Even a close observer of the Canadian press would know almost nothing about the ongoing demonstrations, blockades and work stoppages calling for the return of elected President Manuel Zelaya. Since Zelaya was overthrown by the military on June 28 the majority of teachers in Honduras have been on strike. Recently, health workers, air traffic controllers and taxi drivers have also taken job action against the coup. In response the military sent troops to oversee airports and hospitals across the country.
For more than a week protesters from all corners of the country walked 20 km a day and on Tuesday tens of thousands of demonstrators converged on the country’s two biggest cities, San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. These demonstrations prompted the de facto regime to reimpose a curfew in the capital, which had been in effect in the weeks after the coup.
This resistance – taking place under the threat of military repression – has gone almost entirely unreported by leading Canadian media. So has Canada’s tacit support for the coup.
Last Tuesday the ousted Honduran Foreign Affairs Minister told TeleSur that Canada and the US were providing "oxygen" to the military government. Picked up by numerous Spanish language newspapers, Patricia Rodas called on Canada and the US to suspend aid to the de facto regime.
During an official visit to Mexico with Zelaya last week, Rodas asked Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who was about to meet Harper and Obama, to lobby Ottawa and Washington on their behalf. "We are asking [Calderon] to be an intermediary for our people with the powerful countries of the world, for example, the US and at this moment Canada, which have lines of military and economic support with Honduras."
To my knowledge, no Canadian media reported Rodas’ comments. Nor did any Canadian media mention that Canada’s ambassador to Costa Rica, Neil Reeder, met coup officials in Tegucigalpa last week. The Canadian media has also ignored the fact that Canada is the only major donor to Honduras yet to sever any aid to the military government.
Latin American (and to a lesser extent US) media have covered Ottawa’s tacit support for the coup more closely than the Globe and Mail, Ottawa Citizen and most of the rest of the Canadian media. When Zelaya tried to fly into Tegucigalpa a week after the coup Canada’s minister for the Americas, Peter Kent, told the Organization of American the "time is not right" for a return. The New York Times ran two different articles that mentioned Canada’s anti- Zelaya position while Bloomberg published another. Many Latin American news agencies also printed stories about the Conservative government’s position, however, the Canadian media was uninterested.
A few weeks later Zelaya attempted to cross into Honduras by land from Nicaragua. Kent once again criticized this move. "Canada’s Kent Says Zelaya Should Wait Before Return to Honduras," read a July 20 Bloomberg headline. A July 25 right-wing Honduran newspaper blared: "Canadá pide a Zelaya no entrar al país hasta llegar a un acuerdo" (Canada asks Zelaya not to enter the country until there’s a negotiated solution).
After publishing a number of articles about Ottawa’s position in the hours and days after the coup, Mexican news agency Notimex did a piece that summarized something this author wrote for rabble.ca. Then on July 26 Notimex wrote about the Canadian Council for International Cooperation’s demand that Ottawa take a more firm position against the coup. Both of these articles were published (at least online) by a number of major Spanish-language newspapers.
Finally, a month after the coup there was a small breakthrough into Canada’s dominant media. A sympathetic producer at CBC radio’s The Current provided space for Graham Russell from Rights Action, a Canadian group with a long history in Honduras, to criticize Ottawa’s handling of the coup. Unfortunately, Russell’s succinct comments were followed by the CBC interviewer’s kid gloves treatment of Minister Peter Kent. Still, the next day the Canadian Press revealed that Ottawa refused to exclude Honduras from its Military Training Assistance Program, a program rabble.ca reported on days after the coup.
Uninterested in the Conservative government’s machinations, the Canadian media is even less concerned with the corporations that may be influencing Ottawa’s policy towards Honduras. Rights Action has uncovered highly credible information that Vancouver-based Goldcorp provided buses to the capital, Tegucigalpa, and cash to former employees who rallied in support of the coup. As far as I can tell, the Halifax Chronicle Herald is the only major Canadian media outlet that has mentioned this connection between the world’s second biggest gold producer and the coup.
Under pressure from the Maquila Solidarity Network, two weeks ago Nike, Gap, and another US-based apparel company operating in Honduras released a statement calling for the restoration of democracy. With half of its operations in the country Montréal-based Gildan activewear, the world’s largest blank T-shirt maker, refused to sign this statement. According to company spokesperson Genevieve Gosselin, Gildan employs more than 11,000 people in Honduras. Without a high-profile brand name Gildan is particularly dependent on producing T-shirts and socks at the lowest cost possible and presumably the company opposed Zelaya’s move to increase the minimum wage by 60% at the start of the year. Has Gildan actively supported the coup like Goldcorp? It is hard to know since there has yet to be any serious investigation of the company’s recent activities in the country.
The Canadian media’s coverage of the coup demonstrates the importance of independent media. We need to support news outlets willing to challenge the powerful.
Yves Engler is the author of the recently released The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy and other books. the book is available at blackbook.foreignpolicy.ca If you are interested in helping to organize an event as part of the second leg of a book tour in late September please contact: [email protected]