October 2009  

Honduras: Sweep Away the Coup Plotters, Generals and Capitalists –
Fight for a Workers and Peasants Government!

For Revolutionary Workers Struggle
Against Coups in Central America

Mass march against the coup and the repression unleashed by the dictatorship, Tegucigalpa, August 11.
Photo: Honduras Laboral

Yankee Imperialism, Hands Off!

The following article, translated from El Internacionalista, is based on a presentation at an August 21 forum of the Grupo Internacionalista, section of the League for the Fourth International, at the National University of Mexico (UNAM).

The June 28 coup d’état in Honduras set off a regional and continent-wide crisis which is still continuing. Its intensity not only has not diminished, it has sharpened, mainly due to the resistance of the working people who have not given up an inch in the face of the brutal repression by the dictatorship that has taken over the Central American country. Despite the efforts of the coup plotters to stay in power through delaying tactics, sustained by the de facto recognition of the de facto regime by its imperialist master, the United States, they have not been able to restore order. Despite all the beatings, the torture and murders, the Honduran workers and peasants, the teachers and students, the indigenous peoples, the black Garífuna population and women in particular remain on battle footing. Their heroic example is an inspiration to all.

The visible heads of the coup d’état: the puppet "president" Roberto Micheletti (in suit and tie) and General Romeo Vásques (saluting).
Photo: Reuters

When General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez1 ousted the president of the republic, Manuel Zelaya Rosales – arresting him at gunpoint in his home, kidnapping and exiling him to Costa Rica in his pajamas, and then installing as puppet president the head of the Honduran Congress, Roberto Micheletti Baín – he surely thought that the problem had been resolved. It didn’t turn out that way. Clearly, this act of force was in response to the desire of the reactionary ruling classes of Central America, spurred on by imperialist ultra-rightists, to get rid of the “moderate center-left” presidents who have been elected throughout the region. Everything indicates that they chose Honduras because it had the weakest political left in the isthmus. Zelaya, the head of the traditional Liberal Party, did not have the mass apparatus of the FMLN in El Salvador or the FSLN in Nicaragua. But they miscalculated. They didn’t take into account that Honduras has the strongest trade-union movement in the area, and it is the unions that have been the backbone of the resistance.

The civilian-military coup d’état unleashed a nightmare for the Honduran masses, and not just for them. In fact, it threatens all of Latin America with a return to the times of the military dictatorships, of the dirty wars and the death squads of the 1970s and ’80s. Everyone understands that if the gorilas (reactionary military officers) manage to consolidate their domination in Honduras, the same thing could take place tomorrow in Ecuador or Bolivia. The question that is posed is how to eradicate this plague that has beset Latin America for decades, and in order to answer that it is necessary to analyze its context, its roots and its scope. To suppose that the solution is to be found in merely reestablishing “constitutional order” by restoring President Zelaya, or even that it can be resolved in a bourgeois-democratic framework, is to ignore the class forces which produced the coup, as well as the web of complicity extending from Tegucigalpa to Washington, D.C. In reality, only through international socialist revolution is it possible to eradicate the threat of constant coups, which are inherent in Latin American capitalism under imperialist domination.

In the final analysis, despite the denials by U.S. spokesmen, this coup was “made in U.S.A.” And this fact has enormous importance in devising a strategy to fight it.

 It must be stressed, as we have done, that the Honduran military uprising is “the first coup of the Obama administration.” In Latin America, there have been many illusions in the election of the U.S. president, reputed to be a liberal and a critic of the war in Iraq. He was seen as the “anti-Bush.”  Fewer illusions, perhaps, than in the United States, where the election of the first black president represented a significant social shift, but not the heralded political “change.” Great hopes were erroneously placed in Barack Obama, and while the Internationalist Group warned from the outset that he was a warmonger and defender of the bankers, practically the entire U.S. left, either directly or indirectly, aided his election. Due to their inveterate opportunism, they fed the illusions rather than fighting them.

Nevertheless, seven months after taking office, the Obama administration has turned out to be, in terms of its political content, the third term of George Bush II. Its leading personnel comes largely from the team of Bill Clinton, with the addition of the chiefs of the War Department and Treasury, who carried out the same functions under Bush. This continuity in personnel constitutes a loyalty oath to Wall Street and the Pentagon, demonstrating that it is the same old Yankee imperialism. In his “national security” policies, in the imperialist war and colonial occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama is following in the footsteps of the Bush administration, and has even intensified military strikes inside Pakistan. The torture and massacres of the civilian population of Afghanistan continue, as well as the police-state measures against democratic rights in the United States.

