In June 2009, Honduras faced a devastating coup that shattered the country’s fragile democracy and sunk the country into violence, repression, and a decade-long narco-dictatorship.

But the people fought back.

In this continuation of Episode 7, host Michael Fox looks at the fallout of the 2009 coup in Honduras, walking from 2009 into the present. He takes us to Tegucigalpa to dive into the fraudulent U.S.-backed elections that ushered in a narco-dictatorship, and also the resistance movement that, after years of struggle, ultimately did what it set out to do: remove the dictatorship and return democracy to Honduras.

This is Part 2 of a two-part episode looking at the 2009 coup in Honduras and the aftermath.

Under the Shadow is a new investigative narrative podcast series that walks back in time, telling the story of the past by visiting momentous places in the present.

In each episode, host Michael Fox takes us to a location where something historic happened — a landmark of revolutionary struggle or foreign intervention. Today, it might look like a random street corner, a church, a mall, a monument, or a museum. But every place he takes us was once the site of history-making events that shook countries, impacted lives, and left deep marks on the world.

Hosted by Latin America-based journalist Michael Fox.

This podcast is produced in partnership between The Real News Network and NACLA.

Guests: Bertha OlivaCOFADEH
Grahame Russell, Rights Action
Adrienne Pine
Felix Molina
Jesse Freeston
Karen Spring
Alex Main, CEPR
Karla Lara

Edited by Heather Gies.
Sound design by Gustavo Türck.
Theme music by Monte Perdido. Other music from Blue Dot Sessions.

Follow and support journalist Michael Fox or Under the Shadow at

Click here, to watch Jesse Freeston’s documentary, Resistance, about the campesino struggle in the Aguan Valley.

Karen Spring is currently covering the New York trial of former Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez. Visit Honduras Now for updates, or follow @springkj and @HondurasNow on Twitter.


Michael Fox:  Hi, I’m your host, Michael Fox. 

Two things I want to say before we get started. First, today’s episode is Part 2 of Episode 7, where we look at the 2009 US-backed coup in Honduras. We ended up breaking this episode into two parts because there’s just so much to dig into. If you haven’t listened to Part 1 yet, I suggest you go back and do that first. It’ll set the scene for everything we dive into today. 

Second, many portions of today’s episode deal with harsh themes from the years following the 2009 coup in Honduras. If you’re sensitive to this, or you’re in the room with small children, you might want to consider another time to listen. OK. Here’s the show… 

[Traffic noise] So the Brazilian Embassy is down this side street in this residential neighborhood in northern Tegucigalpa. You can tell that this is a spot with many embassies because literally the street just adjacent to it is the Republic of Panama, and this one we’ve got Balboa Street. But on my Google Maps it actually says Brazil Street. 

And then these two-story buildings go back. It’s behind this gate. So it almost looks like a gated neighborhood. It’s tree lined streets. Pretty quaint. You can tell this has been an upscale section of Tegucigalpa for a long time. 

Cars rumble back and forth. There’s a Chinese restaurant right here. I can actually smell the Chinese food from where I’m standing, just half a block away from the Brazilian Embassy behind this fence. And it was here that Manuel Zelaya was holed up for months.

Four months total. Back in late 2009, there was a constant line of state security forces outside the embassy. Meanwhile, Zelaya, his wife, Xiomara Castro, and one of their daughters lived in the cramped two-story home alongside four dozen embassy workers. 

It’s really wild being here because a lot of the different episodes that I’ve been working on are things that happened way in the past. But right here, 2009 was the coup against Manuel Zelaya. 

I remember this moment. I was following what was happening very, very closely from Brazil. Had friends on the ground. And so it’s really strange to be here now and to see this up close and be thinking of this as history, because it’s so present. It’s still so present.

Zelaya arrived at the Brazilian Embassy in September 2009, returning from exile in Costa Rica. The calculation at the time was that Zelaya’s return would keep the spotlight on Honduras and on the internationally condemned coup that removed him from power three months earlier.

Remember, as we looked at in the first part of this episode, the military put Zelaya on a plane out of the country in June 2009 after he had planned a poll to see if voters wanted to hold a referendum on whether or not to rewrite the Honduran constitution. Elites, including leaders in the National Congress and the Supreme Court, accused him of trying to unconstitutionally remain in power for another term. 

In the weeks and months after his ouster, Zelaya repeatedly attempted to return to Honduras. He tried to fly in. He tried to walk across the Nicaraguan border. Each time, his return was thwarted by the de facto government. 

But in September, he was finally secretly ferried into the country and welcomed at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa. His presence was a sign of the Honduran people’s continued resistance against his ouster. Proof that they would not be silent. 

Apart from the US and Canadian governments, the international community remained unanimously against the country’s de facto regime. It seemed, for a moment, like there might even be a way for Zelaya to return to power.

Karen Spring arrived in Honduras around this time, working with the US and Canada-based human rights group Rights Action. I spoke with her in Part 1 of this episode.

