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Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a coup d’état in 2009, talks to Laura Carlsen about the origins and consequences of the crisis in His country.

Story Transcript

LAURA CARLSEN: To talk about the current crisis in Honduras we’re here in the offices of the LIBRE party with the former president and leader of the LIBRE Party Manuel Zelaya. 


Thank you very much for talking to us, Mr. President.


There is very little coverage on the international level of what is happening now with these demonstrations –and they’ve been going on for months. 

What is your evaluation of this stage of opposition here in Honduras and what possibilities do you see for making a real change?


MANUEL ZELAYA: Well, we have to look at where we’re coming from, what we’ve gone through and what the demands and the expectations are in the short, medium and long term. I think that there’s a rupture in the democratic order from ten years ago– the constitution of the republic was broken. Instead of restoring the social pact, instead of seeking common ground between the opposing sectors, they imposed on us a single idea, a single tyrannical, dictatorial way of violently running the country.  


This has created more migrants, more poverty, greater corruption, more looting and an increase in drug trafficking because, put simply, there’s a popular phrase that says “when the river is muddied, it’s the fisherman’s gain”. And we’re facing a reality—the global economic system of the transnationals generates privatizations, impositions of the International Monetary Fund and more poverty. With the lack of opportunities, the people flee, it’s not that they migrate– they flee –from the lack of opportunities and the misery in our countries. 


This is the point of reference. I can elaborate more—the system of production is collapsed, the economic system doesn’t work, it doesn’t offer answers, there’s a lack of confidence and complete lack of credibility in the system of law and the social problems today are greater, are worse, than at any point in the history.


LAURA CARLSEN: This is a situation that has been deteriorating since the coup d’état, the lack of working institutions and rule of law in the country. Why at this time, with the issue of the privatization of the health system and education, did the crisis erupt?


MANUEL ZELAYA: The crisis has been growing. Now the latest triggers are the fact that a prosecutor in the United States, whose last name is Berman, has denounced that here there’s a network of corruption and drug trafficking that is run out of the state itself. This creates greater destruction of all kinds of confidence that there could be a solution from a state that doesn’t respond to the popular interests, but rather to the interests of the elite and organized crime and private groups. 


This country is completely privatized. The roads are privatized, the ports, the airports. The increase in privatizations is in absolutely the whole economy. Money is privatized, the banks, the financial system, capital. The essential interests, you could say, of the people, like the democratic system, are privatized because they don’t exist—there is no democracy here, there are coups, electoral frauds. So, the interests of the people and national sovereignty have been stolen, captured, and are now in the hands of a small oligarchy, including US and European transnationals that operate using puppets on strings to control politicians who allow themselves to be used for the profound humiliation of the Honduran government. So, there is a deepening crisis in all areas and we have to return to democracy.


LAURA CARLSEN: This level of privatization, which doesn’t only happen in Honduras, how did it affect daily life to get to the breaking point where people take to the streets despite repression?


MANUEL ZELAYA: the problem isn’t private initiative in itself. I believe in private initiative, that is, the creativity, the productive force of the private sector –like Karl Marx says, the bourgeois revolution is the biggest revolution in the history of humanity. The problem is when it’s left to particular interests.  Like investors who’re looking to make money, when you leave the management of the state or the management of the world economy to them. If you let Wall Street be in charge of the world, the planet, the earth, the business, all activity, and you forget about democracy, and you forget about the rights of others and that others have voices, then what happens? Authoritarian governments, exclusive systems and …   



MANUEL ZELAYA: — immense levels of exploitation that degrade the environment, and degrade humanity. So, the problem is at the root, in the essence: the globalization of the economy, directed by a hegemonic system that produces very high levels of dependence in our societies.


And that makes us subject to the whims of small circles of capital speculators. It subjugates small nations, like ours in Central America; small economies, like that of Honduras, which is totally destroyed right now.  And on top of that, they impose a dictatorship on us, they stage coups.  So, you have a broken-down society, in a state of permanent deterioration.