In Latin America, the U.S. Navy’s Fourth Fleet has been reactivated, after having been dissolved in the 1940s. Now a new agreement is about to be signed with Colombia giving U.S. forces access to seven Colombian military bases, in addition to the six where they already have hundreds of American military “advisors” and intelligence agents. And despite the announcement by the Ecuadorian government of Rafael Correa that he would not renew the contract for the use of the air base at Manta (which returned to Ecuadorian control in mid-September), the United States is encircling Hugo Chávez’ Venezuela with a military cordon. As the Venezuelan president rightly remarked, the winds of war are blowing in the region.

It was in this framework that the military coup in Honduras was plotted that overthrew President Zelaya, accused of being the beachhead for the expansion of chavismo in Central America. For the U.S. government, Chávez – this bourgeois populist-nationalist who hasn’t expropriated anything, and whose few nationalizations are actually commercial transactions which have turned out to be quite lucrative for the companies involved – has apparently replaced “Castro communism” as the fearsome spectre stalking Latin America.

Collusion: U.S. ambassador (and Cuban gusano) Hugo Llorens with then-president of the Honduran Congress, Roberto Micheletti, in September 2008.

We have published the details showing that the U.S. was up to its neck in the plotting of the putsch, even discussing with the future authors of the coup about how to go about arresting the president who was elected by popular vote2. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon traveled to Tegucigalpa for this purpose a week before the overthrow of Zelaya. We noted how the coup regime has hired prominent lobbyists linked to the Clintons to be its representatives in Washington. It’s also noteworthy that prominent liberal groups like the Washington Office on Latin America went after Zelaya during the days before the coup over his plans to hold a non-binding poll on whether a constituent assembly should be called. But if this sent shivers down the backs of the Honduran ruling class, together with the 60 percent increase in the minimum wage ordered by Zelaya last year, what got Washington in a tizzy were the increasingly close ties between the Honduran president and the Venezuelan president in the framework of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA).

Another element placing the civilian-military coup in a regional framework was the coordinated replacement of American ambassadors to the governments of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in August 2008: Hugo Llorens3 was dispatched to Tegucigalpa, Robert Blau was sent as chargé d’affairs to San Salvador, Stephen McFarland to Guatemala and Robert Callahan to Managua. All of them studied at the United States War College in Washington, all worked at the U.S. embassy in Iraq, and all of them were officials of the National Intelligence Directorate under John Negroponte, who was known as The Proconsul during his years as U.S. ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s. From that position he ran the death squads in El Salvador, the murderous “contras” in Nicaragua, and Battalion 316 in Honduras, which assassinated and “disappeared” hundreds of left-wing activists and imposed a reign of terror on the country.

Today the ghosts of yesteryear have returned to Honduras. Hours after the coup, Billy Joya Améndola, notorious as one of the bloodiest butchers of Battalion 316, appeared on Honduran television screens as the “minister counselor” of Micheletti in his failed bid to become the candidate of the Liberal Party in this year’s elections. Replying to accusations that he was responsible for the death or disappearance of 16 people in the 1980s, Billy Joya told a reporter for the New York Times (8 August): “The policy at that time was, ‘The only good Communist is a dead Communist.’ ... I supported the policy.” Interestingly, Joya, like much of the Honduran “elite,” has permanent residency in the United States, the famous “green card,” and in recent weeks moved his family to Miami. It has also been reported that many of the businessmen behind the coup have sent their families to the U.S., in case things go awry.

The devil’s embrace: Honduran president Zelaya with the Yankee ambassador Llorens, in Managua, July 30. Photo: Reuters

It should not be forgotten that the military coups in Honduras in 1956, in 1963 (the bloodiest, which brought to power the father of Zelaya’s foreign minister, Patricia Rodas), in 1972, in 1975 and in 1978 all sought the support of U.S. imperialism and attacked the workers movement. Even when there were supposedly civilian regimes, these were only a disguise to mask military domination. So in order to eliminate military coups and military regimes in civilian disguise, which have been a constant in Honduran history, it is necessary to break with the system that generates them: imperialism. In the first days (after June 28), many of those who opposed the Honduran coup called on the U.S. to disavow the coup plotters. Hugo Chávez appealed, “Obama, do something.” We in the League for the Fourth International, in contrast, insisted, “Yankee Imperialism, Hands Off!” We did not beg Obama to restore Zelaya to the presidential seat. We demanded that the U.S. pull its troops out of the military base of Soto Cano (Palmerola) along with its agents throughout the country, and we called on the Honduran workers to expel the imperialists.

