Friday, September 16, 2011

Fissures in the Nationalist Party

Ex-president Rafael Leonardo Callejas acknowledged the necessity of working on the unity of the Nationalist party in light of the latest decisions of the president, Porfirio Lobo...

With these words, La Tribuna highlighted what we've been observing for a while: there is a division in the Nationalist Party, in its own way perhaps as bad as the divisions within the Liberal party in Honduras.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the deep rift that has developed between Ricardo Alvarez, head of the Nationalist party and Mayor of Tegucigalpa, and Porfirio Lobo Sosa.

It is normal in Honduran politics for the president to appoint only members of his party to ministerial positions, and to then pack their employment rolls with party loyalists as well. Under pressure to manufacture a "government of unity and reconciliation", Lobo Sosa didn't do that. He not only appointed opposition party members to Ministerial posts, but also allowed them to hire whomever they pleased. And some of those appointments have brought him criticism from party loyalists.

Most visibly, for weeks, Ricardo Alvarez has been calling for Cesar Ham's head, demanding Lobo Sosa replace him and all the other "reconciliation" government members from other parties with National party loyalists. This concern also seeped into his response to Lobo Sosa's recent removal of Oscar Alvarez, Mario Canahuati, and other government officials.

In reaction, Ricardo Alvarez is reported to have said
"With respect to the changes I can say that I respect the decisions (but) I cannot say in this moment whether I share them or not because I do not understand them, because we are talking about five ex-officials of the first order, good Hondurans, excellent employees, and extraordinary Nationalist party members."

Two of those dismissed (Oswaldo Guillén and Nasry Asfura) are followers of Ricardo Alvarez's movement within the National party, and Oscar Alvarez was widely rumored to be a protege.

Lobo Sosa and Ricardo Alvarez were supposed to meet this morning to discuss the firings, but at the last minute, Lobo Sosa canceled out.

(He opted instead to attend a ceremony at which he was awarded an honorary doctorate for his "support of non-discrimination" for hosting the Summit of Afrodescendent Peoples in August. The honorary degree was conferred by the Centro de Estudios para la Democracia Popular of Chile, la Universidad Internacional Euroamericana de España y la Universidad de la República de Chile. You can see why that would be more important than meeting with the leader of a major movement in the party of which he is the sitting president.)

He attributed the criticism from his fellow party members to "ambitions and economic interests."

Oscar Alvarez and Mario Canahuati, like Ricardo Alvarez, have presidential aspirations. This is a complication in relationships within the Nationalist party, including those to Porfirio Lobo Sosa. While a Honduran president cannot run for re-election, he certainly can extend his influence through relationships with candidates vying within his party for nomination.

Exhibit A: ex-president Callejas, stepping in to try to promote party unity, he says. No fan of Lobo Sosa's "government of reconciliation", he called on Lobo to rethink it before the end of the year and undo it.

So are Ricardo Alvarez and Rafael Callejas being unfair to Lobo Sosa? Maybe not.

While Lobo Sosa states that those dismissed were fired because they failed to meet his goals for them, Eduardo Facussé noted that the dismissals favor the presidential candidacy of the head of the Congress, Juan Orlando Hernandez, to the detriment of Ricardo Alvarez.

Although his critics within the Nationalist party are not his rivals for office, because he cannot be re-elected, they are potential rivals for leadership within the party. Lobo Sosa has promoted positioning of the Nationalist party as a force of "Christian humanism" since before he was inaugurated, a position also endorsed by Ricardo Alvarez.

More distinctive has been his allegiance to the idea of what originally was called a "government of unity and reconciliation" when the US promoted it as evidence of unification after the coup. Long after there is anything to gain from this concept, long after it has become a problem for him with his own party, and despite a lack of effectiveness on the part of some of his "unity" appointees, Lobo Sosa seems to think this distinction is worth defending.

Hence his reply to the harangues from his own party:
"It's not important to me, the price I have to pay for the intolerance of a few leaders of my party who question constantly my government of integration...they will not vanquish me."

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