The coup in Honduras

Honduras' elected president, Manuel Zelaya, was taken prisoner by soldiers and forced out of the country on the day Hondurans were supposed to vote in a nonbinding referendum on changing the country's constitution.

Early in the morning, Zelaya was captured, beaten and forced onto a plane that took him to Costa Rica. Other members of his government were also detained--the whereabouts of several were unknown late Sunday night.

The events in Honduras were similar to a coup attempt against left-wing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 2002. But that U.S.-backed effort failed when masses of poor Venezuelans mobilized to demand Chávez's return.

Whether the coup in Honduras will succeed remains in doubt. International condemnation has been strong. The U.S. government at first appeared ready to acknowledge the coup-makers as a "force for democracy." But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later condemned the coup and called for respect for "constitutional order."

Eva Golinger is a Venezuelan-American attorney and writer, and author of The Chávez Code: Cracking U.S. Intervention in Venezuela. She lives in Caracas and issued regular reports on developments in Honduras at her Postcards from the Revolution Web site. Here, we reprint her initial report from late yesterday morning, followed by excerpted updates from throughout the day.

Honduran President Manuel ZelayaHonduran President Manuel Zelaya

THE TEXT message that beeped on my cell phone this morning read "Alert, Zelaya has been kidnapped, coup d'etat underway in Honduras, spread the word."

It's a rude awakening for a Sunday morning, especially for the millions of Hondurans who were preparing to exercise their sacred right to vote today for the first time on a consultative referendum concerning the future convening of a constitutional assembly to reform the constitution.

Supposedly at the center of the controversy is today's scheduled referendum, which is not a binding vote, but merely an opinion poll to determine whether or not a majority of Hondurans desire to eventually enter into a process to modify their constitution.

Such an initiative has never taken place in the Central American nation, which has a very limited constitution that allows minimal participation by the people of Honduras in their political processes. The current constitution, written in 1982 during the height of the Reagan administration's dirty war in Central America, was designed to ensure those in power, both economic and political, would retain it with little interference from the people.

What you can do

Activist organizations are calling on supporters of democracy to call the State Department and White House and demand: a cut-off of all military aid to Honduras until President Zelaya and Foreign Minister Rodas are safely returned to office; support for international movements to bring the coup plotters to justice; and replace the U.S. ambassador to Honduras.

Call the State Department at 800-877-8339 and the White House at 202-456-1414.

Zelaya, elected in November 2005 on the platform of Honduras' Liberal Party, had proposed the opinion poll be conducted to determine if a majority of citizens agreed that constitutional reform was necessary. He was backed by a majority of labor unions and social movements in the country. If the poll had occurred, depending on the results, a referendum would have been conducted during the upcoming elections in November to vote on convening a constitutional assembly. Nevertheless, today's scheduled poll was not binding by law.

In fact, several days before the poll was to occur, Honduras' Supreme Court ruled it illegal, upon request by the Congress, both of which are led by anti-Zelaya majorities and members of the ultra-conservative National Party of Honduras (PNH). This move led to massive protests in the streets in favor of Zelaya.

On June 24, the president fired the head of the high military command, Gen. Romeo Vásquez, after he refused to allow the military to distribute electoral material for Sunday's elections. Vásquez held the material under tight military control, refusing to release it even to the president's followers, stating that the scheduled referendum had been determined illegal by the Supreme Court, and therefore he could not comply with the president's order. As in the United States, the president of Honduras is commander-in-chief and has the final say on the military's actions, and so he ordered the general's removal. The Minister of Defense, Angel Edmundo Orellana, also resigned in response to this increasingly tense situation.

But the following day, Honduras' Supreme Court reinstated Vásquez to the high military command, ruling that his firing was "unconstitutional." Thousands again poured into the streets of Honduras' capital of Tegucigalpa to show support for Zelaya and their determination to ensure that Sunday's non-binding referendum would take place. On Friday, the president and a group of hundreds of supporters marched to the nearby air base to collect the electoral material that had been previously held by the military. That evening, Zelaya gave a national press conference along with a group of politicians from different political parties and social movements, calling for unity and peace in the country.

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AS OF Saturday, the situation in Honduras was reported as calm. But early Sunday morning, a group of approximately 60 armed soldiers entered the presidential residence and took Zelaya hostage. After several hours of confusion, reports surfaced claiming the president had been taken to a nearby air force base and flown to neighboring Costa Rica. No images have been seen of the president so far, and it is unknown whether or not his life is still endangered.

President Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, speaking live on Telesur at approximately 10 am Caracas time, said that in early hours of Sunday morning, soldiers stormed their residence, firing shots throughout the house, beating and then taking the president. "It was an act of cowardness," said the first lady, referring to the illegal kidnapping occurring during a time when no one would know or react until it was all over.

