News | Canada quiet after Honduran coup

Activists, academics, and diplomats weigh in on Canada’s response

On September 22, the Front contre le coup d’État au Honduras sent an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the leaders of the opposition stating that the government’s continued silence on the June military coup that overthrew Honduras’s democratic government demonstrated “tacit support for the force and violence that [Roberto] Micheletti’s coup regime and the armed forces have deployed against the Honduran people.”

Antonio Artuso, a spokesman for the Front, said in Spanish, “The [Canadian] government has taken a very ambiguous position. It said it was against the coup, but told [ousted president] Zelaya not to return because the situation was ‘difficult.’ It also continues to support the regime financially and militarily,” referring to the Canadian government’s decision not to impose any sanctions, or curb the roughly $16 million in military aid that flows to Honduras every year.

“The Harper administration has not responded to our letters,” Artuso said.

The Canadian government has stressed in numerous press releases that it is actively engaged. Dana Cryderman, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Canada, said in an email to The Daily that “[Foreign] Minister [Peter] Kent participated in the Organization of American States (OAS) special mission to Tegucigalpa, [and] held bilateral meetings with foreign ministers…to achieve a peaceful political resolution.”

Honduras’s constitutional crisis began on the early hours of June 28, when 100 soldiers stormed President Zelaya’s estate and proceeded to deport him to neighbouring Costa Rica while Zelaya was still in his pyjamas.

The alleged coup was the result of a deep-rooted debate in Honduran society over a controversial “poll” Zelaya intended to conduct in order to initiate possible constitutional change, an action deemed illegal by the Supreme Court. Speaker of Congress Roberto Micheletti, of Zelaya’s own Liberal Party, was sworn in as president later in the day.

The Front is a broad organization constituted by various community groups in Montreal, such as Acción y Solidaridad por Colombia (ASOCOLOM), S.O.S. Salvador, and Sociedad Bolivariana de Quebec, among others.

“Our group was founded on the day of the coup itself by Salvadorans, Hondurans, Chileans, Canadians, and democrats of all stripes. We knew we had to intervene because Hondurans have already known war and dictatorship,” Artuso said.

Speaking on behalf of S.O.S Salvador, Judith Chafoya characterized the events as a backward step for Honduran democracy. “We believed we had seen the last coup [in Latin America] years ago.”

The Front has organized close to 15 conferences, forums, and other demonstrations since the June coup. They are now concentrating further efforts on fundraising for the National Resistance Front in Honduras, with which they maintain some contact.

Events took a peculiar turn on September 21, when the deposed president returned to Honduras and sought refuge in the Brazilian embassy, where he remains as tensions mount. Following the return, the de facto government imposed a state of emergency and suspended some constitutional rights.

“We now know that [the regime] has attacked Radio Globo and Cholusat Sur, which distributed information on the resistance’s activities. People come out to the streets and they are beaten,” Chafoya said.

The current Charge d’Affairs of the Honduran Embassy in Ottawa, the only diplomatic post recognized by the Micheletti administration in Canada, argued that the government was taking proper steps.

“What appears in the press is not the reality,” he said, highlighting that protesters are causing damage by “breaking windows, burning tires, and even breaking into homes.” He also added that he felt the press “has not reported on the good things that have happened.”

The Charge d’Affairs also added that “there is a legal basis for what has happened in Honduras,” making reference to a report released on September 24 by a senior foreign law specialist at the Law Library of the U.S. Congress.

Even so, Cana Foreign Affairs spokesperson Dana Cryderman said “Canada is very concerned by the general escalation of tensions in Honduras, including the decision by the de facto government on Sunday to suspend constitutionally-guaranteed liberties,” but also said that the Canadian government “has no plans to impose economic sanctions at this time.”

Both the consulate and the Embassy showed optimism at the upcoming talks to be held in Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. The Front also has some official links to the pro-Zelaya Honduran Consulate in Montreal, whose Consul General Alfredo Crespo was also disappointed with Canada’s response, though he anticipates a resolution will be reached in the coming weeks.

“From the beginning the Canadian government has maintained that it was a coup,” said Crespo, “though we would like to see more clarity in their position.”

Canada has thus far avoided calling it a “military coup.”

Since the seizure of power, Micheletti’s government and the coup d’état that installed it have received widespread criticism from the international community.

The United Nations, the European Union, and the OAS have all condemned the regime, and home governments throughout the continent have withdrawn their ambassadors.

Philip Oxhorn, McGill professor and executive editor of the Latin American Research Review, said in an email that Canada’s reticence may stem from a lack of domestic interest.

Meanwhile, activists from the Front and its constituent organizations speculate there may be other forces at work.

“The Canadian government won’t protest because they have economic interests. Zelaya took away their mines…and that worries them,” ASCOLOM member Marta Ligia Niño said, referring to a 2006 decision by Zelaya not to renew mining concessions to international companies in Honduras, many of which are Canadian. Breakwater Resources, Goldcorp, and Aura Minerales all have operations in the country.

Oxhorn outlined the wider implications. “If the acting government prevails, it will send a dangerous signal to the rest of the region where coups had been taboo since the return of democracy. If one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere can ignore universal international condemnation, what will prevent countries with more resources?”