|Central American University - UCA
Number 337 | Agosto 2009
Blow by Blow, Step by Step, Day by Day
Among so many macro-analyses and geo-political reflections on the coup in Honduras, these little chronicles, written from day to day, step by step, and full of questions, give us the colors, smells and tastes experienced by those in Honduras
during the first month of a crisis that caught world attention and
expresses the fragility of democracy in Central America.
Monday, June 29: Only a few days? My first impression on arriving in Honduras this morning was one of calm. Later on, the day has taken care to bring me far more somber panoramas. People’s faces in the San Pedro Sula airport didn’t show unusual concern, nor at first sight did they display external symptoms of the tension the country was experiencing. Only a couple of dozen soldiers were scattered around the main doors, at ease and with careless attitudes, talking to taxi drivers or lost in thought. It’s a Caribbean coup; you don’t see the aggressiveness you notice in other latitudes…
Perhaps the new government is well aware of the maxim so often repeated in Honduras, that nothing serious lasts more than a few days; people are lazy and quickly tire; the citizenry will end up accepting the new situation. The information siege is clear and very effective and obviously contributes to this apparent normality… Enrique Ortez, the new foreign minister, a shrewd man and veteran of a thousand battles, makes a pathetic showing on CNN. Lacking arguments to the journalist’s questions, he seems like a militarily outfitted gorilla in his passionate support of the coup. He surprises me. Will the government be so weak that it’ll collapse under its own weight in a few days? Or is it made to last and will shove anyone who might want to oppose it out of its way? Doubt is what assails one today. Is it a new farce that outdoes by far those of Zelaya himself? Will Micheletti and his wife Xiomara Girón just go after their moment of vengeful and ephemeral glory, after losing their entire political legacy in the last primaries? Or are we facing a substantial change of course in which constitutional guarantees will be reversed for several decades?
The international community’s isolation might be a decisive point but Chávez’s pressure, tinged as it is with threats, seems more likely to fortify those who carried out the coup, to the point of reviving, as they have already, the specter of the “communist threat.” This government brings together the most rancid elements of Honduras’ traditional bipartite system in the expectation that the people are the same as always. Are they? It would appear not. There are signs of a great dignity and capacity for resistance, although it’s true that divisions run deep.
Will those who led the coup manage to unite us? There are three big groups, the first of which consists of those who believed the whole issue about Zelaya shifting toward authoritarianism and 21st Century Socialism and are relieved to see the prospect of the Ortegas and Castros receding. These people support the coup without necessarily being politically malicious people.
A second group believes a sort of Che Guevara has been ousted in the person of Zelaya. They’re the most active without doubt and the most involved in these first hours. They could become dangerous if they lose perspective of what’s at risk here, which is a lot more than the irrational defense of an ideologically confused government that turned out to be the worst of democracy.
And there’s a third group which one would join without much difficulty: those of us who believe Zelaya has been a calamity, but have no doubt that Micheletti is a far greater one as a person, for what he represents and how he got where he is today. The curfew starts in a few minutes. It runs from nine at night till six in the morning. Nobody knows exactly what it’s for, but it’s intimidating. Perhaps that’s what it’s for…
You get the impression we’re living through decisive moments. It’ll be a difficult birth but if this government is overthrown, democracy might again become no more than a hope. Maybe it’ll be reversed. If things stay as they are God knows what awaits us. At the very least, many more years of sterile bipartite rule and a political culture anchored in the 19th century.
Tuesday, June 30: This morning in the city of El Progreso, the army changed its non-confrontational strategy and charged decidedly at the demonstrators who, like yesterday, were occupying the Friendship Bridge. Among those directly affected by the police repression was Marcelino Martínez, an old El Progreso human rights leader, and Angélica Benítez, César Ham’s partner. Dunia Montoya, a fighter for women maquila workers’ labor rights for the past ten years, was also detained, as was a young communicator from the COMUN group. Violence has been unleashed, although still with some control. Now we just have to wait and see if the grassroots movement will retreat, stick with its peaceful resistance or escalate the violence…
Is it drawing too fine a point?
In Tegucigalpa’s central square, Micheletti gave a speech to hundreds of followers. He was accompanied by a significant military contingent and showed no shame in raising his fist together with the Armed Forces chief. It made your stomach turn to listen to him, which is perhaps another symptom that we’re facing a coup leader with deep roots…
We need to distinguish between President Zelaya’s actions, which have been irresponsible and despotic, capriciously skirting legality and manipulating consciences with the privilege of power, and the protective institutionality that renders inconceivable his abduction, now the abduction of us all, even those who don’t realize how serious the matter is. This would be the major line of argument for any offensive, whether by internal resistance or external diplomacy. Perhaps it’s drawing too fine a point for a citizenship with little “democratic density” as the experts say, but this is the crux of the drama Honduras is living…
Were we wrong?The poor political reading by public figures of recognized prestige in the country, such as National Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio, is pitiful and frustrating. It’s scary to think he’s the nation’s ombudsman. What will happen if the repression intensifies? Qualifying the President’s abduction as just following a legal court is embarrassing and leads one to reflect on this nation’s limited democratic development after almost thirty years of formal democracy. How can Ramón Custodio, human rights defender during the eighties, embrace such a legal aberration?
In the future everything international cooperation invested in strengthening democratic institutions and developing citizenship will have to be rethought. Has our approach been wrong? Did we gamble too little or did we bet badly? I fear that without an educational contract of the greatest possible reach, taking in public education and its teachers, local or foreign NGOs will be able to contribute little to encourage active citizenship in Honduras…
Who is Micheletti?Who is Roberto Micheletti, this grey Honduran politician who this Sunday emerged unexpectedly from anonymity to compete with Michael Jackson for the news headlines around the world? His more than dubious merit consists of becoming interim President after the first military coup in this tiny country in 37 years. Born into an immigrant family of Italian stock that settled in El Progeso, heart of the banana enclave, at the beginning of the last century, don Roberto, as he’s known in the city, is the prototype of the caudillo who forged his political capital through long years of political favoritism and his economic capital through the transport monopoly that runs the buses linking this city to the country’s industrial capital of San Pedro Sula. It’s also whispered that his fortune is related to the illegal expropriation of land belonging to Salvadorans deported after the sadly notorious Soccer War in 1969.
In last November’s internal elections he started out in the lead among the Liberal Party presidential hopefuls, but garnered a spectacular defeat. He refused to recognize his loss until in embarrassing negotiations the winner allowed all losing candidates a slot in the legislative race, despite having lost in the polls. That this man should shout “Democracy!” in our faces like some sort of visionary gives one the shivers…
A bit over a year ago, in the middle of the young prosecutors’ protest and commendable strike against corruption, which Micheletti handled with extraordinary arrogance and disdain for legality, a reporter suddenly fired a question at him: “Is it true you’re a political animal?” Micheletti, who hasn’t read much of anything in his life, much less Aristotle, thought he was being insulted and brusquely replied: “You’re an animal of a reporter!” This is the man leading this debacle. Seven million Hondurans, even those of us who don’t want to, are riding on his back and heading for a fall.
