Friday, March 19, 2010

The rebellious spirit of Lempira: The Frente de Resistencia and Lenca Rhetoric

From this ancestral territory of Lenca resistance, with the rebellious spirit of Lempira:

This is the final salutation in the Manifesto that was issued by the Frente de Resistencia after the recently concluded meeting in La Esperanza, Intibuca, with the stated goal of beginning a process of "refounding" Honduras.

The salutation recalls the history of resistance by Honduras' Lenca people faced with the Spanish military colonization in the sixteenth century. Lempira was the leader of a widespread Lenca uprising in 1537. The traditional story goes that he was killed while under a flag of truce. But Lempira is a more complex figure than simply that of a noble, yet defeated, leader.

Every July 20, Honduras celebrates the Día de Lempira to commemorate this founding moment in the history of the nation five centuries ago. As Wendy Griffin described it in Honduras This Week in 1999, this celebration has traditionally been observed by having school children dress in what they imagine is Lenca clothing and elect an "india bonita" (beautiful Indian girl).

Griffin notes that in Lenca communities, and in Honduran society more broadly, this appropriation of a romanticized indigenous past is contested:
The Lencas celebrate the Day of Lempira as their day of ethnic pride. After the election of the "India Bonita," Lenca musical groups or "conjuntos" made up of a fiddle, guitars, and a base fiddle, play ranchera music so people can dance. "Recorridos", which are often protest songs, are also popular at these gatherings...

July is a time to reflect on Honduras' motto of being "Free, Sovereign and Independent." Ethnic groups and academics organize forums and write articles to reflect on whether current policies truly reflect those of a sovereign state.

The spirit of Lempira was to reflect foreign imposition and each year his day draws critiques of current attempts toward such imposition, be it against Contra bases in the 1980s or U.S. troops at Palmerola or IMF imposed conditions in the 1990s. The Lencas add to this protest their own cry, asking a country that so honors Lempira then leaves the hijos de Lempira (the sons of Lempira) in such a state of neglect.

It is this less-domesticated aspect of Lempira that resonates in the invocation by the Frente de Resistencia of Lempira: "the spirit of Lempira to reflect foreign imposition" and "whether current policies truly reflect those of a sovereign state", both made urgent by the coup d'etat of 2009. The symbolism of Lempira is not that of a valiant but unsuccessful fight against colonization, but rather, of a persistent resistance. News coverage of Lenca activism in the late 1990s recorded slogans on posters displayed in La Esperanza: ''500 years after the conquest of the Americas, Lempira is alive!'', ''Indigenous resistance is still alive, the Lenca people are present!''

It is those overtones that the Manifesto invokes, as much as the site and sponsorship of the II Encuentro itself. The
gathering in La Esperanza was noted to have been hosted by COPINH, an indigenous rights organization. Positioning the Frente as like Lempira reinforces the radical and revolutionary nature of the movement being forged, whose goals are not simply to gain a little political power, but to "re-found" Honduras.

What actually happened at the Encuentro in La Esperanza? Counterpunch, in an article reviewing the position of Canada's right-wing government on Honduras (where Canadian companies are the largest external mining interest), cites a first-hand report by Claudia Korol describing
twenty simultaneous popular assemblies to discuss a variety of themes: the preservation of water, forests, land, subsoil, traditional territories, and air; the political system and popular sovereignty; culture; justice; autonomy; sexual diversity; health; communications; foreign policy and international relations; anti-patriarchal struggles; anti-racism; national security; work and workers’ rights; the economic system; indigenous and black communities; youth; fighting corruption and learning about popular accounting.

The goal: "the building of popular power from below", to "refound" Honduras, not merely reform it. As Peter Lackowski describes it in The Santiago Times,
After a serious debate the various sections of a new constitution were laid out. A committee to direct the National Constituent Assembly was nominated, and Bertha Oliva of the Committee of Families of disappeared Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH) was elected to lead this group.

While mainstream US media have ignored this event entirely, there is another narrative that has spread via reports in a variety of other news media.

This storyline suggests that at the Encuentro, the Frente decided to transform itself into a political party. According to the claim advanced on March 14 in a "news" article by the pro-coup Honduran newspaper La Tribuna,
The Frente Nacional de Resistencia declared its decision to constitute itself as a political party to gain power by means of the vote with the sole mission of refounding Honduras.

