of a national constituent assembly? Yes or No.
No mention of allowing the president to run again for office. Had the consultative poll been allowed to take place and the population voted yes, the Honduran Congress would have been under pressure to agree to a second (this time binding) referendum on the same day as presidential elections in November. Irrespective of the referendum result, Zelaya could not have been a presidential candidate.
During the Zelaya presidency, measures were implemented that improved the position of the poor majority. These included the doubling of the minimum wage, free school meals (a hugely important step in a country where 50% of children suffer from malnutrition) and agricultural machinery for impoverished farmers. As the rural social leader Rafael Alegria told me, the effect of these measures went far beyond the practical improvements in people's daily lives. "It gave people hope," he said.
Under Zelaya, the majority – including the indigenous and black populations and the urban working class – were beginning to take centre stage. The elite was afraid that the convocation of a constituent assembly would have made this process unstoppable.
At a state-sponsored pro-coup demonstration attended mainly by business owners and employees who were instructed and paid to attend, the placards and banners denounced the presidents of the other Latin American countries, both leftwing and "moderate", along with Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, who is chairing the mediation talks. The coup leaders and their backers regard their actions as an attempt to halt and reverse the "red tide" engulfing the continent. The anti-Zelaya activists I spoke to were perturbed by the fact that the coup had not received the unequivocal support of the US. "Obama is with Chavez and Castro. He doesn't seem to realise he is the president of the United States," one coup supporter told me.
Along with the leaders of the rest of the world, Obama has refused to recognise the de-facto government of Honduras, and has taken limited steps to oppose it. But many in the US establishment, including both neocon Republicans and officials of Hilary Clinton's State Department, have given tacit – and in some cases active – support to the coup regime.
Obama could restore democracy to Honduras tomorrow, but only if he has the courage to break free from the entrenched interests that conspire to subvert the progressive agenda that he espouses.
All he need do is make two public announcements. One is that all military and economic aid to the regime is immediately suspended; the other is that the US gives its full and practical support to the immediate return of Zelaya to his country, to take up his rightful office as president.
A bit of audacity could restore some hope to the world.
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