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Canada, Honduras and the Coup d’Etat

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Issue: 66 Section: Foreign Policy Geography: Latin America Honduras Topics: coup d'etat in Honduras

January 8, 2010

Canada, Honduras and the Coup d’Etat

A look at Canadian diplomacy, aid, and trade in Honduras

by Dawn Paley

Hondurans demonstrate against the June 28 military coup on December 11, 2009, in Tegucigalpa. Photo: Dawn Paley

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras—Last summer's coup in Honduras put the small, Central American country perhaps best known as the original banana republic, back on the map.

In the months since President Mel Zelaya was removed from his home by the military and flown from the Honduran capital to Costa Rica on June 28, much has been made of the crisis.

Hundreds of thousands of Hondurans have protested the coup, denouncing the military, the local oligarchy and the US as the main perpetrators of Zelaya's removal.

Zelaya’s critics, which include the most powerful sectors in Honduras, say he was removed from office because a non-binding referendum on opening up the process of a Constitutional Assembly was illegal.

Reports of US involvement emerged immediately: the plane that flew Zelaya out of the country stopped to fuel up at Palmerola, a joint US-Honduras air base less than 100km from Tegucigalpa. Shortly after the coup, powerful pro-coup Hondurans sent a delegation to the US and hired lobbyists in Washington, DC. US trade and commercial interests with the small Central American country abound.

But the extent to which countries like Italy, South Korea, Taiwan and Canada, all of which have significant trade and investment links with Honduras are connected to the coup has remained largely unexplored.

In Canada, with the exception of a few editorials in the mainstream media, little attention has been paid to what is certainly one of the most important events in the hemisphere over the last decade. While Canada’s links to Central America are much less significant than those of the US, they are still worth exploring.

Far from calling for the return of Zelaya to power and condemning the military’s actions, Canada’s good-neighbour ambiguity has ignored the violence unleashed by the coup regime, and the position of organizations such as the UN General Assembly, whose members demanded that Zelaya be allowed to return to the presidency.

Canada also declined to condemn the military and the coup government after massive peaceful resistance marches across Honduras were violently repressed by the coup regime, which also moved to temporarily shut down radio and TV stations critical of the coup. Detentions, torture, disappearances, beatings and murders of anti-coup activists have continued unabated since the coup.

On November 29, the de facto government presided over the country's regularly scheduled presidential elections. Dr. Juan Almendares, former presidential candidate and ex-rector of the Autonomous University of Honduras, calls the November elections a "second coup."

"We are faced with a situation that’s very delicate, where there was a military coup, where a president is named, and then there is a second coup, which was the election, the fraudulent election," he said in an interview at his clinic in Tegucigalpa.

Almendares points out that the same soldiers that have beaten, tortured and killed Hondurans were responsible for guarding the ballot boxes on November 29.

"There is no doubt that there was fraud, because they were illegitimate elections," said Almendares.

Regardless, Canada’s Junior Foreign Minister Peter Kent’s praise for the country's controversial elections was glowing.

“While Sunday’s elections were not monitored by international organizations such as the Organization of American States, we are encouraged by reports from civil society organizations that there was a strong turnout for the elections, that they appear to have been run freely and fairly and that there was no major violence,” said Kent.

Laudatory press releases aside, Canada has yet to formally recognize the elections, which it will not be required to do until January 27, inauguration day for President-Elect Porifio Lobo. Honduran media report that Kent continues to pressure Lobo to find a way to remove de facto President Roberto Micheletti from office before that date.

Honduras is one of the Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA) target countries, and the top recipient of Canadian development funds in Central America. In 2007-2008, CIDA disbursed $17.9 million in government-to-government aid to Honduras.

According to the CIDA website, the organization has given funds for use in education, sanitation and governance, through which its partners have “trained civil society groups in social auditing and improved the transparency of government spending.”

Among CIDA’s previous activities in Honduras is a three- million-dollar “trade readiness” program, which included a component focused on “addressing issues related to [...] consensus-building around international trade agreements.”

