A Wolf with No Direction, A Government with No Compass
Honduras is still being hurt by what the coup unleashed.
All we know about the government is that Lobo decides nothing,
and since neither credible authority nor consensus exists,
everyone’s watching out for number one, seeking personal advantages.
In this misgovernment, the violence of organized crime
has hold of the country’s helm.
Ismael Moreno, SJ
The specter of the coup hovers over every sphere of Honduran politics. Congressman Wenceslao Lara, member of the Liberal Party that led the coup, shamelessly said in the Congress: “We Liberals proposed a candidate that the Honduran people elected as President. That Liberal [Zelaya] failed us and we responsibly replaced him with another. Now it’s the Nationalists’ turn to be equally responsible with the nation, just as we were.”
Lobo and Micheletti Who has been making the decisions in Honduras since Porfirio Lobo Sosa assumed the presidency on January 27? What remains of that man who raised his fist in defiance of crime in 2004 and 2005, who seemed solid in his convictions, and is heading the country today? He is now a weak, indecisive “little President” with a nervous laugh and halting speech who says no when he should say yes and yes to everyone who seeks to take advantage of his indecision.
are peas in a pod
This is understandable. Porfirio Lobo (lobo is wolf in Spanish) has taken office in the most unstable moment of the nation’s history. Only a very ambitious person, which he is, and with exaggerated similarities to Roberto Micheletti, the politician who climbed to presidential power on the back of the coup on June 28, would do it.
These two Honduran political figures, Lobo and Micheletti, have much in common. The only differences are the color of their skin, hair and party flag. They have both struggled madly in search of the presidential “fruit” with no regard for the cost. Both are faithful Roman Catholics and fanatic followers of cardinal figures. Both are experts in putting their foot in their mouth. They are obedient to the olive green uniforms and above all to the watchwords emanating from Washington. Both know how to surround themselves with the worst sort of Honduran political and business people. Both conduct government business without precise plans, with unspecified directions and based on beautiful patriotic phrases. Finally, both are trapped in the petty vanity of being President without being statesmen, experts not in leading the nation but in sinking the country.
Murders and rapes“No one knows who is really governing and making decisions in the country”. This is a key phrase that defines the situation in Honduras since January 27. No one knows who is governing but it’s clear what is in control: violence and insecurity. There are days in which as many as 19 homicides have been recorded. Mass murders have become daily fare. Five journalists and several leaders who opposed the coup have been killed in less than two months.
Rape has become an instrument to terrorize and demobilize the organized resistance movement. A young woman of the resistance movement in northern Honduras, raped in August by four duly identified police officers who are still in their posts, was kidnapped in February with her family and driven to a mountain area by seven men in police uniforms. There the young woman and her sister-in-law were raped by each of the seven men in front of the male family members who were tied to trees. The one acting as the leader pronounced the sentence: “This is happening to you because you reported us. And the third time we do this to you, we’re going to kill you.”
Craig Kelly, the official in charge of human rights in Central America for the US State Department produced documentation of this event for me, complete with physical evidence. He confirmed this most serious human rights violation on March 4, right before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s meeting with Central America’s Presidents. Although aware of these facts, she didn’t blink an eye when at this meeting she announced the US government’s decision to reestablish economic aid to the Honduran government and asked that the other governments of the continent recognize the Lobo administration “because it has taken adequate steps to restore democracy.”
Washington’s blindnessTalking to Kelly, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, confirmed for me that nothing can be done to change the US political position. Its perceptions are as inflexible as those of the Vatican when it latches on to defense of the indefensible even when it has data to the contrary. While holding the brutal data of the Honduran woman’s rape in his hands, Kelly made his position very clear: The US government is committed to this Honduran “democracy” and based on this commitment would back the army and the police. “We can’t help democracy from outside,” he explained. “Only by being inside the army and the police can we make changes.”
When asked how he could explain supporting the police knowing about the rapes, he answered without a frown: “No one knows for sure that they were police. It could be that criminals are dressing as police to commit these bad acts.” Further questions were useless. The State Department is determined to strengthen criminals who, in these fateful coup and post coup times in Honduras, dress up as police officers….
