September 28, 2009—The Solidarity Center’s Gladys Cisneros and Stephen Wishart were caught in Honduras when ousted President Manuel Zelaya returned, raising and dashing the hopes of the Honduran people for a restoration to democracy and constitutional order.
|Protesters march in Honduras. The sign says, "No one owes obedience to a usurping government." Photo courtesy of Honduras Accompaniment Project
We were on our way to a meeting with a banana workers’ union in San Pedro Sula when we heard the news: Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had somehow found his way back into his country and was rumored to be taking refuge inside the U.N. building in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. It was the first time Zelaya had been back in the country since Sunday, June 28, when he had been deposed in a coup d’état. The military had forced him out of the country, and he was swiftly replaced by Roberto Micheletti, the right-wing head of congress.
For 86 days, the people of Honduras had taken to the streets, protesting the removal of their democratically elected president. They defied military-enforced curfews and states of emergency, refusing to submit to an authority that lacked legitimacy in their eyes and those of the international community. For 86 days, the Honduran resistance movement—a broad spectrum of trade unionists, students, youth, political parties, peasants, and housewives—had endured brutal and constant police and military repression, egregious human rights violations, and denials of the basic freedoms of association, expression, and movement.
And now their president was back, and their hopes for a return to constitutional order were high. In San Pedro Sula (Honduras’s second largest city after Tegucigalpa), the mood was jubilant. People streamed into the central square, shouting and setting off fireworks. Resistance leaders announced plans for a massive popular mobilization to defend Zelaya’s return and demand his reinstatement. In Tegucigalpa, hundreds of thousands of supporters gathered outside the Embassy of Brazil (where Zelaya was actually housed) to welcome and support their president.
But the feeling of victory was short-lived. Although it had initially denied Zelaya’s presence in the country, the de facto government quickly began amassing troops around the U.N. building and the Brazilian Embassy. Within a few hours, the government declared a state of emergency; a nationwide curfew, announced just a half-hour before it took effect, would continually be extended for three days—a move clearly aimed at quashing people’s efforts to reach the capital. Airports and border posts were ordered closed, stranding thousands. The government even cut off water and electricity to the Brazilian Embassy. The imposition of the curfew gave armed forces the authority to disperse the crowds by any means possible. Out came the riot gear, tear gas, and water tanks, and once again, Hondurans were left to battle in the streets, clashing with the military to defend both their lawful president and their country’s nascent democracy. According to news reports, at least ten people have been killed since September 21.
Because trade unionists are at the forefront of the resistance, as they have been in many political crises in many parts of the world, they have been singled out for repression in Honduras. Our partners in the banana, agricultural, and garment sectors had spoken to us about the “normalization” of the police surveillance around their homes and offices, now amplified by this latest political development. In Tegucigalpa, national union leaders ran for their lives, narrowly escaping arrest and detention. The teachers’ unions immediately called for a strike, increasing their vulnerability. In San Pedro Sula, working people declared the police unwelcome in their neighborhoods, choosing instead to confront the authorities and push them back. One union partner reported that the police had loitered in front of her house for more than an hour, probably to keep watch and arrest her immediately if she dared leave home. She declared that she would resist arrest at all costs—that because the stories of torture, brutality, and rape of prisoners were vivid and commonplace, she would sooner take a bullet for evading arrest than be dragged off to a jail cell.
The coup and its aftermath, one of the biggest recent political crises in Latin America, threatens the country’s fragile experiment with democracy, which only began in the 1980s. Though no foreign government has recognized the military-installed regime, Micheletti’s de facto government has shown no signs of ceding power. In the midst of this infuriating and heartbreaking situation, the courage and spirit of the Honduran people are remarkable and inspiring. The three national trade union confederations are experiencing a moment of unprecedented unity, and the national resistance movement is highly representative of all of civil society. Although many of those calling for Zelaya’s reinstatement are political partisans, there is an overwhelming sense that the cries of the resistance movement are for a respect for democracy, rule of law, and the people’s ability to determine their own leadership. Zelaya’s return has not led to an immediate restoration of his authority or of constitutional order, and so our Honduran brothers and sisters find themselves in need of our solidarity to support them through this critical time, as they take to the streets yet again.
Honduran Labor Organizer Dead After Tear Gas Attack.
Twenty-four-year-old labor organizer Wendy Elizabeth Avila died after suffering an asthma attack last week when police bombarded demonstrators outside the embassy with tear gas. In These Times
Another Teacher Killed in Post-Coup Violence. Teachers and trade unionists across Latin America have issued a strong denunciation of the violence and murders that have taken place since the military coup in Honduras, and call for the restitution of the country's legitimate president. Education International
AFL-CIO, in Solidarity with Honduran Unions, Condemns Military Coup
In a June 30, 2009, statement
, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney called the coup "unconscionable."