Wednesday, July 1: A media-orchestrated campaign started taking shape in the early hours of this morning, announcing the detention of officials from the previous government accused of corruption. With unusual swiftness the Superior Court of Accounts, Public Ministry and a few judges are taking action against some of the officials who enriched themselves illegally along with Zelaya. One of them is Marcelo Chimirri, the first communications minister in Zelaya’s government, who 18 months ago was unceremoniously dismissed from his post after the police raided his home. Another of his closest associates, Milton Jiménez, head of foreign relations, was suspended from his job after coming to blows with a police officer who tried to arrest him for drunk driving in the Tegucigalpa streets. That’s what some of Mel’s star ministers have been like. The image we were shown on television during these days of Mel Zelaya in pajamas, his facade of a civilized man, victim of barbarians, shouldn’t make us forget the foibles of his colorful government team.
For the public good?
The accusations currently inundating his officials are more than likely true, and maybe don’t even go far enough, but the perverse revenge of winners over losers is what is operating, not the pursuit of public good. The Honduran state is booty the plutocracy dislikes sharing. If Zelaya sinned, it wasn’t by doing an ideological about-face, but rather wanting to keep for himself the whole cake that is customarily divvied up between the powerful Honduran families in the government’s last year in a bipartite system familiar to all of them. There are surely more corrupt people per square meter In the coup government than in any other.
And the cardinal?The citizenry is starting to worry about what will happen with the “blockade.” The World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank have cancelled their loans and the donor community is also considering withholding its disbursements… The economic crisis hit Honduras hard the last few months, directly affecting its two main sources of income: remittances and investment in the assembly plants for re-export known as maquilas. Zelaya aggravated the economic situation with arbitrary and populist measures, diverting attention from real national problems with his controversial Fourth Ballot Box initiative. So now, with a de facto government riddled with incompetents and the international community’s economic sanctions, the situation could become catastrophic for thousands of Honduran families. Once again they are the true victims of one of the continent’s most immobile political classes…
Cardinal Rodríguez’ silence is remarkable and absolutely inadmissible at this stage. Just as happened a year ago during the prosecutors’ strike, the Cardinal, venerated and respected abroad, once again bitterly disappointed his flock with his calculated silence…
During the afternoon the day’s worst news arrives. Four out of the five political parties represented in the Congress approved the decreed state of siege. Constitutional rights are suspended: in the coming hours the army will be able to enter anyone’s home and hold them for over 72 hours without breaking the law…
More than five thousand people attended today’s demonstration in Tegucigalpa against the de facto government, what in Honduras could be considered a multitude of demonstrators. Internal resistance, far from being cowed, is growing…
Thursday July 2: The demonstrations continued this morning, after the first night of suspended constitutional guarantees,. On one side the coup’s supporters have called a march for “democracy and peace” in San Pedro Sula. They hand out T-shirts, offer money or force officials to attend. On the other, resistance demonstrations are also happening in San Pedro and in El Progreso. Dozens of people are detained. People also talk about hundreds of arrest warrants and it’s confirmed that young people are being recruited to enter the battalions. It’s as if the repression is reaching out its tentacles, but the situation hasn’t blown up yet. The terrible thing is that it might at any moment, led by this man whose hands sweat visibly when some foreign reporter asks him more than two questions in a row.
Awakening from lethargy?
You can’t help going red with shame watching the demonstration organized by the coup’s supporters on TV—the only ones shown. It’s all so predictably obvious and rank that it terrifies. Blue and white flags, calls to the undying homeland, charges of a foreign conspiracy, anti-communism, gratitude to the Armed Forces, the Bible…
Rallies based on buying people’s will are the norm in Honduras. A little over a month ago, Zelaya did the same to promote his Fourth Ballot Box. This is the style of politics that has been imposed by the two big parties for decades and will have to be dismantled some day. Could this become the historic moment we were waiting for, the one that will shake people out of their age-old lethargy? One obvious condition for a future with hope is that this de facto government not be allowed to consolidate itself. But no good would come of Zelaya being allowed to return a hero either. If two months ago he was singing “I’m the Chief of Chiefs” with the Mexican band “Los Tigres del Norte,” what would he be capable of doing now?
Paradox or mirage?With some 10,000 people in Tegucigalpa’s streets this afternoon, the demonstration was bigger than yesterday’s. Those who reject the coup marched today in complete order through the capital’s streets. The behavior of this sector of the populace is proving exemplary. It’s possible that Mel, with his spectacular minimum wage hike, his “happenings” with indigenous groups in the presidential palace and his impertinence towards those of his own social and political class had raised the hopes of many. Will history be able to weave these paradoxes together? Could a washed-up politician who clutches at cheap populism to save himself from a fiasco set in motion a citizenry with its own autonomy? Or will it be another mirage among the many that assault one throughout these intense, confused days…?
The media are feeding the worst of the discourses: the most incriminating insults, disqualifications without arguments, the easy appeal to atavistic instincts…
It turns out it’s not easy to know what to make fun of and what to take seriously in these circumstances. Allan McDonald, a brilliant Honduran cartoonist arrested at his home on Monday, physically abused and later released, often says that doing political cartoons in Honduras is telling jokes. Political commentary can’t stray far from this tone either. Sadly everyone by now has heard Foreign Minister Ortez Colindres say there’s no point paying any attention to El Salvador “because it’s not worth talking about such a little country where you can’t play football because the ball would end up in another country.” He’s not fazed by bigger things either; he defined Barack Obama as “that little black guy who doesn’t know anything about anything…”
Friday, July 3: Analysts confirm the country’s moving towards a narco-state in which drug cartels have infiltrated Congress and the military and are financing political parties. The military coup has been nothing more than the sad reprise of a prolonged deterioration of republican life led by the politicians and the economic elites, which are pretty much the same thing in Honduras. Mel Zelaya never stopped belonging to this plutocracy, as much as his detractors now link him with Chávez and Castro thanks to a diplomacy of hugs empty of content but attractive in form. His photos with Fidel in Havana were shown at a press conference in the government house in a media show that must have raised hives among the far right sectors of Honduran society.
Where was Mel going?
Despite all the accusations of leftist leanings currently being made against the President, it’s worth bearing in mind that during his first two years in government, Zelaya gave no indication of listening to grassroots demands. He only entered the orbit of ALBA members when he glimpsed an opportunity in this international political arena to divert attention away from his domestic failings.
