[News] Toppling a Coup, Part II: The Honduras Regime Is Like an Onion

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Sun Aug 9 12:52:06 EDT 2009

Toppling a Coup, Part II: The Honduras Regime Is Like an Onion

Posted by 
Giordano - August 8, 2009 at 11:39 am

By Al Giordano

In three decades of organizing or reporting on 
social movements, one develops a very good memory 
of which of them won their battles, which were 
defeated, and what made the difference between 
those that won and those that lost.

If it could be boiled down to a single factor it 
would be this: In victorious struggles, a 
critical mass of the organizers arm themselves to 
think strategically and act tactically to isolate and defeat their opponent.

They learn from experience that the power 
structure that props up the enemy – be it a 
government, a particular corporation or an entire 
political-economic system – is shaped like an 
onion, and they set about methodically to 
identify, target and peel away the rings of protection around its core.

In this, Part II of a series on how the Honduran 
people are toppling a coup d’etat, I will 
identify the rings around the coup regime. The 
lines between each ring represent the cracks and 
potential divisions of the coup structure. And as 
with an onion, it is often easiest to begin with 
the outer rings and peel one’s way down to the 
core, a tiny stub that without those rings 
becomes vulnerable, unprotected, and quickly rots in the sunlight.

As preface, here is some sage advice, offered in 
Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Friday evening, July 
31, by Serbian resistance veteran Ivan Marovich, 
invited to speak to a closed door group of key 
sectors of the Honduran civil resistance held at 
the Beverage Workers union hall (SITBYS, in its Spanish initials).

Because this was a private meeting – a crew from 
Telesur and I were invited to attend on the 
condition that we did not record the meeting on 
audio or videotape – I won’t be quoting or 
identifying the participants, who represented 
labor, campesinos, students, artists, 
neighborhood, and other organizations throughout 
the country. But with Marovich’s permission, I 
will quote from my notes from his words there 
over the course of three-and-a-half hours.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should 
also inform that organizers called upon me to 
translate for Marovich during the latter part of 
the meeting. The session went on for so long, 
with rapt attention by all participants, that the 
translators needed a relief pitcher. For those 
parts, I obviously do not have written notes, so 
will borrow from my notes of other presentations 
and interviews with Marovich conducted on 
Saturday and Sunday, August 1 and 2, as well my own interviews with him.

By way of introduction, Marovich summarized the 
story of the decade-long struggle in Serbia to 
bring down the regime of dictator Slobodan 
Milosevic in a country of seven million people, 
roughly the same size as Honduras. The ultimate 
goal of the Serbian civil resistance – a new 
constitution – was the same as that almost 
universally expressed by the many Honduras civil 
resistance participants interviewed last week by Narco News.

Marovich began:

We learned the hard way how to defeat our dictatorship.

In 1991, the first big demonstrations were held. 
We didn’t pay attention to discipline or 
strategic planning, and it was all over in six 
hours. The regime brought tanks into the streets 
and put thousands in jail. Leaders were beaten up 
and disappeared. It took us five years to recover 
from that. Meanwhile, the war in Bosnia was raging.

In 1996 we made our next attempt. We held 
demonstrations daily for 123 days, for four 
months. This time we were better at discipline.

We discovered that the regime was not monolithic. 
In the military there were many conscripts.

The police were highly militarized. They didn’t 
fight crime. Their only purpose was to protect the regime.

And there were the secret police, the death squads: small but scary.

In our case the military was not really a problem 
because it had normal people in it.

The police were called militia. Serbia had seven 
million people and 100,000 national policemen.

We knew that if there was somebody that could 
crack down and destroy us, it was the secret 
police.So we spent four months trying to avoid 
the police, trying to avoid any kind of 
confrontation with the police. We had gone from a 
demonstration of just six hours in 1991 to be 
able to sustain them for four months in 1996. But we still didn’t win.

Two years later was the third intent. This time 
we did it. We learned how to do it over a long period of time.

Our conflict was not resolved in a frontal clash 
and it wasn’t resolved in a standoff. In the end, 
there were three principles that carried us to victory.

