Friday, 16 October 2009


Reflecting the broad support in Britain for the restoration of President Zelaya and democracy in Honduras, a packed meeting was held in London on 14 October. A range of elected representatives, trade union leaders and Latin American campaigners addressed the meeting attended by over 100 people and organised as part of the activities of the Emergency Committee Against the Coup in Honduras (ECACH).

A full report is below

Building Solidarity

Karen Mitchell of Thompson’s Solicitors, the trade union law firm, opened the meeting. She explained that:

“The situation in Honduras is at a key point. The elected President Manuel Zelaya recently managed to return to his country where he is currently based in the Brazilian embassy, itself now the focus of state-sponsored attack. This return she added was “intolerable to the coup leadership which has responded with repression and violence.”
She identified the US lack of action helping sustain the coup, explaining that

“The problem remains that while the US has joined international condemnation it has not taken decisive measures to turn that rhetoric into reality - unlike many governments in the region and internationally. We call upon to end to all US financial support to Honduras and to end the Free Trade agreement with Honduras”.

Addressing the human rights abuses she said:

“The repressive nature of the coup regime must be condemned internationally. Amnesty International has documented a "sharp rise in police beatings, mass arrests of demonstrators, and intimidation of human rights defenders". Over a dozen people - all opposed to the coup - have been murdered since Zelaya's overthrow.”

But she explained how

“Despite this repression, a mass movement of resistance remains a central factor in how the crisis is unfolding. It continues to fight for democracy to be restored. Solidarity remains fundamental now more than ever”
The meeting then heard a statement from Ken Livingstone, former mayor of London, that:

“The coup in Honduras, together with the deployment of the US 4th Fleet in the region and the extension of US military base facilities in Columbia is an ominous escalation of threats to the rise of socialist and progressive governments and movements in Latin America.
This “encourages the oligarchies who in past decades worked with the US to use death squads and dictatorship against democratic movements for social progress in South America and the Caribbean.

'The coup regime in Honduras is isolated throughout the world. It only survives because the US refuses to use all of the economic, financial and diplomatic means at its disposal against the coup regime.

He added

'President Obama should meet the hopes his election aroused by using all of those means to support those seeking the restoration of the elected President Zelaya to full power in Honduras. This is a struggle where we can make a real difference. Your campaign has my total support.'

Reflecting the strong solidarity with Honduras in the British trade union movemenet, two leading trade unionists addressed the meeting.

Steve Hart, Regional Secretary, Unite London and Eastern, who has a long historic of fighting dictatorships in Latin America stretching back to Chile in the 1970s, addressed the meeting. He explained that:

“As Britain’s biggest union, Unite are absolutely clear of our responsibility for international solidarity. We were very clear from day one, unlike others, that when the military kidnaps and removes the democratically elected president then that is a military coup.

Steve cited the human rights abuses and underway in Honduras and its impact on trade unionists saying “this is about killing people and repressing people, a viscous military coup and we need to make sure it is seen as that”

He added that

“I welcome the election of President Obama and I believe many good things will come from him… But regrettably he is yet to call this a military coup in Honduras…The significance of this is that once said to be a military coup, it means an end to US aid.” He called for there to be “maximum pressure on the US to make them move their position” and that internationally there should be “no aid and no trade with Honduras”.

Concluding his remarks, Steve commented on the importance of ongoing solidarity:

“The trade union movement in Honduras has been steadfast in its opposition to the coup”. He added that Unite will be campaigning to restore democracy and called on unions to give “financial and material assistance” to the trade unionists fighting the dictatorship.

Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the University and College Union then addressed the meeting on behalf of the Trades Union Congress that represents more than 7 million workers in Britain, and issued a statement opposing the coup at its recent annual conference.

