- Gerardo Torres Zelayathe vice minister of foreign affairs of Honduras.
It has been nearly one year since Xiomara Castro was sworn in as Honduras’s new president. Her inauguration in January marked the end of a brutal 12-year period of rule by the U.S.-backed, right-wing National Party, which first came to power after the 2009 U.S.-backed coup that overthrew Castro’s husband, the leftist President Manuel Zelaya. Xiomara Castro replaced Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, who was extradited to the United States in April to face drug trafficking and firearms charges. During the years after the coup, violence soared in Honduras, as did the number of refugees fleeing the country for safety. We get an update from Gerardo Torres Zelaya, the vice minister of foreign affairs of Honduras, who is in New York for an event with the Progressive International to discuss developing a New International Economic Order. “There is another way of understanding economics,” he says, noting that Castro’s work to end neoliberal policies of her predecessor shows she “does not believe that wealth is only for a few people.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we turn to look at Honduras. It’s been nearly one year since Xiomara Castro was sworn in as Honduras’s new president. Her inauguration in January marked the end of a brutal 12-year period of rule by the U.S.-backed, right-wing National Party, which first came to power after the 2009 U.S.-backed coup that overthrew Castro’s husband, President Mel Zelaya. Xiomara Castro replaced the Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, who was extradited to the United States in April to face drug trafficking and firearms charges. During the years after the coup, violence soared in Honduras, as did the number of refugees fleeing the country for safety.
We’re joined right now by Gerardo Torres Zelaya, the vice minister of foreign affairs of Honduras. He’s here in New York for an event with the Progressive International to discuss developing a New International Economic Order.
We’re going to get to that in a moment, Gerardo Torres Zelaya. It’s great to have you back with us. But we wanted to start off by talking about this new chapter, this new era, in Honduras’s history. If you can talk about the U.S. backing of what happened before, and the connection to the migration of so many Hondurans to the United States seeking refuge?
GERARDO TORRES ZELAYA: Hello, Amy. Thank you very much for this opportunity for this interview. Hello also to Juan. It’s a pleasure. It’s always a pleasure to be here on Democracy Now! I was remembering that 10 years ago I was also in interview with you. And I was looking back at that interview and — because at that moment I was a spokesperson of the National Resistance Front.
The coup d’état against Manuel Zelaya on June 28th of 2009 was an interruption of democracy in my country and led to the creation of a criminal organization that was led by former President Juan Orlando Hernández, who is now in prison here in New York. What happened in Honduras, just to say very brief, is that because of the fear of a socialist and democratic government, of a progressive political force taking control of the government, many people backed up a very criminal organization or people that guaranteed that this political force, that was the resistance force and then the LIBRE party and then the Opposition Alliance, would be controlled. But, on the other hand, what we had in Honduras was poverty, militarization, crime, violence. And what we did to face that was to come here to the United States to speak to the world, to organize ourselves, to have a very strong grassroots movement that created a political party that rapidly became the biggest and strongest political expression in the history of Honduras. We won the election in 2013. Then we won the election in 2017. But in both cases, with the use of fraud and militarization and violence, they stopped the Honduran people to express what we really wanted.
I think that there was a shift in the attitude of the United States towards Honduras. This 12 years of dictatorship of this violent regime had, in different moments, support of different governments, of a Democratic government and a Republican government in the United States. We had President Obama, and then we had President Trump. And in both cases, there was a backing up of the government that came after the coup and was a government controlled by Juan Orlando Hernández. We felt that there was a different position towards Honduras with this new government of Biden and Harris.
And what we saw in Honduras is that that support that Hernández and the National Party had reduced. It went back. And without that support, then the Honduran people, we could demonstrate what we really wanted to demonstrate — that is, that we wanted a change in Honduras. We won that election one year ago 51% to 30%. There were some intentions of using against violent force the military forces. It was controlled. And I think that that accompaniment of the United States, but also of Latin America, of Europe, during this 12 years, allowed that President Xiomara Castro became the first woman to become president in Honduras, the first political force that is not part of the traditional bipartisan system of my country, that is not a conservative force, is a progressive force, and the first time that a socialist and democratic government is in government in Honduras.
And you could see that in the inauguration that was in January of this year, that you had on the same stage Vice President Kamala Harris, but also vice president of Cuba, you had the king of Spain, but you also had the chancellor of Venezuela, because Honduras, during this 12 years, 13 years of resisting and organizing, became an example, that with a nonviolent, grassroots movement, we were able to bring down a very strongly supported, weaponized, violent regime. And we did that because the Honduran people decided to face them, and also because we had a lot of supports all around the world that were always with us. And now, as a government, we’re trying to pay it back and to show that solidarity, that if things could change in Honduras, things could change in other places, as well.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Gerardo Torres, could you talk about some of the initiatives of the Xiomara Castro administration since she came to office? It’s only been 10 months, but what have been some of the successes and also some of the challenges she still faces?
