Honduras is experiencing a continuation of the coup d’état that overthrew President Zelaya in 2009. The authoritarian regime that oppresses the country is characterized by extractivism, electoral fraud, assassination, militarization, drug trafficking and militarism.
At the same time, the people resist on the basis of their capacity for struggle and the ideas, the example, of women like Berta Cáceres, who could not be torn from the heart of a people that continues in massive resistance in the streets.
In this context of popular struggle, Prensa CRBZ spoke with Laura Zuñiga Cáceres, Berta’s daughter and human rights activist, a member of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras – COPINH.
June marked the 10th anniversary of the coup d’état that ousted Zelaya. What were the reasons for the 2009 military coup?
Ten years on, I think there is a deeper perspective on the causes of the coup d’état. This is now evident with the presence of U.S. military aid to the regime of Juan Orlando Hernandez. One of the reasons was to reaffirm the presence and control of the U.S. government over Honduras. Let’s remember that during the 70s and 80s our country was used as a base of operations to attempt to put an end to the national liberation movements that formed in Central America during those years.
At the time of the coup, there was a surge, an advance of progressive and left governments, with interesting proposals, such as national constituent assemblies. This was a flagship of the social movement in Honduras in 2009, before the coup d’état and after as well. They were debating deep axes for the refoundation of the country: to make a new constitution that would allow the legal conditions, the juridical framework, to advance towards the emancipation of the country from the clutches of imperialism. In the first moments of the coup there was talk of assassinations of social leaders who carried this standard.
One of the great promoters of the coup were the local and international business community that were pushing extractive policies in our region. During the first months, concessions were given in the mining and energy sectors, which allowed the massive entry of extractive companies into our territories, many of them in association with the military who became extractive businessmen. Beginning in 2009, another sector that was reaffirmed, repositioned, was narco trafficking. This was linked to the political forces that took power from that moment on. The relationship is well known. There is Micheletti’s connection with drug trafficking, which he became involved in after Zelaya’s overthrow. Porfirio Lobo and Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) are also involved in drug trafficking.
These are some of the reasons. Ten years later we continue to discover that the coup was not prepared overnight; it was a political move by the power structures that were not willing to lose ground to a people that were demanding and winning rights. The government of José Manuel Zelaya supported these demands for rights, including an increase in the minimum wage and the suspension of mining concessions in the country. The coup attempted to extinguish the fire that was lit in Honduras that called for profound changes in the country.
How was the resistance of the people and their organizations at that time?
Something very interesting was the massive resistance on the part of the Honduran people. Giant marches that had seldom been seen in the country. A very politicized resistance, with an understanding of what was happening. The decision was to reverse the coup and return to constitutional order. The social movement had the intelligence to build unity in adversity, with a unified and bold political leadership. The successes of the social movements, those lessons, allowed the resistance to be maintained for many months, elevating the politicization of the population. Even in the face of a nefarious media apparatus that continued the fictitious narratives of the coup. There was very little possibility of having access to the media at that time. The social movement had the clarity to understand that the motivation for the coup was the imperialist revival in the region. For this reason, they sought support from the Latin American peoples, since this was not only a coup against the country, but a coup against the entire region. The resistance was massive, with many people on the streets.
There is a generation that has been deeply marked by the coup d’état, which today is part of the resistance against the dictatorship of JOH with extremely interesting levels of politicization.
In 2013 JOH wins and its two stages are marked by two pillars: neoliberal revival and institutional violence. What concrete measures did you take?
There is a militarization of society. We have an aggressive, authoritarian, anti-democratic and dictatorial state. This has created the necessary support for the interests of extractive business and the interests of the United States. This is the work of Juan Orlando Hernández who has managed to remain in power through an illegal and fraudulent re-election (the results were directly changed in the middle of a blackout of the vote counting system) which generated much opposition from the population.
JOH has deepened the extractivist model and the enclave model, under what was first called Model Cities, which is neocolonialism. Later they were called Special Development Zones (ZEDE). They are national territories that have special laws that nullify the labour rights obtained and above all nullify the sovereignty of the country, because these development zones are managed by transnational companies and by other countries. They boast special, specific laws and tax benefits. These zones are demarcated and delimited along with the entire population. They are zones destined for the exploitation of natural and commercial goods. Tax havens are generated. There is savage extractivism governed by laws that are above the State. The country becomes a provider of its goods for the benefit of corporations and other countries. Transnational companies were given the choice of zones to be exploited. It is a total delivery mechanism. This is a resource “fair”. This is done through events such as “Honduras is Ready for Mining” or “Honduras is Open for Business”.