Karen Spring:  And this time where there’s a lot of hope in the air because there’s all this social mobilization, there’s all these people that are excited, like, I think we can overturn this coup.

Michael Fox:  But Honduran elites and the US and Canadian governments had a plan to turn the tide in their favor.

That in a minute.

[Under the Shadow theme music]

This is Under the Shadow — A new investigative narrative podcast series that walks back in time to tell the story of the past by visiting momentous places in the present. 

This podcast is a co-production in partnership with The Real News and NACLA.

I’m your host, Michael Fox — Longtime radio reporter, editor, journalist. The producer and host of the podcast Brazil on Fire. I’ve spent the better part of the last 20 years in Latin America.

I’ve seen firsthand the role of the US government abroad. And most often, sadly, it is not for the better: invasions, coups, sanctions. Support for authoritarian regimes. Politically and economically, the United States has cast a long shadow over Latin America for the past 200 years.

In each episode in this series, I will take you to a location where something historic happened — A landmark of revolutionary struggle or foreign intervention. Today, it might look like a random street corner, a church, a mall, a monument, or a museum. But every place I’m going to bring you was once the site of history-making events that shook countries, impacted lives, and left deep marks on the world. I’ll try to discover what lingers of that history today.

So, this is Part 2 of Episode 7, which looks at the fallout of the 2009 coup in Honduras. In the first half of this episode, we looked at the US-backed coup d’etat against president Manuel Zelaya and the popular resistance in the streets in the immediate aftermath. 

In this episode, we walk from 2009 into the present. I look at the fraudulent US-backed elections that ushered in a narco-dictatorship, and also the resistance movement that, after years of struggle, ultimately did what it set out to do: remove the dictatorship and return democracy to Honduras.

This is Under the Shadow Season 1: Central America. Episode 7 Part 2: “2009 Honduras. Legacy of a Coup”. 

It’s September 2009. Zelaya has just arrived at the Brazilian Embassy, and the Honduran de facto government rolls out a plan to hold previously scheduled elections that November. For coup president Roberto Micheletti and the United States and Canada, this is their way to wipe the slate clean, to whitewash the memory of the coup and pretend like they’re turning a new democratic page.

You’ll note that I mention Canada often in this episode, and that’s because Canada would take an active role in backing the coup regime, following lockstep behind the United States. In the years after the coup, Canadian companies and investors benefited from a new free trade agreement between the two countries, a new mining code the Canadian Embassy helped to shape, and a new tourism bonanza on the Caribbean coast. None of that was a coincidence. 

Porfirio — Better known as Pepe — Lobo is the candidate of the coup regime. He had lost to Zelaya four years before. That’s him speaking at his campaign launch. Behind him, a big blue banner hangs with the words “change now” emblazoned in Spanish.

Jesse Freeston:  But on the ground there was absolutely no sign of an election happening. 

Michael Fox:  That’s Jesse Freeston. He’s a Canadian filmmaker who, at the time, was reporting for The Real News from Honduras. We heard from him often in the first part of this episode.

Jesse Freeston:  There was military in control of the streets, oppressing a movement trying to overthrow a coup d’etat. And on the day of the election there was almost nobody voting, and I and others uncovered evidence that they had completely fudged the numbers of how many people voted. 

And this was used to launder the coup. In this, we saw a new formula for how to overthrow a government in a more representable way. So they basically hand over power from Micheletti to Pepe Lobo, but nothing changes on the ground.

Michael Fox:  The United States and Canada immediately recognize the results. The day Pepe Lobo takes office, Zelaya leaves the Brazilian Embassy and goes into exile with his family in the Dominican Republic.

Jesse Freeston:  A few days after the election, with the military still in power in the streets and a coup d’etat having been executed successfully, The New York Times editorial board put out an unsigned piece that began with the sentence, “There is wide agreement that last week’s presidential election in Honduras… was clean and fair.”

Michael Fox:  The protests and the resistance continued, as did the violence and the government crackdown. Six months into the Pepe Lobo administration, Bertha Oliva’s group, COFADEH, the Committee of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared, released a report, which documented more than 1,000 serious human rights violations committed by the Lobo administration or under its watch. 

Included in that figure were hundreds of illegal detentions and threats, as well as kidnappings, forced displacement, and raids without a warrant. More than 170 people were forced to flee the country. 

According to COFADEH’s tally, in the first six months of Lobo’s term there were 42 politically motivated killings in the country. That figure was higher than in the six months after the coup, and  it included more journalists, members of the LGBTQ community, campesino activists, and other social leaders. 

The elections gave the illusion of a democracy, but many in Honduras called the Lobo government a continuation of the coup regime.

Jesse Freeston:  And so basically the story that was told was, okay, Micheletti and Zelaya are both out of the picture. There’s this new guy, Pepe Lobo, and governments like Canada signed a free trade agreement with the regime, and everything is back to normal, reestablishing some of the little amounts of aid that were cut, and we’re all going back to normal. Meanwhile on the ground, the coupism project went into hyperspeed.

