Take a gander at mainstream media and one could be forgiven for having the impression that, despite the military nature of former president Manuel Zelaya’s removal, the Honduras question is largely resolved, with free and fair elections replacing a president on the verge of becoming a second Hugo Chavez.
“The Washington Post called the election ‘mostly peaceful,’ ” according to muckraker NACLA Report on the Americas. “[Porfirio] Lobo was ‘elected president in a peaceful vote’ . . . reported Bloomberg News, [and] The New York Times said in an editorial that there was ‘wide agreement’ the election was ‘clean and fair.’ ”
Alternative publications and organizations, including NACLA, Briarpatch, and The Nation, have pushed back forcefully, claiming that Lobo’s election was intended to gloss over a military coup led by corporate oligarchs and military generals. Through the alt-press lens, we can glimpse the ongoing human rights abuses, flaws in the argument that Zelaya was on the verge of becoming a dictator, and the passionate public opposition to the new government.
Let’s begin with the scene on the ground last November. As mentioned above, Lobo’s election was widely portrayed as a peaceful end to the strife that followed Zelaya’s removal by the Honduran Congress and military, who claimed his attempt to include a non-binding referendum—calling for a constitutional convention—on the ballot would have paved the road to him becoming “President for Life.”
The elections themselves, however, were heavily protested; The Nation reports that street protests ranged from 400,000 and 600,000 people, and leading progressive candidates withdrew from the November election in protest of the coup. Between June and December of 2009, the Committee for Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras documented 708 human rights violations and 54 murders.
Briarpatch questions the motives behind Zelaya’s removal, blaming the oligarchs who run Honduras’ multinational corporations for supporting the forcible replacement of a progressive president with one friendly to business. For example: In 2009, Zelaya raised the minimum wage 84 percent to $289/month, lowered interest rates on home loans, and otherwise moved to protect working-class Hondurans. The day after the coup, in contrast, interim president Roberto Micheletti, “promised to make Honduras an even more attractive destination for foreign direct investment,” and replaced those in the Ministry of Labour who “possessed knowledge of the issues” with people who were friendly to industry.
Six months later, sweatshop workers found that their working conditions had deteriorated, and that their protests to the Ministry went unanswered, Maria Luisa Regalado, the director of the Honduran Women’s Collective, told Briarpatch.
Making matters more complicated, NACLA points out that the Honduran constitutional convention—had it happened—would probably not have begun until well after the seven months Zelaya had left in his term, and any resulting changes almost certainly wouldn’t have gone into effect until years afterward. Thus it is far more likely, in a what-if scenario where the constitutional convention abolished term limits, that Zelaya’s successor, not him, would have had the chance to become “President for Life.”
Nor have things settled down since the election; since many Hondurans refused to accept the results, the government has moved to silence dissent. According to Reporters Without Borders, Honduras has become “the world’s deadliest country for the media since the start of this year [emphasis added],” particularly for those who oppose Lobo. Seven journalists were killed in the six-week period between March 3 and April 21.
Opposition radio stations have been threatened with censure and closure, and neither threats nor killings have been seriously investigated by the police—Reporters Without Borders notes that no one has yet been punished for any of the attacks. Honduran journalists are being silenced, making the U.S. mainstream media’s silence all the more disappointing.