Now in ALBA, Always in Impunity
Sticking with “Plasinsman Commander” Hugo Chávez’s humor, he,
“Cocaine Commander” Evo Morales and “Guerrilla Commander” Daniel Ortega met with “Cowboy Commander” Mel Zelaya in Honduras on August 25th to ratify that country’s entry into the Latin American Bolivarian Alternative.
The act’s “leftist theatricality” can’t hide the national reality.
Best to peek behind the curtain and see what’s backstage.
Ismael Moreno, SJ
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez came to Honduras to shake things up, bringing his brainchild, the Latin American Bolivarian Alternative (ALBA), in his saddlebag. One businessman opposed to ALBA went so far as to state that Chávez is Honduras’ real President, backing his claim with photographs of Patricia Rodas, president of the governing Liberal Party, anointing her country’s new savior with kisses and hugs.
The leader of what he calls “21st-century socialism” himself also confirmed it by his speech and behavior during the fleeting hours he spent in Honduras. Those few hours were enough to raise a lot of dust; some defended ALBA with passion and furor, while other rejected it as if it were the devil incarnate.
Oxygen and rumors flowHonduran President Mel Zelaya and his team appear to have finally found the oxygen they needed to survive and breathe life into the remaining days of Zelaya’s term in office. They received Chavez at the very moment they found themselves languishing in political oblivion.
Today, in the wake of his visit, rumors of a continuation of “Zelayism,” including a possible break with constitutional rule, have been circulating even more strongly than during the recent hunger strike against corruption by public prosecutors. The nation’s vacuous rightwing sectors are boldly arguing that Zelaya has wanted to replace the National Congress with a Constituent Assembly all along, and was only waiting until he could pull together the allies and support that would create the best possible conditions for making this happen.
The hunger strike by Public Ministry prosecutors—which lasted from April 7 until May 14 and impacted the entire nation—gave Zelaya an opportunity, but he didn’t know how to seize the moment. The prosecutors were smart enough to understand his game, and didn’t succumb to the co-opting efforts of Zelaya or his political adviser, Patricia Rodas.
Two tests of freedomThe complacent silence of the President’s team regarding an attempt on September 1 against the life of Prosecutor Luis Javier Santos, one of the four who initiated the historic hunger strike, dramatically illustrates the government’s opportunism. It wanted to use the prosecutors’ willingness to risk their lives to fight corruption in their institution, but abandoned their cause when they fell short of their objective.
Another fact that confirms the executive’s failure to support the public prosecutors is that the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice—which emerged around the country following the hunger strike—has kept a prudent distance from Zelaya’s decision to join ALBA. It hasn’t mobilized support for Honduras’ membership in Chavez’s project and has rejected the insistent calls by the government and different grassroots leftwing sectors to back the initiative.
Promises or reality?What will ALBA contribute to Hondurans? It’s still not clear. President Zelaya first approached President Chávez in Managua in July 2007, when he and Patricia Rodas emotionally demonstrated their “revolutionary stripes” by taking part in the Sandinista revolution’s 28th anniversary celebration, together with Chávez and Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega. Then on December 22, Zelaya attended the Fourth Petrocaribe Summit in the Cuban city of Cienfuegos, where Honduras was admitted to this energy cooperation agreement and began receiving Venezuelan oil under extremely favorable payment and price conditions.
Now within ALBA, there’s talk of credit for productive projects, the construction of a hydroelectric plant, the reduction of illiteracy, prospecting for oil in Honduras’ Caribbean region and a study by ALBA’s Grand-National Electricity, Gas and Oil Company of the possibility of producing and commercializing Honduran crude. What of all this will ever be realized?
A “revolutionary project” Hugo Chávez has been Mel Zelaya’s lifeboat, but there are many contradictions. By joining ALBA, the President is confronting the conservative sectors most committed to maintaining Honduras’ existing exclusionary model, those allied with multinationals and US policies.