Michael Fox:  New mega tourism projects, the reopening of mining concessions, the wholesale sell off of the country. Not to mention a whole new level of embezzlement and widespread corruption.

Jesse Freeston:  So we saw corruption scandals in the years that followed that would make Enron blush. $300,000,000 US dollars taken directly out of the Honduran social security medicaid type fund that helps people get access to medical services. 

This money, in part, went directly to fund the National Party’s election campaign, and most of it was just put directly into pockets of officials. They actually even have the checks to show that it went directly into their pockets.

Michael Fox:  Anthropologist Adrienne Pine says the moment that best symbolized the neoliberal priorities of the post-coup administrations was a conference held in May 2011 in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula. It was called, in English, Honduras is Open for Business. 

Adrienne Pine:  And of course what they meant by “Honduras is open for business” was that we’re selling ourselves off.

Michael Fox:  “This is a new era for Honduras,” said Juan Orlando Hernández, the head of the national Congress, during his speech. “The top interest of the Honduran state is to foment growth and development of investment.” 

Adrienne Pine:  We’ll sell you water rights. We’ll sell to foreign companies. Land rights. We’ll give away the land that Indigenous communities and campesino collectives hold. We will even allow you to establish mini sovereign nations, which are now called ZEDEs, which have been an initiative of people like Peter Thiel and the libertarian fascist movement from Silicon Valley.

Michael Fox:  They sold off and they cracked down.

Alex Main is the director of International Policy at CEPR, the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. We heard from him in Part 1 of this episode.

Alex Main:  In the governments that followed, for many years, the US basically ignored those human rights violations, ignored corruption, ignored also enormous irregularities in elections that took place. What counted first and foremost was to have a government that could be relied on from a strategic point of view.

President Barack Obama [recording]:  Well, it’s a pleasure to welcome president Lobo to the White House. This gives us an opportunity to reaffirm the friendship between the American and the Honduran people.

Michael Fox:  Military support from the United States only increased. In March 2010, the Obama Administration restored nearly $40 million dollars in aid to Honduras that had been suspended following the coup. In 2011, almost two thirds of all Defense Department funds for Central America went to Honduras.

Those on the streets continued to fight. 

Journalist Felix Molina, who we heard from in the first part of this episode, continued to travel across the country, covering the resistance on his radio show. The movement even spawned a political party, Libre — [Liberty] and Refoundation. They organized around the key demand of holding a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution and “refound” Honduras — Exactly what the military and elites had removed Zelaya for trying to do in 2009. 

Four years after the coup, Xiomara Castro, the wife of ousted president Zelaya, would run for president with the Libre party. 

There were violent repercussions. Nearly 20 candidates and pre-candidates of the party were killed leading up to the 2013 vote. 

Unlike in 2009, when the post-coup elections were widely boycotted, this time people went out to vote. But election fraud and state violence sealed the deal for the US-backed candidate, Congress President Juan Orlando Hernández of Pepe Lobo’s National Party. 

“I promise to be faithful to the country,” he said on the day of his inauguration. “To abide by the constitution and its laws.” Meanwhile, people protested on the streets.

Juan Orlando Hernández came from a coffee family in western Honduras, one of 17 children. And he was a cherished ally for the United States, Canada, and other Western countries. 

Meanwhile, at home, he took control of all branches of government. As the head of Congress, he’d led a “technical coup” to take control of the Supreme Court, stacking it with his people. As president, he installed what eventually became known as a narco-dictatorship with the help of his younger brother, congressman Tony Hernández. The US supported him all the way.

Jesse Freeston.

Jesse Freeston:  This is the man who then, for almost a decade, shook hands with Obama and Trump and Harper and Trudeau and liberal and conservative politicians from around the planet who told us that this is the man who’s going to help us fight the drug trade in Central America and help us raise Central Americans out of poverty so that they’re not forced to migrate north. 

Michael Fox:  But in reality…

Jesse Freeston:  He was basically running a drug cartel, working hand in hand with the Cachiros, one of the most notorious drug cartels in Honduras. 

He also started his own praetorian guard called the military police that answered directly to him, completely doing away with the separation of powers that exists in anything that should call itself a republic. You shouldn’t have an internal police force that responds directly to the executive.

Michael Fox:  Human rights activist Karen Spring lived in Honduras throughout Hernández’s government.

Karen Spring:  He was able to traffic thousands of kilos of cocaine into the United States because he consolidated all this power under this political dictatorship. But really he was also using it not only for political economic power, which, as a dictator you control the economic structures of the state, but he was also using it to pocket a significant amount of money using the drug trade to do it. 

So that’s another interesting component of the dictatorship, and that’s why people call Juan Orlando Hernández a narco dictatorship or a narco dictator.

Michael Fox:  On the ground, the repression only got worse.

During the 2009 coup and throughout the subsequent coup governments, two important social movements joined the resistance on the streets: OFRANEH, the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras, which defended the rights of the Afro-Indigenous Garifuna peoples on the Caribbean coast, and COPINH, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras. Their organizing and vocal resistance was key from day one.