Casto de Zelaya also called for the "preservation" of her husband's life, indicating that she herself is unaware of his whereabouts. She claimed their lives are all still in "serious danger" and made a call for the international community to denounce this illegal coup d'etat and to act rapidly to reinstate constitutional order in the country, which includes the rescue and return of the democratically elected Zelaya.

Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela have both made public statements on Sunday morning condemning the coup d'etat in Honduras and calling on the international community to react to ensure democracy is restored and the constitutional president is reinstated.

Last Wednesday, June 24, an extraordinary meeting of the member nations of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), of which Honduras is a member, was convened in Venezuela to welcome Ecuador, Antigua & Barbados and St. Vincent to its ranks. During the meeting, which was attended by Honduras' foreign minister, Patricia Rodas, a statement was read supporting President Zelaya and condemning any attempts to undermine his mandate and Honduras' democratic processes.

Reports coming out of Honduras indicate that the public television channel, Canal 8, has been shut down by the coup forces. Just minutes ago, Telesur announced that the military in Honduras was shutting down all electricity throughout the country. Those television and radio stations still transmitting are not reporting the coup d'etat or the kidnapping of President Zelaya, according to Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas. "Telephones and electricity are being cut off," confirmed Rodas just minutes ago via Telesur. "The media are showing cartoons and soap operas, and are not informing the people of Honduras about what is happening."

The situation is eerily reminiscent of the April 2002 coup d'etat against President Chávez in Venezuela, when the media played a key role by first manipulating information to support the coup, and then later blacking out all information when the people began protesting, and eventually overcame and defeated the coup forces, rescuing Chávez (who had also been kidnapped by the military) and restoring constitutional order.

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HONDURAS IS a nation that has been the victim of dictatorships and massive U.S. intervention during the past century, including several military invasions. The last major U.S. government intervention in Honduras occurred during the 1980s, when the Reagan administration funded death squads and paramilitaries to eliminate any potential "communist threats" in Central America. At the time, John Negroponte was the U.S. ambassador in Honduras and was responsible for directly funding and training Honduran death squads that were responsible for thousands of disappeared and assassinated throughout the region.

On Friday, the Organization of American States (OAS) convened a special meeting to discuss the crisis in Honduras, later issuing a statement condemning the threats to democracy and authorizing a convoy of representatives to travel to Honduras to investigate further. Nevertheless, on Friday, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Phillip J. Crowley refused to clarify the U.S. government's position in reference to the potential coup against President Zelaya, and instead issued a more ambiguous statement that implied Washington's support for the opposition to the Honduran president.

While most other Latin American governments had clearly indicated their adamant condemnation of the coup plans underway in Honduras and their solid support for Honduras' constitutionally elected president, Manual Zelaya, the U.S. spokesman stated the following, "We are concerned about the breakdown in the political dialogue among Honduran politicians over the proposed June 28 poll on constitutional reform. We urge all sides to seek a consensual democratic resolution in the current political impasse that adheres to the Honduran constitution and to Honduran laws consistent with the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter."

As of 10:30 a.m., Sunday morning, no further statements had been issued by the Washington concerning the military coup in Honduras. The Central American nation is highly dependent on the U.S. economy, which ensures one of its top sources of income--monies sent from Hondurans working in the U.S. under the "temporary protected status" program that was implemented during Washington's dirty war in the 1980s as a result of massive immigration to U.S. territory to escape the war zone.

Another major source of funding in Honduras is the U.S. Agency for International Development, which provides over $50 million annually for "democracy promotion" programs that generally support NGOs and political parties favorable to U.S. interests, as has been the case in Venezuela, Bolivia and other nations in the region. The Pentagon also maintains a military base in Honduras in Soto Cano, equipped with approximately 500 troops and numerous combat planes and helicopters.

Foreign Minister Rodas has stated that she has repeatedly tried to make contact with the U.S. ambassador in Honduras, Hugo Llorens, who has not responded to any of her calls thus far. The modus operandi of the coup makes it clear that Washington is involved. Neither the Honduran military, which is majority trained by U.S. forces, nor the political and economic elite, would act to oust a democratically elected president without the backing and support of the U.S. government.

President Zelaya has increasingly come under attack by conservative forces in Honduras for his growing relationship with the ALBA countries, and particularly Venezuela and President Chávez. Many believe the coup has been carried out as a method of ensuring Honduras does not continue to unify with the more leftist and socialist countries in Latin America.