Everyone knowsThe logic is well established in the country. While the various sectors that opposed the coup are subjected to persecution, threats, killings and a vicious publicity campaign that makes them seem like the violent actors in the country, the international community is inexorably moving forward in recognizing the regime, even knowing they are recognizing a government with very limited internal legitimacy.
The governments of the European Union know they’ve decided to play in the murky waters of ambiguities. They know that by supporting the government, they are giving a kind of go-ahead to the repressive policies the government—particularly the Ministry of Security with the wrathful Oscar Álvarez at its head—has begun to use. Álvarez believes the country’s crisis will be resolved by annihilating the opposition, be they street criminals or resistance leaders.
To cure the problem, the European ambassadors decided to start a protection program for human rights defenders. The international community has accepted that it is recognizing a government it deliberately identifies as a violator of human rights that is in a direct line of succession following the coup. They don’t say it straight out—that’s what diplomacy and its sophism is for. But they are covering themselves by creating mechanisms to protect the potential victims of the regime’s political repression; a regime they have put on the list of countries with democratic governments.
The illegal and unnecessary coupThe international community knows how to right its wrongs with Honduras but not how to respond to a conflict rooted in the country’s internal dynamics. To face off against a Latin American geopolitical conflict, the coup promoters awoke latent but unactivated internal dynamics. During the ensuing months, the coup began discovering actors and interests that go beyond the Honduran borders. Once more, Honduras played a role subordinate the continent’s geopolitics.
hwhe coup wasn’t just a violent and illegal act but one unnecessary for the country’s internal politics. If it only had to do with internal factors, the coup never would have happened. There was no need for it because the internal sectors that brought about the coup had control of all the factors that would have made it impossible for Mel Zelaya to implement his political agendas.
It’s important to remember that in the first months of last year activity against Zelaya escalated in the election of public posts. In January 2009 all 15 Supreme Court justices elected opposed the politics of the Zelaya team. The next month, the highest echelons of the Honduran elite gave the election of the new attorney general the nod, as it had done the previous year to Ramón Custodio, a fierce opponent of Zelaya’s policies, who was reelected as the National Human Rights Commissioner. In April the Liberal Party called a National Convention to elect a new board of the party’s Central Executive Council. The electors had one objective, which they implemented to the letter: remove all members of Zelaya’s team from the party leadership. Patricia Rodas was abruptly tossed out as the president of the party and in her place the convention elected none other than the great loser of the 2008 November election primaries: Roberto Micheletti.
Micheletti, a forgotten part of the political scene, reemerged from this convention with unusual energy. The media took it upon themselves to put him back on the front pages from which he had disappeared months earlier.
Of the 128 representatives of the National Congress, a third opposed the policies of Zelaya’s team. Under these conditions, the Fourth Ballot Box that Zelaya proposed for the elections on the last Sunday of November 2009 couldn’t have won because the Honduran elite had completely reinforced the State’s institutional structure.
Geopolitical reasons for the coupSo why did the coup happen? Because the Honduran actors implemented a plan that had many international actors behind it. Weeks before the coup, top representatives of extreme rightwing organizations in the continent, such as UnoAmerica, warned that there would be a frontal battle to save Honduras from Hugo Chávez’s communism.
In early March of this year, these same representatives returned to the country to assert that the battle had been won in Honduras but had to be consolidated in order to continue other battles until all enemies of liberty [read: of capitalists] in the continent had been buried. They also warned that the enemies of democracy [read: for capitalists] were still active in the Sao Paulo Forum and were planning actions to recover the lands lost in Honduras. One plan was to stir up internal conflicts such as occurred in the Aguán region where peasant groups were confronted for allegedly seeking to create disorder so they could take over land belonging to wealthy businessman Miguel Facussé Barjum. That’s what was reported and published in the media to justify and endorse the coup.
Honduras has been the excuse in a continental context of geopolitical confrontation by the extreme Right backed by the multinational monopolies and fed by the discourse of increasingly prominent neoconservative religious leaders, both Catholic and Protestant.
Roots of the conflict in AguánIn the first months of Pepe Lobo’s administration, the most notable conflict—along with the rising wave of crime and daily murders—has been the agrarian situation in the Aguán region on Honduras’ Caribbean Coast.
