Reviewing the Coup
A piece I did for Z Magazine’s February 2010 edition.
The last Sunday in June began normally for Evangelica Argueta, an organizer with the General Workers Confederation (CGT) in Honduras. She woke up in her home in San Pedro Sula, prepared breakfast, and got ready to head to church with her family. Afterwards, they were going to go vote in a non-binding plebiscite about what Hondurans call the cuarta urna (the “fourth urn”). If passed, the cuarta urna would have put a fourth question on the November 29 ballot, asking Hondurans if they were for or against beginning a process of constituent assembly to rewrite the Constitution of Honduras.
Soldiers at the president’s residence in Tegucigalpa after the coup—photo by Carlos Amador
But what was supposed to be a day celebrating popular participation ended up being what Argueta describes as the darkest day in Honduran history. At 7:00 AM, as Argueta was about to go out the door, she heard on the radio that there was a military coup against José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, the elected president of Honduras. “We heard that there was a coup d’état at 5:30 in the morning, that they shot up the door of his house, and he had been removed in his pajamas and taken to Costa Rica,” she said.
Instead of going to church, as she had every Sunday, she went immediately to the central park. By the time Argueta arrived, there were already other labor organizers and social activists there. Argueta describes outraged people arriving continuously, without having been convened by anyone. Organizers checked in with their counterparts in Tegucigalpa, where people were also gathering in what would be the first of hundreds of protests against the coup.
For months after the coup, activists would gather every day in Tegucigalpa to march against the change of government. State repression has been intense, including ongoing detentions, disappearances, the use of torture, and the beatings and murder of social activists and everyday Hondurans mobilizing against the coup. “Honduras is in a scenario of violence. We are experiencing the beginning of a war and we are against war. The resistance is against war,” said Dr. Juan Almendares, a social activist, former presidential candidate, and ex-rector of the Autonomous University of Honduras.
Sadly, because of the coup, the cuarta urna never took place in Honduras—unlike the successful process of constitutional reform that has taken place in countries like Bolivia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. Constitutional assemblies have become part of deepening democracy in the hemisphere and emblematic of the region’s structural political change.
Dionisia Diez awoke ready to vote yes to the cuarta urna on June 28. “In the cuarta urna, we were going to ask for a new constitution, because with a constituent assembly we would get rid of this constitution that we have, that doesn’t do any good other than [the powerful] wiping their behinds with it whenever they wish.” At 76, Diez participated in the historic strike against the United Fruit Company in 1954, and is today known as the grandmother of the resistance to the coup in Honduras.
In the pro-coup media in Honduras, as well as in the world media, the slightest opening towards constitutional reform was painted instead as President Zelaya attempting to extend his term limit and mimicking Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
David Romero, the station manager of Tegucigalpa’s Radio Globo, was one of the first to broadcast news of the coup in Honduras. The station was immediately militarized, and the day after the coup, he was brought before General Velasquez, head of the armed forces. Romero explained that Velasquez told him that there were three things he should be reporting on: “First was to recognize that what happened was a [presidential] succession and not a coup d’etat. Second, that it was necessary because Manuel Zelaya Rosales was violating the constitution and wanted to extend his term limit. And third, that the nation comes first, that [the coup] was to save the country from [Hugo] Chavez.”
Though the elite-owned corporate media throughout Honduras obediently followed the guidelines set out by Vasquez Velasquez, Honduran activists have a clear idea what it is that constitutional reform would actually mean for them. “For us, the National Constituent Assembly signifies changes in the power relations, and in the administration and control of resources,” said Miriam Miranda, the coordinator of the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH). “The poorest sectors of this country are included in the constitution only to go and vote. This is the kind of thing that we think needs to change,” she said. The last constitution was written in 1982, and is seen by many as protecting the interests of the military and the powerful instead of protecting the rights of regular Hondurans. “Poor Hondurans, women, Indigenous people, black Hondurans, people with different abilities, people with different sexual preferences are not included in our constitution,” said Jorge Lara Fernández, a professor of sociology at the University of San Pedro Sula.
Fernández thinks it is the right of every Honduran to be included in the constitution. “It’s going to be a tough road, it means continuing to struggle, to be in the streets and demand that we have the right to a constitution that converts us into a country…where human rights are respected,” he said.
The path forward is not one for Hondurans to walk alone, says Almendares. “We do not want to go into a war. We think there should be a huge mobilization, worldwide, nationwide, to struggle against the coup d’etat,” he said.