Honduras Nearing Ten Years of Stolen Elections, Neo-Colonial Rule

Despite an organized and active grassroots movement, Honduran politics have been repeatedly steamrolled by the self-interests of international ruling elites, as journalist and filmmaker Jesse Freeston explained to Dennis J. Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

For weeks following its stolen election, the corrupt right-wing, neo-fascist government of Juan Orlando Hernández’s in Honduras has been terrorizing its people. Street protests and spontaneous blockades have been met by extreme violence. Dozens have already died on the frontlines and many more have been arrested and brutalized in detention, while often being held incommunicado.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, at the Department of State, March 21, 2017. [State Department photo/Public Domain]

I spoke to Jesse Freeston, who has been based in Honduras for the last eight years working as a video-journalist and documentary filmmaker, ever since the US supported/Hillary Clinton sustained 2009 coup d’état that purged the duly elected president, Manuel Zelaya. Freeston, who has reported for the Real News Network and Democracy Now en Espanol, is the producer of the feature documentary “Resistencia: The Fight for the Aguan Valley.”

Freeston reports that, among other crimes against the people, “this regime has: stolen an election; ignored calls from the Organization of American States to hold a new election; passed a law prohibiting the prosecution of all former and current members of Congress in the midst of a series of massive corruption scandals [and has] appointed a new national police chief who has clear evidence against him of drug trafficking…”

I spoke to Freeston on February 7.

Dennis Bernstein: We continue our drumbeat coverage of Honduras and the recent stolen election there, an attempt to suppress the will of the people who, by all accounts, want to have a more progressive government.  It has been a very violent situation since the election.  We are hearing that dozens of people have been killed and that the atrocities being perpetrated by the government have resulted in a nightmare. Could you put this in the context of the last two recent election cycles in Honduras?

Jesse Freeston: On June 28, 2009, there was a vote on a non-binding resolution put forward by President Manuel Zelaya, who had taken up the call of various indigenous groups in the country to rewrite the constitution.  When people went out to vote on that day, the military staged a coup d’etat and Zelaya wound up in Costa Rica.

This led to the most organized national resistance movement Honduras has ever seen.  Assemblies were held, which brought together all these people who stood to gain from a new constitution.  Just about every sector of the society were represented, except perhaps the oligarchy.

This led to the formation of the Libre Party, which participated in the 2013 elections [with Manuel Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, running as the party’s presidential candidate].  The election was officially won by Juan Orlando Hernandez but there was massive fraud.  The November, 2017 elections were even more of a farce.

Despite all that, when the electoral tribunal released its first results, the Oppositional Alliance were up by 5% with 60% of the votes counted.  One of the magistrates on the tribunal described it at the time as an “irreversible trend.”  Then, counting stopped for over a day when the computer system supposedly crashed.  When it was back up again, the tendency had completely flipped and Hernandez ended up winning by one percentage point.

This led to another massive uprising.  On one day of action there were 48 blockades of highways and major boulevards in the country.  During the last two months, this has been happening a couple times a week.

Even international observers such as the European Union Commission and the Organization of American States–who have been discredited here after turning their back many times in the last eight years to the crimes of this regime–even they have said that they have to redo the election or there has to be a recount.

Nevertheless, the members of those organizations, like Canada, like the United States and the countries of the European Union, went ahead and validated the election.

DB: We have heard that activists and members of the resistance have been arrested.

JF: Yes, there are dozens of political prisoners behind bars right now.  One of the most worrying cases is that of Edwin Espinal.  He is someone who has consistently paid a price for his resistance against the ongoing coup d’etat.

In September of 2009, Edwin Espinal’s wife died from tear gas inhalation after taking part in several protests.  A week later, Edwin was at a small neighborhood protest after which he was arrested for kidnapping because he took a child with him on his motorcycle when he was fleeing the tear gas.  The mother of the child went over and over to the police station to explain that she had pleaded with Edwin to take her kid with him.  Another time he was jailed for car theft for driving a friend’s car.

