lunes, 17 de mayo de 2010

A wolf with no direction, a government with no compass

In this misgovernment, the violence of organized crime has taken over the tiller of the nation.

by Ismael Moreno
translation by María Soledad Cervantes Ramírez and Adrienne Pine

Honduras is still wounded by the dynamics unchained by the coup d'état. Wanting to come out well with everyone, Pepe Lobo organized a cabinet that is a Tower of Babel. Of the government it is only known that Lobo decides nothing and everybody else tends to their own business to their personal benefit, without there being a credible and consensual authority. In this misgovernment, it is the violence of organized crime which has taken the tiller of the nation in their hands.

The phantom of the coup overshadows all Honduran political realms. Deputy Wenceslao Lara, of the pro-coup Liberal Party, impudently stated before Congress: "We Liberals proposed a candidate who the Honduran people elected as President of the Republic. That Liberal (Zelaya) failed us, and we [acting] responsibly removed him and put another one in his place. Now it falls to the Nationalists to be equally responsible toward the nation, just as we were."


Who decides in Honduras since January 27? What remains of that man who in 2004 and 2005 used to raise his fist as the symbol of firm resolve before crime, who appeared as a man of adamant convictions, who is the head of the Executive power today? A weakling. Porfirio Lobo Sosa is an irresolute, feeble mini-president ["presidentillo"] with an anxious smile and a tottering speech, who says no to what he should say yes and says yes to everyone who seeks him out to take advantage of his indecisiveness.

No wonder. Porfirio Lobo climbed onto the most unstable presidential chair in national history, an action to be expected only from a most ambitious person, as he is, certainly with exaggerated similarities with that other man who mounted the Presidency on June 28.

These two characters of the Honduran political landscape, Lobo and Micheletti, resemble each other in so many ways, save maybe in their hair and skin color and their party banners's political color. Both strove eagerly, unto delirium, for the prized presidential fruit whatever the cost. Both, faithful Roman-Catholic, fanatical followers of Cardinals. Both, experts in uttering the clumsiest statements. Both subservient to olive-green uniforms, especially to the watchword of all that is heralded and stated by the voice from Washington. Both adept at choosing the lowest sort of people in Honduran political and business class elites as their entourage; and both driving the State adrift, with no precise agendas or courses, full of fine jingoist statements and, at the end of the day, both trapped in the devalued hubris of being presidents without being statesmen, without heading a State, both experts in only ruining the country.


"Nobody knows who really is in command and making decisions in the country”. This is a key phrase that defines Honduras’s present juncture since January 27. Nobody knows who, but one clearly identifies the what: violence and insecurity. On some days 19 homicides have been counted. Mass murders are now completely normal daily fare. Five journalists and several anti-coup leaders have been assassinated in barely two months.

Rape has become a weapon to terrorize and demobilize organized political resistance. A young woman in the resistance north of Honduras, raped in August by four fully identified policemen who still keep their enforcement posts, was kidnapped last February together with her family, seven men took them to a mountain dress as police, and before the men tied firmly to trees the same woman and her sister in law were raped by each one of the seven police. The one heading them dictated the sentence: “That’s what happens to you for going and denouncing us. And the third time we will do the same to you again and will kill you.” I found this event, painstakingly documented in the State Department offices in Washington, in the hands of the official responsible of human rights for Central America.

Such an egregious violation of human rights was confirmed to me by that official on March 4, the eve of a meeting to be held by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Central American presidents. Although she was aware of the event, Clinton never blinked in announcing her government’s decision to reestablish U.S.’s aid to the Honduran regime. Moreover, she demanded from governments in the continent the recognizance of Lobo’s administration “because he has taken the adequate steps toward the restoration of democracy.”


As I talked with the human-rights official in the State Department I ascertained that nothing can be done to attain a change of position in U.S. policies. Their perceptions are immovable, like the Vatican’s clinging to defend the indefensible even when all available information belies them.

Even while gathering information on the brutal rapes of Honduran women, gringo officials made their position clear: The United States government is committed to this Honduran "democracy" and this commitment includes supporting the military and the police. "We cannot aid democracy from the outside," Craig Kelly told us. "Only from within the army and the police will we be able to achieve change."