One: We had to maintain our unity and expand our 
movement: We had a broad coalition from left to 
right, and often the divisions were among those 
that were closest to each other ideologically. On 
the right we had some monarchists that wanted a 
return of monarchy, but they came in two groups 
that fought over which dynasty they supported. On 
the left, the communists that had supported Tito 
and now were with us were divided in two main groups.

We wanted a new constitution and we avoided 
details about what it would say. That was 
important because lots of energy was lost debates 
before that over what the new constitution would say.

Two: Organization and discipline were key. Unions 
and political parties were using their 
organizational potential in civil disobedience: 
strikes, blockades, and boycotts. Each did the thing they were best at doing.

We, the students, were mainly involved in street 
activities: university blockades and strikes.

The transport workers were the best at organizing 
blockades because with a single bus they could close a route.

We worked with the structures of existing 
organizations and they were responsible for 
maintaining the nonviolent discipline of their members.

Three: We had a strategic action plan: We wanted 
to isolate Milosevic. We set about to peel away 
people who were crucial for his remaining in 
office. There were divisions in the regime, of 
personalities and from the greed of some of its supporters.

That third point, the goal to “peel away” the 
layers of support or silent consent for the 
Serbian regime, describes the onion concept.

Marovich elaborated:

As long as the regime felt it was being attacked 
from outside, they hung together. So we carefully picked objects for attack.

In the end, everybody except five people around 
Milosevic abandoned him. It took us a long time to get to that point.

We also looked at where the opponent was weak. We 
studied which institutions had the least loyalty 
to the regime, and also which could be the most dangerous to our efforts.

Milosevic kept elite troops. They had been 
through five years of the war in Bosnia. This was 
a force that killed 8,000 people in five days.

But in the end, in 2000, the police units fell 
one after another. The different police agencies 
and units didn't say, "We won't follow orders." They just said, "We'll wait."

On the final day, the death squads circled our 
demonstrations with their jeeps. Then they said, 
"We're with the people. Milosevic has to go.”

The Onion Skin: The Luster of Inevitability

One of the outer layers of the Serbian regime’s 
onion – very similar to the current situation in 
Honduras - was the worldwide perception that it 
had firm control over the country and its 
population. It’s the “inevitability factor,” and 
considerable sectors of global and national 
opinion, business interests, blow-in-the-wind 
politicians and parts of society that simply want 
to be left alone and favor a climate of the least 
conflict possible, will generally side with, or 
at least silently provide consent to, the party 
in the conflict that appears to be in control.

A great part of the spin and lobbying in the 
media on behalf of the coup is designed to 
reinforce the idea that the regime equals the 
status quo, that whatever discomfort one might 
have with its actions, it’s still fully in charge and therefore always will be.

An example of that kind of spin came last week 
from the always-shifty Michael Shifter of the 
Inter American Dialogue in Washington, one of 
these “Latin Americanist experts” whose job is to 
give sound bites to commercial media that seem 
objective but that always tend to reveal a 
pro-status-quo agenda. In this case, Shifter’s 
agenda is to prop up the Honduran coup regime by 
making it seem like it can’t be toppled. His 
words to the 
Street Journal, when seen through the lens of the 
inevitability factor, are nakedly intended to 
influence that outer layer of the onion, the part 
that simply wants to “be with the winner.” He said:

"In Honduras, Washington's wavering will be seen 
as a sign that the government can wait it out 
until the elections and that the costs they are 
bearing for international isolation, while 
considerable, are preferable to the risks of 
allowing Zelaya to return, even for a limited 
time and with his authority curtailed.”

That echoes exactly what was the spin from many 
officialist quarters back in the 1990s regarding 
the Serbian regime; that it would be able to 
“hang on” despite international isolation. And 
now that play from the playbook is being repeated 
to spin and influence the outer reaches of the 
onion structure that supports or acquiesces to the Honduras coup.

During the public meeting on Saturday, August 1, 
Marovich shared with the Hondurans how his 
movement set about to successfully disarm that 
inevitability factor that had worked to prop up the dictator Milosevic:

The response we got from the world, including the 
US, for eight years was "we don't care. He's in charge."

Our task was to demonstrate that he was not in charge.

