Toppling a Coup, Part I: Dilemmas for the Honduras Regime
By Al Giordano
Last Saturday, at a hastily called public meeting in Tegucigalpa, more than one hundred rank and file participants in the Honduran civil resistance and some of its known leaders came out to speak with Ivan Marovich, the Serbian resistance veteran who had been invited by local and national anti-coup organizations to share his experiences.
It was one of three such sessions, and the only public meeting of the three. Almost immediately upon the completion of the screening of the film Bringing Down a Dictator (you can watch it via YouTube in six parts beginning here) about the Serbian movement that toppled the government of Slobodan Misolevic, a wind storm outside brought down a light pole, and with it the electric wires that lit the auditorium.
The Q & A session was thus held in darkness, and yet nobody left. Every attendee stayed for more than an hour with questions and comments to share. The lack of light in the windowless auditorium provided the feel of an underground meeting of the resistance.
One of the questions was:
Q. How can we cause a headache for the dictatorship?
That is a very good question because now we’re getting down to the dynamics of popular resistance.
During our struggle, every morning when we would get together we would ask ourselves the same question: how can we give the regime a headache today?
What matters now is who is going to make the next move.
If the regime makes the next move, you have to react.
If you make the first move, then they have to react.
The whole game is to calculate the next steps, to put the adversary in a position where he can’t react well.
You can see how this develops over time. When we were still small, maybe ten people, and the existing opposition leaders had been run out of the country or arrested, we were a very small organization. If we could get this many people in one theater we would have been happy. What we wanted was a small but powerful provocation. And this is when we used street theater. What we wanted to have is something that is going to provoke a response and make the regime look stupid.
This is what we called a “Dilemma Action.”
Dilemma actions are actions that put the opponent in a dilemma.
Let me tell you a Serbian folk tale. The story is called The Dark Realm, and it goes like this:
There once was a king that went with his friends on a journey. And they entered a land which was totally dark. You couldn’t see anything. They came across some small stones. Someone heard a voice and it said, “anyone who takes some of those stones will regret it, and those that don’t take the stones, they will regret it also.” So they didn’t know what to do.
Some said, “I’m going to regret it so I better not touch it.” Others said, “I’m going to regret it anyway so I better take some stones.”
And when they left the dark land they looked at the stones and they realized that they were diamonds. And those that took none regretted it. And those who took them, they regretted that they didn’t take more.
So what we wanted to have is a dilemma action in which the opponent is going to regret whatever he does.
The fist thing that we did, when we were still ten people, is we took a big barrel and a baseball bat. We wrote on the barrel: “Money for Milosevic.” It said we’re collecting money for Milosevic’s retirement. If you have money, put in the barrel. If you don’t have money, beat on the barrel. And Milosevic’s photo was on the barrel. So we put it on the street and walked away.
People walking by read the sign and began banging the barrel. Because of that noise, four more people came. And when they read it everyone started banging the barrel. This made a very loud noise. Finally somebody called the police. The police came and asked, “Who’s barrel is this?” Nobody knew. The police didn’t know what to do.
If the police had left the barrel there, people would keep banging the barrel. If they took the barrel, well, that is not their job. Finally somebody ordered them to take the barrel. We took photos of them and gave them to the media which reported, “POLICE ARREST BARREL.” So whatever they would do, they were going to regret it. And they regretted it because the very next day every town in the country had a barrel in its town square.
This is an example of how you create headaches for the adversary. The system, the regime, they have procedures. They have the way they do things. They don’t rely on creativity. They don’t rely on taking initiative. They totally rely on their procedures and on following orders. They don’t know how to react in certain situations. And that’s when they start making mistakes.
As the saying goes, never interrupt your opponent when he’s making mistakes.
One thing the system likes is demonstrations. They know how to react to demonstrations. They know how to count many people are in the street, how many police are needed, how much tear gas, maybe a water cannon. They know all that. But if they see a barrel in the streets and they arrest it and then there are barrels all over the place, they don’t know what to do.
The importance of taking initiative to put the adversary – the coup regime – on the horns of a dilemma is a tactic that is increasingly being implemented by the Honduras civil resistance, often on a decentralized level.
After their highway blockades that had paralyzed the country on three successive Thursdays and Fridays in July began to have diminishing returns when the National Police and the Armed Forces attacked and dispersed them violently, the civil resistance moved to a new kind of protest that began on Wednesday and is taking place along twenty different routes throughout the most populated corridors of Honduras. All of these marches will converge early next week on the two largest cities, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, which are four hours apart from each other.
The agreement from all the local organizations along the tributaries of the march is that they will not block traffic this time, but, rather, walk along the side of the road, and that they will travel about 20 kilometers (12 miles) a day to reach their destinations. In each town along the way, they'll hold public events and call on the local folks to join them in the march. Already, tens of thousands are walking along the side of all the major roads in Honduras.
quot;MsoNormal">“We don’t even know how far we will get today, but we want to advance 20 kilometers and on the road people are already beginning to join us,” said walker Esly Banegas to the newsletter of Radio Progreso:
At 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, Father Andrés Tamayo of the Catholic Church began walking with others from his state of Olancho toward Tegucigalpa. “We don’t have any security forces,” he told the radio station, “our safety is peace.”