Outlining the brutality of the coup, that so far has rarely been reported in the British media, she explained that:

“The violence there is extreme. Even with the small number of verified figures coming through we know that the very minimum is that already 20 people have been killed - 12 of those trade unionists. Trade unionists are at the forefront of the resistance and have been targeted to repress ordinary people…

She added that at the TUC:

“We have received information from the International TUC of numerous cases of physical and psychological torture, journalists have been abducted and tortured, teachers activists have been targeted, at least one that we know of has been arrested and raped… We also received reports that a bomb exploded in a head office of a trade union. It only failed to murder its targets as they were at the funeral of another trade union leader.”
Sally announced stressed the importance of applying political pressure. The TUC has called on the European Commission to suspend its preferential trade agreement with Honduras because of repeated human rights abuses. She said:

“People in Honduras are going to die unless we put pressure on the British government and the European Commission to make sure Honduras is isolated and removed from power and that people have their democratic rights back”

She also explained the practical support from trade unionists in Britain was urgently needed: “Trade unionists need funds for medical bills for those who have been hurt in the repression and for those who will be hurt.” To this end the TUC has set up a website to receive financial contributions to help those in needs.

Parliamentary Support

Two Members of Parliament with a strong record of defending freedom in Latin America also addressed the meeting.

Tony Lloyd, the Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party, welcomed that “the US government has condemned the coup” as “probably the first time that a US government had sided with democracy” in Latin America. He explained that, at this crucial moment, pressure needed to be stepped up to end the coup. As part of this, he had submitted a motion in parliament that

“demands the release of all those arbitrarily arrested, that laws restricting media freedoms are rescinded, and the immediate restitution of President Zelaya to office and restoration of full democracy in Honduras.” It also requests that the “US suspending all financial support to the coup regime.”

He warned that

“This coup regime is now talking about holding elections on 29 November” and that “by no stretch of the imagination” can these be “a genuine electoral contest... as they are under conditions of repression and not able to live and move freely…How can you have an election when people are being tortured and attacked?”

Drawing on his experience of Central America, Tony Lloyd ended by saying that he “remembers a time when any talk of social progress was met with the barrels of the army’s gun to take out any kind of progressive space”. And that though we now have progressive governments in the region “the rich are fighting back,” against a history of Central America where “democracy is very fragile… and coup d’etats were seen as a means of taking out progressive governments”. He ended by saying everything possible must be done to to apply pressure so that we do not allow a return to those dark days.

Colin Burgon MP, Chair of Labour Friends of Venezuela, explained the wider and regional significance of the coup arguing that “The ruling classes in Latin America are no doubt watching the event unfold in Honduras”. He explained the significance of the democratic resistance within Honduras, saying that

“Perversely those who mounted the coup have achieved the opposite of what they had hoped. The coup has de-legitimatised the army, bankrupted the government and it has brought coalitions of resistance together of workers peasants, students, trade unions, women, environmentalist movements and more.”

He said that this coalition can not be “put back into the box” and warned either that “this resistance will be victorious or will be faced with repression the likes of which we haven’t seen in the region for a long time”.

Addressing how the coup was widely seen as illegitimate internationally, he explained how in recent days he has received correspondence from the British Prime Minister making clear that “the UK will ensure that the EU continues to apply diplomatic measures, including restrictions on political contacts with members of the de facto government.”

A solidarity message was also read out from prominent peace campaigner George Galloway MP, which said that “There are the clearest reasons of principle to oppose the Honduran coup and to support the growing movement to reverse it” but sadly, “too few people in Britain are aware of the vast strides that are being made by progressive governments and forces in Latin America in eradicating poverty, illiteracy and preventable disease.” and that "Understanding is not aided by the hopelessly biased coverage in not only the right wing press, but disgracefully in so much of the liberal media.” His message concluded by wishing full success to the campaign ECACH has launched in solidarity with the people of Honduras.

Messages from the Frontline

A first hand account of the repression underway in Honduras was given by Katherine Ronderos of the Central America Women’s Network who was recently in Honduras working with organisations for women’s rights, who are now actively part of the growing movement against the coup.

