Between the Lines Q&A

A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
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under-reported in mainstream media
posted Sept. 30, 2009

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Return of Ousted Honduran President
Throws Coup Government Into Disarray

 RealAudio  MP3

Interview with Greg Grandin,
professor of history at New York University,
conducted by Scott Harris


Just days after Honduran President Manual Zelaya, overthrown in a June 28 coup d'etat, clandestinely returned to his nation and took refuge in the Brazilian Embassy on Sept. 21, the coup government's President Roberto Micheletti suspended constitutional rights and the freedom of assembly. Micheletti also forcibly closed down media outlets viewed as supportive of Zelaya. But after leaders of the Honduran Congress objected to the decree, Micheletti announced that he would soon ask the Supreme Court to rescind his suspension of civil liberties.

President Zelaya, holed up with dozens of supporters in the Brazilian embassy claimed that the Honduran military, which has surrounded the building, were subjecting people inside to a "neurotoxic" gas that caused many of them to become ill. The coup government had given Brazil an ultimatum of 10 days to either grant Zelaya asylum or hand him over for arrest.

Zelaya's surprise return to Honduras threw the coup government into apparent disarray. Micheletti had invited officials of the Organization of American States to come to Honduras to prepare for talks, but then blocked four members of the group from entering the country. He later issued a new invitation for an OAS delegation to return. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with New York University professor of history Greg Grandin, who discusses the latest developments in Honduras, the role of social movements and mixed signals sent by the Obama administration on restoring democratic rule to the Central American nation.

GREG GRANDIN:Manuel Zelaya remains in the Brazilian Embassy subject to steady harassment. There's been reports that there's been audio harassment, loud high-pitched noise meant to create all sorts of disturbances and difficulties to the people inside the embassy. There's been reports of tear gas and other chemicals being sent into the embassy. And I think this coup may be on its -- maybe it's a little bit too optimistic -- but it may be on its last legs. Or, it's certainly isolating itself in the international community. You have to remember that the strategy of the people who carried the coup was to present to the world that this was a constitutional change of government, that this wasn't a coup, that it was a lawful and legal transition from one president to another. A president who supposedly violated the Constitution and with every action that the coup government takes, that argument is revealed to be what it is: a lie.

BETWEEN THE LINES:Now, the de-facto government has given Brazil a 10-day ultimatum to deliver Zelaya to them. What is your take on the threats coming out of the de-facto government toward the Brazilian government.

GREG GRANDIN: I don't believe there's any way that the Honduran government could enforce that ultimatum. If it did, then it would be even more isolated. Again, remember that it's only chance is to get the rest of the world to agree to acknowledge the outcome of these elections scheduled on Nov. 29 and I think images of Hondurans storming the Brazilian embassy would be pretty damning.

BETWEEN THE LINES:The United States recently condemned Manuel Zelaya's return to Honduras, where he's holed up in the Brazilian embassy, labeling him as irresponsible and possibly fomenting violence in the streets to his call to his supporters to rise up in protest and bring down this illegitimate government, as he sees it. What do you make of this criticism from the United States government, the Obama administration, here?

GREG GRANDIN: Well, since the beginning of the coup, since June 28 -- now coming on three months, the U.S. has sent mixed signals -- Barack Obama himself has, at times sent a very strong message to Honduras, that this was a coup; he called it such. And he, at points, demanded the restitution of Zelaya. And in many ways, Obama was responding to pressure from other Latin American countries, the Organization of American States.

On the other hand, there were spin elements within the State Department, within you could think of it, the Hillary Clinton wing of the Democratic party that has been more circumspect than its condemnation of the coup. They've been forced little by little to ratchet up the pressure, suspending visas and eventually coming out with a statement that it wouldn't recognize, as of now, the Nov. 29 elections.

These kind of comments from different spokesmen within the department or the government have been a constant since the coup, another indication of the mixed messages that the Obama administration is sending.

BETWEEN THE LINES:What is the power of the grassroots organizations that have taken to the streets at their own peril? Arrests and some killing of this protesters at the hands of the police and the military. What power do they have to restore Zelaya to power at this point?

GREG GRANDIN: Well, I would say that around June 28, Zelaya had the support of the organized sector of the population: unionists, heads of organizations, members of the gay and lesbian and feminist communities, the environmentalists. Pretty much the people who were consciously political, understood themselves as members of the left. I think what's happened over the last 21/2 months is that base has grown as the economy has suffered as a recent of the coup, as these successive curfews, 24-hour curfews, indefinite curfews at times, alienate people; they don't have access to food; they don't have access to markets; small business is shuttered. I think that discontent is growing well beyond that organized base of the population.

Now, at the same time, I think that organized base of the population has gotten the strongest sense of itself. It's been actually very strategic. I guess what I'm trying to say is that everything that the coup plotters has feared Zelaya would do, and probably the reason why they overthrew him, because they were afraid of his alliance and cultivation of the popular movement. They'd brought it into being as a result of the coup. They've polarized the country, they've created a sense of massive delegitimization of state institutions and they've basically strengthened the popular movement as a result of the coup. So there's a kind of ironic kind of summoning into being what they hoped to prevent.

BETWEEN THE LINES:Well, do these groups have any hope of influencing the outcome of the Nov. 29 election or whatever election comes in the coming days?

GREG GRANDIN:Well, I don't think so. The Honduras has been basically ruled by either a candidate of the Liberal party or the National party since the 1860s, except for periods of military rule, it's really a two-party system. When I say two-party system, it's even more restricted than a two-party system in the United States. The leaders of these parties really come out of a small economic clique and they pretty much control the electoral machinery.

Prior to the the coup, it was clear that either a Liberal party or hte National party candidate was going to win. Since the coup, the National party candidate had the advantage because the Liberal party split. But again, it was one or the other. The influence of these social movements isn't going to be in the electoral, it's going to be through the creation of a grassroots movement. Greg Grandin is author of "Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City." He serves on the editorial committee of the North American Congress on Latin America For up-to-date regional reports on the situation in Honduras, visit

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Scott Harris is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 45 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Oct. 9, 2009. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.

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