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  • Zelaya just one of millions

    Honduran coup plotters' fear isn't losing power to Zelaya or Chavez, it's losing power to Hondurans -   October 21, 09
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    Jari Dixon Herrera is a district attorney with the Honduran Attorney Generals office, and the Vice President of the Association of Honduran Government Attorneys (Asocación de Fiscales de Honduras). In 2008, he gained national fame for coordinating a hunger strike by lawyers who work for the Attorney Generals office, to protest widespread corruption inside the legal system.

    Marvin Ponce is a member of Honduras' National Congress, representing the Democratic Union party (UD). He has been a vocal leader of the anti-coup resistance and was selected to speak on behalf of a coalition of organizations in Washington.

    Grahame Russell is the Co-Director of Rights Action. A non-governmental organization based in Canada and Guatemala, Rights Action seeks to promote community development along with environmental and human rights through the direct funding of community organizations in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Southern Mexico. It also plays a key role maintaining interested parties informed about the situation on the ground in the communities it partners with. Russell has been logging steady updates about the situation in Honduras on the Rights Action homepage at


    They didn't overthrow Zelaya when he raised the minimum wage, de facto President Roberto Micheletti even voted with Zelaya in approving the Chavez-sponsored ALBA initiative, but the day he went to ask the people to get involved the military kidnapped and expelled him. Canadian gold miners, US military bases, and the Honduran oligarchy all have something to fear at this time, but it isn't necessarily the return of Manuel Zelaya. A look at the time-line of the coup shows a pretty conclusive picture of the specter of participatory democracy as the catalyst to the Honduran coup.


    Zelaya just one of millionsJESSE FREESTON, TRNN: The coverage of the Honduran coup has been dominated by a focus on the acts of individuals—Micheletti, Obama, Clinton, Chávez, and, above all, ousted President Manuel Zelaya. But with only seven months remaining in his presidency and legally banned from reelection, is it Zelaya that pushed the Honduran political and military elite to carry out a coup? In testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, lobbyist Otto Reich joined the chorus of those pointing to Zelaya's relationship with Hugo Chávez as justification for the coup. Reich is best known for his active role in the US State Department's sponsorship of the attempted coup against Chávez in 2002.

    OTTO REICH, CONSULTANT, OTTO REICH ASSOCIATES: Many Hondurans insist that these actions saved democracy by preventing Zelaya from establishing the kind of 21st-century socialism that is being established in countries of Latin America under something called the ALBA, an alliance invented by Castro and financed by Chávez.

    JARI DIXON HERRERA, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF ATTORNEY-GENERAL, HONDURAS (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The anti-Chávez campaign is both absurd and deceitful, because the same Congress that removed Zelaya approved both Petrocaribe and ALBA. So if they disapprove of the Venezuelan government's policies, excuse me for saying this, but why the hell did they approve ALBA and Petrocaribe? So if those agreements merit bringing out the pro-Chávez bogeyman, then the same Congress that removed Zelaya is also pro-Chávez.

    FREESTON: The de facto president himself, Roberto Micheletti, voted in favor of ALBA's ratification only eight months ago. At that same time, Zelaya was openly supporting Micheletti in the race for the Liberal Party presidential candidacy, a race Micheletti would eventually go on to lose. Officially, the Supreme Court of Honduras ordered the military to remove Zelaya from power for attempting to extend the current four-year presidential term limit. Under Article 239 of the Honduran Constitution, the mere mention of repealing the term limit carries an immediate removal from any government position and a 10-year suspension from returning to political life. While there has been no evidence presented that Zelaya ever planned to change that limit, Micheletti on the other hand is known to have made an attempt to do so almost 24 years ago. This article, from October 1985, under the title, "Havoc in the Congress," shows Micheletti as one of the 12 members of Congress to sign a motion to legalize the repealing of term limits. If it wasn't about Chávez or term limits, why overthrow Zelaya so close to the end of his rule? Zelaya was removed from power hours before what would have been the first ever popular consultation in Honduran history—in order to gauge support for having the Honduran people write their own constitution, to replace the one written in 1982 under a US-backed military dictatorship. Honduran district attorney Jari Dixon Herrera and Congressman Marvin Ponce believe that the timing of the coup is the key to understanding it.

    MARVIN PONCE, HONDURAN CONGRESSMAN, DEMOCRATIC UNION PARTY (UD) (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): The proposal that incited both the Honduran and international right wing was the president's proposal to write a new constitution. He realized that the current constitution is easily manipulated by the powerful and that we need a new social contract to build a country with less exclusion, more participative democracy, and more human development. From that perspective, those with economic power proposed that to avoid seeing themselves stripped of their economic privileges by a new constitution, they had to initiate a coup.

    FREESTON: In the days that followed the coup, Latin American leaders were unified in rejecting any negotiation with the coup government, demanding Zelaya's immediate reinstatement. To the north, however, both Canada and the United States advocated negotiation with the same government that they claim to not recognize as legitimate. The US State Department sponsored negotiations in Costa Rica. And while they pledged neutrality, a senior official, speaking under anonymity to the Associated Press on July 7 before the negotiations even began, said that a good compromise would be the return to power of Zelaya in exchange for an agreement to drop any plan to poll the Honduran people on forming a constitutional assembly. This State Department has refrained from publishing the coup government, and only now that Micheletti has turned down a proposal that would have seen the popular poll abolished has the State Departments changed its tone.

    ROBERT WOOD, DEPUTY SPOKESMAN, US STATE DEPT.: —that Mr. Micheletti, the de facto regime, needs to take this mediation effort seriously and respond appropriately. Should that not happen, there are clear consequences with regard to our assistance to Honduras.

