Friday, February 18, 2011

Why the Honduran Oligarchs Overthrew Manuel Zelaya

We haven't talked much about Honduras here lately. I covered it pretty heavily during the coup and its aftermath, even getting picked up by the Times, as some of you may remember.

Well, the coup didn't happen for nothing. Zelaya was allying himself with Hugo Chavez, looking to bring his nation out of its extreme poverty through programs for the poor. An oligarch himself, the country's power players saw Zelaya as a traitor to his class in a time of war. Because class warfare is what the Honduran oligarchs pursue against the poor. Not content to dominate them economically, they actively crush the slightest challenge to their rule through violence, torture, and murder.

This is what happened to campesino leader Juan Chinchilla on January 8. Except that he escaped before they could finish him off, as Jeremy Kryt at In These Times writes:

That night, Chinchilla was taken to a remote storage shed by hooded and armed men, some of whom wore the uniforms of Grupo Dinant, one of the largest agro-businesses in the country. After a day of being tortured and questioned about campesino (peasant) groups and their leaders, a disfigured and traumatized Chinchilla escaped while being moved to another site by throwing himself down a hillside in the dark. “The oligarchs hope to terrorize [the campesinos] and drive them from the land,” says Chinchilla, who remains in hiding and spoke to In These Times by cell phone from an undisclosed location in Honduras. “But we will fight for our land [and] our rights, without arms, and in peace.”

An isolated incident? Hardly:

After the coup, fearing their newly-designated lands would be forfeited to the corporate interests that had backed the takeover of the government, tens of thousands of campesinos rose up to peacefully occupy the acres Zelaya and the Honduran Congress had legally granted them in April 2008.

The results have been grim. During the last year, 35 peasants from the Aguán region have been killed by paramilitaries and private security contractors working for corporations like Grupo Dinant, say peasant groups. Meanwhile, living conditions among campesinos continue to deteriorate.

“Our families are starving,” says Blanca Espinoza, who had come to the capital of Tegucigalpa on January 20 as part of a MUCA delegation intended to draw international attention to the plight of the peasants. “We need land and seeds to cultivate,” Espinoza says. The average income for a family in Aguán, she says, is less than $37 per month.

The campesinos’ grassroots demonstrations—in which thousands of peasants moved onto the disputed land and began planting crops and building huts—has led directly to friction with Grupo Dinant, which controls 42,000 acres in the Aguán Valley and is owned by Miguel Facussé, one of the richest men in Honduras. Last year, the World Bank gave Facussé a loan of $30 million to grow African palms in Aguán. But the land Dinant planned to use for the new plantations was occupied by the peasants.

As I stressed repeatedly during the coup, the Honduran oligarchs openly wish for the Cold War, when they could count on direct American aid (and sometimes American troops) to crush social movements while tainting them with communism.  Today, it's unlikely the Obama Administration or CIA is all that supportive of these actions, although they clearly aren't doing anything to stop them either. Honduran leaders have no intention of allowing the democratization of South America to touch their country. That's why they acted to overthrow Zelaya and that's why they are using paramilitary groups and extreme violence to crush the campesino movement today.