LAURA CARLSEN: Since the reelection, the demand in the streets is, “out with Juan Orlando Hernández.” “Fuera JOH”  Would that resolve the situation? How do you confront a monster like the one you’ve described?


MANUEL ZELAYA: Well, I think that in human evolution there have been different stages. And now, we’re in a superior stage. The main historical thinkers and analysts in the last 200 years have said that if the unchecked growth of capital continues, based on the interests of those with money and managed by big powers like the United States and Europe — if that continues, the effect will be — as Piketty, the Frenchman, said; as Marx, the German, said; as all of the analysts have said — there will be greater inequality, greater poverty, higher levels of



Because corruption is a sub-product of the economic system. The more capitalism, the more corruption, because corruption is the blood of capitalism. You want to get rid of corruption? Get rid of capitalism. 


I’m not saying that there’s no corruption in other systems. What I’m saying is that, here, they arrest 1,000 corrupt people, and the 1,000 honest people who come to replace them, after three months, they’re more corrupt than the first ones.


So, the problem is at the root, at the base of the correlation of forces

under democracy, which has been lost because of all the interventions,

because of the use of force and the military.


And the solution is transparency, which can only be achieved through a process of participation, through popular sovereignty. The more people who participate, the more people who have the capacity to pass on their — their skills, their rights, to the new generations, fighting, specifically, because they are the source of power, the source of transparency: the people.


In that sense, we can confront this problem. But if you tell me that the elite–the intellectual elite, the knowledge elite, the business elite, the economic or political elite, or the religious elite — that they are going to fix society’s problems, I would say no. The only way is through the processes of change that are generated by the masses. Because they are, by nature, transparent.  Because the base line of the masses can’t trick itself. The masses can do whatever they want, whatever you say the masses are. But that baseline, that’s what we call democracy — because it’s the majority who go to impose their will. Here, it’s the opposite. Here, the minorities rule. Here, the oligarchies rule, the military elite, the religious elite, the economic elite, the international elite. You can’t work like that. It’s impossible. (inaudible)


So, those in power need to recognize that opposition exists, that debate exists. What do you think would happen if you took, let’s say, a journalist or a politician, who’s on the left, or a left-wing analyst, and said, “You’re a communist, you’re an enemy of the system.” It’s terrible that they don’t accept debate, they don’t accept the existence of different ideas, of comparisons to find the truth about a system. They need to listen to different opinions. 


Here, they’ve always worked to keep us down.  They don’t even allow us to have opinions in this system. So — we are democrats, we want to participate, and do it peacefully. We don’t use weapons. We do use protest, we do take insurrectionary actions, but always peaceful, nonviolent, and active.  We do that, because we need to defend ourselves. But the way out is democracy: that’s the only way.


LAURA CARLSEN: Since the coup, or even before that, the small country of Honduras has faced, and resisted, some of the most extreme forms of capitalism.


MANUEL ZELAYA: Autarky, I would call it. Autarky. They think they are autonomous. They think they are dominant. With hegemonic ideas, dominant ideas.  If you oppose the system, then they say that you’re bringing, that you’re bringing foreign ideologies here. Because, they want there to only be one system.  They deny history, since history develops through dialectical processes, or through processes where everyone has an opinion and people can disagree. And, between your opinion and mine, we find the path of truth, the path of liberty, the path of justice.


There is no one who can impose a truth on us.  There is no single truth in the universe — name one truth that has been maintained throughout history. They all change and modify. But we think that even in these difficult conditions that the world


MANUEL ZELAYA: — Africa, look at those countries, that have terrible problems, that

are even worse than Honduras. Imagine, Honduras is the poorest country in Latin America. Imagine that. Just three hours away from Florida.  Just three hours from Houston, three hours from New Orleans.  An hour and 15 minutes from Mexico, a powerhouse like Mexico. And we can’t develop.  It’s because of the incapacity of our rulers.  They bend over backwards to help private interests, foreign interests and foreign powers.


