June 2009  

Mobilize the Workers To Defeat the Putsch!

Honduras: Coup d’État
in the Maquiladora Republic

Down with the reactionary coup! Honduran civilians defending the referendum confront the military
putschists in the streets of Tegucigalpa
, June 28 (Photo: Orlando Sierra/AFP)

Yankee Imperialism, Hands Off!
For a Federation of Workers Republics of Central America!

JUNE 29 – In the early morning of Sunday, June 28, some 200 soldiers of the Honduran army kidnapped the president of the republic, Manuel Zelaya Rosales, at gunpoint and expelled him to Costa Rica. Soon after, strategic points of the capital, Tegucigalpa, and the main commercial center, San Pedro Sula, were occupied by armored personnel carriers. With General Romeo Vásquez (who had been removed by Zelaya as armed forces chief) at the head of the military, and with the backing of the Supreme Court, the oligarchical Congress named the vice president of the House of Deputies as puppet president. This was how the coup played out, the first in the region since the genocidal murderer Efraín Ríos Montt seized Guatemala in 1982 at the height of the anti-Soviet Cold War. This first coup of the presidency of Barack Obama awakened fears of a return to the days of the gorilas (ultra-rightist military thugs) and the “years of blood,” when Honduras served as a launching pad for the Nicaraguan contras and the Salvadoran death squads which sowed terror throughout Central America.

There was a quick but weak response from the population: by mid-morning, several hundred supporters of Zelaya surrounded the APCs, braving the gun barrels and burning tires to block the streets. The teachers union called an unlimited strike. In the afternoon up to 20,000 workers and residents congregated in front of the occupied Presidential House, but they dispersed after a downpour. Military roadblocks on the highways prevented more from arriving. At the diplomatic level, the U.S. president expressed “deep concern” over the coup, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “condemned” it. The United Nations, the Organization of American States, the Rio Group, the Mercosur (South American Common Market) and other organizations of Latin American governments likewise opposed it. The Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), a group of reputedly “progressive” countries led by Venezuela and including Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua – which Honduras joined last year – met in Managua, Nicaragua. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez announced that he would “overthrow” the putschists.

Coup leader General Romeo Vásquez was trained in the U.S. Army's School of the Americas.

But in the concrete, all this has so far had no effect whatever, and the army is still in control of Honduras. Revolutionary Marxists stress that this is a class question: to defeat the coup we can only count on mobilizing the working people, in Honduras as well as throughout Central America, in Mexico and the rest of the continent. Nothing will be resolved by simply reinstalling Zelaya in the presidential seat while the authors of the coup and the bankers and landowners who instigated it remain in place. It will only be a matter of time until there is a new takeover attempt. It is the bourgeoisie itself that overthrew the president, fearing that he was “playing with fire” by making too many concessions to those that they ruthlessly exploit.

Moreover, the Honduran army doesn’t move a finger without the Pentagon and the CIA knowing about it. As protesters chanted, correctly and insistently, at a demonstration of some 150 people in New York on Monday, June 29, “Ejército golpista, instrumento imperialista” (the coup-plotting army is an instrument of imperialism). And don’t doubt for a minute that the top bosses of regional ultra-rightists are involved in the affair. The only way to sweep away the coup plotters is by workers revolution throughout the region, extending into the heart of the empire, the United States.

In contrast to this view, bourgeois liberals and petty-bourgeois reformist leftists see the matter as a question of “democracy” vs. “dictatorship,” and from this standpoint they feed illusions in the new U.S. president. Some are even calling on the Obama administration to reinstall the deposed Honduran president in the Presidential House. Among them is President Zelaya himself. In an interview with the Madrid (Spain) daily El País (29 June), the Honduran leader remarked a day before the coup:

“Everything was ready here to carry out a coup, and if the U.S. Embassy had approved, there would have been a coup.... If I am sitting here right now speaking with you in the Presidential House, it is thanks to the United States.”

But a few short hours later, he was no longer sitting in the Presidential House. If the U.S. had really wanted to prevent the overthrow, the coup plotters would never have dared to carry it out, or they would long since be gone. The reality is that, at the very least, Washington is tolerating the coup. But watch out for imperialists who undo coups d’état: they can also orchestrate them!

After vituperating for years against the awful president Bush, even comparing him with Satan, many now think that with the election of Barack Obama it’s back to the times when the U.S. was a “Good Neighbor,” like under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They forget that under FDR, occupation by the Marines was replaced by installing puppet dictators in the Dominican Republic (Trujillo) and Nicaragua (Somoza). Honduras under strong man Tuburcio Carías became the quintessential “banana republic,” as he ruled the country from 1932 to 1948 in the interests of the United Fruit Company, known throughout Latin America as El Pulpo (the Octopus, whose tentacles reached everywhere). But despite his replacement after World War II by the “democratic” government of Juan Manuel Gálvez, anti-working-class repression continued ... and imperialist intervention became even more blatant.