We also did not call on the Organization of American States (OAS), that body which Ernesto “Ché” Guevara rightly called the Yankee ministry of colonies, nor did we ask for the intervention of Latin American bourgeois governments like Brazil, Chile and Argentina. If they came out against the Honduran coup, so much the better; but as subjects, allies and junior partners of U.S. imperialism, their posture has been to negotiate a deal, like the ill-starred “Agreement of San José,” which calls for the return of Zelaya without presidential powers and for coexistence with Micheletti & Co. Working people should reject any “dialogue” with the golpistas, who only “dialogue” with guns and truncheons. “Amnesty” for these criminals amounts to impunity. Neither forgiving nor forgetting for the coup plotters! We do not call on bourgeois forces to negotiate a deal with the gorilas. On the contrary, we fight for workers mobilization to smash the coup.

Bring Down the Coup with Class Struggle!

Meanwhile, a wave of repression has been unleashed over Honduras without precedent in the history of the country. Thousands have been arrested so far (17,000 by the end of September, according to the estimates of human rights groups; as many as 30,000 by other counts). The “forces of law and order” have been dealing out brutal beatings in the streets in order to “teach a lesson” to the protesters, while in the shadows they shoot and knife teachers in particular. Nothing is known of the whereabouts of hundreds of peasants arrested on any pretext after marching hundreds of kilometers to express their opposition to the coup. When a crowd of up to 100,000 opponents of the military takeover flocked to the Airport of Toncatín on July 4 to salute President Zelaya on his attempted return, a sniper in uniform murdered a 16-year-old youth, Isis Obed Murillo, with a shot to the heart. When his father, a Protestant minister, sought to protest this atrocity, he was arrested. Later, two teachers – Roger Vallejo and Martín Riviera – were vilely murdered, reflecting the leading role of the teachers unions in the resistance to the government of usurpers.

The death squads are back. José Murillo Sánchez, when he attempted to protest the assassination of his son Isis Obed by an army sharpshooter, was arrested by police officers in ski masks.

Perhaps the most sinister aspect of the repression is not so much the death toll, but the fact that the military forces go out of their way to brutally and systematically attack demonstrators with riot clubs and steel bars instead of bullets. Here you can see the hidden hand of their U.S. military “advisers” who advise them to avoid creating martyrs. In the same way, when torture is accompanied by doctors and psychiatrists who advise the torturers when they should take a break in order to avoid killing the “subject,” it is a telltale sign that “scientific” repression is being carried out with the trademark of the CIA. The Honduran high command is a bunch of bloody psychopaths who wouldn’t hesitate for a second to give the order to massacre thousands of their “compatriots.” If, for now, they are concentrating on dealing out kicks and blows, you know with absolute certainty that they are being instructed by Joint Task Force Bravo of the U.S. Army, stationed at the military base of Soto Cano in Palmerola, no matter what Pentagon spokesmen say about their supposed non-participation in the coup.

(Now they are experimenting with new “crowd control” weapons, such as the Long-Range Acoustical Device, or LRAD, which is being used against the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa where President Zelaya is ensconced, and which has previously been used in Afghanistan, Iraq and, most recently, against anti-globalization demonstrators in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.)

The Honduran military takeover – supported and even instigated by the overwhelming majority of the capitalist class; approved by the National and Liberal parties in the Natiojnal Congress; “legalized” by order of the slavish Supreme Court, totally controlled by the same parties; and sanctified with the benediction of both the Catholic archbishop and of the top Protestant prelates – represents a blood-curdling threat to democratic rights and the fundamental interests of the Honduran masses in one of the poorest countries of Latin America. It was also motivated by capitalist class interests. It was carried out, among other reasons, in order to intensify the exploitation in the maquiladoras, the free trade zone factories, which produce for the capitalist world market. As we have pointed out, despite being a small country, Honduras has the third-largest number of maquiladora workers in the world.

Around 1,000 women workers at the Index maquiladora in Comayagüela demonstrated on February 17 to demand payment of the minimum wage decreed by the administration of Manuel Zelaya in December of last year. Photo: El Heraldo

What this means is that the country which in the past was the archetype of the “banana republic” is today a “maquiladora republic.” This has a contradictory aspect: on the one hand, Honduras is directly under the iron heel of imperialism, subject to the commandments of American capitalists. But on the other hand, its integration into the world economy, particularly through the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) means that the fate of the Honduran workers is bound up with that of the workers movement around the world. This underscores the importance of international labor action to resist the coup. The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) has called to boycott Honduran-flag vessels when they enter unionized ports. If in fact the cargos of bananas or of clothing and shoes manufactured in the Honduran factories of Gap, Nike and Adidas were prevented from unloading, this could push the imperialist godfathers of the Honduran coup plotters to dump their puppets. But so far, the call of the ITF for labor action has remained a dead letter, due to the labor bureaucracy’s “respect” for capitalist legality.