Where was Mel really going with his Fourth Ballot Box idea? What was his medium- and long-term strategy? One is tempted to think he was going nowhere in particular, just ambling here and there, playing for time until November when, as is the custom in Honduran political life, he could negotiate an “honorable” departure from government, covering his back and those of his associates from possible legal actions in the future…
Billy Joya back again?Days prove extraordinarily long under these conditions. The tension is so great and the news happens in such huge quantities that one is exhausted at the end of the day… The press conference that OAS Secretary General] Insulza gave late in the afternoon frustrated the more optimistic expectations. Visibly annoyed, he confirmed that dialogue wasn’t possible and the most likely outcome is Honduras’ international isolation due to the coup leaders’ refusal to draw back from their positions…
If the government hardens its position once the negotiations fail, repression could intensify dramatically in a desperate attempt to shut up the opposition. It’s hard to believe such a possibility in the new millennium, but even more extraordinary is Micheletti’s inclusion in his government team of retired Captain Billy Joya, member of the 3-16 battalion between 1984 and 1991. This notorious Honduran death squad was responsible for the worst human rights violations perpetrated by the army during the lost decade, including abductions and assassinations. Billy Joya, who evaded the law by fleeing to Spain, is the new President’s special advisor as of yesterday. Micheletti’s capacity for surrounding himself with sinister associates and his ineptitude at managing the situation are immediately obvious, making any sort of negotiation difficult…
Saturday, July 4: The political tension has been ratcheted up yet a few more notches. Today for the first time the upper class didn’t gather in the US Embassy gardens to toast the independence of the country to the north…
The cardinal finally spoke
The day’s most discouraging words come to us from the mouth of someone who for the past decade has been unanimously recognized as one of the most respected voices not only in Honduras but on the continent. The Archbishop of Tegucigalpa took six days to “come out of the closet.” And he’s done so to give his backing to the coup in both its essentials and the shape it took. His words leave no room for ambiguity when he states that “the institutions of the democratic state are in force and their actions in judicial-legal matters have been consistent with the law.” His press release was repeated several times on the national network, a space paid for and imposed by the state to which all media without exception are required to be connected.
The cardinal’s words have fallen like a bucket of cold water on people opposed to the coup, although they have also spurred people’s courage on, feeding a polarization unprecedented in recent Honduran history. At last there’s no room for doubt: the de facto regime is hardening and there’s no point expecting a turn of events towards dialogue. The cardinal will never again be the charismatic personality listened to respectfully by seven million Hondurans, admired throughout the world for his careful and impeccably democratic political discourse. Perhaps the crisis has this doubtful virtue: to unmask those who can no longer continue swimming between two currents.
Honduras won’t be the sameNeither will Honduras be the same again. Today’s street demonstrations were enormous. One would have to go back to 1954 and the huge banana strike to find a historic precedent. The crowds of people marching in Tegucigalpa haven’t stopped growing since last Tuesday. The same could be said about the country’s industrial capital, San Pedro Sula, and El Progreso. The most critical slogans have been heard against the de facto President in the latter city, Roberto Micheletti’s birthplace, demonstrating his scant popularity during the 28 years he’s represented the Liberal Party in the Congress, using it to create an old-boy network that makes democracy a chimera.
Shocking: the sound track to yesterday’s demonstration by Micheletti supporters was an old song of unquestionable bad taste: “There’s no people more macho than the Honduran people, where I come from.”
Tonight we’re all waiting for the CNN news on television, which these days is our window onto the world, allowing us to break through the information blockade in which we find ourselves. The OAS is meeting and expectations are fixed on its resolution after Insulza’s report. But, as is logical, the announcement of Zelaya’s forecasted arrival in Honduras tomorrow created greater expectations. In current conditions the disturbances this event could cause are simply unpredictable. We all share a common fear. Honduras is a powder keg, with an army perfectly prepared to intervene, an adviser to the government who was a military officer trained during the hardest years of anti-communist militarism, a de facto President who loses the plot with astonishing ease, and a population whose courage grows by the day and feels manipulated as well as unusually strong. If someone tosses a match into this powder keg nobody knows what might happen. What we do know is that blacklists of citizen “agitators” have begun to circulate in the police stations…
Sunday, July 5: Our fears were realized. At an especially tense moment, a group of soldiers shot into the crowd waiting for the arrival of the deposed President near the airport terminal. A young man of 19 who traveled from an inland department for today’s march is the first fatal victim of Honduras’ military coup…
Can we dream?
There’s a perverse Honduran saying that lead floats and corks sink in this country. It’s true that national history is plagued with paradoxes and today we lived through one that will make it into local history books: Zelaya, a citizen facing serious legal accusations and with an order for his arrest, is not only persecuted but also prevented from entering the country. It’s evident that the provisional government isn’t looking to avoid confrontation for humanitarian reasons, but instead is feeling more and more insecure given the growing discontent of an important segment of the population.
By now Mel has retrieved his cowboy hat and gives a press conference wearing it in San Salvador. He’s accompanied by four Presidents and Secretary General Insulza. It’s the coda to a labyrinthine day, more appropriate to a Hollywood thriller than the institutional life of a modern state.
So many relevant things happened almost simultaneously this afternoon that it was very difficult to keep up on all fronts… To analyze everything that happened would take several days. But it’s possible to perceive the leaders of this coup have been weakened. In the press conference given by his Cabinet, Micheletti lost his temper, ostensibly with a reporter who questioned whether he could be called President-elect. Colindres came to the rescue and once again gave us a detailed and incomprehensible reflection more worthy of Cantinflas than a foreign minister…
Tomorrow, for the ninth consecutive day, the population resisting the coup will meet early in the morning to march on the capital. Absolutely nobody expected the actions of the military and the coup leaders would meet with such an intense, organized and above all prolonged reaction from a Honduran population that has historically been characterized by a relatively passive participation in public life. But it seems that many molds are being broken this week. The only ones that persist, sadly, are the Honduran political elite’s absolute inability to make any headway in a constructive dialogue and it’s infinitely limited democratic will. Zelaya and Micheletti, with their very different styles, are two faces of the same coin. But once more it has to be said that restitution of the former is the “sine qua non” pre-condition to entering into the widest possible national dialogue that will allow us to improve on the current partisan autocracy and dream of another Honduras.
Monday, July 6: Although tiredness is starting to take its toll, the second week of resistance starts with peaceful marches in a partially paralyzed country. Schools are still closed, the airports won’t be open today or tomorrow, restaurants are empty and constitutional freedoms are still seriously restricted...
Is this really Ramón Custodio?
I chat with some people who were outside the Toncontín airport terminal yesterday. They agree the march was the biggest to take place in Honduras in recent history, and confirm that the population remained peaceful at all times. The incidents that provoked the police shooting and death of the 19 year-old began when a demonstrator returned a tear gas grenade the soldiers threw at a group assailing the metal fence protecting the airport’s one runway. Nobody was in any doubt that the fatal bullet came from the soldiers’ trench. Given how little information has been gathered, it wouldn’t be reasonable at this point to conclude who was directly responsible for this tragic act, but the least reasonable attitude is exactly what National Human Rights Commissioner Custodio has taken at the moment.
