Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Revolution by other means: "Refounding" Honduras

At quotha, Adrienne Pine has posted a translation of a transcript of a talk given by Gilberto Ríos, Secretary of Political Formation of the Political Organization “Los Necios", a member of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular, now in political exile in Nicaragua. Despite his personal situation, he expresses hope that the mobilization of progressive sentiment after the coup has improved the prospects for progress toward greater economic equity, sovereignty, and less militarization.

Ríos characterizes the left in Honduras as leading a "new Latin American revolution" that departs from the path of armed struggle:
What´s happening in Honduras we consider to be a new Latin American revolution, that is new and different. It is important for people to know and to contribute. It is anti-capitalist, not part of a socialist or communist society, but a new and different society.

One of the most pernicious, yet insistent, claims of retrograde thinkers about what happened and continues to happen in Honduras has been that "Chavez" (or Castro, or both...) was stopped in a supposed campaign to extend "communism" (or 21st century socialism, or both...). These claims-- regardless of any political interests Chavez himself might actually have had in enlisting Honduras as a political ally in his own global power games-- deny the roots of Honduran struggle in the dramatic increase in economic inequality that marked the last twenty years, and the parallel decline in faith in government that in fact made possible the overthrow of an elected president whose views could be publicized in ways that made him seem alien, frightening, and dangerous.

As it happens, while Ríos spoke some time ago, as I write this, the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular of Honduras is holding its second Encuentro Nacional por la Refundación de Honduras (National Meeting for the Refounding of Honduras). As reported by Prensa Latina, more than 800 delegates are meeting in La Esperanza, in the heart of traditional Lenca
territory. The organizers are quoted as saying that they have
the enthusiastic mission of constituting an Assembly of the People where all the ideas and dreams that have waited centuries will converge.

The organizers, in the cited press release, argue that they
represent the urgent will of the people to construct true democracy and transform the system of injustice and repression installed by the oligarchy.

Spain's online Mercurio Digital gives a report that provides more details on the participants in the event, as yet unmentioned in the mainstream English language press:
defying persecution and violations of human rights of which the Honduran people and social leaders who demonstrate against the dictatorship (disguised as democracy since the assumption of Porfirio Lobo) are victims, the Movement for the Refounding of Honduras, the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH), the Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ) and the Feministas en Resistencia (FER), determined to continue the spirit of rebellion urging the refounding of Honduras by those who desire to construct the Constituent Assembly that remained unfinished, by the power of the people.

This is a reference to the previously announced intention to hold a popular consulta on June 28 of the present year, to complete the consultation about whether the Honduran people want to convene a Constitutional Assembly that was the immediate spark for the coup d'etat of 2009. Progressive leader Rafael Alegría is quoted as saying
We want a constitutional assembly, to create a democratic, inclusive, participatory Constitution from the Honduran people.

How is this event, or the Resistance Front in general, being covered in the English language press?

The answer to that is unfortunately, not much at all. You need to go to English-language media from Latin America to find any that even acknowledge there is an organized resistance front. Writing for Inside Costa Rica, Peter Lackowski reports on his experiences recently on a human rights delegation to Honduras. His summary of the goals of the resistance is that it

expects the struggle to go on for years, hoping to build a movement that brings in many people who have not been active in the past. Communication is a big concern, with community radio stations playing a role, especially if the anti-coup commercial radio stations that depend on advertising revenue are not able to continue providing the solid support that they have given the movement in the past. The internet will also be useful. Political education will be important, as well as a democratic organization solidly based on broad participation of all popular sectors.

The basic program of the Resistance has three elements: non-recognition of the Lobo government, no dialogue or negotiation with what is seen as an illegitimate regime, and a constituent assembly to create a new, just constitution as the only real solution to the situation. Work on a new constitution is proceeding even without official sanction. COPINH, Consejo Civico de Organizaciones Populares y Indigenas, was founded in 1993 to defend the interests of the Lenca people who live in the Western Highlands. COPINH has issued a call for a Peoples Assembly in the city of La Esperanza, March 12 to 14, where the ideas that would be embodied in a new constitution will be discussed.

