The liberal majority and small businesspeople are against the coup regime

It has been 51days since the coup ousted President Manuel Zelaya; Carlos Eduardo Reina, member of the Liberal Party and leader of the Coordinating Committee of Liberals Against the Coup, states that President Zelaya has support from 70% of liberal party members across the country. He says that the liberal bases reject the parlamentarians from the same political tendency who betrayed the President and that they will eventually be expelled from the party, beginning with coup leader Roberto Micheletti and those in his inner circle. In this interview we discuss several key themes such as political fragmentation, opposition to the de facto regime among small and medium business sectors, internal problems within the Armed Forces, and the Coordinating Committee’s position on the question of elections. Under normal circumstances, the official electoral campaign would begin on August 29th

How fragmented are the traditional political parties right now, in particular the Liberal Party, since the coup on June 28th
Since the coup, divisions within the country are greatest at the political level. For its part, the National Party is entirely on side with the coup, so it was not divided. But the leadership of the Liberal Party turned out to be on side with the coup as well, while its bases across the country condemn the coup and support President Zelaya. So, we have been organizing liberals against the coup. This organization was a spontaneous and immediate response to the coup and has received the support of leaders from all over the country, in the 18 departments and 298 municipalities. It is heavily consolidated. 

What does such political fragmentation mean for the de facto government that would like to demonstrate how well it has consolidated its own power?

The state’s power is sustained only with support from the armed forces and through repression. This is a typical of a government that, faced with a revolutionary situation, is only sustained by force and ever increasing repression against its people. We hope that President Zelaya is reinstated in power before the repressed people begin to respond with revolutionary measures that will lead to bloodshed in the country, which as leaders of the front against the resistance and of the liberals against the coup, we need to avoid. Because the blood of no Honduran should flow in order to re-establish peace in the country. (1) We want to do this in peace, through demonstrations and marches that are singularly peaceful.

Could you comment about your allies within the business sector? 

There are several groups, but they do not include big business. Big business, almost in its entirety, is with the coup. It is the small and medium business person that sees danger in the coup because the oligarchy that funded it would like to take control over all business within the country, and create enclaves, making small and medium businesses – that are really what sustain Honduras’ economy – uncompetitive. 

What impacts have small and medium business sectors suffered as a result of the coup? 

The first impacts take place when neighbouring countries close their borders. If you recall, the first week after the coup: the borders were closed. Generally, what travels across those borders are goods and merchandise that small and medium sized businesses sell and trade. That’s the first impact. The second impact is when regional exchange is restricted and remittances drop. Where do people buy things? They buy them in the local market, and the local market has been depressed as a result of measures that have been taken at the international level. 

All the while, big business is digging in and dividing up state contracts amongst themselves. They invested in the coup and so they expect their investments to reap profits of a thousand, two thousand or five thousand percent. 

How many small and medium businesses are there in the country? 

There are about 50,000 small and medium business people. That is a lot of people. They are the owners of small shops in the municipalities, of small neighbourhood pharmacies, and of small commercial centres in each community. There are a lot of them. They are coffee growers, corn producers and producers of all sorts of other things. This is small scale industry in Honduras. This is what generates the capital that circulates in the country. These are the profits that make the economy grow. Because the oligarchy in Honduras do not keep their money in Honduras. They send their money away. As a result, it is necessary to break up the oligarchy because a million lempiras (1 lempira is equivalent to approximately 18 US dollars) in the hands of one hundred mid-sized business people is better than a million lempiras in the hands of one business person who will put their money in a bank in the US or Switzerland. The small business person will invest their money in their business and generate more economic activity in the country such that the economy will grow. 

Are these business people organized and have they taken a position with regard to the coup? 

They are organized, but they are afraid. If they are outspoken at the moment, they could feel the full force of the state tax collector and things could take place that would damage their businesses. We have seen tremendous repression in the country. The things that we have observed during the last 51 days, we have never seen in the history of Honduras. Even during periods of military governments and during the dictatorship of the 30s and 40s, the repression did not reach the extremes that it is reaching today because this regime can only sustain itself by force. If the army were to withdraw its support from Micheletti today, his government would not last 20 minutes. 

So, beyond the people that we see each day in the streets, would you say that there is more broad, diffuse support for the National Front Against the Coup amongst the population? 

Definitely. If you look at the range of demonstrators, they are from diverse social sectors, diverse living conditions. There are people from both middle and lower class households. We have public employees, small producers, store clerks. They represent a broad social base in the country.

How solid is the support of the Armed Forces for the coup regime?

The Armed Forces have serious problems at the moment. They have about 200 soldiers and officials who are being held prisoner within the battalions because they have not accepted and carried out orders to repress. They have an internal crisis. And that crisis is evident in the debate within National Congress to reinstate obligatory military service. It means that they do not have enough capacity. They are contracting private security guards to help contain and maintain their supposed sense of order. But they do not have enough capacity. Also, the army has never been organized and trained to defend the country. All they have done since they were established is strike against the poor, carry out coups against the state and carry on illicit businesses, covering up for drug-trafficking. This is what the Honduran military has always done. 

There are five generals and they divide $250 million lempiras between them. What does this leave for the next rank of officials? What are the lieutenant, the captain, and the major thinking? If these generals withdraw, in what state will things be left? What will happen? What will happen with them? To the institution? The Honduran people are saying that the army should be abolished. It is their responsibility now, they control their troops. And they should know that if they do not reverse the coup that the army will disappear in Honduras because the people will not tolerate it anymore. 

What needs to happen for constitutional order to be re-established and where does the pressure need to come from?

President Zelaya has to come back. [Pressure] needs to come from inside and outside. The Arias plan is what the North Americans have been betting on. But if the coup leaders do not sign the plan, President Obama has said that he will begin to take stronger measures. In the meantime, the United Nations are discussing another resolution this week in order to give an ultimatum to the de facto government such that if Manuel Zelaya is not reinstated by September 1st, the electoral process will not be recognized by any country in the world. These are escalating pressure tactics. 

And will the Liberals against the coup participate in the elections if Zelaya does not return? 

No. As long as Zelaya does not return, we will not support the electoral process. If Manuel Zelaya is not here, the electoral process is not reliable because they will not allow a political campaign to take place. They will do what they like with the ballot boxes because the world will not be watching.

- Jennifer Moore is an independent Canadian journalist writing from Honduras for ALAI and FEDAEPS.

(1)  Author’s note: Blood has already been spilled. At least ten deaths have been registered that can be demonstrated to be related to aggression by the armed forces against the resistance opposed to coup. More than 150 people have also been subject to maltreatment and other forms of violations of the right to personal integrity.

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