Nonetheless, Mel Zelaya has placed his bet. With ALBA, he’s no longer at the helm of an insipid government created by his erratic and incoherent decisions. He believes that ALBA will help him reinvent himself with an alternative to the proposition that has prevailed in Honduran society for over two decades, portraying himself as the bold leader facing off the political and economic class. And in fact, all the powerful groups have set their sights on Zelaya and the lurking shadow of the “demon” Chávez behind him. Most significantly of all, Zelaya’s decision to join ALBA has completely shaken up the eternally insipient, deformed and ill-tempered left wing of Honduran politics.
More successfully than in the times of Villena Morales in the late fifties and early sixties, joining ALBA allowed the “socialist” liberalism of Mel Zelaya and Patricia Rodas to disarm grassroots and leftwing sectors with the illusion of a “revolutionary project” that would now be directed by “Cowboy Commander,” as Zelaya’s new godfather, Hugo Chávez, dubbed him.
The Liberal Party’s shiftsThe Liberal Party has made history in Honduras by knowing how to capitalize on discontent and co-opt the opposition. This is unquestioningly the secret that has allowed it to survive and regenerate under the archaic militarist appellative of “the eternally young militias.”
The party emerged in the fifties as the bastion of democracy, following the Carias dictatorship. Fifty years later, its new generation headed up by Patricia Rodas, Milton Jiménez and Enrique Flores is emulating the leaders of those struggles and exile periods—later called “reds” not because of the Liberals’ color but because of their flirtation with the communists.
It’s the same Liberal Party that hunkered down during the years of militarism and coups, when the military’s olive green mixed with the National Party’s blue. At the end of that era, the Liberal Party reemerged, hailing the return to democracy even though this meant servitude to the National Security doctrine implemented in Central America by John Dimitri Negroponte.
A Left that shouts Honduras’ leftist electoral option, the tiny Democratic Unification Party, has become an appendage of the Zelaya team’s “left-leaning Liberalism” just as the Christian Democratic Party has parasitically done with the National Party. Its blind defense of ALBA today impedes it from a more accurate reading of the times and of the real correlation of national forces.
“Long live Daniel Ortega!”
Stuck in the political slogans of the 1980s, this official Left shouted “long live Daniel Ortega!” to the Nicaraguan President as if time had been frozen in the people’s anti-Somoza insurrection of 1979, or the literacy campaign of 1980. With this fundamentalist euphoria, facts such as Ortega’s pact with Arnoldo Alemán, Nicaragua’s corrupt former President, his “conversion” to the Catholicism of one-time archenemy Cardinal Obando, or the many years of sexual abuse of his stepdaughter do not exist for these leftists.
Historical reality is of no importance to fundamentalists, be they religious or political, unless it can be interepreted in a way that underpins decisions based on religious or political blindness called “faith.” The protests by Honduran women’s organizations that rejected Ortega were also of little significance to this Left.
The only thing that mattered was signing ALBA. Anything else—corruption, religious alliances, rape—were mere trifles that can’t and mustn’t disturb the fundamental steps toward socialism…
Negotiating theaterVarious grassroots organizations, victims of the government’s co-optation or guided by the compass of this fundamentalism, fervently mobilized trade unions, indigenous groups, blacks, peasants and political groups to the tune of “citizens’ power,” bringing them to Tegucigalpa for the signing of ALBA.
Two weeks before the ceremony, President Zelaya and his team called on the leaders of grassroots movements to negotiate demands that have motivated protests during the past five years, to which neither the previous nor current government had previously paid any attention. Demands such as overturning the laws privatizing potable water and other public services were placed on the negotiation table together with various agrarian and other issues. With this, Zelaya wanted to create a mood of euphoria and grassroots support before Latin America’s “leftwing” Presidents arrived in Tegucigalpa.
Pre-ALBA maneuversIn the days leading up to ALBA’s ratification, Zelaya’s maneuvers resulted in an agreement of interests with Roberto Micheletti, the ultra-rightist Congress president and leading presidential pre-candidate for the Liberal Party, so he would temporarily support ALBA’s ratification. Micheletti had already declared himself “in disagreement” with ALBA and Chavez’s policies, but lent himself to the maneuver in exchange for joint efforts with Zelaya to impede Vice President Elvin Santos, Micheletti’s main political rival, from registering as a candidate in November’s primary elections, just when the parties were signaling their official choices for next year’s general elections.
