President Reina: No Seller of Dreams
“Honduras is not so much a poor country as a poorly managed country,” said President Carlos Roberto Reina as he begins his administration among great expectations.
An extended catcall by more than 40,000 people was the goodbye given to President Callejas on January 27, when Carlos Roberto Reina was inaugurated as the new President of Honduras. The hissing was so strong that protocol officers decided to cancel the outgoing President's speech for fear that the public would not stop jeering while he talked. Such a strong expression of public rejection of the neoliberal economic adjustment cannot be ignored by the new government.
Faces in the New GovernmentThe new President, Carlos Roberto Reina, is a 67 year old lawyer and Liberal Party veteran. His partners on the political slate, as Designates to the Presidency of the Republic or vice presidents are retired General Walter López Reyes, veteran politician Juan de la Cruz Avelar, and Guadalupe Jerezano Mejía, the first woman to hold this position in the Liberal Party. At the beginning of the 1970s, another woman, Irma Acosta de Fortín, from the National Party, also held this governmental post.
Walter López Reyes was chief of the armed forces heading the movement that at the end of March 1984 detained, brought down and threw out of the country the infamous General Gustavo Alvarez Martínez, principal leader and promoter of the "dirty war" against sympathizers of the revolutionary struggles in the 1980s. Cruz Avelar is a provincial politician, with little national relevance.
The electoral results gave the Liberals a comfortable majority of 71 representatives in the National Congress. The National Party won 55 seats and the PINU 2. The ample majority in the National Congress should allow President Reina to govern without legislative difficulties.
Given the traditional libertarian spirit of Liberal Party representatives and the internal power disputes that have divided the party, however, surprises are to be expected. The image that the Liberal Party has historically projected contrasts with the historically disciplined and monolithic actions of the opposing National Party. The outgoing National Party legislature was famous for its "railroading" methods to pass controversial laws. The Liberal Party won 176 of the 291 mayors' elections, and the rest remain in the hands of the National Party.
The Economic CabinetCarlos Roberto Reina took a long time to form his Cabinet, announcing the names only three days before he took office.
Public opinion followed with particular interest the selection of the members of his economic Cabinet: the minister of economy and trade, the housing and public credit minister, the economic and social planning minister and the president of the Central Bank.
Reina named banker Delmer Urbizo Panting as minister of economy and trade. Urbizo Panting has close relations with the business community of prosperous San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras and is a recognized member of the Liberal Party. Businessman Juan Ferrera, until recently president of the Honduran Private Business Council (COHEP), was named housing and public credit minister. Ferrera, who has been a member of the opposing National Party, is a respected businessman who enthusiastically supports "the moral revolution" announced by Reina.
The new title of economic and social planning minister was given to sociologist Guillermo Molina Chocano, who in recent years has maintained moderately reformist political positions. Molina Chocano has been an organic intellectual of the Reinista Liberal Movement, a faction of the Liberal Party led by the President and his brother, Jorge Arturo Reina. He has a recognized political history as university dean and Social Democratic politician.
The presidency of the Central Bank was given to economist Hugo Noé Pino, who from his position as president of the Economists' Association maintained a permanently critical position against the Callejas economic adjustment program. During the presidential campaign, Noé Pino was coordinator of Reina's "shadow government," which prepared economic proposals for the current government.
Banker Guillermo Bueso was named coordinator of the economic Cabinet. For many years he served as president of the Central Bank. Reina chose banker and veteran Liberal Party politician Jorge Bueso Arias as his economic advisor.
Little can be said at this point about the economic team, but it is clear that none of the members supported the neoliberal and monetarist ideas that Callejas and his economic cabinet defended. Urbizo Panting, Ferrera and Bueso cannot be called "Chicago boys," and Molina and Noé Pino maintained even more critical postures against the outgoing government's neoliberal economic adjustment program.
