Monday, February 8, 2010

César Ham: co-opted leftist

As noted in a previous post, the government assembled by Porfirio Lobo Sosa incorporates former rivals for the presidency (although not all of them: notably, Liberal Party candidate Elvin Santos is not included).

César Ham, presidential candidate for the UD party, is one of those included, named as Director of the Instituto Nacional Agrario.

Tomás Andino, UD member active in the National Resistance Front, reacted to the agreement by Ham to serve in the present government by
resigning from the party. Since then, a call has gone out for other UD members to resign as well. Fundamentally, what these members of the party are decrying is a betrayal of the revolutionary leftist roots of the UD party itself.

leader Rafael Alegría quoted in El Heraldo as saying that he didn't think it was possible for Ham to be part of the Lobo government:
They are making common cause with a party on the right in the country, historically responsible for the delay in the detention of poverty in our country

Those leaving the party over this issue may go on to political activism in other forms. But their departure raises the question, what happens to the UD? And, what is the role of Ham in the future of Honduran politics?

As news coverage in Honduras
notes, the UD currently has three different factions. Ham, officially the leader, was strongly identified with President Zelaya in the lead-up to the June 28 poll. A "dissident" faction is headed by Renán Valdez. Separate from both of these is what is described as "a group of militants, founders of this party, among them the writer Matías Funes". Funes was quoted in August, 2009, fiercely criticizing César Ham for his personal corruption, his alliance with President Zelaya, and predicting he would withdraw from the presidential campaign to avoid an embarrassing electoral loss.

In the end, of course, César Ham remained on the November 29 ballot. Reporting on the November 21 meeting of UD directors that decided to continue with the election, news media quoted Ham as saying
The party assembly resolved this evening, after a wide-ranging debate and discussion, to participate in the electoral process in order to permit the people to have representation and defend their rights in the National Congress and this way the Constitutional Assembly that the people demand can be reached...the Constitutional Assembly should not only be sought in the streets, but also in the political spaces such as the mayoralties and the National Congress.

In his letter resigning membership in the UD, Andino notes a history of cutting political deals with the leaders of other parties to gain advantage in the Honduran Congress. While this is politics as usual, as a revolutionary party, the UD is not supposed to cut such deals. Ham has not responded to the well-advertised letter from Andino, except to dismiss it during a press event where he announced his intention to implement a 2009 law facilitating expropriation of land for rural farm collectives to develop.

Perhaps harder for Ham to ignore is Andino's charge that
Power turns out to be irresistible to those gentlemen, because from it they derive privileges, such as the importation of luxury cars to then sell them.

This is, of course, a reference to Ham's use of congressional import privileges, which was prohibited by UD party rules. When initially faced with the charge in January of 2009, Ham denied it. As reported at the time, it was a faction of the UD itself that brought these charges to public attention. Ham, admitting the use of this privilege, argued that the vehicles were sold to raise funds for the use of the UD party assembly.

Ham started his tenure as Director of INA with this somewhat less than ringing vote of confidence from Porfirio Lobo Sosa:
César Ham is nobody's fool, he is going to respect the law and the constitution of the Republic. He is going to try to come out very well from his position, to serve the campesino sector well... César is going to do well...they are going to do well, they are not going to violate the law, they are not going to do anything that would signify generating an instability in the country because we know that this would not suit us.

According to coverage of the inauguration of Lobo Sosa in El Heraldo, when he mentioned former presidential candidate César Ham during his inaugural address, the crowd that had applauded his comments on Bernard Martinez booed so loud that it overcame the loudspeakers and made his citation of Elvin Santos inaudible.

So who is César Ham? A biographical sketch published in El Heraldo on November 24 describes him as a second-generation leftist, son of a union activist father, with a history of activism at university and afterward. A founding member of the UD party, and a congressional member elected from that party, he nonetheless traced a shaky course within the UD. In this article, he explicitly called on Hondurans resisting the coup to vote for him, rather than follow the call of the Resistance Front to boycott the election.

The UD party, or
Partido Unificación Democrática, was officially recognized in 1993, formed from leftist movements that could not be recognized until the Treaty of Esquipulas gave former guerrilla groups recognition as political parties.

INA, which César Ham now runs, has a mission described on its
official website:
To maximize the national peasantry. facilitating access to land for the vocation of agriculture and cattle ranching through the expropriation and adjudication, offering legal security in the tenancy, of land assigned, by granting titles in Freehold, accompanied by an effective program of business rationalization that considers attention to organizational aspects and technological advances in productive units, with the goal to generate high production and productivity that will facilitate the insertion of the producers in the local, national, and international market, converting them into efficient, profitable, and self-sustaining businesses, generators of employment and income for the benefit of the great majority.

What does this mean? INA is critical to farmers seeking land titles. INA was one of the sites of resistance to the coup d'etat, occupied by campesinos until they were forcibly dislodged at the end of September under the de facto regime.

César Ham, embattled within his own party, repudiated by the Resistance Front, appointed by Pepe Lobo against strong public disapproval, faces skepticism on every side. Political commentator Juan Ramón Martinez is quoted as expecting him to create problems that will have to be solved by the Minister of Agriculture, in a cabinet characterized as internal unity or ideological coherence. For this commentator, the Lobo Sosa cabinet is temporary, expected to be transformed into a more conventional form not long after July or August. It may be a short run for this leftist turned accommodationist.

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