Inside Honduras, it has been above all the unions, along with agricultural cooperatives, who have organized the resistance. The teachers unions, in particular, have played a leading role, with a general strike of the schools that lasted three weeks beginning on June 29, followed by a rotating strike (three days of classroom instruction followed by two days on strike). The union hall of the bottling plant workers union, STIBYS, has served as the organizing center for the demonstrations, and the president of that union, Carlos Reyes, is one of the main leaders of the protests. There were national 48-hour work stoppages in the last two weeks of July. However, they have been largely limited to the public sector, and they have a multi-class character: “civic work stoppages” rather than workers strikes. This reflects the popular-front character of the opposition to the coup, headed by a coalition that “unites” the workers with a sector of the capitalists. The National Front Against the Coup d’État (FNCGE) includes a small bourgeois party, Democratic Unity, and dissident sectors of the Liberal Party. More generally, the struggle to bring back “Mel” Zelaya seeks to pull together all those opposed to the coup around a lowest-common-denominator program, thereby ensuring that resistance is limited to the capitalist framework.

The military officers carried out their coup in order to defend the interests of a few property owners. However, these were not an “oligarchy” but the core of the capitalist ruling class. To defeat them and put an end to coups, a workers revolution is needed.

In a previous article on the coup in Tegucigalpa4 we dealt with the theme of the “oligarchy,” which many leftists bandy about. They denounce the “rancia oligarquía hondudreña” (archaic Honduran oligarchy) in order to justify their popular-front politics. The implication is that while the tops of the ruling class support the coup, there are supposedly other bourgeois sectors that don’t. We explained that, in contrast to more economically advanced capitalist countries where the reference to an oligarchy is a pure invention, in Honduras the domination of a tiny number of families and clans persists, but that this “oligarchy” is nothing other than the bourgeois ruling class. The few capitalist opponents of the coup are no more than “the shadow of the bourgeoisie,” as Trotsky described the bourgeois component of the Spanish Popular Front during the 1930s Civil War. The reformist left wants to ally with them not because it would make the opposition stronger, but to make it more acceptable to the powers that be, and to put a lock on the action of their own ranks, so that they don’t go “too far.”

In accordance with the Trotskyist program, the League for the Fourth International calls to mobilize the Honduran working people against the coup not for the aim of reinstating the presidency of Zelaya, a bourgeois conservative, but for the purpose of fighting for a workers and peasants government to sweep away the coup plotters and bring down the capitalist system that breeds them. That is why we call to mobilize the workers in a general strike, to form workers self-defense groups against repression. We fight alongside Zelaya supporters against the coup mongers, at the same time as we warn that the deposed president is also a capitalist politician who responds to the demands of imperialism. This will be a difficult struggle at the present time when demonstrators are shouting, “Mel, amigo, el pueblo está contigo!” (Mel, our friend, the people are with you). But it will prepare those who oppose the coup for the revolutionary struggle that is the only positive outcome for the exploited masses.

Zelaya has already accepted the constraints that the U.S. imperialists want to impose on him in the so-called “San José Agreements,” which so far are unilateral, because the Micheletti, Vásquez Velásquez, Facussé and the rest don’t accept them. In particular, in the face of the insistence by the Department of State, the Honduran president gave up the demand for a constituent assembly. This slogan has recently become the rallying point for the centrist and reformist left in Latin America: having lost confidence in socialist revolution and the revolutionary capacity of the proletariat, they fly the banner of one or another variant of a (bourgeois) “democratic revolution.” They call for constituent assemblies everywhere, even in countries that for quite some time have had all the forms of truncated bourgeois “democracy.” For revolutionary Marxists, on the other hand, the call for a constituent assembly is applicable in feudal or semi-feudal countries, or where there is an essentially anti-democratic “bonapartist,” military/police regime5.

