The Open Vein of Honduras

The coup d’etat that removed democratically elected Honduran President Manuel Zelaya from power in 2009 signified the prolongation of the containment policy the United States deployed during the Cold War. Reports on the deposed president being kidnapped by the Honduran army and then flown out of the country in his pajamas sent shockwaves throughout the portion of the western hemisphere that continues to suffer the repercussions caused by foreign financial and military interventions. Within hours, Honduras was taken hostage by the national conservative powers determined to impose a transitional government that would not tolerate its citizens gaining the greater constitutional powers the overthrown head of state was attempting to prepare and deliver. 

On June 28, 2009, Honduras had its open vein drastically and painfully widened by the neocolonial interests of the Honduran capitalist elite and Washington Consensus. This politically motivated coup assured Hondurans that their sovereignty remained subject to the neoliberalist projects the United States, multinational companies, and right-wing Latin American governments are attempting to consolidate throughout the region. This violation of Honduran constitutional governance and its denunciations from the United Nations and Organization of American States assured the region that neoliberal hegemony will not tolerate anti-imperialism nor sovereignty.

But, in order to understand this Honduran golpe de estado, Honduras’ historical place in the Cold War and anti-Communist global crusade must be understood because of the relationship it had already been developing with the United States. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Honduras’ presidential successions were interrupted by transnational companies, such as the United Fruit Company, whose accumulated economic power typically influenced the outcome. However, this was also a period where North American troops would easily be deployed to patrol the streets of Latin America, such as in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. Uncle Sam’s heavily armed soldiers invaded Honduras in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, and 1924. In 2009, the interests of the United States took form of the Honduran military fatigue and the country’s economic elite that fulfilled their unconstitutional deeds.

As the Cold War’s ideological standoff continued to polarize and partition the rest of the world, Honduras was being transformed into a military base of counterrevolutionary operations throughout the late seventies and eighties. Honduras did not experience the civil war its regional neighbors Guatemala and El Salvador had suffered and this factor is what pressured this Central American country to provide the training grounds for military elements assigned to silence anti-Communism and opposition against the United States. The Colossus of the North needed Honduras as a key geopolitical ally in order to traffick military aid to the military government of El Salvador and the Contras in Nicaragua. In return, Honduras’ government received not only economic aid, but had their own internal repression disregarded by a country that sought to exemplify respect for human rights. For example, history often forgets to highlight the cruelty of General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, a graduate from the School of Americas, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Honduran Armed Forces during the eighties. The Battalion 316 was composed of 25 anti-Communist assassins that and designed by Alvarez Martinez to interrogate, torture, and murder leftist and socialist citizens like it was being executed in Argentina and Chile. The people of Honduras will always remember the estimated 184 that were disappeared or assassinated at the hands of this institutional impunity.

As the country experienced a transition back into civilian government, presidents would no longer be military generals but technocrats eager to solidify economic relations with North American capital and international globalization. Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras’ shores in 1998 and was devastating. It not only killed and displaced thousands and set the economy back decades, but also ruined goals of national development. In 2001, Ricardo Maduro Joest is elected to power and becomes notable for signing the country onto the extension of NAFTA, the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), subjugating Honduras to the volatility and unaccountability of regional free markets. As all of this was occurring, Honduras was slowly restoring its democracy while criminal violence was beginning to rise.

The presidential elections of 2006 proved to be one of the closest and most intense races in its short history of democratic elections. Manuel Zelaya’s Liberal Party, defeated Porfirio Lobo Sosa’s National Party, having campaigned among the poorer and rural classes of Honduras, emphasizing his intention to fight against growing organized crime, like his electoral counterparts. However, what infuriated his opposition and elements of his own conservative party was the international relations he sought to establish. Zelaya, a former manager of the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise and Minister of Investment for a previous administration, shocked the region when he restored relations with Cuba and sought regional cooperation with Latin America’s 21st Century Fidel Castro, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias. It was these international acts, along with his minimum wage increase, reforestation projects, and attempts to expropriate land that provoked the United States to monitor in a Cold War style.

