The Road to Zelaya's Return: Money, Guns and Social Movements in Honduras

Nearly three months after being overthrown by a violent
military coup, Honduran president Manuel Zelaya has returned to Honduras.
"I am here in Tegucigalpa. I
am here for the restoration of democracy, to call for dialogue," he told
reporters. The embattled road to his return tested regional diplomacy,
challenged Washington and
galvanized Honduran social movements.

Nearly three months after being overthrown by a violent
military coup, Honduran president Manuel Zelaya has returned to Honduras.
"I am here in Tegucigalpa. I
am here for the restoration of democracy, to call for dialogue," he told
reporters. The embattled road to his return tested regional diplomacy,
challenged Washington and
galvanized Honduran social movements.

During a recent beach-side interview, with tropical breezes
blowing along a sandy shore in the background, Honduran coup leader Roberto
Michelleti told a Fox News reporter, "This is a quiet country, and a happy
country."(1) However, since Michelleti took over on June 28, Honduras
been anything but quiet and content.

Michelleti's de-facto regime has ruled the country
with an iron fist while popular movements for democracy have gained steam with
nearly constant strikes, road blockades and massive street protests. The coup
inspired a movement that is now seeking more than just the reinstatement of
Zelaya, but the transformation of the country through a new constitution.
Michelleti says presidential elections in

November will proceed as planned, though few Hondurans,
governments and international institutions say they will recognize the results
given the violent situation in the country.

At least 11 anti-coup activists have been killed since
Zelaya was ousted.(2) Following the coup, approximately 1,500 people have
been jailed for political purposes, and many Zelaya supporters have been
beaten.(3) Via Campesina offices have been attacked, and the Feminists of
Honduras in Resistance said that there have been 19 documented cases of rape by
police officers since the coup took place.(4) The newspaper El Tiempo reported
that armed groups in Colombia have been recruiting demobilized paramilitaries
for mercenary work in Honduras. Honduras
business leaders are hiring these paramilitaries for their own private

Though Zelaya was a relatively moderate president, his
policies challenged the elite enough to inspire a right wing coup. While in
office, he passed a 60% increase in minimum wage, bringing income up from
around $6 a day to $9.60 a day.(6) Zelaya also gave subsidies to small farmers,
cut bank interest rates and reduced poverty.(7) Salvador Zuniga, a leader of
the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH)
said, "One of the things that provoked the coup d'etat was that the
president accepted a petition from the feminist movement regarding the
day-after pill. Opus Dei mobilized, the fundamentalist evangelical churches
mobilized, along with all the reactionary groups."(8)

"Maybe he made mistakes," Honduran school teacher Hedme
Castro said of Zelaya, "but he always erred on the side of the poor. That is
why they will fight to the end for him." She continued, "This is not about
President Zelaya. This is about my country. Many people gave their lives so
that we could have a democracy. And we cannot let a group of elites take that

Ignoring the relevance of the Organization of American
States, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Zelaya and Michelleti
to meet with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to work out a solution to the
crisis. Many believe Clinton made
the move to impose conditions on Zelaya's return and kill time as the November
elections neared. Zelaya has accepted Arias' proposed solution, which entails
his return to the presidency with limited powers, plus amnesty for those who
have committed political crimes in the country. Micheletti rejected the Arias'

While repression of anti-coup activists increases, so does
the movement for democracy in Honduras.
This broad coalition of activists has the support of many of the governments in
the hemisphere, and has the backing of the country's 1982 constitution, which
explains, "No one owes obedience to a government which usurps power nor
those who assume public functions or employment through the use of arms.... The
people [of this country] have the right to recur to insurrection in defense of
constitutional order."(11) This insurrection is taking place right now.

Voices of the Resistance in Honduras

Protests, strikes and road blockades have been going on in
the country almost daily since Zelaya was ousted. Many of the interviews with
activists participating in these protests offer insight into the relationship
between Zelaya and the movement, and what might lie ahead for the country.