LAURA CARLSEN: Let’s talk about that, something you’ve mentioned several times now: intervention and interference from the U.S. government in the history of Honduras. 


MANUEL ZELAYA: They interfere here because we’ve let them. If they didn’t interfere… this might be a small country, a small economy, but we have – like you, yourself — we have the same dignity as any other human being.  Human beings all have the same dignity.  In the grave, we are all equal.  And in birth, we are all born naked.  So, what’s the difference?  It’s just because of economic status, or nationality, that humanity is divided.  It’s simply because we’ve accepted, incorrectly, that each person needs to fight for their own interests.


Nations fight for their own interests, groups fight for their interests, businessmen fight for themselves — there’s no way to resolve it. We need to return to the social contract. We need to go back to a democratic system.  


You talk about United States interference. Look, I was president. The United States ambassador came to me and he brought me a list – there are 13 ministers in Honduras — 10, and three. He brought me a list of nine ministers. “Mister President, here are my recommendations for nine ministers.” He left me to decide – just look what he left me –Culture, Sports, Music, Art. 


Naturally, he got Security, Economy–all the main posts here, the US Embassy makes the recommendations. And who did they recommend? Their people, people who are commited to their interests. 


LAURA CARLSEN: And behind those recommendations, is there a threat?  Because, they have –


MANUEL ZELAYA: Well, the United States has a very high-sounding discourse when they talk in public. And beneath that, they act in the most despotic way, more despotic than you can imagine. But publicly, they use very high-sounding language.


In that sense, the ambassador, he said, “Mister president, I want you to open this envelope when you get home. I’ve given you some recommendations there.” The paper — the paper, it didn’t have the embassy letterhead on it. Just the names. And next to each ministry, it said, “Secretary of State, Office of Defense” and he gave me, one, two, maybe three names. I was supposed to decide between those names. It was very “democratic”, very broadminded– I was allowed to choose among three — between several people that they had already recruited at the embassy. 


So, I didn’t pay attention to that. And he didn’t mention it again. Once he asked me, “Mister president, do you have any comments regarding the note I gave you?” I said, “No comment, Mr. Ambassador.” And he never mentioned it again.


Because I understand that the tradition, before yours truly got there, was that the Embassy had to okay the ministers and secretaries of state that you name. 


When I approached Hugo Chávez, the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution, for Latin American unity, to bring petroleum, to bring the benefits that we could get from working with President Lula, from Brazil, for example– Lula approved $500 million dollars, listen to this, and that’s just the first year. The United States gives us thirty a year –$30 million, compared to $500 million. Lula, through the Brazilian Development Bank, he gave us that amount to carry out projects. But we couldn’t implement any projects, because the coup happened. The money that came from Hugo Chávez Frias, from Venezuela, we couldn’t spend a single dollar, because the coup happened.


So, of course, the embassy exerts a devastating influence– it controls the media, it controls the circles of power, parts of the Church cede to its influence and power, politicians ask the embassy permission to act.  Defense and security are managed by the Southern Command. The International Monetary Fund manages the economy. And in e the economy is also run by those who operated like a fifth column of businesses that are associated with transnationals –they also have a lot of influence.


So, what does the president get to do? The bonus of 10 thousand to hand out to some certain impoverished sectors. And that’s it. Security, economy, production… and now, they also control the justice system. Because now, the OAS has a department that identifies people, they say, “arrest that corrupt politician, but not that one. Arrest that one, but not that one.” So, of course, you can see, so, what can you do in your country?


LAURA CARLSEN: The OAS, through the –




LAURA CARLSEN: MACCIH, uh-huh. So, it’s a kind of selective justice?


