Military ousting of Honduran President sends an ominous message

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Honduras, the second poorest country in Central America, has an extraordinarily unequal distribution of income and high unemployment. The economy relies heavily on a narrow range of exports, notably bananas and coffee, making it vulnerable to natural disasters and shifts in commodity prices; however, investments in the maquila and non-traditional export sectors are slowly diversifying the economy. Economic growth remains dependent on the US economy its largest trading partner, and will decline in 2009 as a result of reduction in export demand and tightening global credit markets. Remittances represent over a quarter of GDP or nearly three-quarters of exports. The US-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) came into force in 2006 and has helped foster investment. Despite improvements in tax collections, the government’s fiscal deficit is growing due to increases in current expenditures and financial losses from the state energy and telephone companies.

Once part of Spain’s vast empire in the New World, Honduras became an independent nation in 1821. After two and a half decades of mostly military rule, a freely elected civilian government came to power in 1982. During the 1980s, Honduras proved a haven for anti-Sandinista contras fighting the Marxist Nicaraguan Government and an ally to Salvadoran Government forces fighting leftist guerrillas. The country was devastated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which killed about 5,600 people and caused approximately $2 billion in damage.

The recent military ousting of leftist Honduran President Manuel Zelaya sends an ominous message to democracy and democratic ideals as well as a frightening reminder of the Cold War era when the CIA engineered military or other subversive means to overthrow democratically elected governments in the developing world which were leftist or were not to their liking. The list is a very long one with almost every Latin American country at some period in their history being ruled by brutal military dictatorships which removed and replaced democratically elected governments.

It is heartening to note that the Government of Guyana, several other governments, political parties and major international organisations have already stoutly condemned forceful removal of President Zelaya.

THE Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS), Jose Miguel Insulza, said that the organisation “will not accept a return to the past in the continent,” and it will not make any concessions to a regime proclaimed following a military coup after the illegal arrest of the constitutional President of Honduras, Jose Manuel Zelaya.

“In our region, military taking part in coups are not accepted,” Insulza said, adding: “We will not acknowledge the same power that provoked the constitutional break-up”. The OAS will only be open to dialogue, he said, “If it contemplates the return of President Zelaya to his legitimate position.”

This is indeed a reassuring and forthright statement from the OAS but one would hope that unlike what occurred in the past governments and international organisations will move beyond mere condemnation and take concerted and decisive action to ensure that President Zelaya is returned to his rightful place as the democratically Head of State of Honduras.

We have a situation where Aung San Suu Kyi Burma’s (Myanmar) democracy leader who has now been detained for over 13 years by a brutal military junta. She isn’t allowed to see family or friends as all visitors are banned. Her phone line is cut and her post is intercepted. But the world remains silent as she and the people suffer humiliatingly at the hands of the military regime.

At a press briefing on Monday at the Cuban Ambassy here in Georgetown, Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Dario Morandy, and Charge d’ Affairs of the Embassy of Cuba, Jorge Rodriguez Hernandez, denounced, on behalf of their respective countries, the overthrow and exile of the Honduran President.

A prepared statement from retired Cuban iconic leader Fidel Castro, dated 28th June, was also circulated to the media.

In his statement, Castro described the forcible removal of Zelaya from his bed, his home, and his country as a “kidnapping.”

By any definition of the word he is right, and kidnapping in any country is a criminal offence; and kidnapping of the head of a state is a treasonous act.

It would also be interesting to see what measures and initiatives will be taken by President Obama and his administration which so far has adopted a relatively progressive stance on many international issues including the Iraqi war. It will be an early litmus test for the Obama administration and the world would be looking on what it would be unfolding with respect to the Honduran situation.