Despite the demands of his supporters, Manuel Zelaya has already dropped the demand for a constituent assembly, which was one of the issues that set off the coup d'état, due to the insistence of the bourgeoisie on preventing at any cost all changes to its tight system of domination. (Photo: Indymedia/Honduras)

In Honduras today, there is such a military dictatorship, slightly veiled by the approval of the institutions of a pseudo-democracy under military supervision, the guard dogs of the narrow, semi-colonial capitalist class. Even before the coup, the “democratic” attire of the Honduran state was threadbare. The current constitution was issued in 1982, under the tutelage of U.S. Proconsul Negroponte, in order to provide the trappings of a “state of law” to the regime of the death squads, which served as a launching pad for the Nicaraguan contras and as a “ground-based aircraft carrier” for the Pentagon in Central America. As a result of a series of coups, the head of the armed forces was named not by the president of the republic, or by any other civilian authority, but by the all-powerful High Council of the Armed Forces (COSUFA). For a quarter century, from 1954 to 1981, not a single head of the armed forces left his post without becoming president of the country. For its part, the supposedly independent judicial branch is nothing of the sort: the Supreme Court is a condominium of the two traditional parties and the presidency.

However, behind this “democratic deficit” there are important class interests. The tiny Honduran bourgeoisie has repeatedly resorted to military government because of its scant social weight in comparison to the large mass of working people that it, and its imperialist patrons, mercilessly exploit. While fighting alongside those calling for a constituent assembly, we stress that such a body cannot solve fundamental social issues, and to think that this can be achieved with a new constitution reflects dangerous democratic illusions. One only has to look at the recent experience of Ecuador, where a constituent assembly called by President Rafael Correa issued a new constitution in mid-2008. Despite all the fanfare about “refounding the country,” the new Carta Magna ended up protecting private property, providing guarantees for “multinational” corporations, and authorizing mixed companies in strategic sectors of the economy, such as oil.

Any constituent assembly called by a capitalist government, whether headed by a Manuel Zelaya, an Evo Morales or even a Salvador Allende, will end up being a swindle – and not just because of the opposition of a Stone Age right wing or “betrayals” by “center-left” governments, but because one cannot alter the fundamentals of the system of exploitation and oppression under capitalism. To put an end to the infernal cycle of military coups, to escape from the clutches of imperialism, to break the power of the large landowners or solve the age-old oppression of the indigenous peoples – not to mention freeing the banana workers and women maquiladora workers from wage slavery in imperialist-owned companies – will take international socialist revolution.

This perspective reflects the theory of permanent revolution developed by Leon Trotsky, which summed up the experience of the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917. Citing the phenomenon of combined and uneven development, in which modern factories exist side-by-side with antiquated economic forms, he concluded that in the imperialist epoch, the weak bourgeoisies in semi-feudal or semi-colonial countries are incapable of carrying out the tasks of the great bourgeois revolutions of the past. Agrarian revolution, democracy and national liberation can only be achieved by the taking of power by the working people. Consequently, Trotskyists call for a revolutionary workers party, to fight for a workers and peasants government to bring down the present-day capitalist state. Then, following a victorious insurrection, a revolutionary constituent assembly could ratify the new state based on workers and peasants councils that would carry out these democratic tasks by expropriating the bourgeoisie and extending the revolution.

For a Central American Federation of Workers Republics!

To achieve such gains, and simply in order to definitively defeat the coup mongers, one must go beyond the national boundaries of Honduras. As we have pointed out, the origins of the coup are to be found in the Central American framework and domination by U.S. imperialism. We have quoted how the spokesman for ARENA, the party of the death squads in El Salvador, threatened Salvadoran president Mario Funes with the same fate as Zelaya. Looking over a list of “Who Is Who” among the businessmen behind the coup, one sees that many of them – like José Lamas, Jorge Faraj or Miguel Facussé – have companies and economic interests in other Central American countries. However, despite all the sympathy for the courageous Honduran fighters, and even with all the declarations of solidarity, there have not been big mobilizations in the rest of the region to undertake a joint struggle. And for a very concrete reason: the Central American left is dominated by petty-bourgeois – and now bourgeois – nationalism, rather than proletarian internationalism.

It should be noted that at the moment of winning independence from Spain there was a single state on the isthmus, the Federal Republic of Central America. The formation of five mini-republics was the result of conservative reaction linked to the church and the large landowners who opposed the liberal reforms. More generally, this was due to insufficient development of the productive forces that could sustain a consolidated country. This phenomenon was seen all over Latin America, such as in Argentina where a national state was only cohered in the middle of the 19th century under the caudillo (strong man) Juan Manuel de Rosas. It was also the case in Mexico, where this consolidation did not take place until the victory of Benito Juárez over the conservatives and the French army of Emperor Maximilian in 1867. In Mexico and Argentina, extensive railroad networks unified national markets; in Central America this did not occur. In Central America, due to greater economic backwardness and being more directly subjected to North American expansionism, the nation-building effort failed with the defeat and execution of General Francisco Morazán in 1840. Then came the filibusters like William Walker, who was invited by Nicaraguan reactionaries but then took over the republic and sought to conquer the whole of the isthmus seeking to join the United States as a slave state.