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Update at 11:15 a.m. (Caracas time): President Zelaya is speaking live on Telesur from San Jose, Costa Rica. He has verified that soldiers entered his residence in the early morning hours, firing guns and threatening to kill him and his family if he resisted the coup. He was forced to go with the soldiers who took him to the air base and flew him to Costa Rica. He has requested that the U.S. government make a public statement condemning the coup--otherwise, it will indicate their compliance.

Update at 12 Noon: The Organization of American States is meeting in an emergency session in Washington concerning the situation in Honduras and the kidnapping of Honduras' president. Venezuelan Ambassador to the OAS Roy Chaderton just announced that the ambassadors of Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua in Honduras have been kidnapped along with Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas, and are being beaten by Honduran military forces.

President Obama has made a statement regarding his "concern" for the situation in Honduras and a call to all political leaders and parties to "respect democratic norms." However, this statement is NOT a clear condemnation of the coup d'etat that has taken place during the early morning hours on Sunday. Nor did Obama indicate, as other countries have done, that Washington would not recognize any other government in Honduras other than the elected government of Manual Zelaya.

Opposition forces in Honduras, led by a U.S.-funded NGO Grupo Paz y Democracia, have stated via CNN that a coup has not occurred, but rather a "transition" to democracy. Martha Diaz, the coordinator of the NGO, which receives USAID funding, has just declared minutes ago on CNN that "civil society" does not support President Zelaya nor his "illegal quest" to hold a nonbinding referendum on a potential future constitutional reform. She justified his kidnapping, beating and removal from power as a "democratic transition."

Again, this is eerily reminiscent of the coup d'etat in Venezuela in April 2002, when so-called "civil society," along with dissident military forces, kidnapped President Chávez and installed a "transition government." The groups involved also received funding from the U.S. government, primarily via the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and later from USAID as well.

CNN en Español, Telesur and other international television stations reporting on the situation in Honduras have been removed from the airways in the Central American nation. The whereabouts of the Foreign Minister and the ambassadors of Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua are still unknown. OAS General Secretary Jose Miguel Insulze has announced he will travel immediately to Honduras to investigate the situation. President Chávez of Venezuela has also announced an emergency meeting of ALBA nations in Managua, Nicaragua, as soon as this evening.

Updated at 12:18 p.m.: Dan Restrepo, presidential adviser to President Obama for Latin American Affairs, is currently on CNN en Español. He has just stated that Obama's government is communicating with the coup forces in Honduras, trying to "feel out" the situation. He also responded to the reporter's question regarding whether Washington would recognize a government in Honduras other than President Zelaya's elected government by saying that the Obama administration "is waiting to see how things play out" and so long as democratic norms are respected, will work with all sectors.

This is a practical confirmation of support for the coup leaders. Restrepo also inferred that other countries are interfering in Honduras' international affairs, obviously referring to Venezuela and other ALBA nations, who have condemned the coup with firm statements earlier this morning.

Updated at 12:30 p.m.: Foreign Minister of Honduras Patricia Rodas has been taken from her home by soldiers, beaten and imprisoned. Serious human rights violations are occurring in Honduras, and President Obama has so far only said he is "concerned." Another showing of a U.S. double standard? Since Zelaya is a "leftist" president, will the Obama administration refuse to condemn the coup against him?

Updated at 1 p.m.: President Zelaya is speaking right now live from San Jose, Costa Rica, alongside the right-wing president of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, who traditionally has been a staunch ally of Washington. Arias has just adamantly condemned the coup against Zelaya and called for the whole hemisphere to follow suit.

Updated at 2:10 p.m.: Incredible! Just like Venezuela in April 2002. CNN has just issued a report saying that the Honduran Congress has just read President Zelaya's resignation from the presidency and the head of Congress will be the new president of Honduras.

However, just under one hour ago, President Zelaya spoke live from Costa Rica and did not give ANY indication whatsoever that he was going to resign. Zelaya, moreover, reiterated that he remains the elected president of Honduras until 2010 and was hoping to return to his country as soon as possible.

Updated at 2:20 p.m.: President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras was just live on CNN en Español, confirming that he never signed nor authorized his resignation from the presidency. This is a coup d'etat taking place, he said. The Honduran Congress has forged a resignation letter illegally removing the president from power.

Updated at 3 p.m.: Minister of the Presidency in Honduras, Enrique FLores Lanza, is live on "Once Noticias" Channel 11 news in Honduras affirming that hundreds of thousands of Hondurans are taking to the streets to demand the return of President Zelaya. He has confirmed that President Zelaya has not resigned, and the letter presented by the Congress is a fake.

The Obama administration has not yet called for the unequivocal reinstatement of Zelaya to the presidency of Honduras.

