Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 340 | Noviembre 2009



Agreements, Traps and Resistance beyond Zelaya

The die is now cast against President Zelaya. The October 30 agreements were a trap set by the United States for purposes having little to do with Honduras. The elections won’t include Carlos Reyes’ independent candidacy, and the struggle will continue in new settings.

Ismael Moreno, SJ

Ireiterate my deepest gratitude to the government of the United States for the firm support it is giving us to put the agreements into effect, and regret that Mr. Zelaya is the only one who refuses to send his candidates to make up the government of national unity.”

These were Roberto Micheletti’s words at the stroke of midnight on Thursday, November 5, thus meeting one of the few deadlines established by the Tegucigalpa agreements signed on October 30 by the two commissions negotiating under the implacable and precise gaze of Thomas Shannon, undersecretary for hemispheric affairs in the Obama government’s State Department. President Zelaya Rosales responded by calling the agreements a “dead letter.” In this inconclusive but concluded setting, everything suggests that events have turned irremediably against Zelaya as head of the Honduran State, and whether or not he is restored to his post is utterly irrelevant at this point in the conflict.

From euphoria
to frustration

Shannon had landed in Honduras only 24 hours earlier. After meeting separately with Zelaya and Micheletti, as well as the country’s presidential candidates and top business leaders, the Micheletti and Zelaya commissions quickly and docilely signed agreements that formally ended four months of a stormy coup d’état and the no less turbulent negotiation process that got underway on July 7. By the time of the State Department commission’s arrival, those negotiations were at a standstill and at the threshold of the worse possible scenario: deteriorating ungovernability and increasing violence.

Shannon accomplished in those few hours what President Arias, the Organization of American States and the conflict’s Honduran protagonists had all been unable to do. What happened? There are so many conjectures in this country that the lack of governability has left us trapped by a government of rumors.

The signing of the agreements triggered a euphoria among pro-Zelaya sectors similar to when the man in the sombrero surprisingly showed up in the Brazilian embassy on September 21; when he threatened to cross the Las Manos border post in Nicaragua in the second week of July; and when he tried to land at the Tegucigalpa airport on Sunday, July 5, before a vibrant concentration of tens of thousands of Hondurans who were just beginning to organize into the unprecedented political phenomenon that became the Honduran grassroots resistance. And just as on all those previous occasions, the euphoria triggered by the signing of the October 30 agreements almost immediately turned into bitter frustration.

Shannon’s two folders
sealed the deal

Instead of restoring Zelaya to the presidency, the agreements bolstered the coup makers. And instead of organizing a party to celebrate Zelaya’s victory, his supporters and the resistance in general have had to continue organizing protests and repudiations, now not only against Micheletti’s backers, but against the trap laid by the high-level gringo commission headed by Shannon, the same man who just days before the events of June 28 was meeting in Honduras with those who perpetrated the coup and kept it going for over four months.

According to different accounts, Shannon brought two folders this time. One held a copy of the documents that would
have to be fleshed out with the concrete agreements the two commissions were to sign. This folder couldn’t go back to Washington without their signatures.

The second folder contained documents backing the threats and warnings the State Department would issue to the usurpers of the Honduran State if they were to decide not to sign the agreements in the first folder by midnight on Thursday, October 29. Among the threats was the de-certification of Port Cortés, where merchandise from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras is loaded and unloaded. There was also a warning that Honduras could be expelled from the Free Trade Agreement with the United States, and the Temporary Protection Status granted to tens of thousands of undocumented Honduran migrants living in the United States could be suspended.

For good measure Shannon also reportedly brought along evidence of the different links that high-level Honduran political and big business figures have with drug and weapons traffickers and major contraband operations. But more important than all the threats, warnings and blackmail, were the assurances Shannon brought that in exchange for the signed agreements, the US would back the coup makers’ plans for staging the forthcoming elections.

The Honduran case was
undermining Obama

A week after the signing of the agreements, no one was left with any doubts that it all added up to a skillful trap laid for Zelaya. The question is what kind of threats, warnings or incentives could the overthrown President have been given to get his delegates to sign agreements that open the doors to legitimizing the coup—and what advantages were offered the pro-Zelaya negotiators not to reveal them?

The Shannon commission was desperate to get the agreements signed not because Honduras is of any overriding interest to it, but because the country had become a problem for the Obama administration’s domestic policy. In the days leading up to the signing, it had become more problematic than Afghanistan. Republicans were using the lack of solution to the Honduran conflict to accuse Barack Obama and the Democrats of incompetence in resolving “issues of democracy” in countries under US influence. If Obama couldn’t end a conflict in such a small, dependent country, how could it deal successfully with the more serious problems facing his administration inside and outside of US territory?

Shannon couldn’t return without having “pacified” the Hondurans and without having shaken off a political problem abroad that was already interfering with Obama’s domestic politics.

“Smart power”

The accords have made it clear that the US government ultimately had the highest quota of responsibility for resolving, aggravating or maintaining the coup and its consequences.

