Honduras’ Sham Election
Shaun Joseph of Socialist Worker analyzes the upcoming elections in Honduras–a sham vote orchestrated by the coup regime after it broke its commitment to restore Manuel Zelaya.
JUST OVER five months since the June 28 coup d’etat against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, elections scheduled for November 29 will complete the current phase of the struggle over Honduras’ future–but only by opening another, perhaps darker, period.
A “peaceful” resolution to the Honduran drama was widely expected after October 30, when U.S. negotiators brokered the Tegucigalpa/San José Accords between representatives Zelaya and the golpista (coup-maker) government headed by Roberto Micheletti.
But Washington’s hands-off behavior in the following week allowed Micheletti to break the agreement by unilaterally announcing the formation of a “unity government,” headed by himself, while the golpista-controlled Congress deliberately dithered on the question of restoring Zelaya to office, which was the prime condition of the opposition to the coup regime to recognize the elections.
Although the Accords are obviously in tatters–members of the “unity government” aren’t even known, nearly three weeks after they were supposed to be installed–the U.S. insists on acting as if everything is still going according to plan. This is because the agreement, were it not a fiction, would legitimize the upcoming elections and lead to the normalization of Honduras’ international relations, which is important for North American corporations, especially in the fruit, textile and mining sectors.
Although the concessions to Zelaya–which were actually minor and largely symbolic–have been voided by the golpistas, the U.S. wants to retain the provisions dear to its own capitalist interests.
But while the U.S. plans to recognize the November 29 elections, it has so far found no other country willing to join it, at least publicly. On the contrary, a number of Latin American countries have openly stated that they won’t recognize elections carried out under the golpista dictatorship. These countries include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
It will be difficult for the U.S. to carry any Latin American countries with its line, even traditional allies. Not only is Latin American popular opinion solidly opposed to the Honduras coup, but a section of the region’s elite also understands the toppling of Zelaya as an attack on attempts to build capitalist links independent of U.S. imperialism. The Organization of American States (OAS), traditionally a U.S. instrument, has refused to send observers or provide technical assistance for the elections.
So the Obama administration–supposed advocates of “smart power” in contrast to the Bush presidency–have demonstrated their “smartness” by devising a diplomatic fiasco in Latin America much worse than anything its predecessor ever bumbled into.
Of course, U.S. imperialism’s priorities of defending American power limit its prospects for success in any circumstance. But the Obama administration has cut a sorry figure, even on the tactical level.
The clearest statements on Obama’s Honduras policy seem to be funneled through Republican senators: Jim DeMint of South Carolina was first to announce Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s promise to recognize the Honduran elections, regardless of Zelaya’s status, and Richard Lugar of Indiana announced that the State Department would fund “election observation missions” organized by the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute (international fronts of the Democratic and Republican Parties, respectively).
In the meanwhile, the administration had no response to two letters from Zelaya himself, despite the fact that he is Honduras’ legitimate head of state, according to every nation and international body in the world.
The Obama administration seems to think it can erase five months of dictatorship through a ready-to-order election. In reality, they are inviting a more severe crisis.
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THE CALL of the National Resistance Front Against the Coup d’Etat to boycott the coming elections has been widely taken up across Honduran civil society. A letter renouncing the elections signed by over 300 candidates was delivered by U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky to Obama, although the names haven’t been released due to fear of reprisals from the golpista regime.
Among those known to have withdrawn from the vote are independent presidential candidate Carlos H. Reyes; Rodolfo Padilla Sunceri, the incumbent Liberal Party mayor of San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second city; Elvia Argentina Valle Villalta, the incumbent Liberal Congress deputy from Copán; and Margarita Zelaya de Elvir, the Liberals’ vice presidential candidate. There have been resignations by candidates of all parties–including, incredibly, at least one from the center-right National Party.
Unfortunately, the leftist Democratic Unification Party (UD), which previously associated itself with the anti-coup resistance, made the astonishing decision to participate in the elections, affirmed a party conference on November 21.
UD claims that it doesn’t want any offices vacated by its members to fall into golpista hands. But in the unlikely event that UD kept all its positions, or even gained more, its officials would have zero effect in a regime spawned by a military dictatorship.
To be sure, as the sole organized party of the left, UD would lose a great deal by withdrawing from the elections, as the party would certainly be stripped of its legal status. But now, UD will lose something far more precious: the respect of the most politically conscious militants in Honduras. (Some individual UD candidates have withdrawn from the vote.)
