Honduras's military coup this past summer was "clearly rooted in the struggle between classes," Shaun Joseph '03 told an overcrowded classroom at the Third World Center last night. Joseph, speaking alongside City Councilman Miguel Luna, described their week-long stay in Honduras after the coup at an event sponsored by the Latin@ Political Group, the International Socialist Club and the Rhode Island Mobilization Committee to Stop War and Occupation.
The event was punctuated by unexpected controversy when polarizing differences in opinions among listeners became apparent during the question-and-answer session.
After spending a week in Honduras in August, the presenters had their own take on the military-instated coup against civilian president Manuel Zelaya by Roberto Micheletti in June. "Unfortunately, journalism is trumping analysis," Joseph said, referring to media coverage of U.S. policy on the Honduran coup. "The strategy of the U.S. was to formally condemn the coup, while in practice giving it time to gather power."
Although the United States has halted foreign aid to Micheletti's regime and President Obama has repeatedly demanded Zelaya's return to power, Joseph argued that the U.S. administration actually supports the new oligarchical government.
"The list of graduates from the School of the Americas is practically a who's who in who's done a coup," Joseph said of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, the Department of Defense facility formerly known as the School of the Americas.
He cited a claim made by the School of the Americas Watch that the United States continues to train Latin American military officers in techniques for instituting coups d'etat. The Watch is an independent movement that monitors the Fort Benning, Ga. facility.
Luna, wearing a black beret reminiscent of Che Guevara, said the Honduran rich are often allowed by the Honduran Congress not to pay their electricity bills. When the state-run electric company went bankrupt in 2007, Zelaya introduced "Operation Scissors" to force the rich to pay. According to Luna, the operation was cut off by the oligarchy and the poor were forced to make up for the rich citizens' refusals to pay through rate increases.
However, not all lecture-goers shared the speakers' opinion of Zelaya, or of the coup.
"With all due respect, I'm from Honduras," Samahra Kafati said to the audience during the question-and-answer period. Kafati, a first-year at Johnson and Wales University, had been standing outside the room with news articles and publications from the U.S. Congress until the time set aside for questions and comments. "I'd like all of you to know that they only gave one side of the story: Zelaya's."
Kafati, who lives in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, said in an interview after the lecture that she believes no coup occurred at all.
"A coup is when the military takes over," Kafati said. "But we're still a democracy. According to our constitution, this is totally legal. We kicked (Zelaya) out of our country because he was trying to change the constitution."
Kafati said the pro-Zelaya side distorts facts and exaggerates support for their side. When Zelaya returned to Honduras earlier this month from exile, she added, he was expecting half a million supporters to greet him, but was met by several thousand.
Joseph claimed a similar pro-Micheletti bias exists in the media. "There was a picture after some big (pro-Zelaya) demonstrations," he said. "It was a big picture of tens of thousands of people, a big wide-angle shot. And then the caption says, ‘Around 5,000 people demonstrated' — but there were more than 5,000 people in the damn shot."
"It speaks to something about the whole question of legitimacy," Joseph said of the differences in opinions between the sides. "The question of whether certain ideas and certain political acts have legitimacy is about which side you take."