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Ousted Honduran President Zelaya Says 2009 US-Backed Coup Led to Election Crisis

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In an exclusive interview, former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a 2009 US-backed coup, says US actions led to the current political crisis in Honduras. The government continues to withhold the results of the November presidential election, which pitted US-backed President Juan Orlando Hernández against opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla. Massive protests erupted after the government-controlled electoral commission stopped tallying votes when the count showed Nasralla ahead. Zelaya now heads the opposition LIBRE party, which is part of the Alliance Against the Dictatorship coalition led by Nasralla.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: In Honduras, the political crisis continues as the government is still refusing to release the results of the November 26 presidential election, held almost two weeks ago. The election pits US-backed President Juan Orlando Hernández against opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla, head of the National Alliance Against the Dictatorship. Massive protests erupted over the weekend, after the government-controlled electoral commission stopped tallying votes when the count showed Nasralla ahead of Hernández by more than 5 percentage points. After the delay, the electoral commission then claimed Hernández was ahead, sparking protests in which as many as 11 people were killed and more than 1,200 detained. Earlier this week, the Honduran police mutinied against the government, saying they would no longer enforce a curfew and crackdown against protesters.

Well, on Wednesday, in a Democracy Now! exclusive, I spoke with President Manuel Zelaya. He was president of Honduras from 2006 to 2009, before he was ousted in a US-backed coup on June 28th, 2009. He’s now head of the opposition LIBRE party, part of the coalition of the Alliance Against the Dictatorship, which is led by the opposition presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla. We spoke via Democracy Now!video stream. President Zelaya was in Tegucigalpa. I began by asking him to describe the situation in Honduras right now.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Look, people are in the streets. There are a million people in the streets. There are takeovers. There are checkpoints. There are demonstrations. People are also being killed, assassinated by the repressive apparatuses of the state. There is a massive protest of society because of the lack of transparency in the electoral system.

Today, we are calling our candidate, who is now president-elect — we are calling for a count of all polling places. There are only 18,000 polling places. It’s not such a large number. That can be done in a matter of four days. So that the people can regain calm, because based on the data that the state itself put out, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the Alliance of Opposition Against the Dictatorship, on the day of the election, the tribunal said that we had a 5 percent lead, with 71 percent of the votes counted. They said, with 57 percent counted, the alliance already had a 5 percent advantage, and then, with 71 percent counted, the 5 percent trend was maintained — 71 percent. It was a 5 percent lead and growing.

Then, the system went down for three days. They say that the server was overloaded. That’s like putting three needles into a room. How is a server going to be overloaded with so little data. The server can take billions and billions of pieces of data. So, three days, it was the — the vote count was stopped. And then there was a change in service, in the server. And we were told that they had reset, when we asked for the backup, and it was all lost. And then it was resumed, and we’re told, with 29 percent of the vote left to be counted, that we were losing. And so people were indignant, felt bothered.

And we resent the fact that the United States has this duplicitous discourse with respect to Honduras. They control the country. I was the president. They control the media, the private enterprise, the churches, the military. And they are silent. It’s very striking that there’s a twofold discourse, a duplicitous discourse, here on the part of the State Department.

AMY GOODMAN: President Zelaya, what are you calling for right now?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] At this time, we are asking for two things. First, for people to stay firm and stay in the streets, because if we don’t defend what we’ve won at the polls in the streets — the Honduran institutions have been coopted from the coup d’état to date. There’s no democracy here. There’s no rule of law here. We are suffering repression here. People are being persecuted. There are human rights violations every day. Every day. There’s no due process. There’s nothing. Since the coup d’état, the United States has done what it wants with this country. They changed all the laws. This is a military state, with laws like Plan Colombia, like the laws in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is what’s happening in Honduras. And they’ve done away with guarantees and with respect. What’s being done in this country is unjust. We are calling for people to defend themselves in the streets, so that what we won at the polls, we defend in the streets.

And second, the little bit of institutional framework that the state has — well, the OAS is calling for this, the European Union. Let’s count the 18,000 polling places. They say let’s count or let’s review the reports on the votes. But that’s manipulated. Let’s actually look at the votes. Let’s see where the voters signed. And let’s see if the signatures on the reports of the votes coincide with what’s on the actual vote. We’re asking for something — this is a very sensitive demand. And we think that the international community should support democracy in Honduras. We want peace in Honduras.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you calling for a full recount or a new election?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] We know that Salvador Nasralla won the election. Salvador Nasralla, in a matter of six months. We had an alliance with the LIBRE party, which was founded after the coup d’état. We entered into an alliance with him. He’s practically a TV personality and sports journalist. And in a matter of six months — with happiness, dancing in all of the towns, with music — he won the elections. We won.