To our question on how he explained the support to police while being aware of the rapes, he responded without blinking an eye, "Nobody can be sure they were policemen. They could as well be criminals dressed as police to commit their felonies." Other queries were useless. The State Department is resolved to strengthen the criminals who in these sad coup and post-coup times, dress themselves as law-enforcement agents…


Logics are quite well established in the country. While the various sectors opposing the coup are still persecuted, threatened, murdered, and subject to a fierce propaganda campaign to make them appear as the actors of violence in the country, the international community inexorably advances in the process of acknowledgment of the regime even as they know they are recognizing a government with the most miniscule internal legitimacy.

The above is known by European Union nations, which have decided to play in the muddy waters of ambiguities. They know that in supporting the government they are giving a sign of approval to the repressive policies initiated by the government, especially from within the Ministry of Security headed by ill-tempered Óscar Álvarez. Álvarez understands that national crises are resolved by annihilating the opponents, whether they are street felons or Resistance leaders.

Healing themselves before the illness strikes, European ambassadors have decided to implement a program of protection for human-rights defenders. The international community have consented to recognize a government they deliberately identify as a violator of human rights in a continuous line with the coup d’état. They will not state it clearly -that is what diplomacy with all its sophisms serves for-, however they take cover by creating some mechanisms to protect potential victims of the repressive policies of the regime they have decided to incorporate into the payroll of democratic-regime countries.


The international community have known how to go about mending fences with Honduras; however they do not seem to completely understand how to face a conflict that has remained rooted in the nation’s internal dynamics.

In wanting to confront a Latin American geopolitical conflict, the coup promoters awakened internal dynamics that were latent but not active. Through the ensuing months, the coup started gradually uncovering actors and interests that are beyond the Honduran borders. Once more, it fell on Honduras to play a subordinate role in the continent’s geopolitics.

The coup d’état was not only a violent, illegal act, but also an unnecessary internal political act. If only internal factors had come into play, the coup would have never taken place. There was no need for any coup, inasmuch as the sectors that internally realized the coup held optimal control of all the factors which made Mel Zelaya’s political proposals’s success politically non-viable.

It begs remembering that during the first six months of the year of the coup there was an escalation against Zelaya regarding the election of public officials. January 2009 saw the election to the Supreme Court of fifteen justices, all of them opposed to Zelaya’s team’s policies. In February, Honduran high-born elites approved the election of the Republic’s Attorney General. The previous year ferocious detractor of Zelaya’s policies Ramón Custodio had gained the same approval to get reelected as National Human Rights Commissioner. In April the Liberal Party called a National Convention to elect the new management of the party’s Central Executive Council. The electors carried one single watchword that was fulfilled regardless: remove all Zelaya’s loyals from the party’s directorate. Without warning, Patricia Rodas was suspended as president of the party; in her place, conventioneers elected no more and no less than the great loser of November 2008 primary elections: Roberto Micheletti.

Having been down on the canvass and already buried politically, Micheletti reemerged from that Liberal Convention with astonishing energy. The media replaced him on the first page from where he had disappeared in the previous months. Of the 128 deputies in the National Congress, a third was against Zelaya’s team’s policies. Given those circumstances, the Fourth Ballot Box Zelaya proposed for the elections of November 2009’s last Sunday could not succeed because the Honduran elites had totally armor-plated the whole body of State institutions.


Why then the coup d’état? Because the Honduran actors materialized a plan behind which many international actors were hidden. In the weeks prior to the coup, top representatives of the continent’s ultra-right entities like UnoAmérica spoke out to note that a frontal battle would be waged in Honduras to save the country from Hugo Chávez’s communism.

In early March 2010 the same top representatives returned to the country to assert that a battle had been won in Honduras, however consolidation was needed to continue to fight until the enemy of the continental freedoms was buried. They likewise warned that the enemies of democracy were still active and present in Sao Paulo’s Forum and that from there decisions were taken to recover the ground they had lost in Honduras. One of them [they said] was to inflame internal strife just as it happened in the Aguán region, where peasant groups staged confrontations and, in their zeal to create disorder, sought to seize the lands legally owned by the prosperous and productive businessman Miguel Facussé Barjum. So was stated and published by the media which justified and endorsed the coup d’état.

Honduras has been the excuse in a continental context of geopolitical confrontation advanced by ultra-right sectors fed by multinational monopolies that ideologically also find nourishment in the Neo-Conservative religious discourse both of Catholic and Protestant elites which increasingly dominates Honduras.


In the first two months of Pepe Lobo’s administration, the conflict attracting the most attention, along with the escalating criminality and daily assassinations, is the agrarian one latent in the region of Aguán on the Honduran Atlantic coast.