At a recent meeting in the southern city of San Lorenzo leaders of the Resistance planned to build an organization that will be able to take power through the elections in 2013. No one knows whether the oligarchs will allow this program to proceed. The one thing that is certain is that there are many people who are willing to risk everything, including their lives, for the sake of a country that is no longer governed by fear.

Contrast this with the characterization of the Frente in New York Times coverage March 3 of a letter Human Rights Watch sent to Honduran public prosecutor, Luis Alberto Rubí (himself, of course, deeply implicated in the coup d'etat): for the paper of record, the Frente is
a coalition of labor and other social groups that protested the coup.

The past tense here, and the solely reactive role to something that current US policy insists is "the past", matters. Treating the Frente as part of the past supports the current Honduran administration ignoring its existence, underlined by the claim of the US State Department that Porfirio Lobo Sosa's government exhibits "unity" because it includes members of multiple parties, who are said to represent "the left", despite the explicit refusal by the Frente to accept these politicians as their representatives.

The issue of identifiable leadership-- a person who can be presented as running the popular resistance-- underlies some of the coverage, or lack thereof, of the Frente. In its most pernicious form, this takes the shape of insisting the resistance is nothing more than "zelayistas", personal adherents of José Manuel Zelaya Rosales. This kind of argument requires no revision of the existing narratives about Latin America, in which ignorant "masses" are understood to be under the thrall of charismatic leaders. So this storyline is much more digestable.

Conservative Spanish language media exemplify this in the extreme. Coverage by Honduras' Proceso Digital of Zelaya's trip to Venezuela claims the "resistencia zelayista" is engaged in
protests that seek to destablize the administration of Lobo, to push for a constitutional assembly and the entry of Zelaya [to Honduras] so that from the Liberal Party he will form an internal political movement, in which his wife, Xiomara Zelaya, would be the card up the sleeve for the next presidential candidacy in four years, or in the event of her failure, ex- prosecutor and Zelaya official, Edmundo Orellana.

This is a clever mixture of reality, rumor-mongering, and smearing that recalls the press run-up to the coup itself. Edmundo Orellana, a highly respected public figure who served in the Zelaya administration, as he had previously, and resigned in protest of Zelaya's decision to proceed with the June 28 encuesta, is vilified by the Honduran right wing for his editorials presenting his authoritative legal opinions against the claims that the coup and installation of Micheletti was constitutional. Zelaya's wife Xiomara gained extraordinary public approval for her courageous presence in Honduras during the de facto regime speaking out against it, and that popularity undoubtedly scares Honduran conservatives.

The insinuation that Orellana or Xiomara Castro de Zelaya would be a cat's paw under Mel Zelaya's control is a way to smuggle back in the fear of ongoing presidential office as equivalent to dictatorship that, ironically, justified the actual imposition of the Micheletti dictatorship.

The current Liberal party leadership, in the hands of unsuccessful presidential candidate Elvin Santos, shares the same kind of muddy belief that the resistance is a movement of zelayistas seeking power within the Liberal Party:
The ex-presidential candidate considers that all the forces have the right to participate in politics, including the zelayist liberal resistance.

Projecting the resistance as operating primarily as a faction within the confines of the two dominant parties helps to reduce to a personal power struggle what in fact is the most terrifying potential outcome of the coup for the existing power structure: a new political force not part of the existing structure might emerge.

What Zelaya actually said about the Frente de Resistencia while in Venezuela, even as quoted in the extremely misleading "news" story in Proceso Digital, was something quite different from claiming to lead the future Liberal party or a zelayist resistance front:
there is a revolution underway, marked by the solidarity and humanism that the popular resistance and my friends are guiding... Carlos H. Reyes, with whom I spoke a few minutes ago, Rafael Alegría, Juan Barahona, Rafael Barahona, Rodil Rivera Rodil, Carlos Eduardo Reina and other friends, are driving a totally worthy revolutionary process there, in Honduras, where they want to make of Honduras an example of change in Central America.

To return to Ríos:
Zelaya has become a theoretical problem because he’s not left or right. He can’t be accused of being a communist. He’s become a challenge now. When we’re all organized to create a new world, we have to be on the same side. ... Zelaya was the only president who listened more than he spoke, so I think he is capable of making it into a revolution. But if he can’t the Movement itself can turn it into a revolution.

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