We defeated 130 years of bipartisan rule in Honduras. We defeated them. The people defeated them, because of the poverty, the misery and the violence. The people cannot put up with it anymore. So, the elections were won. They recognized it the day of the elections. It was in the press worldwide that the alliance had won the election. And today, silence. Let’s hear the voice of the church, the voice the military. Well, they react only when the United States gives them the order.

AMY GOODMAN: President Zelaya, the US State Department certified the Honduran government has been fighting corruption and supporting human rights, clearing the way for Honduras to receive millions of dollars in US aid. This came just a few days after the election took place on November 26th, in the midst of the dispute. Can you talk about the significance of this?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Well, one month ago, the United Nations in Geneva, which looks out for human rights, directly introduced Honduras in the list of countries that violate human rights. One month ago, the United Nations organization in Geneva that looks out for human rights involved Honduras and put it directly on the list of countries that violate human rights. Just one year ago, they assassinated Berta Cáceres, a defender of nature, a defender of the rivers. They went to assassinate her. And the indicia indicate that the masterminds of this crime are being protected by the state.

Nonetheless, the State Department comes out with these things. The State Department is a very political organization. They protect the dictators who are their friends. Nonetheless, in Honduras, it has been clear — well, in the last six months, there’s not been an ambassador of the United States. The ambassador of the United States is like a governor. It’s like a state that is under the dollar. And we find it shameful that the State Department is so indifferent to the Honduran people, who are suffering. There have been 12 assassinations in the last 48 hours. We’re under a state of siege. You know, they’ve declared a state of siege against the protests. They are counting the votes under a state of siege, with a military highly repressive state in Honduras.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the United States doing behind the scenes, President Zelaya?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] They want to leave the dictator in, endorsing a fraud, endorsing a dictator.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is it doing? How do you know that? What is it doing to ensure that?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The Organization of American States put out a report yesterday, which is mostly satisfactory, about how the operational side of the elections are being held. And the OAS — well, this is a report that must be analyzed with the State Department, as well. And they say clearly that the OAScannot consider the results of the — put out by the election tribunal, to be reliable. They’re saying that the current president is being illegally re-elected. They’ve violated the Constitution. They’ve assaulted the institutions of the state. They carried out a fraud. They did not want to carry out the national election census. And now, since they were not able to win at the ballot box, they’re now manipulating the system, the count system. The OAS already put out a report that we find very satisfactory.

Based on that report, today we will be presenting challenges to the election. We will be calling for a general count of all the votes. Now, if the State Department would like to rectify its position, it should go along with us in this, that there should be a count. If the current president won, what’s the problem with having a recount? If they say he won, well, Mr. President, let’s have a count. You or the United States, let us look. Let’s have a count in Europe. Let’s have a count. What’s the problem? If the electoral tribunal says that you won — well, they’re all employees of the presidency — let’s have a public count, in front of cameras and television and international organizations. The three parties that participated, the main parties, let’s be there. And they say everything is transparent. I would hope it would be. And I would hope that that can happen in coming hours.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, ousted in 2009 in a US-backed coup. We’ll be back with our exclusive interview with him, and then we’ll talk about The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assessing a President. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Honduran band Café Guancasco, one of the most politically outspoken bands in Honduras. After the 2009 US-backed coup, they became known as the “Band of the Resistance.” This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to Democracy Now!’s exclusive interview with the former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, ousted in the 2009 US-backed coup. The political crisis in Honduras today is continuing as the government still refuses to release the results of the November 26 presidential election, that pit the US-backed President Juan Orlando Hernández against the opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla, head of the Alliance Against the Dictatorship. Massive protests erupted over the weekend, after the government-controlled electoral commission stopped tallying votes when the count showed Nasralla ahead of Hernández. I asked President Zelaya whether he’s suggesting the US is still running the show right now in Honduras.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] I have no doubt about it, Amy. And you know why? Because I was president of the country, and they tried to run everything. And their opposition is what took me out of power. The coup d’état against me was planned in Miami at the Southern Command. So I know, here, they run the churches — not all of them, not all of the pastors or all of the priests, but the main heads. They finance the main churches, evangelical churches, as well — not all of them, but most of them. They run the large owners of the media corporations. They feed them a line, day after day. And the military obey them, because they were trained by them at the School of the Americas. It now has another name, but the graduates are throughout Latin America. The private business — well, if you’re going to be a businessperson and make money in Honduras, you need to export to the United States, and so you have to have a good relationship, you have to have a visa. So, anything the United States says is the law for the private sector here. If they say, “Go into the abyssum,” they will. That’s how the history of this country has been. They run the transnationals, private sector, the churches, the major media — not just here, around the world. The major media conglomerates answer to the US line.

