Time to back the Honduran resistance

One of Trump’s main allies in South and Central America is in big trouble, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE.

A recent wave of protests against the Honduran government of Juan Orlando Hernandez has continued the campaign calling for his immediate resignation and arrest on charges of corruption and sanctioning violent repression and murder of a range of Honduran citizens such as environmental activists, journalists and trade unionists.

These latest acts of resistance involve a range of groups and social movements, including the Defence of Health and Public Education campaign.

The initial stimulus for this renewed opposition to Hernandez’s government (which first came to power just over 10 years ago in the US-backed coup) was the passing in April by the National Congress, on a show of hands contrary to procedure, of the president’s initiative called “Restructuring and Transformation of the National Health and Education System.”

Teacher and healthcare unions embarked on a national strike to protest against the law, which will privatise the country’s healthcare system and education and lead to massive layoffs.

Former president of Honduras Manuel Zelaya, illegally ousted from office in 2009, is supporting the unions and other opponents of the measure. The legislative attack follows the looting of around $350 million from the state-run medical and pension system by Hernandez and a group of politicians between 2013 and 2014 in order to fund Hernandez’s National Party and his 2017 election campaign.

Hernandez originally came to power after Zelaya’s progressive democratic government was deposed by military force. Although widely condemned by a host of countries and regional blocs, the US refused to label the political crisis a military coup, and Hillary Clinton was later shown to have backed those who carried out the coup.

Here in Britain, myself and Labour MPs such as Colin Burgon and now Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, trade unions, the Morning Star, Latin American solidarity organisations and others were part of the Emergency Committee Against the Coup in Honduras, which urged the UK to join those strongly protesting against the coup internationally.

The subsequent elections since the coup included a media blackout and political repression against the left-wing opposition Libre party candidates, including targeted assassinations of anti-coup leaders ahead of the polls, and there were widespread calls of electoral fraud.

Despite multiple allegations of fraud in the 2017 Honduran presidential election, Trump recognised Hernandez, a conservative US ally, as the election winner.

Following that election, Hernandez’s National Party government brutally cracked down on legitimate protest, using the police, the military and also, allegedly, death squads. His government also stood accused of links with organised crime, including drug trafficking gangs.

Since then, Hernandez has relied heavily on the country’s national security forces to repress protests and dissent through violent crackdowns. To deal with the major anti-privatisation protests, hundreds of military personnel were employed to block the streets of the capital, Tegucigalpa, well before they began. There are reports of deaths and casualties in the protests.

The Honduran government also engage in widespread surveillance activities, which the British government (whilst Boris Johnson was Foreign Secretary) has been accused of facilitating through its approval of export licences for telecommunications interception equipment for sale to Honduras.

Protests against Hernandez’s regime have again escalated with the revelation in early August that he is implicated in a major drug case. A federal document in an ongoing court case in New York alleges that Hernandez’s 2013 presidential election was partly funded by drug traffickers. The 49-page document alleges that Hernandez worked with his brother Tony to “use drug trafficking to help assert power and control” in the country.

Yet in a recent memorandum issued by Trump which nam 20 countries, including Honduras, that the US alleges are either major transit or illicit drug-producing countries, only Bolivia and Venezuela (for obvious reasons as Trump wishes to remove their non-compliant governments) are accused of failing over the last 12 months to honour the obligations of an international anti-narcotics agreement to minimise drug trafficking.

This is despite the fact that according to a report from the US State Department, drug trafficking in Honduras after the coup nearly doubled, making Honduras became “the drug-trafficking paradise.”

The court revelation has energised the movement against Hernandez to demand the ending of what its leaders are calling a “narco-government.”

Seven out of 10 Hondurans live in poverty and the real unemployment rate exceeds 50 per cent, and popular resistance goes beyond the teacher and medical sectors opposing the privatisation law to embrace much wider social groupings.

The struggle for land rights and resistance to environmentally damaging corporate projects such as dams and mines, which have been met with military and police repression, harassment and even death squads, are part of this larger picture of resistance.

Veteran leader of the indigenous peoples’ movement in Honduras Salvador Zuniga has applauded the recent protests, saying, “We are encouraged because our people are showing willingness to struggle. Today is another expression of struggle against the dictatorship of a drug trafficker. Today is a great day, a great civic demonstration on behalf of our people.”

Ten years on from the coup in Honduras, this inspiring resistance is shaking one of Trump’s key allies in the region to the core. It deserves our solidarity, and we must demand no more UK arms sales to prop up this anti-democratic, reactionary regime.

First published by the Morning Star.