Instead of arguing about legitimacy, we aimed to show that it wasn't working.

We started with the weakest institutions, feeding 
divisions. We tried to improve our unity and 
divide theirs. Milosevic, for his part, tried to create division in our ranks.

The “dilemma actions” that we described in 
I of this series were the knife with which the 
Serbian civil resistance peeled away that outer 
skin's luster of perceived inevitability from the 
regime. The resistance actions, one after 
another, often daily, pounded away at a greater 
truth: that the regime really wasn’t in control, 
that it was bumbling, stupid, bureaucratically 
calcified, unable to react to provocations 
effectively or intelligently, and cumulative 
effect of many of those individual creative 
dilemma actions was to significantly erode the 
myth that the dictator was really in charge.

Specific to Honduras, the obsession in the 
corporate media and the First World academic left 
alike with the circus up above among politicians 
and nations – even though the two sectors see 
themselves on opposite sides of the Honduran 
struggle – has served only to reinforce the 
system’s spin of inevitability of the coup 
regime. For forty days and forty nights now, this 
tandem team of right-left messaging has sung in 
harmony, not authentic opposition, and has used 
up much of the oxygen and attention that the 
civil resistance from below in Honduras needs to 
demonstrate that the coup regime really isn’t in control.

Yet as anyone can observe from our own reports – 
focused on what is happening not up above, but on 
the ground, among the people – and those of a 
precious few other authentic media, the reality 
is that the coup regime has never established 
control over the population. It is in fact in a 
tailspin. This was objectively 
yesterday by the Bloomberg agency, which looked 
at the economic indicators in Honduras.

<http://www.bch.hn/adminsup.php>central bank cut 
its economic outlook today, predicting a 
contraction of as much as 2 percent as the global 
slump and a political crisis curtail trade and tourism.

The $14.1 billion economy will shrink 1 percent 
to 2 percent this year, compared with a previous 
estimate for growth of as much as 3 percent

Consumer spending, exports and inflows of tourism 
dollars have all declined since the military 
removed President 
Zelaya from the country at gunpoint on June 28

Economist Alcides Hernandez, director of the 
Tegucigalpa- based <http://www.unah.hn/>National 
Autonomous University’s economics program, 
estimates the crisis is costing the country $20 
million daily in lost trade, aid, tourism and investment.

“I don’t know how long the Micheletti government 
can resist international pressure,” Hernandez 
said. “If they start blocking trade too, a 
country as poor as ours would quickly buckle.”

We’ve all met those fans of a particular sports 
team that yell from the bleachers or the 
Barcalounger that they want a home run or a 
touchdown pass, not content to see their baseball 
team instead methodically set up players on base 
with singles and double hits, or their football 
team's running game that slowly marches the ball 
down the field. Those that put all their 
attention in the basket of hoping sanctions from 
a single foreign government will be that “Hail 
Mary pass” in Honduras are no different than 
those armchair quarterbacks of sportsdom. On a 
fundamental level, they don’t study the game, 
they don’t listen, they don’t do community 
organizing themselves, and so they don’t 
understand how victories really are constructed 
with strategy and tactics on the field.

This series of essays is obviously for you: those 
that do study, that do listen, that do understand 
or want to know how history is really made to happen from below.

The Second Ring: The Honduran Economy

The Bloomberg estimate of $20 million dollars in 
losses per day as a result of the coup and its 
consequences on the Honduran economy, if 
continued for a year, adds up to $7.3 billion – 
fully half of Honduras’ $14.1 billion national 
economy without a single additional international 
sanction heaped upon it. Even if that $20 million 
per day figure is exaggerated, there's no doubt 
that the economic hit is sufficient enough to 
cause attitude adjustments among those whose pockets are emptying.

And that brings us to the next layer of the coup 
regime’s onion: its support from business 
interests, including among the oligarchy of a few 
families that has historically controlled so much 
of the ownership, wealth and political power in Honduras.

It’s no secret that the business community in 
Honduras backed the central push behind the coup 
and remains its foundation. Coup “president” 
Roberto Micheletti virtually admitted it on July 
29 when he told reporters that although he could 
see his way to agree to the San Andrés proposal 
that Zelaya could return “with limited powers,” 
the business community, he said, would never tolerate it.