And that is why it’s necessary for them to reflect upon the harm that they’re doing to a small country like this. It’s incredible. But they’re not going to be able to govern here. If Juan Orlando is imposed in the next four years, they’re not going to be able to govern. The people will be in the streets. Everyone is shouting “Fuera JOH,” which means, “Out, [Juan] Orlando Hernández,” the president.

AMY GOODMAN: Has the United States reached out to Salvador Nasralla? Has he been speaking to the US government?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Yes, quite a bit. They have been meeting with him. But they want Salvador to sign an agreement with the president to review only some of the vote reports. They’re asking him to sign that. Salvador has refused, because he knows that it’s a trap that they’re trying to lead him into. They want just a partial review, and that is obviously not enough.

AMY GOODMAN: And what does Nasralla say to that? What’s his response?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The answer is the same that I’m giving you. I’ve spoken with him. We’re in coordination. I’m the coordinator of the alliance. He is the candidate and the president-elect. The answer is: Let’s have a general count, and let’s have the people in the streets.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about General Kelly, General Kelly who is this White House chief of staff right now, formerly head of SouthCom, certainly involved with matters relating to the United States in Honduras? Do you see him playing a role in the Honduran election?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Well, please extend my greetings to General Kelly. He came here several times. I did not meet him personally, but I know who he is. When he was the head of the Southern Command, head of SouthCom, he was given responsibility over Honduras, and he exercised a great deal of influence in the changes in the country. President Obama said it’s a mistake to put the military in charge of drug trafficking, because their armed forces are going to become contaminated. Well, here, General Kelly made that mistake of getting the armed forces involved. Instead of involved in defense, they’re involved in security. That’s a big mistake, because the military have a patriotic function to defend and support security, but not to be the first line on security. And so, he is, in large measure, responsible for the tragedy that the country is experiencing.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see a difference between the Trump administration’s involvement in Honduras today and the Obama administration, clearly involved in the coup against you, that toppled you, President Zelaya, in 2009?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] There’s less hypocrisy with Trump. He’s more direct about what he’s going to do, and he does it. Under the previous administration, there was a lack of sincerity in the words. And so, in a way, we like this. But Trump is very repressive. He’s very cold and harsh. He only sees the world from the standpoint of business. I think that we, human beings, be it in the eyes of God or in the eyes of the law, have the same value. This is what Jefferson said. It’s what Washington said. It’s what the US Constitution says. He lacks humanity.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see a connection between the coup against you in 2009 and the violence that has grown in Honduras, leading up to, for example, the assassination of Berta Cáceres in 2015?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The world is a global village. Everything is interrelated. You were here after the coup d’état, and you experienced that tragedy in Honduras. Since then, those who carried out the coup and removed me have been governing. I organized the people, and we’ve now defeated them. At the polls, in a civic manner, without violence, we defeated them. They have the weapons and all.

And, of course, they changed the state. They turned it into a military repressive state, violator of human rights. And there’s no more respect for due process. They’ve introduced new laws. There’s a law on secrecy, for example. I had a law called law for access to public information and law for transparency and a law on citizen participation. Now, these are prohibited. Public — popular consultations are provided by this tyrannical government.

They say there can be elections, but the elections are not the essence of democracy. Elections are: You’re presented a piece of paper with a bunch of photos, and you mark it. That is not the full extent of democracy. People making decisions is democracy, and it’s not accepted here now, almost 10 years after the coup d’état.

There’s a tie-in of death squads. People are being massacred, killed in series. We hadn’t seen that before in this country. That is a result of the state. Instead of seeking to be democratic, well, it simply centralized power and made it authoritarian and military. In addition, as indicated in State Department reports, the amount of drugs coming through Honduras has tripled. Of course, now there is directly military control of all movement of the country, and so it’s easier for the drug traffickers than in an open democratic system. Now, there is too much control by the security forces, and therefore the drugs go through very openly through Honduras.

