Many international communities and even people inside Honduras, that are too young to remember who Oswaldo Enrique Lopez Arellano is call what happened on June 28, 2009 a military coup. What happened that day was anything but a military coup. I am going to concentrate on the life of the late Oswaldo Lopez Arellano.
Today Oswaldo Lopez Arellano passed away during surgery for prostate cancer. He was born June 30, 1921 and passed away today May 16, 2010 at the age of 89. He first attained power through a coup in 1963 ruling until 1971 and then again from 1972 to 1975. The current constitution was written in 1982.
Oswaldo Lopez was fluent in English and had attended an affluent school in Tegucigalpa known as the American school. At the age of 18 like most young Honduran men he joined the military. He then became a pilot in the Honduran Air Force. Lopez eventually became a Coronel and then became a General. He married and had five children.
Lopez also served in the interim presidency briefly during a 1957 coup, but resigned after elections were held. He actually served as a de facto president after a coup that removed Ramon Villeda Morales. Villeda was a Liberal president that wanted to oversee the democratization of Honduras and was elected by the General Assembly(not free elections). Just ten days before an election that would have reelected Villeda, a then very popular president, Lopez committed a coup de tat against Villeda and removed him to Costa Rica. Villeda relocated to New York and died there in 1971. San Pedro Sula´s international airport is named after him. His son was in the truth commission that defended Micheletti in Costa Rica this past year.
Looking back at 1956 and the first Military Junta. Julio Lozano Diaz was removed by a military junta October 21, 1956. During this administration for a brief period Lopez was named as part of the military junta.
Military General Lopez took control after a coup October 3, 1963 and remained in control until June 5, 1965 during a very unstable political era. On June 6, 1965 he was elected president by the Constitutional Assembly(remember what I said about Americans not understanding the word Constitutional Assembly? Well here you have it, the assembly names the president, he isn´t elected and the entire constitution is rewritten to his and his supporters liking, not to the liking of the public, during this time all rights are suspended).
Not everything about Lopez Arellano´s government was bad, in fact there were quite a few good things that came out of his government. However, Lopez was a populist president, not a liberal or nationalist president.
Among improvements that occurred during his government are:
Improvements to the roads of the litoral Atlantic, North and Occidental areas.
Construction of marketplaces, centers and subcenters of health, public office buildings, school rooms
Creation of the Technical Center Honduran-German
Completion of the Hospital in Tegucigalpa known as School Hospital.
Founding of Workers Bank
Founding of National school of Forest Sciences in Siguatapeque, National School of Agriculture, and others.
Decree of a law guarantee of education, retirement for elderly, magestrate pensions
Creation of the Anthropology and History institute, and agricutural reform.
Creation of the Port Entry
Finished the Second level of the hydroelectric plant at Yajoa Rio Lindo
Lopez was in control during the war between El Salvador and Honduras known as the Soccer War. (Football is what Hispanics call it).
The war was a little more complicated than that. During this period about 300,000 Salvadorans lived in Honduras, most of them in Honduras illegally. Most of the Salvadorans had come in search of fresh lands to cultivate. Lopez initiated a massive deportation campaign of Salvadorans and turn over those lands to Hondurans. There was also a huge problem at the border between both countries and border disputes were at a boiling point.
On July 14, 1969 Honduras was invaded by the National Guard of El Salvador. They bombed several sections of Honduras including Tegucigalpa, Choluteca, Juticalpa, Sta Rosa de Copan, and Catacamas. For a short time El Salvador managed to take control of Ocotepeque, San Marcos de Ocotepeque, and a few other bordering towns like Goascaran, Alianza, La Virtud, and Aramancina. The attack was reported to the Organization of American States. Eventually the agression was propelled and El Salvador was pushed back into its borders and the Treaty of Lima was signed. In it though, Arellano agreed to allow elections in Honduras.
On July 4, 1972 Lopez again created a coup against the government. This time removed was Dr Ramon Ernesto Cruz. During this period he took a reformist line. He also affirmed his divorce from the traditional red (liberal) and blue (nationalist) parties.
One of his first acts was to contain the invasions by campesinos into public and private property. During this period he created the organization INFOP (institute of Professional Formation by decree 10.) This organization was created to improve the quality of workers and their education to the benefit of the businesses in Honduras.
Lopez also was in control during the famous Bananagate. Most Americans recognize the Bananagate term in fact, it is from this act that Banana republic became a term against countries like Honduras. In 1974, Standard Fruit Company and the government came head to head. Lopez raised the price of tariffs on Standard Fruit and Standard Fruit did not wait to react...they came full force with their economic strength, they began the destruction of 100 thousand boxes of bananas a week and reduced exports. Eventually the government relented and reduced the export tariff also in effect was the bribe that was paid to the government to reduce that tariff. Standard Fruit Company paid 2.5 million in exchange for the removal of tariffs. The day after all of this came to a head Lopez Arellano was destituted from his charge as president and General Juan Alberto Melgar Castro took his place.
However, before Bananagate brought down Lopez he was faced with Hurricane Fifi on the 14th of September 1974 Hurricane Fifi came ashore. This hurricane devastated extensive zones of Honduras and caused the death of at least 10,000 people especially in Choloma a suburban area of San Pedro Sula. The neighborhood where I live was completely under water during Hurricane Fifi, but was not flooded during Hurricane Mitch of 1998. During Fifi almost 40% of exported products were completely destroyed and over 15,000k2 were destroyed. Eventually it took 600 million dollars to rebuild the infrastructure in Honduras and two years for agricultural exports to be replaced.