According to Venezuelan-US researcher Eva Golinger, in her article “Honduras: A Victory for ‘Smart Power,’” the US-led “negotiation” process in Honduras is explained by considering the three diplomacy models the US country has recently used in its international relations. Presidents like George W. Bush used “hard power”: weapons, bombs, threats and military invasions. Bill Clinton used “soft power”: cultural war, Hollywood, ideals, diplomacy, moral authority and campaigns to win “the hearts and minds” of civilian populations in enemy countries.

The Obama administration has opted to “mutate” these two concepts, explains Golinger. She cites Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as explaining during her Senate confirmation hearings that “we must use what has been called smart power, the full range of tools at our disposal—diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural—picking the right tool or combination of tools for each situation. With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of our foreign policy.”

“So,” writes Golinger, “what is intelligent about this concept? It’s a form of politics that is difficult to classify, difficult to detect and difficult to deconstruct. Honduras is a clear example. On one hand, President Obama condemned the coup against President Zelaya while his ambassador in Tegucigalpa held regular meetings with the coup leaders. Secretary of State Clinton repeated over and over again during the past four months that Washington didn’t want to ‘influence’ the situation in Honduras—that Hondurans needed to resolve their crisis, without outside interference. But it was Washington that imposed the mediation process ‘led’ by President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, and Washington that kept funding the coup regime and its supporters via USAID, and Washington that controlled and commanded the Honduran armed forces involved in repressing the people and imposing a brutal regime, through its massive military presence in the Soto Cano military base.

“Washington lobbyists also wrote the San José ‘agreement,’ and in the end, it was the high-level State Department and White House delegation that ‘persuaded’ the Hondurans to accept the agreement. Despite the constant US interference in the coup d’état in Honduras—funding, design and political and military support—the ‘smart power’ approach was able to distort public opinion and make the Obama administration come out as the grand victor of ‘multilateralism.’”

The October 30 agreements were part of a circular movement that began in Washington in June: Hillary Clinton passed the hot potato to Arias in San José, and the agreement later came to Honduras as the Guaymuras dialogue - Tegucigalpa/San José accord, only to end up in Washington’s hands again, even though the agreements have all been signed in Tegucigalpa. [The Guaymuras dialogue, involving representatives of both Michelleti and Zelaya and initially facilitated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, began after the earlier San José accord Arias mediated failed.]

The accords have been more a trap set to resolve Obama’s problem than a solution for Honduras, because the conflict will continue. The October 30 agreements were obviously a breath of fresh air to the international community with the news that the Hondurans had finally resolved their conflict. They also allowed the pro-coup sectors the space they need to ensure international recognition of the November 29 elections.

The coup’s second step

The accords allowed progress to be made in consolidating the objectives of the June 28 coup, which were to be constructed in three well defined and programmed steps. The first step was the violent acts of that last Sunday in June and the second was to crystallize on November 29 with the general elections. For the pro-coup sectors, this second step is all about guaranteeing universal recognition for the new authorities to emerge from those elections.

Such recognition is enormously important. Just as a big brand name sweatshop for export must ensure that it cranks out well seamed underwear, shirts or pants, the elections have to crank out acceptable mayors, legislators, designates and a totally acceptable President.

Honduras forgotten,
Zelaya twisting in the wind?

To ensure this second step, the coup makers needed an international climate in which Honduras shrinks back into oblivion. And what better way to convince people that Honduras is now pacified than with the signatures of the conflict’s two protagonists? The Honduran case will now begin to be an affair of the past, even though all the same old problems remain intact inside the country.

The accords also leave the doors open to continue putting off decisions. The coup makers want more time to pass before restoring Zelaya to the presidency. Agreement five, the fundamental one, thus leaves it up to the National Congress to decide if and when Zelaya comes back, without establishing any deadline, and pledges both sides to accept whatever resolution the legislative body decides to make. This allows the coup makers to play out the clock on Zelaya’s return until such time as he won’t have any chance whatever to influence the electoral results.

Now that the pro-coup sectors have tied up the conditions to legalize the elections and left Zelaya no room to interfere in them, they can move on to January 27, when the new authorities take office. This third step will bring to fruition the first stage of the coup d’état.

It makes very little difference to the coup makers whether Zelaya retakes his seat as outgoing President a week before the elections or even after they’re held, because the man in the 10-gallon hat is no longer a threat. Having him in the presidency for a fleeting period of time will convert him into a decorative figure, at the same time complying with a requisite for legitimizing a political process they totally control.

Why Carlos H. Reyes won’t run

More bothersome to the pro-coup sectors—although not something they’re losing any sleep over—is the absence of independent candidates from the presidential ballot, particularly grassroots and union leader Carlos Humberto Reyes. His participation in the elections would unquestionably have offered a nice touch to a process lacking in new faces.

Reyes’ participation would allow the pro-coup sectors to present a “pluralist” list of presidential candidates to society and, more importantly, tto he international community, thus enhancing the elections’ legitimacy. It would sell them as tolerant enough to open spaces to a sector of unarguable leftist militancy that has participated visibly in the resistance to the coup. His candidacy wouldn’t alter the electoral results, which everyone knows would go to one of Honduras’ bipartite candidates. The small number of votes Reyes would get—which would never reflect the real amount he might have pulled had he had enough time to create structures and develop a genuine electoral campaign, would be manipulated to confirm that the resistance to the coup never involved more than a handful of resentful activists and Zelaya supporters whom the people turned their back on at the polls in a fit of defense of democracy.

