Honduras Can Break Free of Washington and Neoliberalism

Since a US-backed coup toppled leftist president Manuel Zelaya in 2009, Honduras has been in crisis. The election of socialist Xiomara Castro is a chance to break the cycle and take on neoliberalism.

Xiomara Castro celebrates during general elections on November 28, 2021, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. (Inti Ocon / Getty Images)

What appeared impossible has been achieved: the people of Honduras have broken the perpetuation, through electoral fraud and thuggish violence, of a brutal, illegal, illegitimate, and criminal regime.

By means of sheer resistance, resilience, mobilization, and organization, they have managed to defeat Juan Orlando Hernández’s narco-dictatorship at the ballot box. As presidential candidate of the left-wing Libre Party (the Freedom and Refoundation Party, in its Spanish acronym), Xiomara Castro obtained a splendid 50-plus percent of the vote — between 15 to 20 points more than her closest rival, National Party candidate Nasry Asfura — in an election with historic high levels of participation (68 percent).

The extraordinary feat performed by the people of Honduras takes place under the dictatorial regime of Hernández (aka JOH) in an election marred by what appears to be targeted assassinations of candidates and activists. Leading up to October 2021, sixty-four acts of electoral violence, including eleven attacks and twenty-seven assassinations, had been perpetrated. And in the period preceding the election (November 11–23), another string of assassinations, mainly of candidates, took place.

None of the fatal victims were members of Hernández’s National Party. The aim seems to have been to terrorize the opposition, and particularly their electorate, into believing that it was unsafe to turn out to vote — and that even if they did, they would again steal the election through fraud and violence, as they had done twice already, in 2013 and 2017.

Commentators correctly characterize this as the “Colombianization” of Honduran politics — that is, a ruling gang in power deploys security forces and paramilitary groups to assassinate opposition activists. In Honduras, the most despicable act was the murder of environmental activist, feminist, and indigenous leader Berta Cáceres by armed intruders in her own house after years of death threats.

Cáceres had been a leading figure in the grassroots struggle against electoral fraud and dictatorship and had been calling for the urgent refounding of the nation, a proposal incorporated into the programs of mass social movements such as the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras. Since 2009, hundreds of activists have been assassinated at the hands of the police, the army, and paramilitaries.

The Colombianization analogy does not stop at the assassination of opponents. Last June, the Washington Post explained the extent of infiltration by organized crime: “Military and police chiefs, politicians, businessmen, mayors and even three presidents have been linked to cocaine trafficking or accused of receiving funds from trafficking.”

US judge Kevin Castel, who sentenced Tony Hernández, JOH’s brother, to life in prison after he was found guilty of smuggling 185 tons of cocaine into the United States, said, “Here, the [drug] trafficking was indeed state-sponsored.” In March 2021, at the trial against Geovanny Fuentes, a Honduran accused of drug trafficking, the prosecutor, Jacob Gutwillig, said that JOH helped Fuentes with the trafficking of tons of cocaine.

Corruption permeates the whole Honduran establishment. National Party candidate Nasry Asfura has faced a pretrial “for abuse of authority, use of false documents, embezzlement of public funds, fraud and money laundering,” and Yani Rosenthal, a congressman and banker who was the candidate of the once ruling Liberal Party, was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison in the United States for “participating in financial transactions using illicit proceeds (drug money laundering).”

The parallels continue. Like Colombia, Honduras is a narco-state in which the United States has a host of military bases. It was from Honduran territory that the Contra mercenaries waged a proxy war against Sandinista Nicaragua in the 1980s, and it was also from Honduras that the US-led military invasion of Guatemala was launched in 1954, bringing about the violent ousting of democratically elected left-wing nationalist president Jacobo Árbenz. Specialists aptly refer to the country as USS Honduras.