No specific document or person was cited in support of this claim. It does not in fact appear to be accurate. But comments on the online version of this story show that transforming the Frente into a political party would satisfy the imagination of readers of La Tribuna about how opposition rhetoric should fit in Honduras.

And it gained some traction in Spanish-language reporting for Radio Nederland, which on March 16 repeated the same claim, attributing it to "César Ramos, political analyst close to the Frente".

First-hand reporting on statements at the Encuentro by Giorgio Trucchi quoted Carlos H. Reyes firmly stating quite the opposite:
We have to dedicate ourselves to [organizing to get the necessary votes during the Popular Consulta of next June 28 to demonstrate being the majority in the face of the necessity to form a Constituent Assembly that will refound the country], because there are those that day that we should dedicate ourselves starting now
to forming a political party. The Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular has decided that first we have to strengthen ourselves as a Frente, to put in place the head, body, feet and finally, wings of that bird. We cannot put a roof on a house that we still have not constructed. First we have to deepen the work of consciousness-raising, organization, mobilization, and politicization

The fundamental proposition of the Frente is that Honduran government is broken, and that only starting over with e popular Constituent Assembly can solve the dilemma. Insisting that the Frente is really about to convert into a conventional political party lessens the impact of the radical claim to speak in "the rebellious spirit of Lempira".


Anonymous said...

They still need to accomplish something concrete, measurable, and popular. Strengthening the movement is admirable and necessary, but it leaves people with same number of tortillas.


RAJ said...

The stated plan of the Frente starts with building momentum for the consulta that they intend to hold June 28. While they explicitly disclaim the goal of becoming a political party within the current electoral system, the stated goal is to mobilize a sufficient numnber of people to make it clear that a constitutional assembly is the will of the majority.

In fact, Carlos Reyes argued that if the vote in their June 28 consulta tops 60% of the eligible voters, that will be enough to justify convening a constitutional assembly.

If we agree that what made it imperative for the coup to be carried out last June 28 in order to prevent even registering how high support was for a new constitutional assembly, then moving forward with this poll would seem to be a concrete, measurable action.

Tambopaxi said...

i gotta say I'm not clear on what is meant, exactly, by a "June 28 consulta".

Does the Frente intend to hold a nation-wide consulta on their own without GOH participation, and expect to get the participation of 60% of eligible voters (as defined in the current Constitution)? Is that the plan?

RAJ said...


Relying entirely on reporting on a variety of progressive blogs, the Frente intends to complete the process that was interrupted on June 28, 2009, by holding a public, officially unsanctioned tally of the opinions of people at a national level. Carlos Reyes is quoted as noting

the work that will have to be done to obtain the necessary votes during the Consulta Popular of next June 28, to demonstrate that there is a majority for forming an Asamblea Constituyente that will re-found the country. And this is the basis for power, afterward, to move towards an electoral contest.

Giorgio Trucchi adds after the direct quotation of Carlos Reyes the following passage, which in context appears to be either continued quotation or paraphrase:

For the Frente nacional de resistencia popular the development of the country should be discussed in an Asamblea Nacional Constituyente and not in dark rooms where the powerful of the country are accustomed to do it.

The Frente is, in other words, dedicated to a mass public mobilization, not to becoming a faction working inside the current system. What level of public support for the consulta will make a Constituyente inevitable.

Checking where the 60% number came from, I find that sources that cite that do not include it in direct or indirect quotation, but rather (as you do here) cite the current Constitution. Reyes appears to have simply called for demonstrating a majority of the people in support of a new constitutional assembly.

I realize you can dismiss this as unrealistic. But again: the fear of just such a non-binding public opinion poll was enough to trigger the coup d'etat. So this is a powerful step along what all the speakers at the II Encuentro emphasized is a long process of consultation, debate, and mobilization. The Frente doesn't have to have 60% of the electorate come out on June 28 to make its point. What it needs to do is get enough international media to attend to ensure that reporting does not massively undercount the number of demonstrators who turn out.

Or to put it another way: how many protesters can there be in the streets before the Honduran government has to acknowledge that they do not have the unqualified support of the people?