By Scott Marshall
Dan Kovalik, United Steelworkers union (USW) senior associate general counsel, just returned Friday from a four day trip to Honduras. He went with a delegation of seven people to get a firsthand look at the situation facing the country after the military coup that ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. The Steelworkers union and the global union that it helped organize, Workers Uniting, and the AFL-CIO, all have condemned the military coup. All have called for the restoration of democracy and the immediate return of Manuel Zelaya to the presidency.
Kovalik went with a delegation that included Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of the School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch) and several other SOA Watch activists. The Watch group has been fighting to close the School of the Americas, a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia. Two of the leaders of the military coup in Honduras were trained at the SOA.
The delegation held extensive meeting with unions, workers, farmers, and many other grassroots organizations and social movements. They also met with organizations representing people “disappeared” and tortured under the previous military dictatorship. Their intensive schedule included participation in a peaceful mass mobilization to block the Pan-American highway outside the capital of Tegucigalpa to protest the coup. They were part of a large, united trade union meeting held at the beverage workers union hall in Tegucigalpa and took part in a demonstration outside of the US Embassy demanding stronger measures including recalling the Ambassador as the European Union countries have done.
Kovalik told the People’s Weekly World that President Obama is very popular with the Honduran social movements and grassroots and is hated by the elites and the coup supporters. But, Kovalik said, the social groups do want to see more pressure out of Washington to help restore democracy.
Kovalik said that the delegation also got a chance to talk to a US soldier stationed at a Honduran military base outside the capital. When asked about relations with the Honduran military on the base in light of the US government’s claim that they have broken off contact with the Honduran military, the soldier said that was for the media’s consumption and contact was normal on the ground.
When asked what the delegation’s conclusions were in terms of what additional pressure is needed from the US government to restore Zelaya, Kovalik said that time is short and critical. He pointed out that if the coup stays in place for six months until the scheduled elections in Honduras, it will be a terrible blow against the Honduran people and democracy. Kovalik stresses building pressure in the US to cut more military aid to Honduras on top of the $16 million already cut, (current estimates are that there is $180 million more that could be cut); withdraw all US troops from Honduras, and close the School of the Americas (SOA).