A Triumph for Democracy in Honduras?

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 coup regime leader Micheletti. Among many sectors, the deal is being hailed as a triumph for democracy in Honduras.

In a 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.” While the Resistance Front recognizes the Agreement as a victory, they are clear that Zelaya’s restoration has come as a result of four months of struggle and sacrifice by the people in the face of ruthless repression.

The other major point in their statement was the 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 statement directly refutes point number two of the Agreement for National Reconciliation, 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.”

Despite the Agreement’s prohibition on calls for a National Constituent Assembly, the Resistance Front continues to move forward educating their base about what constitutional reform would look like. On Sunday, a large training was organized titled: “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.

The major outstanding question is that of elections. Many ask if the true will of the people of Honduras can be expressed by conducting elections in less than four weeks, in a context where civil liberties are virtually non-existent and widespread repression by the military and the police continues unabated. The question regarding the viability of elections was not addressed in the communication issued by the National Front on Friday. It remains unclear what their position will be.

What is clear is that the U.S. decided it was imperative that the upcoming elections be legitimated. Until Friday’s Agreement, the nearly unanimous international consensus was that elections conducted by an illegitimate government should be rejected.

To avoid this scenario, the U.S. exerted major muscle against the recalcitrant Micheletti, to produce an agreement which ostensibly opens the way for Zelaya’s return to the Presidency, albeit in the context of a ‘National Unity and Reconciliation Government”. If after consulting with the Supreme Court, the Honduran Congress does, 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 upcoming elections, despite of a total lack of conditions in Honduras for holding elections. Due to the un-clarity of the Agreement, it is difficult to predict when Zelaya might actually be reinstated and Constitutional order restored. There are two alternative candidates for President, both of whom have been subjected to extensive persecution due to their pro-active resistance to the coup. The independent candidate, Carlos H. Reyes, has spent part of the last four months in hiding, due to death threats. He was viciously attacked at a protest three months ago requiring along hospitalization and is still undergoing therapy for his mutilated wrist.

If the alternative candidates were able to put forward a unity ticket, they could mount a substantial challenge to the two traditional parties. However, neither of these candidates has spent the last months campaigning due to targeted political persecution and restrictions on individual rights that have made campaigning essentially illegal. An estimated 26,000 poll workers are needed in order minimally guarantee fraud free counting and tabulation at each polling place. It seems unlikely that a structure like this can be put into place on such a short time frame, in a context where widespread repression of opposition continues.

On the very day that the Agreement for National Reconciliation was reached, there were three massive attacks by police and army against unarmed protesters in different locations in Tegucigalpa. A march to the Marriott Hotel, where negotiations were taking place, was brutally attacked despite the fact that organizers had a permit. The third attack was staged at night, after the Agreement had been announced, in one of the barrios where ‘pot banging’ protests continue in defiance of the repression. The Agreement puts the same army, which has exhibited persistent brutality during the coup regime “at the disposition of the Supreme Electoral Council.” The question is, will the army be used to protect the right to vote for everyone, or to repress the resistance movement?

As the resistance movement in Honduras celebrates the victory of turning around the coup, they are also grappling with the complex implications this new context brings. The obvious danger is that elections under these circumstances could enshrine the current power structure and repressive apparatus with a sheen of legitimacy that would never had been possible with Micheletti.

Tom Loudon