“Normalized” politics in a failing society
The contradiction between the “normality” achieved following the coup d’état and the violence and impunity dragging the country toward a failed society won’t be resolved by the elections, although that’s exactly what those who
“turned the page” on the coup want to happen.
Ismael Moreno, SJ
Who can possibly figure out all the twists and turns of Honduran reality? September ended with President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa signing Honduras’ entry into the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), led by Hugo Chávez, even though the chief excuse for the coup that deposed Mel Zelaya as President on June 28, 2009, was his move to join Chávez’s Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). At the same time Lobo chose Leónidas Rosa Bautista as the country’s permanent ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS). It was precisely against Rosa that the emblematic 38-day strike in 2008 was aimed, accusing him of protecting the corrupt while attorney general. Lobo also named as his new foreign minister Arturo Corrales Álvarez, who headed up the dialogue commission representing de facto President Roberto Micheletti in the most baleful days following the coup and was present in all the negotiating arenas of the last decade.
In a further twist, President Lobo Sosa, accompanied by Corrales, told the United Nations General Assembly that all the problems and human rights violations had intensified following the coup, supported recognition of Palestine as a new State and announced that the fight against drug trafficking could only succeed by targeting drug consumption in the United States. These declarations came as the rumor spread that Security Minister Óscar Álvarez’s sudden removal in early September was at least partly due to his reported removal of police officers linked to supervision of the landing of light aircraft used to traffic drugs in different parts of Honduras.
How are we to understand While an opinion poll conducted by the Center of Studies for Democracy at the end of September reveals the population’s very negative perception of the government, considering it to have benefitted the rich and left the poor in a precarious situation, extreme rightwing leaders of the ruling National Party are saying that “Lobo has betrayed the party and placed the country in the hands of communists headed by Hugo Chávez.” They even claim that “Pepe has turned out worse than Mel.” And while different grassroots sectors are calling demonstrations in the conflictive Aguán area, demanding the withdrawal of the thousands of government troops that have made it a war zone, former de facto President Roberto Micheletti is branding Lobo Sosa as indecisive and shaky, accusing him of favoring communists and issuing him the thinly veiled threat that he will meet the same fate as Zelaya.
this contradictory reality?
The national context that conditioned the first half of 2011 then defined the course of the second half points to such realities in contradictory parallels. If things go on like this, it will provide a perfect breeding ground for a failed society. While all political paths, from those of the most extreme Right to those of the most hard-line Left, seem to lead to settling conflicts electorally, the country is still sinking in the insecurity and violence dominated by the law of survival of the fittest.
Lobo’s great successDodging these contradictions, Lobo Sosa has capitalized on the different effects unleashed following the coup. He and tthose sectors united around him have the initiative and leadership of the political process right now. With the signing of the Cartagena de Indias Accords on May 22 and the issuing of the report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR) in July, his administration has successfully reinserted Honduras nto the international community and gained full recognition from even those governments that continued skeptically questioning his regime, born as it was out of a coup context. The recent joining of CELAC confirms this dynamic.
By laying the foundations for Zelaya’s triumphal return to Honduras, the country’s reentry into the OAS and the international community’s freeing up of aid and credits, frozen pending “normalization” in Honduras, the Cartegena Accords unquestionably represent the most coherent move in the search for that political “normality.” Fully supported by former President Zelaya and by Lobo himself, and endorsed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his Colombian counterpart President Juan Manuel Santos, leaders who represent Latin America’s two political poles today, the Accords couldn’t have better backing. The Honduran Right and extreme-Right sectors couldn’t question agreements signed by the Colombian government, while Chávez’s signature neutralized any suspicions from leaders of the National Grassroots Resistance Front. The Accords also paved the way for legal recognition of that resistance movement and for the calling of a National Constituent Assembly.
All that dynamism led to a new situation, centered on the upcoming electoral process. In what has undoubtedly
been the greatest test of Lobo Sosa’s successful administration, the conflictive confrontation built up between June 2009 and May 2011 ended up channeled to the electoral arena.
This process, skillfully led by a sector of Honduran politicians in alliance with a Latin American sector led by Colombia, Mexico and Brazil, sought to normalize Honduras around a so-called centrist government, isolating both right and left extremes.
What the CVR Report saidThe CVR Report provided a framework of stability to the process kicked off by the Cartagena Accords. It acknowledges that what happened in June 2009 was indeed a coup, that Roberto Micheletti’s election was illegal and his government therefore de facto, and that during those seven months there were notable human rights violations, promoted and executed by the armed forces and police. Most noteworthy of all, it offers over 80 recommendations related to reforms that would ensure an end to coups, the recovery of democracy and the rule of law, the validity of and respect for human rights, the exercise of freedom of expression and the prosecution and punishment of human rights violators.