MANUEL ZELAYA: It’s selective. So, what am I saying here?  And I’ll also say –because I don’t want to be unfair, or dishonest, in terms of justice, what MACCIH has done, is the only thing that has been done in a century. Haha.  I also have to say that. I have to say that, even though it’s selective justice, it’s all that has been done, the very littles that has been done in a century.


MANUEL ZELAYA: Think about it, the situation of a country that needs to ask for rely on outside forces to manage its justice system, its economy, its defense, and its politics.


LAURA CARLSEN: So, what’s going to happen with MACCIH? Because right now it seems to be divided –


MANUEL ZELAYA: Our party’s position is that MACCIH should be given another period, and it has our support. But, it says something about the situation of our country. Because, our constitution says that we are independent, sovereign, that we’re a nation-state, but when you become president — I got to be president– what I found out is that we’re not even a colony, we’re a society that is subjugated through dependency, and through an economic system that keeps impoverishing us and making us more and more — I want to use a very strong word — more insignificant, more miserable, more servile, like servants.


Because, this is what’s going on: first, we started with a democratic system. We were able to become independent, self-sufficient. Look, this country produces things. and simply put, if we produce things, we’ll be able to generate wealth that we can distribute fairly.  If we produce, there will be jobs. If we produce, we can generate self-sufficiency

in food, self-sufficiency. But here, we import everything.


This year, we had droughts. So, we bought grains from the United States. And the United States can’t feed the world. So, there’s hunger and there’s poverty in the country. So, I think, what we need is — the concept of a nation-state, which was born during the French Revolution, even though democracy itself hasn’t achieved a whole lot, we need to create higher-level states, on a higher level. Both in the process of consolidation of the nation, and in achieving a social contract to create equilibriums that determine how we should behave.


LAURA CARLSEN: I’m going to take a step back, because I can’t let the opportunity go to ask you: after this privileged picture you’ve drawn for us of what power looks like behind the scenes in a country like Honduras, do you see the coup as a punishment for an attempt to break this mold?


MANUEL ZELAYA: Eh, more than a punishment– yes, I was expelled, I was kidnapped, I was humiliated, I was beaten, brutally. I had to leave the country, I was in exile for two years. Of course, that had a major impact.  The social fabric came apart, people died, people were murdered, people died in the streets.  A coup is a tragedy. But that wasn’t the goal of the coup. 


Someone who plans to commit a crime has something to gain.  Whoever… listen, I’m going to tell you a basic principal in criminal law: Whoever benefits from a crime is the main suspect.  And who benefited from the coup?  Large transnational oil companies, because they kept out Venezuelan oil out and they were left with monopolies. The big banks, because they kept out the money from ALBA, the money from Lula, which was coming in, and they held on to their oligopolies.  Who else benefited? The United States, because they were able to impose their interests on Honduras, because we became a divided country, a country that destroyed its political class, and converted its political class into a political mafia that stages coups and electoral frauds.  So, the United States came in, with greater power. And today, the United States controls 90% of the country.


LAURA CARLSEN: In what sense does it control 90%?


MANUEL ZELAYA: Of the economy, through the International Monetary Fund. The prescriptions of the Monetary Fund favor the big transnational companies. They favor the companies that are associated with those big transnationals, and all of their subsidiaries. 


For example, when they devalued our currency — one of my big differences of opinion with the United States and the International Monetary Fund was the devaluation of the currency.  I told them, ‘I’m not going to devalue our currency, because we don’t have the proper conditions for a devaluating the currency.’ However, the devaluation, which benefited the transnational companies, was a mandate of the International Monetary Fund.  


The privatizations, the reduction of the wage bill, for example. “We need to reduce the wage bill to create more resources for investment,” for example.  And what does reducing the wage bill mean? It means lowering workers’ wages. And since they couldn’t reduce wages, they devalue the currency, and that lowers people’s wages. I had big confrontations over this. 