As political polarization was intensifying, the disorder in the streets was being taken advantage of not only by the maras, but also by the conservative elite of the country. What made this situation unbearable, was Zelaya’s intention to propose a referendum that was going to ask the country if the government could hold a constituent national assembly that will approve and design a new political constitution. The conservative elite of the country felt threatened by constitutional measures that would enhance the power of the common Honduran people because it was this very political inequality that protected their positions in society. There is a reason why Miguel Facusse, arguably one of the richest Hondurans, was in conversation with elements of Washington and became an outspoken supporter of the golpista president, Roberto Micheletti. Honduras’ private media was quick to compare this constitutional referendum to those proposed and pursued by President Chavez with the sole intention to defame and depict Manuel Zelaya as an aspiring totalitarian that sought to convert Honduras into a Bolivarian state.

During the Cold War, the United States and cooperative military leaders and anti-Communists from Latin America justified their repression of the left and anti-imperialist to prevent another Fidel Castro from taking governmental power. More than a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Roberto Micheletti, the Honduran armed forces and national elite sought to justify this coup d’etat by claiming to have prevented the rise of another Hugo Chavez in Latin America. Thousands of Honduran citizens came out onto to the streets not to simply challenge illegal state order, but in search of the democracy they were slowly reconstructing. Citizens of Honduras marched towards the presidential palace not to simply address their grievances against political instability, but in order to risk their lives finding out who to hold accountable for jeopardizing the democratic governance they wanted developed for their future generations. And yet, the United States became the first country to recognize this not as a golpe de estado, but as a functioning government ready to cooperate with Washington. The FMLN would win the presidential election for the first time this same year as Daniel Ortega’s FSLN was in power. There was no way the United States’ imperialistic agenda would thrive with another Chavista supporter in Central America.

The removal of Manuel Zelaya from power was the political earthquake that deteriorated Honduras into the position it is in today. Since 2009, gang violence has proliferated, peaking in 2013 when San Pedro Sula became renowned as the most dangerous city in the world. The National Party has not prevented Honduras from being recognized as the country, not engaged in war, with the most homicides per inhabitants, reaching above 90 in 2012. With the recent assassination of Berta Caceres, President Juan Orlando Hernandez has also assured the world of his incapability of providing citizen security to the indigenous and women threatened by transnational companies of natural resource extraction. Berta’s murder has captured the international community’s attention and represents the agony of thousands of Hondurans who want an anti-corruption commission to be created without the national government and to hold it accountable for its deadly impunity. Lobo’s and Hernandez’s National Party claimed they would be the party to lower gang violence and develop Honduras, but not without militarizing the country with unaccountable military forces receiving financial aid form the United States. The exodus of Honduran children, single mothers, and those fleeing gang violence and political persecution should be assuring the United States of the need to end military aid, strengthen and monitor human right conditionalities on their international relations with Honduras, and understand that Hondurans are refugees fleeing from a murderous government and senseless gang members.

As a citizen of the United States, but son of a Honduran migrant who has not yet visited Honduras, I can only echo what I have read through books and heard from family members about the current conditions in Honduras. I am privileged in being able to address the United States government and public about how devastating this country’s continous military aid is to my father’s country because so many of my fellow Hondurans either do not make it here or are still in pursuit of arriving to the very empire that approved of their country’s political collapse.
In his introduction to Open Veins of Latin America, Eduardo Galeano says “Latin America is the region of open veins. Everything, from the discovery until our times, has always been transmuted into European – or later the United States – capital, and as such has accumulated in distant centers of power”. The United States’ United Fruit Company allowed it to exert political influence at the beginning of the twentieth century. About 100 years later, the United States maintained this imperialistic power and deployed it by financing particular military elements and through the support gained by the national elite that remains in true control of Honduras. Its veins continue being attended and cared to by the Lenca resisting privatization projects, the university students defending public education, and the Honduran people desiring the restoration of their constitutional government and sovereignty. The way in which this country has been ruled since the coup should serve to prove that the Cold War has not ended in Central America.

*I apologize for not being able to name the photographer who took this picture.