US imperialism in Latin America is not just history; it is a current reality. Honduras is one country that has been subjected to relentless US intervention over the years. The US has carried out several military coups in Honduras to safeguard its economic interests and entrench a conservative, pro-American ruling group in the country. However, US interference is being culled down lately in the country under Xiomara Castro. But before we delve into that, let’s explore the extent of US intervention in this Latin American country.
History of US intervention
Have you heard of the term ‘Banana Republic’? It originated in Honduras. At the beginning of the 20th century, US fruit companies turned Honduras, a desperately poor tropical region, into a massive banana plantation, allowing them to assume control over the country’s economy and politics and creating the original “banana republic”.
The US has participated in numerous military coups to safeguard its economic interests and put a pro-American, upper-class group in place. During the 1980s, US President Ronald Reagan supported the Contra rebels who utilized Honduras as a base to launch assaults on Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.
Under the Obama administration, the US supported the coup against leftist leader Manuel Zelaya and expressed its support for the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti as a barrier against Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. In 2009, President Manuel Zelaya was removed in a US-backed coup from power and exiled by the Honduran Army as part of the Honduran constitutional crisis.
These are just a few examples of US interference in Honduras. The constant instability in the country has resulted in emigration to the US.
The U.S. government is so involved in Honduras that it trains the country’s police and military. Soto Cano, a large U.S. airbase located in the country’s east, receives groups of 500 to 1500 troops sent to carry out short-term missions for supposed humanitarian or anti-drug operations.
Furthermore, Honduras is still heavily dependent on the US. Approximately 200 American businesses are doing business in Honduras. In 2019, the United States was responsible for the majority (53%) of Honduras’ $7.8 billion in exports. US products, led by petroleum products, accounted for 42.2% of Honduran imports.
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One year of Xiomara Castro
Last year, on January 27, 2022, Xiomara Castro Sarmiento took the oath as the first woman President of Honduras, leading the Liberty and Refoundation party (LIBRE). She had promised to reverse the severe neoliberal policies, human rights violations, corruption, and drug trafficking that had plagued the nation for the past 12 years. Castro faces the daunting task of attempting to rebuild a country that has yet to heal from the 2009 coup d’état, which was supported by the United States and Canada.
The United States showed its support for the LIBRE party in the 2022 election, with Vice President Kamala Harris attending President Castro’s inauguration. In a public statement, Harris remarked that the election was evidence of a desire for transformation in Honduras, and highlighted the common goals of the U.S. and Honduras.
US intervention under Xiomara Castro
Despite the U.S. initially approving the new President, their support began to wane as LIBRE and the popular movement went against North American corporate and security interests and the U.S. began to intervene within six months.
From 2010-2022, the Honduran government made efforts to privatize the National Electrical Energy Company (ENEE) with advice from International Financial Institutions. These contracts, involving U.S. companies, often lacked regulatory oversight and disregarded human rights and environmental standards, leading to high energy prices and further financial difficulty for ENEE and Honduran families. In response, President Castro’s government passed the Energy Reform Law, which ends contracts with companies that are not willing to renegotiate reasonable prices and subsidizes energy for households consuming less than 150 kWh per month, benefiting over one million families.
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The US Ambassador Laura Dogu expressed his disapproval of the Energy Reform Law in Honduras, which aimed to combat corruption and poverty. The timing of the opposition was intended to send a clear message to Congressional representatives that the US would not be supporting the bill.
The US State Department later released a report in August 2022 stating that the law threatened power generators and eliminated private investment.
The Honduran National Program for Hourly Employment was approved in 2010 and made permanent in 2014 as the Temporary Labor Law. It allowed businesses to contract workers for limited periods and was widely criticized by Honduran labor leaders for contradicting the 1974 Honduran Labor Code and allowing companies to circumvent the minimum wage and pay no benefits or healthcare. After President Castro took power in 2022, the Temporary Labor Law was overturned due to the deteriorating labor conditions in Honduras.
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Ambassador Laura Dogu criticized the Honduran government’s decision to overturn the Temporary Labor Law, calling for “respect for…labor rights” even though the law violated the Honduran Labor Code. Just months prior, the U.S. Embassy, State Department, and a U.S. company had refused to negotiate with protesting Honduran workers. The Temporary Labor Law was used as a pretext to deny workers basic safety and health equipment and to fire workers who were injured on the job. Following the repeal of the law, B.L. Harbert began to illegally fire and intimidate workers, targeting the leaders of the protests.
The ZEDEs, also known as private cities, charter cities, and Model cities were established in Honduras by the post-coup regimes in 2013. These autonomous cities or nations inside Honduran territory are governed by foreign or national investors and have their own government, legal and judicial system, tax, and social security policies. The ZEDEs have been widely rejected by Honduran social movements, municipalities, and the National Movement Against ZEDEs for violating sovereignty, national security, the rule of law, and human rights.
In April 2022, the Honduran National Congress unanimously overturned the laws that gave birth to the ZEDEs. In response, ZEDE Próspera, a U.S.-based company, filed a notice of arbitration and a complaint against the Honduran state in December 2022, seeking $10.7 billion in alleged lost profits.
The US State Department supports the economic opportunities provided by the ZEDEs, despite their broad unpopularity. They view ZEDEs as an opportunity to spur economic growth with secure, privately-run enclaves and a model for how life could be in Honduras with more efficiency and less corruption.
The US Embassy also held a meeting with ZEDE Próspera’s investors in Tegucigalpa and tweeted about it to express how investment in Honduras can create economic opportunities. Finally, two US Senators sent a letter to the Secretary of State expressing concern over the Honduran government’s decision to limit nearshoring opportunities, which could help alleviate poverty.
Castro has resisted US intervention
Xiomara Castro, the widow of the late Honduran president Manuel Zelaya’s first year in office has been marked by challenges, including attempts to implement reforms to the energy and labor sector and eliminate the ZEDEs. The U.S. has made statements in an attempt to dissuade or undermine these changes. Even the German embassy once criticized the US in a tweet for interfering in Honduras.
Despite US attempts to intervene in Honduras, Castro has been successful in thwarting them. Although the US may continue to try to exert influence over Honduras, Castro has proven to be a formidable opponent of US intervention.
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