Honduras: repression and negotiation defuse the resistance movement

Four months after the coup against democratically elected president Mel Zelaya in Honduras, a combination of brutal repression and stalling tactics at the negotiating table have temporarily defused the resistance movement, but not decreased the people's opposition to the Micheletti regime. The level of consciousness has experienced a giant leap. It is necessary to group the most advanced activists of the movement into an organisation based on the ideas of Marxism.

Four months after the coup against democratically elected president Mel Zelaya in Honduras, a combination of brutal repression and stalling tactics at the negotiating table have temporarily defused the resistance movement, but not decreased the people's opposition to the Micheletti regime.

The return of president Zelaya to the country on September 21 marked another turning point in the heroic movement of resistance against the coup. For three months, the workers, peasants and youth of Honduras, led by the National Front of Resistance Against the Coup, had defied the repression of the Micheletti regime with mass demonstrations and strikes, in an inspiring movement that has shown extraordinary resilience. The movement managed to build a national leadership, with representatives from the main trade union organisations, but also involving the peasants, the youth, the black population, etc. Neighbourhood, local and regional structures of the Front had been created throughout the country. The Front had begun to be recognised as an force be reckoned with, and even the US ambassador understood that any negotiated settlement had to involve the leadership of the Front in order to be accepted by the people.

The arrival of Zelaya in the capital Tegucigalpa, smuggled secretly into the country and then seeking refuge in the Brazilian embassy, created a mood of exhilaration amongst the masses of his supporters. Surely the end of the coup regime was a question of hours, days! Zelaya showed personal courage and loyalty to the masses that had fought against the coup. It would have been easy for him to abandon politics or reach a deal with the coup plotters, but he insisted in returning to the presidency, appeal to the masses to struggle and even risked his own life to come back to the country on three occasions. But as we warned, the oligarchy, feeling the breath of the masses on in their necks, resorted to the most brutal repression. Hundreds were arrested, a state of emergency and a curfew were declared, and the army and the police took control of the streets and the neighbourhoods. Still, the masses resisted and fought back. For a couple of days there was a state of popular insurrection in dozens of working class and poor neighbourhoods in the capital and in cities and towns across the country. In many of these, barricades were set up and the people successfully fought back, expelling the army and the police.

Demonstration on October 1, 2009.Demonstration on October 1, 2009. But in those crucial hours, faced with the possibility of a revolutionary overthrow of the dictatorship, imperialism and sections of the regime started to play another card, alongside that of repression: negotiations. While calling for a national insurrection and one last push against the dictatorship, Zelaya was meeting with representatives of the parties that support Micheletti and was even seen embracing them when they visited him at the Brasilian embassy. He had already accepted the terms of the San José Accord in August, which basically stated that he would come back to power for a few months, but there would be an amnesty for the coup plotters and he would drop any idea of a Constituent Assembly. This, undoubtedly, created confusion in the movement. The Resistance Front leadership clearly stated that their struggle was for Zelaya's reinstatement but also for a Constituent Assembly, which in the eyes of the masses represents, although in a distorted and confused way, their aspirations for fundamental change and that the people should take power away from the oligarchy. Even Zelaya himself intimated that he was only accepting the San José Accord terms (which clearly legitimated the coup) for tactical reasons and that once he was back in power the people could continue the struggle for a Constituent Assembly.

At that point if would have been possible to overthrow the coup through a revolutionary insurrection. The masses could have taken power and declared the convening of a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly on the part of the National Front of Resistance. The problem is that when it comes to insurrection, any vacillation is fatal. The leadership of the movement did not have a clear strategy. The day and time of the insurrection was not set when conditions were favourable. The necessary preparations had not been carried out. The insistence on the fact that the movement was peaceful meant that the opportunity to create armed defence pickets of the resistance (to protect their demonstrations, their leaders and their organisations and buildings) was wasted, when these would have been completely justified in the eyes of the masses. The combination of repression and the vacillations of the leadership of the movement at the crucial time meant that the opportunity was not seized. The moment for insurrection passed.

Negotiations on October 7. Photo by G. Trucchi.Negotiations on October 7. Photo by G. Trucchi. The centre of gravity of the struggle between the classes moved from the streets to the negotiating table. Very quickly, the Organisation of American States sent a high level delegation of foreign affairs ministers, and negotiations opened on October 7. The aim of the Obama administration and of key Latin American countries was clear: to reach an agreement which would defuse the possibility of a revolutionary overthrow of the dictatorship. The terms would be those of the San José Accord, that is, the return of Zelaya to power but abandoning any campaign for a Constituent Assembly, amnesty for those involved in the coup, and elections under the supervision of the same institutions which carried out the coup. Zelaya would be back to power but only for a few months and with his mouth shut, and then rigged elections would produce a new, legitimate, government of the oligarchy. However, from the point of view of Micheletti and the oligarchy, negotiations, from the beginning, were just a delaying tactic which would allow them to reach the November 29 election which would give legitimacy to their regime.

