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Honduras: Election farce exposes sham Zelaya deal

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The election on 29 November saw the right-wing candidate - Porfirio Loba of the National Party - returned as president and the congress blocking Zelaya’s return as president. Keith Spencer looks at the recent events

President Micheletti of Honduras has been rewarded for his part in the coup that ousted Manuel Zelaya and for carrying off a fraudulent election by having his image printed on Honduran postal stamps. Micheletti stands above the words “Honduras is ours.” The “us” is, of course, the tiny landed, business and military oligarchy.

The election went ahead after a deal was struck between Micheletti and the legitimate President, Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in June. It was supposed to see the latter returned to the presidential place to serve out he last three months of his term. The ratification of the deal by congress was supposed to be voted by 5 November.

The price Zelaya had to pay for this charade was the abandonment of all attempts to convene elections for a constituent assembly. This had been the central demand of the popular forces in Honduras who hoped to repeat the tactics of the mass movements headed by Evo Morales in Bolivia and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. In those countries, breaking the grip of the elite over the state machinery allowed the introduction of a series of radical reforms in the interest of the impoverished majority.

The wretched deal helped to confuse and demobilise the struggle that had been waged by the resistance movement, the FNRG (National Front Against the Coup), which had courageously mobilised the masses in fighting the coup.

It soon became clear that the oligarchs would rat on the deal. Leading supporters of the coup in congress announced they were not going to allow Zelaya to enjoy even a last few weeks as President. The congress delayed making a decision until after the election. Another part of the deal – a proposed government of national reconciliation, when announced by Micheletti, had no one from Zelaya’s camp in it.

Zelaya finally called for abstention in the elections on the 5 November (the day he was supposed to return to the presidency) and the FNRG’s candidate for the presidency, Carlos Reyes, also withdrew. They also called a civic strike for the entire week prior to elections, for street protests and an election boycott. Despite heavy repression and the military violence, the boycott was a success.

Election fraud

And what an election it was. Under the reactionary Honduran constitution, the military run the elections, and this role was reinforced by the deal. In addition, the deal outlawed all demonstrations or protests during the election period, which gave the green light for the military to attack the opposition and intimidate voters. In the second city, San Pedro, a 1,000-strong demonstration against the election was broken up with tear gas and water cannon. In the rest of the country, police and army occupied towns and villages making sure that there were no protests. Arrests continued despite the so-called deal being in place. In a sinister throwback to the 1980s, the Communication Battalion of the Honduran army requested from mayors the names of resistance leaders:

“The purpose of this letter is to request your support with the following:
Names and telephone numbers of the leaders of the community that support the Democratic Civil Unity and that work jointly with the municipality for the goodness of the people.
Leaders, names and telephone numbers that support the resistance movement and that cause unrest in community projects.”

Pro-democracy leader Juan Barahona said: “This letter is a way for them to draw up profiles of leaders of the resistance movement. That is the same work they did in the 80s when they drew up profiles of leaders and then followed up by capturing, murdering, putting them in jail or disappearing them. But it’s the same.”

In the period until the 22 October, the government had suspended personal freedoms such as freedom of expression, association and movement. While this was supposedly rescinded as part of the deal, there is plenty of evidence that it was in force on the ground throughout the election period. Habeas Corpus was also suspended in the 48 hours leading to the poll. Human rights organisations have documented a rising tide of arrests, beatings and military violence towards the opposition during the campaign.

In addition to the military threats, workers faced intimidation from their bosses. In a meeting in London on 5 December, several women from the resistance movement (the Honduran Women’s Collective) described how bosses threatened to sack workers if they could not prove they had voted (by showing a blue inked finger). In well-organised workplaces, the bosses tried bribery; offering workers bonuses or discounted goods to vote. This was a replay of what happened earlier in the coup when workers and peasants were forced to go on pro-coup marches and told what to chant or face the sack – and then expected to make up for lost time without pay. There are even reports of members of neighbouring El Salvador’s notorious right-wing Arena party crossing the border and voting.

And if the threat of being beaten or losing your job wasn’t enough, then there was always the pressure from the churches, Catholic and Protestant. All denominations came out in force to back the elections.

