The Agreement: Just the Beginning of the Struggle
Before 6a.m. on 28 June 2009, the Armed Forces of Honduras forcibly removed elected president Manuel Zelaya from his home and left him in his pajamas on a runway in Costa Rica. Electricity and media channels were cut off in Tegucigalpa, and turned back on in the afternoon to reveal the head of the National Congress, Roberto Micheletti, being sworn in as president. It was a coup d’etat, the third in the hemisphere in this decade, the first in Honduras since 1978, and it would not slip by quietly.
The people of Honduras took to the streets in protest that very day, and they have stayed in the streets — in the face of brutal military repression, bogus charges of sedition and terrorism, illegal curfews, and assassinations, Hondurans have marched and gathered and protested to demand the return of their elected president, understanding that Zelaya’s return would be but a first step to creating a reliable rule of law Honduras. They formed the National Resistance Front Against the Coup, committed themselves to peaceful resistance, and prepared for the long haul.
Since 2005, elements of the people’s movement in Honduras have advocated for constitutional reform, desperate for real social transformation in this country, one of the poorest in the hemisphere, where about twelve percent of the population controls about eighty-five percent of its resources, and where neoliberal reform is well entrenched in the business of further consolidating control of those resources. When earlier this year Zelaya agreed to hold a non-binding national survey to ask the population if it were interested in creating a mechanism for constitutional reform, it was at the behest of Honduran social movements. Terrified of real reform, the business elite spread the word that Zelaya was trying to extend his own power to justify the coup, which took place the same day for which the national survey was planned.
It’s with real joy that Hondurans in the streets meet possibility of Zelaya’s imminent return to government, as an agreement resulting from negotiations between Zelaya and Micheletti calls for his restitution by Thursday, November 5th after more than four months of defiance of Honduran and international law on the part of the Michelettie regime, and brutal repression of those who would challenge it by the police and military forces. But throughout the struggle for Zelaya’s return, the Resistance movement hasn’t forgotten its original plan of constitutional reform. It’s with an eye towards this level of social transformation – the creation of real participatory democracy in Honduras – that we should evaluate the agreement.
The Context of Negotiation
Zelaya returned to Honduras in late September, and has been effectively incarcerated in the Brazilian embassy since. He and some supporters have been living surrounded by a military cordon which dictates who or what enters or leaves the embassy. The military has attacked the embassy with sound cannons, neurotoxins, and light pollution in the middle of the night. Zelaya was allowed to meet with his advisors just two hours before negotiations began on their first day, and during those two hours, the embassy was tear-gassed. These are the conditions under which the elected president of Honduras has been ‘negotiating’ with the coup regime that illegally and forcibly usurped power. Rather than denounce such negotiations as a charade, powerful actors in the international community have exhorted the Honduran people to put their faith in these lopsided conversations.
You Can Forget About Real Change
The agreement unequivocally states that the government will not allow for any process of constitutional reform. It states that even the legal process of carrying out a nonbinding survey on the subject of constitutional reform will not be allowed.
Nothing To See Here, Folks
The agreement calls for the creation of a government of “Unity and Reconciliation.” This means that Manuel Zelaya will return as president, but that Micheletti will also remain in the government, and that representatives of each administration will share power as well. This is nothing more than a tactic to demonstrate to the rest of the world that the crisis in Honduras is over, that there’s no reason it can’t proceed with national elections on 29 November.
Indeed, the agreement includes a call to the Honduran people to participate in the upcoming elections as though the conditions of repression and unconstitutionality in which citizens have been living for the past four months do not impede a trustworthy election process — as though the Independent presidential candidate had not been severely beaten by police, as though the sister of his running mate were not illegitimately charged with sedition, as though people who have been savagely repressed in their own streets and neighborhoods by the military could trust that same military with the proper execution of a democratic process. As though the people could trust an election process in which some candidates are funded by the same actors responsible for an illegal coup d’etat.
The agreement calls for Hondurans to forget what they’ve lived for the last four months, to participate in national elections as though everything were normal, and to accept that the military is the principal body charged with the care and security of the ballots.
The agreement calls for the creation of a Truth Commission in 2010 “that will identify the acts that led to the present situation, and provide to the Honduran people elements to avoid that those deeds will be repeated in the future.” The agreement says nothing about holding responsible the fundamental actors of the coup, nor those in the police and military forces who have committed human rights violations against the people. Human rights organizations have documented nearly thirty politically-motivated deaths since June 28th, and thousands of cases of human rights violations. People participating in forms of nonviolent resistance against the coup have been beaten, tear-gassed, shot, disappeared, threatened, and tortured by the state security apparatus which includes police, military, and private security. It will be the responsibility of the next government – those that emerge with the power after the very controversial elections of 29 November which many Hondurans believe will be fraudulent – to create the Truth Commission.
The People Haven’t Agreed To Anything
The Resistance in Honduras continues to evaluate and analyze how it will keep struggling for constitutional reform, and for justice. Social movements are better organized than they were before the coup, newly aware of the lengths to which the elite will go to preserve their own privilege, and more determined than ever to achieve that kind of social transformation that would allow for a truly transparent and democratic power structure in Honduras.
If a nonbinding survey about the possibility of constitutional reform was enough to spark a coup, if the agreement directly stipulates against it, then to what lengths will the elite go to prevent the actual realization of constitutional reform? The Honduran social movement deserves international attention and support in its struggle for structural change, and those of us interested in real democracy in the Western Hemisphere should not make the mistake of assuming that Zelaya’s return and an electoral process mean that all is well and right in Honduras. Human rights organizations will continue to denounce human rights violations and to denounce the impunity of the military and the elite. The people’s movements will continue to struggle for social transformation, for their right to self-determination and to real peace. This struggle is not simply a matter of electing the right candidate or urging the military back to its barracks; it’s a long haul that will continue, no matter who sits in the presidential house.