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GegenStandpunkt

Putsch in Honduras
Lots of democracy for a poorhouse of Latin America

[Translated from the weekly radio analysis of GegenStandpunkt Publishers, July 27, 2009]

After the president — considered to be “leftist” — intended to get approval from the people by referendum for a “constituent assembly” against parliament, the electoral tribunal, and the supreme court, the armed forces staged a coup and deported Zelaya to Nicaragua. For the first time, the U.S. expressly condemned a military putsch in their backyard, denying recognition to the new government, and declaring the affair to be a precedent for their new foreign policy.

Without any problem, the democratic press enlightens us about this “small and, for many people, unknown country, which has already suffered so much” (Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich): according to its investigations, “the generals staged coups for the sake of a wealthy minority again and again until the coming of democracy in 1982.” Since then, life for the — according to Die Welt (Germany) — “friendly, somewhat sleepy inhabitants” is democratic all around, but they are neither wealthier, nor has their life became more peaceful. Rather the contrary. “The divide in the growth of incomes, the ancient evil of the region, has not closed since the return to democracy” — so says Der Spiegel (Germany). Adherence to the principles of the rule of the people obviously gets along completely well with plenty of violent acts, starvation on a massive scale, and other forms of absolute pauperism afflicting the people. “Forty-three percent of the people are chronically malnourished,” announces the Tagesschau (Germany). “More than one-half of the people live in poverty, many must get by on less than two dollars per day, every fifth adult is illiterate.”

Obviously the ruling class in Honduras — supported by a majority in parliament and with the blessing of the notorious archbishop — got, in democracy, a reliable political framework for their financial and power interests. They still place the political leadership of the country, because the business concerns of these coffee, banana and other business barons are the interests of the nation. The few honorable families constitute the state, which is subordinate to their direct influence. The Liberal and National parties, which have alternated governing for over one hundred years, usually negotiate over the personnel occupying the Congreso Nacional as an internal power struggle. The candidates for the office of president are placed before the people to choose from. And up till now, the people — democratically mature since 1982 — have selected the best and most suitable candidate, who politically supervises the “widespread poverty and the lack of economic prospects” (Fischer Weltalmanach 2008) for the next four years.

This fine state of freedom and democracy — with its trinity of oligarchic beneficiaries, poverty-stricken masses, and a political leadership empowered by the people — was terminated: not at all by the poverty-stricken masses, who would have every reason for it. Also not terminated by some left movement, which might have successfully incited the people against class antagonisms and their systematic originators and managers. Rather, it was the politico-economic caste of land owners and businessmen that — in concert with the army leadership — came to the conclusion that its interests and the constitution, tried and tested since 1982, are best saved by a putsch: against president Zelaya, who had come to power as a candidate of the Liberal Party, and at the beginning of 2008 announced a “radical change of direction” of his policies, citing the starving masses at home and “the Bolivarian revolution” in Venezuela.

Up till now, if the poor rebelled once again against their living conditions, it was customary for the government to react with repression, or as in 2006 by simply not paying the “overdue salaries of the 6000 teachers who are waiting for months for the disbursement of their wages.” With these measures, the “social question” was admittedly again and again resolved by force, but the Republic of Honduras was brought down to the economic bottom of the region. From this, Zelaya draws the conclusion that Honduras is in the midst of a national security crisis, and, taking Venezuela’s head of state Chavez as an exemplary model, denounces the wretched situation of the majority, and the shameless enrichment of the oligarchy through their occupying of state institutions, as a humiliation and insult to the nation. Its dignity is to be restored and advanced by a national “Honduran Bolivarist” development program, which is to be served by the integration of the masses in the economy and their politicization in regard to this development program.

The doubling of the minimum wage is a step in that direction. In a country where labor power is available in abundance and at any price, this constitutes, for employers, a wrongful deprivation of the personal liberty to exploit; while for economic experts, who derive hunger from “a high rate of underemployment,” it’s outright populism. A further step is the nationalization of the fuel depots of one Honduran oil company and two multinationals, whereby the total dependence on oil imports is to be reduced, and unauthorized private enrichment is to be prevented through state control.