The first thing that the newly-formed military-trained urban police force did was raid Espinal’s house, claiming they had proof that he was a drug trafficker. The police falsely accused him of being involved in the Marriot Hotel fire and right now he is in a maximum security prison on that charge. Journalists and human rights workers are not allowed in to talk to him, his family have not been allowed to see him.  This is the first time since the 1980’s that a civilian will be tried inside a military base.

DB: How would you describe the US role in this situation?  We know that Hillary Clinton played a key role in sustaining the coup in 2009.

JF: I think that informed people in Honduras realize that changes in political leadership in the US don’t make much difference in how Honduras is treated.  Decisions are made here at the US Embassy and ambassadors act as de-facto rulers here, as shadow presidents.

Known locations of U.S. military bases around the world

The one constant here is the massive military funding from the US.  Since the coup, the Honduran military has received more direct funding from the US than any other country in the Americas, despite the fact that they have not been involved in a single military conflict or been threatened with one.

The military is purely used against people inside the country.  Although the United States is by far the largest funder of the Honduran military, other countries are also involved because humanitarian and other aid is typically diverted to the military.

DB: You said that there is a continuity between the last administration’s policy toward Honduras and the Trump administration’s policy.  In terms of so-called US interests, the real problem is that we push a program of “free trade” and we insist on having our military bases there.  So we have every reason to sustain the government as long as it provides us with an opportunity to police the region.  Could you talk about the geopolitical part of this?

JF: I think the more a country depends on its natural resources, the more everything comes down to who controls the land.  In 1961, [John F.] Kennedy launched a program called The Alliance for Progress, which was billed as a kind of Marshall Plan for Latin America.  It was a response to the Cuban revolution and an attempt to ward off similar revolutions across Latin America.

We were going to give billions of dollars to countries in Latin America if they promised to undertake land reform, if the oligarchy agreed to give up a portion of their land.  When Johnson replaced Kennedy there was much less priority assigned to this program.  Nonetheless, the Honduran government had to pass a number of land reform laws to receive the money, but none of those laws were ever implemented.

If the US intends to keep its business interests here alive–the sweatshop sector as well as bananas and palm oil–and for Canada, gold mining primarily–they need to maintain their alliance with this land-holding oligarchy.   It is this alliance that the resistance is asking the countries of the North and the West to break.

With eight and a half years of organizing experience, the people of Honduras could put together a government so fast it would make your head spin.  This movement is very organized.  They know who to trust, they know who can provide intellectual support, they know who can run the economy.  They are just waiting for the international community to change its alliances.

DB: So will the resistance to the Hernandez regime go on?

JF: The Oppositional Alliance has decided to wage a “peaceful insurrection,” something they are entitled to do under the Honduran constitution, which states that no one owes obedience to a government which takes power by force.  The numbers now at the protests have been considerably less than in the past two months, particularly since the inauguration on January 27.

It is hard to predict what will happen but the vast majority of the population do not want this regime.  There is a massive corruption scandal developing and we will see what happens with that.  Students are planning a strike for next month. But we will have to wait to see what kinds of ideas are going to be put forward in Honduras.

People are looking at Honduras as a laboratory for the ultra-right of the world.  Fortunately, there is a well-organized movement here that will be rising up again and again.  It is up to those of us in the international community to put pressure on those who claim to represent us to change their allegiances.

DB: Would you say that this is a movement inspired by young people in the country?

JF: Yes, and that is the key to understanding this new law that the National Party is trying to pass which would regulate social media.  It has to do with this young generation that has grown up in this period following the coup.  Someone like Zelaya doesn’t necessarily reach them.  This new law the government is trying to pass would give them the right to criminalize anyone posting anything they deem “hateful” on social media.  And this is a government that labels “racist” people who are defending rivers from dams being built.

Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.