Initially, the supposedly independent Supreme Electoral Tribunal of Honduras welcomed the smooth running of the elections and said there was a turnout of nearly two-thirds, which was far more than in the 2005 election. The opposition challenged this inflated figure and said that about a third of the electorate voted. Only in rich areas was there much election activity, other areas remained quiet.

The supine electoral tribunal then revised its figures by saying that “perhaps 47%” had voted. The “Lets do Democracy” NGO, funded in Washington and hired by the oligarchs, was forced to support the opposition’s claim by saying that about a third of the electorate voted. The electoral tribunal said it would release the full voting figures at the end of December – why the long wait?

A comparison with 2005 quickly tells the story. Then, Zelaya won with 915,075 votes and 49.9% of the turn out with the National Party’s Loba having 846,493, (46.2%). Turnout was officially 46% of the 3,988, 605 official voters. This time around, Loba won more than 937,006 votes, while the Liberal Party’s Elvin Santos had 639,481; a far smaller turnout (the other candidates received neglible votes) on a larger electoral roll.

The Liberal Party was particularly hit by the abstentions. Despite being a right-wing party, it has traditionally relied on the votes of masses to defeat the National Party but the involvement of its leaders in the coup, Micheletti is a Liberal Party member, revealed it for what it really is: an open party of the bosses.

Obama and Latin America: no new hope

Neither the brazen breach of agreements negotiated by Costa Rican President, Óscar Arias, nor the conduct of the election itself, deterred the US from immediately recognising the validity of the election. After the election, a spokesperson for the Obama administration said: “We recognise these elections”. This is hardly surprising since the Assistant Secretary at the State Department, Thomas Shannon, who oversaw the deal, had said that the US would recognise the election result even without Zelaya’s return. Following the election and the US recognition, the Honduran Congress voted down Zelaya’s appeal to return as President.

For Obama, recognising the election had an extra advantage. Republican senator Jim De Mint was a loud supporter of the coup and opposed several Obama nominations for jobs in the White House. He declared: “I am happy to report the Obama Administration has finally reversed its misguided Honduran policy and will fully recognize the November 29th elections… Secretary Clinton and Assistant Secretary Shannon have assured me that the U.S. will recognize the outcome of the Honduran elections regardless of whether Manuel Zelaya is reinstated.” The senator then backed Obama’s nominations.

Was Honduras part of a dirty little deal to get Obama’s nominations through congress? After all, for all of Obama’s holier-than-thou rhetoric, he has shown himself willing to trade away any progressive policies he might have had such as a public healthcare system and pro-trade union reforms to gain tolerance from the right in congress. The deal making may be a small part of it, but bigger issues are at stake. Obama heads an embattled imperialist superpower that sees Latin America as its own backyard, to exploit in alliance with the region’s oligarchs. Hillary Clinton’s advisers on Latin America include John Negroponte who, under President Ronald Reagan, supported death squads in Nicaragua. Meanwhile, the US ambassador in Honduras is Hugo Llorens, a counter-terrorism specialist, cold war warrior and Cuban exile.

The US military actively supported the coup against Zelaya from both its Miami command centre in Florida and the Soto Cano/Palmerola airbase in Honduras. Clinton’s campaign manager, Lanny Davis, went to work for the Honduran chamber of commerce during the coup and another of her lobbyist friends, Bennet Ratcliff, was adviser to Micheletti during the negotiations that led to the rotten deal.

Obama and Clinton have blamed the coup on Zelaya for being “controversial” and refused to denounce the coup’s martial law clampdown and human rights abuses.

US observers from the Republican and Democrat parties found no problem with the poll. No observers were there from the Organisation of American States, the UN, the Carter Foundation, the EU or any country that opposed the election – no doubt they might have seen something that would undermine giving it total support.

Following the US endorsement, its allies in the Americas; Colombia, Peru, Panama and Canada, obediently followed suit. In addition, El Salvador’s President, Mauricio Funes, has also recognised the result; he was voted in on the back of FMLN support but has been distancing himself since, he was also threatened by the right-wing Arena Party not to get involved. Other countries have issued contradictory statements.