Roque Dalton

Ever since, Central American unity has been a dream of progressive forces, while the “archaic oligarchies” dug in to their piece of the isthmus. In our times, revolutionary figures have referred ironically to the tiny size of their states, as for example the poet and guerrilla leader Roque Dalton did with his references to El Salvador as the “Tom Thumb of America.” The Honduran reactionary Micheletti, on the other hand, says that there is no point to talk with El Salvador, because it is a field to small to play soccer on, that when you kick the ball it lands in another country. Maybe he was trying to avenge himself for the so-called “Soccer War” of 1961, when Honduras lost to the Salvadoran army. In reality, these sorts of national conflicts were whipped up by reactionary forces in order to distract the attention of the working people from the class war. Genuine revolutionaries didn’t take sides in the 1961 war, any more than they did in the war between Bolivia and Paraguay in the 1930s.

Still, historically left-wing forces in Central America have been dominated by a nationalist vision and politics. In the 1980s, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) governed Nicaragua, while the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) waged a civil war in El Salvador. The imperialists always accused the Sandinistas of financing and running the Salvadoran guerrillas, but the FSLN actually did precious little to aid its comrades of the FMLN, and even less for the tiny groups of guerrillas in Honduras. Before that, in the 1960s, there were a host of guerrilla groups in Guatemala, including the MR-13, FAR, EGP, ORPA and the local Communist party, the Guatemalan Party of Labor (PGT). Even the politically most advanced of these, the Movimiento Revolucionario 13 de Noviembre, which said it was fighting for socialist revolution (while the others only called for a bourgeois “democratic” revolution), restricted its struggle to Guatemala, although a number of Latin American militants (including several who saw themselves as Trotskyists) supplied them with money and military supplies, for which some like the Mexicans David Aguilar Mora and Eunice Campirán were vilely assassinated by the Guatemalan army, and others, like the Argentine Adolfo Gilly were jailed for years in Mexico.

Lenin and Trotsky with Red Army troops in 1921. Stalin renounced the Bolshevik program of the October 1917 Revolution for international socialist revolution, and later blocked proletarian revolutions by means of the popular front.

They had a nationalist outlook for several reasons. First, because of the influence Stalinism, which abandoned the program of the October Revolution – for international socialist revolution – in favor of a conservative, nationalist program reflecting the mentality of the parasitic bureaucracy that seized power in the workers state following Lenin’s death in 1924. This program was summed up in the slogan of building socialism “in a single country,” which is an impossibility given the worldwide character of socialism. Moreover, what was built in the USSR was not socialism, a classless society, but rather a bonapartist regime, a bureaucratically degenerated workers state, that required a political revolution to open the way to socialism. The counterpart of this dogma, the popular front, was intended to pave the way for the desired “peaceful coexistence” between the USSR and imperialism by blocking proletarian revolutions in other countries, using Marxist-sounding language as it politically chained the workers movement to sections of the bourgeoisie.

 A second reason that nationalism continues to predominate is that all these movements had their social base in the peasantry, a contradictory petty-bourgeois social layer which lacks the solid class interests necessary to reconstruct the nation, as is the case with the fundamental classes, the bourgeoisie (which seeks to build a capitalist society) and the proletariat (whose interests will be expressed in socialism). The peasantry is historically the cradle of nationalist movements. Its lower layers, landless peasants, are natural allies of the proletariat, while middle peasants – small producers who do not exploit the labor of others – can join with workers revolution to get rid of the yoke of the landed estate owners, as occurred in the Russian Revolution of 1917. But in “normal” times, the property-owning peasantry is easy prey for the bourgeoisie, on which it depends for seeds and to market its products. However, the victory in Cuba of the peasant-based rebel army led by Fidel Castro, Ernesto “Ché” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, who overthrew the tyrant Fulgencio Batista on 1 January 1959, inspired a whole series of guerrilla movements in Latin America who took to the hills seeking to reproduce what was an exceptional case.

