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Hondurans won’t give up their democracy

Gustavo Monteiro

December 18, 2017

Hondurans are suffering with what looks a lot like another attack on their democracy and independence. Juan Orlando Hernández, who supported the 2009 US-backed coup, has been named the new president after the November 26 vote marked by electoral interference. Now there are calls for new elections. Some international mainstream media and officials are calling it a political crisis, but this is a case of imperialism and corruption.

2009 imperialist coup

This follows the US-backed coup in 2009 when Manuel Zelaya (left-leaning president) was put on a plane and had to leave the country, and the assassination of environmentalist activists like Berta Caceres. Canada has played a similar role as its ally south of the border when it comes to a strategy of pushing governments in Central and Latin America to move forward with resource extraction. Liberals and Conservatives don’t care who’s in power as long as the candidate accepts their terms. spoked with Grahame Russell who is a board member of Rights Action in Canada, a non-profit organization which funds grassroots human rights, environmental and development organizations in Guatemala and Honduras. Their mission is to expose and hold accountable US and Canadian governments, companies and investors—as well as other international actors who benefit from repression and an endless cycle of resources extraction from these areas.

As Russell explained: “These are not only ‘Honduran’ problems, they are problems of the ‘international community.’ Brought back to power by the 2009 coup, the economic, military and political elites of Honduras care about two things: 1) maintaining economic and political relations with the international community, primarily the US and also Canada, the World Bank and a host of global companies working in the sectors of African palm, sugar-cane and bananas production, garment sweatshop factories, mining and tourism; and 2) maintaining support from the U.S. military. These international military and economic relationships are the lifeblood of the regime.  This is how power and wealth, corruption and impunity work.

The US and Canadian governments, and other international actors, must be held politically and legally accountable for how they are complicit with the government in Honduras, turning a blind eye to and in effect benefitting from repression and violence, impunity and corruption (including electoral fraud).”

Since the 2009 US-backed coup, a lot has been done to make corporations and other governments profit from Honduras. As Russell points out on his article “Electoral fraud, repression and killings by Honduran government, but don’t write letters of protest to the regime”:

·       the Canadian “porn king” Randy Jorgensen (a tourism operator who made his fortune operating pornography businesses in Canada) and other North American tourism operators have used government corruption and repression to evict Indigenous Garifuna communities from their Caribbean coastal lands, to build cruise ship ports, 5 star beach resorts and timeshare condos for North American and European “snow birds”;

·       mining companies have expanded their legally-contested and widely opposed mining operations. From 2000-2008, Goldcorp Inc’s San Martin mine left chronic health harms and environmental destruction in the Siria Valley.   Aura Minerals is expanding its open-pit, cyanide-leaching gold mine, backed by the military and police, and are threatening to destroy a 200 year-old cemetery in Azacualpa to get at the gold underneath;

·       the World Bank and others have invested in the production of African palm to produce ethanol and bio-diesel fuels for international “green energy” markets.  Since the coup, over 150 small farmers in the Aguan region have been killed by the military, police and Honduras’ land-owning oligarchy;

·       Gildan Activewear, Hanes, Nike and other textile companies have expanded production in low-wage, no benefits, no unions, unregulated maquiladora sweatshops;

·       international investors have developed the Agua Zarca hydro-electric dam, an illegal project of the Honduran elites, widely opposed by the Lenca communities indigenous to that region.  This community defense struggle resulted in the plot to assassinate Berta Caceres, the widely respected and loved Indigenous rights, anti-imperialist, anti-patriarchy, anti-coup activist and leader.

2017 election interference

For the Honduran elites and their “international community” partners, the 2017 elections were supposed to rubber-stamp four more years of “Honduras is open for business”. The election wasn’t even allowed in Honduras until 2016 when Supreme Court ruled to approve this measure making the National Party’s representative eligible to run for this year’s elections. Whenever an anti-establishment candidate seems to be winning, Washington quickly moves its people and tools to make sure they keep the status-quo with their approved leaders remaining in power.

This year, Salvador Nasralla and current president Juan Orlando Hernández were the two candidates leading the polls. Hernández supported the US-backed coup in 2009 and later made his way into the presidency. Nasralla appeared as a candidate from an alliance between a center-left party called LIBRE (Liberty and Refoundation) and the Anti-Corruption Party (PAC) who most likely would have won this year’s elections as he had a lead with 45 per cent of votes against 40 per cent from JOH (as he is referred to in Honduras). But suddenly computers were shut down and results put on hold for two days until the electoral commission announced a larger percentage of votes for Hernández and LIBRE’s candidate following in second.

According to Russell, “COFADEH (the Committee of family members of disappeared and detained Hondurans) reported on December 7 that since election day (Sunday November 26), there had been 14 confirmed killings by military and police; 51 wounded (7 seriously, 2 with permanent damage); 844 arbitrary detentions; at least 4 illegal raids/searches of people's homes in Tegucigalpa.”

Resistance and solidarity

This strange event made Hondurans realize that something was happening and they felt like going out to take over streets as they did in Tegucigalpa. This was necessary as a movement to show the present government that people in Honduras won’t accept any misconduct and manipulation. Street blockages and other demonstrations were organized and immediately police was ordered to go out and stop everyone. Seeing all the corruption involved within Juan Orlando Hernández’s activities and this scandal, a special forces police unit (COBRAS) decided to no longer obey Government’s orders to repress people on the streets.

The situation in Honduras is unstable at the moment and people don’t know what’s going to happen. As Grahame says: “Honduras’ situation is so completely and extremely bad, that there will be a huge difference between if JOH steals the elections, or if Nasralla is permitted to become the rightful President. With JOH, it is a continuation of more of the same … With Nasralla, it would mark the beginning of the end of the coup and post-coup contiunismo (continuity) … it would mark the beginning of a complicated but desperately needed transitions away from the 2009 coup and post coup regimes, towards – slowly - what should and can become a decent and fair society and country.”

New elections also could be called with an independent agent or agency in charge of counting votes and data entry to avoid more frauds. These two options would be more positive ones, otherwise, protests will continue and Hernández will respond with more violence. Also, an obvious problem with legitimacy would strike his government and therefore Hondurans would need support to remove the National Party’s candidate from that position.

On December 6, a Cacerolazo was organized in Toronto by LACSN (Latin America and Caribbean Solidarity Network) in solidarity with Hondurans after the scandalous coup orchestrated by Hernández and all his government’s apparatus. Participants brought their pots and pans to make noise and catch people’s attention to this issue. Speakers at the Cacerolazo spoke in support of Honduras and remembered that this problem is faced by many other countries in the Caribbean and Latin America.

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