In addition, the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade disburses part of their Counter- Terrorism Capacity Building Fund, destined for police training, to Honduras, and the Department of National Defence runs a Military Training Program that includes the participation of Honduran soldiers.

On the financial front, it is possible that Canadian companies active in Honduras will see an improved investment climate stemming from the political crisis.

The corporate sector in Honduras, which includes national and foreign businesses with operations in the country, supported the coup, as did the military establishment and religious institutions.

A leaked June 26 memo from the Chamber of Commerce in Tegucigalpa asked members to donate amounts upwards of $1,000 “in defence of democracy and social and economic liberties” two days before the military removed Zelaya to Costa Rica.

The Honduran National Business Council (COHEP) sent out a press release the day after the coup, stating, “What occurred today [sic] was not the changing of one president for another; today, framed in national unity, the respect for the Constitution, national laws and institutionalism was achieved.”

Canadian corporations such as Montreal-based Gildan Activewear and Scarborough-based label maker Mayfair Canada are members of the Honduran Manufacturing Association (AHM), which itself is a member of COHEP. They are joined by Calgary's Merendon, a jewelry company whose directors are charged with defrauding shareholders in what the RCMP have called one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in Canadian history.

Following the coup, the AHM sent out a press release, stating, “Notwithstanding the political crisis that Honduras is experiencing, we recognize that our Constitution is in effect, that the three branches of the government have not ceased to exist and perform their functions, that the economic, financial labour and social activities are being performed as usual without violation from the government of Honduras.”

Canadian investments in Honduras are not limited to the manufacturing sector. Mining corporations Yamana Gold, Breakwater Resources and Goldcorp all have investments in the country, and all three companies are members of a national metal mining association, ANAMIMH, which is also affiliated with COHEP. The coup came before the final reading of a new mining law before congress, which would have restricted mining in the country and banned the use of cyanide in Honduras.

“The [mining] law was proposed to favour communities, but the mining companies have turned it around,” said environmentalist Carlos Amador in an interview at his home in El Porvenir. He expects the law that will be passed in 2010 by Lobo’s government to be the opposite of the proposal, and encourage more large-scale, transnational mining in Honduras.

“It’s like in 1998 when [Hurricane] Mitch hit Honduras: they’re saying that the only way to improve the Honduran economy is to open the doors to investment in mining,” said Amador.

IN FOCUS: Canada-Honduras economic ties

Canadian exports to Honduras in 2008 were worth $86,850,495, and imports from Honduras $151,574,812, amounts that have grown steadily over the last 60 years.

Honduras was the last country in Latin America with which Canada reached a “most-favoured-nation” agreement, which was signed in Tegucigalpa 1956 by Canada’s then-ambassador to Cuba. Most-favoured-nation deals were predecessors of modern-day free trade agreements, designed to reduce tariffs and eliminate trade barriers.

At that time, Canada was exporting about half a million dollars a year in goods to Honduras, mostly in leather, flour, tires and powdered milk. A full 90 per cent of Honduran exports to Canada were bananas, worth closer to a million dollars annually.

By 1975, Canadian exports to Honduras were worth $8.1 million, climbing to $24.2 million by 1980.

Negotiations for a free trade agreement between Canada and four countries of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador) began in 2001. Negotiators last met in February 2009, but according to Foreign Affairs Canada there are no more rounds of negotiation planned at this time.

Dawn Paley is a journalist based in Vancouver.

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O Canada!

I greatly appreciated this article Dawn. I certainly will not forget Honduras. I'd like to say Nor will I forget Haiti, but I'm already there. When that went down back in 2004, I was apalled and determined to not forget it. I'm in a minority who, rather than feeling warm and fuzzy about our former (tax evading) finance minister and, later, prime minister, Paul Martin, feels he should be behind bars for the role he played in helping the Americans to again rape Haiti.