Updated at 3:30 p.m.: A member of Honduras' Congress has just admitted that in discussions with the U.S. ambassador in Honduras, the U.S. Ambassador suggested they let the poll take place today, and then vote against the Constitutional Assembly in November. But, said the member of Congress, "We can't just allow 'these people' to do this with the help of Venezuela and Cuba."

Updated at 3:44 p.m.: The alleged resignation letter with the forged signature from President Zelaya is dated June 25, 2009. This is completely ridiculous considering that up until he was violently kidnapped this morning, Zelaya gave no indication whatsoever that he was planning to resign. Today, in forced exile from Costa Rica, he has reaffirmed his role as constitutional president of Honduras and denied any resignation via letter or any other means.

The Honduran Congress has violated the human rights of its citizens and has brutally repressed members of Zelaya's administration. Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas, who was beaten and taken from her home a few hours ago, has still not resurfaced.

Updated at 4:32 p.m.: The Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya, elected in November 2005, has been kidnapped, beaten and forced into exile in Costa Rica. A fake letter of resignation, with his forged signature, was used by Honduras' opposition majority Congress to justify the president's ouster. Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas was brutally beaten and kidnapped by military forces in her residence just before noon and taken into custody. She has not been seen since.

In complete violation of diplomatic law, the ambassadors of Venezuela and Cuba were both beaten and kidnapped for a short period by Honduran soldiers, under orders of the coup leaders. They have both been released and have taken refuge again in their respective embassies.

A nonbinding vote, scheduled for today, on a possible future constitutional assembly, was impeded by the coup leaders, violating the Honduran people's right to vote and participate in their political processes.

Nations around the world, including the United Nations, Organization of American States, Latin American countries and even the United States, have condemned the events in Honduras. Only the Obama administration has yet to clarify whether it will recognize the illegal coup government led by the president of Honduras' Congress Micheletti.

Updated at 5:37 p.m.: It's official. Illegal, but official. Roberto Micheletti, up until now the head of Congress, has just been sworn in as de facto president after violently ousting President Zelaya from power, kidnapping him and forcing him into exile in Costa Rica.

Micheletti just gave a speech before Congress, broadcast live via CNN en Español and Telesur, along with Honduran stations, in which he declared his "utmost respect for democracy and the constitution." (?!) He also discussed how his "cabinet," which he is about to announce, will "restore democracy" and "respect for the constitution." He repeated over and over again that what took place was not a military-civil coup, but rather a "civil society" action to "ensure democracy."

Still no word about kidnapped and beaten Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas' whereabouts. The Congress also did not explain President Zelaya's beating and kidnapping and forced exile or the forged resignation letter, which they now obviously are no longer using as a legitimate "justification" for the coup. It's just too bogus.

BTW, the U.S. Military Group in Honduras trains around 300 Honduran soldiers every year, provides more than $500,000 annually to the Honduran Armed Forces and additionally provides $1.4 million for a military education and exchange program for around 300 more Honduran soldiers every year.

The United States maintains a military base in Soto Cano, Honduras, that houses approximately 500 soldiers and Special Forces. The leaders of the coup today are graduates of the U.S. School of the Americas, a training camp for dictators and repressive forces in Latin America.

Updated at 6:54 p.m.: In a major blow to the coup leaders in Honduras who illegally installed themselves in power, the Organization of American States (OAS) has just issued a resolution condemning the coup against President Zelaya, demanding the return of Zelaya to power immediately and clarifying that the OAS will not recognize any other government other than Zelaya's in Honduras.

Whew! For a minute there, I thought this was going to turn out like Haiti in 2004, when coup forces kidnapped President Aristide and forced him into exile and, while the OAS "condemned" the constitutional rupture, they never called for Aristide's reinstatement, and since the U.S. backed the coup, an illegal transitional government was installed, and nothing more came of it from the international community.

This time, things seem different. Still waiting on the U.S. government's official position. If they say they will not recognize the coup government, then we have to see how things will play out in Honduras.

Updated at 7:40 p.m.: Since the Obama administration has stated the coup situation in Honduras should be resolved via the OAS, and the OAS has just condemned the coup and called for the unconditional restoration of President Zelaya to power, that should also imply that the U.S. government shares the same position.

Some rumors are flying around that two U.S. government reps have made statements to the effect of Obama not recognizing the coup government in Honduras, but not wanting to "get involved" and "wait" for the coup government to decide it is illegitimate by analyzing the OAS decision.

I think a clear coup d'etat against a democratic government that also happens to be dependent on U.S. economic and political aid should require a more firm and concise statement by the U.S. government.

Tomorrow, the State Department will have to respond to questions about the coup.