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Superficial Reality in Honduras

A few days prior to the November 29 elections in Honduras, Francisco Varela—the homeless man regularly stationed outside the drive-through of one of the ubiquitous Espresso Americano establishments in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa—acquired a campaign T-shirt for National Party presidential candidate and soon-to-be victor Porfirio (Pepe) Lobo. The shirt boasted a slogan associating Lobo with immediate change; prospects for such things in Honduras were however called into doubt by the fact that the recent attempt by Honduran President Manuel (Mel) Zelaya to hold a nonbinding public opinion survey in order to gauge popular desire to rewrite the Constitution had been met with a coup d’état.

Presumably in order to avoid having to discuss why popular consultations could not be reconciled with the interests of the Honduran elite, the golpista regime transformed the survey issue into a bid by Zelaya to install himself as eternal president of Honduras in violation of Constitutional articles prohibiting leaders from serving more than one 4-year term. These articles had appeared less important in 1985 when current coup president Roberto Micheletti, then a member of Congress, attempted to prolong the presidency of Roberto Suazo Córdova; other neglected articles included Article 102 prohibiting the expatriation of any Honduran—which did not prevent the armed forces from depositing the elected Honduran president in Costa Rica on the morning of June 28—and Article 2 establishing the Honduran people as the true rulers of Honduras, an honor which still did not enable public opinion surveys.

Additional holes in golpista rhetoric consisted of Zelaya’s ineligibility to run in the November 29 elections whether or not the public opinion survey had been carried out and my failure over the past 4 months to encounter a single member of the Honduran anti-coup Resistance who has been more concerned with the fate of Zelaya than with the fate of the constituyente (National Constituent Assembly to rewrite the Constitution).

Outside the Espresso Americano drive-through, Varela insisted that Lobo would bring about change by eliminating gang culture in Honduras—either via the death penalty or by imprisoning gang members for a sufficient number of decades so that they were unable to reproduce, he said—but did not explain how such agendas were more beneficial to his person than, for example, the acquisition of shoes. Subsequent evidence of efforts by political elites to graft their own concerns onto the citizenry surfaced at the December 2 session of Congress, convened to reject the restitution of Zelaya, during which a prohibition of the terms “the Honduran people,” “the poor,” “democracy,” “god,” and “Hugo Chávez” would have reduced golpista discourse to a bare minimum.

Professed Congressional concern for a “reconciliation of the Honduran family” did not meanwhile appear to take into account potential obstacles to familial reconciliation processes based on elections in which the majority of the family had abstained from voting. As for repeated proclamations by pro-coup Congress members that “this country does not belong to Chávez,” this was seconded by anti-coup Congressman César Ham of the Democratic Unification party, who wagered that 10 percent of the Honduran population controlled 90 percent of the wealth.

The alleged expansionism of Venezuelan socialism was invoked by Lobo supporter Oscar Izaguirre on election morning in Colonia Estados Unidos, a district by the name of The United States on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, which was characterized by mangled dirt roads and limited infrastructure.

Izaguirre went beyond typical golpista warnings of the dangers posed by the Chávez-backed Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America (ALBA)—an initiative guaranteeing more affordable fuel and medicines, among other items, for Honduran citizens—and reminded me of the necessity of intervention in Vietnam by his colonia’s namesake. The decreased necessity of the US in present times was, however, implied by Honduran Army Commander Miguel Angel García’s announcement in August that the Honduran armed forces had prevented the arrival of socialism to “the heart of the United States,” and Izaguirre’s announcement that he wished to rename his colonia as punishment for current “US intervention in Honduran affairs”—the golpista codename for the post-coup US policy of nominally admonishing the Honduran coup regime while nonetheless permitting its consolidation of power.

