Honduras, Venezuela, and Reversing American Coups

In 2002, Venezuela’s democratically elected president, Hugo Chávez, was removed in a US sanctioned and supported coup; the people of Venezuela put him and his party back in power. In 2009, Honduras’ democratically elected President, Manuel Zelaya, was removed in a US aided and supported coup; the people of Honduras put his party back in power.

In the past couple of weeks, the people of both Venezuela and Honduras, given a clear choice, reversed US coups. The people of Venezuela have been doing it repeatedly and insistently for almost twenty years; the people of Honduras got the chance for the first time at the end of November.


On June 28, 2009, Manuel Zelaya was seized at gunpoint and whisked away in a plane that, unsubtly, refueled at a US military base. The UN and the Organization of American States (OAS) called for the return of the elected president; the US did not. The UN and the OAS refused to recognize the coup president; the US had no problem recognizing him.

The Obama White House refused to call it a coup, but they knew it was. A July 24, 2009 cable sent from the US embassy in Honduras says, "There is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup. . . .” As an exclamation point, it adds, "none of the . . . arguments [of the coup defenders] has any substantive validity under the Honduran constitution”.

Latin American expert Mark Weisbrot told me in a correspondence that “the Obama administration acknowledged that they were talking to the [Honduran] military right up to the day of the coup, allegedly to convince them not to do it”. But, he added, “I find it hard to believe that they couldn’t convince them not to do it if they really wanted to: the Honduran military is pretty dependent on the US.”  The charge was reiterated by Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle, the minister of culture in the Zelaya government, who said on Democracy Now that “I know for a fact that CIA operatives and military personnel of the United States were in direct contact with the conspirators of the coup d’état and aided the conspirators of the coup d’état.”

Since the coup, then Secretary of State Clinton has admitted that she aided the coup government by shoring up the coup government and blocking the return of the elected government: “In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico. We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”

The people of Honduras had earlier chances to vote but no chance to express their will because previous elections since the coup have been fixed. In the first election after the coup, in 2013, the opposition LIBRE party struggled against "serious electoral irregularities and a massive campaign of intimidation that included the killing of at least 18 LIBRE candidates, organizers, and activists to get the second most seats in congress.

As for the last election, Latin America expert Mark Weisbrot says that there is "very strong evidence that the elections of four years ago were stolen." The opposition seemed to be in the lead, but then, following a delay of over thirty hours in the count and several more "technical failures" to follow, the resumed count suddenly showed a slight lead for President Juan Orlando Hernández. The US endorsed the election and called on Hondurans to respect the results. The US coup continued.

This time, Hondurans voted in near record numbers and forced the incumbent coup government to concede defeat. After what seems to be an initial hesitancy, even the US State Department recognized the win. And the winner is Xiomara Castro, the wife of Manuel Zelaya, the president ousted in the 2009 coup. Jake Johnston, Senior Research Associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told me in a personal correspondence that "In many ways, Castro’s election serves as the ultimate repudiation of the military coup that overthrew her husband 12 years ago."

Johnston added that "After helping the coup succeed 12 years ago, the US government has strongly backed the successive National Party governments in power. Castro’s victory occurred despite the decade-long US-backed consolidation of a repressive, corrupt, narco state in Honduras."

Despite the consolidation of power, findings by the EU observer mission that the ruling National Party "had used state backing to boost its campaign" and the state media favoring the National Party, Castro seems to have won by a large margin of at least 20%.

Given the chance to voice their own will, Hondurans reversed the US backed coup.


Given a clear choice in the recent regional elections, Venezuelans also loudly repudiated the US backed coup.

In November, Venezuela held an important election. It was not a presidential election, but the regional elections were significant because, since the opposition fully participated for the first time in several years, the election was an obvious referendum on Maduro’s presidency.

In 2002, the US would take the popularly elected Hugo Chávez out of office in a coup that the State Department has confessed to. The people of Venezuela would quickly put him right back in. Since then, the US has continuously refused to recognize the results of Venezuelan elections and continues to recognize the unelected coup president, Juan Guaidó, as the president of Venezuela.

Convinced that the party of Chavez and Maduro would win when the US didn’t want it to win, the US pressured the opposition to boycott previous elections to make the unpalatable elections appear illegitimate. Miguel Tinker Salas, Professor of Latin American History at Pomona College, and one of the world’s leading experts on Venezuelan history and politics, told me in a personal correspondence that the radical opposition only boycotted the election “in order to claim that Maduro lacked legitimacy."

But Venezuelans kept defying the US by supporting Maduro. Maduro maintained power inside Venezuela despite the US recognizing Guaidó outside Venezuela. When forcing the opposition to boycott elections failed, the US tried pressuring the opposition to run in the elections in hopes of defeating Maduro.

That’s what made this election an important referendum on Maduro’s presidency: Venezuelans had a clear, complete choice. And they made the same choice. Chavez and Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela won 20 of 23 governorships. They also won the huge majority of mayoral elections. As in Honduras, given the chance to choose, Venezuelans reversed the US backed coup.

In the past month, Honduras has reversed a US coup and Venezuela has, once again, repudiated one. In this they join a Latin American trend that began one year ago in Bolivia where, when, finally given their chance, Bolivians reversed the US backed coup that removed Evo Morales from power and booted out the coup government of Jeanine Anez and returned Morales’ movement to power with the election of Morales’ long time minister of economics, Luis Arce.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.