The patriotic Zelaya turns against the extensive dependence on American business interests, in accordance to which — according to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Zurich) — “Honduras was governed for decades virtually like a branch of the United Fruit company,” with the objection, convincing to his supporters, that it led the country to ruin and that one must therefore take up with alternative business partners. Finally, Zelaya declares the degradation of the nation to the status of an Air Force base dependent on U.S. financial assistance and military aid programs to be all the more incompatible with the dignity of Honduras, an Air Force that abuses the national territory as a supply base for CIA operations in central America.

Zelaya owes the fact that could reckon on opportunities to push through his alternative national program to his Bolivarian friend in Venezuela, who is likewise bent on more independence from the U.S. Le Monde (Paris) announced:

“Confronted with a severe economic crisis, Zelaya obtained the cooperation from Chávez that Washington was reluctant to grant.” It “receives Venezuelan oil on favorable terms …, favorable loans, and tractors.”

In return, Honduras first joined the Venezuela petroleum project Petrocaribe and later the Alba alliance directed against U.S. hegemony.

Zelaya’s opponents in the propertied classes and army leadership regard that simply as an “attack on democracy,” and threaten the booted-out president with a “treason trial” should he return to Tegucigalpa. In accordance with the putschists’ “understanding of the constitution,” the public interest coincides unconditionally with the uninterrupted continuation of conditions that make sure some beneficiaries get great wealth, while condemning the large majority of the people to a miserable existence. They fear — from the politicization of the masses that the exiled Zelaya now demands, namely, that the people should “organize themselves and demand their rights” — an endangerment to their exclusive privilege in the relevant positions in government and administration, which are in Honduras, as in many states of the “Third World,” the key condition for private enrichment. And they counter the questioning of the foreign-political subjection of the country under U.S. hegemony with the reproach that Zelaya is an agent of the Chávez.

For that, they get the blessing of the supreme national Catholic, Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, who preaches the pious lie to a people, the majority of whom subscribe to the Catholic superstition, namely, that the politics of the elected president concern in truth “a campaign, equipped with much money, that is steered by Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez — to the extent that agents of the Venezuelan secret service are active in the country. Also weapons were brought in the country.” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Frankfurt)

Even before the pronunciamento, the self-proclaimed “guardians of the constitution” engaged in practical obstruction politics against the presidential executive power of Zelaya on the basis of their control of the two other democratic powers, the legislature and judiciary. Legislative proposals were blocked with the argument that the president was practicing “abuse of office.”

And as the rightist-nationalist hope that the “communist-chauvinist affair” will only be put to an end if a second term of office of the president is forbidden by the constitution, which would be endangered by a constitutional reform carried out by Zelaya by referendum, the military takes power out of purest constitutional patriotism:

“This ‘military putsch’ was arranged by rightfully elected representatives of the people, the members of the national parliament and the Supreme Court — with a parliamentary majority of 124 to 4 votes — including all parliamentary factions,” reported Die Welt empathetically.

A return of Zelaya is in any case no constitutional question, but is in the last instance a matter for the authority responsible for countries of Honduras’ organization and structure: in Washington, the president demands “the re-establishment of democratic and constitutional order.” On the one hand, that is bad luck for the putschists, who were obviously caught in the old thinking of the Bush administration, and have now become the test case for the “new American foreign policy” in South America. Obama’s formulation does not, however, completely take up Zelaya’s legal standpoint. Both sides have accepted the Christian-Democratic former president of Costa Rica, Arias, as neutral “constitutional arbiter.” That suggests a return of the elected president, his renouncement of re-election, and the formation of a “national unity government.” The junta in Tegucigalpa insists, however, on some form of assignment of guilt for Zelaya, in order to legitimize the putsch, and to preclude a desire for revenge by a president Zelaya now equipped with a U.S. seal of approval. Somehow, people will manage to unite around that.

The main thing is that democracy in Honduras remains, with all its liveliness, as stable as the conditions that guarantee much wealth for the few and escalating poverty for the many.