Of course, all of that has been the result of the control that the United States came to acquire after the coup d’état. First, remember, Otto Reich came through with accusations against Honduras and so forth. But even so, we won the elections. Roberto Carmona, a Venezuelan CIA agent, came through. The United States took possession of Honduras after the coup d’état. And they’ve done a very bad job running the country. The economy has been low. The poverty has grown. Violence has grown.

Let me cite one datum: Violence went down in the six months leading up to the elections. Well, that was clearly an indicator that those who are running the violence and control those who are producing the violence are those who reduce the levels of violence. Why? Because there’s elections. And then, after the elections, the violence will come back. They are the ones who are running it. It’s like a Plan Colombia for Honduras. That is what we have called it.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you for the passage of the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act in the US Congress that would cut off military aid to Honduras until human rights violations stop?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Yes, I agree with passage of the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act, because the United States is financing a repressive state, violating human rights, and we need to have an in-depth investigation into all of that.

AMY GOODMAN: The former Bolivian President Jorge Quiroga is heading the Organization of American States, the OAS, election observation mission in Honduras. He said the tight margin, along with the irregularities, errors and systematic problems that have surrounded this election, does not allow the mission to be certain about the results. President Zelaya, what’s your response to the former Bolivian president?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Look, Tuto Quiroga, as we know him in Latin America, is a man from the far right. He’s a peon of the CIA. He works with them. He informs them. He was vice president of a dictator in Bolivia. In Bolivia, he appears to be critical of the system and of Evo Morales. Here, he has come to defend a dictator. So I don’t believe him. A traitor once, a traitor forever.

AMY GOODMAN: In The Wall Street Journal, there was an opinion piece that said that you are doing the bidding of Venezuela, President Zelaya. It’s also what the PR firms in Washington that represent the Honduran right are trying to say. What is your response to that?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] I didn’t know the Venezuelans until I became president of Honduras and I met Hugo Chávez. My record as a citizen is well known throughout my entire life in Honduras. I am a democratic-minded man. I am a pacifist. I don’t use weapons. Plus, I have a clean record, throughout my life, my private life, my public life, my administrative life. No one can have any doubts about me.

Now, in terms of my thinking and my ideology and my ways of thinking, I share directly with all peoples struggling for justice — Venezuela, the people of Bolívar, the people of Central America, of Morazán, the people of Cuba, Martí, and Artigas in Ecuador, the people of Mexico, the people of Farabundo Martí, the Sandinistas. All have struggled against dictatorships, opprobrious dictatorships, for centuries. That is consistent with my way of being. I defend the Bolivarian Revolution and the revolution of Martí and Morazán here, and the revolutions in the African countries and the Middle East, who are putting up with so much pressure by the empire. I am the defender of just causes, and I identify with that.

Now, if because of that they say that I have some affinity with the people, tell them it’s true. It’s true. The struggle being carried out by Nicolás Maduro to defend his natural resources, that the United States wants to recover — oil, the oil wells — and the European countries’ companies, as well, is a just struggle of the Venezuelan people. And I am with Nicolás Maduro in that struggle, because the actions carried out by the United States against Venezuela are public. The Obama decrees against Venezuela, declaring it to be an enemy of the world, is public. The aggression by Trump, saying he’s going to invade Venezuela, is public.

We Latin Americans and Caribbeans, Hispanic Americans who are here, just as we defend immigrants in the United States, we also defend peoples who fight for change. Here in Honduras, I began a process of change, and they took us out by bullets. And it was the Latin American left that defended me. At that time, the right united, but as a matter of hypocrisy, because within months they were with those who carried out the coups here, so they don’t want changes in Latin America, the Caribbean or anywhere in the world. Not even in the United States do they want changes. There was a candidate proposing democratic socialism. And similarly, we have a proposal along the same lines at the opposition alliance. So, the United States is denying reality. They might stop changes momentarily, but changes of humankind cannot be stopped. We continue going forward. Despite all of the forces that historically try to keep things as they are, humankind has gone through all sorts of change — war, revolution, peaceful demonstrations, like Gandhi, as Jesus Christ taught us. And we’re involved in that process. So, my identification with those causes is a matter of public record.