At the head of COPINH was Berta Caceres, one of the most outspoken and powerful grassroots, environmental, feminist, and Indigenous leaders in the country. That’s her speaking about the role that the Obama Administration and, in particular, Hillary Clinton played in the 2009 coup. 

Grahame Russell had known Berta Caceres since the late ‘90s. His organization, Rights Action, supported her work for years.

Grahame Russell:  She would speak at all levels in the most comfortable, clear, and direct way, and she had a very funny sense of humor. So I think you combine her charisma and her capacity to empower, educate, and empower people with her broad vision, and she was already one of the most amazing, if not the most amazing community leader, revolutionary leader that I met and came across in my work before 2009.

And then the role of COPINH and OFRANEH exploded on the national and much more into the international scene after 2009 in opposition to the US and Canadian-backed coup. 

Michael Fox:  In 2015, she won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her and COPINH’s grassroots campaign against the Agua Zarca Dam. 

“We must answer the call,” she said in her award-acceptance speech.”Our Mother Earth, militarized, fenced in, poisoned, where basic rights are systematically violated, demands that we take action.”


10 months later, March 2, 2016. Gunmen assassinate Berta in her home. Her death sends shockwaves not just throughout Honduras, but around the globe.

News Report:  Songs of sorrow. It’s how the Indigenous Lenca people pay tribute to Berta Caceres, the activist who fought to protect them and the environment. Berta Vive!

Michael Fox:  Members of COPINH occupy the country’s attorney general’s office. They demand answers about the murder of Berta Caceres and accountability for those responsible. They’re met with repression. They are still demanding justice.

Exactly two months after her death, May 2, 2016. Journalist Felix Molina interviews one of Berta Caceres’s daughters for his radio show Resistencias. Remember, we heard about his show Resistencias in Part 1 of this episode.

Just a few hours later, 7:00 PM. Felix is riding in a taxi, stopped at a traffic light, when armed gunmen attack. It is the second attempt on his life that day.

Felix Molina:  This time, I wasn’t able to escape from the vehicle I was in. The light was red. There were too many other cars.

Michael Fox:  He’s shot four times. He’s rushed to the hospital..

The news shocks the country.

Bertha Oliva, from the Committee of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared, speaks out the next day, May 3. Press Freedom Day. 

Bertha Oliva:  Today is International World Press Freedom Day, and this is a journalist with recognized merits. And with this attack, the powerful have sent a message to the world. A message that they will silence, block, violate, and run over anyone who does not follow their line. And we believe that the countries that are advancing in democracy should not have just one way of thinking.

Michael Fox:  Felix survives. He’s transferred from one hospital to another. 

Felix Molina:  I went through two hospitals and still had to continue healing my wounds in Nicaragua before traveling to the United States.

Michael Fox:  He would make his way to Canada, where, concerned for his life, he would request asylum. 

He says this was really hard for him to do. He had spent years with his radio show intentionally sharing positive stories. Refusing to let the fear in.

Felix Molina:  I didn’t want to believe that it was dangerous for me to return to Honduras. 

Michael Fox:  He says he also didn’t want to leave everything he had built behind. 

Felix Molina:  Relationships, social ties, connections, family. The process of change that I had fought for years and which I had accompanied with my convictions and principles.

Michael Fox:  Felix Molina was granted asylum in Canada. He hasn’t returned to Honduras since. 

And he was not the only one forced to flee.

News Report:  We turn now to Honduras, where experts believe that the flow of tens of thousands of minors looking to cross into the United States is unlikely to decrease.

Michael Fox:  That was 2014. The migration of thousands of unaccompanied minors to the United States was front-page news in the United States. 

This was not a coincidence. It was a direct result of the 2009 Honduran US-backed coup and the fallout that came from it. You might remember we looked at this in depth in the first episode of this podcast: “Monroe and Migration”.

US intervention in the form of wars, invasions, coups, sanctions, and support for authoritarian regimes is, ironically, the root cause of the waves of people fleeing their countries and heading to the United States. 

Honduras is a perfect example. 

Arturo J. Viscarra is an asylum attorney who has worked with migrants in Mexico for the last five years. We spoke with him in Episode 1. He’s seen the migration crisis from the ground, and he says the 2009 coup and its aftermath has been the top cause of people migrating from Central America over the last two decades.

Arturo J. Viscarra:  You see the growing, sometimes exponentially, outflow of people from Honduras over the next ten years. Since I’ve been in Mexico for the last five years, as far as Central Americans are concerned, Hondurans are far and away the biggest population out of Central America. You really do see this explosion since the coup.

Michael Fox:  Remember the Hondurans on the road north that I introduced you to in Episode 1? Like Maria, who traveled with her two boys. 

“My life is in danger,” she told me in the Mexican border town of Tapachula, in a park where she camped with other migrants. “I have denounced it with the police, but they are waiting to kill me. My children are in danger, and that’s why I left Honduras.”

Violence was the main reason why people fled. In the years following the 2009 coup, Honduras topped the list of the world’s countries with the highest murder rate. 