"This struggle is peaceful, organized, and is not
getting desperate. The coup leaders are getting desperate--they haven't been
able to govern a single day in tranquility and we will defeat them," said
Israel Salinas, a leader of the National Front Against the Coup in Honduras
and member of the Unified Confederation of Honduran Workers.(12)

Honduran women's right activist Marielena spoke of the
current reality under the Michelleti regime, "Today's not the same as the
80s because there's a popular movement that the coup leaders never imagined ...
What Zelaya has done is symbolize the popular discontent accumulated over the

Bertha Caceres, a leader of COPINH, the Front Against the
Coup, and a mother of four children, spoke of the importance of the constituent
assembly to rewrite the country's constitution. It was partly this push for
constitutional reform, which Zelaya backed along with broad support from the
Honduran people, that led to the coup. When speaking of the assembly, Caceres
says, "For the first time we would be able to establish a precedent for
the emancipation of women, to begin to break these forms of domination. The
current constitution never mentions women, not once, so to establish our human
rights, our reproductive, sexual, political, social, and economic rights as
women would be to really confront this system of domination."(14)

Caceres discussed the work of the women's movement for the
new constitution "to dismantle this belief that others have the right to make
decisions about our bodies, to start guaranteeing that women are the owners and
have autonomous rights to their bodies. It is a political act; a political
proposal. ... The ability to have and guarantee access to land, territories,
cultures, health, education, art, dignified and decent employment for women,
and many other things, are elements that we must guarantee in this process of a
new constitutional assembly that leads to a real process of liberation."(15)

Gilberto Rios, from the Front Against the Coup spoke of how
the coup has galvanized a broad movement in the country. "In the past, when we
called for people to protest in the streets, they came out, but not in the same
numbers as what is happening now. In recent days, we have had protests that
start in the morning and stay in the streets all day. At night, there are
convoys of cars in major cities. It shows that the workers are participating,
and the middle class is also coming out." He also affirmed that the movement is
entirely grassroots. "The leftist political parties recognize they do not
control any part of the popular movement."(16)

Leticia Salomon, the Director of Scientific Research for the
National Autonomous University of Honduras said, "It doesn't matter who wins
the elections in November, the next government will have to deal with this
important social force if it hopes to even minimally govern the country."(17)

World Isolates Coup Regime

At the North American Leaders' Summit
in Mexico in
August, President Barack Obama said "critics who say that the United
States has not intervened enough in Honduras
are the same people who say that we're always intervening and the Yankees need
to get out of Latin America. You can't have it both
ways."(18) But as New York University history professor and author Greg
Grandin points out, all many are asking is for the US to act multilaterally
with the OAS - it did the opposite by defying the OAS and appointing Arias as
the mediator between Michelleti and Zelaya. In addition, through its financial
support to the regime, the US
has been far from taking a neutral stance.(19) Indeed, Washington
has been acting unilaterally since the beginning by not refusing to follow the
lead of other nations in putting more pressure on the coup government.(20)

However, US State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said on
September 3rd that "At this moment, we would not be able to support the outcome
of the [November] elections [in Honduras]."(21)
Zelaya was happy to hear this news from Washington.
He said the move "puts the United States
in line with Latin America, because it was not said

In addition to the US, the EU, the OAS, union leaders in
Honduras and members of the Front Against the Coup say they will not recognize
the election results.(23) Honduras business owners have devised their own plan
to increase voting; they'll be giving discounts to everyone who casts a ballot
and then comes into their business with ink on their fingers, showing that
they've voted.(24)

The US State Department did end up revoking the US
visas of over a dozen officials in the coup government, including Michelleti.(25)
But the US could go further by blocking members of the regime from using US

Various levels of funding to Honduras
from the US and
other governments and institutions have been cut since the coup took place. "On
Sept. 3, the State Department announced the termination of $33 million dollars,
including $11 million in Millennium Challenge Funds and approximately $22
million in State Department funds," according to Latin American analyst Laura
Carlsen. The IMF said that due to the coup, Honduras won't have access to $150
million in assistance.(27) A spokesperson from the IMF said the institution cut
off all aid to the country three days after the coup.(28)

On July 2, the US cut the following spending: $1.9 million
from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and $16.5 million in
military funding.(29) The Inter-American Development Bank, and the Central
American Bank of Economic Integration all cut lending to the Honduran
government.(30) The UN has cut off various forms of aid to Honduras.(31) In
addition, the EU froze $92 million in aid and the OAS froze aid and began trade
blocks against the coup government.(32)

However, "For legalistic reasons, [the US State Department]
continued to fall short of calling the coup a 'military' coup," explained Adam
Isacson of the Center for International Policy. "This means that some
anti-poverty aid is being maintained, soldiers whose training was already paid
for won't be sent back to Honduras,
and State can flexibly restore aid once democracy returns."(33)

"State Department officials closed the door on determining
legally that a military coup took place in Honduras
and requiring application of Section 7008 of the Foreign Operations law,"
Carlsen explained.