If Cardinal Rodríguez had already won the seat of honor in our national hall of infamy, Ramón Custodio is overstepping the limits of credibility. His statement today tried to make the discontented protesters responsible for the death, suggesting that it might have been the result of a plot contrived by Zelaya supporters to bring international condemnation down on the de facto government. Just like Cardinal Rodriguez, Custodio was once an almost sacred personality in Honduras thanks to his moral rectitude. Despite his poor performance as commissioner with more than questionable reelection at the hands of the reigning bi-partisanship, the important human rights defense work he conducted in the eighties still weighed more for his image. But what has happened now with his explicit support for the delirious theory of “constitutional succession” makes Custodio a direct accomplice of this travesty…
Will we be able to this time?This morning a commission of the de facto government traveled to Washington. It was made up of various personalities all linked to the oligarchy that controls the country, one of whom, Leónidas Rosa Bautista, was attorney general until last March. During his period eight prosecutors and dozens of common citizens went on a hunger strike for 38 days to protest Rosa Bautista’s irregular conduct by time and again shelving major corruption cases involving important national businessmen and politicians, to avoid their being judged for their misdeeds. At that time Micheletti took the side of Rosa Bautista, who will now try to return the favor…
Will the grassroots movement be able to put together a response that will make the struggle against military barbarism transcendent? Will this movement of rejection go deep enough to take in the real causes of the grave crisis affecting democratic institutions or will it remain caught in the false dynamic of a confrontation between caudillos? Recent history shows us how difficult it is for Hondurans to capitalize on the huge errors of the corrupt and inept elite who seem unable to stay within the guidelines of a democratic state…
Today on Radio Progreso a listener said: “Among all the plagues we’ve had in Honduras, none has been like this one.” It’s true, and an ill of this size isn’t resolved with fast-acting remedies. If we don’t get together and bravely face the causes of this coup, we’ll be condemned to repeat history over and over again. We shouldn’t let our children inherit this injustice.
Tuesday, July 7: Polache is a young Honduran singer- songwriter with a fresh style and highly popular language who shot to fame last year. His CD “Hablo español” (I Speak Spanish) turned him into the country’s best known troubadour in no time. It includes a song with the words “Look at Honduras with different eyes.” It’s played at all the marches these days, both those of the resistance and those who support Micheletti. Perhaps because of this Polache wanted to make his position clear. Today he left the country with his family, condemning the coup and leaving behind a letter that laments the chaos, intolerance and desperation this crisis has dragged us into.
He didn’t have to die
Another national singer-songwriter, the vocalist from Pez Luna, told me sadly his most intimate feeling about last Sunday’s events: “That kid should never have died.” It’s true, there are dozens of homicides every weekend in Honduras, the lack of hope for a decent life has led us to be one of the most violent countries in the world. But the death of Isy Obed was different and has another meaning. The army should never have fired; the coup leaders should never have broken the law; Zelaya should never have overstepped his constitutional mandate. All of them are irresponsible actors in a country heading towards the abyss while millions of humble Hondurans offer up their suffering, their sacrifices and even their blood with admirable dignity.
How to survive?Today Filadelfo Martínez, an independent national analyst, outlines a desolate future in a radio interview. In his opinion nobody is considering the real magnitude and severity of the economic crisis that’s about to descend on us. Not the de facto government, nor the media nor the grassroots movements. In a country that largely survives on international begging, there will soon be no money for medicines or schools or agricultural production.
And that’s because Zelaya, entering office with the healthiest financial situation for the past few years, partly as a consequence of the foreign debt being partially written off, squandered the state’s riches in a chaotic administration, as corrupt as the previous ones if not more so. Concentrating on his populist Fourth Ballot Box project, he didn’t design an anti-crisis plan or anything remotely resembling one. This year’s general budget hadn’t even been approved. If the de facto government consolidates itself and isolation is confirmed, the lempira will probably have to be devalued. It’s the only measure possible to maintain or attract new investment, such as maquilas. But in a country in which a large part of daily needs depend on imported goods, devaluation will intensify the scarcity and high cost of basic products which are already strangling 80% of the population.
Two marches coincided in Tegucigalpa again today. Just like every day, we only see one of them on television. In the Central Square thousands of the de facto government’s supporters have gathered again in a well orchestrated event with live music to proclaim that both Zelaya and Chavist totalitarianism have been routed. Venezuela’s President is the scapegoat even for Cardinal Rodríguez, who today appeared to be losing his patience on a television program: “Let him go to Venezuela and leave us in peace…”
Today the wife of the deposed President took part in the daily demonstration carried out by citizens to demand his reinstatement. The dead young man was fresh in everyone’s memory, as were the words of his father who promised to return to the marches in the capital after burying his son: “If we abandon the struggle we’ll only bequeath rags to our children.”
In the afternoon the best news for days arrives. The United States has proposed former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias as mediator. Both Presidents, the deposed and the de facto, have announced that they will be in Costa Rica on Thursday to begin the talks, which oblige both groups to back off their intransigent positions. Any other way and we all end up losing…
Wednesday, July 8: Honduras is living as if on standby. The marches have been smaller and blander than they were a few days ago. Doubtless the exhaustion of 11 uninterrupted days in the streets is taking its toll. The tension is diminishing notably while the population waits for the meeting between the two Honduran Presidents and Nobel Peace prize winner Oscar Arias in Costa Rica. The country goes on moving at half speed.
The ebbing of the tide of events again reveals a national scene just as polarized as it was before the military’s tour de force. Those who a month ago opposed Zelaya’s consultation and today are coup supporters say there’s nothing to negotiate and that the lesson meted out to Chavism and the world is not going to be undone. Those who previously defended and now mourn Zelaya consider that the only thing to negotiate is the coup leaders’ departure. Of course there are those who, while adverse to Mel’s political trajectory, oppose the coup and think both sides share responsibility for this crisis and consequently both should lose an important quota of their power. And then there are those who are getting fed up of this non-living and are thinking of going down the migration road.
Today the curfew will start at 11 pm and end at 4:30 am. Its length varies capriciously every day as if linked to the exchange rate of the dollar…
A third way?There’s moderate optimism that Zelaya and Micheletti will be able to sort out the situation tomorrow in San José. Older people say that no crisis in Honduras lasts for more than a week. Some believe we’ll see the two leaders coming back hand-in-hand in no time to calm their followers and go back to eating from the same plate. Matías Funes, ex- presidential candidate for the leftist Democratic Unification Party and one of the better endowed political heads in the country, was saying today that what awaits us in San José is simply an agreement between elites. For now that’s the greatest fear for those who don’t believe Zelaya is just another traditional caudillo who never worries about anything other than his private interests. For them, Mel Zelaya is an authentic revolutionary who won’t let Micheletti get out of this adventure unpunished.