So, I think that this — this way of behaving– of controlling the economy, security, controlling the political system, the big NGOs that control the churches – but not all of them because there are honorable priests and honorable pastors — big interests of U.S. NGOs that come here and present themselves as the defenders of liberty and human rights, but all they’re doing is legitimating the repressive, dictatorial, oligarchic state. 


Here, everyone talks about corruption, for example. I´ll give you an example. Everyone, 24 hours a day in the media talks about corruption. But, they don’t talk about who generates it. They say, “The politicians generate corruption.”


LAURA CARLSEN: Without mentioning names?


MANUEL ZELAYA: No, that okay, I mean, politicians, whoever. But what about businesses? Or the qualified international organizations? Like those responsible for the Trans 450 a project in a project that didn’t make any sense, because they abandoned the project halfway through. You can’t start a project if you don’t have all the 


MANUEL ZELAYA: — financing. And an international body like the Inter-American Development Bank supported starting the project even though they didn’t have the funding guaranteed. That’s corruption. There’s no other way of looking at it. 


Devaluating a country’s currency, when the conditions for a devaluation don’t exist, that’s corruption.  Privatizing education and health to exclude the poor, that’s corruption.  A model where money is in the hands of the private sector, and the people don’t have access to money, don’t have access to credit, aren’t able to improve their conditions or their productive capacity — that’s corruption.


So, I think that, going back to what you asked me, the influence wielded by big banks, big transnational companies, through the government of the United States and of European countries, here in our country, it impoverishes us.  As long as Europe and the United States don’t change their way of seeing poor countries in Latin America, they will continue to destroy us.


And when someone comes up to challenge them, to look for alternatives — and says, “I’m a democrat, I’m a pacifist. And there’s a better way for us.” Then, they get rid of you, or they eliminate you, like they did to Allende, or they expel you, or they stage a coup, or they organize an electoral fraud.


So, I think that, I’m not going to blame foreigners, listen to what I’m saying: a foreigner is never going to be ultimately responsible for what happens here. What happens here is that we bend over backwards for them, we shine their shoes, we shine the boots of the United States’ military and European militaries.


Or, we try to please the Wall Street bankers, or the hierarchs who lead the hawks that are in Washington. So, it can’t go on like this. It can’t go on. As long as we aren’t able to resolve this problem of the dependency, we won’t be able to get ahead. The migration will continue, poverty will continue and violence will continue. 


LAURA CARLSEN: If Honduras has been the tragic example of intervention, and of these forms of capitalism and domination, what forms of resistance are being developed? What can we learn from the process of struggle, and what is needed?


MANUEL ZELAYA: I don’t believe in recipes. I think that, honestly, it’s a process of building.  Like I was telling you, before we started the interview, truth does not exist if you don’t listen to the opposite opinion. Here, when they want to impose a truth from Washington, from Wall Street, or well from London, or wherever, the capitals of the world — they forget that the only way to build civilization is by knowing the different actors that exist within a specific model, and a specific society, to find the points of concurrence–where there is agreement and where there isn’t–in order to discuss it.


But, truth only exists, relatively and temporally, when you can find these points of

agreement. What do I mean by this? We consider ourselves a left-wing party, and we’re in a process of construction of what is the most elevated part of humanity, which is society. You can put the word together: socialism: democratic socialism.


That’s our position. But this democratic socialism that we advocate is a process of construction. You can’t say, “This is line, this is what we have to do.” No. That’s what the right does. That’s what fascism does. That’s the style of the global capitalism that all it is doing is destroying the planet and humanity.


No, we are extremely practical. We bring our theses to practice. If there is criticism, we need to listen to it. And through criticisms of a thesis that is proposed, comes negation. And from negation, comes the next proposal. That’s how a society works. And for that, you need to educate people. For that, you need — and, I’ll clarify: democracy doesn’t just mean going out and voting for a photo of a man, or a woman. That’s not democracy. That’s an electoral exercise.