And it would get even worse, as another round of fraudulent elections and state violence would push Hondurans to flee in unprecedented numbers, a mass exodus of migrants traveling in caravans toward the United States.

That in a minute.


Maximillian Alvarez:  Hey, everyone, Maximillian Alvarez here, editor-in-chief of The Real News Network. We’re going to get you right back to the program in a sec, I promise. But really quick, I just wanted to remind y’all that The Real News is an independent, viewer- and listener-supported, grassroots media network. We don’t take corporate cash, we don’t have ads, and we never, ever put our reporting behind paywalls. 

But we cannot continue to do this work without your support. It takes a lot of time, energy, and money to produce powerful, unique, and journalistically rigorous shows like Under the Shadow. So if you want more vital storytelling and reporting like this, we need you to become a supporter of The Real News now. Just head over to and donate today. It really makes a difference. 

Also, if you’re enjoying Under the Shadow, then you will definitely want to follow NACLA, the North American Congress on Latin America. NACLA’s reporting and analysis goes beyond the headlines to help you understand what’s happening in Latin America and the Caribbean from a progressive perspective. Visit to learn more. 

Alright, thanks for listening. Back to the show.


Michael Fox:  It is 2016. Berta Caceres is dead. Felix Molina is exiled. Narco-dictator Juan Orlando Hernández has cracked down on his opposition. He controls all branches of government — Perhaps most importantly the Supreme Court. 

That body has already cleared the way for him to run for reelection, even though the constitution prohibits it. By the end of 2016, the electoral authority officially allows him to put his hat in the ring.

Now, I want to pause here to underscore this point, because it is the epitome of hypocrisy. 

Remember, as we learned in the beginning of Part 1 of this episode, running for reelection in Honduras is illegal under the constitution. In fact, it is the very excuse Congress, the Supreme Court, and the military used to justify removing president Manuel Zelaya from power in 2009. 

And yet, less than a decade later, that is exactly what Juan Orlando Hernández does. He decides to run for reelection. And since he’s stacked every branch of government with his political allies, the courts give him the green light. 

“These are new times,” he says in December 2016 upon signing up to run. “This is a new era. What doesn’t change is that the Honduran people will decide.”

Well… Not really. See, Hernández was actually behind in the polls leading up to the 2017 election. In fact, he was trailing Libre, the party formed out of the resistance movement.

Hernández does return to power — But it’s not because that’s what the people decide. He steals the election through blatant fraud. And the aftermath is really reminiscent of the 2009 coup: mass protests, military curfew, brutal repression, killings.

I wanna dive into this specific moment really quick, because it shows the lengths that the US — With the support from Canada — Will go to to back a corrupt and fraudulent ally, even in the present day. This wasn’t the 1950s, or even the 1980s. This was just a few years ago.

Alex Main’s CEPR analyzed the 2017 vote count and detailed how the fraud robbed the opposition of a win.

Alex Main:  When the elections took place, the results that were coming in showed them winning by a significant margin of over five points. And then suddenly there was an interruption, all sorts of technical difficulties that took place in the counting of the votes, and for something like 30 hours there was no more news. 

And then, finally, when they began to announce results again, the results started heading in a very different direction. They shifted very drastically in favor of the incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández, and in a way that was really quite unexplainable.

Understandably, Hondurans were extremely skeptical. In fact, they were very quick to reject the results. Tens of thousands of Hondurans took to the streets when final results announcing the victory of Juan Orlando Hernández came out. 

There were enormous protests. Those protests were very violently repressed with live ammunition, and you had dozens that were killed. And so the country was rather unstable for a while. But the US very quickly came in and said, you have to respect the results.

Michael Fox:  Canada immediately followed suit, recognizing the results and Hernández’s reelection. 

Rights Action’s Grahame Russell.

Grahame Russell:  Honduras had three sets of violent, corrupt, anti-democratic elections: 2009, 2013, 2017. That’s the playbook, and all three sets of elections were absolutely condemned internationally, Latin America-wide, blah blah blah, denounced nationally. And the US and Canada, every single time, approved them formally because we were hiding behind the fig leaf of our democratic ally.

Michael Fox:  In June 2023, I sat down with human rights defender Karen Spring at a mall in Tegucigalpa. We sat on a deck just outside of the food court as the sun sank in the sky and the people and traffic bustled around us.

Karen Spring:  Being here for the last 13 or 14 years, there is nothing that happens in this country that the United States government, through the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa, doesn’t know about and isn’t involved in, especially a coup to that level. And I saw it again in 2017 with the illegal reelection of Juan Orlando Hernández.

Michael Fox:  Karen saw it firsthand. Her partner was a well-known figure in the resistance movement going back to 2009. In the violent government crackdown following the fraudulent vote in 2017, more than 1,000 people were rounded up; He was one of them. 

He was falsely charged of arson and locked up without trial in a maximum security prison alongside convicted gang members and murderers. She says this was a government tactic that was commonly used to try to silence political prisoners and scare movement leaders.

