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Crunch approaches in struggle against Hondouran coup

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The conflict in Honduras is heading for a crunch point. The daily mobilisations and conflict between supporters of ousted president Manuel Zelaya and the military coup makers have reached new levels of intensity.

This article was written at the start of October, recent developments require us to add the following paragraph
Rumours are circulating that a “peaceful” deal might be reached between Zelaya and Micheletti to resolve the crisis. US congressional members have visited the county and the Organisation of American States has also intervened, with the agenda of preventing a more radical outcome from the Honduran masses.
All negotiations with the coup makers should be rejected. This regime is built on the blood of the people who fought back. Zelaya will be willing to make serious concessions to return to power or to be allowed to stand in the elections. The FNRG must maintain the call for a constituent assembly above all else. The working class forces can and must form a new party which is independent of Zelaya. The organs of resistance that have been formed in the fight back against the military can themselves form the basis of a workers and peasants government.

Thousands of workers and poor people are marching, demonstrating and occupying buildings in support of Zelaya, who was deposed in June and is currently living in the Brazilian embassy in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. The coup makers – backed by the oligarchy of capitalists and landowners, who have milked Honduras dry for decades – have unleashed soldiers and police, who have been beating and shooting hundreds and arresting thousands to prop up the regime.

On 2 and 3 October, the regime launched a new state of siege, cutting off all electricity and imposing a 48-hour curfew. One activist told an Australian newspaper: “Thousands of people heading to Tegucigalpa have been held around the city. The town is completely empty, ghostly. The curfew was extended to all day.”

In a chilling echo of the murderous Chilean coup of 1973, sports stadiums are being used to imprison people and the army is going into the hospitals, and taking people.

One eyewitness reported that 5,000 people gathered “to protect the President Manuel Zelaya. We were attacked at 5.45 am with guns and tear gas. They [the soldiers] killed an undetermined number of companeros [comrades].”

Zelaya’s removal and return
President Zelaya was ousted on 28 June for promising a referendum on convening a constitutional assembly. The oligarchs that rule this deeply unequal society feared that an assembly would lead to radical reform as it has done in Venezuela and Bolivia. He was arrested and put on a plane to Costa Rica. Since his removal there has been a wave of mobilisations against the regime, calling for his return and for an assembly.

On 15 September, the National Day of Honduras, thousands came out onto the street demanding Zelaya’s return and an assembly. A week later, Zelaya came back to Honduras in a car boot and is now hiding out in the Brazilian embassy.

Immediately the embassy was surrounded by thousands of protesters welcoming him back into the country and calling for his return to the presidency. The next day 3,000 specially trained soldiers and paramilitary police attacked the demonstrators and fired at the embassy. Three protesters were killed with hundreds more arrested and wounded.

Then, on 25 September, the army attacked the Brazilian embassy with nausea and sickness inducing chemicals and threatened Brazil that they would storm it in 10 days. But the masses fought back. Resistance swept the country with daily actions. Resistance leaders have reported that between 15 and 20 barrios (poor neighbourhoods) in Tegucigalpa are in a state of insurrection.

Against the continuing resistance, head of the coup and chief usurper “President” Roberto Micheletti declared a state of siege on 28 September, on top of his already existing state of emergency and curfews. The measure suspended all citizen rights and constitutional guarantees, including the independence of the Brazilian embassy.

International pressure forced the regime to formally withdraw the state of siege but, on the ground, the military has increased its attacks. The two major, pro-Zelaya media stations Globo and Channel 36 have been closed down (Globo for the 10th time since the coup). The army has attempted to stop demonstrations in support of Zelaya outside the embassy, using live ammunition and tear gas. Police have carried out widespread house searches arresting activists.

And on 2 October the regime cut off all electricity in the country for 48 hours and imposed a total curfew.

The resistance
The main resistance group is the National Resistance Front against the Coup (NRFG). Carlos Reyes, the leader of the beverage workers’ union, who was hospitalised by police after leading a strike against the coup in July, describes it as including, “the three union federations… peasants’, students’, women’s and indigenous peoples’ organisations; churches and human rights groups”.

It is overwhelmingly made up of workers and peasants and the poor of the barrios and has correctly linked Zelaya’s return to the presidency with the convening of a constituent assembly. Another NRFG leader, Gilberto Rios, said: “The constituent assembly is non-negotiable” because the whole purpose of the coup was to stop the vote taking place for an assembly.

Reyes argues that the landlords and multinationals want to defend the 1982 constitution, because it “allowed the large businessmen and the multinationals to monopolise all the power. It promoted ‘free trade’ and sweatshop pass-though industries, which have destroyed the national production of our country and our jobs. They, the oligarchy, are the ones who have benefited from the 1982 constitution and who organised the 28 June coup to preserve their interests.” Under the constitution, for example, employers’ organisations get to nominate the judges. The whole set-up privileges the power of big money.

Any move towards a constitutional assembly would destroy the 1982 constitution and weaken the oligarchy’s rule.

Workers & peasants’ power
The coup has unleashed a wave of opposition that has paralysed society, pushed back the oligarchs and has opened a revolutionary situation which could take society into a more radical direction. But the conflict has reached a breaking point. The regime has tried measure after measure to break the will of the oppositional movement. The latest is the 48-hour curfew and electricity shut down.

The state of siege launched on the 28 September is scheduled to last until the middle of November, which will prevent people from organising for the general elections of 28 November. The coup makers believe that if they can hold on till then, steal the elections, and stop the constitutional assembly, then they would have won and can return to their normal rule over society.

That’s why the state of siege must be smashed.

And it can be. The movement has now most probably reached as far as it can go with mobilisations, work stoppages and protests. There are now moves to close down the ports and transport routes with barricades and spread the confrontations to every town and city.

But the movement is at an impasse. It cannot stand still or it will suffer a defeat. People have been starved and terrorised by the military. They cannot keep mobilising without a push for power. What is now needed is:
• An indefinite general strike
• The formation of popular committees of workers’ and peasants’ delegates
• Setting up a popular militia
• An armed uprising to overthrow the coup makers, establish a workers and peasants’ government based on popular committees, and convene the constituent assembly.
The resistance and the FNRGmust organise the defence of demonstrations against military attack. Activists must go to rank and file soldiers or broadcast messages to them to break them from their officers. Most soldiers are poor as well and need to be convinced to support the movement. Once the army starts shaking, the unstable regime will fall.

There are already calls for the FNRGto launch a party. The mass mobilisations and courage of thousands of people daily to fight for the return of President Zelaya and a constituent assembly shows that support for such a party is there. A party of the workers and poor peasants would organise the masses and be the best weapon to fight for the assembly and address poverty and inequality in Honduras.

A working class party – independent of the church, business leaders and generals – would also guard against any concessions or betrayal by Zelaya himself. He is a landowner and businessman who became active in the Liberal Party in the 1970s and has held ministerial positions in previous governments. He became head of the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise in 1987. He has already said he would return under the San Jose plan, which would see him as a figurehead president with a coalition of bosses as government.

If he returns to power, his base would not now be the Liberal Party (which, apart from a few radicals, has abandoned him) but the mass movement of the NFRG. This could well push him to the left just as Chavez was pushed to the left after the failed coup of 2001 – but there is no guarantee that he would break from the oligarchy.

The existence of a mass revolutionary socialist party can ensure that Honduran workers and peasants can destroy the oligarchs, use the constituent assembly has a weapon against the bosses’ rule, and set out on the road to a workers and peasants’ government: one that could settle accounts not only with the military coup-mongers but with the capitalist system of poverty and exploitation itself.