Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 272 | Marzo 2004



The Next Two Years in a Country that No Longer Exists

Halfway through his term of office, Ricardo Maduro has demonstrated exactly what he is, what he’s capable of and what he wants. He governs at the service of foreigners and a handful of Hondurans, in a country that no longer exists.

Ismael Moreno, SJ

It look just two years for President Ricardo Maduro’s National Party government to erase any doubts about its basic leanings: easygoing and obliging towards international policies, particularly those of the US government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF); tough and intolerant towards any opposition social sectors that have escaped its control. Meanwhile, it is elated by its successes in the fight against crime and in providing short-term, superficial and publicity-seeking responses to the nation’s serious social and economic problems.

The die is cast and the future conditioned

The die has already been cast for the Maduro government. Two years after taking office and halfway into its term, the inevitable decline is setting in. Spaces are closing and its priorities will end up subjected to the vicissitudes, struggles and interests of the interminable contest between the two traditional political parties that dominate Honduras’s homegrown model of electoral campaigning. It is a model that ends up swamping the incumbent party and any figure within the power circles.

From its third year on, the Maduro administration will have to take care that its party decides to promote for presidential candidate in the next electoral contest.

The floodgates of the electoral campaign opened at the beginning of the year. National Congress President Porfirio Lobo, also from the governing party, decided to organize his own political tendency and use it as a platform from which to launch himself as a candidate in the governing presidential primaries. Maduro will thus have to govern for his remaining two years taking care to favor this candidacy. Porfirio Lobo is his right-hand man in Congress and any law approved there will have to strengthen his image. Likewise, any decisions made in the judicial branch will have to be in keeping with the National Party’s electoral interests.

Two other determining factors will strictly condition the Maduro government: US policy and the negotiations and agreements with the IMF. It is no coincidence that there is a contingent of 370 Honduran soldiers in Iraq. The government is looking to ingratiate itself with its US counterpart because it needs it to “legalize” the status of tens of thousands of undocumented Honduran emigrants. It also needs US backing for its maquila, tourist and trade policies, which are priorities for the economic and financial group Maduro represents.

This year will also be decisive in terms of Honduras starting to implement the agreements signed in January 2004 and finally approved by the IMF in February through Honduras’ Letter of Intent. It is also the year in which Congress will have to approve the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) signed by the Central American and US governments. Politically and economically, then, the Maduro government will be hobbled by a great many internal and external factors in 2004.

A deaf government

Maduro’s government will also be facing opposition from grassroots, social and union organizations, a social upheaval largely triggered by all these factors, which will undoubtedly escalate throughout the year.

In 2003, the government found itself up against a social movement that had two main expressions. The first was the March for Life—headed by the priest Andrés Tamayo and people from the department of Olancho—in defense of the forests and against the shameless state policy to protect those pillaging them. The second was the March for Dignity and Resistance, called and led by the National Popular Resistance Coordinator to oppose the privatization of water and laws that affected state workers or sought to regulate land ownership in favor of the country’s tycoons. Maduro’s government refused to listen to the just demands of those two great mobilizations, taking refuge behind a so-called National Dialogue that it called in the middle of 2003 and whose conclusions—since shelved—confirmed suspicions that it was merely an arena created to undermine grassroots opposition outside its control and to legitimize official decisions.

An insensitive, unjust government

The government has sought to play down the importance of the opposition that emerged so strongly in 2003. It has refused to recognize the National Popular Resistance Coordinator and has insisted on in its own achievements and possibilities, a self-sufficiency evidenced in the decisions taken in the first two months of 2004, in line with the IMF demands incorporated into the Letter of Intent. Three fuel price hikes, which culminated at the end of February when gas hit the $3-a-gallon mark, triggering a general rise in almost all other prices, seriously affected the poor and their already reduced buying power. The minimum wage is still frozen and the imposed economic model has led to the closing of over two thousand small-scale businesses so far this year.

By signing the Letter of Intent with the IMF, Maduro ratified his decision to govern with no regard for the needs of Honduras’ poor majorities. The government promised to increase state income mainly through indirect taxes: sales taxes and increased fuel taxes. This decision implied increasing social and economic inequity, as all Hondurans will pay the same to the state, regardless of their income and expenditure. The Letter of Intent dictates almost no increase in income or property tax, which are direct taxes that would guarantee greater equity and help generate a culture of social responsibility among those who have more. In this model, 75% of the Honduran government’s revenue comes from indirect taxes and only 25% from direct ones. In effect, then, the poor are subsidizing the rich, with maquiladora workers, peasants living deep in the mountains and the women who clean the government offices all paying the same taxes as the owners of the maquiladoras, the big landowners and agricultural businesspeople and the government ministers handling major investment portfolios.

The agro-export model’s grave is dug

Although trying to conceal the truth, Maduro’s government has given enough active and passive signs to reveal what awaits Honduran society in the coming decades. The society being constructed in this new century is based on the same pillars as before, those that have generated exclusion, impoverishment and subordination to the interests of international capital and power.

The country’s best analysts agree that President Maduro’s decisions—both those related to internal problems and those sketching out international economic and commercial policies—are contributing to the radical disarticulation of Honduran society. With the total opening up to the requirements of international capital currently being promoted, national agriculture and industry are losing any strategic importance they ever had. The emphasis placed a few years ago on agro-exports and the fostering of national small- and medium-scale manufacturing has disappeared in a country that no longer exists.

