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Letter from London
Good evening Honduras, and a happy New Year to the Resistance from all your friends in Britain. It’s a bitterly cold night here in London, and the city is covered in a white blanket of snow like a picture from a Christmas card.
We’re six hours ahead of you here, so although you’re listening to me now, I’m actually fast asleep in bed.
This broadcast is the first of what will be a regular roundup of news, culture, and solidarity activities from Britain.
I’m going to begin with a confession. Before I travelled to Honduras to report on the coup for the Morning Star newspaper and the 21st Century Socialism web-magazine, I knew only three things about the country:
1. the president was trying to help the ordinary Hondureno
2. the capital city had an unusual name, and
Since then, as well as learning how to pronounce Tegucigalpa, I’ve discovered a few more things. There is a mass movement of trade unionists and social movement activists, people whose voices the journalists and the editors do not hear, or do not want to hear. With a few honourable exceptions, your TV and radio channels are a mouthpiece for the regime and their lies are recycled by the international media.
And I also learnt that history repeats itself, even across continents. But more on that later.
When news of the military takeover first broke on that awful day last June, we in Britain were as shocked as anyone. Then we began to organise.
The trade unions and the Latin American solidarity campaigns came together to form an Emergency Committee against the Coup.
Just two days after the coup, demonstrators massed outside the Honduran embassy calling for the restoration of democracy.
In July, the ambassadors of Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba addressed a packed public meeting in London, and vowed not to recognise the military dictatorship. To stormy applause, Bolivian Ambassador Maria Beatriz Souviron said that "now is the moment to raise our voices against the attack on democracy."
In August, I presented an eyewitness report of my trip to Honduras and described how a convoy led by first lady Xiomara and her daughter ‘Pichu’ was pinned down on the open road by soldiers, snipers and hooded gunmen in police uniforms. If you’re listening Pichu, I hope you had a great New Year.
In September, dozens of members of parliament signed a motion welcoming the return of President Zelaya to Honduras and calling on the United States to end all assistance to the regime.
In October, the chair of the governing parliamentary Labour Party condemned the coup at a public meeting in the headquarters of the one and a half million strong UNITE trade union.
In November, Britain’s national federation of trade unions, the TUC, called on Europe to take tougher action against the golpistas. General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “Since the military coup, opponents of the regime have been assaulted, raped and killed. Despite these appalling human rights abuses, the European Union continues to give the regime legitimacy through preferential trade rights.”
Also in November, demonstrators gathered outside the US embassy in West London to demand that Obama does not recognize the fraudulent elections in Honduras.
In December, 600 people at the LatAm09 conference heard Iris Munguia from the Honduran Agricultural Workers Union describe how workers are organizing to resist the coup and defend their rights.
British MP, Colin Burgon, told the conference that “the actions of the US military and elite so far indicate that there will be no clear break from the aggressive policies of the Bush years”.
Attentive listeners may have noticed that most of the activities I’ve mentioned so far have been in London. But anti-coup meetings, pickets and petitions have been organised in all the major cities, including Liverpool, the home of the Beatles, and Manchester, the home of Manchester United football club.
Talking of football, congratulations to Honduras on qualifying for the World Cup! And of course, we have the Honduran Hendry Thomas playing for Wigan in the English Premiership.
Who is the best team in Honduras? Olimpia?
Well in England, it’s Arsenal. Not Manchester United. Arsenal. Remember that!
That’s football for you. But in struggle we must stand together. And Manchester has a proud history of popular resistance which bares some similarity to the struggle for democratic rights in Honduras today.
190 years ago, on 16th August 1819, tens of thousands of people gathered at St Peter’s Field to demand constitutional reform.
“Nothing but ruin and starvation stare one in the face in the streets of Manchester,” the organiser of the demonstration wrote.
The British oligarchy had also rigged the electoral system. Just 154 rich and powerful individuals elected over half of all members of parliament! With a population of over a million, Manchester and the surrounding towns were represented by just two MPs, whereas over in Old Sarum, Wiltshire, a constituency with just one single voter – the voter just happened to be a wealthy landowner - also elected two MPs.
The response of the government, the magistrates and the army to the demands of the demonstrators was brutal. Just before 2pm on that bright and cloudless day, the cavalry charged at the crowds, sabres drawn. As men, women and children scattered in panic, they found the main exit route on Peter Street bristling with the bayonets of the fearsome Connaught Rangers. By the time this orgy of state-organised violence was over, 15 lay dead and more than 600 wounded.
Among the dead was William Dawson of Saddleworth, whose records simply state: “Sabred, crushed and killed on the spot”, and Martha Partington of Eccles who was “thrown into a cellar and killed”.
When I visited Manchester in September to speak at a public meeting against the coup in Honduras, one of the local organisers took me to the site of the Peterloo Massacre. A small plaque, barely eight inches across, is all there is to remind today’s generation of how the just demands of the British people were crushed under horses’ hooves.
On the train journey back to London, as the lush English countryside rushed past my window at more than 100 miles per hour, I wondered how many much grander monuments to lords and ladies, bishops and generals, kings and queens we must have passed.
One day in Honduras a monument will be erected to Walter Trochez, Wendy Avila, Jairo Sanchez, and the dozens of other activists of the Resistance who have been tortured, murdered or “disappeared” for the crime of wanting their vote respected and the constitution to belong to the people. Until then, their memory will live on the hearts and minds of millions of people in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, Managua, Caracas, Havana, London, Manchester, and beyond.
This is Calvin Tucker and you have been listening to ‘Letter from London’. If you would like to write in with comments, suggestions or questions, you can email me. The website is 21stcenturysocialism.com
Until next time, stay safe.