A project I've given myself is to buy three books on the subject so that I can inform myself so that I can talk intelligently about that tragedy when the subject comes up. I want to remind, or inform, others about Canada's role in attacking Haiti and to do so in a useful, effective manner. The task has been made somewhat difficult, however, by the failure of Book City to be of any use to me. I don't have a credit card. When I tried to get two of the books I'm after (one by Anthony Fenton and another by Paul Farmer and Noam Chomsky) from Book City they told me that they can't get them. The reasons were nonsense to me. They actually said that the one book I wanted (by Anthony Fenton) was there, but they couldn't order it because it was 'one' book. And in the case of the book co-authored by Farmer and Chomsky, which I asked for a couple of days ago, I was told that they couldn't order it. I was given no intelligible reason.

On an aside, I noticed that there was a Toronto Star article by Tanya Talaga (allowing no commenting) about Right To Play's foray into working with Canadian kids. I couldn't leave a comment, so I emailed Tanya to ask whether she had thought to ask RTP whether they were still using Gildan made uniforms. Let's see whether she responds to my question. RTP was, and may still be, using Gildan's sweatshop-made uniforms. (I've seen the boxes in their Queen St E office) RTP's people are nice enough. Capitalists usually are. Perhaps they could care about this if it was brought to their attention. I don't know. The U.S., Canada and France overthrew Haiti's democratically elected government so that sweatshop companies like Gildan would be free to exploit (and use child labor) there.

Ken Silverstein, writing for Harper's magazine about the current state of sweatshops in Cambodia - I listenend to him talk about it with Doug Fabrizio of Radio West/ KUER 90.1 this morning - explained that there are no good arguments for corporations continuing to force down wages in sweatshop countries they do business with and very good reasons (trade imabalances due to America's continued role as buyer of last resort) for them to use tarrifs (if necessary) for example to increase the wages of those workers. It's debt, not cash, that's being used to pay for all that cheap stuff, if I understand this properly. See Ken Silverstein's article, "The human cost of a two-dollar T-shirt," at: http://harpers.org/archive/2010/01/0082784.

** Trillions of dollars reside in offshore tax havens - used by criminal, individuals, terrorists, banks - while tax cutting, deficit-causing 'leaders' whine that they can't afford social spending! **


thanks for the comment. I'm preparing another piece on the sweatshop sector specifically... The books you mention are excellent resources -- you might want to see if you can get them from a library? sounds like a bad news bookstore.

You're Welcome

You're welcome Dawn.

re Your suggestion: Yes, Obviously I can't just give up. I'll figure something out. I love books. (I hate libraries. I used to love them in Vancouver. I had a different life there though. I have only been to the Toronto Reference library here in TO. I hated the silence. I was afraid to turn pages. There was zero chance I was going to relax and read there. And then I was embarrassed and frustrated when I tried to take out a small pile of books on math and discovered I couldn't.) Also, I have to own books I consider important. I use them again and again - to stir up trouble in online discussions and on my blog of course!

I also go to second hand bookstores and buy books I've already read and would recommend to others. It's my way of doing activism. I engage interested people in conversations and if they seem like they might use a book I have I'll pass it to them. That most often happens at work. I'm a security guard and I keep a pile of books to give away in my locker.

And finally; No reply from Tanya Talaga. Did she get my email? When it comes to The Toronto Star, nothing would surprise me. No other daily disappears my comments with the kind of regularity the Star does.

*My sig is supposed to appear at the bottom of my comments, but I always have to move it out of the way. I'm removing it, unless someone wants to clue me in on how to fix that.

** Trillions of dollars reside in offshore tax havens - used by criminals, individuals, terrorists, banks - while tax cutting, deficit-causing 'leaders' whine that they can't afford social spending! **


So, where do you suggest we go from here? The time for reversing the coup has passed, since Zelaya's term of office in Honduras has expired and a new president has been elected. If Zelaya is able to get out of the country to somewhere free -- say, Canada or the United States -- maybe he can explain what happened so the rest of us can understand if anything else is going to have to be done.

Where from here

I imagine that as the weeks and months go on the resistance front together with exiled Hondurans including Zelaya will articulate a solid "where do we go from here" resistance platform.

I've written about the inauguration of Pepe Lobo & the parallel ceremony held by the Honduran people earlier this week, posted here: http://www.dominionpaper.ca/weblogs/dawn/3174.

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