Fight in CongressThe selection of the new President's Cabinet was delayed by a conflict that gave the sense that the governing party was weak and fragmented; Carlos Flores Facussé and Jorge Arturo Reina disagreed about who should get the presidency of the National Congress. Flores Facussé, who always considered himself the logical candidate, argued that the National Congress presidency belonged to him as leader of one of the factions of the party that contributed to the electoral victory. He therefore demanded a quota of power. He also argued that choosing Jorge Arturo Reina would unfavorably taint the new government with charges of nepotism. Facussé began the dispute because the result would determine his political future; he hopes to be the Liberal Party presidential candidate in the 1997 elections.
To keep this internal dispute from letting the 55 National Party representatives choose the Congress president by making a pact with one of the Liberal factions, the Liberals decided to resolve their differences by a secret vote of the 71 representatives. Flores Facussé won 40 votes. Jorge Arturo Reina had to be satisfied with being first vice president of the Congress.
Other MinistersReina raised many expectations when he stated that he would name the "best men and women" in the country to his Cabinet. Political observers were relatively pleased with the naming of the economic Cabinet, as well as with lawyer Efraín Moncada Silva as minister of government and justice, Dr. Ernesto Paz Aguilar as foreign minister, Dr. Enrique Samayoa as health minister, veterinarian and Liberal politician Ramón Villeda Bermúdez as minister of natural resources and historian and young Liberal politician Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle as minister of culture.
The grassroots sectors, who believed Reina when he said he would take their views into account when choosing ministers related to their interests (which he did not do), have questioned the naming of Zobeida Rodas de León Gómez as minister of education, Cecilio Zelaya's appointment as minister of labor and the naming of Ubodoro Arriaga Iraeta as director of the Agrarian Institute (INA). Rodas is almost unknown among organized teachers, as is Zelaya among unions. Arriaga Iraeta is an old guard politician who was director of INA during the conservative government of Suazo Córdova (1982 1985). Most peasant leaders have a poor opinion of his work.
They have also not been pleased with the naming of engineer Germán Aparicio as minister of communications, public works and transport. He held the same post without notoriety during the 1980s.
Military Also JeeredSerious uneasiness was caused by the naming of General Reinaldo Andino Flores as defense minister. Jorge Arturo Reina, the new President's influential brother, had promised that the new defense minister would be a civilian. Observers saw in these declarations a sign of political willingness on the part of the new leader to subordinate the military to civilian control.
The Honduran military was already facing a difficult situation; for weeks it had been at the center of a new political torment. The military was pushed to center stage by a courageous document titled "The Facts Speak for Themselves," presented to the public at the end of December by the Human Rights Commission. The report documents the disappearances of Hondurans and foreigners during the fateful decade of the 1980s.
It was the first time that a high level state official publicly recognized the thorny subject of the disappeared and demanded punishment for the guilty. The report carefully documents 184 cases of disappearances, as well as 16 clandestine cemeteries. Twenty three army officials currently holding leadership posts make up the list of those responsible. At the head of this list is General Luis Alonso Discua Elvir, current chief of the armed forces.
Echoing the brave actions of the commission, the Committee of Families of Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), presented a petition to the National Congress to suspend Discua Elvir from his post while his participation in the crimes is investigated.
Discua Elvir organized and was the first chief of Battalion 3 16, founded in 1984 and identified as the death squad responsible for disappearing and executing dozens of Hondurans and foreigners in the 1980s. The petition to Congress was ignored by the legislators, but it led Discua who received unanimous support from the Armed Forces Military Council to go into hiding from the media for some days. He finally reappeared and made a public statement, trying to explain his participation in the creation and leadership of the infamous squad as part of an inevitable war, now past, that should be forgotten by Hondurans.
During the inauguration ceremony, Discua and the entire Armed Forces Superior Council were, like Callejas, subjected to loud jeers and catcalls.
