Honduras Longest Peaceful Protest

By Juan Ramon Duran

Over 80 days of protests demanding the return of President Zelaya. Photo: Luis Miranda
Over 80 days of protests demanding the return of President Zelaya. Photo: Luis Miranda

HAVANA TIMES, Sept.20 (IPS) – Shaded from the blazing sun by his straw sombrero, one of the principal leaders of the National Front Against the Coup d’état in Honduras declared, “The only solution to the political crisis is the return of Manuel Zelaya to the presidency before September 30.”

“But this also requires the formation of a national constituent assembly to ratify a new Constitution to allow Honduras to be restructured as a progressive Central American nation,” added Rafael Alegría, leader of the Front.

Alegria said a new Constitution must contemplate the end of ‘traditional groups of power’ through enacting deep reforms to the system of government, presidential reelections, the extension of that term of office to five years, the breakup of the armed forces and a total reorganization of the police. He spoke just prior to beginning a march through poor neighborhoods on the north side of Tegucigalpa on the 82nd day of protests against the Honduran coup d’état.

Meanwhile, the government that installed itself through the June 28 coup said the only solution is the November 29 general election to choose a new administration.

“The general election will be boycotted by the Front, because it will take place under an administration made up of coup forces whose only option is to accept the mediation plan of Costa Rican president Oscar Arias, in line with the position of the United States government,” added Alegría, spokesman of the Front and leader of the La Vía Campesina  (Rural Path), an international network of small farmers organizations and rural workers.

With this political and social movement, the Front has sustained the longest movement of peaceful protest in the recent history of Honduras (exceeding the duration of a famous strike that extended between May 1 and July 10, 1954 by thousands of workers on banana plantations controlled by two US companies on the north Atlantic coast of the country).

Legacy of the 1954 Banana Strike

“The history of Honduras had been written in terms of before and after the workers strike of 1954, but now it must be recorded that there is a new Honduran nation before and after June 28, the date on which President Zelaya was arrested and flown out of the country during a coup d’état. We now require a constituent assembly to reestablish the country’s institutional order,” insisted Alegría.

The earlier strike began on May 1-International Workers Day-at the United Fruit Company’s (today Chiquita Brands) banana processing facilities and were quickly joined by the workers at Standard Fruit, in addition to other labor organizations on the Atlantic coast.

“We are harvesting the struggle of the comrades of ’54.  They fought for a new labor code, social security and land reform. Now we have to fight for a more ambitious political initiative,” said Alegría.

Meanwhile in the Government House, de facto president Roberto Micheletti, advised by Israelis and Central American experts, said the FNR is made up of “a vagrant and corrupt group that is about to be exposed through revelations about the millions of dollars they received to defend the political initiative of Zelaya to create a constituent assembly.”

They sought “to dissolve the powers of the State and create conditions to continue in power, just like the current presidents of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador,” added Micheletti.

Rep. Marvin Ponce, of the leftist Democratic Unification Party (UD), pointed out that the 1954 strike concentrated on the northern area of the country and that its economic demands were realized years later when President Ramón Villeda Morales (1957-1963) enacted the Labor Code, the Land Reform Act and created the Honduran Social Security System.

There is a historical parallel between Villeda Morales and Zelaya: both were overthrown by coup d’états and expelled to Costa Rica, said Silvia Mendieta, 25, a student at the public Autonomous National University of Honduras and an active participant in the demonstrations of the “resistance,” as the Front is commonly called.

The struggle of the Front-which began outside the Government House three hours after the military arrested and expelled Zelaya from the country-began under the leadership of Alegría, presidential candidate Caesar Ham, leaders of teachers unions and three labor confederations.

The following day, June 29, street protests began anew near the Government House, where violent confrontations broke out with policemen and soldiers.  These would soon become daily occurrences in Tegucigalpa and other major cities such as northwestern San Pedro Sula and Choluteca in the south.

July 5, when the deposed Zelaya tried to land

at the Toncontín Airport in Tegucigalpa aboard an airplane provided by the Venezuela government, thousands of people showed up at the terminal to welcome him.

Protests Have Not Let Up

When the plane tried to set down on the run way, blocked by military vehicles, demonstrators were warded off by gunshots of joint army and police forces. Killed in the skirmish was Isis Obed Murillo, 19, a native of the northeastern Olancho department.

Subsequently, the “resistance” set about blocking strategic highways, customs posts, schools and decentralized state institutions, where it has the support of powerful workers unions.

In addition to the marches, automobile caravans and the cultural functions have been held on Saturdays and Sundays in Tegucigalpa’s Central Plaza.  In this square stands a statue of national hero Francisco Morazán, who fought for the creation of the Federation of Central American Nations a few years after the nation achieved independence from Spain in 1821.

In those cultural activities stand out a series of concerts by new groups that have created protest songs praising Zelaya and condemning Micheletti.  Several poets have also read works about the coup, the resistance and the need for deep political change.

In broadcasts by the Globo radio station there have been programs such as “Constitutional Cabinet,” in which officials from the Zelaya administration and youth of the “resistance” have participated.  News programs by the powerful union movement have also been aired.

In its 82 days of life, the “resistance” has carried out marches through poor and marginalized neighborhoods of Tegucigalpa to encourage their residents to join the movement.  In those demonstrations, militants have spray painted slogans such as “Morazán is in the streets,”  “The people will win” and the term “coup forces,” referring to a series of former presidents and the hierarchies of the Catholic and Evangelical churches-particularly their leading religious figures Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez and Pastor Evelio Reyes.

For Deputy Ponce, this restructuring initiative can be materialized with the convening of a mass popular assembly, as happened in Bolivia, or through an electoral process.

Parallel to the pro-Zelaya actions, mass marches in support of the Micheletti government have been mobilized by the Democratic Civic Union.

On Tuesday September 15, Central American Independence Day from Spain, the “resistance” as well as the government-in extreme polarization- organized mass parades in which they displayed an almost even balance of forces.

This polarization could be reduced if dialogue is established between Zelaya and Micheletti, as contemplated in the plan of President Arias, who met on Wednesday for three hours in San Jose with five of the six presidential candidates of the legal political parties, who each committed themselves to peace talks.

Arias’s proposal included the return of Zelaya to his position, the formation of a cabinet of national unity, amnesty for political crimes linked to the coup, the moving up of elections and their supervision by a committee of distinguished international figures. However, the basic point-Zelaya’s return-was rejected by Micheletti and his government.

On Monday, September 21, Arias will meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton-and possibly with Zelaya-to analyze a solution to the Honduran crisis. This meeting in New York will coincide with the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly, set to be held in that city.

One thought on “Honduras Longest Peaceful Protest

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