Return to being 'banana republic'


The world’s conservative groups and their usual propagandists received the news of the June 28 coup in Honduras with immense pleasure. Although they made critical noises about the coup itself, they swallowed and justified the arguments of those who carried it out, repeating that “President Manuel Zelaya had committed numerous violations of the constitution by wanting to hold a referendum to remain in power.”

These statements are patently false. President Zelaya did not violate a single article of the constitution. Nor did he organise a referendum. Nor did he want to extend his term in office, which ends on Jan 27, 2010. His intention was to organise a non-binding ballot initiative (a simple opinion poll) asking citizens: “Do you agree that in the November 2009 general elections a fourth item should be added to the ballot to decide whether or not to hold a national constitutive assembly for the purpose of drafting a new constitution of the republic?”

Moreover, supposing that a majority of Hondurans answered yes to this question, the vote on the fourth issue would only have been held on Nov 29, the day of the presidential election in which, given the terms of the current Honduran constitution, Zelaya would have absolutely no way of presenting himself as a candidate.

Absolute control

So why was the coup carried out? Because Honduras remains the ‘property’ of a handful of 15 leading families that control everything in the country: the executive, legislature, and judiciary, the main economic resources, the Catholic church hierarchy, the media, and the armed forces. The majority of its governments have been so corrupt and so beholden to foreign business that the American humourist O Henry coined the term ‘banana republic’ to describe the country.

In 1929, in an attempt at conveying how easy it was to bribe an Honduran legislator, Samuel Zamurray, alias ‘Banana Sam’, the president of Cuyamel Fruit, a rival of United Fruit, said, “A Honduran deputy costs less than a female mule”. At the end of the 1980s, President Jose Azcona del Hoyo accepted the submission of Honduras to US strategy, confessing, “A country as small as Honduras does not have the luxury of dignity”. And a group of entrepreneurs even proposed that the country convert itself into a Freely Associated State of the US, like Puerto Rico.

Honduras is almost completely dependent economically on its gigantic neighbour to the North. Seventy per cent of its exports (plantains, coffee, and sugar) go to the US, where Honduran emigrants send back about three billion dollars a year to their families at home. In addition, most of the capital of the low-wage factories in the free trade zones is American.

A revolution

Thirty years ago, after the Sandinista revolution in El Salvador, Washington decided to turn Honduras into a sort of aircraft carrier for its military operations against the guerrilla revolutionaries in Guatemala and El Salvador and in support of the anti-Sandinista Contras’. One of the first steps the US took was to install a ‘controlled democracy’ in Tegucigalpa. In 1980, for the first time there were ‘free elections’; a year later Roberto Suavo Cordova was elected, who ushered in a reign of terror, ‘death squads’, ‘disappearances’ and elimination of Leftist activists. It was in these circumstances that the 1982 constitution in effect today was promulgated.

This constitution was drafted by the country’s primary economic forces, which want to maintain in perpetuity one the most unequal systems of income distribution on the planet. Sixty per cent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Zelaya hoped to transform this. A member of one of the big landowning families of Honduras and member of the Liberal Party, the president sought to reduce the inequality in his country. He increased the minimum wage by 50 per cent, stopped the privatisation of public companies and came out in favour of greater citizen participation in setting public policy. And this happened before Honduras joined Petrocaribe in 2007 and ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the People of Our America ) in 2008.

Zelaya’s intellectual voyage and ‘conversion’ to a progressive conception of society are exemplary.

It was too much for the ‘owners’ of Honduras to bear. With the support of US hawks John Negroponte and Otto Reich, they plotted the June 28 coup that the armed forces then carried out. Every foreign ministry in the world condemned it — because the age of the coup is over and the age of the people has come.

IPS

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