Amid a difficult time for British progressives, the left’s victory in Honduras shows why we say ‘Don’t mourn, organise!’ writes KEN LIVINGSTONE
Twelve years ago, in 2009, I was part of the organising team of a meeting called by the Emergency Committee Against the Coup in Honduras alongside trade unionists, MPs and representatives of Latin American embassies and community groups.
That summer the Honduran army had forced elected president Manuel Zelaya from office — an outrageous but perhaps unsurprising move when you consider the political direction he sought to take the country in and the long history of attempts to undermine governments in the region that pursued progressive domestic agendas and independent foreign policy approaches.
Despite not coming from a background on the socialist left, Zelaya had used his three years in government to address the needs of millions of citizens who had been failed by decades of free market policies.
Universal free education was introduced for the first time (with over 1.6 million children receiving free school meals), the minimum wage was increased by 80 per cent, access to social security programmes was significantly expanded and an initiative was launched providing free electricity to the poorest households in the country.
Washington-based think tank the Centre for Economic and Policy Research found that measures such as these saw extreme poverty reduced by 21 per cent during his tenure.
At the same time as this period of bold domestic reforms, Zelaya realigned Honduras on the international stage, notably joining the cross-regional Alba organisation first initiated by Cuba and Venezuela.
Moves such as this were crucial to challenging the “end of history” narrative of rampant capitalism being the only game in town, and putting forward a version of global co-operation based on improving the lives of the majority of people.
As with all too many examples before, policies which prioritised social progress and sovereignty were unacceptable to those in charge of the United States.
The Obama administration shamefully gave the coup its backing — and information subsequently revealed by Wikileaks showed that then secretary of state Hillary Clinton played a key role in attempts to stop other countries speaking out against it (little wonder that the US is still desperate to get its founder extradited).
The coup was as brutal as it was unjust. The illegitimate government immediately imposed a curfew designed to quash popular resistance — a measure it would reintroduce again and again.
Media outlets reporting the reality of the situation were shut down, and ambassadors from countries such as Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua were detained and beaten by the police.
This repression was designed to prop up an agenda which left the overwhelming majority of Hondurans worse off. Measures such as cuts to social programmes meant that, just three years after the coup, extreme poverty had gone up by 26 per cent and over 46 per cent of those in full-time work received less than the minimum wage.
The pattern of reactionary policies and repressive measures would continue over a decade — including the assassination of renowned environmental campaigner Berta Caceres by US-trained thugs in 2016.
When initial results for the 2017 election showed a lead for opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla, standing on an anti-corruption platform, the counting process became increasingly delayed and filled with irregularities.
A 10-day curfew was enforced when this was met with protests from trade unions and social movements (groups targeted with spyware sold to the coup regime by our own government).
Eventually incumbent Juan Hernandez was declared the winner, a farcical 21 days after the election was held.
But the Honduran people could only be silenced for so long. Running on a message of “taking the fight to the neoliberal system and demilitarising our society,” Xiomara Castro gave hope to millions desperate for a break with what has been a disastrous era for their country.
Last month she achieved a stunning triumph in presidential elections, winning by a margin of more than 14 per cent, with Nasralla as her running mate. Castro will be Honduras’s first female president — and Zelaya first gentleman.
There is little doubt that the new government will face attempts at destabilisation, both from the domestic elite and the US.
Recent attempts from right-wing groups in Bolivia to undermine the results of last year’s election (in which another reactionary coup government was ousted) provide a blueprint for likely events — thankfully, these have been met with mass demonstrations of support for democracy and the progressive platform of the left administration.
There’s no getting around it: this has been a very difficult period for socialists in Britain. But when we look at what progressive forces in Honduras have been able to achieve in the face of 12 years of repression backed by some of the most powerful states on Earth, it is a timely reminder of why it is always worth fighting for a better world.
Part of that fight in the months ahead will be building solidarity with the Honduran people and their right to pursue a path which changes lives for the better.