With that statement, Micheletti fell into a kind 
of trap. He admitted that he is not in control, 
that the real power is economic, that of the oligarchy.

Truth is, Micheletti has the ultimate power over 
whether he stays or resigns as coup “president.” 
Yet it is also true that he is subjugated in 
every way by the economic powers in his country 
(including the multinational corporations that 
have sweatshops, agribusiness and other interests there).

As we will demonstrate, Micheletti himself, along 
with the nation’s Supreme Court, make up the 
smallest inner stub of the coup onion. They will 
be the last to fall, and it will come because the 
civil resistance will peel the outer layers away 
from them, leaving them unprotected.

Already the important tourist industry, 
particularly along the northern coast of 
Honduras, are voicing discontent with how the 
coup has turned their hotels, restaurants and 
attractions into ghost towns, with only a very 
small cadre of year-round expats and other 
tourists to toss them a few lempiras or dollars. 
One of the stakes in the tourism industry’s heart 
came from the regime itself in the form of 
military enforced curfews over the past 40 days 
and nights, choking the bars, clubs, restaurants, 
entertainers and workers that were shut out of 
their paychecks by it. Resentment is building 
against the regime to the extreme that whatever 
these interests thought of President Manuel 
Zelaya, the objective truth is that they did 
better when he was in power than they have since the coup arrived.

A great many of these businesses are facing 
complete destruction and bankruptcy already. 
Flights into Honduras from other lands are, on 
average, more than half empty, whereas flights 
out of the country are, on average, full with 
those Hondurans who can afford to escape this 
disaster-in-process fleeing the scene of the 
crime. This economic problem will continue to 
compound and deepen every day that the civil 
resistance keeps up its fight, reminding the 
country and the world that Honduras has not 
returned to normalcy (further suppressing tourism 
and non-criminal investment), and the best, most 
objective indicators of that are economic.

The Third Ring: The Political Class

Claims of unanimous support on both sides of the 
coup conflict are becoming unraveled. 
Internationally, the unanimity in opposition to 
the coup has weakened from Ottawa to Washington 
to San Andrés to Panamá City to México City to 
Bogotá. These are the focal points of the 
authoritarian hyper-capitalist right in the 
hemisphere, and those with their gaze fixed at 
the circus up above are mainly watching that indicator.

But the same is happening inside the Honduran 
political system that, at first, unanimously 
endorsed the coup (including with a specious 
claim that the Honduran Congress had 
“unanimously” voted in a session that, it has 
since been revealed, locked out dozens of 
legislators that it knew would oppose the coup).

This fracture is probably fatal to the Liberal 
Party, which along with the National Party makes 
up the simulacrum of a “two party system” in 
Honduras. Both Micheletti and Zelaya were elected 
to Congress and to the Presidency, respectively, as Liberal Party candidates.

But the 2009 Liberal Party presidential 
candidate, Elvin Santos, who had been Zelaya’s 
vice president until last December when he 
stepped down to be his party’s nominee for 
president this year, is now claiming that he 
never supported the coup and that he backs the 
San Andrés agreement. His problem is that nobody, 
absolutely nobody, believes him in that claim. 
And yet it is a clear indication that the 
political system’s previous united support for the coup has become unglued.

On August 5, 
reported that Santos now sings a different tune:

"I will go to all corners of the country to 
explain that I was in no way a part of the events 
of June 28," Santos said on Channel 5's "Face to Face" show.

"The huge mistake was taking him (Zelaya) out of 
the country and leaving him defenseless," said 
Santos, whose Liberal Party includes both Zelaya 
and the man who replaced him, Roberto Micheletti.

Santos is what we call in Latin America “un 
pendejo con iniciativa” – a pendejo with 
initiative - which can be loosely translated as 
an idiot who can’t help but remind everyone of 
how weak and stupid he is with his loud 
protestations and bumbling actions to the contrary.

This was most clearly demonstrated on that same 
August 5, when he had the temerity to bring his 
campaign to the National Autonomous University.

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