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Triumph for Democracy in Honduras?

11/02/2009.- On Friday October 30th, a U.S. brokered, Agreement for National Reconciliation and the Strengthening of Democracy in Honduras was signed between President Zelaya and putsch leader Micheletti. Among many sectors, the deal is being hailed as a triumph for democracy in Honduras. Indeed, in their statement, also issued on Friday, the National Resistance Front announced a “celebration of the upcoming restoration of President Manuel Zelaya Rosales as a popular victory over the narrow interests of the coup oligarchy.”

The Resistance Front recognizes that this victory has come as a result of four months of struggle and sacrifice by the people in the face of ruthless repression. And indeed, this agreement is a victory and Zelaya’s restoration will happen only because the people have stayed in the streets, have suffered countless acts of repression and have refused to cave in the face of this repression. One lingering question which remains is; can any true will of the people of Honduras be expressed by conducting elections in four weeks, in a context where civil liberties are virtually non-existent and widespread repression by the military and the police continue unabated? The question regarding viability of elections was not addressed in the communication issued by the National Front on Friday. It remains unclear what their position will be regarding the elections.

The other major point in their statement was their affirmation of “a National Constituent Assembly as an un-renounceable aspiration of the Honduran people and a non-negotiable right for which we will continue struggling in the streets, until we achieve the re-founding of our society to convert it into one that is just, egalitarian and truly democratic.” This was a direct refutation of point number two of the Agreement which asks for an: “abstention from calls for a National Constituent Assembly, either directly or indirectly, and also renouncing the promotion or support of any public consultation for the purpose of reforming the Constitution to permit presidential reelection, modify the form of Government or contravene any of the un-amendable articles in our Constitution.” The Resistance Front continues to move forward socializing with their base what that would look like. On Sunday during the now traditional Sunday Assemblies the theme of the presentation was: “Paths of Latin American Peoples on the roads to Constituent Assemblies.” There is a firm commitment to the need for this path, as the only real vehicle for meaningful change.

Regarding the elections, what is clear; the U.S. decided that it was imperative that the upcoming elections be legitimated; in response to the nearly unanimous international consensus that, conducted by an illegitimate government, election results needed to be rejected. If the elections had been held in this context, it would have resulted in an undefined extension of the chaos. This was clearly not an acceptable option.

To avoid this scenario, the U.S. exerted major muscle against the recalcitrant Micheletti, which resulted in an agreement which ostensibly opens the way for Zelaya’s return to the Presidency, albeit in the context of ‘National Unity and Reconciliation Government”. If the Honduran Congress, after consulting with the Supreme Court, does in fact reinstate Zelaya as President, it will be an admission that their previous actions were illegal, and will constitute a reversal of the coup which they had previously endorsed. This is a small triumph for democracy but this is where the positive aspects of the Agreement end. The U.S. is now involved in a ‘full court press’ to assure international recognition of the upcoming elections, in spite of a total lack of conditions in Honduras for holding elections.

It was widely predicted months ago, that what we are seeing now would be the scenario; that Zelaya would be reinstated at a very late date, in order legitimize the elections but to effective exclude the participation of alternative candidates. Due to the un-clarity of the Agreement, it is difficult to predict when Zelaya might be reinstated, but even if it happens at the earliest possible moment, it is impossible for there to be transparent and fair elections this month.

There are two alternative candidates for President; from the left wing UD party and an independent candidate, who, in the new political context of Honduras, if they were able to put forward a unity candidate, the candidate could conceivably mount a substantial challenge to the two traditional parties. The Agreement has put these two candidates in an exceptionally difficult situation. Because of their proactive resistance to the coup, they have been subject to extensive persecution. The independent candidate, Carlos H. Reyes, has spent part of the last four months in hiding, due to death threats. He was also viciously attacked at a protest three months ago, and has spent his time since the attack in the hospital, and subsequently undergoing therapy for his mutilated wrist.

Neither of these two candidates has spent the last months campaigning, because even if they had desired to do so, and they had not been suffering permanent persecution, the restrictions on individual rights have made campaigning essentially illegal. How can there be fair elections when opposition candidates are being actively pursued and persecuted by the police and army? The candidates have not spent their time organizing the estimated 26,000 poll workers they would need in order to at least potentiate transparency at each polling place, and fraud free counting and tabulation. Is there any conceivable way a structure like this can be put in place in such a short period of time, in a context where widespread repression of opposition expression continues? What will prevent the commission of massive fraud in these elections? No systems have even begun to be put in place by alternative candidates that would be able to detect or prevent complete and total fraud.

The Agreement was reached on Thursday October 29th (and signed on Friday). On Thursday there were three separate massive attacks by police and army against unarmed protesters in different locations in Tegucigalpa. The march, which had a permit, was brutally attacked in spite of the permission. The third attack happened at night, after the Agreement had been announced; in one of the barrios where ‘pot banging’ protests continue in defiance of continued repression. How is conceivable that these repressive forces will ‘cease and desist’ from one minute to the next? Even more frightening, the Agreement puts this same army, which has exhibited persistent brutality during the coup regime “at the disposition of the Supreme Electoral Council.” The question for all is: Will they see their role as protecting the right to vote for everyone, or repressing those they feel might not vote the way they demand?

As the resistance movement in Honduras celebrates the victory in turning around the coup, they are also grappling with the many implications this new context brings. The obvious danger is that an election under these circumstances could bring a very similar power structure as that present under the putsch government, the repressive apparatus firmly entrenched and a sheen of legitimacy which would have never been possible for Micheletti.

Tom Loudon
Quixote Center