Harsha Walia: Dissecting the coup in Honduras

On early morning of Sunday June 28, approximately 100 Honduran soldiers removed President Manuel Zelaya from his home and forced him onto a plane and into exile in Costa Rica.

A fake letter of resignation from Zelaya was presented and the head of Congress, Roberto Micheletti, was named the interim President.   This military coup has been condemned by the United Nations General Assembly, Central American Integration System, European Union, Organization of American States, and Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas bloc.

Over the past week the Honduran Congress has suspended basic constitutional rights including freedom of association and freedom of movement through the imposition of a military curfew and checkpoints. A decree allows for warrantless arrests and detention without charge.

Geoff Thale, with Foreign Policy in Focus, reports that leaders of civil-society organizations have gone into hiding. The National Commission for the Disappeared reports over 300 people have been detained.

Freedom of the press has been drastically curtailed in what Reporters Without Borders has called “either closely controlled or nonexistent” coverage of events through detention of journalists as well as closure of local TV and radio stations and disruption of foreign networks such as CNN and Telesur.

Government electrical blackouts and shutdown of phone services have further limited freedom of information.

Over the weekend with Zelaya’s expected return, political repression stepped up. Human Rights Watch expressed concerns over “serious abuses against demonstrators”¦and approval of an emergency decree suspending fundamental rights.”

While military aircraft and soldiers blocked Zelaya’s landing, troops fired tear gas, water hoses, and live bullets on the crowd, resulting in at least  two deaths including of a 17-year old boy. Police and armed forces clashed with protestors across the country, including against 100,000 public-sector workers who launched a general strike.

Social movements including peasant-based Via Campesina and the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations are reporting increased police surveillance since their public condemnations of the coup.

Many commentators, including on Straight.com, have repeated the mantra of Zelaya attempting to illegally extend his term in office as the raison d'íªtre of the political turmoil. In a world of media spin-doctors, becoming passive recipients of sound bites rather than active analyzers might lead us to the same conclusion.

In an extensive article, Alberto Vallente Thorensen notes that Zelaya intended to perform a nonbinding consultation about the formation of an elected National Constituent Assembly.

If approved and legislated, any rewrites by this Assembly to the 1982 Constitution, drafted in an era of military dictators and U.S.-sponsored counter-insurgencies, would have to be approved by the Honduran people.

It is speculation as to whether the Assembly would have redrafted provisions regarding presidential terms and if so, whether the Honduran people would have voted to accept this.  

Such a lengthy consultative process is arguably not indicative of a power-hungry dictator; and teacher, student, indigenous, peasant, and union groups supported the referendum. Yet Congress and the military opposed Zelaya’s proposal, and head of the military General Romeo Vasquez refused to distribute materials for the non-binding referendum.

(Vasquez became a key leader in the coup and is a graduate of the infamous School of the Americas, aka School of the Assassins, located in Fort Benning where over 60,000 Latin American soldiers were trained in U.S.-sponsored counterinsurgency operations).

It is also unclear whether or not the Supreme Court had a legal basis for its ruling against the referendum being held during an election year since Zelaya’s actions were invoked under the Honduran Civil Participation Act approved by the National Congress and Supreme Court of Justice in 2006.  

At a fundamental level, one does not have to be a Zelaya supporter to understand that this legal question on the division of powers is not one for the military to decide. Even the army’s top lawyer, Colonel Herberth Bayardo Inestroza, admitted that the overthrow was illegal and the 4th Army Battalion from the Atlántida Department has declared that it will not respect orders from the Micheletti government.

Furthermore, if the military actions had popular support, why would such brutal repression against large mobilizations of diverse sectors of Honduran society be needed?

Zelaya’s move to the left may have been pragmatic rather that a genuine ideological shift; certainly actions such as his stated desire in April to monitor cell phones are not ones that human rights defenders could condone.

However, speaking out against the coup does not imply an endorsement of Zelaya. In fact the hyper-focus on Zelaya (or Chavez as Zelaya’s mentor) distracts from the broader economic, political, and social forces  that have been evolving in Honduras.

Though Zelaya signed the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2004, he was forced to speak out against the devastating effects of unfair trade policies that were increasing poverty.

He led Hondura’s entrance into the leftist trade bloc ALBA and Petrocaribe to reduce dependence on the U.S. market, instead relying on the practical necessity of discounted oil from Venezuela.

Although not opposed to all mining operations, in 2006 he declared a moratorium on the granting of new mining concessions, partly in response to large demonstrations by Indigenous people, many targeting Canadian mining empires such as Goldcorp.

Zelaya also legislated a 60 percent  minimum-wage increase following labour actions, and measures to nationalize energy-generation plants and the telephone system.

Much like the coup against Aristide in Haiti, this coup was not carried out to preserve constitutional order or the will of the people; it was carried out to preserve the position and institutions of local land-owning, military, business, and bureaucratic elites and a global hegemonic regime that serves global capitalist and imperialist interests.

From 1996 to 2006 Canadian companies were the second-biggest investors in Honduras and Canada is seeking a free-trade agreement with Honduras.

Perhaps this is why Desjardins Securities analyst Martin Landry noted that the coup could help the garment-producing giant Gildan if it leads to a more pro-business government. And perhaps why Canada is the only country in the hemisphere that has not called for Zelaya's return.

Although the U.S. has condemned the military actions, the U.S. is maintaining a military base in Honduras and according to historian Greg Grandin, “The Honduran military is effectively a subsidiary of the United States government”¦So if the US is really opposed to this coup going forward, it won’t go forward.”

The final outcome is unclear and if and under what circumstances Zelaya will return. Regardless, the wave of military and government repression will have significant impacts on the strength and unity of growing grassroots social mobilizations in Honduras especially leading up to the November elections.