The actors in this conflict are the same ones that have been involved with the conflicts of the last three decades. At
the forefront is the same Miguel Facussé, of Arab origins. The country’s most emblematic businessman, Facussé has been involved in state affairs since the seventies, when as executive director of the National Investment Corporation (CONADI), a government institution created to stimulate the country’s industry, he embezzled millions from it during one of the many military regimes.
In the early nineties, under the government of Rafael Leonardo Callejas, Facussé lobbied Congress to approve the Law to Modernize the Agricultural Industry. This law actually gave many advantages to private business. For one, land destined for groups of peasant farmers through an agrarian reform approved two decades earlier could be privatized by individuals. In addition, those peasant beneficiaries were offered what was called “co-investment” programs, in which they contributed their land and the labor, and businessmen the technical skills and money, in which the benefits were theoretically to be split between the two. In practice, this law created conditions that put both the land and the very lives of the peasants at the mercy of the agribusiness export dynamic.
Once Facussé got this law passed, he devoted himself to “convincing” cooperative directors and members, starting with the most successful in the production of the African palm in the Aguán region, to sell their land and assets. With a fierce publicity campaign lauding first the benefits of co-investment and next the advantages of private business, which was willing to “sweat for Honduras” as the official slogan stated, he managed in only two years to push through adjustments to the economy and the opening of the borders to agroindustry capital in the countryside and assembly plants for re-export (maquilas) in several urban centers, especially in the Sula valley.
Lobo in his Labyrinth Two decades later, the dust Facussé raised then, in complicity with the Honduran government and a handful of corrupt peasant leaders, has become a quagmire that has captured the attention of the entire country. Not surprisingly, it is in this area where the country’s great conflict has begun to erupt.
And it is into this quicksand that Pepe Lobo has decided to step, continuing to administer an unsustainable crisis made only worse by a national coup. Just in the first two months of his administration, 13 people have been killed in this land conflict. The government decided to name a committee to launch a proposal to resolve the conflict, but it’s barely the tip of a much larger problem in which any new superficial policy or proposal from a government trapped in a truly muddy maze is bound to run into trouble.
Now Facussé has started a new publicity campaign, this time accusing the peasants of promoting the violent disorder in the region and of attacking the rule of law that protects private property. He is accusing the resistance movement, in particular the Jesuits working in the area and what he calls their “theology of violence,” of stirring up the conflict to destabilize the country.
Nonetheless, serious voices closely connected to the business elite that no one can accuse of sympathizing with the resistance movement say they have reliable information that the current conflicts in Aguán are being promoted by Facussé himself. At 84 years old, he went to the area to incite mobs he reportedly paid personally to go to the National Congress and demand respect for their lands. He’s getting away with it by taking advantage of the disorder and lack of direction in the nation for his own benefit, something he has learned how to do adeptly all of his business life.
Facussé in his empireThis hypothesis seems to be gaining consistency as the proposal of the state commission formed to resolve the conflict advances. For Facussé it could mean the following outcomes: the government buys at least 3,000 hectares of his land with the improvements of the African palm crops, which the government will turn over immediately to the peasant groups—a purchase involving about $50 million. Of the land bought, each family will be given two hectares, on one of which the family can cultivate as it wants and on the other must plant African palm trees. Thus the peasant farmers will stay tied to Facussé’s capital since all buying and selling of African palm is completely controlled by that parasitically successful businessman.
Given the conflicts generated by the production, Facussé would be exempt from honoring his debts with the Honduran banks. Finally, given his skill in handling the most influential media in the country, many of which are run or owned by his relatives, the octogenarian businessman would be presented to the public as a generous benefactor of the poor and a victim of threats by the peasants.
Lobo in his Tower of BabelTwo months after taking office, Pepe Lobo’s government still has no clear definition of its work and no real identity. It has invested its main energies in sending out signals it hoped would gain it recognition by the international community. In his poorly thought out desire to get along with everybody, Lobo first formed a Cabinet that made it look like a unity government. But the Cabinet is a veritable Tower of Babel, all members pulling in their own direction, using their own language and seeking to climb the power ladder on the back of their colleagues. Next he formed a Truth Commission to make it look like it was complying with the agreements that put an end to the de facto regime and to disassociate this government from the impunity and imposition of that regime. This commission lacks domestic credibility and has no interest in investigating political figures or big Honduran business. Even less is it interested in saying anything against the new regime. Third, the new government formed a presidential Human Rights Commission together with human rights workers and a commission for religious issues together with the upper echelons of the Catholic and Evangelical churches. And now it’s busy creating presidential commissions for every type of public issue with all the various political parties and unions.