“They want us as the
cherry on the cake”

This is how Carlos H. Reyes himself saw his participation, which is why he decided to withdraw from a process he views as an instrument to legitimize the coup. “The Supreme Electoral Tribunal is holding us up like babies to be kissed,” the veteran union leader explained with a sarcastic edge to his voice. “It’s offering us all the advantages we want, and isn’t hesitating to alter and postpone its deadlines, because we’re needed. They see us as the little cherry on the cake that the oligarchic groups will wolf down whole. Their need for our decorative effect is the only way to explain why they approved our registration even after the stipulated deadline had passed.”

As de facto President, Michelletti sent a letter to both Zelaya and Carlos H. Reyes inviting them to present their list of 10 candidates for the Cabinet of the supposed new government of national unity. The independent candidate considers it just another mockery perpetrated by the coup makers. “What we’ll send back,” he said firmly, “is our letter of withdrawal from these elections, accompanied by a public denunciation of why we consider this electoral process the major instrument for moving toward a legalized dictatorship.”

The UD approaches Reyes

Before finalizing their decision not to participate in what they consider tarnished elections, Carlos H. Reyes and his team engaged in an internal debate with the leftist Democratic Unification party, founded by Executive Decree in 1992. César Ham, the UD’s own presidential candidate, offered to step down to let Reyes run on his party’s ticket.

The UD has never gotten more than 30,000 votes in the various electoral processes it has participated in. Shortly before the June 28 coup, it sank into an internal morass of fights and splits that left it too battered to deal with these elections.

Reyes couldn’t abandon his independent candidacy to run for a spent, discredited party on the verge of extinction that is now, in Zelaya’s protective shadow, trying to capitalize on a grassroots resistance movement whose strength and creativity has exceeded the organizational and political capacity of Honduras’ traditional Left and grassroots movement. Had Reyes become its candidate , he would have given the coup makers the pleasure of seeing him as a bauble in the general elections, injecting life into a moribund party and squandering the novel offer of an independent candidacy backed by the most honest sectors of Honduras’ grassroots social movement.

Carlos H. Reyes’ withdrawal from the elections is independent of whether Zelaya is returned to the presidency or not. As
he himself explains, he did it “to denounce elections that essentially deny democracy, and out of respect to a citizenry that in diverse polls has clearly manifested a majority inclination not to vote in these elections, but rather to continue a resistance that—without ever turning into a political party—will keep on advancing toward a political proposal that maintains its firm decision to participate in electoral processes only through independent candidacies.”

Third stage: from 2010 to 2014

The sectors that pushed this first stage of the coup through and have consolidated it sought to strategically reverse the reforms and agreements assumed by the Zelaya administration within the Latin American bloc headed by Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. January 27, 2010, will mark the beginning of the second and decisive stage of the coup with a new government that will surely promote new economic, political, juridical, military and security coordinates with the empire and yank any old or new leftist political blossoming out by the roots, thus ensuring the United States that its economic project in Honduras, which revolves around control by the trans¬nationals, will never again be put at risk.

This second stage, to last until 2014, will be defined by a political regime with strong authoritarian features and sustained by three fundamental pillars. The first is an aggressive economic plan to recover the business sector’s “sacrifice” during the first stage. The second is a social compensation plan to counteract the demands and mobilizations of the sectors in resistance. And the third is a security and prophylaxis plan that will combine different mechanisms of criminal pursuit, while at the same time promoting the prosecution, repression, disarticulation and neutralization of the sectors opposing the regime that represents continuity with the coup.

The independent Left’s decision to refuse to participate in the November 29 elections whisked away the cherry with which the coup perpetrators dreamed of crowning their electoral cake. That decision reveals even to the most ingenuous the true nature of an electoral process meticulously designed to consolidate the political project unleashed with all its fury on June 28.

Resistance beyond Zelaya

Zelaya’s fate has been cast, and the coup makers are continuing their steamrolling march toward the construction of their project with total support from the United States. But the Honduran resistance always went far beyond Zelaya and it’s positive that the independent candidate has fought off the temptation to remain trapped in the immediatist demand of participating in already exceedingly manipulated elections. Reyes’ candidacy isn’t lost. It remains as a political, ethical grassroots reserve to restructure and promote the political project that has acquired even more urgency and relevance with the coup makers’ temporary triumph.

Not only has the grassroots struggle against the coup not been lost; it has barely begun. But it did lose an important battle, one controlled and defined from high places at rhythms that depended on analyses far removed from the population’s reality and awareness and the moods of Zelaya and his team.

Today, with the community and territorial sectors in motion and organizing, the independent grassroots resistance can be expected to capitalize on all the energy, force and creativity born tumultuously in these months of efforts and peaceful civic struggle.

Ismael Moreno, sj, is the envío correspondent in Honduras.

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