Cocaine trafficking and state terrorism, which operates as part of the drug business, are tolerated and probably supported by various US agencies in exchange for a large US military presence — the United States has Soto Cano and twelve other military bases in Honduras — due to geopolitical calculations like regional combat against left-wing governments. This criminal system’s stability requires the elimination of political and social activists.

Thus, many US institutions, from the White House down the food chain, turn a blind eye to the colossal levels of corruption. In fact, Southern Command has been actively building Honduras’s repressive military capabilities by funding and training special units like Battalion 316, which reportedly acts as a death squad “guilty of kidnap, torture, and murder.”

“Between 2010 and 2016, as US ‘aid’ and training continued to flow, over 120 environmental activists were murdered by hitmen, gangs, police, and the military for opposing illegal logging and mining,” one report explains.

The legacy of right-wing governments since the violent ousting of Manuel Zelaya in 2009 is abysmal. Honduras is one the most violent countries in the world (37 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, with 60 percent attributable to organized crime), with staggering levels of poverty (73.6 percent of households live below the poverty line, out of which 53.7 percent live in extreme poverty), high levels of unemployment (well over 12 percent), and even higher levels of underemployment (the informal sector of the economy, due to the effects of COVID-19, grew from 60 to 70 percent). Its external debt is over $15 billion (57 percent of its GDP), and the nation suffers from a high incidence of embezzlement and illegal appropriation of state resources by criminal administrations.

The rot is so pronounced that back in February this year, a group of Democrats in the US Senate introduced legislation intended to cut off economic aid and sales of ammunition to Honduran security forces. The proposal “lays bare the violence and abuses perpetrated since the 2009 military-backed coup, as a result of widespread collusion between government officials, state and private security forces, organized crime and business leaders.” In Britain, Colin Burgon, the president of Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America, issued scathing criticism of the British government’s complicity for “having sold (when Boris Johnson was Foreign Minister no less) to the Honduran government spyware designed to eavesdrop on its citizens, months before the state rounded up thousands of people in a well-orchestrated surveillance operation.”

To top it all off, through the Zone for Employment and Economic Development initiative, whole chunks of the national territory are being given to private enterprise under a “special regime” that empowers investors to establish their own security bodies — including their own police force and penitentiary system — to investigate criminal offenses and instigate legal prosecutions. This takes neoliberalism and the dream of multinational capital to abhorrent levels: the sell-off of portions of the national territory to private enterprise. To state that the Honduran oligarchy, led by JOH, is “selling the country down the river” is not a figure of speech.

It is this monstrosity, constructed since the overthrow of President Mel Zelaya in 2009 on top of the existing oligarchic state, that the now victorious Libre Party and incoming president Xiomara Castro need to overcome to start improving the lives of the people of Honduras. The array of extremely nasty internal and external forces that her government will be up against is frighteningly powerful, and they have demonstrated in abundance what they are prepared to do to defend their felonious interests.

President-elect Xiomara’s Libre Party is the largest in the 128-seat Congress, and with its coalition partner, Salvador, it will have a very strong parliamentary presence, which will be central to any proposed referendum for a constituent assembly aimed at refounding the nation. Libre has also won in the capital city, Tegucigalpa, and in San Pedro Sula, the country’s second largest city. More importantly, unlike elections elsewhere (in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia), the National Party’s candidate, Asfura, has conceded defeat. Thus, Xiomara has a very strong mandate.

However, in a region subjected to US-led regime-change operations — the coup in Bolivia, the coup attempt in Nicaragua, the mercenary attack against Venezuela, a raft of violent street disorders in Cuba, vigorous destabilization against recently elected president Pedro Castillo in Peru, and so on, ad nauseam — Honduras will need all the international solidarity we can provide, which we must do.

The heroic struggle of the people of Honduras has again demonstrated that it can be done: neoliberalism and its brutal foreign and imperialist instigators can be defeated and a better world can be built. So before Washington, its Honduran cronies, its European accomplices, and the world corporate media unleash any shenanigans, let’s say loud and clear: US hands off Honduras!