It even tried very hard to get in the good graces of the resistance movement. It awarded the minister’s post of the inefficient National Institute of Agriculture (INA), which has barely enough budget to pay its bureaucrats or buy gas, to César Ham, president of the leftist Democratic Unification Party. Ham is the most controversial figure opposing the coup as he is linked to much discussed and clear cases of corruption and is a source of constant internecine conflicts within Honduras’ fragile traditional Left.
It also tried to get in the good graces of the powerful teachers’ unions by naming Ventura, the controversial union leader and National Party activist, as education minister. As labor minister it appointed a person who was once a peasant leader but for some time has been identified as one of the most conservative and Mandrakean members of the political class.
Two months have been enough to show us an administration that is not working in a spirit of governance; we only know that many are making decisions but not based on any lines indicating a credible authority or consensus. In this sea, violence has taken the helm. And since crime has regional arenas of control, it is governing and making the decisions. In other words, Honduras today is divided into sections by the violence, and the various state institutions are subordinated not to the central authorities in the capital but to the underground forces of violence that control the decisions in each of these sections, zones or regions in which sovereign violence is administered over our resources.
A New Social Pact is neededPorfirio Lobo’s government proposal continues to be that of the business and political elites: to thwart the project the Zelaya team was pushing for. Rather than lessen the inequalities and conflicts that have built up in the country, an elite project of this size only intensifies them. Many sectors of society now agree on the need for a new social pact—or strategic battle plan, as some organized sectors in the grassroots resistance movement prefer to call it.
This plan would have to have at least three components. The first would be to define the contents, which in broad terms could be situated into three blocs. Bloc one: Demands to redefine the natural resources, the land and the environment. This has to do with what is often generically called the fight for national sovereignty. If sovereignty is the control and decision of the State and the citizenry over their capital wealth, it’s very hard to use the term when the forests, rivers, water, environment and land are in the hands of a few. Sovereignty, without a doubt, is the major deficit in the country. Sovereignty isn’t just a slogan. One priority is an agrarian reform that responsibly addresses the issue of who holds the land to stop a situation in which a handful of businessmen end up with all the most fertile land in the Honduran valleys and thus can subordinate the peasant population’s food supply and even life to the interests of the multinational agroexporters. With a change in this condition the Honduran countryside could stop being a time bomb and constant source of instability. The same could be said about the forests, water, energy and the mining industries—in fact all of our natural riches, including the potential petroleum in the lowlands and on the Caribbean coast, are included.
Bloc two: Social demands for education, health, housing, salaries, respect for ethnicity and sexual minorities and respect for and promotion of social organizations and activism. Linking the social demands with demands regarding sovereignty and the natural resources reveals that it is strategic to guarantee the participation of all sectors of society without letting the elitist sectors confuse their demands with national demands, which is what happens in the business associations and, in a different sense, the teachers’ unions.
Bloc three: Political-legal-institutional demands having to do with transformations the Honduran State must make so it can move forward in what the many sectors that have come together in the resistance call “the reestablishing of Honduras.” This is where the demand for a National Constitutional Assembly lies; which was the motive behind the Honduran elites’ coup.
The clamor for A constitution assembly is really the most relevant political demand of the organizations that have come together as the Grassroots National Resistance Front (FNRP). Despite the great importance of this demand, however, very little has been done to move from slogans to fleshing out the contents, which many still associate with Manuel Zelaya’s leadership.
a constituent assembly
At the initiative of the Civil Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) together with the FNRP, a large assembly of representatives from all over the country was held in mid-March to simulate a National Constitutional Assembly. They discussed issues related to the first bloc of demands. Despite the richness of assemblies such as this, it did not move beyond being a gathering of sectors with extremely similar views and ways of seeing and understanding the country, and thus didn’t involve a debate over differences.
Thus the demand of these grassroots sectors for an inclusive society in practice ended up with a newly excluding proposal because the only ones accepted in the “Constitutional Assembly experiment” were accredited activist opponents of the coup with proven membership in Honduras’ traditional Left.
