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Normalizing a coup

Vanessa Zepeda left her house in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa around 2pm on 4 February. By 6.30pm her lifeless body had been dumped from a passing car in the city’s Loraque neighbourhood – a community known for its resistance to the military takeover of Honduras. The point was to intimidate. Vanessa was a 29-year-old nurse, a union organizer with the Social Security Union and an activist in the democratic resistance to last June’s Honduran coup and its normalization under ‘elected’ President Porfi rio ‘Pepe’ Lobo, who had been inaugurated just eight days before. Pepe is said to be a law-and-order man – although that doesn’t seem to have done much good for Ms Zepeda or any of the other Honduran activists who continue to be brutalized and murdered.

The official language coming from the Honduran political élite these days is all about amnesty (for the coup-plotters), national reconciliation, truth commissions (chaired by a rightwing Guatemalan politician) and forgetting the past. The legitimate President, Manuel Zelaya, has been seen off from his precarious perch in the Brazilian embassy to exile in the Dominican Republic. Also anxious to ‘forget the past’ is the US Government – whose anti-coup actions were timid and ambivalent. It is currently clinging to the fi gleaf of last November’s martial law elections, in which less than half the electorate bothered to vote.

The issue in the elections was never who would win – both presidential candidates were pro-coup – but rather the turnout. President Zelaya and the besieged democratic opposition had called for a boycott, arguing that fair elections were impossible in conditions where opposition media were suppressed and anti-coup candidates harassed and intimidated.

Initially, the head of the Electoral Commission announced a twothirds turnout – a fi gure pounced on by North American media and politicians anxious to fi nd ‘a solution’ to the crisis. Independent observers have placed the turnout at below 50 per cent. Latin American opinion was much more divided, with Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and others refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the electoral mandate that installed Pepe. A February meeting of all Caribbean and Latin American countries to set up an alternative to the US-dominated Organization of American States pointedly refused to invite Honduras. But this has not prevented US diplomats from scurrying around the region trying to drum up support. The Conservative Government of Canada, anti-Zelaya from the start, was quick to jump on board, beholden as it is to the interests of Canadian mining and textile companies in Honduras.

An image can tell a story. Ms Zepeda’s picture, taken at a demonstration before her death, shows a proud and determined activist – not someone likely to back down. She paid a heavy price. The photo has been turned into a poster by her fellow union members: a symbol of the ongoing resistance to the normalization of military rule.

The tragedy of Honduras has left many Latin Americans sceptical of the Obama Government’s 2009 pledge to leave behind the bad old days of US meddling in favour of a more principled approach to hemispheric affairs. The main Washington lobbyist for Roberto Micheletti and the other coup-makers in Honduras is Lanny Davis, a former lawyer for US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and husband Bill at the time of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Those at the top have better access to the corridors of power than Vanessa Zepeda could ever have hoped for.

Richard Swift

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