Ten days into the negotiations, Zelaya's delegation announced that there was agreement on 95% of the points. The small detail was that the one point where there was no agreement was precisely on the return of Zelaya to power! So, in practice, all the coup plotters had agreed to was to give themselves an amnesty, for Zelaya to stop campaigning for a Constituent Assembly (which was the immediate reason for the coup) and to call elections under their control (which they had already done in any case)! This was a farce and a clear manoeuvre, but the fact that the Zelaya delegation spun it as an agreement created even more confusion amongst the ranks of the resistance, which was still facing severe repression. The regime took its trickery to a new stage by announcing the lifting of the state of emergency (which suspended constitutional guarantees), but not publishing the actual decree, thus leaving the state of emergency in place.

Just before the announcement of the so-called "95% agreement", the leader of the Resistance Front, Barahona, abandoned the negotiations. He said that he fundamentally disagreed with the fact that Zelaya had renounced the Constituent Assembly, though he respected his decision. The move was correct, but the problem was that by this time the resistance had been driven off the streets by the combination of repression and negotiations. The initiative had been lost.

Repression on October 7. Photo by G. Trucchi.Repression on October 7. Photo by G. Trucchi. Sensing that they had regained control of the situation, the oligarchy felt strong and united. They also know they have powerful backers in Washington who will support them all the way. Micheletti has now made it clear that he will only resign if Zelaya agrees not to be reinstated as president. Negotiations are at a dead end. In order to get out of this stalemate, the Obama administration is once again exercising mild pressure on the regime. Hillary Clinton had a phone conversation with Micheletti and senior administration officials will be in Honduras this week. The head of the OAS mission in Honduras also says that "we are very close to an agreement".

The Resistance movement has not been smashed, but its capacity to mobilise has been severely diminished. This is the result on the one hand of the brutal repression which has already cost 22 lives, thousands injured, and thousands of illegal detentions. But it is also the result of the hopes placed by Zelaya in a negotiated solution and the fact that the leaders of the Resistance at no time challenged those in a decisive way. There is also an understandable element of tiredness, particularly in the absence of a clear perspective.

This does not mean, however, that the movement has been decisively defeated and crushed. Far from it. The opinion of the majority of the Honduran people is still against the coup. A recent opinion poll showed 52% against the coup and only 17% in favour, with 60% in favour of Micheletti abandoning power against only 22% who said he should stay. Further to this, 52% supported Zelaya's return to power while 33% were against. Showing that this was not just passive opposition to the coup, more than 45% of the people said they supported the demonstrations of the resistance, while 41% opposed them. In fact, the massive opposition to the coup plotters and their parties is one of the reasons they do not want to allow Zelaya back in to power, as they fear that this would be seen as a victory to the movement and could lead to an election victory for one of his supporters, particularly as it seems that the resistance is now united behind the possible candidature of Carlos H Reyes.

It is difficult to see how any “agreement” can be reached at this point, even with strong pressure by Washington and the threat of not recognising the November 29th elections. The coup plotters feel strong. They have effectively neutralised the resistance for now, and they have powerful backers in the US who are pushing them to take a decisive stand in an attempt to reverse the revolutionary tide sweeping Latin America. For them the coup in Honduras is clearly meant as a warning for Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, and any other countries who have dared or might dare to step out of line.

The National Front of Resistance needs to draw a balance sheet of the events of the last four months. There has been some talk of groups going to the mountains to start a campaign of armed struggle against the dictatorship. This reflects a mood of impatience and frustration, which is partially aimed at some of the tactics and vacillations of the leadership of the resistance. However, while a thorough criticism needs to be made of the shortcomings of the tactics used, going to the mountains would be a disaster for the movement. It would cut off the best and most courageous militants from the masses of workers, peasants and youth which have been on the streets in the last four months.

Repression on October 7. Photo by G. Trucchi.Repression on October 7. Photo by G. Trucchi. The masses cannot be faulted. They gave their all to the movement. Their organisation and resilience in the face of brutal repression is a source of inspiration. If it was merely a question of heroism and sacrifice they could have overthrown a dozen coup governments. But heroism is not enough. The leadership of the resistance has taken a whole number of steps in the right direction and there is no doubt that it is composed of brave, honest and dedicated men and women, some of them with many years of struggle on their shoulders. What was missing in the leadership was a clear idea of how to take the movement forward. A general strike which would have paralysed the regime was never properly called for or prepared for. At the crucial time when the spontaneous insurrection in the working class neighbourhoods could have been converted into a national uprising, there was vacillation and confusion. In order to regroup the forces and prepare for the next wave of struggle, the movement needs to discuss all these issues.

In order to move forward and continue the struggle it needs to start by clearly rejecting negotiations with the regime and then move to organise a serious campaign against the November 29 elections. The elections should be boycotted across the board because they are called by an illegitimate regime in conditions of brutal repression. This boycott should be organised through a massive campaign of political explanation in the neighbourhoods, building up to mass demonstrations and a meticulously-prepared general strike.

The courageous movement of the Honduran masses over the last four months has not been in vain. It has created powerful organisational structures and links between the active layer and the masses. The mass movement has had a taste of its own power and strength. Above all, the level of consciousness has experienced a giant leap. None of this will be wasted, no matter what happens in the next few weeks. None of the fundamental problems facing the Honduran masses have been resolved, and they cannot be resolved within the limits of capitalism, so there is no alternative but to continue the struggle. It is necessary to group the most advanced activists of the movement into an organisation based on the ideas of Marxism. Within the movement of the Honduran workers, the Marxists will fight to give the marvellous energy of the revolutionary struggle of the masses a far-sighted and decisive leadership that can take it to victory.