The Trotskyists of the League for the Fourth International and its Mexican section, the Grupo Internacionalista, defend Cuba deformed workers state against imperialism and counterrevolution, whether internal or external. At the same time, we fight for a proletarian political revolution to establish genuine soviet democracy in place of the present bureaucratic regime, in which basic decisions are made by a small petty-bourgeois layer, whether the current leadership of the Cuban Communist Party under Raúl Castro or whoever was in Fidel Castro’s jeep during the early years.

In Central America in the 1970s, the FSLN led by Carlos Fonseca Amador, and later by Daniel Ortega, Tomás Borge and Jaime Wheelock, took its inspiration from the example of Castro’s Cuba and the struggle of insurgent general Agusuto Sandino against imperialism and its puppets in the 1920s. But upon coming to power, following Castro’s advice the FSLN did not seek to build a “second Cuba,” but rather to form a government with bourgeois sectors led by Violeta Chamorro, whose husband was assassinated by the dictator Somoza. The coalition with Chamorro didn’t last long. What followed in Sandinista Nicaragua for almost a decade was a petty-bourgeois regime. It was far from being a workers state – the economy remained in the hands of the local bourgeoisie – but neither was it a capitalist state, since the capitalist army of Somoza had been shattered and the Sandinista Army wasn’t committed to the defense either of capitalist property or the collectivized property of a workers state.

After a decade in power, under the pressure of U.S. imperialism with its economic blockade and military siege by the mercenary army of the contras, in 1987 Daniel Ortega signed the Esquipulas Agreement, orchestrated by the same Oscar Arías, president of Costa Rica, who today is acting as “mediator” in Honduras. In 1989, the FSLN suffered an electoral defeat at the hands of a bourgeois opposition coalition led by Chamorro and lost political power. There followed 16 years of domination by right-wing governments in which corruption reached unheard-of heights and the poverty of the Nicaraguan masses continually deepened. Then in 2006, Daniel Ortega was reelected as president and the FSLN now has a majority in Congress, only this time as a thoroughly bourgeois politician and political party. Formally the regime presided over by Ortega calls itself the Government of Reconciliation and National Unity, making clear its commitment to ally with other bourgeois sectors, despite the fact that it faces a furiously anti-Sandinista opposition, no matter how rightist the government’s policies may be.

Religioin and capitalism: the reborn Christian Daniel Ortega serves the owners of the maquiladoras while Nicaraguan workers are still mired in poverty.

The capitalist character of the current Sandinista government is reflected in its stance toward the growing working-class discontent. Shortly after beginning its new term in office, the Sandinista Workers Center (CST) split, forming another federation, the National Labor Front (FNT). Both are part of the Sandinista movement; in this sense they resemble the corporatist labor bodies in Mexico. (In Mexico during the 1970s, in the face of dissatisfaction with the corporatist CTM (Mexican Workers Federation), the core of the “workers sector” of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the PRI-government formed the Congress of Labor (CT), which was also integrated into the state party.) So in Nicaragua last year, when there were negotiations over a national labor contract, the FNT asked for a 25 percent raise. The CST said that, since it was aware of the economic difficulties, it would only ask for 10 percent. And the Sandinista government? The labor minister supported the position of the capitalists, rejecting any wage increase at all. Then at the official May Day celebration, Daniel Ortega told his minister to sit down with the unions and the employers and figure out a way to give the workers a few córdobas more. Another aspect is that those who are trying to unionize maquila workers complain of the hostility of the government, which is seeking to attract maquiladoras.

Then there is the religious aspect. Daniel Ortega, after years of proclaiming himself a Marxist, after his electoral defeat and a sexual scandal, reinvented himself politically and had himself baptized as a reborn Christian. Today all over Managua you can see huge billboards with a picture of the president and the motto, “To Serve the People is to Serve GOD.” And it’s not just exploiting religion for electoral propaganda like any other bourgeois politico. In October 2006, at the height of the election campaign, the new Christian Ortega joined with the right wing to prohibit abortion under any and all conditions, including when the life of the mother is in danger. So all over Latin America there is a struggle for decriminalizing abortion, while in Nicaragua therapeutic abortion was banned! Then in November 2007 (after some 80 women had died), the Sandinista government added criminal penalties to the ban. In October 2008, the Nicaraguan Police broke into the offices of the Autonomous Women’s Movement (MAM), seizing computers and files to investigate the accusation that MAM was promoting illegal abortions. And in November of that same year, the police prevented hundreds of women from marching in Managua on the International Day for Eliminating Violence Against Women.

The Trotskyists of the League for the Fourth International fight for the unrestricted right to free abortion on demand, under high-quality medical care (see “Mexico: For Free Abortion on Demand,” in The Internationalist No. 26, July 2007).