From the eastern end of the Atlantic coast, another march left from La Entrada, Copán. Another branch of the march left from Tela, in the state of Atlántida. Both were headed toward San Pedro Sula. A call has been issued to the members of the public to support the march along the way with food, water and medicine.
As you can see from the photos here of just one tributary of that march, sent to Narco News by lay Catholic missionary John Donaghy, along the route between Santa Rosa de Copán and San Pedro Sula, the marchers are keeping to the side of the road. They’re not blocking traffic.
The dilemma they provide for the coup regime is this: If it sends police and military to attack the peaceful march, the regime looks not just authoritarian but stupid. If it does not send repressive forces to attack the march, the sheer numbers of people who will converge in the two biggest cities next Tuesday will be earthshaking and again demonstrate, as on July 5, that many times more Hondurans, hundreds of thousands, are mobilized against the coup than have shown up for all pro-coup rallies combined.
Sometimes a dilemma action can turn the enemy’s initiative against it to put the regime on the defensive.
An example of how the tables of initiative are turned is the story this week about the regime’s order to shut down Radio Globo and its 15 stations throughout Honduras.
There, the regime took the initiative. It delivered a letter saying "you must stop broadcasting." Radio Globo chose to react in a way that turned the horns of the dilemma back against the regime. It ignored the order. You can listen live online – click where it says “Escuchanos Aquí” - and confirm for yourself that three days later, the “closed” radio station is still broadcasting, still taking live phone calls from the public, still breaking the information blockade as a national clearinghouse for information on the civil resistance from every corner of the country.
If the regime is going to shut it down it is going to have to do it by force, which will cause it a national and international scandal and further reveal that its claims to be protecting freedoms and democracy are objectively false. If the regime, likewise, does not invade the station by force, it reminds all that it is weak, that it can’t enforce its own orders, and that it is not really as in control as it pretends to be. And every day that a radio station operates under threat of closure, it has more and more listeners, because there is an added drama of listening to see when or if it gets shut down. The regime is thus on the horns of a dilemma.
Another example: Yesterday, the Air Traffic Controllers Meteorologists union in Honduras began a strike in all the country’s airports, expressly in protest of the coup d’etat. Its workers refused to sign the paperwork on each plane scheduled to fly in or out or within the country, in accordance with international aviation laws and treaties. This stopped all air traffic for at least four hours last night. (And now you might deduce one of the reasons why your correspondent, having duties to comply with this week in another country, slipped out of Honduras the day before.)
The air traffic meteorologist strikers have put the regime in another dilemma: It could leave the strike alone and have a country without access or escape by air, crippling important business interests and express mail services. Or it could send in coup regime troops to do a job they are not trained to do, which means that if mistakes are then made and god forbid public safety of passengers or people on the ground becomes threatened, it will be on the regime’s head.
The regime has sent in the uniformed scabs now to direct commercial air traffic, a job they are not trained to do, in violation of international aeronautics treaties and laws. Now the international airlines are placed in their own dilemma: to continue flying in and out of the country in more dangerous and illegal conditions, or to ground their flights.
The same has happened with the hospital workers’ strike that began last week. Most of the hospitals in Honduras are now filled with military soldiers, purportedly to do the job of doctors and nurses. Whether they can actually do that job remains to be seen. Meanwhile, hundreds of soldiers in an army of only 9,000 are thus diverted from the usual tasks of repressing and attacking the peaceful opposition.
The regime’s bad choices in how to respond to the dilemmas posed by the air traffic controllers and hospital workers have led it to spread its limited forces of repression thin. This in turn gives other theaters of the civil resistance a little more elbow room to maneuver.
One thing that became crystal clear from my reporting from Comayaqua, Tegucigalpa, Catacamas, San Pedro Sula and points in between, through talks with members of the civil resistance, is that the best organizers among them are beginning to wake up each morning with that same question: How do we create a headache for the regime today?
These headaches, growing in number and from decentralized locations begin to deliver “the death of a thousand cuts” to the regime, whose only hope to remain in control is to keep the national and international community convinced that, whether legitimate or illegitimate, it at least is in control. But the fast growth of these “dilemma actions” are painting a more compelling picture of a coup regime that very much is not in control, that it is unable to govern.
That reality – and not arguments over whether the coup was “legal” or not – is the most devastating thing for any regime. Once it becomes clear that a regime is not in control, the perception that it can ride out the unrest diminishes considerably, and it begins to lose the first layer of its illusory support: the consent by silence of those sectors that simply want to back the eventual “winner” of the conflict.
The coup regime - support for it or grudging acceptance of it - is built on an illusion, one that claims it is “in control.”
The dilemma actions from the grassroots are demonstrating, with greater frequency and volume every day, that the coup regime is very much not in control, and is losing its grip daily.
Next we will discuss how the support (and apathy) that prop up a coup regime resemble the form of an onion, and how successful civil resistance movements - with examples of how this is working in Honduras - design their actions to effectively peel away the layers of that onion until the coup plotters are left divided, isolated, alone, abandoned, and very soon after that, expelled from power….