Karen Spring:  When I was trying to get my partner out of prison after the 2017 electoral crisis, I would go to all of the embassies in the country. And almost the first thing they asked me was, have you gone to the US Embassy yet? Because they have a much bigger staff than we do. 

And it was their way of saying, we don’t really call the shots here. It’s the US government. And that is very, very clear in Central America, I think, particularly in Honduras, and it always has been.

Michael Fox:  Alex Main.

Alex Main:  Really at no point did the US raise serious concern about the enormous human rights violations that took place, basically a massacre of protesters. You had many protesters that ended up going into hiding, others that went into exile. It was a very gloomy time for Honduras and for Honduran democracy. 

And yet the US was there standing behind these extremely flawed election results because the logic remained the same: This government had to be supported because the status quo in Honduras had to be supported. 

The US could not allow an independent government, a government that would chart an independent foreign policy course, an independent domestic policy course. This was just something that the US could not allow in a country like Honduras where it has exercised control for such a very long time.

News Report:  The first group of around 3,000 Honduran migrants who want to get into the United States has arrived at the border between Guatemala and Mexico. President Trump has threatened to cut US aid to Central American countries that fail to stop the caravans.

Michael Fox:  Months after the 2017 elections, thousands of Hondurans join massive migrant caravans traveling from Central America to the United States. Many cite violence, repression, and the corrupt Hernández government among their reasons for fleeing.

Immigrant lawyer Arturo Viscarra accompanied those caravans.

Arturo J. Viscarra:  Some of those migrants were actually very politicized and very much saw themselves as fleeing the Honduran regime, which was just a continuation of the 2009 coup regime, even though this is eight years later.

Michael Fox:  He says the numbers of people fleeing Honduras would skyrocket in the subsequent years, and remain high until today.

Arturo J. Viscarra:  Hondurans are still usually the number one Central American population that is going through. So apart from the political stuff, there’s obviously the violence of the state. The violence of criminal organizations, in this case of the gangs, and, of course, economic violence and inequality.

Michael Fox:  But Hernández would not last. 

News Report:  To an election that could have major implications for both immigration and the war on drugs. On Sunday in Honduras, millions will be heading to the polls to choose their next president…

Michael Fox:  Hernández’s narco-regime had become too unsustainable. Too corrupt, even for the United States and its allies. And the opposition was too great.

In the 2021 election, the candidate chosen to succeed Hernández and run under his party’s ticket lost to none other than Libre party candidate Xiomara Castro, the wife of Manuel Zelaya. She won by nearly 20 points.

News Report:  Celebrations in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa…

Michael Fox:  People rejoiced across the country. The story had come full circle. 

Today in Tegucigalpa, you still see graffiti painted across the city that reads: “Fuera JOH”. “Get out J-O-H”. That’s the Honduran shorthand for former president Juan Orlando Hernández. And his story is playing out right now in New York’s Southern District Court.

Speaker:  Good afternoon everyone. Today, Juan Orlando Hernández, the former president of Honduras, was extradited to the United States to face federal charges.

Michael Fox:  In April 2022, three months after leaving office, Hernández was indicted on drug trafficking charges and extradited to the United States. He’s been in jail ever since.

The highly publicized trial against him began in February 2024. Prosecutors accuse him of running a “corrupt and violent drug-trafficking conspiracy”.  

He’s not the only one. His brother, former congressman Tony Hernández, is already serving a life sentence in the United States for drug trafficking. His former chief of police, Juan Carlos Bonilla, has plead guilty in the United States for drug trafficking. The son of former president Pepe Lobo, whose fraudulent 2009 election consolidated the coup regime, is also serving decades in the US for drug trafficking.

But here’s the thing: It’s not like the US didn’t know what was going on throughout the entire time that they adamantly supported the post-2009 coup governments. 

Anthropologist Adrienne Pine.

Adrienne Pine:  What is getting excluded from the narrative in these very important trials is the enormous role of the United States and Canada. It’s important in that they’re highlighting how violent [it was] and the extent of the narco dictatorship. But they’re also letting the US and Canada off the hook. 

And so it’s important to always be reminding ourselves that Juan Orlando Hernández could not have become the narco dictator of Honduras without the gung-ho support of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state during the coup, and without the firm support of the Obama administration and subsequent administrations, Democrat and Republican, who likewise celebrated these narco-dictators as being their greatest allies in the war on drugs.

Karen Spring [recording]:  Hi everybody, I’m live outside the Southern District Court of New York.

Michael Fox:  Karen Spring has been in the courtroom in New York City covering the trials since they began in February.

Karen Spring:  So as this trial is unfolding here in New York, we are having the discussion about the big elephant in the courtroom, which is the role of the US and Canada in propping up what US prosecutors say is a deadly drug trafficker, for so many years.

Michael Fox:  On Friday, March 8, a New York court convicted Hernández of conspiring with drug traffickers to send hundreds of tons of cocaine to the United States in exchange for hefty bribes.

Assistant US Attorney Jacob Gutwillig told the court that Hernández had “paved a cocaine superhighway to the United States.”

When I met Karen Spring in Tegucigalpa in 2023, I asked her about Hernández’s extradition to the United States and his then-upcoming trial.

Karen Spring:  It’s just so important to remember that the United States doesn’t have friends — They have interests. And so as soon as a leader no longer serves their interest — Which progressive leaders never will — So let’s use these tactics like lawfare to lock them up. 

But it’s like, OK, how do you get Juan Orlando Hernández out of the picture? I think it’s a revenge tactic against Juan Orlando Hernández, why they have him in prison in the US. I don’t think they really give a shit about drugs going into the US. They certainly don’t care about any of the corruption that he was involved in. Except the drugs, maybe, now that he’s in the US, they all of a sudden care. But they looked the other way on so many other issues. 

Juan Orlando Hernández should be facing trial here for all the worst crimes he committed. Drug trafficking, sure, it’s bad, but he killed so many people. He left the state in an economic situation of complete helplessness. They don’t have any money for any social programs. They’re still trying to figure out just what the hell happened.

Michael Fox:  Powerful individuals connected to the Hernández dictatorships are still entrenched in government. And though Libre and Xiomara Castro now control the executive branch, Honduras still has a long road ahead when it comes to undoing the damage of the US-backed coup and dictatorship.

Karen Spring:  We’re really waking up to like, oh my God, look at this state of affairs that they’ve left this state in, this government. Some institutions will say, especially related to the ZEDEs, they will say, we don’t even know the contracts that were signed with foreign companies. We don’t even have that paperwork.

Michael Fox:  The ZEDEs are these private cities that the narco-regime approved and promoted. They’ve now been rolled back, but at least one is still fighting the Honduran government and demanding more than $10 billion US in alleged lost profits through international arbitration.

Karen Spring:  We’re still trying to understand what the coup meant in Honduras. And a lot of the things that the government is trying to get out right now and trying to turn back, like the privatization, but also reveal to the population about what they’re dealing with, is part of understanding what the coup meant. So the coup happened in 2009, but you can’t really talk about present-day Honduras and not talk about the coup. 

Michael Fox:  Karen says Xiomara Castro’s government has been trying to dig the country out of the abyss it was plunged into by successive coup regimes. It’s pushed for greater labor protections, tried to renegotiate energy contracts and a progressive tax system. But they’ve been hounded by conservative elites and US ambassador Laura Dogu.

That’s her criticizing Castro’s government late last year. “Confidence in the government institutions has weakened at a time in which you need to create greater confidence in the institutions,” she told a group of journalists.

Karen Spring:  She’s been making very clear statements to the press against these reforms, and that’s how you gauge that the US is not happy with them. So there’s really direct statements and interventions that the US is going about, but also then there’s a lot of indirect and quiet interventions. 

And this is a strategy they’ve used for decades and decades in Central America, and all around Latin America, and the world.

Michael Fox:  In other words, in Honduras, the US was willing to withdraw its support for the Hernándezes narco-regime. It would allow fair elections to occur that would see Xiomara Castro come to power. But it has remained vocal about ensuring that Castro’s government does not step too far out of line. 

Karen Spring:  They’re not interested in addressing the root causes of migration at all. And I think that’s something that the ambassador has said very clearly here in Honduras, is that, I’m here to promote the economic interests of the United States.

Michael Fox:  Alex Main.

Alex Main:  I think they believed, and probably continue to believe, that they can still exercise a sufficient amount of control over the politics of Honduras due to the enormous economic leverage that the US has and to the fact that the US still has such very tight relations with the Honduran armed forces who, as we saw in 2009, can act independently from the head of state of the country. 

Michael Fox:  There’s something I want to underscore here that’s really important. And I need to touch on this here because, as I’ve mentioned, this is the only episode of Under the Shadow that deals with US intervention in the present.

In the beginning of this series, I traveled to Guatemala, where the CIA actively participated in a violent coup that overthrew the country’s democratically elected government in 1954. We’ve looked at enthusiastic US support for bloody authoritarian regimes in the 1980s. Later in this series, I’ll take you to Panama to look at the impact of the last large-scale US invasion in Latin America — That was 1989.

Alex Main.

Alex Main:  We haven’t seen the sort of military intervention that was more common in the past. The marines would arrive, they’d occupy a country for a while, they’d reshape the politics, they’d reshape the security apparatus, and eventually leave. Not so much of that. 

But there are a lot of other insidious ways that the US has been very involved in shaping the politics of the region. And they’ve ramped up their efforts since this progressive wave came to power in Latin America in the late ‘90s, early 2000s, as a result of the broader democratization of the region that really started in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. 

Michael Fox:  The US-backed coups in the region since then have been more subtle, done under the pretext of supposedly holding up the rule of law and democracy while actually undermining it. They’re not as cut and dry. More confusing. Easier to whitewash. Easier to spin and garner international support.

