Honduras: resisting the coup
This article consists of an interview between the Argentinian journalist Nestor Restivo and the veteran Honduran left-wing trade-unionist and politician Carlos Humberto Reyes. The interview was carried out before the November elections.
The situation in Honduras has reached a stale mate. Roberto Micheletti´s de-facto government is betting everything on handing over power to the rightist victors of the 29th November election. This election was not recognised by the left and supporters of Zelaya. The deposed leader Manuel Zelaya and his followers are demanding his reinstatement and a return to his government’s program, which included a constituent assembly.
Carlos Humerto Reyes, historic figure within the trade union movement and the left in Hondurus, spoke to us and our colleagues from the newspapers Le Monde and La Vanguardia, in his home in Tegucilgalpa. Independent presidential candidate in the elections, but with his candidature suspended by recent events, he argues that “the constituent assembly could come now or later. The most important thing now is the reinstatement of Zelaya. But this undoubtedly would imply a break with the establishment. The current constitution has been in place since 1982. Back then we were coming out of a dictatorship and were in the midst of internal repression and the dirty war (the contra campaign against Nicaragua´s Sandinista government.)John Negraponte was US ambassador to Honduras. It was in these circumstances that the constitution was forcefully imposed upon us.
The constitution is based on the so-called Facussé memorandum (Miguel Facussé is the owner of one of the most powerful business groups in Honduras) and according to Reyes “it had three aims, two explicit,-‘sell’ Honduras and reduce the size of the state because of its corruption, inefficiency etc- and the other implicit: that the army would be the guarantor of the constitution. Today, 27 years later, that’s exactly what we’re seeing.
He adds that “the possibility of a change in the status quo was what led to the coup against Zelaya in June. They didn´t remove him for ´robbing the people´, as they say. The politicians are all at it here. They stripped him of his powers because of the proposed Constituent Assembly.
68 year-old Reyes, who recently had his arm broken in a repressive attack, marks a keen difference between the ‘Zelayists’ on the one hand, and the resistance movement which is calling for his reinstatement on the other. “I´m not a Zelayist, although I recognize that sometimes in history it can happen that someone from the traditional and privileged background (Zelaya, like Michelleti, comes from the Partido Liberal, who share power with the Partido Nacional and the armed forces) can change. That’s why we support Mel (Zelaya): it’s a tactical move, not an unreflexive one. And we’re very alert as to what’s currently being negotiated”.
He adds that “Although Mel comes from the oligarchy, when he became president he realized that he had to carry out some reforms. And they [the bourgeoisie] didn’t let him. I’m not saying that Mel is a revolutionary. No. But it’s one of those things which happen in a country where the president has a nominally low profile but the person who arrives in power is an arrogant bourgeois type. When he realises that the rest of the bourgeoisie are out to get him and that the people are screwed, he wonders what he can do. Far from being a crime, this requestioning is the right thing to do, the brave thing to”.
The National Coordination of Popular Resistance, of which Reyes is a member, is made up of peasant, student, indigenous and afro movements and human rights organisations. It has a broad 12-point program which includes agrarian reform, ALBA membership (which Zelaya had approved) and opposition to privatisation, neo-liberalism and the FTT. “One day”-Reyes recounts- “I met with Zelaya whilst he was still president and asked why he had changed given that he belongs to the elite and had supported neo-liberal policies throughout his career (like the CAFTA free trade treaty with the US). He told me that when he was an MP, he kept an eye on my struggle but thought that I was wrong. But when he became president, he realized that big business wouldn´t let him do anything and thats when he started to change”
For years, Reyes was the main leader of a key trade union, that of the soft drinks industry (STIByS), he has taken part in the historic struggles of the Banana and Textile workers and he was made prisoner and tortured by Honduras’s various dictatorships. He was also very active in Latin America in the struggles of the Social Continental Alliance against the ALCA. Supported by a range of social forces, he presented (but has now withdrawn) his candidature in the proposed presidential elections.
When the coup took place in June, Zelaya was proposing a referendum so that in December people would not only elect a president but could also decide whether of not they wanted a constituent assembly, which would eventually be convened in 2010 with a view to creating a new constitution by 2011. This was also when the question of the presidential re-election, prohibited by the current constitution, was first raised.
“Now”-adds Reyes-“the Honduran bourgeoisie isn’t afraid of re-election. After all, they control the two parties which are re-elected every four years! They’re not afraid of re-election at all. What they are afraid of is that with the new constitution we were going to strip them of the right to sell off Honduras. Look, there is oil in Honduras. With the constitution we’ve got now, they give it away. They’ve given away all the public services to multinationals.”
According to Reyes, the Congress, made up of the liberals and the nationalists, plus two smaller Democratic Christian and Social Democratic blocks, rejected the idea of the constituent assembly and challenged Zelaya’s attempts to reassert some state control over the economy, through the placing of state companies in the private sector and by raising taxes, since the low taxation rate partly explains the level of underdevelopment in Central America. “Before the 1982 constitution, the taxation rate had reached 25% in relation to PBI (compared to 40-48% in rich countries). But now it has fallen to 14%! This is what big business, that minority which rules us in alliance with foreign capital, doesn’t want to change.
When Zelaya arrived in power the minimum wage only covered 60% of basic goods required for subsistence. He increased it to 100% and big business started to kick up a fuss about that as well. That, and the need to finance the state through taxation, like in any normal country, led to a paradox: Reyes claims that “the most interested in ALBA were businessmen. Why? Because Chavez’s money meant that the state didn’t need to be financed by their taxes. The business lobby then said to themselves ‘if ALBA can help us not pay taxes, then why can’t it help us to support the budget as well’. Who came up with the idea of Honduras joining Petrocaribe? The industrial magnates and Fito Facussé. Through Alba and Petrocaribe, Chavez got close to Honduras. This interesting development requires more analysis”.
What way out of the Honduran crisis does Reyes envisage? “Those who have always governed my country want to scare people off, talking about Zelaya’s communism. We can see that the Liberal Party is divided, a lot of them have joined us in the resistance and we’re hoping that something new will emerge, something that will break with two-party rule. Either this last will continue or another left will emerge, and that’s what we’re fighting for. But there is a lot of political illiteracy in Honduras, the highest in all Central America. There are groups [within the establishment] who want to defeat the resistance and perhaps reach a shameful agreement with Zelaya: they’re scared of him. What I see on the one hand is a conservative Partido Nacional and a liberal party weakened by this crisis and on the other hand a left, which is not only welcoming in those who have deserted the liberals but is also attracting the large majority of the population who want to make history. Herein lies our hope”
Néstor Restivo is a journalist and historian and writes regularly for the Argentinian newspaper El Clarin.
Thanks to Virginia De la Siega and Patrick O’Hare for translation.