Ricardo Maduro will go down in history as the gravedigger of that model. In two years, his government has so deteriorated the agricultural sector that it has sunk into irreversible decline, while the national manufacturing sector has been fully subordinated to the interests of the international market.

It is fast being replaced by an economic model centered on services, maquiladora activities and the tourist industry and sustained by remittances sent home by emigrants in the United States. Looking back over his two years in government, Maduro talked euphorically of the three most successful areas of the national economy, in the following order: family remittances, maquiladoras and tourism.

A government of bankers

While busy burying the agricultural sector and national industry, the government is siding with the financial sector, which is concentrated in an increasingly reduced number of families that control the banks and use public resources very irresponsibly. As a result, these two years have seen scandalous bank collapses in which those responsible are protected by the very institutions responsible for seeing that justice is done. State benevolence and impunity have helped consolidate the financial groups’ power; their most conspicuous representatives participate directly in various ministries, conducting the government’s economic policy. This is largely a government of bankers, in which the financial sector controls the power, not to mention the the maquila industry and the flow of family remittances, which are the two most solid factors helping to stabilize the country’s economy.

Society’s precarious foundations

This government is laying structurally shaky foundations for Honduran society. The migration of the peasant population to the cities is not letting up, youth unemployment—particularly female—increases by the day in the maquiladoras and the survival of thousands and thousands of families is explained almost solely by remittances sent by Hondurans residing in the United States. What makes these pillars shaky is that the country’s productive apparatus has been organized in such a way that it cannot generate either enough jobs or decent salaries to cover people’s basic needs. They are also shaky because low wages, unemployment and underemployment will continue to generate a scenario that makes it hard to access decent and safe housing or adequate health and education, thus leading to the irrevocable rooting of extreme poverty.

As it has been Maduro’s implicit option to increase this structural precariousness, the government’s responses to juvenile delinquency are equally precarious. The policy currently being implemented is based on persecution: legal reforms and punitive actions that facilitate and legitimate the persecution of the youth population organized in gangs. Midway through its term, the government celebrated the struggle against youth gangs as its main triumph in the fight against crime. It is certainly true that cities have seen a drop in the public activities of gangs and youth delinquency. But Maduro’s government has failed to put together anything beyond short-term, repressive responses. These may put a temporary stop to the young people currently involved in criminal activity, but in the next two years Honduran society will become increasingly poorer, sowing thousands of new seeds of delinquency that will insure that youth violence remains in our country.

It’s going to be hard for Maduro

Everything suggests that 2004 will be a politically and socially convulsive year. The government has already defined this course of events with its first economic measures, which various social sectors see as provocative at a moment of great uncertainty about the country’s present and future. Despite the seriousness of the crisis and the grassroots unease over the new economic measures in the first two months, traditional politics still has a great capacity to adulterate people’s discontent through propaganda campaigns.

The Liberals are quite capable of exploiting the mistakes and erosion of the governing National Party, capitalizing on the discontent and sowing discord within its rival party. The contests among different tendencies of the political parties always generate a situation in which government decisions become subordinated to the conflicts among the pre-candidates. In this context, Maduro and his team will tend to become more isolated, almost solely protected by the support that the so-called “dark side” of the National Party is willing to give it and by the business and financial sector backing the agreements with the international organizations.

From now on, Tegucigalpa’s mayor, Miguel Pastor, will join Maduro’s opposition. The National Party’s strongest presidential pre-candidate, Pastor is increasingly interested in distancing himself from official decisions that run against grassroots interests and could affect his image as a candidate. Porfirio Lobo will also seek to distance himself from the government, as it will be very hard for him to make any headway if he maintains his close and public links to a government that is irremediably discrediting itself.

Five difficult areas of struggle

The different sectors of organized civil society appear to have five areas of struggle this year and in the immediate future:
* In 2003, the grassroots and national resistance successfully started building an organized opposition that links up protests and proposals. The anniversaries of historical events could provide opportunities for this popular organization to be expressed. This year is particularly significant as it marks the 50th anniversary of the historic 1954 banana workers strike.

* The struggle to defend the country’s forests, water, mining resources and other natural resources will be central to the mobilizations and will help bring out and unite the social sectors from different geographical locations.

* The fight to defend the human rights of the poor sectors, young people from poor neighborhoods and villages, maquila workers, landless peasants, urban settlers, the unemployed and the elderly, accompanied by a constant denunciation of how politicians and public officials bend the laws.

* The struggle to redefine the relationship with the international financial institutions in general and the IMF in particular, so that information and decisions are not exclusively limited to government representatives. There is a need to fight until the negotiations with the IMF express the interaction between the government, private business and organized civil society. It is not a question of saying a categorical “Yes” or “No” to the dominant international economic policy. Rather, it involves seeking dialogue and debate that include the interests of the different social and grassroots sectors and revolve around a project of the kind of country we want to see, something that organized civil society will also have to work on in 2004.

*The struggle for political reforms that allow the participation of new sectors of Honduran society, be that via a new party or some other new political grouping.

Ismael Moreno is the envío correspondent in honduras.

Print text   

Send text

<< Previous   Next >>


Blood, Amnesty and a Paradox

The Killing of Carlos Guadamuz: Who Stands to Benefit?

Globalization and Development Seen from Below


The Next Two Years in a Country that No Longer Exists

Keys to Understanding a Great Tragedy

Enron et al—The Fiasco of the New US-style

A Central American at the World Social Forum
Envío a monthly magazine of analysis on Central America
GüeGüe: Web Hosting and Development