Reconciliation in Honduras

by padraigcolman

Malign Influence of US in Latin America.

Honduras, like many another Latin American nation, has suffered from its proximity to its powerful northern neighbour. The US commitment to capitalism and opposition to communism has meant that it has been prepared to support the use of terror and torture in Latin America.  In 2012, however, perhaps the greatest danger to the citizens of Honduras arises from the drug-taking habits of US citizens.

Ousting of Manuel Zelaya

The Honduran Truth and Reconciliation commission was set up to investigate the  constitutional crisis in 2009 which culminated in the ousting of democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya. However, the troubles of this benighted nation go back much further than 2009.

Zelaya was popular in some quarters and his  economic and social policies earned him praise from labour unions and civil society groups. He  planned to convert the Soto Cano Air Base, where one of the three US Southern Command Task forces is based, into a civilian airport. His attempts to forge alliances with the leftish administrations of Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, caused anxiety in some US circles.

There was widespread international condemnation of the “coup”. All Latin American nations (with the exception of Honduras itself), as well as the US, United Nations, and others, publicly condemned Zelaya’s ousting. Every country in the region, except the US, withdrew their ambassadors from Honduras. All EU ambassadors were withdrawn from the country. President Obama said: “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the President of Honduras.” A good detailed description of the events can be found at

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in May 2010 to investigate the crisis of 2009.  The Commission concluded that Zelaya’s  removal from office was a coup but also criticised Zelaya. It said the move was illegal and not a constitutional succession as some of Zelaya’s opponents said. The Commission identified Zelaya’s decision to press ahead with a referendum on constitutional change as “a point of no return”. Zelaya’s opponents  argued that the referendum was aimed at removing the current one-term limit on serving as president. Zelaya  repeatedly denied this. The report also said that 20 people were killed in the repression which followed the coup.

Michael Kergin a retired Canadian career diplomat,  was a member of the Honduran TRC. He wrote: “There are indeed factors which might explain, but do not excuse, the excessive use of force during this period: a traditional culture of violence in Honduras, decentralized control over a widely and thinly dispersed police force; and a lack of professional training at the operational level. The small country was also suffering collective paranoia out of its isolation from the international community, exacerbated by its former president testing its borders with support from South American heavy hitters such as Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina.”

The Power of Fruit

The USA has bullied  Honduran governments  since the late 19th century mainly to support the dominance of US companies, like the United Fruit Company, who built an enclave economy in the north controlling infrastructure and creating self-sufficient, tax exempt sectors that contributed relatively little to national economic growth, but attracted thousands of workers from other parts of the country. The fruit companies also encouraged immigration of workers from Jamaica and Belize thus introducing  an African descended, English speaking and largely Protestant population into the country, fuelling ethnic tensions.

Defending Freedom against Communism

Honduras did not suffer as horrific a conflict as neighbouring El Salvador  but the Honduran army  quietly waged a campaign against  communist  militias like the  Cinchoneros Popular Liberation Movement, who employed kidnappings and bombings in their fight against the government.  The Cinchoneros claimed to represent the country’s poor and opposed Honduras’ right-wing governments, though their revolutionary agenda was never a serious threat. However, their links with other Latin American guerrilla groups caused the US anxiety.

During the early 1980s, the US maintained a military presence in Honduras in order to support the Nicaraguan contras. There was  a CIA-backed campaign of extrajudicial killings by government-backed units, most notably Battalion 316. Battalion 601 had collaborated in assassinations with the Chilean DINA. They also collaborated with the Argentinian Anti-Communist Alliance. At least 19 Battalion 316 members were graduates of the US School of the Americas. Training was also  provided in Pinochet’s Chile.


Reconciliation was moved along in May 2011 when a court decided to drop the last of the charges, these relating to corruption, that were levelled against Zelaya following his removal. Zelaya returned to Honduras in May 2011 and told a roaring crowd: “The problem of poverty, of corruption … will not be solved with violence, but through more democracy, greater citizen participation and better transparency.”

Current President Porfirio Lobo was democratically elected, but the legality of his position is compromised by the ousting of Zelaya. Under President Lobo, Zelaya returned to a country that has enacted many of the changes he advocated before his removal, including a change in the procedures for amending the constitution. In a recent demonstration of Honduran progress, Zelaya spoke to a National Popular Resistance Front rally and encouraged peaceful change.

Crime, Drugs  and Human Rights

According to Guatemala’s planning minister, Fernando Carrera: “Honduras is today one of the most violent countries in the world, and the principal thoroughfare for drugs on their way from the producing countries in the south to the consuming countries in the north.” Drug cartels bribe security forces and judges to look the other way. Honduran security chief Oscar Álvarez resigned because he said he lacked the resources to stem police corruption.

Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world at 82 homicides per 100,000 people in 2010, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Some, such as Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, suggest the only answer is to stop fighting drug trafficking and legalize it.

Despite growing support for de-criminalisation in the US, the US is standing firm against it. Many Latin American governments are calling legalisation to ease the problems they have because of the drug culture of US citizens.

Obama Calls for more Human Rights

In an April 26 conversation with President Lobo, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his concern about human rights in Honduras. A number of journalists and civic activists have been killed.  President Lobo has responded by naming a special human rights advisor to ensure that these killings and other acts of intimidation are investigated. He welcomed a team from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to visit Honduras
Current  news is that Obama decided to allow hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants no older than 30 with high school degrees and no criminal history a chance to stay and work in the US. The president has said that as many as 800,000 young illegal immigrants living in the U.S. could benefit from the change. However, this was too late for Marlon Roberto Cortes who is back in Tegucigalpa. Cortes handcuffed and hauled to a holding centre in Boston and deported to Honduras  in March without being able to say goodbye to his family.

“The country in which I could have had the chance to get ahead is the United States,” Cortes said. “I did everything I had to do to get that and I don’t understand why they wouldn’t let me … I feel more American than Honduran.”

Trade Imbalance, Sweat Shops and Export of Workers

In 2003, Honduras sent around 370 soldiers to Iraq to support the US invasion. This was largely an attempt to improve foreign relations with the US over the issue of the many thousands of Hondurans working in the US . The money these migrants send back to their families in Honduras is a crucial factor in the Honduran economy.
The relationship between the US and Latin America is a complex and unequal one. The USA is Honduras’s chief trading partner, with two-way trade in goods increasing to over $7 billion in 2006. Trade is dominated by the maquila industry, which imports yarn and textiles from the US and exports finished clothing. Two-thirds of the foreign direct investment comes from the US.

Reconciliation and the Future

According to Michael Kergin: “Lack of confidence in the instruments of government to effect reform remains widespread throughout the country. Hondurans often look to the international community to address domestic problems … Audiences were not impressed with the commissioners’ observation that change imposed from outside and without the support of the Hondurans themselves and their institutions of government would not endure or prosper.”

Kergin believes: “The chances of avoiding the mistakes of the past are improved when Hondurans discuss ways of strengthening their institutions of government. By looking to the future, rather than by exhuming past divisions, Hondurans are more likely to reach some form of lasting accommodation. To the extent that the Honduran Commission has facilitated a dialogue of reconciliation, its work will have been worthwhile.”
However, while President Lobo  has some  popular support, there is a general view that he will be unable to prevail against entrenched interests. There is little  confidence that legislators will be prepared to undertake the necessary institutional reforms or liberate the political party structure from the preponderant influence of the economic oligarchs.