Not only to the “choir”A new social pact can’t be limited to those in the “choir” who see things from the perspective of the grassroots Left. There must be openings to and debate among the many diverse sectors of Honduran society. A Constitutional Assembly detached from content could be double-edged. It could help awaken a fighting spirit among sectors in the resistance movement, but could also be an instrument easily captured by the elites as they have already done with all the political-institutional reforms in the country in the last two decades.
A prominent Honduran politician already announced it: “We’re going for a Constituent Convention. What we won’t accept is Mel Zelaya’s proposal because we want nothing to do with Hugo Chávez. Once the Zelaya fever has passed, we ourselves will push for one through Pepe Lobo. And we’re going to write a Constitution.”
A debate between three positionsThe second component of a new social pact would consist of defining its social and political subject. Here one enters the debate about political parties and social movements, the relationship and differences between the two and the identity that the FNRP should assume. At the present time, the debate is centering on establishing the relationship and differences among three positions.
One position is held by the sector of the resistance movement organically linked to the Liberal coup opponents. Most of them are followers of Manuel Zelaya, although there are many secondary differences among them.
In one of the assemblies called by the FNRP, a Liberal leader put it this way: “The FNRP has three courses of action it can follow. The first one is armed struggle. We rule this one out because we won’t succeed and the oligarchy’s war machine will annihilate us in the first attack. The second is to become a political party. It’s a real possibility but we know that the antidemocratic nature of the Electoral and Political Organizations Law will block our way at every turn. And the third is for the FNRP to become a current within the Liberal Party—one that could rescue this party from the present oligarchy’s clutches so we can move forward successfully to elections and again take up the transformations stopped by the coup. We Liberals in the Resistance movement are proposing this third course.”
In the opinion of an important sector of the Resistance Movement, turning the FNRP into a current within the Liberal Party, or associating itself with one of the three smaller parties is a political error that must be avoided. The resistance movement would end up a prisoner of the political party system that has already collapsed and the decision would give oxygen to a dying system that is no longer revivable.
A new party or a social movement?A second position proposes converting the FNRP into a new political party from which to struggle for the transformations contained in the first part of the new social pact. Those who hold this position believe that we can’t put off the challenge to fight to take political power and, ruling out armed struggle, this will only happen through elections. Thus a political party is needed that can compete successfully with the other five parties that are already being irreversibly eroded.
Others believe that turning the FNRP into a political party would reduce the strength of the resistance movement, so widely sustained in so many diverse grassroots ways, by channeling it into a strictly electoral battle. In the end it would lead the Liberal Party members in the movement and others from different parties to return to their party structures, leaving the new political party in a situation similar to the Christian Democratic Party or Democratic Unification Party or Innovation and Unity Party, which all combined never pull more than 6% of the electoral vote.
The third position is that the FNRP must have a permanent identity as a broad-based front that like a social movement channels the different demands of the entire country’s grassroots and social movements, including the unions and organized communities in the different zones, regions and territories. There is a tendency that emphasizes the FNRP’s breadth and argues that it must maintain its identity through two modes of struggle at this time.
The first is a pressure campaign to weaken, condemn and expose the current political regime as a faithful continuation of the coup until finally pressuring the government to call a National Constitutional Assembly. The second is to move forward in defining a proposal for independent candidates that can become a successful formula for the next general elections.
There’s no rule of law in Honduras The third component of a new social pact is to define participation in the political electoral processes. Once the FNRP’s identity has been defined as a result of the debate about the three positions discussed above, the struggle to democratize the mechanisms of grassroots participation must be guaranteed. Only by doing so will the electoral process stop being an expression, backed by legal procedures, that legitimizes the appropriation of the country by the small number of elites who promoted the coup.
The rule of law can’t exist without democracy and without respect for and protection of human rights. In Honduras’ case one can’t talk about a deficient rule of law but rather the absence of a rule of law. The problem lays not so much in political and business groups violating the rule of law but rather that, with no rule of law, they are manipulating this concept to make one believe they are respecting the laws and defending democracy. In fact they are imposing the law of the strongest and have free rein to violate society’s human rights.
Ismael Moreno is the envío correspondent in Honduras.