Tucked into a narrow strip of land between Guatemala and Nicaragua, this has been Honduras’ summer of discontent. In the early hours of Sunday June 28, 2009, members of the Honduran armed forces stormed the home of democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya and forcibly removed him to Costa Rica. In the months that followed, the Organization of American States called for “the immediate and unconditional return” of Zelaya, members of the coup regime have had travel visa’s revoked by the United States, and allegations of human rights abuse continue to surface.
While political unrest in Central America may appear as ‘business as usual.’ The Canadian government and economic interests have maintained our nation in a state of quiet complicity with this illegal regime. Despite the Canadian government’s official condemnation of the coup, their actions and words reveal a different story, as discussed by Peter Kent, the Minister of State of Foreign Affairs for the Americas, in an interview on July 29 with CBC radio’s The Current. Kent said the coup was “illegal and must be reversed . . . [although] Canada does recognize the context which preceded the coup . . . The Supreme Court and the Congress of Honduras had acted within the constitutional framework of that country up to the moment that the army actually arrested and expelled President Zelaya.” Essentially, the Canadian government is attaching clauses which validate the motivations and actions of the coup regime, a view that Rights Action, a social justice group active in Central America, called “irresponsibly equivocal.”
Canada’s interest in the outcome of the situation in Honduras is underpinned by immense economic interest in the region. Montreal based company, Gildan Activewear, employs thousands of people in Honduras. In order to maintain their membership in the Fair Labour Association, Gildan issued a 2003 statement that they had contracted out t-shirt manufacturing in Honduras to a sweatshop with a record of mandatory shifts longer than the legal maximum. It serves to reason that Gildan was not impressed when Zelaya raised the minimum wage in Honduras by 60 per cent (to around US $5 per day). A Gildan spokesperson was quoted that their “goal is to continue to drive down costs in order to meet an expected challenge from cheap Chinese and other imports,” in discussing their interest in the Central American textile industry. This also begs the question as to why Gildan is pulling out of Honduras at the end of September, when the lease on their El Progreso assembly plant runs out, leaving 1,800 individuals unemployed.
Gildan isn’t the only Canadian company that has found trouble under the Zelaya regime. Canadian mining giant Goldcorp Inc. has had its share. Entremares, a subsidiary of Goldcorp, was fined around US $55,000 by the Zelaya government for engaging in environmentally damaging activities. Goldcorp’s complicity with the coup is more brazen than others. Reports claim that Goldcorp has been busing workers from its Siria Valley mining operation to pro-coup marches in Tegucigalpa, and even paying them upwards of US $20 to attend (around four times their daily wage). This is keeping in mind that Goldcorp uses its profits to finance programs in business law, science and geology at the Universities of British Columbia, Toronto and Ottawa.
As students across Canada step back into the classroom, the International Monetary Fund just announced that the coup government will be receiving a $150 million bailout; a bailout that will likely be drawing from the $10 billion borrowing agreement the IMF signed in early July with the Canadian government. Canadian taxpayer money could end up directly financing a government our own leaders have declared illegal.
Noam Chomsky stated that “we bear responsibility for what governments do in the world, primarily our own.” Now is the time for Canadians to step up and take responsibility for what is being done in our name in Honduras and around the world.
Response: Tyrants deserve to fall
To call the ousting of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya a “military coup” is inaccurate. The actions of the Honduran army, while perhaps illegal, were necessary and justified. Zelaya, though he was elected democratically, was determined to consolidate power and to dismantle the checks and balances that preserve a democratic state. He is a petty tyrant in the vein of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. In fact, it is these two autocrats who have been the strongest supporters of Zelaya and the most opposed to his removal from power.
Zelaya was determined to hold a referendum – though he claims it was an “opinion poll” – to change the constitution, a move that would have increased his own powers.
Like all tyrants, Zelaya had little respect for his country’s Congress and Supreme Court. When the Honduran Supreme Court ruled the vote unconstitutional, and Congress began discussing his impeachment, he called on the army to carry out the poll.
Instead the army turned on him, forcing him out of the country.
So lets take stock: Zelaya violated his country’s constitution, attempted to defy the will of Congress and the Supreme Court, and attempted a palace coup. The military showed enormous restraint for a “coup,” they did not seize power, they did not kill the president or hold a show trial. Instead they merely forced him out of the country, maintaining the power of the elected representatives of the Honduran people and Supreme Court.
Certainly the image of a democratically elected leader being forced out of office is not good – let alone when it’s the first “military coup” in the Americas since the end of the Cold War. But the appeasement of Zelaya by the Organization of American States and the United States (and to an extent, Canada) is the worst kind of realpolitik style pondering. The kind of thing that would make Henry Kissinger proud. It had nothing to do with legality or right and wrong.