Two powerful forces have swept through Honduras since the June 28, 2009, coup that deposed President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya: one magnificent, the other truly horrible. The first is the resistance movement that rose up to contest the coup, surprising everyone in its breadth, nonviolence and resilience. The second is the new regime’s brutal repression in response. "It’s been terribly painful, and a great awakening," reflects Ayax Irías, a sociologist at the National Autonomous University of Honduras.
While the conflict continues to escalate, the Obama administration is vigorously supporting the coup regime under Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo Sosa. "We believe that President Lobo and his administration have taken the steps necessary to restore democracy," declared Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on March 4. But the resistance movement itself, with its demand for a reconstitution of Honduran society from below, is a vivid testament to the country’s need for real democracy. As the resistance faces off against the US-backed oligarchs and military, there’s no question that this is the most important moment in Honduran history, even more important than the immense general strike of 1954, from which all modern Honduran history flows.
I returned to Honduras in February for the first time since the coup to find a country transformed. People involved in the resistance were bursting with political energy, with an utterly new faith in their power. But they were also well aware of how dangerous the situation is–as am I, so I am changing some of the identifying details of those with whom I spoke.
Most obviously new was the graffiti, which was everywhere I went–from Tegucigalpa, the capital; to San Pedro Sula, the big industrial city in the north; to the smaller cities of El Progreso and La Lima in the banana zone; to, most daringly, the walls along the US Air Force base at Palmerola. "¡Golpista!," the all-important epithet that means a perpetrator or supporter of the coup, or golpe de estado, was splayed on storefronts, television stations and houses. Most messages were straightforward: "Militares Asesinos" or "¡Elecciones No!," protesting the November 29 elections, boycotted by almost all pro-resistance candidates, who objected that no free and fair elections could take place under military occupation. Others were more pointedly personal: "Micheletti Pinochetti," equating the coup-regime president, Roberto Micheletti, with the dictator of Chile after its 1973 coup, Augusto Pinochet. "Erase me, golpista!" taunted one wall.
Even more remarkable was the change in young people. Teenagers and twentysomethings I had known for a decade–largely the children of trade unionists–who before hadn’t been politically engaged at all, were suddenly sitting up in their chairs differently, eager to tell me stories of marches they’d joined, tear gas they’d tasted. One 15-year-old girl arrived in a red T-shirt reading, "I ♥ Honduras Without Golpistas." Cellphones kept going off with newly popular songs of the resistance as ring tones–"Traidores" or "Nos Tienen Miedo Porque No Tenemos Miedo" (They’re afraid of us because we’re not afraid), the song by Argentine Liliana Felipe and Mexican Jesusa Rodríguez, which has become the informal anthem of the resistance.