    FREESTON: But it's not only local and US elites that appear to fear popular participation in Honduras. When the Organization of American States voted 33 to zero to expel Honduras from the organization, Canadian Foreign Minister for the Americas Peter Kent was the only person in the room to vocally oppose the plan for Zelaya to return to Honduras immediately.

    PETER KENT, CANADIAN MINISTER OF STATE: —the moment, the time is not right for the return of President Zelaya to Honduras, that it is far from clear that current conditions could guarantee his safety upon return. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

    FREESTON: It's likely, however, that Kent had more on his mind than Zelaya's personal safety when he spoke up that night. There are three lucrative industrial gold mining projects currently active in Honduras, all of which are owned and operated by Canadian corporations. The Real News spoke to Graham Russell, codirector of Rights Action, a Canadian nonprofit that, amongst other things, supports communities in Honduras and Guatemala that are home to mines owned by Canadian mining giant Goldcorp. Graham spoke to us from Toronto, Canada, upon his return from three weeks in Honduras.

    GRAHAME RUSSELL, CO-DIRECTOR, RIGHTS ACTION: There was a direct relationship between the Canadian government and the mining industry before any of this happened. I mean, we've been working on the Goldcorp stories for years. And there's no Canadian Embassy in Honduras; it's the Embassy in Guatemala that covers Guatemala and Honduras. The Canadian Embassy in Guatemala has been outright almost like a PR office for mining. The problems go from A to Z. So you begin with the lack of democracy, the lack of rule of law, the lack of consultation, and the lack of getting consent from the affected communities. No one at the local community that are being affected by mining knew about the fact that concessions were being given out to mining companies. They don't really know anything about what's going on until it's too late. So then they start opposing mining because rights started getting violated. People started protesting, and then there's repression. In the case of Guatemala, a number of people have been killed in protests, a number of people have been wounded. In the case of Honduras, it was never quite so serious in terms of killing people, but then there's death threats against the community leaders. And then, meanwhile, once the mining starts, then we just get into this endless list of health and environmental harms, because this type of open-pit mining means that they literally blow up mountains, entire mountains, crush them into bits, and then put them all in a pile and soak them with cyanide until the cyanide attaches to the gold and leaches out. But that whole process of blowing up the mountain releases heavy metals into the air, earth, and water in really unhealthy quantities—mercury, arsenic, and lead. So you've got this whole combination of water depletion, because they're drying up rivers and other underwater aquifers for the mining—for the plant and the processing plant of the gold, and then you've got the release of the contaminants. All of this leads to health harms. And so you've got a whole series of skin diseases that ultimately have to do with blood contamination. People initially thought that they were superficial skin diseases, but then there were recurring skin problems and hair loss and skin problems in people's heads and all over their bodies and legs.

    UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): They're destroying us. Before, we were poor but healthy; now, we're poor and sick.

    RUSSELL: President Zelaya's government that, in my view, did little or nothing to properly regulate or rein in Goldcorp's mining operation in the Siria Valley, but he did say that he was putting a moratorium on giving out any more mining concessions for exploration or exploitation, and that he was going to push for a complete mining law reform.

    UNIDENTIFIED: Why do they allow foreigners to come and kill us little by little? We're worth nothing to them.

    FREESTON: Goldcorp is one of many businesses in Honduras that have been accused of hiring poor Hondurans to attend protests in support of the coup government.

    RUSSELL: It's a pretty simple operation and it's very common with different businesses and institutions throughout Honduras. And basically what we learned is that, like is happening across the country, the company, they send out a point person in the community. And these are close-knit communities who everyone knows everyone [inaudible] just a well-known person in the community who has worked for the company in the past or works for the company now or who has worked as a mining promoter for the local municipality that's in favor of the mining company. Just to protest people one by one says, "Hey, you want to earn 400 lempiras?" which is, like, US$20. "Sure. Why? How?" "Tomorrow, be at eight o'clock at such and such a corner of the dirt road that goes to the region. Bus will pick you up. We drive you to town. There'll be a pro-coup-regime protest." They obviously don't call them pro-coup-regime protests; they call them pro-democracy and peace protests. "And all we do is want you to go there. We'll drive you there. You put on his T-shirt." They give them these white T-shirts that are for the movement for peace and democracy. "And just to stay in the protest area. And when they say hoot and holler 'pro-democracy,' just hoot and holler and say 'pro-democracy.' And then the bus comes back at three o'clock, so be on the bus at three o'clock. We drive you back here. It's about an hour and a half drive, depending on traffic." And then they drop them off on the same dirt road near to their home community. The whole fear, in my opinion, of the powerful sectors in Honduras with respect to President Zelaya's government and the fact that he was, you know, supporting the people's rights to vote on whether they would have a national constituent assembly or not is less the written letter of the law and by far much more the empowerment process that the people would go through. There's enough law in the country that if it were properly applied, it wouldn't have been a perfect situation, but there's no way Goldcorp could have carried out the mining the way it's carried out the mining. And the reason it carries out the mining that way is not because people are ignorant of the law and it's not because they're indifferent to the law; it's because of the impunity of the powerful sectors, and the laws do not get applied, and the political commissions that exist within the Congress do not do their job to demand oversight. And then, bringing it back to the broader picture of even part of the reasons why the coup was carried out, in my opinion, is not so much the written letter of the law that needs changing in Honduras but the massive outpouring of participation and empowerment that will take place when the people start to participate in this process.


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