Dr. Juan Almendares, Honduran medical doctor and award-winning human rights activist. He is the president of the Honduran Peace Committee, as well as the past secretary of the Coordinating Committee of Popular Organizations. He was an opposition candidate with the Democratic Unification Party during the last presidential elections.
Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at NYU and author of Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism. His latest book is Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City.
AMY GOODMAN: In the first military coup in Central America in a quarter of a century, the Honduran military has ousted the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. Former Parliamentary speaker Roberto Micheletti, who was sworn in as Zelaya’s replacement Sunday, has imposed a two-day nationwide curfew. But hundreds of Zelaya supporters remain on the streets. Shots were fired at protesters near the presidential palace early Monday morning.
The ousted president was forced from the presidential palace by armed soldiers early Sunday morning and flown to Costa Rica after he tried to carry out a non-binding referendum to extend his term in office. Micheletti says Zelaya was not ousted through a coup but by a legal process. But speaking at a press conference in Costa Rica, Zelaya called it a kidnapping and vowed to return to his country as president. He explained a small group of elites and military officers were behind the coup.
PRESIDENT MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] I think it is a group of military men, and it’s not the entire army or all the armed forces. There are good soldiers who are good and capable people who are not blinded with ambition or greed. There are some who have not been blinded by the voracity of a small elite, which, through politics and the economy, have provoked this terrible event.
AMY GOODMAN: The military coup in Honduras and the reported arrests of the Cuban, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan ambassadors to Honduras have been roundly condemned by the Organization of American States that held an emergency session Sunday. The Honduran representative compared the coup to what happened in Chile in 1973. The Venezuelan representative accused former Bush administration undersecretary of state Otto Reich of complicity in the coup. Earlier in the day, the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez warned his armed forces were on alert.
President Obama, meanwhile, issued a declaration Sunday morning saying he was, quote, “deeply concerned” by reports from Honduras. In a statement later in the day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the action against the ousted Honduran President should be, quote, “condemned by all.” The US ambassador to Honduras reaffirmed the United States only recognizes Manuel Zelaya as the President of Honduras.
Well, for the latest from Honduras, we go there to Dr. Juan Almendares. He joins us on the line from the capital, Tegucigalpa. We’re also joined here in our firehouse studio by New York University professor of Latin American history, Greg Grandin.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Dr. Almendares. Can you describe what is happening right now in Tegucigalpa?
DR. JUAN ALMENDARES: Well, what we are having here is a military coup d’etat who has been persecuting and repressive action against some member of the legitimate government of President Zelaya and also popular leaders. We have almost a national strike for workers, people, students and intellectuals, and they are organized in a popular resistance-run pacific movement against this violation of the democracy. So we want a democracy now. We want people from all over the world to [inaudible] service, make contacts, because what we are looking right now is a really—hello? Hello? Hello?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, we can hear you fine. We can hear you fine, Dr. Almendares.
DR. JUAN ALMENDARES: Oh, yes, alright, alright. So what we are looking now is, we are going back to repressive situation. Some of the advisers of the government have been perpetrators, torture perpetrators, of the 1980s. We have a very, very strong, conservative way of looking things. However, we are not only strong for—not only for President Zelaya; we are also strong for the rights of the people, because in this movement is not only persons from one side of political sector. There are many sectors involved in this movement trying to restitute the constitutional rights, the human rights. We are really worried for the human rights.
Some of these people think like Pinochet, and they are comparing Zelaya with Salvador Allende. And we have here in Honduras a different situation. We have a government who were doing not a referendum; they were doing just a survey, a simple survey, to ask people whether they want to have a constitutional reform. But we have an alliance between the very powerful class in this country with the military.
And we want really actions from the Organization of States of America, from the European community, not only declarations. We want actions to contribute to the democratic beginning, because we don’t really have a true democracy in this country. We have just a beginning to have some democratic principles. That’s why the people are struggling. This is a very, very poor country. We are still occupied by the United States of America. We want really important solution. Of course, we want self-determinancy, sovereignty, but also we want to have respect of human rights of the people.
AMY GOODMAN: What kind of information are you getting, Dr. Almendares, from television? I understand TV channel 8 was shut down, radio stations closed, CNN and Telesur not allowed to air news on cable.
DR. JUAN ALMENDARES: That’s true. I mean, in the beginning, they were all—cancel out all the TV channels, the radio information, who are against the video situation in Honduras. And we don’t have really freedom of press. We don’t have access to the people who are opposing to the video situation. So there is no—not really access to information, no freedom of the press. And we are really having almost a terror situation for our popular leaders. We have people concentrating in front of the presidential house and [inaudible]—
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “a terror situation,” Dr. Almendares, for popular leaders?
DR. JUAN ALMENDARES: Well, because they are—they are calling—they are having, all the time, militaries coming against people demonstration. And also, they are persecuting some leaders. They have to be out of the country. And also, they captured the minister of foreign relationship, Patricia Rodas. We don’t know what happened with her. So, we don’t have so much information, and also there is no freedom of communication. We have also a curfew, because after 9:00 you can be shot if you are on the streets. So we have a curfew from 9:00 to 6:00 a.m.
AMY GOODMAN: You can be shot, you said? You can be shot, you said?
DR. JUAN ALMENDARES: Well, I mean—well, yes, because [inaudible] we have a—I don’t know if you understand; maybe I don’t explain very well—a curfew. So, if you go on the street after 9:00, I mean, they are not responsible if they shoot you, because they say this is for, they say, like prevention of any situation. So they are threatening. They’re threatening the human rights of the people. And human rights activists are really—we consider that there is a new situation on respect of human rights in Honduras.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Juan Almendares, we have to break, but we’re going to come back. I want to ask you more about who you believe is behind this coup and also talk to Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history, author of Empire’s Workshop.
