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Issue # 1422      5 August 2009

Democracy has a price and I am willing to pay it

Exclusive interview with Honduran President Zelaya Rosales for Sirel, South American journal of the International Union of Food Workers

S: You have announced your intention of going back to Honduras at any cost. Is that a final decision?

ZR: It’s not something aimed at destabilising the country. On the contrary, it’s a way to stabilise the country. We believe this is the best path towards starting a national dialogue that will solve the conflict and will put an end to the repression that the Honduran people are suffering.

S: A dialogue with whom?

ZR: With the people, because in a democracy it is the people who rule. The sectors in power that have taken up arms are repressive groups and must surrender the government to the people, who did not entrust them with that power.

S: What has pained you most of this coup staged against you and your government staff?

ZR: It pains me to see that my country is being torn apart, that society is suffering, that everything we’ve accomplished thanks to the efforts of many generations is now being threatened at gunpoint.

S: The de facto government has been completely isolated by the international community and is facing a strong and unyielding resistance on the home front led by grassroots movements. But it continues firmly entrenched in an intransigent attitude. Have you asked yourself if this is just recklessness on its part, or if it is confident it has support from sectors abroad?

ZR: They’re like beasts in the wild, desperately holding on to their prey. To them Honduras is like their own personal hacienda. They’re a group of ten families who want to consolidate their economic benefits and privileges. But they’re acting on baseless fears, because no one is threatening to touch their interests. Still, they see democratic development as harmful to them and they can’t stand democracy.

S: In the press conference [that day] you said that there are rightwing political sectors in the US who backed the coup and are still supporting it. Are you convinced that these sectors are involved?

ZR: These people have publicly come out and said they support the coup, even US senators and congresspersons. Mr Otto Reich, former Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, declared that he was in favour of the coup, and there are many other representatives in the United States who have done the same. So there is sufficient proof, evidence, that former president George W Bush’s hawks are behind the coup.

S: How important has the grassroots, social and labour movements been in blocking the de facto government’s advance?

ZR: They’re the leading players in the defence of democracy, because they believe that democracy is the means to achieve social gains. They’re combating the coup and will not give up until all the effects of this outrageous abuse of the Honduran people and democracy are corrected.

The coup leaders are defying the world, and we must set a precedent before it is too late.

S: The IUF has been following the situation in Honduras – before, during and after the coup – and reporting from inside the popular movement. For the organisations in the resistance movement there are two elements that are non-negotiable: they will not accept an amnesty for those responsible for the coup, and are not willing to abandon the process for the fourth ballot and the constituent assembly. What do you think of these two issues?

ZR: It would be absurd to reward the coup leaders for staging a coup. I think what the social movements want is to find a solution to the conflict, but they don’t want to see anyone who has committed criminal acts or ordinary crimes rewarded or pardoned. At the same time, I think that the seven-point proposal put forward by President Oscar Arias contemplates a political amnesty, but that amnesty doesn’t include criminal acts or ordinary crimes.

As for social reforms, I think that finding a new strategy to move forward with these reforms must be included as part of a broad process of discussion within Honduran society. Social reforms cannot be halted, and neither should the people be denied their right to participation, because these are constitutional rights. In this sense, Oscar Arias’ proposal has not been discussed in depth, because what the coup perpetrators are not willing to do is restore the democratic system. They want a de facto regime, without laws; they want to retain power through violence, and that’s something we cannot accept.

S: Two elements have been pointed to as key in reaching a solution to the conflict: the position of the United States, and the role of the Armed Forces. What do you think?

ZR: Just today we sent a letter to President Barack Obama respectfully asking him to take firmer action, not only against the repressive government, but also against those who conspired to overthrow the government and staged the coup. We hope to receive an answer soon, so that the measures that are implemented will really tend to restore democracy and the rule of law. If that doesn’t happen, we will all be at risk, not just me – ousted for defending the rights of society – but the entire population. I think President Obama not only has the diplomatic mechanisms to pressure the de facto government, but also other significant means, and I hope that he will use them, as other Latin American countries.

With respect to the Armed Forces, if they’re going to be used to stage coups, then naturally we will have to reconsider their role. But I think that, in this case, the coup was ordered by the highest-ranking officers. Lower ranking officers and the new generation, who will inherit a bloodstained Armed Forces, don’t want this coup.

S: The moment of your return to Honduras is growing near. Aren’t you afraid you may be thrown in jail or even killed?

ZR: I’m not afraid, but I am cautious and prudent. There are times in life when you need to put all your effort and intent into something, times when you need to make a sacrifice, when sacrifice is necessary to conquer social gains, and I’m willing to make that effort to guarantee freedom, democracy and peace for my people.

S: You’ve asked the media to accompany you in this attempt to return to your country. Is that correct?

ZR: I’ve asked them to come with me. I’m going to risk everything, and the world is also taking a risk with my return. I’ve said it before: if I am assassinated, then general Romeo Vásquez Velásquez will be held responsible for my death.

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