I come from a right-wing party. But in exercising power at the top level of the public life of any human being holding power, we realized we needed to help the workers, the campesinos, the teachers. I wanted this country to have relations with the world. I brought Lula. I brought Chávez. I brought President Bachelet, presidents of Mexico. I maintained good relations with the United States. You might not believe me, but they had a center with Chávez. They wanted to destroy Chávez because he wanted to free these peoples from the oppression of the big transnationals, the military and the transnationals. It’s the US and European military-industrial complex. With that, they’ve gone to destroy the Middle East.

We have anti-imperialist principles and anti-capitalist principles, because capital is good. Capital needs to be developed. Private enterprise plays a fundamental role in the history of our peoples, the private sector. I, myself, own agricultural businesses and so on. But capital was created by man, and it’s not possible that now capital is dominating human beings. Here, they want to run the nations. They want to run the states. They want to oppress and exploit the peoples. I’m a businessperson, but the role of a businessperson is to drive the economy, but not to guide the nation. The nation should be guided by common sense and reason. And that is democracy.

And I am grateful for this opportunity. I see this is not coming from the coup d’état. We are resisting with force, so we will maintain this position the rest of our lives. And we see that the people are the ones who are on the right side of history. The people is like the concept of God. The people is justice. The people is transparency. The people is calling for justice, demanding justice. So, if they want to judge me or criticize me for these views, they may do so.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you say that Salvador Nasralla shares your views?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] In large measure. Salvador is a fair man. He is a man of the right, but he is a fair man. And we entered into an alliance, and we signed this, and we said we’re going for a participatory democracy because representative democracy is a betrayal. It represents betrayal of the people, who need to be involved in referendums and in popular consultations. We consider him to be an advanced and progressive man. He’s not a socialist, but he is a progressive man. And that’s why he was our candidate. And that’s why we won the election. The people were able to pick up on his message.

AMY GOODMAN: President Zelaya, the significance of the police refusing to impose the curfew, enforce the curfew, for President Hernández?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] There was a mutiny in the COBRA Group, which is a special commando group, a rebellion. And that then spread to all of the civilian police. There was like 24 hours of rebellion. Logically, these are disciplined bodies that have their esprit de corps, and they defend their own integrity at the end of the day.

But it sends two messages to the nation: You are governing poorly, we want clean elections, and we want the winner to be recognized as the winner. We don’t want impositions. We’re not going to accept impositions. And we’re not going to obey the president when he orders us to lash out against the people. They are our sisters and brothers. And they said, “We are not going to repress the people. The people demand transparent elections and a transparent vote count.” And it was won. And the police now have stepped back. They reached a specific agreement. But they really left a revolutionary message with the people. It’s a group that is with the people. And we have confidence, and we’re grateful for this historic gesture on the part of the police, unlike the military. The military are the ones who are killing us. They are the ones who are assassinating. And they should reflect upon this, because they, too, are persons of the people.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, what do you see happening from this point on, President Zelaya?

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] Ask General Kelly. I already told you what we are going to do. And we are going to uphold the will of the people. I’ve told you what Salvador Nasralla is doing. We’re calling on the people to defend themselves in the streets, to take to the streets. If they do not defend their triumph, if we — what we don’t defend in the streets, we’re not going to be able to defend in the institutions, which are totally coopted and controlled by the tyranny that has been established in Honduras and with the support of the State Department.

And the State Department, to conclude, I ask you, look, you, in the United States, you have a major responsibility in the world. You have the money, the weapons, power in the world. You have the technology, some of the greatest strides in science. Don’t do this to this people. Stop supporting a fraud in Honduras. Please, allow us to act democratically. We’re a peaceful people, and we want to have a good relationship with the United States. But in this way, all that is done is for the United States to get a poor image, worse than it already might be.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s former Honduras President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a 2009 US-backed coup. He was speaking to us from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. He heads the operation LIBRE party, part of the Alliance Against the Dictatorship, which is led by Salvador Nasralla, the opposition presidential candidate. The Honduran government-controlled election commission still refuses to release the final results from the election nearly two weeks ago. You can go to democracynow.org to see all of our coverage of Honduras, including our coverage of his return to Honduras in 2011 on a plane from Nicaragua. This was after he was deposed and then returning to Honduras after the US-backed coup.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll be talking about The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assessing a President. Stay with us.

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