|Graffiti in Tegucigalpa, 2010. Photo: Allison Kielhold|
On Saturday, ousted Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya returned to his country after signing a conditional agreement with current President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo. The agreement will allow Zelaya free political participation and Honduras reentry into the Organization of American States.
In late June, 2009, Zelaya awoke to soldiers baring guns, handcuffs, and an order to arrest him by the nation's then-military leader, Lobo. He was pulled out of bed in his pajamas and forced onto a plane bound for Costa Rica. On that very same morning was the vote on a national referendum to hold a constitutional convention, a ballot measure that had outstanding public support.
A year after the military coup, in July, 2010, I arrived in Tegucigalpa, Honduras's capital, with the United Methodist organization Sierra Service Project. There, we helped construct two homes for families in the slum of Fuerzas Unidas, which sits on a hillside overlooking the city. We also met with local religious groups, economists, human rights groups, and peasant farmers to learn about the country and its people, of which 68.9% live in crippling poverty and seemingly endless exploitation.
If they report it at all online (New York Times has nothing after the 23rd, Huffington Post has one whole sentence and Fox News has six), media publications paint the coup as a misguided attempt at corralling an out-of-control head of state. This perspective is correct in a dark, sinister way.
The coup was misguided in that it overthrew a democratically elected representative who had widespread popular support. Zelaya was out of control in that he sought to reform both domestic and foreign policy to better reflect the humble needs and aspirations of his people, and secure his position as elected leader.
But the biggest, most egregious oversight is the fact that no news outlet has yet mentioned the true root of the coup, as told by those who witnessed it: CAFTA. The Central American Free Trade Agreement, along with various treaties and loan agreements with the U.S., essentially forbids the Honduran government from subsidizing anything produced inside its nation and erases tariffs and taxes on American goods. The result is communities of campesinos, or poor, peasant farmers who work for foreign corporations, primarily the Dole company, for less than the equivalent of three American cents for a fifteen-hour day of manual labor. They can neither compete with the price of subsidized American foods nor afford to purchase the food grown by their neighbors. In the end, American executives win, and Central American peasants work themselves to death. A large part of the reforms Zelaya was pushing was Honduras's removal from CAFTA, which angered both American companies who profit from poverty and Honduran aristocrats who cut a little off the top.
When I was there, there was public consensus that the CIA, which is proven to have trained, equipped, and facilitated the infamous Battalion 316 during the Ronald Reagan Administration, was the machine behind the coup. The Battalion, which kidnapped, tortured, and killed hundreds, if not thousands (the number is unknown) of Honduran socialists, communists, and dissidents, was supported by the CIA and Reagan, who awarded the secret battalion's leader, Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, the Legion of Merit in 1983.
The organization COFADEH is a Honduran group for families and friends of "los desaparecidos", or "the disappeared", victims of the Battalion. Since the 2009 coup, though, they have focused on the murdered demonstrators who came out on the streets to protest Zelaya's ouster and were met with deadly force. When we visited their headquarters almost a year ago, they told us that military forces had tried several times to scare them into silence, throwing tear gas through their windows or simply firing rounds into the building's facade.
It is unclear whether media outlets simply did not dig deep enough while reporting on this story or did not care to publish the details of America's role in Honduras's history, military, government, and economy. What is clear, though, is that the tides are turning, and Honduras has a new hope for economic improvement and governmental trust.