Was justice served in Honduras?

November 2, 2009

Shaun Joseph analyzes the U.S.-brokered agreement that is supposed to end the months of repression that followed a coup against Manuel Zelaya.

FOUR MONTHS of political crisis in Honduras have apparently come to an end with the signing of an agreement by representatives of the legitimate President Manuel Zelaya and the head of the coup government, Roberto Micheletti.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking from Pakistan, congratulated the Honduran people for the "historic agreement"--without neglecting to note her own role in the process.

In its statement, the leading organization of the grassroots opposition to the coup, the National Resistance Front Against the Coup d'Etat, celebrated the projected reinstatement of Zelaya under the agreement as a "popular victory over...the pro-coup oligarchy"--even though Zelaya's return to office is not formally guaranteed.

The agreement, arising out of negotiations called the "Guaymuras Dialogue" that began in early October, stipulates the following:

Formation of a "Government of Unity and National Reconciliation," to be installed no later than November 5, comprised of "representatives of diverse political parties and social organizations."

Manuel Zelaya has accepted a deal that trades restitution for the right resume the process of convening a Constitutional Assembly
Manuel Zelaya has accepted a deal that trades restitution for the right resume the process of convening a Constitutional Assembly (José Cruz)

Renunciation of the call for a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution (Zelaya's organizing of an advisory referendum on a constituent assembly was a motivation for the coup).

Support for the next general elections and a transfer of power on January 27, 2010 (the elections are currently scheduled for November 29, although the agreement does not specify a date).

Putting the armed forces under the control of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal for a month before the elections.

Consideration by the National Congress, in consultation with the Supreme Court, of "the return of the title of the Executive Power to its state previous to June 28"--that is, the reinstatement of Zelaya as president.

Formation of a Verification Commission, coordinated by the Organization of American States, to monitor compliance with the agreement, and a Truth Commission, to be organized by the next government, to investigate "acts that occurred before and after June 28."

Normalization of Honduras' international relations.

THUS, THE heroic struggle against the coup has come to a mixed end.

Many people, myself included, felt that the coup regime's days were numbered after the secret return of Zelaya to Honduras on September 21, when he took refuge in the Brazilian embassy. This turned out to be an incorrect forecast--the golpistas (coup-makers) were able to hang on to state power and eventually suppress, although not crush, insurrectionary protests in the most important cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.

The regime required extreme measures against the anti-coup movement, including a September 27 "state of siege" decree that stripped Hondurans of their civil rights. Although international and domestic pressure compelled Micheletti to announce to the press that the decree would be repealed, that repeal was never published in the official government newsletter, leaving the state of siege in force. This trickery indicates the problems inherent in any agreement with the golpistas.

The Guaymuras Dialogue had collapsed completely by October 26 due to the intransigence of Micheletti's representatives, who refused any formula that might imply the return of Zelaya.

An agreement was only reached with the personal intervention of the U.S. government's representatives, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon and Daniel Restrepo of the National Security Council. After months of delaying, the White House finally put serious pressure on the golpistas, and a deal was cut on October 29, the very first day that Restrepo and Shannon participated in meetings.

This substantiates a point that the resistance made all along: that the coup was tacitly supported by the U.S., and could have been stopped at any point by serious American pressure.

The conditional language of the agreement notwithstanding, it is fairly certain Zelaya was promised that Congress would be forced to agree to his return to office. Zelaya told Radio Globo that the agreement "signifies my return to power in the coming days."

The resistance front has always insisted on Zelaya's return as a condition for accepting elections scheduled for November, a position reiterated on October 30 by the resistance leader Juan Barahona. If the oligarchy wants a clear road to the elections, it will need to accept Zelaya. So even though Congress has a golpista majority, it is likely to reinstate Zelaya. Thus, Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo, the National Party's presidential candidate, said, "We are willing to be cooperative in Congress with the agreement of the negotiators."

However, the golpistas' arrogance often overtakes their good sense, and they may yet try to "pull a fast one." Marcia Facussé de Villeda, a vice president of Congress and scion of the Facussé family, one of the pillars of the country's ruling elite, told Bloomberg News, "Zelaya won't be restored--I don't think so." Another high-ranking legislator, Antonio Rivera, suggested the restoration could be filibustered. Most ominously, Arturo Corrales, one of Micheletti's negotiators and a signatory to the agreement, suggested that Congress was not even obliged to come into session before the elections.