The resources of our country are being made available in a way that generates high levels of corruption. Companies compete to corrupt public and civil servants, so that they will provide them with the procedures of licensing and concession. We saw this with the company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A, in the territory of Río Blanco. At the same time, in the face of resistance from organizations and society, a new legal framework was created to attack those who oppose this looting and defend their territories. They are prosecuted and imprisoned. There is also a militarization of society, as I mentioned earlier. It is the military, their repression, that keeps JOH in power and imposes terror on society, because they murder in a cruel way. In Honduras there are selective murders. Paramilitary apparatuses were created, imported from Colombia. There is also a union between drug trafficking and extractive companies, a way of operating that has also been seen in Mexico.
In terms of institutional violence, paramilitarism and selective assassinations, in March 2016 there was the assassination of Berta by hired killers. Why is this assassination occurring? What links does the government have in this case?
The murder of my mother, Berta Cáceres, was the result of the coup d’état. Not only because she was known for her ideology and actions against the dictatorship, for which she was persecuted, but also because Berta Cáceres transcends a struggle to oust a coup president. The assassination occurred to stop the struggle of our compañera, to contain that symbol that was not only national, but that had great international weight, that managed to generate networks in the region. It was also to put an end to the symbol of resistance that is the COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) for the Honduran people and above all for the people who are confronting the extractive system. COPINH, along with many other organizations, has been educating people to defend their territories against extractivism. This is how big companies have been defeated, including the binational Del Tigre Dam that was to be built between Honduras and El Salvador.
Berta Cáceres had been coordinator of COPINH since 2013. She and COPINH organized the community of Río Blanco that were defending its river against the company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A (DESA). This murderous and criminal company, linked to acts of corruption, also murdered our comrade Tomás García. In order to continue building the dam, they needed to destroy the social fabric and the organization of the community of Río Blanco. In 2015 the construction of this dam had been stopped when one of the largest construction companies in the world, Sinohydro, withdrew from the construction based on the struggle of the community and the organization led by Berta Cáceres. The company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. tried to criminalize our compañera and compañeros, but when they saw that the criminalization could not stop this struggle, they murdered her.
We have linked the assassination to the extractive business sectors that have benefited from the coup d’état. Specifically to the DESA partners, the Atala Zablah family, one of the richest and most powerful families in Honduras and Central America. We also have seen the involvement of the military in this assassination, since, for example, most of the hired assassins who were convicted, who are the material perpetrators, were military. Intellectual authorship is also linked to DESA’s general manager, David Castillo, a former military man trained at West Point in the United States. The military, as I said before, became extractive entrepreneurs who now terrorize those who oppose these projects.
Moving on to another subject, can you explain to us what was the impact in political terms of the caravan of migrants?
It is something very difficult, very painful. There is a part of the population that lost hope and wanted to leave. Honduras has always been a country that produces migration, but in recent years we have seen the disappearance of entire families. This caused several problems for the JOH government, since the United States government pressured JOH to stop immigration, to stop the migrant caravan. The caravan became a phenomenon of massive flight to the United States, and so far there have been 8 caravans. The U.S. government threatened to cut off its financial aid from”development” programs. There are structures in place against immigrants in the United States, and they treat them as enemies.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that our president’s brother was captured just after the caravans. Tony Hernandez is currently detained in New York. This action of the United States was intended to shake the ground beneath JOH in a personal way.
We are currently living through a new period of massive mobilizations. What are the immediate proposals and the tasks that arise for the social organizations?
There is an increase in the mobilization capacity of the Honduran people. In 2009 we saw mass mobilizations concentrated in the capital, with an interesting level of politicization. We witnessed another moment marked by the mobilization of the Honduran people in 2013 and 2014 after the bankruptcy of social security. These massive mobilizations were no longer concentrated in Tegucigalpa, as the population was being mobilized in their own territory, perhaps with less politicization than in other years.
Another moment of great mobilizations was related to the electoral fraud of 2017, when people managed to paralyze the country with the highway takeovers. The military and police were unable to repress the population in all the zones and were overwhelmed. There was also growth in the politicization of the population and the indignation brought about by the imposition of another presidential term by the murderer Juan Orlando Hernandez.
Recently we saw the same thing in each region, with road blockades that also paralyzed the country, but this time the mobilizations are even more massive than those caused by electoral fraud. There are also unions, such as teachers and health workers, involved. This allows the strikes to be stronger, class work stoppages, hospital stoppages, cargo transport stoppages. There was even a moment when a sector of the police joined the strikes.
The response is mounting resistance to the JOH government. Honduras is “dry grass” and eventually a spark causes a fire. The movement is growing. The population is mobilized. As social movements we need to fine-tune how we can channel and organize this mass discontent and present a national proposal. We have before us the challenge of building a project for the country that we want when JOH falls, and to build a new democratic government.