The return of deposed President Manuel Zelaya to Honduras doesn’t mean democracy, civil liberties and the basic rule of law are returning to that country any time soon. Far from it.
The very same oligarchs who launched the coup remain in power, and in the past two months the government’s repression has accelerated. That’s why more than 70 members of Congress are calling for a suspension of U.S. military and police aid to Honduras.
On May 22, Zelaya and the current president of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, signed a pact permitting Zelaya to return free of the trumped-up charges the coup makers leveled against him when the Honduran military packed him onto a plane to Costa Rica on June 28, 2009. Lobo also promised to allow plebiscites and to recognize the National Front of Popular Resistance, the broad coalition uniting labor, women’s groups, peasant organizations, gay alliances and Afro-indigenous movements.
But both of these “concessions” are already legally on the books, and grant nothing concrete to the opposition.
Zelaya’s return itself does have enormous popular significance. For hundreds of thousands of Hondurans, including those who are quite critical of him, he is the grand symbol of resistance to the ongoing military coup. He represents constitutional order, the rule of law and a hope for a different Honduran future based on social justice.
But neither Zelaya’s return nor the pact address the horrific human rights situation in the country. Lobo appointed the same officers who ran the coup to control the armed forces, the state-owned telephone company, the airports and the immigration service. And the government’s authoritarianism in the past two months now exceeds the period right after the coup.
Police and the military now routinely shoot tear gas canisters directly at peaceful demonstrators at close range. Paramilitary gangs have killed more than 40 peasant activists since Lobo took office, including four in the last three weeks. Since Lobo came to power in the coup, more than 300 opposition members have been killed, according to human rights groups. Impunity reigns. You can drive by and shoot a teacher, an indigenous activist or a trade unionist, and nothing – nothing — will happen to you.
Lobo, in the accord, promised to create a new ministry overseeing human rights. But his promise means nothing. Indeed, three days after the accord, his police launched live bullets and tear gas against a group of high school students protesting the suspension of their math teachers.
Despite growing congressional recognition of the crisis, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton keeps insisting that “democracy has been restored” and that Honduras should be readmitted to the Organization of American States at its June 5-7 meeting.
Rather than join Clinton in whitewashing a repressive regime, we should unite with members of Congress in demanding an immediate suspension of U.S. military aid to Honduras — and an end to support for the ongoing coup government of Porfirio Lobo.
Dana Frank is professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the author of “Bananeras: Women Transforming the Banana Unions of Latin America,” which focuses on Honduras. She can be reached at email@example.com.