"They assured reporters that all funds that could be
suspended under Section 7008 have now been suspended ... The State Department has
admitted that $70 million in aid--over twice the amount suspended--will still
flow to the coup."(34)

The Kansas City-based Cross-Border Network went on a delegation
to Honduras
after the coup and reported that "We met the U.S Ambassador who agreed it
was a military coup even though the State Department won't call it that, thus
invoking the law requiring cut off of all remaining aid."(35)

Declaring the coup a coup, according to Grandin, "would
automatically trigger certain cutoffs, financial cutoffs, it also would have to
be certified by Congress. And that's a fight that I think Barack Obama and
Hillary Clinton don't want, because the Republicans, led by Connie Mack and
other foreign policy conservatives, regime change conservatives, Republicans,
have seized on this issue to basically try to link Obama with Hugo Chavez and
the Latin American left. And they certainly don't want to kick it into
Congress, where it'll be debated, because to call it a coup would have to be
certified by Congress."(36)

But the Obama administration needs to understand that what's
at stake is more important than winning a political fight in Washington.
The future of a nation, and perhaps the entire region, hangs in the

"The true significance of the coup, in one of the
poorest and weakest countries in the hemisphere ... lies in the test it poses
to the inter-American system," says Jorge Heine of the Balsillie School of
International Affairs. "If the latter cannot succeed in restoring
democracy in Honduras,
it cannot do so anywhere. The message would thus be crystal clear: coup-makers
can act with impunity."(37)

Washington's Ties to the Coup

Washington has
played a bloody role in Central America for years and
this coup carries on that legacy while setting some new precedents. Fernando
"Billy" Joya has returned to the stage in Honduras
as Michelleti's security advisor after serving in Battalion 316 in the 1980s,
according to Grandin. Battalion 316 was a paramilitary unit that disappeared
hundreds of people.(38) Joya was trained in Chile under the Pinochet
dictatorship by Chilean police, and his Battalion 316 was created by the CIA to
apply the repressive techniques used against "subversives" in Argentina and

In 1981, John Negroponte arrived in Honduras
as the US
ambassador. While there, the military budget in the country rose from $3.6
million in 1981 to $77.8 million in 1985 "when his mission was completed--having
created the Contras in Nicaragua and protected the El Salvadoran dictatorship,"
according to Honduras-based reporter Dick Emanuelsson.(40) Negroponte met with
Michelleti before the June 28 coup on a trip made primarily to convince Zelaya
not to transform a US airbase in Palmerola, Honduras into an airport for

Venezuelan Robert Carmona-Borjas has also joined the coup
government in Honduras.
He was involved in the attempted coup against President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela
in 2002. Carmona-Borjas' Arcadio Foundation began a media campaign against
Zelaya in 2007.(42)

Lanny Davis, a lawyer to Bill Clinton and campaign advisor
to Hillary Clinton, has been lobbying in Washington
for Honduran coup leaders and elites. Some of the businesses that support the
coup in Honduras that Davis is representing in DC are US companies such as
Russell, Fruit of the Loom and Hanes - all of which have benefited from the low
wages, neoliberal policies and crackdowns on union rights in the country.(43)
Davis recently testified before Congress on behalf of the coup leaders and
backers, and has helped to get media on the coup's side.(44)

The week before the coup, former Assistant Secretary of
State for Western Hemispheric Affairs Thomas Shannon and Deputy Assistant
Secretary of State Craig Kelly met with Honduran figures that ended up
participating in the coup.(45) Days before the coup took place, John McCain and
leaders from the International Republican Institute, invited future leaders of
the coup to meetings in Washington.(46)

US businesses also hold a considerable amount of weight in
the country: in 2006, 70% of exports from Honduras
went to the US,
and 52% of imports were from the US.
That same year, US investments in the country totaled more than $568 million,
two thirds of foreign investment.(47)

A Movement Larger Than Zelaya

Just as the coup may change the geopolitical landscape of
the region, the grassroots fervor in Honduras
will likely alter the country forever. And that might be Michelleti's legacy -
that in ousting a moderate president, he inspired a revolution.

When trying to break the political impasse Honduras
finds itself in, Zelaya admits that much depends on the anti-coup movement of Honduras.
"This movement is now very strong. It can never be destroyed," he

The coup leaders "were wrong here, they miscalculated,"
Honduran activist Bertha Caceres of the Front Against the Coup and COPINH
explained. "They said it would be two days of resistance, and they were wrong.
This population has demonstrated that we are capable of ... a much longer

Gilberto Rios, from the Front Against the Coup, spoke of the
similarities this coup has to others throughout the last century that still
haunt the region: "The oligarchy made the coup with an old manual, but the
people have changed and the world has changed."(50)

Readers can view the complete citation list here.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.