Democracy means constant consultation of the people. They got rid of me, supposedly, because I was carrying out a consultation that was completely legal. Democracy means the participation of the large majorities.  That’s what makes it transparent, that’s the only permanent way to fight corruption.


It’s not a matter of throwing all the corrupt politicians in jail and replacing them with honest politicians who become corrupt after three months. That’s not it. Democracy means allowing people to participate directly, in a meaningful way.  That’s the path. There’s no other way, in the 21st century.


LAURA CARLSEN: And what do you think of this stage, with the Platform in Defense of Health and Education?


MANUEL ZELAYA: It’s good, we support them, totally, because the causes that the LIBRE Party has been promoting, since the coup to date, are social causes—there is nothing more social than politics. Politics is the real symbol of sociality. Because, also, in the concept of the state, the role of politics is to direct the state. And without directing the state — there’s no other path to transformation.  A transformation has to come to Honduras, it has to come in a concerted way. We’re working to unite the opposition, without asking for anything in return, absolutely nothing–we’re only asking for a project of transformation.


To achieve that, as you mentioned, we’re working to get rid of the dictatorship, to get rid of Juan Orlando Hernández, to be able to build democracy, because we recognize that he will not accept the existence of the opposition or the existence of democracy.


LAURA CARLSEN: And, finally, because I don’t want to take too much of your time, the issue of migration. In Mexico, and the United States, we’re seeing a lot of people, unfortunately, who see the growth of migration of Honduran people as a problem, and there’s a high level of criminalization of migrants. How has the crisis contributed to the growth in migration, and what’s the solution?


MANUEL ZELAYA: Look — Rousseau, the French thinker and writer, he said, “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.” So, human beings, since we have the ability to reason, we know we have to fight for freedom. And freedom is a very generic concept, but what does freedom lead you to? To search for the meaning of life, which is happiness. Man is born to die, right?  Human beings, you know. And what one conceives of given this necessary end – is to value life. And valuing life consists precisely in knowing the ways that you can develop your capacities, your skills.


You’re not going to have a poet go out and break rocks–a poet should be developing thought. You’re not going to have a musician, who creates musical chords, go out and direct, and direct, some very demanding physical labor. No, I think that every human being has their own skills. And they will only develop the capacity to be free and happy if they are able to work in what they want to work at – it’s not what the factory wants, not what the company wants to be productive. It should be whatever you have skills in. And that will allow you to be happy.


So, if you can direct your life to that, then, you can avoid migration–because the person is doing things what he or she likes, doing what they want to do, being happy. And also, they’ll be able to feed themselves, they’ll have feelings, they have emotions, they can have families. They know that they have to die, but they’ll fulfill a purpose in their lives, a purpose in their country, a purpose in their community. And also, they’ll be able to contribute –if it’s a scientist, imagine a scientist, how are you going to make a scientist simply push a cart? That person wasn’t born to that. However, the guy who pushes the cart can be happy, the guy who pushes the cart could be a man who dreams, who is a dreamer and who is an artist, who is someone who creates rural culture. No one is worth less than anyone else. We all have the same value in the eyes of God and nature. But we’re all different. We’re all different.


So how do you generate a process in which society can find itself? It’s by respecting the correlation of forces. Because if you have an extreme force, you´ll crush me, but if you have a certain force and I have a force, there can be dialogue. That’s democracy – it’s the principle of balance, the weights and counterweights of democracy. If that happened in our society, there would be no migration because why would the people go if they’re happy here?  Or migration would be minimal because the people have the right to migrate. 


If these possibilities existed then what you were saying about education and health. Education for the people should be free. Healthcare for the people should be free. No one should die of curable disease. No one. You die because it’s your time.


LAURA CARLSEN: And it’s happening a lot here.


There’s too much here, too much poverty. And the solution isn’t just to make more money. Democracy isn’t a business. Democracy is a sense of dignity that corresponds to the human race. Liberty is a right, liberty isn’t a business either. You understand? So, that’s where I think the points of divergence are. But they should accept points of disagreement, and listen to us, and find points of agreement, learn to respect us, find points of agreement.  If not, they’ll just try to crush us, like they’re doing now. 


