Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Reactions to the Cartagena Accord, Part one: the FNRP

Signing agreements is easy; anyone out there forgotten the San Jose/Tegucigalpa Accords, and how they ended the coup d'etat in 2009 and restored constitutional order?

So, as we previously said, we think that there will need to be close scrutiny of the reactions of differently positioned parties to the Cartagena Accord.

Porfirio Lobo Sosa was strongly motivated to do whatever he could to allow Honduras back into OAS. Other hemispheric governments had the same motivation. José Manuel Zelaya Rosales could not be seen to stand in the way of some sort of step forward and retain any international credibility.

But neither Lobo Sosa, nor Zelaya, nor the governments of Colombia, Venezuela, the US or other OAS member states can compel the people of Honduras, far from reconciled, to follow through. The question then will be: how is this playing at home?

After surprising silences, responses are beginning to trickle in. We want to give each serious consideration, so this post treats just one: the official statement of the Comité Político of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular.

In this statement, the Political Committee of the Frente recognizes the advances made
With respect to the agenda proposed by the ex-President of the Republic of Honduras (2006-2010) and General Coordinator of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales.

Nuance matters in statements like these. The Political Committee is not disavowing Zelaya, but they are pointing out that the Cartagena Accord follows his agenda, not one outlined by the Frente.

To characterize what follows as supportive to the Cartagena Accord would be to miss more nuances. The Political Committee takes a point by point reaction to the four agenda items it recognizes in the new accord.

On the return from exile of Zelaya and others, such as Padre Tamayo, the Frente endorses the agreement but notes it will actually be fulfilled when they are back in the country. Caution may seem overdone, but remember the Tegucigalpa Accord: I guarantee you everyone in the Frente does, and the bitter disappointment.

That the Frente does not trust Lobo Sosa becomes clear in their reaction to the second agenda item, general human rights issues:
In the sphere of human rights there are no advances, because the regime of Lobo Sosa did not commit to, nor guarantee the application of justice to the violators of human rights, nor the guardianship of the human rights of the people in resistence, this is a challenge to achieve for the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular.

In other words: we see your lips moving but what don't see you doing anything.

The third agenda item, as described by the Political Committee of the Frente, reads
The recognition of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular as a political and belligerent force ("fuerza política y beligerante")

We are now at the heart of a question debated within the Frente: should it become (or give rise to) a political party? or should it remain a social movement with political aims? "Beligerante" in this context could be glossed as "militant", as in "a militant political movement". "Fuerza", literally force, is not to simply be reduced to "party" (partido).

So it is interesting that in analyzing this third agenda item and what was achieved in the Cartagena Accord, the Political Committee of the Frente does not use the word "partido" at all:

En cuanto al reconocimiento del Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular como una fuerza política y beligerante, se logra un avance en el sentido que el régimen se compromete, a cumplir las garantías para la inscripción del F.N.R.P. ante el Tribunal Supremo Electoral a la luz de las leyes para la participación democrática en los procesos políticos electorales de Honduras y para que pueda integrar los organismos oficiales de carácter político electoral en igualdad de condiciones.

[In regard to the recognition of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular as a political and militant force, an advance was achieved in the sense that the regime committed itself to comply with guarantees for the registration of the FNRP before the Tribunal Supremo Electoral in light of the laws for democratic participation in the electoral political processes of Honduras and so that it can be integrated in the official organizations of a political electoral character in equality of conditions.]

What the laws alluded to here govern is not just political parties, but broader advocacy groups. Returning to the language of the Accord, we note that the rapid translation we posted here interpolated the words "political party" because that is how this part of the agreement was parsed by those negotiating it. But it does not seem to us that the response by the Political Committee of the Frente endorses a full conversion to a political party.

Finally, the Political Committee pronounces on the fourth of Zelaya's agenda items in negotiating the Cartagena Accord and again, comes down in a more mixed way than simple outright endorsement of the language of the accord itself:

En el tema de la constituyente que es uno de los grandes objetivos del Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular, se logra el derecho a la consulta para la Asamblea Nacional Constituyente; de esta forma se ratifica que con la fuerza de los principios y las ideas del soberano se vence a los intereses mezquinos de los grupos de poder que le han negado el derecho a la democracia participativa.

