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HONDURAS
End of the crisis?
Alejandro F. Ludeña
6/2/2011
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Zelaya is welcomed back by some sectors, as Honduras prepares to re-enter the OAS.

A crowd of thousands of jubilant supporters met former President Manuel Zelaya at Tegucigalpa’s airport on May 28, nearly two years since he was ousted from office in his pajamas one morning in a coup.

The warm welcome was mostly expected by a large part of Honduras’ population that opposed the June 28, 2009 coup, led largely by the then-president of Congress, Roberto Micheletti. Their enthusiasm was countered by Honduras’ seemingly enduring problems: a high poverty rate, unemployment and organized crime.

In his first address on Honduran territory since 2009, Zelaya, who first took office in 2006, said he would push for a new constitution, alluding to the initiative for a new charter that led to his fall.

The country is still dealing with many open wounds from this tumultuous chapter in its history, and is trying to reintegrate with its Latin American neighbors. The Cartagena Agreement, signed May 21 in the Colombian coastal city between Zelaya and current President Porfirio Lobo, allowed the former leader to return to Honduran territory, clearing the way for the country’s return to the Organization of American States, which expelled it after the coup.

But some don’t see the expulsion was necessary.

“Honduras does not need to have conditions to return to a body that it never should have left because they are trying to punish us for defending our constitution,” Fernando Anduray, a member of the Civic Democratic Union, a pro-coup group, was quoted as saying in El Heraldo newspaper.

Foreign interests
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez oversaw the Cartagena agreement, a highly unlikely pair for teamwork.

Honduran political analyst José Filadelfo Martínez told Latinamerica Press that while Santos, less than a year into his term, seeks to increase his political weight in the region, Chávez needed to recover a certain protagonism in a crisis that has been unfavorable to him. Chávez had originally tried to politically isolate Lobo, but he ended up alone, so he moderated his discourse.

It also cannot be ignored, according to Martínez, that Chávez is interested in resuming loans to Honduras from Petrocaribe, Venezuela’s low-cost oil supply program for the region. Other recipients include Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenadines, and Suriname.

Martínez warned that the agreement could lead to increased foreign debt. “We can’t forget that the loans of international organizations have to go through Congress, which somewhat limits their possible poor use, but Petrocaribe is a blank check that involves fresh and unconditional money for Lobo’s government,” he said.

The Cartagena talks, while ultimately successful in their mission, also raise doubts about hidden agendas of Honduran caudillos, or powerful and long-standing political leaders, who are well versed in under-the-table deals.

The political commission of the National Popular Resistance Front, a group that had been clamoring for Zelaya’s return and is one of the most cohesive anti-coup groups in the country, cheered the agreement and said it was looking toward to the 2013 presidential election, since one of the agreement conditions was its participation.Some who were skeptical of Zelaya even while in office, welcomed his return. The Tiempo newspaper, one of the biggest coup opponents, wrote in an editorial that Zelaya’s massive welcoming was a “surprising demonstration of a democratic awakening of the Honduran people.”

Impunity reigns
For some human rights defenders though, the Cartagena Agreement is unacceptable because it grants impunity to crimes committed against those who opposed the coup.

Joaquín Mejía, human rights coordinator of the Reflection, Research and Communications team of the Society of Jesus in Honduras, said to Latinamerica Press that “once again, people’s dignity has been sacrificed in exchange of personal and political benefit.”

Critics are also questioning that the agreement has annulled corruption charges and arrest orders against Zelaya and some of his collaborators, who were allegedly involved in multi-million-dollar corruption schemes.

Journalist Thelma Mejía said to Latinamerica Press that the agreement confirmed “that we are not all equal under the law. It confirms that this was a crisis of political elites.”

For their part, progressive sectors who are skeptical of Zelaya and the Front say the agreement only strengthens the traditional political order as the real winner in the coup.

And the Front, the emerging political force in the crisis, has apparently not been able to overcome the weight of a political culture marred by intolerance and lack of debate.

This group “has shown in the last two years that it is not a political alternative to the traditional parties,” said Martínez, pointing to the National Party and Liberal Party, and now, the Front itself. “This does not mean a substantial change in how politics is done.”

Whatever Zelaya’s future, the country needs a profound reform to its institutions, which have done nothing but crumble even more since June 28, 2009. Will a new constitution be the key? Some think that the roots of the crisis are deeper than that and the country will not overcome this without a profoundly different political culture, a rejection of authoritarianism and clientelism that has burrowed in the partisan political life and has contaminated even a good part of the popular movement.
—Latinamerica Press.


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Zelaya´s followers greet him in Tegucigalpa. (Photo: COMUNICA)
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