They are the ones calling for our solidarity in the restoration of their democratic processes and also in their ongoing transformative struggles for freedom from exploitative international trade, labour, and environmental polices.

Harsha Walia is a  Vancouver activist, writer, and researcher.



John Doe.

Jul 7, 2009 at 5:02pm

Oh Harsha..


Jul 7, 2009 at 8:23pm

It is Miss Walia who spins this tale, with little evidence but much speculation. Deconstructing her text, its quite apparent that she is just translating what others have said earlier in Spanish, repeating the news from Venezuelan or Cuban sources, such as Juventud Rebelde.

By cherry-picking her facts and time-line, Walia has "made" her case. However, by not starting with earlier incidents, she has left out much of the case brought by many Hondurans against Zelaya. Zelaya's actions in forcing the referendum, to the extent that his own party in Congress disagreed with him, as did the Honduras Supreme Court - and even the Catholic church and evangelical sects.

If speculation is useful, we can see some interesting outcomes, no matter what happens with Zelaya and Honduras. President Chavez of Venezuela has thrown his weight around, taking his cheap oil from Honduran consumers. Now, every government who accepts anything from Chavez knows that he is an oligarch, only too willing to punish people. Another development will be the approaches made by those who object to statist governments in Venzuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, etc. They will be bringing their cases to the OAS, expecting the same support that the OAS has given to ex-President Zelaya.

So, if you can struggle through some Spanish, go to some original source documents to find out why so many Honduran agencies such as their Supreme Court and clergy objected to Zelaya's actions:

Honduras Foreign Ministry:

Honduras supreme Court:


Jul 7, 2009 at 9:10pm

thank you harsha for sharing this information with a progressive and anti-capitalist and anti-oppression lens. so refreashing. I knew very very little about honduras until this recent military coup and i felt alot of confusion around the issues especially due to mainstream media's protrayal. Again thank you for your insight and thoughts. I deeply respect the hardwork you do and your talent as a writer. look forward to reading more from you and less of the junk from others. with admiration and respect smo


Jul 7, 2009 at 11:39pm

There are two truths in Honduras. One is rooted in the old US supported oligarchy and the other in a resurgent democratic movement that looks to redistribute wealth into the hands of the traditionally disenfranchised. simp wants to imply that there is an objective truth out there to be discovered. The real question is: Which side are you on? Are you with the moneyed elites who have ruled Honduras like a banana factory for 6 decades, or are you with the 70% of people who live in poverty with extremely limited access to water, jobs, education or a future? simp is clearly with the former and the record of the permanently re-elected Congress which he supports tells more than any court documents: the political class does nothing to address the problems of everyday people in Honduras.


Jul 8, 2009 at 7:42am

Simpatizante: Why don't you address the substance of what Ms. Walia has said in her commentary rather than hiding behind the inability of most Canadians to understand Spanish?


Jul 8, 2009 at 2:38pm

How ironic that Walia dwells on who took training at the SOA, when it was soldier Hugo Chavez himself who orchestrated and failed in a violent, bloody 1992 coup-bid in Venezuela! And not just one or two people died in his attempt, but more than a dozen. Fundamentally, because Zelaya has attempted to get re-elected, under Honduran law, he has effectively vacated the presidency. For more information on this, check out the documents (mostly in English!) of the many US Senators who are most concerned about the US lining up to condemn the interim constitutional government of Honduras:

Jason Wallach

Jul 8, 2009 at 6:35pm

DeMint is a Republican from a southern state, one of the few regions in the US where his neo-fascist vitriol still isn't laughed out of the room as soon as he opens his mouth. His neighboring state, North Carolina voted for Obama--the first time the state has voted left-of-center in more than half a century. DeMint empty rabble-rousing is representative neither of his colleagues in the Senate nor the views of his own constituency.


Jul 9, 2009 at 7:35am

Walia's article is so full of insinuations (maybes, perhaps, etc) that its hard not to believe that she is just floating her hypotheses based on her left-wing activism - really not much substance because like most of us, she doesn't really know what is happening on the ground in Honduras. So I'll float some of my own :-)

Indeed, if left-wing "converso" Zelaya had been in the position of throwing right-wing Micheletti from the presidency, in order to do all the really nifty socialist projects, I doubt if activist Walia would be upset at all.

Focusing on how this is unfolding now, the 16 US Senators who have resisted going along with the OAS-Chavez-Castro game-plan could be quite important, and it matters that some of them represent US Hispanic constituencies. If they choose, their power to really challenge the oppressively left-wing gameplan could be quite dramatic. Already, the Obama regime is starting to pull on the lead given to the OAS-Chavez-Castro axis now - and those Senators are a part of the equation.

One of the really positive outcomes of this incident is now that our whole Latin America region sees more clearly who Chavez really is - an oligarch whose power can be used to attempt to dictate compliance. After threatening military intervention and violence, he's moved to cancelling cheap-fuel sales to Honduras - and because his public blathering was so embarrassing and counter-productive to Zelaya, he has shut up. However, the cat is out of the bag and his bluster will come back to haunt his socialist, pro-Cuban policies. Even Obama knows that its not nice to pull support from his civil aid programs in Honduras and has only frozen some military aid funding. However, the Honduran military are quite aware that it is there geographic location that makes them attractive to the US - they'll be renewing the military funding soon - especially with Nicaragua right there.

Ditto the OAS/Insulza, who have so clearly fallen into camp of the axis of Chavez-Ortega-Correa-Morales.

Well, who knows what will come out of the Costa Rica Arias-Micheletti-Zelaya "chats" this weekend, but as a Costa Rican, I'm sure that Arias would rather have Micheletti in Honduras than a Zelaya.