She explained that:

“Zelaya’s government was very supportive of the women’s movement. He introduced different reforms in support of women and children, including free primary education and free meals for children in schools. He appointed a strong and progressive women’s minister in place to champion gender equality, women’s empowerment, sexual health and reproductive rights. She had to go into hiding for several weeks as persecution against Zelaya’s cabinet was in the military agenda. A new minister has been appointed by the de facto regime– a supporter of Opus Dei who is currently working for the suspension of all progress achieved so far for women’s rights, including work to meet the UN millennium development goals."

Katherine described how she had recently witnessed how the coup’s repression was affecting every day life and especially impacting on the poor and vulnerable and that "There are many cases of women being detained and raped by soldiers, but afraid to report these crimes"

She explained that
"Women have been on the front line in resisting the coup regime and demanding the return of peace and democracy, they have organised themselves as a network called ‘Feminists in Resistance’. She ended on a message of hope, describing the incredible bravery of the Honduran people in defiance of brutal repression "I can report that women’s resistance is alive and getting stronger with marches every day in defiance of the coup regime."

An audio message from Agustina Flores, a Honduran women who had been taken prisoner by eight policewomen in September, physically beaten, and charge with sedition for campaigning for the restoration of democracy was warmly received by the audience. In her message she expressed her thanks for “your solidarity and your support for our country, our democracy and our freedom."

Regional Solidarity and the Role of the US

Under President Zelaya, Honduras had joined with ALBA, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, initiated by Venezuela and Cuba, which is based on co-operation and solidarity rather than traditional free trade models. A number of speakers involved in solidarity with these countries addressed the meeting.

Alvaro Sanchez, Counsellor at the Venezuela Embassy explained that the context of the meeting for him as a Venezuelan and Latin American was that

“Two days ago we marked the day of the indigenous people – the day that used to be called the day of the discovery of the Americas. Latin America has 500 years of oppression, colonialism and the struggle of the majority of the population to have a voice. Latin American countries have been under the rule of the US with puppet governments for almost whole of 20th century. “

He added that,

“For the past ten years we have seen popular governments in Latin America giving a voice to the majority of population. Of course this is not well taken by the minority who had held control for so long. What we are seeing with the coup in Honduras is an attempt to bring the country back to the time of colonialism."

He concluded by warning that the need for solidarity was becoming ever more important, pointing out that “US military mobilisation in region is now very strong – setting up seven new military bases in Colombia and patrolling the coastal waters.”

Bernard Regan, Secretary of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, also looked at what Honduras meant for Latin America, and especially the relationship with the Unites States that President Obama had said would be a new start.

He explained that

“It is clear that the events in Honduras are an offensive not just against the people of Honduras but the whole of central and Latin America. It’s about rolling back the gains in Venezuela, Bolivia and elsewhere.”

He told the audience that Otto Reich had recently welcomed the coup as the “first reversal of socialism of the 21st Century”

He explained that so far “we have not seen substantive material changes in the way US relates to Latin America” and that as the US base in Honduras was used to take President Zelaya out of the country then a starting point for this. As the Cuban Government has remarked, “The US should take its military base out of the Honduras that was used to organise the coup.”

Francisco Dominguez, also focussed on the need for pressure on the United States, concluding the meeting by saying that

“Everyone who understands the economic and geopolitics of Honduras knows that if the US withdrew all its support the regime would have no chance of surviving. Over 70% of imports and exports are with the US. The US says imposing sanctions will have no impact but that is given the lie by their blockade of Cuba for the past 50 years that has had such devastating impact”.
He explained that a withdrawal of United States support is the key to ending the coup regime – and this will need to be the focus of solidarity campaigning over forthcoming weeks.

Closing the meeting Karen Mitchell explained that ECACH is planning further solidarity actions in the coming period to coincide with the run-up scheduled “elections” on November 29 as well as to intensify international pressure on US and other governments.