A new chapter for Honduras

Tim Young looks at the return to power of the left in Honduras and previews an important meeting on Latin America

A distinct leftward shift has been evident in Latin America in the past few years, beginning with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s victory in Mexico in 2018 and continuing in Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Chile and, most recently, Colombia. But Xiomara Castro’s presidential win in Honduras in 2021 must not be forgotten.

Since the Monroe Doctrine’s formulation in 1823, the US has viewed Latin America as its ‘backyard’ to be controlled and exploited, with Honduras one of the worst affected countries. US corporations dominated its agricultural economy, skewing it to make the country the original ‘banana republic’.

US economic and political dominance was backed up by the threat of intervention to counter any threat to this profitable state of affairs, with frequent military coups used to safeguard its commercial interests. Aided by a conservative elite cultivated to owe its position to US support, the US ruthlessly employed Honduras to pursue wider interests.

In 1954, for example, Honduras was used as a base for the CIA’s operation to overthrow Guatemalan President, Jacobo Árbenz, while in the 1980s the US secretly funded the Contra forces based there to wage a brutal undeclared war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Military governments in Honduras were in charge of implementing the US’s anti-insurgency agenda for decades before democracy was re-established in 1981, but only to usher in 25 years of right wing rule.

Even when a progressive government led by President Zelaya was elected in 2006, a right wing coup deposed him after three years. The coup was widely condemned by governments across Latin America, the EU and the Organisation of American States, but not by the US government.

From Clinton onwards, the US continued to support right wing Honduran governments, despite evidence of electoral fraud, widespread corruption and the criminalisation and repression of political dissent, including assassinations of activists.

These governments’ policies increased poverty, marginalised communities and spawned widespread violence, reflected in a high homicide rate.

But democratic forces in the country never gave up against these odds, taking to the streets to voice popular demands for equity, dignity and justice and opposition to neoliberalism and interventions by the International Monetary Fund and the US.

Despite state repression, which targeted a swathe of left wing and environmental activists, they won their reward in November 2021 when Xiomora Castro’s election brought to an end twelve years of extreme right wing rule.

Her inaugural address in January 2022 presented an ambitious programme to fight corruption, drug trafficking, poverty, unemployment and organised crime.

For a country with an appalling record on human rights, she proposed measures that included enabling the return of Hondurans exiled during the military junta over forty years ago and prosecuting the murderers of environmental leader Berta Caceres.

Other proposals included the repeal of a series of laws approved under President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s recent administration which criminalised protests and promoted the plundering of public wealth, trusts and contracts.

To stop any further damage to the country’s natural environment and promote sustainable economic development, she also proposed to ban mineral mining permits and abolish the Special Economic Development Zones which had led to sales of tracts of national territory.

Additional measures included introducing subsidies to stabilise prices and approving a Citizen Participation Law to consult Honduran citizens on law reforms.

But in an early sign of the resistance that Honduras’s traditional political and economic elites will undoubtedly put up to Castro’s agenda, a breakaway group of legislators, including members of the Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE) that sponsored Castro’s presidential bid, decided on January 23rd to elect their own parliamentary leadership.

Although this political crisis was soon resolved, it illustrates the difficulties facing President Castro in trying to implement her reform programme while lacking a majority in Congress by five seats.

But progress has been made. In February Castro announced she would lay before Congress a bill to reform the Electric Industry Law to enable 1.3 million poor families as low users to receive free electricity, with the cost being paid for by high consumers.

Diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Honduras, which were cut shortly after the US-backed coup against President Manuel Zelaya, have been restored.

To tackle corruption, President Castro has asked the United Nations to install an International Commission against Impunity (CICIH), reversing a decision by former President Hernandez – now extradited to the US to face drug trafficking and money laundering charges – who expelled its predecessor when its investigations threatened his regime’s foundations.

In Latin America, the left is fighting – and winning – for an agenda that puts peace, climate justice, public health and the defence and extension of living standards first. As part of this, Honduras will need our international solidarity in the coming months and years.

Tim Young is an activist with Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America

  • Next Monday’s (25th July) meeting, “‘¡Viva la solidaridad! Latin America’s Left Leads the Way” is part of Arise Festival’s month-long programme of activity, and will feature contributions from international speakers such as Rodolgo Pastor, Secretary to the Honduran Presidency; Currea Lugo, a Colombian journalist; Rafaela Molina, of Wiphalas across the world, Bolivia; Mickey Brady, Sinn Fein MP and member of previous delegations to Venezuela; Teri Mattson, Latin America Coordinator for CODEPINK – Women for Peace, US; Nathalia Urban, of Brasilwire. You can register here.
  • You can see the full programme of Arise Festival events and activities here.
  • You can follow Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America here and here.

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