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The Road to Zelaya’s Return: Money, Guns and Social Movements in Honduras


Nearly three months after being overthrown by a violent military coup, Honduran president Manuel Zelaya has returned to Honduras. "I am here in Tegucigalpa. I am here for the restoration of democracy, to call for dialogue," he told reporters. The embattled road to his return tested regional diplomacy, challenged Washington and galvanized Honduran social movements.

 

During a recent beach-side interview, with tropical breezes blowing along a sandy shore in the background, Honduran coup leader Roberto Michelleti told a Fox News reporter, "This is a quiet country, and a happy country."(1) However, since Michelleti took over on June 28, Honduras been anything but quiet and content.

 

Michelleti’s de-facto regime has ruled the country with an iron fist while popular movements for democracy have gained steam with nearly constant strikes, road blockades and massive street protests. The coup inspired a movement that is now seeking more than just the reinstatement of Zelaya, but the transformation of the country through a new constitution. Michelleti says presidential elections in November will proceed as planned, though few Hondurans, governments and international institutions say they will recognize the results given the violent situation in the country.

 

At least 11 anti-coup activists have been killed since Zelaya was ousted.(2) Following the coup, approximately 1,500 people have been jailed for political purposes, and many Zelaya supporters have been beaten.(3) Via Campesina offices have been attacked, and the Feminists of Honduras in Resistance said that there have been 19 documented cases of rape by police officers since the coup took place.(4) The newspaper El Tiempo reported that armed groups in Colombia have been recruiting demobilized paramilitaries for mercenary work in Honduras. Honduras business leaders are hiring these paramilitaries for their own private security.(5)

 

Though Zelaya was a relatively moderate president, his policies challenged the elite enough to inspire a right wing coup. While in office, he passed a 60% increase in minimum wage, bringing income up from around $6 a day to $9.60 a day.(6) Zelaya also gave subsidies to small farmers, cut bank interest rates and reduced poverty.(7) Salvador Zuniga, a leader of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) said, "One of the things that provoked the coup d’etat was that the president accepted a petition from the feminist movement regarding the day-after pill. Opus Dei mobilized, the fundamentalist evangelical churches mobilized, along with all the reactionary groups."(8)

 

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