Alert: Coup in Honduras

Sunday 28 June 2009
Josef Schneider

Last night President Mel Zelaya of Honduras was arrested by the military and taken to a military base outside the capital, Tegucigalpa. The President is supported by the popular classes but is opposed by the Honduran oligarchy for his moves to democratize the government and for bringing Honduras into the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (better known for it's Spanish acronym ALBA), a trade pact that arose as an alternative to the US government-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The Alba countries include Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Honduras.

Pres Zelaya has been following a strategy for systemic change that was pioneered by Venezuela and Bolivia. He has stated that he wants to call an election for a constituent assembly to re-write the Honduran constitution. The current constitution forbids changing some parts of it, so this has been blocked by the Supreme Court and the legislature. However the proposal has widespread support among Honduran union, labor and farm movements according to reports.

Zelaya and his allies have tried to use popular pressure to overcome the systemic obstacles to change. To this end he had organized for today a non-binding popular referendum that would have asked voters the following question:

"Do you agree to install a fourth ballot urn in the November 2009 general elections to decide on calling a National Constituent Assembly that would approve a political constitution?"

That's my translation. Here's the Spanish wording as reported by the BBC:

"¿Está usted de acuerdo que en las elecciones generales de noviembre de 2009 se instale una cuarta urna para decidir sobre la convocatoria a una Asamblea Nacional Constituyente que apruebe una nueva Constitución política?".

Predictably, the US mainstream media has been portraying this as an attempt to circumvent presidential term limits. A Constitutional Convention may or may not write term limits into a new Honduran constitution, that is not the point. The motivation for the grassroots support for a new constitution is for a more equal system of governance.

This morning, the day the popular referendum was to take place, the military took to the streets of Tegucigalpa, surrounded the President's home and arrested Pres Zelaya.

According to the Associated Press, labor leader and Zelaya ally Rafael Alegria told Honduran radio *Cadena de Noticias* "We're talking about a coup d'etat."

Youth Movement leader Oscar Hendrix told Al Jazeera, "We are analysing right now whether we are going to do something here or whether we are all going to mobilise to the capital city," he said. "We will stand up for our rights."

The US government has long had military bases in Honduras. It was from these bases that the Guatemalan President Jacobo Árbenz was overthrown and Reagan administration carried on their illegal Contra war against the government and people of Nicaragua. According to the United States Congressional Research Service the US has 550 personnel at the Soto Cano Air Force base and Pres Zelaya had expressed a desire to covert it to civilian use.

The US government has enormous power over what happens in Honduras. Indeed it is hard to believe that this coup could happen without US support. We have the power to change our governments behavior. Therefore we have the power to help the Honduran people.

I have had Congressional aids tell me that politicians generally can ignore e-mail as easily as we ignore e-mail SPAM. Handwritten letters carry the most weight because they show commitment to put time and effort into communicating, but this is slow and time is of the essence. A constant stream of ringing phones and a full voice-mail box cannot be ignored and has been known to grind activity in an office to a halt.

Please call Pres Obama's office and your members of Congress today or Monday and demand that:

1. The US government cease any activities in support of the coup in Honduras.
2. That he call for Pres Zelaya be released unconditionally.
3. That the Honduran military quit the streets of Tegucigalpa and cease to intimidate the citizenry.

President Obama 202.456.1111

You can use Project Vote Smart's excellent web site to find the names of your representatives and their complete contact information.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey