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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 150 | Enero 1994
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Honduras

Indisputable Vote Against Neoliberalism

"The economic adjustment program never went beyond the stage of good intentions. Production was weakened, exports fell and macroeconomic imbalances continued. My government will show no fear to the IMF. It will recognize its foreign debt, but will not continue paying with Honduran lives." Carlos Roberto Reina.

Mario Posas

Sixty seven year old Carlos Roberto Reina, from the opposition Liberal Party, is the new President of Honduras. His electoral triumph was one that none of the public opinion polls could clearly predict. The last poll calculated that the Liberals might win, but only with three or so percentage points. The ruling National Party was confident that it could make up that small difference separating it from the Liberals with its well known capacity for organization and mobilization. But neither organization nor mobilization by Callejas' party could hold back the Liberal victory, which in the end had more than a ten point advantage.

Electoral Results

With more than 90% of the votes counted, Reina had 51.7%, while the National Party, headed by the conservative Oswaldo Ramos Soto, got 41.5%. The Party of Innovation and Unity (PINU) took 2.8%, while the Christian Democratic Party of Honduras (PDCH) got barely 1%.

The Liberal Party will rule during the next four years with a comfortable majority in the National Congress. It will have 71 representatives, while the National Party will have 55 and PINU 2. The PDCH will have no representation in Congress. The Liberal Party will also have 13 of the 20 Honduran representatives to the Central American Parliament, and will control over 159 of the country's 191 municipalities. It won overwhelmingly in 13 of the country's 18 departments, while the National Party won the other 5, of which 4 (Lempira, Intibuca, Copán and Valle) are the least developed in the country and are traditional National Party bastions.

How can this unexpected and sweeping victory be explained?

Anti Communism Loses

The electoral results can be explained in part by the National Party's vitriolic anti communist campaign against Reina. Mario Rivera Callejas, campaign chief for the defeated Ramos Soto, had to publicly recognize the failure of that campaign, so crudely and ardently carried out by his party.

Its objective was to distract the voters' attention from the cost of living, given that secret polls by the National Party's advertising agency underlined that as a factor that would seriously affect its candidate's electoral fortunes. But even the anti communist "circus" could not cover up the lack of bread. Notes to punish the economic policy won out.

The anti communist campaign had greatly worried the Liberal Party campaign staff, which went to great lengths to counteract it. Among their final arguments, the Liberals even presented declarations made over the phone by the former US ambassador in Honduras, Cresencio Arcos, himself a well known anti communist, who stated that all four presidential candidates were recognized democrats. As Rivera Callejas publicly declared later, Arcos' words were a severe blow to the National Party's campaign.

In the long run, the National Party's anti communist propaganda was counterproductive, although some Liberal voters did fall for it and voted against Reina. The majority of the traditionally Liberal voters essentially ignored it, but the campaign's virulence had a major impact among intellectuals and independent voters, who rejected it with corresponding virulence.
They saw Ramos Soto and his political party as the main enemy, representing intolerance and fascism, which led them to offer Reina their unconditional support. Defeating Ramos style fascism became the electoral slogan of many of the country's middle sectors. This led them not only to support Reina, but to make their cars available to ferry Liberal supporters to and from the polls, which turned out to be a key factor when the votes were tallied.

At the last minute, the National Party's ardent anti communist campaign even undermined the possibilities of the PINU Social Democrats and the PDCH Social Christians to garner more votes away from the Liberals. The educated middle sectors and independent voters chose to concentrate their votes in Reina instead of splitting them among the minority PINU and PDCH candidates. In this context, it was significant that the call by a left leader, a recognized activist in the cooperative and popular movements, urging support for the PDCH candidate was not only ignored, but actively repudiated.
The anti communist campaign thus had the effect of strengthening the traditional bipartisan character of Honduras' political system. It also demonstrated that trying to frighten people with the Communist "bogey man" is less and less effective among a population beginning to learn the lessons of history.

Another factor in the National Party's defeat was its decision to work through the Supreme Court to oppose voting by Hondurans who, although they had voting cards, had not registered in the electoral census for one reason or other. Many undecided voters went to the polls just to punish the National Party for this crude manipulation.

Anti Structural Adjustment Wins

Some observers predicted that the cost of living hike provoked by the structural adjustment measures, taken to an extreme by the Callejas regime, would be the decisive factor in these elections. And so they were. A punishment vote was cast against neoliberal economic policies.

The respectable figure of attorney Carlos Roberto Reina, an intellectual with 50 years of activism in the Liberal Party ranks, was a positive factor in his party's triumph. In the final stage of his campaign, Reina committed himself to adjust Callejas' adjustment plan and to fight with all his strength against corruption. This greatly increased his stature among voters. The image of Ramos Soto as an unscrupulous and lying lightweight, which Reina's campaign staff did its best to accentuate, also contributed to Reina's victory.

But in the end, it was Ramos Soto's close association with President Callejas that hurt him most. The majority of the voters took a stand against the economic package Callejas implemented in March 1990, which has significantly deteriorated most Hondurans' standard of living. Thus Honduras became the site of Central America's first defeat of the neoliberal structural adjustment programs imposed by the international financial organizations.

Clean, Festive Elections

The November 28 general elections were Honduras' fifth since 1980. In the twenty years previous, coups and fraudulent elections were the mechanisms that Honduras' military and politicians used to take power.

The elections were clean and honest, apart from the attempt to block the right of some Liberal Party supporters to vote (as the result of an internal party decision made during the 1980s, they are identified by the fact that their identity cards have a hole on one end).

The elections were also a civic festival of sorts, though there was fear that they would be otherwise, given the tension that threatened to revive old inter party hatreds in the days leading up to the elections. Election day came and went with no major incidents, save for a homemade bomb thrown from a vehicle into a San Pedro Sula schoolyard that was to serve as a polling place, and an armed duel, in which two Olancho residents one Liberal and one National faced off in Old West style. Both died.

Challenges Facing Reina

The Honduran President elect will be inaugurated on January 27, 1994 for a four year term. With consumer buying power seriously deteriorated, the majority of Hondurans are confident that Reina will be able to brake the country's accelerated impoverishment over the last four years. His economic advisers and the President elect himself have committed themselves to seriously modifying Callejas' structural adjustment program.

The young economist Hugo Noé Pino, coordinator of the Master's program in economics and planning at the National Autonomous University of Honduras, is expected to become one of the key players in Reina's economic Cabinet, occupying either the post of Minister of the Economy or Secretary of Economic Planning.

Whoever fills those two positions will have to efficiently face the problems stemming from the drop in prices of the country's key export products, the natural disasters that battered the country this past year, the pressure from the international lending agencies and the population`s hope that prices for basic consumer items will stabilize.

The new President also faces the enormous challenge of returning credibility to the Liberal Party. It is basically a question of recovering the prestige that the party lost during Roberto Suazo Córdova's administration (1982 1986), a period in which the Liberals pacted with the most conservative sectors of the army and civil society and allowed Honduras to become the key base for US counterrevolutionary activity in the region. To recover this lost political prestige, the Liberal Party will have to strengthen civic organizations, which have been seriously weakened by Callejas' neoliberal regime, and undertake a serious concertación program with all of civil society. The Reina administration should respond to the demands of peasant organizations that have opposed the Callejas government's agricultural modernization law. That law has contributed to accelerating the concentration of land and has dealt a serious blow to those living off agricultural activity.

First Commitments

In his victory speech, Reina reiterated his decision to carry out a full scale battle against corruption, repeating over and over his goal of carrying out a "moral revolution." In order to undertake and win this battle, Reina will have to strengthen the Public Ministry, which is still awaiting constitutional approval. The new President also committed himself to transfer the police still under army control to civilian power.

He pledged to work with the armed forces towards reducing the military budget, so as to earmark more money for social spending.
He also reiterated his decision to eliminate the controversial secret presidential fund, which has made some Presidents rich, allowed them to buy off leaders of popular organizations or favor family members, friends or party hacks.

Reina's promises are thus numerous, and they will be difficult to keep. The road ahead is unclear and questions remain. Will the forces who have historically opposed these reforms because they affect their interests and privileges now accept them to any real degree? In what way will they oppose them? Honduras could begin a new life in 1994.

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ABSTENTIONISM ON THE RISE

During these elections, 35% of Hondurans chose to stay home. The last elections, held in 1989, posted a 24% abstention rate, up from 16% in 1985. The rates for 1980 and 1981, respectively, were 18.2% and 17%.
Three causes for the particularly high abstention in these elections can be identified:
1) A malicious maneuver by the National Party that forced rival voters to go vote in distant communities;
2) a calculated delay in handing over identity cards to a number of voters by the National Registry of Persons, an institution under National Party influence;
3) disinterest on the part of many voters given the lack of serious proposals by the parties in their campaigns or a lack of identification by voters with their party's candidate a factor mainly affecting Ramos Soto and his National Party.

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