The Cruz Laguna CaseThe assassination of young Nicaraguan merchant Juan Pablo Cruz Laguna also lay bare the military's violence. Seven police and military officers participated in the crime, robbing $15,000 that Cruz Laguna was carrying to pay off some debts. Some of those involved in killing the young man whose body was buried in a common grave, wrapped up in cardboard like an unidentified cadaver were seen changing dollars on the Honduran Nicaraguan border, according to Dr. Ramón Custodio López, president of the Honduran Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CODEH), and Adilia Cruz Laguna, sister of the murdered merchant, who traveled to Honduras to find her disappeared brother. Those were the first clues, and later there were many more. On January 19, high level police officials were forced to present to the courts the seven who killed the Nicaraguan.
The killing of Cruz Laguna and the courageous statements of Custodio and the youth's sister "Here in Honduras there are more disappeared than just my brother. Look for them!" she said in front of the Honduran television cameras made clear how top police and army officers cover up the crimes of their colleagues. The police and the army were subject to a new credibility crisis, creating favorable conditions to finally move the police to civilian jurisdiction. Since 1963 the police have been under military jurisdiction.
A Costly InheritanceThe new government is inheriting a very difficult economic situation. The foreign debt continues to weigh heavily on the country's economy: service on the debt represents 40% of the country's exports. Despite the fact that $700 million of Honduras' foreign debt was forgiven, the current debt is much higher than at the beginning of 1990. It was almost $3.3 billion dollars in 1990 and is now approaching $3.6 billion. To make the situation even worse, there are rumors that, due to failure to make certain payments, the country will now be ineligible for new international loans, a situation similar to that faced in 1989.
The International Monetary Fund continues to pressure the country to reduce its fiscal deficit. The outgoing government had promised to bring the deficit down to 3.8% of the Gross Domestic Product, but it will actually range between 9 and 10%. Reina and his economic Cabinet traveled to Washington just days before the inauguration to win flexibility in catching up on debt payments and reducing the fiscal deficit that the IMF has "suggested" to the country.
Reina has promised to give a "human face" to the "inhuman" structural adjustment program initiated by the Callejas government. To do so, he promised in his inaugural address to increase social spending by cutting superfluous state spending and adopting a financial austerity program. He talked about giving priority to food security programs, primary health attention, basic education, productive employment and housing. There are serious doubts about the maneuvering room that international financial organizations will concede to the new President, however. It is most probable that he will have to continue the liberalization and opening of the economy that the previous government left to him.
Reina must respond to voters' expectations, their hopes for price drops and stabilization in basic foods, and the demands of salaried workers for a general readjustment of salaries and stabilization of local currency in relation to the dollar. He must also find alternatives for the demands of the country's peasantry for land, credit and state support for product commercialization. The peasants are also demanding the repeal of the agricultural modernization law, which protects the idle land of large landholders and promoted the massive sale of lands from the reformed sector, seriously damaging that social sector of Honduran agriculture.
Reina has called on all sectors to modify their expectations: "I have never been a seller of dreams," he said in his inaugural address. "The tenacity, complexity and intensity of Honduras' problems is clear to me. I have also not been a collector of recriminations. The people have already passed judgment on my distinguished predecessor, and they know the difficult economic, social, fiscal and changing circumstances that the new government faces. I do not promise a land of milk and honey..."
The Moral RevolutionThe ambiguous position on the economy that Reina adopted in his inaugural address contrasts with the decisive position he took when he announced his campaign to moralize Honduras.
"I give my word of honor," he said, "before God, before the people and before history, that we will progress in the task we have set before ourselves. We will destroy corruption, we will institute social liberalism. We will carry out the moral revolution."
One of the first steps of this announced moral revolution was to send a code of ethics to Congress governing the actions of public officials. Reina trusts that the Supreme Court justices and the General Treasurer of the Republic a position emerging in late December from within the Public Ministry will support his crusade. Most people trust that the moral revolution will also lead to the demilitarization of the Honduran state and the elimination, or at least reduction, of military privileges and immunity.
The majority view the new President's moral commitment with a mixture of hope and incredulity. Could this be the beginning of the end of the corrosive corruption that has so damaged the country? Four years remain to answer that question.