The participants in this conflict are the same who have battled each other in the last three decades. At the forefront appears Miguel Facussé, the most emblematic businessman in the nation, of Arab ancestry to the core, who successfully encroached upon the State dynamics since the 1970s, when during one of so many military regimes he got to deviate to his personal treasury the millionaire funds earmarked for the National Investments Corporation (CONADI), a State institution created to foment industry in the country, of which he was the Executive Director.

Early in the 1990s, in Rafael Leonardo Callejas’ regime, Facussé lobbied for the Congress to pass the Agrarian Sector Modernization Law. In practice that meant, among many other advantages for private business, that the land destined for agrarian reform could be bought by private parties, as well as the opening to private business of legal opportunities to propose to the peasant communities, the beneficiaries of that reform -approved in the early 1970s- to participate in so-called “co-investment programs”: the peasants provided the land and the labor, impresarios provided technology and money, and, theoretically, the benefits were shared among the co-investors. In effect, however, this law conspired to leave the land and the peasants’ own lives at the mercy of exporting agribusiness’ workings. Upon approval of this legal tool, Miguel Facussé devoted himself to “persuade” cooperativist leaders and members –starting with the most successful ones in the production of African palm in the Aguán region- to sell their lands and assets, a goal he achieved in barely two years of ferocious media campaigns which first praised the benefits of co-investment, then promoted the qualities of private enterprise and claimed that the latter was willing to “sweat it out for Honduras”, appropriating the official slogan of the early 1990s with which adjustments to the economy and the opening of customs to the entry of capital for agribusiness in rural areas and the maquila industry in some urban centers, particularly in the Valley of Sula, were furiously pushed through.


Two decades later, the cloud of dirt that Facussé raised with the Honduran State and a fistful of corrupt peasant leaders as accomplices, has turned into a real cesspool on which the nation’s attention is focused. It is this area which begins to express the highly conflicting nature, and the moving sands of the country where Pepe Lobo decided to continue to manage an untenable crisis, already made more acute by the coup.

In just the first two months of Lobo's administration, at least 13 persons have been killed in this agrarian conflict. The government decided to appoint a task force to implement a proposal leading to the resolution of this conflict, scarcely the tip of an iceberg against which any proposal or policy of a government crashes --a government trapped in a veritable muddied labyrinth.

Now Miguel Facussé has in motion a propaganda campaign whereby he accuses peasants of promoting disorder and violence in the region and attacking the institutional legitimacy of the rule of law which guarantees private property. He accuses the Resistance, especially those Jesuits working in the area and their “theology of violence” of inflaming the conflict in order to destabilize the country.

There are however serious voices with creditable information who no one could accuse of sympathizing with the Resistance; voices closely linked to the business elites, that maintain that current conflicts in the Aguán are being promoted by Facussé himself. He, at 84, personally appeared in the area haranguing mobs who he himself had paid to concentrate at the National Congress to demand respect for their lands. By acting thus he seized the disorder and the absence of a compass in the country and the State to obtain advantages, as he has had the ability to do all along during his business life.


This hypothesis seems to be gaining strength to the degree in which the proposal of the state commission set up to solve the conflict is advanced. The proposal would mean for Facussé the following achievements: that the State buys from him at least 3 thousand hectares with all their improvements, the African palm crops, lands which the State would deliver immediately to the peasant groups. It is a purchase that equals around 50 million dollars. Of the purchased lands each family would receive two hectares, one free for whatever the family wishes to grow, and the other sowed with African palm; in this way the peasants become tied up permanently to Facussé capital, since the marketing of African palm product is absolutely under the control of this successful, parasitical Arab-Honduran businessman.

Due to the conflicts that production generated, Facussé would be exempt from honoring his debts to Honduran banks. Finally, before society, and by virtue of his expertise in handling the most influential media in the country, whose owners or managers are often his relatives, the octogenarian businessman would be characterized as benefactor of the poor, the generous victim of peasants’ threats.


Two months after taking office, Pepe Lobo’s government still lacks the capability to define a mission or assuming an identity of its own. Most of its energies have been invested in issuing several calls for help so as to achieve the recognition of international community. First, by composing a cabinet that made him seem the head of a government of national unity and reconciliation. Second, by forming a Truth Commission to make believe that it complies with the accords that put an end to the de facto regime and comes clean from its dynamics of impunity and imposition. Such a Commission has no internal credibility and fails to show an interest in investigating the figures of Honduran politics and big business. Nor has it an interest in stating anything other than what becomes the regime.

