Military coup in Honduras

  June 28, 2009

Military coup in Honduras

Tinker-Salas: World leaders unified in calls for return to power of kidnapped president
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Miguel Tinker Salas is a professor of History and Latin American studies at Pomona College in Claremont, California. He is co-author of Venezuela: Hugo Chavez and the Decline of an Exceptional Democracy and author of Under the Shadow of the Eagles and The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture, and Society in Venezuela. His latest book is Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know.


On Sunday, Hondurans were expecting to vote in a first ever nation-wide survey. Instead they woke to find the military in control of the streets and their elected President Manuel Zelaya kidnapped and flown to Costa Rica. Soon after, an emergency convening of the National Congress appointed Zelaya's political rival, Roberto Micheletti, as the new president. However, Hondurans were quick to take to the streets and world leaders just as fast to denounce the move, demanding the return to power of Manuel Zelaya and refusing to deal with the coup leaders.


Military coup in HondurasCourtesy: CNN Español

ROBERTO MICHELETTI, ACTING PRESIDENT (DISPUTED), HONDURAS (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I promise to be loyal to the Republic, to its constitution, and to its laws.


Military coup in Honduras

Producer: Jesse Freeston

JESSE FREESTON, TRNN: With that, Roberto Micheletti declared himself the new president of Honduras, concluding a shocking one-day military coup in this Central American country.

MIGUEL TINKER-SALAS, LATIN AMERICAN STUDIES, POMONA COLLEGE: This morning, troops burst into the home of President Zelaya of Honduras and, essentially, under arms, expelled him from the country—took him to a plane that took him to Costa Rica, and essentially staged a military coup. Throughout the course of the day, they've been trying to rationalize, justify the coup, first indicating that it was sanctioned by the Supreme Court, then that they had an actual form signed by Zelaya, in which he resigned his presidency. Then they had the state Congress actually also try to affirm that. In the end, they scurried to find an alternative to Zelaya to justify the coup, and they selected Roberto Micheletti, who was the speaker for the Honduran Congress, and placed him as president of Honduras in one of the most undemocratic acts we've seen recently in Latin America that parallels with the coup that was held against Hugo Chávez in 2002, and also the coup that was staged in Haiti against President Aristide.

FREESTON: The political crisis in Honduras reached a peak over the last few days when Romeo Vásquez, the head of the military, refused to provide logistical support for the national survey that President Zelaya had planned for Sunday. The non-binding survey was to ask Hondurans' opinion on the possible inclusion of a constitutional referendum on the ballot for November's presidential election. The referendum has been rumored to include a changing of presidential term limits, which currently limits the president to a single four-year stint. President Zelaya responded to the refusal by firing General Vásquez and leading a caravan of supporters to retrieve the empty ballots from a nearby base. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court and the Congress have consistently opposed Zelaya, declaring the national consultation illegal, ordering the reinstatement of General Vásquez, and declaring Sunday's coup as constitutionally valid.


MICHELETTI: I take over as president of the republic under strict compliance with the Constitution. I promise to follow and enforce the Constitution with a deep conviction. I don't arrive at this position through the disgrace of a coup d'état. I arrive at the presidency as the product of a completely legal transition process, as is stipulated by our laws.


TINKER-SALAS: There is nothing in the Honduran Congress that justifies the action taken to kidnap a president and expel him from the country. That is not justified by the Honduran Constitution. That's simply a smokescreen being used now, the same way it was used in Venezuela and Haiti, to justify what is a political coup staged by the political class and by the military in Honduras. Let's be clear: this was an undemocratic act. It has been condemned by the OAS; it's been condemned by the European Union; it's been condemned by every Latin American government; it's been condemned even by the White House. Well, these are all questions that, again, Honduras government of the right wing now, the military, the political-military alliance finds itself isolated from Latin America. And I think that's a part of what's going to happen. They're going to find it very difficult to find anyone to recognize their government, and they're going to find it very difficult to operate in that new reality.

FREESTON: Historically, military coups in Latin America have been carried out by leaders trained at the US-run School of the Americas located in Fort Benning, Georgia. And today in Honduras, the military leaders in question, including General Vásquez, are former attendees of the controversial training center. The difference today is that the coup leaders of the past could count on immediate recognition from the US government. But this time, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quick to announce that the action taken against Honduran President Mel Zelaya violates the precepts of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and thus should be condemned by all.

TINKER-SALAS: This is a very interesting sector of the Honduran elite political class who resorted to a coup to ensure continuation of their power and of their privileges and took an undemocratic action. So I think that what—reading into this is very clear: these are individuals who are from the School of the Americas. The same thing happened in Venezuela. The same thing happened elsewhere in Latin America. And they expect that they will receive US support. I think they misread it. They misread it now in the same way they misread it in 2002 in Venezuela. The reality is that they will probably receive no support from any government in the region, and they will be extremely isolated.

FREESTON: The president wasn't the only victim of the coup. An undetermined number of Zelaya's cabinet members have also been kidnapped by elements of the military. And reports have surfaced that popular leftist leader and Zelaya ally César Ham was killed in a confrontation with soldiers intent on kidnapping him as well.

TINKER-SALAS: There's a concern about the chilling message being sent in terms of how labor organizations that are involved in organizing with banana producers in the northeastern coast. There's a message being sent clearly to political organizers in Tegucigalpa and throughout the country. There's a clear message being sent here that the kind of protests, the kind of mobilization, the kind of organizing experience in the last few years will not be looked upon as something that the government will support or that the government will in fact repress. So I think that's the larger message. And one can only also imagine the message being sent next door to El Salvador, to Mauricio Funes, or to the government in Guatemala of Álvaro, what kind of message is being sent and how the white right wing is reacting. I think there's a sign of desperation here on the part of centrist, right-wing organizations that see that in the electoral arena they lose. They've lost in El Salvador. They've lost in Honduras. They've lost elsewhere. And they now resort to the old traditional mechanism, which is the support of the military to ensure their power, their privileges, and their benefits.

FREESTON: The Micheletti government has already imposed martial law, including a nationwide 9 p.m. curfew.

TINKER-SALAS: You've seen that in Tegucigalpa and elsewhere. There's a loss of power, which also is intended to ensure the population stays within the house. It's another way of having a state of siege. It's another way of ensuring a curfew. It's another way of ensuring that there is a sense of crisis in the country, of ungovernability. And I think that that's what the intent here is, to create those kind of conditions, to create the kind of fear that the military will depend upon and that these political sectors will depend upon to try to ensure their stay in power. I do think it was going to be short-lived. The reality is they've staged a military coup. They've tried to justify it with the Constitution. They've tried to justify it with the Supreme Court and with the Congress. What they've done in essence is to lose ground. Those institutions will no longer have any moral authority. And, in fact, instead of weakening Zelaya, if and when he returns to power, he may in fact be more emboldened.

FREESTON: So what pushed Zelaya's opponents to take such extreme action? According to Tinker-Salas, their fear isn't so much about Zelaya having a say in the running of the country as it is about the people themselves having a say.

TINKER-SALAS: The Constitution in Honduras, the same way it does in El Salvador and elsewhere, has come down or locks on it that prevent, in fact, popular participation. And simply the threat of increased popular participation, the threat of a national ["een-QWAYsta"] or a national process of consultation was sufficient, apparently, to scare them into this kind of action. I think it's a desperate action on their part, and I think that it's one that in the long term simply will not be able to be sustained.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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