While it isn’t easy to imagine such an idyllic scene as the political class coming out of this shambles unscathed, one mustn’t forget that this military coup has its peculiarities. It wasn’t carried out by some splinter group with army support but rather by the entire political, media and economic establishment, including the other state institutions. It’s hard to imagine Zelaya sitting in the presidential chair again, surrounded by all his ministers after everything said about him in the media during these days. Nor is it easy imagining Zelaya back in the country, retired from politics, and the weak and disparaged coup government steering the ship of state to the next elections. Is there some third way that might leave everyone satisfied? Early elections? An alternative not in bed with either side?
Whatever the case, it’ll be a bad agreement if it’s limited to getting the two central characters in this plot and the power blocs they represent back in sync. An agreement that would allow something positive to come out of this crisis would take responsibility away from the political elites who have brought us to this point and lay the foundations for a new way of doing politics in Honduras that doesn’t exclude the huge majority and the organizations that represent them. Are civil society and the grassroots movements ready to play this historic role, should it come about?
Thursday, July 9: Today Honduras is a paralyzed country, with all eyes on San José, Costa Rica. Oscar Arias was the main artifice of the Esquipulas Peace Accords 22 years ago. Those agreements marked the beginning of a long process that led to the resolution of Central America’s armed conflicts. The challenge this time seems more straightforward for a mediator with these credentials, but ihe could still come away as bloodied as Insulza did a few days ago after smacking into a lack of motivation to stick to democratic goals. The goals of the Honduran political class are different. Getting two political caudillos from the oldest two-party oligarchy in the Americas to sit face to face to discuss the country’s greater good is no small thing…
Will Arias manage it?
The involution of ideological hues is continuing slowly but inexorably. The 85 Cuban educators who have been doing adult literacy work in Honduras for several years left the country today. The Cuban missions weren’t a consequence of Zelaya’s sympathies towards Fidel Castro; they arrived after Hurricane Mitch and have straddled three governments. But Flores Bermúdez, the new foreign minister, has found it indispensable to make clear who Honduras’ enemies are.
Patricia and the ideological thicketThe television relays us Mel Zelaya’s arrival in San José, with his characteristic cowboy hat, accompanied by his negotiating team headed by Patricia Rodas. Daughter of a famous Liberal caudillo, she is viewed by many observers as responsible for the President’s deviation towards Chavism. Her father, Modesto Rodas Alvarado, went into exile in another military coup and died in 1979, just as he was trying for the presidency. Patricia was linked to the clandestine Honduran left until the mid-nineties when, along with other fellow travelers, she joined her father’s party, trying to instigate an ideological turn-around from within.
Unexpectedly, this little group found its great opportunity in a pre-electoral alliance sealed with Mel Zelaya, who, far from subversive frivolities, was raised to run a cattle ranch in Olancho. José Manuel, his father, was singled out as one of those directly responsible for the Horcones massacre in 1975, when 14 people fighting for access to land, both peasants and priests, were killed on the Zelayas’ hacienda.
This strange alliance between the cattle rancher’s offspring and the caudillo’s daughter led to what one analyst with a great sense of humor called the government’s “ideological patastera.” Patastera is the name Hondurans give a climbing plant that produces a vegetable called a pataste, with branches that intertwine so much you can’t easily tell where they’re coming from or where they’re going. Something like this occurred with this group of comrades that, with Patricia Rodas at its head, has paraded a café leftism that has done nothing to improve the lives of the vast majority…
Friday, July 10:The meeting in Costa Rica ends having resolved absolutely nothing. This dialogue or negotiation—even its name is contested—has been as picturesque and bizarre as the other circumstances surrounding this coup.
Fatigue sets in
Called together by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Roberto Micheletti and Mel Zelaya arrived in San José yesterday, but didn’t even meet with each other. They spoke separately with Arias, and returned to where they’d come from, leaving the two delegations of subordinates, polarized to the extreme, to pick apart the other’s arguments in an apparent dialogue of the deaf. None of those who have taken part in these discussions has shown any interest in shifting their position in this significant event that has an entire nation on edge of its seat. So today they got up from the table with the promise to continue talking, but without specifying when or where. Many fear time is on the coup leaders’ side.
Nor did Chávez’s words help much. At midday, while the negotiations were still underway, he denounced all this as Washington’s “abortion” and praised Zelaya for having run away before falling into their trap. Although facts are vindicating those who doubt the validity of this mechanism conceived by the US administration, we don’t think Chávez’s declarations are helping to solve the conflict. Rather, they are exacerbating the polarization over an essentially false dichotomy, since this isn’t a fight between two ideologies or ways of interpreting the world but between two families from the same political elites who have led the country into this national disaster. Above all, Chávez’s words simply fuel the arguments of people like Cardinal Rodríguez, who have made the Venezuelan leader their scapegoat.
Demoralization is evident in the streets of Honduras. After 12 days, the population is tired of this situation. But weariness hasn’t yet led to apathy. The highways leading out of Tegucigalpa were blocked again today and in El Progreso, one of the largest marches was organized since its illustrious native son, Micheletti, took power by force.
The Constitution? Radio Progreso’s correspondent in Costa Rica, Félix Molina, said today that Honduras would never be the same after June 28th. While it’s true that these weeks will always be remembered as a watershed in the nation’s recent history, we still don’t know what will have been lost and gained once it’s all over. The de facto government’s repeated discourse about its defense of democracy and the Constitution is stupefying. Not even the most naive Honduran is unaware that the Constitution holds little importance for this political elite. Plutarco Castellanos, a past National Congress president, will be remembered by future generations for having declared that “the Constitution is utter nonsense.”
And Rodrigo Castillo, a vice president of the Congress in the eighties, proclaimed that “the Constitution needs to be violated as often as necessary.” They not only affirmed such ideas, but put them into practice over and over again.
In a nation with such a strong belief in divine intervention, the most useful thing for some at moments like these is to pray. In the nation’s most influential evangelical church, Vida Abundante, a 12-hour prayer marathon was held yesterday in which the two presidential candidates—Elvin Santos and Pepe Lobo—took part. The auxiliary bishop of Tegucigalpa also announced a prayer vigil for Catholics this coming weekend.
The country’s main religious leaders have taken the side of the coup leaders on the grounds that the elected President was leading us toward 21st-century socialism, against our traditions and deepest spiritual values. Obviously, not all of the faithful identify with these leaders. It’s interesting to hear many Catholics harshly criticizing the cardinal these days—something that would have been unimaginable just a few weeks ago. Is this good news or a cause for concern? Has the polarization peppered the Church as well, or have people lost their fear of thinking for themselves?