This is Democracy Now! Then a national broadcast exclusive with the President of Ecuador. By the way, he’s in Nicaragua today, along with the President of Venezuela and, of course, Nicaragua, meeting with Zelaya, the ousted president of Honduras. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Coup in Honduras, that’s what we’re talking about right now with Dr. Juan Almendares, who is a Honduran medical doctor, award-winning human rights activist, president of the Honduran Peace Committee, and Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at NYU, New York University. His latest book is called Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City.
Who is behind this, Greg?
GREG GRANDIN: Well, I think it’s fairly clearly, who is behind it is the military, sectors of the military, if not the whole military, and sectors of the old political establishment, who see the changes in South America, and they’re doing their best to make sure they don’t arrive in Central America.
AMY GOODMAN: And the connection to the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia?
GREG GRANDIN: Well, a number of the leaders of the Honduran military were trained in the School of the Americas, both during the Cold War and after, at the end of the Cold War.
AMY GOODMAN: Like who?
GREG GRANDIN: Well, Romeo Vasquez, the head of the armed forces, who Zelaya removed from office just a few days ago, because he refused to support the referendum, non-binding referendum. He’s obviously behind it, as well as the head of the navy and other high-ranking officials.
The Honduran military is effectively a subsidiary of the United States government. Honduras, as a whole, if any Latin American country is fully owned by the United States, it’s Honduras. Its economy is wholly based on trade, foreign aid and remittances. So if the US is opposed to this coup going forward, it won’t go forward. Zelaya will return, if the United States—if Obama and Hillary Clinton are sincere in their statements about returning Zelaya to power.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think about their responses. There was concern when it first happened, the ouster, that the language wasn’t strong enough.
GREG GRANDIN: Yeah, at first the language is very tepid. Obama expressed concern for events, and Clinton also issued a statement that was a little bit better, but not very strong. This is another example of the United States following the lead of South America and Latin America as a whole. Latin America came out very strongly against this coup, all of the leaders. I mean, you hear in the mainstream media Chavez and Fidel Castro condemning it, but what you don’t hear is that Lula in Brazil, Bachelet in Chile, every—almost every Latin American leader and government condemn this coup in an uncertain terms. And the United States is playing catch-up aligning itself.
AMY GOODMAN: Interesting today, President Obama, who met with Bachelet last week, of Chile, in Washington, is meeting today with Alvaro Uribe of Colombia in Washington. Dr. Juan Almendares, do you agree with Professor Grandin’s assessment of who is behind this coup?
DR. JUAN ALMENDARES: Well, I will say that we have really—we have an army who have been really repressive and torturers since the 1980s, and most of this military have been trained by the School of America. I agree with that, and I think that is terrible, because they have been guardians of the multinational business from the United States or from other countries. And this is [inaudible] to be all the school of the army in Honduras who wants to—who have links with very powerful people, very rich, wealthy people who keep the poverty in the country, who keep the lack of freedom of speech. And I think that this is very important.
But that’s what I say, to have a concrete action. They usually—they usually have been, in history, obeying to the US policy. But now they have the [inaudible] statement against this coup d’etat by the ambassador of the United States in Honduras, by President Obama. And we think that it’s important that we—we want a concrete action. We usually obey the orders of US policy. So, behind this actually are the—really the old line of military who are really with the mind of torturers, perpetration of the violation of human rights of the Honduran people.
AMY GOODMAN: Interesting, when looking at past coups and the parallel being made to 1973, the September 11th, ’73, coup against Allende, when President Obama met with Michelle Bachelet, a reporter asked if he wanted to apologize for CIA involvement in the Chilean elections. Obama said last week, “I’m interested in going forward, not looking back. I think that the United States has been an enormous force for good in the world. I think there have been times where we’ve made mistakes. But I think that what is important is looking at what our policies are today and what my administration intends to do in cooperating with the region.” So he refused to outright apologize, Professor Grandin.
GREG GRANDIN: Yeah, and he has an opportunity to look forward. He could do all—he could bring the full power of the United States to the restoration of Zelaya to Honduras. And the reference—I think it’s obviously important to remember all of the series of coups during the Cold War, but there was a more recent coup that I think that this actually bears striking similarity to, and that’s the kidnapping of Aristide, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in Haiti in 2004. And this in many ways parallels that. And the question is, will Obama actually use the US to restore Zelaya?
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, Dr. Juan Almendares, same language used. President Aristide said he was kidnapped, and then the opposition forces, the coup leaders, said he had signed a resignation letter, the same thing they’re saying about Zelaya, which he is contesting.
DR. JUAN ALMENDARES: Well, I think this is a lie. I hear the voice of the administer of presidency and also the voice of President Zelaya in Costa Rica, who say that he didn’t sign that. I mean, this is a told statement. And that’s the why we don’t believe it. Nobody believes in this country; particularly thousands of people don’t believe that. And also we have been terrified, so what we are doing is [inaudible]—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will continue to follow this story. I want to thank you for being with us, Dr. Juan Almendares, speaking to us from the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, where a coup has just occurred, the ouster of the democratically elected President Zelaya, who is now in Nicaragua meeting with other Latin American leaders. Thank you for being with us, head of the Honduran Peace Commission, and Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at New York University.