Based on this temporary agreement, anti-communist activists from Micheletti’s home town of El Progreso invited their base to get on buses paid for by Micheletti himself. They were then driven to the capital to applaud ALBA’s “communist” members, with a good meal guaranteed.
On Monday, August 25, the capital’s Liberty Plaza was filled with a wide assortment of people, including traditional Liberal Party activists and radicals of the eternally-incipient Honduran Left. The government gave 200,000 public employees the day off so they could attend the event.
The US Embassy remains silentSeen from Honduras, the ALBA agreement seems more like a trade and cultural proposal than an ideological theater for confronting neoliberal policies. Despite this, ratification of ALBA by a country that has never questioned the US hegemonic political and commercial interests is an affront to the United States. Nonetheless, the US Embassy hasn’t said a word. The voices of local businesspeople and politicians who defend the interests of their “partner to the North” with what Chávez called “stupid Yankee” fervor, has been sufficient.
While the ALBA agreements were being signed in Tegucigalpa, two of the nation’s largest television stations—property of one of the businessmen most addicted to the “American way of life”—rebroadcast a soccer game between Honduras and Mexico played days before. The day after the signing, the front-page headlines of the nation’s largest newspaper were filled with the usual tabloid news items, relegating news of the ALBA event to its inside pages. The US Embassy didn’t need to say anything; others had spoken for them.
ALBA won’t surviveEntry into ALBA has given respite to the feeble government of Mel Zelaya, but the biggest return has gone to Chávez, for whom Honduras’ membership represents new progress in his political, economic and ideological struggle with the United States. But there are solid reasons to think that ALBA won’t survive Mel Zelaya. And it is
in this precariousness that the demagogy of the Honduran ALBA can best be appreciated. President Zelaya himself knows ALBA will die with the end of his administration.
Mel Zelaya and his cohorts were part of a public administration with a very small quota of power, and they’ve continued to lose it. Despite this, the “novices”—as Carlos Flores Facussé, who holds the Liberal Party reins, pejoratively refers to Zelaya’s team—became drunk on the nectar of a power they never fully held.
They will soon be shorn The arrival of Zelaya’s team to public administration gave them a certain dose of prestige within the formal government, filling them with arrogance. But in Honduras, any formal government, whatever it’s color, depends on the real government—big business, the US Embassy and more recently organized crime. The future of Zelaya’s team depended on its ability to open up to sectors of society other than the traditional politicians. But the “patricians,” as others quickly started calling them, became intoxicated by their public positions and the television cameras and at the beginning played up to those very traditional politicians from whom it is always wise to keep one’s distance. Now abandoned by them, they’ve shifted their attention to the international stage, based on leftist nostalgia and an opportunistic bid for support from left-leaning grassroots sectors.
“Honduras didn’t ask imperialism’s permission to enter ALBA… I wasn’t born to be a slave or to have masters, because I have dignity!” clamored Zelaya in the plaza just before he signed ALBA. “We wouldn’t be looking south to socialism if this 40-year old system had changed the structures of this society…”
But they’re latecomers. Becoming part of ALBA is an obviously desperate, demagogic action; ultimately a pipedream in which the space and time left to them to breathe life into it is too limited. They are seeking the “wool” from Chávez but in just one year they will be irremediably shorn by the traditional politicians.
Hunger striker Luis Javier Santos shotEight days after ALBA was signed, an attempt was made on the life of Luis Javier Santos, one of the public prosecutors who began the historic hunger strike that stirred Hondurans in April and May. The crime put the national reality of political violence and institutional impunity back in focus, putting a pall on any fleeting leftist euphoria such as the one artificially created by the ALBA theatrics.
