The little coup that could, in Honduras
Honduras seems trapped in the past. Radio stations play aging hits from Mexican crooner Jose Jose and cumbia dance numbers from the mid-’80s. Women’s fashions are out-of-date and guards nestling big rifles guard beauty salons and pharmacies as they have for decades.
Politics are also mired in the past in this deeply conservative country of 7 million people. While elsewhere in Latin America a new generation of leftists has taken power, putting business leaders on the defensive to some extent and to varying degrees, Honduras’ business elite flexed its muscles when a leftist prsident hinted he wanted to extend presidential term limits.
For four months Honduras has been led by a de facto leader, Roberto Micheletti, who took over after the army, Supreme Court and Congress together pulled a coup on elected President Manuel Zelaya, who was flown out of the country. Zelaya later sneaked back in to take asylum in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. Repeated attempts at a negotiated settlement between the two have dissolved into bickering.
Micheletti has shown staying power — even after he was isolated on the global stage. That’s because he is backed by a secretive and relatively small group of business leaders that have long wielded political power in this Central American country, which is heavily dependent on foreign aid and on its biggest trade partner, the United States. The Honduran Documentation Center think tank has documented the control that a group of intermarried families has on the country’s banks, industries such as the maquiladora factories that make clothes to export to the U.S., coffee and banana and cattle production, and power generation. The book “The Powers that Be and the Political System,” by a group of researchers, argues that the business class has increased its influence over politics since Honduras returned to democracy 30 years after two decades of off-and-on military regimes. The book says each business group owns a media outlet that helps it maintain and transfer power from the “dinosaur” leaders to the next generations of “babysaurs.”
No wonder Micheletti looks a little smug as he thumbs his nose at the international community, declaring a “unity and reconciliation” government without Zelaya’s participation after they both signed a pact to name a joint cabinet. Zelaya is backed by organizations that say they want profound social change in Honduras but apparently not badly enough to invite further repression from the military and the police and sow chaos Bolivian style with huge marches and road blocks all over the country.
A pro-Zelaya television station and radio station provide blanket coverage of the so-called resistance movement — after being briefly silenced by the Micheletti government — but most TV channels assemble morning talk shows with experts and lawmakers who support Micheletti. It’s not really a surprise. Honduras has never thrown itself in with the region’s leftist movments. All three countries bordering on Honduras — Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador — had major leftist insurgencies that profoundly altered the political landscapes in those countries whether or not they eventually came to power. Honduras, meanwhile, became a base for the U.S. counter-insurgency, or Contra movement, against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.
Photo captions and credits:
Micheletti speaks with Craig Kelly, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs in Tegucigalpa 11/11/2009. REUTERS/Henry Romero
A supporter of Zelaya shouts at a rally outside Congress in Tegucigalpa 12/11/2009. REUTERS/Henry Romero
Zelaya walks inside the Brazilian Embassy 6/11/2009. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido