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Honduran Leader's Populism Is What Provoked Military Violence

Contrary to most media accounts, President Manuel Zelaya wasn't seeking to abolish term limits.
 
 
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Worldwide condemnation has followed the June 28 coup that unseated President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras.

Nationwide mobilizations and a general strike demanding that Zelaya be returned to power are growing in spite of increased military repression. One protester outside the government palace in Honduras told reporters that if Roberto Micheletti, the leader installed by the coup, wants to enter the palace, "he had better do so by air" because if he goes by land "we will stop him."

On early Sunday morning, approximately 100 soldiers entered the home of the left-leaning Zelaya, forcefully removed him and, while he was still in his pajamas, ushered him onto a plane to Costa Rica.

The tension that led to the coup involved a struggle for power between left and right political factions in the country. Besides the brutal challenges facing the Honduran people, this political crisis is a test for regional solidarity and Washington-Latin America relations.

Zelaya Takes a Left Turn

When Zelaya was elected president on November 27, 2005, in a close victory, he became president of one of the poorest nations in the region, with approximately 70 percent of its population of 7.5 million living below the poverty line. Although siding himself with the region’s left in recent years as a new member of the leftist trade bloc, Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), Zelaya did sign the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2004.

However, Zelaya has been criticizing and taking on the sweatshop and corporate media industry in his country, and he increased the minimum wage by 60 percent. He said the increase, which angered the country’s elite but expanded his support among unions, would "force the business oligarchy to start paying what is fair." 

At a meeting of regional anti-drug officials, Zelaya spoke of an unconventional way to combat the drug trafficking and related violence that has been plaguing his country: "Instead of pursuing drug traffickers, societies should invest resources in educating drug addicts and curbing their demand."

After his election, Zelaya’s left-leaning policies began generating "resistance and anger among Liberal [party] leaders and lawmakers on the one hand, and attracting support from the opposition, civil society organizations and popular movements on the other," IPS reported.

The social organization Via Campesina stated, "The government of President Zelaya has been characterized by its defense of workers and campesinos, it is a defender of the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas, and during his administration it has promoted actions that benefit Honduran campesinos."

As his popularity rose over the years among these sectors of society, the right wing and elite of Honduras worked to undermine the leader, eventually resulting in the recent coup.

Leading up to the Coup

The key question leading up to the coup was whether to hold a referendum on June 28 – as Zelaya wanted – on organizing an assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution.

One media analyst pointed out that while many major news outlets in the U.S., including the Miami Herald, Wall St. Journal and Washington Post said an impetus for the coup was specifically Zelaya’s plans for a vote to allow him to extend his term in office, the actual ballot question was to be: "Do you agree that, during the general elections of November 2009 there should be a fourth ballot to decide whether to hold a Constituent National Assembly that will approve a new political constitution?"

Nations across Latin America, including Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, have recently rewritten their constitutions. In many aspects, the changes to these documents enshrined new rights for marginalized people and protected the nations' economies from the destabilizing effects of free trade and corporate looting.

 
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