Thursday, July 16:On the 18th day after the coup d’état, the nation is still steeped in utter uncertainty. The scant democratic culture of Honduran institutions and the main political actors is contributing to an environment in which anything could happen. The current level of polarization is evident, although it can be read in different ways. It’s terribly true if we look at the most emotional and underlying criteria. Among those who want to see Zelaya back in the presidential office are those who, ingenuously or not, saw a dream in the “cowboy commander”: the incarnation of a real change and a frontal rejection of the political maneuvering that has submerged this country in perpetual social calamity. In many cases the demand for the Fourth Ballot Box grew out of pure discontent and the illusion of possible change.
The dream of change
At this point, all of the scenarios that were possible a week ago are still possible, while other new ones have been emerging. Yesterday afternoon a rumor circulated in Tegucigalpa that Zelaya would enter the country through a blind point, and would win power back with the support of disaffected army officers. Today there’s talk that Micheletti is willing to relinquish power to a “third way,” an indication of the weakness of the politician from El Progreso, even among his coup allies.
Fewer and fewer people seem to believe the solutions could come from San José, Costa Rica. Not a single European representative is recognizing any current government official. The representative of an international cooperation agency confessed to me yesterday that activity in her office has dropped to an all-time low. They’re waiting with their hands folded, unable to do anything.
More people are detained with each protest and there are rumors that the militrary have visited the homes of citizens close to Zelaya. At least three grassroots leaders have been killed in the past few days, raising fears that the violence will escalate. Unfortunately, in a country where violent deaths are a dime a dozen, it isn’t easy to determine with certainty if these executions were politically motivated. With the Public Ministry and the Human Rights Commissioner’s Office totally aligned with the illegal government, it will be hard from here on out to say anything categorical about who’s responsible for these crimes.
Is the ship sinking? In this situation of absolute citizen vulnerability, any involution is possible and easily argued based on the theory of external conspiracies and infiltration by foreign elements with malicious intents. Yesterday a well-known leader of Venezuela’s opposition was a guest on the program “Face to Face,” hosted by Renato Álvarez. He explained the steps that Chavez’s government has supposedly taken and is still trying to take to implement his socialist project in Honduras. Renato—the most insulting journalist in the country these days—has taken it upon himself to pound home the surrealistic thesis that Honduras has taught Latin America and the world an important lesson, since we have rejected something that Venezuelans, Bolivians and Nicaraguans haven’t been able to. So now Honduras is a world leader in democratic methods.
But it’s a bad moment for lovers of weird, outlandish theories. Two days ago, they lost the most delirious star of recent weeks. Attorney Ortez Colindres was in and back out of two ministries in a record 15 days. After being replaced in the Foreign Ministry and transferred to the Interior Ministry, he handed in his resignation on Tuesday. He leaves in his wake a string of infamous one-liners and senseless remarks that will join the national collection of curiosities and amusing videos on YouTube. Among the most noteworthy was his reference to President Obama as “that little black guy.” Some maliciously claim that such a tough guy won’t abandon ship until he sees it sinking…
The biggest displays of discontent are expected to start tomorrow. Trade unions are calling for a general strike through their three large confederations…
It’s not easy to endure the third week of the teacher’s strike. The population, clearly divided, keeps calling the radio and television stations to express their anger at the teacher’s unions. At the moment the pressure seemed greatest, Finance Minister Gabriela Nuñez announced that their salaries would be paid the next day, three days earlier than usual, making it clear to the teachers that the new government would defend their acquired interests. Since many expected a much harsher reaction, the declaration seemed another sign of weakness and a desperate move to break trade union unity.
What about the Left? It’s impossible to read all the emails that arrive each day from the many internal networks created by the population hostile to the de facto regime. Hundreds of messages with all types of observations. The Internet is playing a key role given the restrictions on information imposed by the economic powers that control the media. Among all this cybernetic information, some messages border on intolerant.
All of this is normal in such a charged environment, but certain segments of the Left keep provoking confrontation with anyone who doesn’t share their views. Every day, more and more Hondurans want the constitutional government’s return, but they also recognize how disastrous Zelaya’s economic administration was. Denying the evidence does little to promote grassroots interests…
A solution to this crisis that would allow us to enter a new period would define political and criminal responsibilities for both the Zelaya government and the coup leaders. Why don’t we use this increased citizen activism to establish a corrective for political leaders who rob the state and deny the population a decent future? Without such an effort, the crisis will have been completely in vain. There’s no shortage of dogmatic prescriptions from the Honduran Left, which has never actually governed and isn’t clear about how it could become a real option for the majority of Hondurans…
The walls lining Tegucigalpa’s main roadways attest to the malaise. Unaccustomed to political graffiti over the past two decades, they are now strangely decorated with the most serious insults and ironic allusions to personalities who just a couple of months ago seemed untouchable. Some refer to Cardinal Rodríguez, one of the biggest losers in recent events, as a new Judas and accuse him of being a coup-leader and assassin. Ferrari, the main media owner and president of the nation’s most popular football team, has been painted on hundreds of walls as a little pig, together with the most brazen adjectives. Human rights defender Ramón Custodio, Rev. Evelio Reyes and journalist Renato Álvarez are three of the other most notorious villains, according to popular sentiment. If these bastions have fallen, what others might fall tomorrow? If only rebuilding a society was as easy as knocking down its myths and substituting them with new ones.
Wednesday, July 22:When you enter San Pedro Sula coming from El Progreso, you bump into a huge billboard brandishing the happy face of a peasant whose words hang in the air, thanking Roberto Micheletti for having brought peace and democracy to Honduras.
Is the propaganda working?
It’s another example of the most intense media campaign this country has ever known, aimed at convincing citizens of the goodness of a product. Is it working? Does the population believe the arguments being made by the de facto government? Judging by the massive show of white shirts (supporters of the interim government) marching through Tegucigalpa’s streets at midday, we could say that it is working, although with some subtleties.
Most of the population needs another push to demonstrate in favor of this presumed “democracy.” Anyone who knows how relationships are managed in an industrial park has no trouble imagining how simple it is for a businessman to send all his workers out to march under the tropical sun when their job hangs in the balance. Nor is it hard to put yourself in the shoes of a group of peasants offered a bus ride, food and two day’s wages to march through the capital waving white and blue flags. But this style of politics wasn’t invented by Micheletti. It’s the way politics has always been done in Honduras. Zelaya was doing it until just a few weeks ago, and the same thing will happen at rallies for the upcoming general elections if this political crisis isn’t resolved.
The political underdevelopment in which the Honduran population, half of whom still live in rural areas, has been kept, is enormous baggage that limits the possibilities of making the most of the current situation and starting to build a new democracy.
A few days ago, a friend from Las Vegas, a town in the municipality of Victoria, was telling me that many people in his community firmly believe that with Mel in power, they’ll soon be forced to share their home, their crop and even their children, who would be “sent for” by the leader very soon. Conjuring up the ghost of communism no longer works very well on much of the planet, but it still gets a lot of political mileage in Honduras.