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13 comments for “Honduras Nearing Ten Years of Stolen Elections, Neo-Colonial Rule

  1. Joe Tedesky
    February 14, 2018 at 1:19 pm

    At the rate the U.S. is going after these independent minded states to instigate change of governance, in time capitalism will either be shunted, or the world’s entire population will be confined to an internment camp.

  2. Nancy
    February 14, 2018 at 2:17 pm

    This U.S. “meddling” is unconscionable. The consequences are too predictable–more people fleeing the violence, more repression, a vicious cycle. I hope the author is right, that the people still have the will to resist. The entire region has been victimized for way too long.

    • Andrew Nichols
      February 14, 2018 at 7:36 pm

      Yes …100% of their focus is on Venezuela. Once they overthrow a govt, news of any violence and atrocities falls off the radar…

  3. February 14, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    Worse than Bush

    Hear Hillary Clinton Defend Her Role in Honduras Coup

    Video for Hillary honduras coup
    ? 6:12
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEcke5L7Lvg

    Apr 13, 2016 – Uploaded by Democracy Now!
    http://democracynow.org – With the New York primary less than a week away, the race for the Democratic …

  4. nonsense factory
    February 14, 2018 at 3:31 pm

    The Chelsea Manning archive of State Department cables has some very interesting details on what might have motivated Clinton to ardently support the coup, namely that Zelaya wasn’t cooperating with Exxon & Chevron on gasoline pricing, or with IMF austerity demands, or with the effort to turn Honduran agriculture into a plantation export colony for Wall Street investors:

    (1) “The Ambassador met with representatives from the oil industry on February 11 [2010]. . . . The oil industry representatives expressed concern about the possibility that the government would reverse a decision of the de facto regime to abolish a Zelaya administration policy requiring oil importers to sell premium gasoline at the price set for regular. Representatives of Texaco/Chevron and Exxon had told Embassy representatives at previous meetings that they were losing money in Honduras due to the Zelaya administration policy.. . . “We would like to take advantage of this opportunity to encourage the Lobo government not merely to continue to allow a higher price for premium than for regular but to move to a free-market pricing system””

    Another cable reports that Zelaya was refusing IMF directions on currency and public spending:

    (2)“Discussions on the renewal of the IMF stand-by arrangement for Honduras broke down in early 2009 due to the Zelaya government’s unwillingness to either devalue the country’s currency or make budget cuts. . .”

    There’s plenty more – corrupt dam & electricity deals, conversion of Honduran agriculture to plantation-style export agriculture, and so on. The Clinton-led coup has been classic shock doctrine, neocolonialism run by the US State Department in coordination with multinational corporations. The cables also describe the propaganda methods being used to try to win popular support for the coup among the local Honduran population:

    (3)“In the aftermath of the June 28 coup, USAID is analyzing ways to increase the effectiveness of its efforts in the area of support for the development of democratic institutions with a particular focus on developing a sense among ordinary Hondurans that the country’s institutions belong to and are accountable to them.”

    A real full-court press – never mind the assassinations and disappearances, it’s all good here. . . ‘Democracy has been restored!” says US State Department and USAID. Then they were off to do ‘humanitarian interventions’ in Libya. That’s the neoliberal version of neocolonialism; only slightly less brutal than the neoconservative one.

    Incidentally, this was one of the more disappointing aspects of Bernie Sander’s campaign – his refusal to hammer Clinton on her reckless and disastrous pro-Wall Street foreign policy agenda. That kind of timidity, well, perhaps the US public is too propagandized for honest discussion of these issues, I don’t know.

    • mike k
      February 14, 2018 at 5:15 pm

      Sanders really had too much in common with Hillary (and the demo party) to really nail her, or her despicable party.

    • Joe Tedesky
      February 14, 2018 at 5:18 pm

      Please allow me to attach to your great commentary this…..