Having helped bring about the agreement by pressuring the coup regime, the U.S. will likely discover it needs to continue to push the golpistas to prevent them from wriggling out of their obligations under the deal. Taking a hard line will not come naturally to the Obama administration, which has so far treated the golpistas with amazing mildness. Furthermore, the U.S. government's top man, Assistant Secretary Shannon, is up for confirmation as ambassador to Brazil, giving him reason not to offend Republican senators sympathetic to the coup regime.

All that said, the restoration of Zelaya remains likely--although Zelaya certainly erred in accepting an agreement lined with so many potential traps.

Fortunately, the resistance front is not bound by the agreement--Barahona withdrew from the Guaymuras Dialogue in mid-October.

Although the resistance is often seen as a strictly "melista" (pro-Zelaya) movement, this is not the case. It developed independently, for the most part while Zelaya was not even in the country, and it is led by representatives of the popular organizations of the working classes, not politicians.

The agreement compels Zelaya to drop his advocacy of a Constituent Assembly, but this does not apply to the resistance. In fact, the Front's communique of October 30 reiterated that "the National Constituent Assembly is an irrenouncable aspiration of the Honduran people and a nonnegotiable right for which we will continue fighting in the streets." Although Zelaya's enforced silence on the issue will not be helpful, it will be easy to explain--and it expires on January 27, 2010, when Zelaya becomes a private citizen again.

If Zelaya is reinstated and the state of siege lifted, a boycott of the election--which has been the position of the resistance so far--is probably not viable. A united left-wing presidential campaign by Carlos Reyes, president of the beverage workers union STIBYS, could advance agitation for the Constituent Assembly and help the resistance measure its popular support.

The resistance must avoid electoral illusions, though. The polls will represent the conservative countryside and tourism zones beyond their social weight, and there is no way an openly anti-oligarchy candidate will be allowed to win. The state--both its elected shell and its bureaucratic core--remain under the control of the oligarchy, so extra-parliamentary action must be the primary strategy.

ALTHOUGH THE situation has not yet stabilized, the battle over the coup appears to have reached a kind of stalemate.

Both sides missed opportunities to win decisive victories. The golpistas erred when they arrogantly refused to sign the San José Accords early on--this would have led to a demoralizing Haiti-type presidential restoration before the resistance had much time to develop.

The resistance, for its part, was incapable of leading an insurrection against the coup in the days after Zelaya's entrance into Honduras, when popular enthusiasm was at the height and golpista confidence at the low point. The reasons for this are complex, but centrally linked, in my opinion, to the absence of a revolutionary political organization to plan and lead such an insurrection.

With the struggle at an impasse, the crisis was only resolved by intervention of the imperialist powers, which compelled the Honduran ruling class to make concessions, but also guaranteed that these concessions were highly conditional.

It shouldn't be forgotten, however, that fighting the oligarchs to a stalemate was no small accomplishment for the resistance. It required tremendous organization and sacrifice. If the workers have not won, neither have they been thrown back, in spite of everything arrayed against them. There is a clearly new power in Honduras.

Meanwhile, the U.S. establishment will certainly congratulate itself on the "diplomatic breakthrough." But it doesn't take much thought to see that what the U.S. brokered in October could have been produced in July--before the murders, beatings, arrests and so on. Nor has it gone unnoticed that the U.S., while formally demanding the unconditional restoration of Zelaya, has cooked up a deal that falls well short of that.

An honest observer can only conclude that, first, the U.S. has been tacitly pro-coup all along; second, it only intervened forcefully when the impasse became intolerably costly for capital; and third, it defended the golpistas' fundamental interests even while forcing them into an agreement.

For their part, Latin American governments demonstrated a capacity to act independently of the U.S., and even against the wishes of U.S. imperialism. Brazil's role in providing sanctuary to Zelaya in its Tegucigalpa embassy is particularly notable, given that the Lula government is among the most conservative of the region's "developmentalist" regimes. Brazil would not have shown such initiative without strong backing from other states, demonstrating a powerful, albeit partial and cautious, discontent with U.S. policy, even at the elite level.

Beyond this, the grassroots struggle in Honduras will inspire other fights in Latin America against the imperialist offensive of the U.S. ruling class. Those struggling against that class in the U.S. should take inspiration as well.

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