[News] Toppling a Coup, Part II: The Honduras Regime Is Like an Onion
news at freedomarchives.org
Sun Aug 9 12:52:06 EDT 2009
Toppling a Coup, Part II: The Honduras Regime Is Like an Onion
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 detat, 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 ones 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 wont be quoting or
identifying the participants, who represented
labor, campesinos, students, artists,
neighborhood, and other organizations throughout
the country. But with Marovichs 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.
We learned the hard way how to defeat our dictatorship.
In 1991, the first big demonstrations were held.
We didnt 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 didnt
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 didnt 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 wasnt 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.
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 regimes
onion very similar to the current situation in
Honduras - was the worldwide perception that it
had firm control over the country and its
population. Its 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, its 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, Shifters
agenda is to prop up the Honduran coup regime by
making it seem like it cant 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 wasnt 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
systems 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 isnt 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
Zelaya from the country at gunpoint on June 28
Economist Alcides Hernandez, director of the
Tegucigalpa- based <http://www.unah.hn/>National
Autonomous Universitys economics program,
estimates the crisis is costing the country $20
million daily in lost trade, aid, tourism and investment.
I dont 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.
Weve 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 dont study the game,
they dont listen, they dont do community
organizing themselves, and so they dont
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
regimes 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.
Its 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 nations 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 industrys 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 Zelayas
vice president until last December when he
stepped down to be his partys 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 systems 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 cant 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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