The CVR concluded its investigation at the point when the Lobo government took office on January 27, 2010, thus legitimizing what has happened since then. Lobo’s government pledged to fulfill the report’s recommendations, but as of the end of August, when the Commission finished drafting its report, the State institutions were showing no signs of interest, let alone compliance. Thus the report achieved its promoters’ objective of returning Honduras to “normality,” “turning the page,” and steering the country toward the electoral arena.
Everything reeks of Everything has been reeking of election campaigning since mid-year. The National Party tendency headed by Lobo Sosa is focused on capitalizing on the atmosphere of “normality” and transferring that success to the President’s anointed successor, the current National Congress president, leaving the party’s traditionally “dark” forces—the extreme Right led by former President Rafael Leonardo Callejas—out in the cold. Some are already warning that those extremist forces are starting to apply pressure, demanding that Lobo Sosa change course, even trying to force some kind of resignation.
the election campaign
For its part, the Liberal Party, once the other powerful political force but now shattered, particularly since the 2009 coup, is working to build a coherent proposal. And the National Grassroots Resistance Front—which renamed itself the Broad Grassroots Resistance Front (FARP) in June, only to morph into the Grassroots Resistance Party (PRP) in late September under Zelaya’s indisputable leadership, is concentrating on gathering the signatures it needs to formalize and legalize itself as a political party. By so doing, it intends to triumphally insert itself into the electoral race that will culminate on the last Sunday of November 2013.
The campaign has already awakened election fever in diverse new political options that represent sectors previously subsumed within the traditional political options. Aware of the deterioration of the bipartite system’s electoral machinery,
they have have decided to explore new possibilities. This has led to the flourishing of options like the one putting forward the candidacy of Colonel Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, who was directly responsible for the coup, or the Anti-Corruption Party led by eccentric sportscaster Salvador Nasralla, who in just two months far exceeded the minimum number of signatures required to register as a party with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.
The logic of “turning the page”Both the Cartagena Accords and the CVR Report allowed Honduras to “turn the page.” Once this had been achieved, the economic groups capitalized on the “normality” to launch their reactionary projects prescribing more neoliberalism.
In May, they had the audacity to invite prominent multinational speakers to launch the “Honduras is open for business” economic operation, which was just another way of saying that the solution to the Honduran crisis lies not in national capital, let alone medium and small enterprise, but rather in turning the country over to transnational capital. Furthermore, big business allied with politicians to push through legislation and mechanisms to implement “Special Development Regions” or “Model Cities,” an economic regime under special legislation that will be valid within a determined area of Honduras.
Who will be next?The “normality” achieved parallels the abnormality still reigning in the “other” Honduras, with its horrifying and daily violence and cruelty. Reports by NGOs reveal an average 20 murders a day, placing us above even Guatemala and El Salvador. Late last year, a Mexican report listed the ten most violent cities in the world, two of which—Tegucigalpa and San Pedro de Sula—were Honduran. Another report defined Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala as the triangle of the greatest insecurity in the world, while a US organization stated that 90% of the cocaine that ends up in the US circulates through Honduras before passing through Guatemala and Mexico on its way north.
While the whole political spectrum from the extreme Right to the militancy of the Resistance is organizing to participate in next year’s primary elections and then the general elections of 2013, former Security Minister Óscar Álvarez publically charged that light aircraft loaded with drugs were landing in Honduran territory on a daily basis, supervised by active police officers. And while the Left is striving to collect the required number of signatures to register the Grassroots Resistance Party, peasants are continuously being murdered in the Aguán area, victims of an originally agrarian conflict that has since turned into a territorial dispute among peasant groups, agro-industrial landlords, professional politicians and organized crime cartels.
Journalists are particular targetsWhile the international community and the different political sectors moved the confrontations to the electoral arena, journalists and social communicators remain on tenterhooks, wondering who will be the next victim. Fifteen of them have been murdered since the coup two years ago. The CVR report recommended that the government pay special attention to the conditions in which communicators work, calling for institutional reforms to democratize access to the media and for the full exercise of freedom of expression. The government has shelved all such recommendations to focus all efforts on continuing to build what it considers stability and “normality” to successfully reach the elections.
Why have so many journalists been killed? The first curious point is that the deaths are governed by neither ideological motives nor the journalist’s particular political position or even their militancy in a particular political party or organization. Generally speaking the trigger isn’t pulled because they are members of the Resistance or have supported the
coup, although political or ideological arguments can’t be ruled out as one of the motives for silencing someone in specific cases.
The death of each of the journalists has its own characteristics and peculiarity. Some victims were in fact closely linked to the Resistance, but others working for media dentified with the coup have also been killed, as have social communicators never involved in anything directly political.
And that is the most terrible thing about these deaths. If someone talking into a microphone, typing into a computer or shooting photos so much as publishes or announces something that affects someone with a lot of power, money and influence in their community, municipality or department, his or her life is in mortal danger. And the deadly threat increases the further that person is from the country’s urban centers.
