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Honduras: workers and farmers fight the coup

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Fearing radical social reforms, the army launched a coup to defend the rich. Dave Stockton looks at how the workers and poor are fighting back and calls for a huge political general strike

At the end of June the generals of the Honduran Army, backed by the Supreme Court, launched a coup against President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, better known as Mel Zelaya and deported him to Costa Rica. Young people, workers, the poor, all those who constituted the bulk of his electorate, immediately took to the streets across Honduras to protest against the removal from office of the president. Their resistance is continuing today.

The crisis erupted over a consultative ballot called by President Zelaya. The question was: “Do you agree to install a fourth urn [i.e. ballot box] in the November 2009 general elections to decide on calling a National Constituent Assembly that would approve a political constitution?”

The reason why all the institutions of the Honduran elite turned on Zelaya is that they feared there was going to be a massive “yes” vote. They feared it would unleash a tidal wave of demands for social change and democratic rights. The elite knew that a constituent assembly would, as in Venezuela and Bolivia, be a focus for demands to end the power, privileges and wealth of the plantation owners, the big business interests, the hierarchies of the armed forces and church. They were terrified that Honduras might follow the path of social reform taken in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.

What has the role of the United Sates been in all this? Clearly it is different to the response of Bush to the coup in Venezuela in 2002. He supported it and the US no doubt helped organise it. This time Hilary Clinton and Barrack Obama both condemned the coup. But if the US wanted it could certainly bring the coup to a speedy end. Honduras is heavily economically dependent on the US. Remittances from the Honduran citizens resident in the US were $2.56 billion in 2007 alone, more than one-fifth of the country’s GDP, and the US is by far the country’s major trade partner (62 per cent of exports go to the US).

In fact what Washington wants is a “compromise” between Zelaya and the coup-makers. Zelaya would return to Honduras and serve out the nine months of his term but he would drop the idea of the constituent assembly.

The US then hopes that a pro-coup candidate will win next year’s presidential elections and thus the masses will be cheated of all their hopes for radical change. Any such compromise would thus be a monstrous sell-out. The needs of the masses are indeed great and cannot be postponed.

According to the United Nations, 44 per cent of the population live on less than US$2 a day. Half of Hondurans live below the national poverty line and the UN also estimates that over one-fifth are malnourished. Honduras is not only a desperately poor country, the third poorest in the hemisphere; it is also an incredibly unequal one. The top 10 per cent of households receive 42 per cent of the country’s wealth while the lowest 10 per cent receive only 1.2 per cent.

US State Department figures show that 38 per cent of the population are unemployed or underemployed, not counting the more than one million who have migrated to the US in search of the living they could not find at home. The harsh conditions of life in Honduras cannot be solved by piecemeal reforms.

So can the model of Hugo Chávez’ social reforms be applied in Honduras? The answer is “no” – for two reasons. First, Honduras does not have the huge oil resources that enabled Chávez to carry out major reforms without touching the property of the Venezuelan elite and their foreign corporate backers. Second, the really radical reforms came after the failure of the 2002 coup and the subsequent wholesale purge of the army high command.

Defeat the coup plotters
In Honduras there is no way of avoiding the fact that to significantly improve the life of the masses the property of the elite must be seized. The elite’s control of the army can only be broken by mass action and by the rank and file soldiers refusing the orders of their officers, arresting them, and joining hands with the workers and the poor.

But this is not the road of reforms – even Venezuela-style. It is the road of social revolution. Indeed the exploitation and inequality which is rife in Honduras can only be ended if the workers and peasants take control of their own political destiny, via democratic councils of delegates, an armed mass militia and a revolutionary party.

But the first step must be to defeat the coup plotters and drive them from power is a huge political general strike. Important steps in this direction seem to be underway. A ‘National Front Against the Coup’ comprising trades unions, peasants, student, and teachers unions, plus human rights, environmental organisations, has extended road blocks across vast regions in the country, including the roads linking the Tegucigalpa with San Pedro Sula, the country’s second city in importance and leading north to the country’s main industrial zone.

Juan Barahona, the president of the United Federation of Honduran Workers and one of the Front’s leaders, has stated: “We will continue protests until the de facto government abandons the power it has usurped.” The teachers’ union too is on strike for an indefinite period.

As soon as the coup is defeated a campaign for the election of a revolutionary constituent assembly must be launched. It must be organised democratically by the workers and popular organisations. If they control the process then delegates of the workers and the poor can demand revolutionary solutions to the country’s problems: land to those who work it, workers’ control of the factories and banks, free education and health service and a universal literacy campaign.

The constituent assembly must ask – who should rule? The capitalists or the workers and poor? As the coup shows even the suggestion of basic social reforms will attract state repression. The assembly should disband the police, judiciary and the army to make impossible any future coup.

A workers’ government based on the armed people will be needed to guarantee the radical social reforms and then take on the task of democratic planning towards a socialist future.