June 30, 2015

Political Report # 1050 Honduran Democracy Still in Crisis 6 Years After Coup By teleSUR


                                Honduran women protest violence and human rights abuses. (photo: Reuters)

Six years ago Sunday, a U.S.-backed military coup ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, flying him to exile in Costa Rica in the early hours of the morning on June 28. Zelaya had planned to hold a non-binding poll on whether to hold a referendum in the upcoming election on convening a constituent assembly to rewrite the Honduran constitution.

Zelaya, of the Liberal Party, showed a progressive turn during his presidency by raising the minimum wage, negotiating land deals with campesino movements, and joining the Venezuelan-led regional energy alternative ALBA, in addition to opening the conversation on a constituent assembly.

Coup-backers accused Zelaya of attempting to manipulate the Honduran constitution to extend his presidency, which was limited to one term in Honduras before the recent Supreme Court ruling to change the wording in the constitution. The non-binding poll under Zelaya would not have changed the fact that he could not run for re-election in the November 2013 general election.

The coup against Zelaya was widely condemned by governments across Latin America, the European Union, the Organization of American States and other regional blocs.

Supporters of ousted President Manuel Zelaya confront riot squads during a protest against the military coup near Toncontin international airport in Tegucigalpa. 
In contrast, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted in her autobiography "Hard Choices" that she used her power to stir the crisis into a favorable outcome for the U.S., even if it meant forgetting about democracy. "We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot," she admitted in her book. Of course, the "free and fair" elections that Clinton envisioned included a media blackout and targeted assassinations of anti-coup leaders ahead of the polls. No international institutions monitored the elections.

Former Clinton White House counsel Lanny Davis was involved in lobbying against the elected Honduran leader deposed in the military coup. Working for the Honduras branch of the equivalent of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Davis called on U.S. lawmakers to back the military removal of President Manuel Zelaya.

While multiple world leaders were quick to condemn Zelaya's ouster and demand a return to democratic rule, Obama's White House refused to label the political crisis a military coup.

Human Rights Crisis

Since the coup, the human rights situation in Honduras has deteriorated drastically, earning the monicker of the "murder capital of the world." In the northern Aguan Valley region alone, close to 150 campesino activists have been killed since 2010. Last month, Honduras was deemed the most dangerous place in the world for environmental activists, who often face harassment, violence, death threats, and even murder.

Accoridng to a recent report, 15 assaults per month are perpetrated against journalists, human rights defenders, and political opposition. Meanwhile, gender-based violence is out of control with the femicide rate surpassing epidemic levels.

Under a reign of impunity, perpetrators of extrajudicial killings, political violence, gang wars, and rampant femicide go unpunished. In the wake of the coup, left-wing activists, journalists, indigenous people, campesinos, human rights defenders, and women are among those who have suffered the greatest abuses.

Governments After 2009 Coup

President Juan Orlando Hernandez came to power in 2013 under highly suspicious circumstances, with widespread calls of electoral fraud and political repression against the opposition LIBRE party candidates. The post-coup election of his National Party predecessor President Porfirio Lobo was widely condemned for taking place under a coup regime with rampant violations of human rights. While the election was not recognized internationally by Latin American regional leaders and organizations, such as Mercosur and Unasur, President Barack Obama endorsed President Lobo's election.

The national popular resistance movement, from which the LIBRE Party was born, also strongly condemned both post-coup elections, claiming the resultant governments were a continuation of the coup regime.

Corruption Comes to the Fore

Discontent with the Honduran government has boiled over in recent weeks as widespread government corruption and embezzlement schemes have come to light, leading ousted President Manuel Zelaya to call for permanent protests to force President Orlando Hernandez out of office.

Last week, media reported the Social Security Institute funneled more than US$200 million to the ruling right-wing National Party, which Zelaya alleges was used in Hernandez' 2013 presidential campaign.

Under post-coup National Party President Porfirio Lobo, directors of the Social Security Institute allegedly embezzled more than US$350 million.

The corruption scandals have reinvigorated popular outrage, bringing tens of thousands to the streets in five consecutive weeks of torchlit anti-corruption marches calling for the resignation of the president and an independent investigation into government fraud and impunity.

Changes to the Constitution

The corruption scandal follows a Honduran Supreme Court decision last month to change the constitution to eliminate presidential term limits to allow for re-election. Libre Party opposition members condemned the change as illegal, saying only the Honduran people have the power to change the constitution. Former President Zelaya said the move signaled Honduras is living under a "permanent coup."

The controversial constitutional change came six years after Zelaya was ousted for planning to hold a non-binding poll, which coup-backers used to justify the ousting, claiming he was trying to convene a constituent assembly to seeking re-election.

Popular Movements Reject the Status Quo

In the wake of the 2009 coup, tens of thousands of popular resistance activists took to the streets in Honduras to condemn the unconstitutionality of the coup regime and demand a constituent assembly to rewrite the Honduran constitution.

While demands of tens of thousands of Hondurans today are different, calling not for a refounding of the state but for independent investigations and the president's resignation, popular discontent and utter outrage with the government still is palpable.

People take part in a march to demand the resignation of Honduras' President Juan Orlando Hernandez in Tegucigalpa June 26, 2015. 
The coup enabled the consolidation of elite political and economic power and has given way to widespread privatization of public institutions, land, and resources. Grave repression of resistance activists, criminalization, and intense militarization have helped pave the way for the government to roll out waves of policies that benefit a few economic elite, often at the expense of the rights of indigenous people, campesinos, and other marginalized communities.

As Karen Spring, Honduras-based coordinator for the Honduras Solidarity Network, explained in an exclusive interview with teleSUR, the huge corruption scandal now swirling around the government is closely linked to this post-coup legacy of neoliberal privatization. For Spring, condemnation of corruption cannot be separated from the government's political and economic policies that have also caused deep social and economic harm.

While President Juan Orlando Hernandez has given no sign of ceding to demands for his resignation and calls for an independent U.N. anti-impunity body also have yet to be answered, it remains unclear where the resistance movements of today are headed in Honduras.

But on the anniversary of the coup, it is as clear as ever that the status quo isn't working. Six years after the U.S.-backed coup, Honduran democracy is still in crisis.

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