For three days now, crowds have gathered around the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. On Monday night they were dispersed with tear gas and bullets in the air.
Undeterred, the National Front for Resistance has continued its protests against the military coup that overthrew elected President Manuel Zelaya on 28 June. After a number of failed attempts, Zelaya unexpectedly returned to Honduras three days ago and is now resident inside the Brazilian embassy building.
A spokesperson for the government of Roberto Micheletti, which seized power three months ago with the support of the army, the Church and the judiciary, was anxious to discount rumours that they intended to take Zelaya by force—despite having cut off water and electricity to the embassy building just hours before.
Two months ago, they would almost certainly have felt confident enough to do it, but today that confidence is fast waning.
What has changed?
There is no doubt that the decision to launch a coup against Zelaya was taken with the approval of some right wingers inside the US state department grouped around former US ambassador John Negroponte and George Bush’s sinister Latin American adviser Otto Reich.
Both have a history of involvement in Honduras, and some of those around them were also close to Hilary Clinton. While the coup was immediately condemned by everyone from the Organisation of American States to Barack Obama himself, the new government were invited to Washington and treated with respect.
From then on, Clinton and others argued for negotiation between the elected president Zelaya and the new regime, despite the fact that it came to power by force.
Those negotiations have now been dragging on for nearly three months, under the aegis of ex-president of Costa Rica Oscar Arias, who played the same mediating role in the 1980s, essentially to undermine the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua.
The difference now is that Zelaya’s removal sparked a mass movement of resistance which has—astonishingly—maintained its momentum despite vicious repression, attacks on pro-Zelaya media, imposition of curfews and persecution of Zelaya’s supporters in every area of life.
There have been strikes, highway blockades, street protests, student demonstrations, and peasant mobilisations against the coup—and this movement has prevented any attempt to resolve the situation in the way the US and their Honduran friends would have liked.
Zelaya, a moderate politician, had called a referendum to decide on whether or not to amend the Honduran constitution (a document imposed by the US in the 1980s). He had also taken some social measures including raising the minimum wage and resisting the privatisation of the media.
In the mind of the mass of Hondurans, however, he had become identified with change and Latin American solidarity. By contrast, those who made the coup, were defending the small wealthy elite in Honduran society.
That is why tens of thousands have resisted the new regime and defended Zelaya.
What is not clear is what Zelaya himself envisages.
He has suggested he would be willing to talk with Micheletti. The US, too, is pushing for a solution that will protect the army command, the judges and the business organisations from any kind of prosecution for their involvement in the coup.
No doubt the price of peace will be to abandon the idea of a new constitution and block any further reforms. Zelaya might be willing to accept such a deal. But the movement on the streets, while it supports the deposed president, sees far beyond him too.
They have seen who the enemy is, and they have lived under the repression of the last three months. It seems very unlikely that they will just surrender and go home.
If the de facto government is teetering and Zelaya has returned, it is because mass action has changed the face of Honduras. That is the lesson the mass of Honduran people have taken from the resistance—and it is the one that the US, and Latin America’s ruling elites, fear most.