The repressive regime is saying we should make an electoral agreement, after 10 years of suffering. After 10 years of martyrs, of deaths, now they’re saying, “We’ll make an agreement with LIBRE.” It’s taken this long: 10 years. We had to wait that long before they considered an agreement, at least in the electoral arena, which is the basis of democracy.


Here it’s too much. There’s too much poverty, and the solution is not all about money. Democracy isn’t a business, my friends. Democracy is the sense of dignity intrinsic to the human species. Freedom is a right, freedom isn’t a business either. You see? so I think that’s where the points of divergence are, but they should sit down and listen to our points of divergence and learn how to respect us and look for the common ground instead of just trying to crush us. Not until the repressive regime is saying we should seek an agreement on electoral terms. After ten years of suffering after ten years of martyrs and deaths. They say let’s look at least in the area of elections, which is basic. 


LAURA CARLSEN: Electoral reforms?


MANUEL ZELAYA Yes, that’s what we’re working on.  


LAURA CARLSEN: From outside they’re saying that the solution is to send funding, foreign aid. The United States has, well, sometimes it says it will and sometimes no, 


–a bottomless barrel, a bottomless barrel


LAURA CARLSEN: Uh huh, this is the question if this would really be effective?


MANUEL ZELAYA: That won’t solve the problem, it won’t solve problem. Look, this country has enough capacity to create wealth, to generate production, to be self-sufficient in certain areas—in energy, in food. We could be self-sufficient in these areas, totally solvent. However, we’ve been invaded by the necessities of other societies that aren’t the ones that correspond to our levels of development.


For example, what can we achieve, in these, in these times, with credit, and lending? For example, the money that comes from Europe, that comes from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank — they give you loans. Those loans used to be tied, in the 90s, when the structural reforms in Latin American economies started — when the iron curtain fell in ’89, and the idea rose up that hegemonic capitalism would govern the planet — after the fall of socialism, the idea that hegemonic capitalism would govern —




MANUEL ZELAYA:     — so, then they started, at least, putting a human face on it. They said, ‘Now we’ll launch structural reforms to the economy. Let’s apply taxes, let’s increase the sales tax so the poor also have to pay taxes’, because before supposedly those who had a surplus pay taxes, but now those who are dying of hunger have to pay taxes. Even those who are dying of hunger pay axes! It’s what they call… the IVA, a tax on the economic activity, a value-added tax on sales, a tax on whatever you do — if you just move, you have to pay taxes. 


That’s a mistaken understanding of the tax system. But in that moment, in the 90s, people started to talk about compensation mechanisms, for social compensation. Various bodies were created. So, we got a loan from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Union — but the loan had conditions: you have to build so many schools, you have to build so many health centers, you have to give this amount of benefits to the poor so they can participate in economic development, in the development of capital in our society. 


This is the 90s. Now, it’s 2019, almost 2020. What has happened in the last 30 years? Do you know who’s getting credits from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank now? The rich. Now, there are loans for private businesses, loans to make big — to carry out big projects, mining projects —


LAURA CARLSEN:      For example, in Honduras —


MANUEL ZELAYA:     — building ports, highways. They forgot about the people. These organizations — what is the World Bank’s main goal? They say it’s just like the United Nations–to create peace. But they never do. At least, the Assembly talks about peace, but the Security Council is always talking about war. 


So, the World Bank says it’s a bank to fight poverty. But here, the quantity of poor people has grown, and poverty among the poor has grown. Today, the poor are more miserable. In our society, 47% of the people live in a state of extreme poverty, with less than a dollar a day, or less than two dollars a day. Such a society is a source of shame in the world, and a source of shame for the World Bank, which has invested millions and millions and millions here.