The 2009 coup in Honduras is a perfect example of this. Congress and the Supreme Court joined forces with the military to claim that Manuel Zelaya was threatening the Honduran constitution. They removed him within a few hours, took power, and, in the words of human rights defender Bertha Oliva in the beginning of the last episode, rolled the country back 50 years.

And we’ve seen this model implemented time and again up and down the hemisphere: The 2012 coup against president Fernando Lugo in Paraguay, the 2016 congressional coup against Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, the 2019 coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia.

In each case, you have Congress or the Supreme Court that maybe aligns with the military or the police to oust the democratically elected leader for supposedly breaking the laws of the nation or attacking the country’s constitution. Those behind the coup paint themselves as the arbiters of true justice and the supposed defenders of “democracy”, all while employing undemocratic methods to take and hold power.

The other model for the modern coup? Build a vocal opposition movement. Generate violence on the streets. Sow confusion. Blame and remove the president. That’s what we saw in the 2002 48-hour coup against Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and the 2004 coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In all of these cases,  the United States is quick to recognize the new regime. Canada is often not far behind. The new leaders then proceed to gut the nation’s institutions, roll back any progressive reforms, and auction off the country’s assets and resources to foreign corporate interests as quickly as possible.

COFADEH’s Bertha Oliva.

Bertha Oliva:  Here in Honduras, they tried to paint it as a presidential succession and not a coup. They even had a congressman falsify the signature of president Zelaya to make it appear as though he had resigned. 

What they didn’t count on was the strength of those in the streets. Because they would not stop. They denounced it and called it a coup.

Michael Fox:  When I was writing the first part of this episode, I went back and looked at some of my pictures from the summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americans that I reported on in Venezuela in 2009. 

There’s this one photo. The country’s presidents are standing outside in a semicircle. They’re all waving. Happy. Manuel Zelaya was there. 

When I saw the picture, I realized something: Of the eight progressive leaders in attendance in that picture, three of them would be removed from office in coup d’etats over the next decade. And one would be dead — Hugo Chavez.

In other words, we think of US-backed coups as a thing of the past. But they aren’t. They’re as present today as they ever were. It’s just the model that’s different, the way they’re carried out. The end result is the same.

Bertha Oliva told me something when I visited her in 2023 that really stuck with me.

Bertha Oliva:  We are survivors of the politics of the 1980s, of the Doctrine of National Security, where the neoliberal project began. And we are also the survivors of this new era of tragedy, of pain, and absolute control of the state. Now we have to pick up the pieces of the country that are left.

I don’t know how long it will take us, but we have good intentions. It’s truly needed. Because if not, Honduras will be lost.

Michael Fox:  And people are doing just that: picking up the pieces.

Felix Molina.

Felix Molina:  I believe that the top legacy of the resistance to the coup is about having eliminated the shyness that existed between social movements and political movements in order to access state power through a party.

Michael Fox:  People are also honoring the past and building for the future.

On March 2, 2024, hundreds of people joined members of the Indigenous grassroots organization COPINH in La Esperanza, Honduras, to remember Berta Caceres on the eighth anniversary of her killing.

Singer, journalist, activist Karla Lara was there.

Karla Lara:  We were there. And so was Berta, in a thousand forms. In the fire. In the altars, in the words of the people, in the Lenca people, with their excellent food, sharing, with respect for diversity and difference. With so much music. So much spirituality. With so much of her, even after 8 years.

Michael Fox:  Grahame Russell says Berta was an extraordinary loss.

Grahame Russell:  Because of who she was and who she remains, being for so many, as they say in Honduras and now they say internationally, Berta se murió, pero se multiplicó. Yes, she did die. She was killed, but she multiplied. And her message is now being shared on a regular basis inside Honduras, throughout the COPINH world, the Lenca world, and around the world. The example of who she is and what she fought for. 

All along, the US and Canada knew exactly who we were supporting in Honduras, and we lied about it. Berta was clearly assassinated by the US and Canadian-backed regime.

Michael Fox:  That’s all for this episode of Under the Shadow

In the next episode, we head to Nicaragua, but far into the past to the 1800s. To another regime that was enthusiastically backed by the United States, this one stolen from Nicaraguans and implanted by US filibuster William Walker in one of the most twisted stories of US imperialism in Central America. I’ll take you there next time on Under the Shadow.


Let me just say before I go that we are now well over halfway into the series. We’ve traveled from Guatemala to El Salvador and Honduras. In the coming months, as we work our way south, we’ll be visiting Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. As always, walking from the past into the present, deciphering the legacies today and the shadow hanging over the region. The shadow of the United States. The shadow of the Monroe Doctrine.

As always, if you like what you hear, please check out my Patreon page: There you can also support my work, become a monthly sustainer, or sign up to stay abreast of the latest on this podcast and my other reporting across Latin America. 

Under the Shadow is a co-production in partnership with The Real News and NACLA. 

The theme music is by my band, Monte Perdido. 

This is Michael Fox. Many thanks.

See you next time… 

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Michael Fox is a Latin America-based media maker and the former director of video production at teleSUR English.