[In regard to the constituyente which is one of the major objectives of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular, there was achieved the right to a consulta (poll or referendum) for the Asamblea Nacional Constituyente; in this form was ratified that with the force of principles and the ideas of sovereignty the avaricious interests of groups in power that have denied the right to participatory democracy are defeated.]

In other words: we showed that if you document broad public desire for constitutional change and more direct political participation, the other side eventually has to give in. But notice: no ringing endorsement of the mechanism, characterized with such self-congratulation in the Cartagena Agreement itself, by which the kind of popular consultation that Zelaya wanted to undertake is now possible.

So we would score this as 1 overt endorsement (of return from exile); 2 muted recuperation of their own agenda from that embodied in the Cartagena Accord, with a pause to remind people that these achievements came from the Frente's actions; and 1 outright rejection, of the human rights items, based on lack of trust for Lobo Sosa.

In a related post, political scientist Greg Weeks makes an interesting set of comments about the potential role of the Frente. He notes that the literature on how resistance movements become political parties probably does not apply here, as the Frente never was a guerrilla movement, and thus has none of the obstacles to overcome when a militarized opposition becomes a political one.

He then adds that there is a literature on how ethnic movements become political parties, suggesting this also does not apply here.

We agree, although for slightly different reasons than he gives: there is a pan-ethnic movement at the heart of the Frente, represented among other things by the prominence of Bertha Oliva, and the symbolic location of Frente assemblies in the heart of traditional Lenca territory.

But the Frente does not speak solely or uniformly with this voice; we pay attention to when COPINH issues statements in order to understand how at least the indigenous faction within the Frente understands things. But there are other voices, including those that represent reform tendencies within the Liberal Party, and those that are mobilized primarily out of belief in Zelaya himself.

Where we think Greg may slightly miss a nuance is when he suggests that the challenge for the Frente is moving from taking positions against the government to taking positions for certain policies.

The Frente has a robust and clear agenda. It is just an agenda that is either not reported in mainstream media, especially in the US, or not taken seriously by them. It starts with constitutional reform. Constitutional reform, through the direct convocation of a popular assembly, is a position for a policy: it is a position for changing a political system that has demonstrated its incapacity to protect the weak from the powerful.

So, we will be interested to hear what broader segments of the Frente say, especially about the modest steps toward popular consultation in the Accord; and we await some specific statement from COPINH or its leadership on this point in particular.


Candido said...

Is it in the best interests of the Frente to become a political party? You cite the various factions within the Frente itself, including COPINH and the stronger Zelaya advocates, who as you say don't always agree, and which could drift further apart despite their robust agenda.

Can this item of the Cartagena accord be seen as an attempt to weaken the Frente by seeking to turn it into a political party, thus increasing internal divisions?

Taking this one step further, and as stated by a recent article in El Heraldo (May 24 'Liberales y udeistas, los grandes perdedores al inscribir al FNRP), could this mean an upper hand for the National Party, despite a general rejection towards Lobo, as you have already stated?

RAJ said...

Taking the last point first: it would not be wise to equate the Partido Nacional with Lobo Sosa. He is not necessarily making friends in his own party with this move, either. Ricardo Alvarez, mayor of Tegucigalpa, is the person to watch in that party.

I doubt that the inclusion of registration of the Frente is a clever strategy. The Frente has flummoxed conventional politicians in Honduras by its heterogeneity, particularly on such things as becoming a political movement or party. If you are raised in party politics, then the only thing to mobilize for is to elect people. That is at the heart of representational political strategy.

But the Frente as such-- as something more than mere opposition-- formed behind the goal of shifting to participatory politics. Which means not simply forming a party around candidates; but engaging broader groups in making policy.

Can those goals be addressed as a political party? certainly. But there will be some who feel this risks being coopted by conventional party politics. That is, after all, what seems to have happened to the former presidential candidate of the most left-leaning party in Honduras: being in politics and in power was more important than being in the right.

The challenge for a loosely organized political opposition group is to test each step against whether it advances the overall agenda. What process do you use to test those steps if you are committed to participation-- not representation?

I do expect some within the Frente to want to become a political party, and others to resist as strongly. But recognizing the Frente as a political force is unequivocally a step in the direction of realism by Lobo Sosa; and gains the Frente a standpoint that will be hard to retract, as a legitimate political movement.