Together with three other colleagues, Javier Santos began the hunger strike as an ethical gesture against corruption. He was on strike over 38 days, together with dozens of people who joined him for a greater or lesser number of days. He was the only one who was able to stick with it from start to finish. “We haven’t achieved the objectives,” he objected on the tense afternoon of May 13, when all the other members of the strike’s coordinating commission had already decided to suspend their participation the next day. I remember him giving his reasons: “The attorney general remains in his post, and we have no guarantee that Congress will comply with the agreements [with us] and the decrees it approved. We can’t stop the strike. We can’t leave here defeated. If you suspend it, I’ll stay here until I die.” Some of his colleagues called him naïve and another called him “a stubborn mule.” Finally, in silence, but not in agreement, Luis Javier nodded his head and respected the majority decision.
An untiring fighter Luis Javier Santos had more than enough reasons to doubt the commitments signed in the heat of the hunger strike. He is the public prosecutor who has waged some of the most famous fights against corruption, but never received support from the attorney general, much less from the judicial system.
Over two years ago, he accused the mayor of Santa Barbara of embezzling public funds, and when the verdict was being read at the end of the trial, the mayor physically attacked him. Santos also accused the mayor of Tocoa of corruption and the former mayor of San Pedro Sula, Oscar Kilgore, of having misappropriated more than a billion lempiras, in one of five lawsuits he has headed up against this individual. When he was shot he was pursuing an accusation of corruption against San Pedro Sula’s current mayor. The previous mayor was from the National Party and this one is a member of the Liberal Party.
Because of Santos’ effectiveness and honesty, the attorney general kept transferring him from one location to another. And everywhere he went, he would confront the corruption of public authorities with integrity, even at the highest levels. Finally, the attorney general removed him from the Office of Public Prosecutor on Corruption, and transferred him to the Office of Public Prosecutor for Consumers.
The first victimOnce Luis Javier left the hunger strike, he dedicated himself to building the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice, which was born out of the strike. Every weekend you would find him at grassroots assemblies, informing whoever was meeting about concrete corruption cases involving high-level public authorities and well known politicians and businesspeople. Each night when he left his job, he would go to planning meetings. With passion and consistency, he has encouraged his colleagues to organize and give structure to the enormous sympathies awakened by the hunger strike.
If Santos had not been seriously wounded in the attempt to silence him, he would have been at the San Pedro Sula main terminal passing out leaflets about the Broad Movement to travelers and collecting contributions to support the struggle against corruption. In the days prior to the attempt on his life, he was the prosecuting attorney in a malpractice suit over the death of a patient caused by doctors from the most prestigious health clinic in the northern coast.
These were only some of the reasons why Luis Javier Santos was the first victim from this beautiful Broad Movement. The enemies of honesty and the poor make no mistakes when they identify their victims. Of the nine shots fired, four penetrated his body, destroying a kidney and his gall bladder, and perforating his liver, bladder, intestines and a lung. Luckily he survived, as will his passion and his example in the fight against corruption.
The power behind the backdrop The criminal act against Santos is a warning that those who have appropriated the Honduran state for their own interests aren’t beating around the bush, and will do anything when they feel those interests being threatened. As always, they tried to blame this attempt on common criminals.
The Jesuit Reflection, Research and Communication Team in Honduras and Radio Progreso have accused the attorney general, National Congress members, Supreme Court authorities and others linked to acts of corruption of responsibility for this crime. And they are demanding that its material and intellectual authors be investigated and tried, and that the demands of Luis Javier Santos and other public prosecutors who took part in the hunger strike be taken seriously. Above all, they are demanding that those responsible for this crime not be allowed to continue controlling the Attorney General’s Office, the Supreme Court of Justice, and other institutions connected to justice in Honduras.
It could not be any clearer. The corrupt have been identified. They are not only robbing and bending the laws in order to control the Attorney General’s Office and the Supreme Court. They are also criminals, and their acts must not go unpunished.
ALBA is theater. This violence and impunity are the daily reality behind the backdrop.
Ismael Moreno, sj, who also participated in April’s hunger strike, is the envío correspondent in Honduras.