This is the general scare tactic used in 90% of the media and is what the immense majority of Hondurans is bombarded with when they buy a newspaper or turn on their TV or radio. Under such conditions, it’s surprising and encouraging that the marches opposing Micheletti and calling for a return to constitutional order continue be the largest…
Everything seems calm. It doesn’t seem like a country preparing for a civil war, as Oscar Arias warned. If you go to a shopping center, it’s easy to forget the pressure the country is under, probably because our people are so used to living in uncertainty that nothing fazes them too much.
What about big business? How will big business deal with the approaching crisis? There are already no doubt problems and lost profits, but the Honduran bourgeoisie has never been known for having a clear plan and sticking to it. The business class greedily milks the fat cows and when they get skinny during the dry season their owners just go to Miami on vacation. Their investments are similarly provisional. In contrast, small and medium businesses lacking the ability to reinvent themselves are going to have a very bad time. The approaching economic reversal looks dramatic.
Nor should we forget that illegal businesses bring in a good part of the profits among an ever-expanding sector of the ruling oligarchy, to which a good part of the political elite belongs, . Illegal arms and drug trafficking and organized crime aren’t suffering any recession, nor will they as a result of threats from the international community to suspend aid and credit. This is one of the tragedies of Honduras today: those who have the means to make it grow don’t want it to, and those who want it to are in a state of constant destitution, barely able to survive.
It’s invigorating to listen to Gustavo Cardoza on Radio Progreso. In recent years, this station has given us a good batch of courageous journalists. They earn lots less than any reporter in the capital, but they’re way ahead in professionalism and, logically, integrity. This radio station is one proof, like so many others spread around Honduran territory, of what Hondurans can do when no obstacles stand in their way.
Will it be a watershed? As for obstacles, let’s talk about the ones strewn around by the political class. It’s been throwing monkey wrenches into the wheels of development and impeding active citizenship for more than a century, and did so again today at the negotiating table in San José. True citizenship has been abducted by the most vulgar caudillismo. Micheletti and Zelaya are only the two most recent representatives of this lineage of sinister personalities, more damaging than the plagues of Egypt. Will they be the last? Will these events be a watershed in the history of Honduras? You would have to be extremely optimistic to say yes, but many interesting things are happening these days, and it would be nice if there were enough calm following this tempest for serene debate and dialogue. The country doesn’t need a quick fix, but rather a slow, stable course leading toward social democracy.
The somber news from San José arrives this evening. Oscar Arias tried to reshape his proposal, but it doesn’t seem to have led to any authentic dialogue. The tone of voice used with journalists by the Zelaya delegation’s spokesperson, Rixi Moncada, leaves no room for doubt. There will be no agreement. The de facto government will never accept Zelaya’s return. What it does do, in a show of astonishing cynicism befitting greater scenarios, is accuse Zelaya of having thrown in the towel on negotiations.
It’s a common technique used by Honduran politicians. It’s a style that combines elements from Cantinflas with Machiavellian skills. No matter what the question, they’ll give the answer they want without batting an eyelash… These days, we’ve seen international journalists lose their cool more than once.
The disinterest of both delegations in avoiding a larger conflict is infuriating. Zelaya and his gang did it before the coup, and now the de facto government is stupidly and insultingly doing the same thing. Over and over again, it manipulates information and tries to confuse its adversaries. Clearly nothing more can be expected from this type of politician. Either the citizenry will realize what’s happening and take control of its own destiny, or our children will grow up in an even bigger minefield than the one we’re walking through today.
This afternoon’s events leave us exposed once again, facing the vacuum. Will people be upset and respond more decisively to the call for a general strike after this most recent mockery? Or will they simply resign themselves to this absurd regime? No one can be certain. Anything could happen in Honduras right now. That’s how volatile things have become. The politicians have led us to a dead end, with an irresponsible attitude that merits complete repudiation.
Will the anger be channeled into small acts that will help us recover hope? The only thing worse would be a resurgence of uncontrolled violence that turns the country upside down again. Hopefully prudence will prevail among the people, since it’s not a quality found among our politicians.
Saturday, July 25:The Honduran tragicomedy reached new levels yesterday. The strange episode starring Mel Zelaya entering and exiting Honduran territory had the entire nation glued to television sets as if it were the final match of a soccer tournament. Or maybe it would be more appropriate to compare it to the final episode of a soap opera. Over microphones set up by journalists near the tortuous border with Nicaragua at Las Manos, Zelaya’s mother spoke passionately about her dear son’s good character and his wife Xiomara Castro exclaimed her desire to see her husband return. An Armed Forces general offered Xiomara a helicopter to fly to Nicaragua. From the Presidential Palace, threats of detention were repeatedly made against Zelaya but never materialized.
Why didn’t Zelaya come in?
Why didn’t Zelaya stay in the country once he crossed over? Why didn’t the police nab him, since several warrants had been issued for his arrest? I suppose we could always fall back on the argument of avoiding a bloodbath, but these two factions of the traditional political oligarchy—who threaten but never actually hurt each other—are evidently more afraid than anything else since they presumably all have guilty consciences. It was apparently all saber-rattling that reduced the credibility of both Zelaya and Micheletti. A former Costa Rican Vice President huffily told CNN: “They’re incapable of negotiating seriously or even of fighting seriously.” A terse but accurate analysis of the situation.
Yesterday’s outlandish scenario is now a fixed image of a way of doing politics that has bottomed out. Honduran institutions are showing serious signs of decomposing, ushering in the worst social and economic crisis since Hurricane Mitch…
“Stupidities of fools”
The army has cut off a couple of important arteries in the capital, causing even greater chaos than usual in forsaken Tegucigalpa. One is the avenue that passes in front of the Presidential Palace, which last night was completely militarized. The other is Morazán Boulevard, the city’s neurological center, where hundreds of people gather until late at night, challenging the curfew to defend Radio Globo against imminent closure. Together with the daily newspaper El Tiempo, Channel 36—run by well-known journalist Esdras Amado López—and Radio Progreso, Globo is one of the few media outlets that still defend President Zelaya’s constitutional rights.
Local radio stations continuously receive calls from Hondurans expressing their opinions. It gives the impression that each citizen has his or her own clear criteria, and all are expressing them. Some opinions are surprising, like that of a woman who insists that Mel Zelaya will return holding the hand of Jesus Christ, protected by an army of cherubs. It’s well known that Hondurans are extremely religious, but this belief in divine intervention leaves even the most fanatical perplexed. Religion is helping manipulate people to favor both factions. The Catholic Church missed a great chance to demonstrate the sort of ethical authority the population believes it has. We now know that before the cardinal made his controversial statements, another important Catholic leader—Juan José Pineda, auxiliary bishop of Tegucigalpa, who has links to Opus Dei—visited the Presidential Palace to converse with Micheletti in tacit recognition of the coup leaders. Catholicism could end up greatly weakened by this crisis.