This came to a head in the great banana strike of 1954, when workers on United Fruit plantations, on its subsidiary the Tela Railroad Company, as well as Standard Fruit, the ports and even Rosario Mining Company all stopped work. Gálvez, a former lawyer for Tela Railroad, brought out the army against the strikers. They, however, had organized a powerful strike committee that resisted the onslaught. Left-wing newspapers such as Vanguardia Revolucionaria and Voz Obrera (Workers Voice) circulated widely. As Ramón Amaya Amador, the novelist of the Honduran working class, wrote in his novel Destacamento Rojo (Red Detachment):

“He brought to their attention the formation of study groups on Marxism and the problems of the countryside which opened them up to the revolutionary ideology of the working class.... Union organization was spreading, which the government fought against declaring that these were subversive activities by loafers set on disrupting social peace, anarchists who recognized neither god nor the law. They waved the anti-communist flag, applying heavy sanctions against anyone who talked about organizing the workers.”
–quoted in Mario Posas, Luchas del movimiento obrero hondureño (Educa, 1981)

When troops and anti-communist propaganda proved insufficient to defeat the strike, the government appealed to its “Good Neighbor” to the north. This was taking place just as the U.S. was intervening next door in Guatemala, by means of a secret army trained on Honduran soil. Once their subversive work in Guatemala was accomplished, Washington dispatched some “labor advisors” to Honduras to attack the “reds” from within, by forming parallel “unions” which broke up the strike. “Honduras became the test case for a policy to be used throughout the Third World in order to preserve it from communism, for capitalism” (Alison Acker, Honduras: The Making of a Banana Republic [South End, 1988]). This history of anti-communist union wrecking is described in detail in the pamphlet, The AFL-CIO in Central America (1987), published by the Labor Committee on Central America.

In Central America, meddling by the “AFL-CIA” has always gone hand in hand with U.S. military pressure. Following the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua in 1979, the United States shifted the center of its regional military activity to Honduras. They built the enormous military base of Palmerola, which served as operations central for the contras besieging Sandinista Nicaragua, as well as for American “trainers” in the Honduran army. Between 1983 and 1987, some 70,000 U.S. military personnel passed through the country. Honduras in this period was controlled by the American ambassador, John Negroponte, known as the Proconsul, who went on to become U.S. ambassador to Iraq under the administration of George Bush II, and later Director of National Intelligence of the United States. At this time as well, Battalion 316 was formed, a veritable military death squad, which under General Álvarez Martínez tortured and murdered hundreds, if not thousands, of Honduran activists with the supervision of the CIA and fascistic “advisors” from the Argentine military dictatorship.

Despite being a small country, like its neighbor El Salvador, Honduras has been a key piece in the strategy of Yankee imperialist domination. And as we have noted, even though it is the second poorest country in Latin America (after Haiti), with 80 percent of the population living in poverty or extreme poverty, Honduras has a long history of labor struggle. Today it has ceased to be a banana republic and has instead become the country of maquiladoras (free trade zone factories). In the framework of the Free Trade Agreement, with more than 120,000 workers, mainly women, toiling for miserable wages in conditions of semi-slavery, Honduras is today in third place worldwide for maquila production. These workers have a tremendous potential for struggle, but they need the aid of their class brothers and sisters in the United States and Mexico. There are also important unions in Honduras, such as the STIBYS in the bottling plants, which are part of the International Union of Food Workers, to which the UFCW in the U.S. is affiliated.

Honduran president Manuel Zelaya (center) along with his counterparts, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega and Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, on arrival in Managua, 28 June. (Photo: EFE)

One of the grounds for the military action ousting President Zelaya was his recent moves toward Hugo Chávez’ Venezuela with Honduras’ entry into ALBA last year, and his visits to Cuba where he had a friendly chat with Fidel Castro. But the trigger for yesterday’s military coup was the holding of a non-binding referendum on a constituent assembly, scheduled for that day (June 28). The then-chief of the armed forces, Romeo Vásquez, refused to cooperate with the civic exercise, and was supported in this by the Supreme Court and the Congress. The bulk of the capitalist class feared that such an assembly could undercut their narrow domination, and like their counterparts in Bolivia and Ecuador, they decided to use every means at their disposal to prevent it. In the latter two cases, the reactionaries failed because the population was mobilized. However, in Honduras the government of Zelaya, a rancher who was elected in 2005 on the basis of a right-wing law-and-order program, has relatively limited roots among the working masses.

After the coup, several organizations of workers and peasants mobilized. The Mexican paper La Jornada (29 June) established contact with various groups of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations (COPIN). Miskito and Lenca Indians and the Garifuna population are also preparing to fight. There is a small liberal party with a social-democratic tint (the Democratic Unification Party) which supports Zelaya. However, Carlos Reyes, the general secretary of the STIBYS union, stated before the coup that the workers movement was prepared to struggle, not to back Zelaya but to support the right of the population to express itself politically:

“President Zelaya received the direct support of much of his party while the three trade-union federations and the Honduran Popular Bloc as well as a whole series of social organizations are supporting the referendum on Sunday, not President Zelaya.”
–“Honduras on the Verge of a Coup d’État,” Rel, 27 June

There is a readiness to fight, and distrust of the bourgeois parties as well. But what is missing is key: a revolutionary leadership capable of organizing the discontent and opposition to the coup among the working people in a powerful class movement.

The League for the Fourth International, which bases itself on Leon Trotsky’s program of permanent revolution, urges workers to fight against the coup while offering no political support whatsoever to the right-wing president who for his own reason has slipped the leash of his buddies in the Honduran oligarchy. The working class, led by a genuinely Leninist vanguard party, must place itself at the head of the poor peasants to establish its own class rule with a workers and peasants government that expropriates the entire bourgeoisie, the industrialists and the ranchers, in order to put an end to the infernal cycle of military coups and oligarchical pseudo-democracies that has repeated itself throughout Latin American history.

At the time of independence, a Federal Republic of Central America was established. Today we struggle for a Central American federation of workers republics, as part of a Socialist United States of Latin America, in close collaboration with the North American working class in the fight for international socialist revolution.

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