Naturally, the boycott question is forcing everyone in and around the anti-coup resistance to take sides. More surprising, however, is that the elections, instead of giving the oligarchy’s leadership the opportunity to regroup and reorient, seem to be tearing them apart. The key fault lines lie between the two major parties on the one hand, and between the politicians and the military on the other.
Both Zelaya and Micheletti are members of the Liberal Party. After the coup, a “melista” (Zelaya-supporting) faction of the Liberals went over to the resistance, where it tended to constitute a more conservative, compromising wing of the grassroots opposition to the golpistas.
If the Accords had been implemented, the melistas would have been a natural bridge back to electoralism and rapprochement with the Liberal mainstream. In the face of golpista intransigence, though, the Liberal Party is now hopelessly split–its presidential candidate, Elvin Santos, is running a distant second to Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo of the National Party.
Unfortunately for Lobo, the fact that the elections will not be monitored by any credible organizations, but a motley crew of pro-coup kooks and flunkies, greatly increases the chances for fraud. Suspicious results could have the two golpista parties at each others’ throats.
The second, perhaps graver, division is between the politicians and top military officers. As Andrés Pavón of the Honduran human rights organization CODEH said in a statement on November 14:
The military command feels profoundly nervous about the current situation they confront, as the politicians have left them alone for weeks, and [the commanders] have sniffed out, with good reason, the incapacity of the new government, which will be derived from the fraudulent electoral process, to completely protect them from the consequences of their criminal actions at the national and international levels.
No government in Honduras will willingly accept economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed on the country just to protect military officers from jail. So the military could become convenient scapegoats to calm cries for justice in the wake of the election.
Pavón says that inside sources leaked to him plans for a military provocation on November 29–with paramilitary units, disguised as a fictitious “Armed Command of the Resistance,” committing a massacre. The massacre will then be used as justification for a campaign of terror against the National Resistance Front. The plan is said to have been devised by Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, head of the Honduran military and a graduate of the School of the Americas.
Pavón’s credibility is impeccable, so it is likely that this heinous scheme is at least being discussed in military circles. The Front apparently considers it a serious threat and referred to the plot specifically in its most recent communiqué.
Indeed, there is a distinct possibility of a “coup within a coup,” with the military taking direct power and demagogically blaming the politicians for the crisis. Micheletti’s bizarre declaration that he intends to “absent [himself] from the exercising of [his] public functions” from November 25 to December 2 increases the chances of such a military seizure of power.
This would truly take Honduras back to the dark ages, turning the clock back further than even the golpistas intended.
Repression everywhere, plans for possible bloodbaths, rumors of coups, free speech trampled, an election that promises more violence than voting–and the U.S. government clings to the idea that the November 29 elections will be a step forward for stability and democracy!
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INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY is critical–the resistance needs the time and political space to reorient itself for a new period in the struggle.
Simply exposing the plans for provocations can help defeat them, since they require some degree of secrecy to work. Activists in the U.S. should also agitate against recognition of whatever regime emerges after November 29, against special trade status for Honduras (such as membership in CAFTA), and against all international aid (including “humanitarian” aid that cannot be trusted to an anti-popular regime).
One remarkable victory for international solidarity came November 17, when Russell Athletic agreed to rehire 1,200 Honduran workers who had been fired after they formed a union at their factor. The victory was a result of a campaign by United Students Against Sweatshops, which got several universities to sever licensing deals with Russell and exposed the company’s misdeeds at a series of public events. This should serve as an inspiration.
The stakes are much higher in the struggle over the coup. It involves not just an economic struggle in one factory, but the political class struggle nationally and internationally.
Still, for all its power, U.S. imperialism is isolated, exposed and discredited in Latin America today. An international resistance can win.
What You Can Do
Spanish readers can find out more about the National Resistance Front Against the Coup d’Etat at its Web site. Material support for the Front can be provided via an international bank account listed at the site.
For more on the situation in Honduras, Spanish speakers can find live streaming video from the Venezuelan TV station TeleSur. The Honduran TV network Cholusat Sur and radio station Radio Globo also provide live streams, although both are frequently pulled off the air by the golpistas.
The Facebook page Miguel and Shaun in Honduras also posts frequent updates from a variety of sources in both languages.