Survival of the fittestThis is because the State’s institutional presence in outlying communities, municipalities and departments is so weak that it fundamentally leaves things to those who are strong because of their power, money and other privileges. This gives them so much impunity that they use the State institutions according to their whims. If a social communicator in a particular municipality decides to broadcast news that affects one of these “untouchable” people or families, they just hire a couple of thugs to eliminate the person for having the audacity to mention them in one of the local media.
The State is well aware of this. Moreover, its institutions and functionaries act as a protective shield, granting them strong immunity and letting them continue acting with complete impunity. The situation has deteriorated because those who only obey the law of the jungle in a community or municipality know the State won’t or dare not touch them. They enjoy the projection of any police chief, prosecutor or judge they come before because good relations with the strongest provide economic benefits for public officials that far exceed their salaries. Those practicing survival of the fittest never doubt their freedom to act with impunity because at the very worst the State might capture and prosecute the thugs that carried out the crime, but will never touch those who gave the order. They enjoy the State’s protection because at the end of the day they have effectively displaced it.
The biggest contradictionOne very illustrative example of this substitution of the State for the law of survival of the fittest occurred in the city of El Progreso in the Sula valley on Honduras’ northern coast in June 2010. I mentioned it in the next month’s edition of envío, but it’s worth repeating. According to numerous eye witnesses, including some Radio Progreso staff members, Roberto Michelleti’s son Aldo was responsible for a car crash near the station that left one person dead and several injured. Yet local authorities reorganized all the information presented to the legal authorities in a way that exculpated the then de-facto President’s son, at the same time ensuring a short trial and favorable sentence for the person who took the rap. In this case, the law of survival of the fittest establishes that those of us who gave the original version are the liars, leaving us open to prosecution by those who twisted the law. And that law is watertight. Nobody can assert any truth other than the official one because the law issued an unappealable verdict in favor of someone who in actual fact exercises power in the name of the State.
In this context of precariousness and institutional arbitrariness, the deaths of journalists and social communicators will continue to be covered up by the shadows of impunity, because impunity is a natural product of a society based on survival of the fittest. So far, all the accords have touched on political matters and all dialogues have led us to resolve problems and divisions in the electoral arena, leaving impunity intact and untouchable because it’s born of intimate collusion between the State and those who exercise the real power.
This contradiction between “normality” and society’s real defenselessness and subjection to the “survival of the fittest” is greatly contributing toward Honduras being a failed society in a state of political and social schizophrenia, with the whole of the political and legal institutionality subordinated to the interests and decisions of those with so much power that it guarantees them impunity and immunity.
The signs of a failed societyHonduras’ real problem is not a political priority and can’t be resolved through elections. The crisis unleashed by the coup is the result of a long-standing accumulation of conflicts that turned political parties and the political, legal and economic institutionality into obsolete instruments unable to deal with social demands. The solutions of such obsolete politics can’t resolve the Honduran crisis. The international community chose the wrong path. Although it momentarily appears to have “stabilized” or “normalized” the Honduran state of injustice, it has in fact ended up doing exactly the same thing the coup did: it postponed the solution and allowed the conflicts to continue accumulating.
The problem currently consists of a continual struggle for survival and a persistent state of insecurity, which
are expressed in signs that have all the earmarks of a failed society. As this is set to continue, the electoral process will be a factor in co-opting other alternative routes, meaning that the failing society will continue to coexist with a State subordinated to those practicing survival of the fittest.
Who will make the break?The contradictory parallels of Honduras’ current reality mean that the weakest will remain subordinated to the strongest and the political reality and legal institutionality will remain subjected to the irremediable violence and impunity that in fact govern the country.
Breaking with this state of affairs is a top order political necessity. But who will make the break? It’s very unlikely to be the main beneficiaries of this chaos, those groups that exploit institutional fragility and the people’s fear to impose their own laws.
Such a rupture would have to start by identifying and isolating the very sectors that sustain and benefit from the environment of impunity and violence: those grouped around organized crime and those who most closely support and back it, including police officers, judges, prosecutors, politicians and members of big business. Identifying and isolating these groups could allow progress towards identifying other figures.
Who’s losing out the most today?Undoubtedly the biggest losers are those who have little to do with the political decisions being made and those most negatively affected by the insecurity, violence and blackmail: in other words, community, grassroots, peasant, human rights, ethnic, gender and youth groups. The rupture must be based on an alliance among such organizations to create a new path leadings to the proposal of a social pact that commits the government, the political parties and particularly the political sectors united around the National Resistance.
Struggling for a social pact is one way to force a break with these contradictions. Such a pact proposes contents to displace the political sectors from “normalized” reality, at the same time basing the grassroots struggle on contents and demands that reorient the political struggle with a less electoral and more grassroots historical focus. In such a framework, electoral participation could acquire greater sense.
The struggle for a social pact must be led by the grassroots social sectors in alliances based on the contents of their own struggles that then negotiate with the government and the political and economic elites. Only this way can we isolate the sectors pulling the strings of violence and impunity, and only this way will the strongest lose their power.
Ismael Moreno, sj, is the envío correspondent in Honduras.