Obama’s policy has been the same as that of other US presidents; back the right in Latin America and cheat the masses out of what is theirs and, if that means supporting coups and death squads, so be it.

Chavez was surprisingly quiet during the whole Honduran coup, leaving negotiations to Lula of Brazil. Perhaps he thought the Brazilians might sweet talk Obama into pressurising the Honduran elite into backing down and allowing Honduras to follow the Venezuelan road. If so this was a cardinal error. The US embassies and their local right-wing allies have a long and filthy history of intervening in the internal affairs of Latin America to stop left wingers wining elections and overthrowing them if they do. No one should be fooled into thinking that Obama is any different.

Chavez should know this all too well. Chavez, Morales and other left populist governments should have given immediate practical solidarity to the Honduran FNRG instead of keeping quiet and allowing the US and the oligarchs to outwit Zelaya and Brazil’s President Lula. The Honduran masses should appeal to their Venezuelan comrades for practical and financial help to carry on the fight to overthrow Loba and the military.

In the 1980s, it was the failure of the leftist guerrilla regimes in Central America to support each other across national boundaries that led to their isolation and defeat. Rather than spreading the movement, the leaderships offered only words of solidarity but allowed the US and the far right to intervene militarily.

The success of the Honduran coup should act as a wake up call about Obama’s intentions. The US military backed the coup; US advisers worked with the oligarchs, US diplomats supported the coup. The initial condemnation from Obama and Clinton was not based on democratic principle but on sheer expediency. They were afraid the coup might fail and another Chavez-style regime come to power. Despite their formal disapproval, they did nothing serious to thwart the coup makers and rapidly became reconciled to what looked like a successful pro-US coup.

Latin America at the crossroads

The election was a defeat for the movement but the defeat was not total; the masses have been harassed and repressed yet their organisations remain intact and their will to fight is still strong. Other recent events have not gone the US’s way. Bolivia’s Evo Morales won another term as President by a huge majority and Paraguay’s President, Fernando Lugo, sacked top military figures who were plotting a coup against him. Despite the Honduran result, most countries on the continent have refused to recognise the new government – so far.

Nonetheless, if the people of Honduras are to recover from the defeat, they must break from the leadership of Zelaya and the bourgeois populists. The popular forces of the resistance movement; the trade unions, women’s groups, organisations of black people from the coastal province, the peasant unions, need to form an independent workers’ party, free of the influence of the bourgeoisie, the churches or the NGOs. It should take up the fight for the arrest, trial and punishment of the coup leaders, the confiscation of the property of all those who backed the coup.

A central demand remains the convocation, under the protection of the armed people, of a constituent assembly. The masses already expect revolutionary deeds from such an assembly; the expropriation of the land from the big estate and plantation owners and the foreign agribusinesses, the nationalisation of the banks and industrial enterprises, recognising workers’ control. They expect a government that would make the rich pay for a massive improvement in the lives of ordinary Hondurans; full employment, education, housing and healthcare.

This party must also prepare the workers and peasants for a revolutionary struggle ahead. The economy has been suffering both the effects of the global recession and the disruption of five months of strikes, occupations and protests. Loba will use his fraudulent mandate and the brute force of the army to bring in a host of new anti-worker laws to ramp up once again the exploitation of the masses. Already, a new law on contracts has been introduced which makes it easier for bosses to sack full-time workers and bring in part-time or short-time staff. A party is needed to organise the resistance in the factories and on the farms and to create its own leadership of militants who can lead the fight for socialism and against capitalism.

A mass, socialist party in Honduras, fighting to overthrow the oligarchs and for socialism, should also participate in the moves to found a Fifth International, after the recent call from Hugo Chavez.

Any international of progressive parties and movements that is worth its name should concentrate all its strength on helping the people of Honduras fight for a revolutionary Constituent Assembly and to throw off the hated military and oligarchs, otherwise the US and the reactionary elites of the continent will step up their counter-offensive. A party of the Honduran masses should demand support from all progressive forces and mercilessly criticise all those found wanting. It should also warn against the misleadership of populists such as Zelaya and instead organise the fight for revolutionary socialism on the continent and the world.