GERARDO TORRES ZELAYA: I think that there’s been a very important and deep transformation in many things in Honduras. First of all is that we’re bringing down in a historical way of government that was very absent and very far away from people. For example, in Honduras, we had a secrecy law in which the government could spend all the money and could use all its force and could do whatever they wanted, without any surveillance, without any accountability. President Xiomara Castro has changed that. We are a open-door government in our external and internal policy. People can do follow-up. People can know how we’re spending money.
She is now just about to end a negotiation with the United Nations to bring to Honduras an international anti-corruption and anti-impunity commission, very similar to the one that existed in Guatemala, the CICIG — in this case, CICIH, because it’s in Honduras. And what it will bring, it’s an international support in the investigation and the fight against corruption and impunity. I think that that is something very important for us, because we have always had a government that had a lot of connections and had a lot of benefits because it was a very obedient government to the interests of transnational and big private companies, also very obedient of the strategy of military control of the United States in Central America and the Caribbean, and it also was a very neoliberal and very close and obedient follower of the policies of IMF and the World Bank. But, on the other hand, that well-being of the government didn’t reflect in the well-being of the population. So that is something that we are changing.
There’s another way of understanding economics. In Honduras, for example, we had the charter cities. That is this big neoliberal dream in which a country gives away the best parts of its territory and its resources. And this territory can be bought by private companies that can create their own laws and have their own way of understanding government inside that territory. That is a strike against the sovereignty of any country. So President Xiomara Castro has stopped that. She doesn’t believe that wealth is only for a few people or only highly concentrated in some without getting to the rest of the communities. She believes in economic development that comes from the communities, that comes from women that are organized, that come from men, that come from campesinos, from workers that organize themselves.
We have currently in Honduras 74% of poverty. We are the second most poor country, after Haiti. And that, of course, explains why Honduras — are so many Hondurans trying to enter illegally the United States and crossing Mexico. If you don’t have a way of life in your community, you’re going to look for that way of life somewhere else. So, we are trying to rebuild our agriculture structure. It was brought down in this last 20 years after the signature of the free trade agreement with the United States. We buy almost all our foods. We import almost all our food, so that makes us highly dependent, not only economically, but, of course, politically, because both are related.
And the third thing is, she is fighting against these structures of violence. She’s trying to rebuild our military forces, our police force. Yesterday, we were talking in an event here in New York about police brutality. We have lived that in Honduras. We have lived also racism, machismo, violence against women. We have had a power structure of defense and security that sees people that are poor, that are different, as enemies. And we have to change that philosophy.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Gerardo —
GERARDO TORRES ZELAYA: A year ago —
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Gerardo Torres —
GERARDO TORRES ZELAYA: Just to — just to finish, just a year ago, we were in the streets. So we understand how that human rights abuses affect people. So we’re trying to create a different kind of government.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Gerardo Torres, I wanted to ask you, as well, about the big changes in Latin America. Obviously, most of them — all of the major countries in Latin America now have progressive or left-wing governments, especially after the victory of Lula in Brazil. How is this affecting the ability of Honduras to chart its own economic course, as we see this second pink tide that has swept across the region?
GERARDO TORRES ZELAYA: Well, I think that after COVID and after this current crisis that we have because of the impacts of climate change, and also because we’re seeing an enormous increase in migration, in poverty, inequality, I think that the people of Latin America, we have had enough with neoliberalism and the privatizing of our state, of our resources, and also of our way of understanding government and politics. I think that that dream of the 1990s that privatizing everything will bring wealth to people has proven wrong. If you privatize health, for example, if you don’t have public health, or you don’t have public education, or you’re don’t have access to electricity, because these things are not seen as human rights but are seen — it’s seen as merchandise, then only people that can buy it, people that can afford it, will have it, and the rest of the people are not going to have it.
So, I think that after the failure of this neoliberalism system to bring answers in a crisis, as we had two years ago with the beginning of the pandemic, we have started to demand our state, our government, to answer for the needs of the people. It’s not fair that so very few people have so much wealth in Latin America, this as this enormously wealthy region of the world has so many poor people. And so you start seeing changes in countries where you have never seen a progressive government in power, like Honduras or Colombia. You’re seeing the return, the coming back of the Peronistas in Argentina or Lula in Brazil. You have new political expressions, that has to do with progressivism in Chile. You have a Mexico example. We have — we are working very strongly in our region’s organizations. We are trying to work very hard in CELAC, for example. That is the Community of the Latin American and Caribbean States.
And we think that the only way to reduce that dependence to the First World, the dependence in everything — in military, in economics, in politics — can only be done if we strengthen our relationships in Latin America and the Caribbean and in the whole world. We believe that the only way to reduce dependence is a true multilateralism, is opening relationships with the most countries we can, to understand, to respect. And we believe that problems as climate change, migration, poverty, in the scenario of war, as we have right now, can only be done not by Honduras by itself, but Honduras inside the idea, the dream of a united Latin America and the Caribbean, because we also, as Hondurans, are followers of Francisco Morazán, of Simón Bolívar. We believe that towards integration as a region, we can be much stronger, and we could face the problems that we currently have as humanity.
AMY GOODMAN: Gerardo Torres Zelaya, we want to thank you for being with us, vice minister of foreign affairs of Honduras in the Xiomara Castro administration. To see our interview in Spanish, you can go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.