      “In the following elections in November 2013, voters in Honduras were once again free to choose a dismal past for their dismal future. But at first there was a glimmer of hope, as the polls for several months had shown the front-runner to be deposed President Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, leader of a new party formed out of the post-coup resistance movement. Here was an excellent opportunity for feminist Hillary Rodham Clinton to support “breaking the glass ceiling” in Honduras –the election of a charismatic woman which would break the hold of the ruling oligarchy. It did not occur. As the election approached, violent intimidation increased and Xiomara Castro’s lead shrank. National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández built his candidacy around the promise of “a soldier on every corner”, as Dana Frank reported in The Nation. “It’s well established that the country’s police, judiciary and prosecutor are corrupt, interlaced with drug traffickers and organized crime. The police are directed by Juan Carlos ‘El Tigre’ Bonilla, an alleged death squad leader. Lacking the political will to clean this up, current President Porfirio Lobo and the Congress are instead sending in the military to take over police functions… Constitutionally, the military oversees the balloting process. In this context, prospects for a free and fair contest are grim.” 3 According to the human rights group Rights Action, in the period between May 2012 and October 2013, there were 36 murders and 24 armed attacks targeting candidates or potential candidates and their families or supporters. 59 percent of Hondurans polled expected the elections to be fraudulent. Amid accusations of fraud and intimidation, Juan Orlando Hernández was proclaimed President with 37 percent of the vote, while Xiomara Castro came in second with about 29 percent.“ from Diana Johnstone’s ‘Queen of Chaos’

      • nonsense factory
        February 14, 2018 at 10:37 pm

        That is a good addition, I was not aware of that part of the story. . . Astonishing that the US State Department has the nerve to call Honduras a functioning democracy, when they sanction Venezuela for lack of democracy. And yet that’s what the corporate media in the U.S. repeats, without bothering to ask any difficult questions of the ‘government officials’.

        • Joe Tedesky
          February 15, 2018 at 9:36 am

          You probably heard the saying, ‘if the shoe fits then you wear it’, well the U.S. government version of that is, ‘if the shoe doesn’t fit then we will make it fit’. I attribute that mentality to our nation’s current frame of mind. (Current like in 241 years or at least the last 106 for the super patriotic, or something like that) Joe

  5. Babyl-on
    February 15, 2018 at 6:59 am

    Honestly, I don’t think of Honduras as a nation state at all. It is ruled by two families as their property, it is more like an English “Douche” or a fiefdom. Honduras is a key hub on the CIA controlled drug smuggling routes. The two families profit handsomely from the drug trade and of course their control of all business and agriculture in the territory they control. Honduras is a Neoliberal pilot project for how the world will be managed as AI eliminates the need for the elites to depend on inferior humans to increase their wealth and power.

    1984 gets all the attention but Aldus Huxley’s “Brave New World” with its vision of vast open air camps for the “savages” is quite visionary as well.

    Notions of a sovereign nation state of Honduras or the fanciful notion of “elections” simply ignore reality. Honduras is as much a feudal state as England in 1550.

  6. Winston
    February 15, 2018 at 8:30 am

    Honduras is the CIA’s Latin American station. A colony of the Deep State,

  7. Ernest
    February 17, 2018 at 5:12 pm

    If by deep state, you mean controlled to the point that they’d use their vote as a “nation,” in the United Nations to support the jewISH racist, criminal, apartheid, stolen land in Palestine called israhell. Then yes Winston I’d say you’re right. Read the Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Churchills azing writing, titled “Bolshevism vs Zionsim: A struggle for the soul of the jewISH people.” I believe it’s from the same year Henry Fords opus was printed, 1920. It was published in a London paper.

  8. Bill Goldman
    February 21, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    A change in US policy towards Latin American nations would go a long way if the changed policy backed peasants, not oligarchs. That can’t happen so long as US policy is controlled by a bi-partisan elite establishment. Trump is with them, in fact is more extreme than his predecessors. How else could a guy who bemoans the loss of Roy Cohn and adores John Bolton, 2 examples of right wing fanatics?

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