Look, during my administration, which I was honored to lead, it was a liberal government of citizen power. I needed to negotiate the final part of the external debt. You’re talking about what the United States gives us. 


They shouldn’t really give us anything, at all. We have the capacity to get ahead.  Because whenever we get loans, they have conditions tied to them, like devaluing our currency, privatizing healthcare — it would be better if they didn’t give us anything, they should just let us get ahead on our own. 


What happened with the debt relief for Honduras? The debt relief for Honduras, for Bolivia, for Nicaragua, for Guyana, and Honduras – there were five countries — when we entered into debt relief talks, Europe worked on it, the Vatican worked on it, the Cardinal worked on it, the government of Carlos Flores, the government of Ricardo Maduro Joest, and my government, all worked on it.


I had to negotiate the biggest debt, which was with the Inter-American Development Bank — 1.25 billion dollars. I had to talk to Bush, I had to talk to Lula, I had to talk to Chávez. And we achieved the biggest negotiation in the history of this country, we got external debt relief from the Inter-American Development Bank. 1.25 billion dollars!


Do you know how much the debt was? To show that money isn’t the problem. Money, rather, creates the problems in this country. We were able to reduce Honduras’ external debt to 17 percent of GDP. Today, it’s higher than 60 percent. In ten years, it’s grown by a factor of five. 


When they kicked me out, the debt was at 3 billion, and now we’re at 12 billion, 13 billion. And they don’t even know how to count it, because they’re always hiding data. 

So, what does this mean? They just threw money at us, they gave money to Honduras in a completely inefficient way, in a disproportionate way, where they didn’t consider the consequences. 10 billion dollars in 10 years, a billion dollars per year. The $30 million the United States gives us every year, that’s nothing. 


A billion dollars per year, that’s what Honduras has been getting in the past 10 years, since the coup. And where is that money? There’s more poverty, more migration, more corruption, more violence, more drug trafficking, more organized crime.


So, what does that mean? That they could give us twice as much, $20 billion, and the country’s economic situation would be worse. So, the problem these countries have can’t be fixed through charity, through begging for handouts from the world. The problem is that there is no social contract among Hondurans, between capital and labor, between the left and the right, between the conservative sectors, many of them fascists, and the social groups who are fighting to find a way to survive in a society that denies them and their children everything — where young people need to join the Maras and the gangs to survive in this world.


So, instead of building reform schools for youth, instead of building drug rehabilitation centers, they create death squads — a Plan Colombia that is applied in Honduras – and they murder them, they eliminate them, they carry out programs of social cleansing. That’s the level of social deterioration of this society that can only be solved, and I insist on this–


That can only be achieved with a democratic system, with a system in which the forces of the correlation of forces are in the same proportion to seek solutions. It’s not that you have all the power and you crush me. No, it is that we have equal conditions to sit down and seek solutions for the county 


LAURA CARLSEN: That’s the big challenge for Honduran society. 


MANUEL ZELAYA: That’s the big challenge


There was recently a delegation of congressional representatives from the US democratic party here. What would you say to them, what would you ask them?


They came to talk about what’s all the rage now: against corruption. ‘here the problem is corruption. They don’t talk about the model, they don’t talk about the system, they don’t talk about the system, they don’t talk about submission to an economic system, they don’t talk about the inequality that the capitalist system produces.  


They say ‘you have to throw all the corrupt people in jail’. Fine, we have to put them all behind bars. But the next day after you put the honest guys in, in six months they’re more corrupt than the ones who left. That means that It’s the system that generates the corruption.” 


LAURA CARLSEN: It’s a structural problem


MANUEL ZELAYA: It’s structural… Of course.


LAURA CARLSEN: What can they do? What can the international community do now to support Honduras?


MANUEL ZELAYA: Respect us. Respect us.

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Laura Carlsen is the Director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy in Mexico City. She focuses on US policy in Latin America and grassroots movements in the region.