Mario Funes, TV reporter and talk show host, elected president of El Salvador as the candidate of the FMLN, says he will consolidate the “neo-liberal” policies of the previoius rightist governments.
Photo: José Cabezas/AFP

Today hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans are enduring terrible poverty, far worse then in the plebeian neighborhoods of the poorest regions of Mexico. Virtually any tendency to the left of the FLSN has disappeared, and those who identify themselves as the “revolutionary, Sandinista, socialist left” yearn for a (bourgeois) “21st century socialism” on the Chávez model (see Correo de Nicaragua No. 4, May-June 2009). But introducing a few social programs for health care, education and subsidies and encouraging cooperatives is a long ways from sweeping away capitalism, whose system of exploitation is constantly reproducing poverty. The “new Nicaragua” of the second coming of the FSLN urgently needs a genuine socialist revolution, resulting a class struggle by the working people against the capitalist government.

In El Salvador, presidential elections this past March led to the victory of Mauricio Funes Cartagena, a popular television journalist and talk show host, as the candidate of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front. His only connection with the guerrilla past of the FMLN is that as a reporter he once interviewed some comandantes. On taking office on June 1, Funes announced that he would not be subject to the decisions of the FMLN and that his would be a government of national unity (although, like the FSLN, he is hounded by the right). Since ARENA still controls the Supreme Court and the Legislative Assembly in alliance with other rightist parties, the new “moderate” president will have very circumscribed powers of decision-making. Even then, he says he is not opposed to consolidating the “neo-liberal” policies of the previous governments, and in particular the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the “Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas” initiative inaugurated by the Bush administration which subjugates the Salvadoran economy to U.S. oversight.

The Internationalist Group/League for the Fourth International at a protest in New York City against the Honduran military coup, September 29. Internationalist photo

Like Honduras, the narrow Salvadoran ruling class has modernized without expanding. In fact, a recent investigation by the Jesuit magazine Envío (July 2009) concludes that the traditional coffee-growing oligarchy based on exporting agricultural products, the famous “14 families” who dominated the country for a century, has been replaced by eight commercial and financial groups. Some of these capitalists are part of the influential “Friends of Mauricio Funes” group, preferring the meritocracy he has promised to the rampant influence-trafficking of ARENA. Seeking “stability,” the allegedly “leftist” president would consolidate one of the most socially stratified countries on earth. And the response by Funes to the coup regime in Honduras has been quite weak, merely closing the border for 24 hours. But what else would one expect from this “center-left” capitalist government? More significantly, there has also been no action by the Salvadoran left and workers movement. Where are the labor boycotts of Honduran exports, the calls for solidarity strikes? In practice, there has been a thundering silence from San Salvador to the Honduran coup.

Also in Mexico, the regional powerhouse, workers solidarity with the Honduran working people today confronting ferocious repression has been almost non-existent. Here as well, and particularly in the United States, we must call on independent teachers unions and networks to support with deeds their Honduran compañeras and compañeros who are fighting under the gun. It’s not just a matter of solidarity actions: it is necessary to land blows against the allies of the coup plotters throughout the region. A rise of class struggle against the capitalists in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica would raise the pressure on the bosses of the mutineers in Honduras. Above all, it is necessary to begin building the nuclei of revolutionary workers parties, Leninist and Trotskyist in character, to lead the struggle for socialist revolution throughout the region. Given the regional and international genesis of the Honduran putsch, it will be difficult to crush it in the national framework. Thus it is necessary to beginning establishing the links for a Central American federation of workers republics, as part of a Socialist United States of Latin America.  

1 Like many top officers of the Honduran army, General Vásquez attended the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, known as the “school of assassins” and “school of coup plotters” – twice, in fact, in 1976 and 1984 – although he did not graduate. His main claim to fame prior to his starring role in the 2009 coup was to have gone to prison in 1993 for participation in a car theft ring that specialized in stealing luxury autos (see Al Giordano, “Honduras Coup General Was Charged in 1993 Auto Theft Ring,” Narcosphere, 4 July).

2 See “Honduras: The First Coup of the Obama Administration,” The Internationalist, No. 29, Summer 2009).

3 Llorens is a Cuban gusano (counterrevolutionary exile) who was brought to Miami by the CIA’s Operation Peter Pan in the 1960s.

4 In “Honduras: The First Coup of the Obama Administration.” 

5 See our article, “Trotskyism vs. ‘Constituent Assembly’ Mania,”  The Internationalist No. 27, May-June 2008.

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com