We must stand with resistance to repression in Honduras

Ten years on from the right-wing coup against democracy in Honduras, we must again speak against how the US and UK are propping up the reactionary regime there, says Ken Livingstone.

It’s nearly ten years since a military coup in Honduras ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, flying him to exile in Costa Rica.

During his presidency, Zelaya had raised the minimum wage, begun negotiating with campesino movements to restore land rights and signed up to the Petrocaribe and Alba regional trade agreements, moving the poverty-stricken island away from its traditional position of US domination and towards co-operative relations with countries such as Bolivia and Venezuela.

Honduras had been subject to sustained US interference since the 19th century, through US control of its agricultural, banking and mining sectors, coupled with direct political and military interventions to protect US interests in 1907 and 1911, so the scale and radical nature of the change that Zelaya was attempting can’t be underestimated.

These and other planned reforms to redistribute wealth and power, including new anti-poverty efforts and public services programmes, angered the country’s oligarchy, leading to his overthrow by the military in June 2009.

The coup against Zelaya was widely condemned by governments across Latin America, the European Union, the Organisation of American States (OAS) and other regional blocs. By contrast, President Obama refused to label the political crisis a military coup, and it was subsequently revealed that the fingerprints of the US were all over it.

Here in Britain, alongside Jeremy Corbyn, MP Colin Burgon, trade unions and Latin America solidarity groups, I was part of the Emergency Committee Against the Coup in Honduras which organised protests, parliamentary events and initiatives, rallies, motions and other initiatives in response to the coup and to try and get the British government to be proactive in opposing it.

In Honduras, the subsequent presidential “election,” which included a media blackout and targeted assassinations of anti-coup leaders ahead of the polls, was widely condemned for taking place under a coup regime, and things haven’t got better since.

Two further presidential elections, in 2013 and 2017, have both been won by pro-business US ally Juan Orlando Hernandez of the conservative National Party, amid widespread calls of electoral fraud and political repression against left-wing opposition candidates.

Since 2009, Honduras has remained a country in crisis. The coup enabled the consolidation of elite political and economic power and has given way to widespread privatisation of public institutions, land and resources.

Today, 67 per cent of Hondurans live in poverty, with 59 per cent of the rural population experiencing extreme poverty. Honduras is one of the most unequal countries in Latin America in terms of income distribution.

Now, this is set to get even worse, with Honduras about to embark on an IMF “reform” package of even more cuts and privatisations, which will damage the living standards of the majority of people, while (as they always do) making the rich elite even richer, and no doubt giving some tasty profits to US multinationals.

To continue implementing such a damaging and vicious neoliberal agenda inevitably means the government has to suppress people, protests and movements against it.

Indeed, Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries on the globe for human rights defenders, especially for those working to protect land, territory and the environment, as illustrated by the murder in 2016 of internationally renowned environmental leader Berta Caceres and a number of other environmental activists. 

It is also one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a trade unionist.

Trade unionists face poverty wages, exploitative work conditions and violence for fighting back. At least 31 trade unionists have been killed since 2009 in Honduras and death threats are commonplace.

Additionally, political dissent is criminalised and repressed. During protests against the rigged 2017 presidential election, security forces indiscriminately shot 16 people and detained more than 1,300, many in military detention centres, subjecting them to ill-treatment according to the UN High Commissioner’s Office.

Journalists are also in the line of fire — 25 were murdered between 2014 and 2016 for example. 91 per cent of killings of journalists since 2001 remain unpunished.

Despite this, Hondurans continue to bravely resist — as epitomised in the popular hashtag #HondurasResiste — and recently there have been strong protests against government corruption and the proposed vicious austerity measures.

While the Trump administration often sheds crocodile tears on what it terms human rights abuses in some Central and Southern American countries, this is extremely selective and hypocritical, and Honduras illustrates this perfectly.

In exchange for Honduras acting in the US interest on the international stage at all times (the government even committed to a Honduran embassy in Jerusalem following Trump’s lead), the US assists the Honduran government to maintain its iron grip through its expanding military presence in Honduras and its increasing financial aid to Honduran militarisation.

The US also trains the Honduran police and military, including army generals responsible for ongoing death squad killings and officials that played a major role in the 2009 coup.

As is so often the case due to our rotten so-called “special relationship,” Britain is also complicit.

In 2017 the British government sold the Honduran government spyware designed to eavesdrop on its citizens, months before the state rounded up thousands of people in a well-orchestrated surveillance operation.

Just as we did 10 years ago, we must speak up in solidarity with those fighting for democracy and social progress in Honduras, and call out the US and UK for propping up its right-wing, anti-democratic regime.

First published by the Morning Star.