And third: doing everything within its reach to best please everybody, it formed, with human-right defenders, a Presidential Commission of Human Rights. With the Catholic and Christian Evangelical hierarchies, it founded another, Human Affairs Commission; and with all the streams in trade unions and political parties it goes on creating Presidential Commissions for any other public matter.

He took pains to appease the Resistance by handing the Ministry of the National Agrarian Institute (INA)—the most inefficient of them all, with barely the budget to pay for bureaucrats and gas—to the president of the leftist Democratic Unification Party, César Ham, the most controversial figure among the sectors opposing the coup, linked with famous and blatant cases of corruption and the source of permanent internal conflicts within the always fragile traditional Honduran left. He wanted to stay on the good side of the powerful teachers’ unions by naming the polemical teachers union leader Ventura, National Party activist, as Minister of Education. He also named as Minister of Labor a man who in his day was a campesino leader, but who for a long time has been closely identified with the most conservative swindlers of the political class.

Wanting to appease all the sectors, Pepe Lobo organized a governmental cabinet that is a Tower of Babel. Each person is doing their own thing, each person speaks their own language, and each one seeks to climb over their colleagues to reach the heights of power.

Two months have been sufficient to leave us facing a public administration that is swimming in a sea of ingovernability, in which all we know is that there are many decision makers, but there are no lines pointing toward a credible and consensus-based authority. In this sea, it is violence that has taken over the helm of the country. And since there are regional spaces for control, it is crime that governs and decides. Honduras is today a territory divided by violence and the diverse institutions of the State end up being subordinated not to centralized authorities in the capital, but to the underground decisions of each one of its parcels, zones or regions in which sovereignty over our resources is administered through violence.

The proposal of the government headed by Porfirio Lobo is nothing more than the continuation of the proposal of the business and political elites who sought to truncate the struggle of Zelaya’s team. An elitist project of this scope, instead of ending the inequity and conflicts that have been accumulating in the country, promise to sink them even further. Diverse sectors of society are in agreement about reiterating the need for a New Social Pact or strategic plan of struggle, as some organized sectors of the popular Honduran Resistance prefer to call it. This plan would need at least three components. The first would be to define content which could be situated, broadly speaking, in three blocs.

First bloc: Demands redefining natural resources, land and the environment. This has to do with what is generically called the fight for national sovereignty. If sovereignty is the control and decision of the State and the citizenry over its patrimony, it is very difficult to speak of sovereignty while trees, rivers, water, the environment and the land are in so few hands. Sovereignty is doubtless the greatest deficit that the country has. Sovereignty is not a slogan. An agrarian reform that responsibly tackles land ownership, to prevent a handful of businessmen from ending up with the most fertile Honduran valleys and subordinating the diet and the very lives of the peasant population to the interests of the multinational agricultural exporters, is a key objective in order to prevent the Honduran territory from turning into a time bomb, a permanent source of instability. We can say the same for the forests, the water, energy, and mining. It pertains to all our natural resources, including the possible existence of oil in the lowlands and coastal regions of the Atlantic.

Second bloc: Social demands: education, health, housing, salaries, respect for ethnic groups and sexual minorities. Respect for and promotion of social organization and mobilization. Linking social demands with demands for sovereignty and natural resources is strategic for guaranteeing the participation of all sectors of society, without allowing elite sectors to confuse their demands with the national demands, which is what happens with the business associations, or –in a different sense- in the teachers unions.


Third bloc: political-juridical-institutional demands, that have to do with the transformations that are needed by the Honduran State in order to advance what the different sectors that make up the Resistance refer to as “the refounding of Honduras.” Here is situated the demand for a National Constituent Assembly, the motive for which Honduran elites carried out the coup d’etat.

A Constituent Assembly is currently the most important political demand coming from the heart of the organizations that make up the National People’s Resistance Front (FNRP). Despite the significance of this demand, which many still associate with the leadership of Manuel Zelaya, very little has happened to transform it from theory into practice.

In mid-March at the initiative of the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and in conjunction with the FNRP, a large representative assembly was convened to create a model for a National Constituent Assembly. There, the first bloc of demands were discussed. Despite the richness of assemblies like this one, the simulation of popular participation did not go beyond an assembly of sectors that are closely related in terms of how they see and understand the country, excluding others from the debate.

And so, the demand of these popular sectors for an inclusive society ends up, in fact, in a newly exclusive proposal because in this “Constituent Assembly experiment” only those people who are accredited as militant opponents of the coup d’etat with a proven allegiance to the country’s leftist tradition can be accepted.