Today the curfew in the department of El Paraiso is running from 6:00 am until 6:00 in the afternoon, a rather uncommon event in Latin America’s democratic history, to say the least. But it would appear that Zelaya’s sympathizers don’t pay much attention to the government’s prohibitions. One leader of an employer asociation, marching with hundreds of other Hondurans to the country’s eastern border, emphatically expressed his view of prohibitions on free circulation: “We don’t pay any attention to the stupidities of these fools.”
On the other side of the Nicaraguan border, in the town of Ocotal, Zelaya continues his pantomime. Is it as spontaneous as it seems, or has it been carefully calculated? He came again to the border at midday, where an encampment has been set up by hundreds of his followers, raising his incendiary, populist discourse and increasing tensions even more.
Terror at the borderThe sad news of another death with apparent signs of torture has been confirmed. He was a young 25-year-old who had come to the border zone from Tegucigalpa. His body had 35 stab wounds. One can only wonder if this was an isolated act perpetrated by nervous soldiers or was coldly calculated by those who studied at the School of the Americas as a warning to a population beginning to rise up. For Gilda Rivera, who I met up with that night, it’s perfectly clear. She was kidnapped in the eighties by the 3-16 squad led by Billy Joya—now adviser to the current government’s Cabinet—and sees it as an unmistakable sign of the increase in terror…
Another way to feed fear is the total blockade to which hundreds of people who have gone to the Nicaraguan border to meet with Mel Zelaya are being subjected. Encircled by the military, which isn’t letting water or supplies enter, these citizens are readying themselves to resist the night.
Now about 9 pm, the imposed authorities are again broadcasting nationwide, for the umpteenth time. They’re announcing that the curfew is extended to El Paraiso and four municipalities of Choluteca from six in the morning until six in the evening.
Eastern Honduras has become a gigantic jail to keep Mel Zelaya’s call to “insurrection” from becoming a reality. In the midst of this complex labyrinth, it would be wise to remember that what we’re witnessing is a struggle between two agonizing caudillos, drunk on power and megalomania, which has nothing to do with the real democracy this nation dreams of. Moreover, to defend it—and here we have the bitter irony of the rule of law—the winner of the last elections should, even must, replace the one who spuriously took over the presidential seat with the help of arms.
Monday, July 27:Novelist Julio Escoto, one of the few Honduran intellectuals worthy of this label, reflected on the deficiencies of this political class in an article published by El Heraldo today. For this author from San Pedro Sula, who has been unequivocally speaking out against the coup, the Right is darkness and the Left is aphonic, and all, without exception, are in need of some lucidity and fresh perspectives…
I pass through Valle de Ángeles via the detour that takes you to the village of El Chimbo, where a strongly armed military barricade is in place day and night. They are guarding the road that leads to the hacienda of Nationalist presidential candidate Pepe Lobo, where they say the clique that created this extemporaneous uprising and installed the most incompetent and ambitious of its caudillos meets. Tomorrow will mark one month that Roberto Micheletti’s first month as President, with more sorrow than glory. His crime offers its own penitence. After so many years pursuing the presidential sash, he can barely appear publicly, and when he does it’s on national television, his face tense and fixed in a cold stare.
A heart divided in twoAnother one with heart problems is Romeo Vásquez, who seems for all the world like a Maconda character. An exchange between this general and the First Lady of the deposed government on Radio Globo was pure melodrama. “It’s nothing personal,” Vásquez told her, but he won’t let her cross the western border where her husband is waiting for her. Of course, he offered her a helicopter to go see him: “She knows I’m very fond of her.” Xiomara doesn’t trust all this friendliness, and Romeo apologizes once again. “Nobody has been affected by this situation more than I, but there are some situations one just can’t understand,” he tells her in farewell. And it’s surely true. Nobody has benefited so much from Mel Zelaya’s government as Romeo Vásquez. Officers’ salaries have never gone up so much, nor has the military so easily obtained concessions such as construction of the Palmerola airport from a civilian government. Nor has an armed forces chief ever had his position prolonged extra-legally based solely on the President’s whim. But it wasn’t enough.
Maybe Mel overestimated his general’s loyalty and tightened the reins too much. Or in the end, maybe the general simply had to choose between his lifelong partners, the oligarchy, or an adventurer in a cowboy hat who was likable but chaotic, with an uncertain future. It’s logical that the general’s heart was divided.
The resistance?Yesterday 23-year-old Pedro Muñoz, the young man stabbed to death in El Paraiso, was buried in Tegucigalpa. Rasel Tomé, a lawyer with a more than questionable reputation, delivered a heated speech at the cemetery, calling him a “martyr of the resistance.” Tomé chaired the National Telecommunications Commission with Mel Zelaya and was awarded a television channel to which he wasn’t legally entitled. He gave up his position to run for a legislative seat in the primaries with Micheletti, but was defeated. I repeat: the day before yesterday, a cunning lawyer connected to power, yesterday a legislative candidate for the party of the coup-makers, and today a leader of the resistance against the coup d’état. The same could be said about Jorge Reina, another former candidate on the Micheletti ticket who is in the streets today. Some might call these strategic alliances of those opposing the new regime, but unfortunately they reduce the credibility of a movement whose priorities need to include not only resistance to the coup-leaders but also resistance to any leader from the two major parties, which have subjected this nation to misery for more than a century. The effort to return constitutional order is a battle, but the real war is the one that needs to be waged against this political clan whose only ideology is power and whose only banner is money…
The most extreme and alarming situation is being played out in the border zone of El Paraiso. Several thousand people are trapped in a virtual state of siege in which they aren’t allowed to continue on toward the border or return home. Honduras’s civil society organizations are mobilizing to send supplies to them and denounce the situation internationally. The de facto government is acting as if nothing’s happening. The deposed leader laments the situation, but rather than setting up his encampment along with his people, as he had announced, or persisting in his diplomatic efforts, he has opted to eat well and sleep comfortably in the best hotel in Ocotal with his entourage in tow…
Tomorrow it will be one month since the coup. The shops are selling less, layoffs are increasing, productivity is becoming sluggish, hospitals don’t have medicine, children are missing school, bridges that fell in the earthquake remain down, the dykes are still unrepaired in the height of the rainy season, and thousands of people are still cut off in a hell called Paradise. Will it be worth all this? Any sacrifice is small if at the end of the road we have a different Honduras where citizens can control their own destiny. But for this to happen, this grassroots movement that’s struggling in the streets will have to recognize that neither this de facto government nor Zelaya’s is serving or has served its interests. The return to constitutionality is a necessary step, but the road to dignity and well-being is much longer and, as Julio Escoto says, will need a lucid and fresh vision.