A new social pact cannot merely be a matter of preaching to the choir taking into account only the perspective of the popular sectors of the left. There should be openness and debate among all the diverse sectors of Honduran society. A Constituent Assembly of this type, without a particular content, can be a double-edged sword. It contributes to awakening the consciousness of struggle among the sectors within the Resistance, but it is an instrument that can be easily captured by the elites, as they have already done with all the political-institutional reforms carried out in the country in the past two decades.

A prominent Honduran politician has already announced this: “We are moving toward a Constituent Assembly. The one we did not accept was that of Mel Zelaya, because we are not interested in having anything to do with Hugo Chávez. But once this Mel fever is over, we ourselves are going to carry it forward, through Pepe Lobo. And we will write a Constitution.


The second component of a new Social Pact would consist in defining the social and political subject. The debate here would take shape in relation to the political parties and social movements, the similarities and differences between the two, and the identity that the National People’s Resistance Front should assume. Currently, the debate is going through the process of establishing the relationships and differences among three positions.

First position: This is maintained by the sector of the Resistance linked with the Liberals in resistance to the coup, most of them followers of Manuel Zelaya, although between them there can be found many secondary differences.

A Liberal leader among ideologues, put it this way in one of the assemblies convened by the FNRP:

The Front can take three possible routes. The first is armed struggle. We reject this because it will not give results and because at the first sign of violence the war machinery that keeps the oligarchy in power will annihilate us. The second is the route of becoming a political party. This is a real possibility, but we know that the antidemocratic nature of the Electoral and Political Organizations Law will block us every step of the way. And the third is for the FNRP to become an internal current of the Liberal Party to help retrieve that party from the grip that the oligarchy currently maintains on it, so as to successfully advance to elections and retake the transformations that were cut off by the coup d’etat. We, the Liberals in resistance, propose that third route.”

To turn the FNRP into an internal current of the Liberal Party, or to associate with one of the three small parties is, according to an important sector of the Resistance, one of the political errors to be avoided. The Resistance would end up as a prisoner of the system of political parties that has already collapsed. Such a decision would give oxygen to a brain-dead patient with no hopes of coming back to life.

Second position: This position proposes to turn the FNRP into a new political party from which to fight for the changes contained in the first component of the New Social Pact. Those who maintain this position are those who believe we are in facing the urgent, unpostponable challenge to fight for political power and that, with armed struggle out of the question, this can only be achieved through elections. For that it is necessary to have a political party that successfully competes with the other five parties that are already on an irreversible road to ruin.

Others believe that turning the FNRP into a political party would mean shrinking the strength of the Resistance, so broad and sustained by so many grassroots efforts, to a strict electoral fight. In the end this would mean the Liberals in resistance and others who resist while affiliated to other parties would return to their party structures, converting the new political party into a proposal the size of the Christian Democratic Party, or the Democratic Unification Party, or the Party of Innovation and Unity, which together never achieve a vote of more than 6% of the electorate.

Third position: Argues that the FNRP should maintain a permanent identity as a broad front that, as a social movement, channels the diverse demands of the popular and social sectors of the whole country, of the unions as well as of the local, regional and district-wide community organizations of the country. There is a tendency that a broad sector of the FNRP has staked out, affirming that the front should maintain its identity through two modes of struggle in the current period.

The first is that of the keeping on the pressure so as to weaken, denounce, and unmask the current political regime as a faithful continuation of the coup d’etat, until it is obligated to convene a National Constituent Assembly. The second, is to go forward in defining a proposal for independent candidacies that could turn into a successful strategy for the next general elections.

The third component of a new Social Pact is to clarify the participation in the political electoral processes. Once the identity of the FNRP is defined, within the framework of hte three positions laid out here, the fight to democratize the mechanisms of popular participation should be assured so that the electoral process stops being expressions that, following legal procedures, legitimate the appropriation of the State by the tiny elite that was behind the coup d’etat.


Rule of Law cannot exist without democracy and without respect for and protection of human rights. In the case of Honduras we cannot speak of a deficient State of Law, but rather of the absence of a State of Law. In Honduras the problem is not so much that political or business groups violate the Rule of Law but that, lacking the existence of a Rule of Law, they manipulate that concept to make it look like they are following the laws and defending democracy, when what they are actually doing is imposing the principle of Might is Right, and violating with full force the society’s human rights.



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