Izaguirre’s abrupt transition from his analysis of Vietnam to an analysis of the “war between the Tutsis and the other negros” was not accompanied by an analysis of the transition itself, and it was not clear whether he was proposing that Chávez intended to ignite a civil war in Honduras or that the name of the colonia be changed to “Rwanda” in order to discourage US interference. Also not clear was why prominent golpistas had not classified US use of Honduras as a launch pad for the contra war against Nicaragua in the 1980s as “intervention”; Izaguirre meanwhile progressed to an analysis of internal Honduran meddling, and declared that the Liberal Party — traditional rival of the National Party — “has screwed us and wants to continue screwing us,” despite the fact that the two parties were largely indistinguishable in substance.

According to a handful of Nacionalistas that gathered outside the school where voting was taking place, the Liberales employed at the polling station were deliberately altering the voting table numbers assigned to opposing party members. An election observer belonging to the Liberal Party assured me that “this sort of thing happens in all countries of the world” and asked if I worked for the Miami Herald, although he failed to specify whether this was an example of other places in the world where manipulation of data regularly occurred.

As for complications in the transmission of electoral results that evening, the Honduran Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced a technical failure somewhere in the midst of the 20,000 cellular phones that had been purchased for nearly half a million dollars such that electoral tables across Honduras could phone their results in to the TSE’s main computing center. How the TSE had determined that oral reporting of election results was pragmatic in a country in which the phrase “cell phone reception” bordered on oxymoronic was never established, nor was how the TSE had calculated a voter participation rate of over 60 percent despite the technical failure and despite calculations of 30-35 percent participation by organizations that had not reported such failure.

US Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens had appeared in a November 29 La Tribuna article suggesting that Hondurans who did not want to vote should be respected anyway and that, although the present elections were characterized by “a lot of legitimacy,” the US would wait to issue a final judgment on whether or not they would be recognized. The wait did not prevent US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela from congratulating Lobo on his victory; Llorens was meanwhile categorized on Honduran Radio America as the “sometimes controversial” figure who had nonetheless been the recipient of applause at the Tegucigalpa voting center where he had accompanied a member of his security team to vote.

Other examples of inverse security relationships consisted of the fact that the Honduran military and police had been tasked with keeping the peace on election day, which they did by repressing a peaceful Resistance march in the northern city of San Pedro Sula. Violence was however averted in the city of El Progreso, home of coup president Roberto Micheletti, despite a November 25 article in La Prensa containing a subsection entitled “They want to kill him,” in which Micheletti claimed that the police had revealed a plot to assassinate him when he went to vote. Proof of the plot consisted of the reported discovery in El Progreso of an arsenal of items such as assault rifle bullets; according to La Prensa, “Micheletti also spoke of night-vision equipment,” the utility of which was questionable based on the fact that voting only took place in daylight hours.

The coup president’s worries thus appeared to have multiplied since August—when he had assured La Prensa that no coup-related regrets were keeping him up at night—and now in addition to being the potential target of night-vision goggles he had also recently been to the mall to view the film 2012, which he admitted to the golpista television program Frente a Frente had scared him. Micheletti expressed his hopes that reality did not follow the movie script, failing to recognize that an apocalyptic scenario would resolve once and for all the problem of presidents allegedly wishing to remain in power indefinitely; he meanwhile demonstrated his own lack of such aspirations by taking a vacation from the presidency for a week around election time—which did not alter the fact that he had decreed in September that only an invasion by the US might succeed in removing him from power.

Micheletti had thus far refrained from proposing a name change for Colonia Estados Unidos or Colonia Kennedy, a main district of the capital which I visited on the afternoon of election day. Seated on a bench across the way from the voting center at the John F. Kennedy School was a small group of middle-aged Resistance members, who had begun to chant “Dignity, dignity” after being challenged by onlookers disapproving of their comments to an Univisión television camera regarding the illegitimacy of elections. The exchange resulted in two pickup trucks full of police being called in to monitor the Resistance members, who resumed sitting on the bench.

The Honduran coup regime, which has focused on presenting elections as a panacea for political, social, and economic injustice in the country, has been aided in its construction of a superficial reality by a number of factors. These range from the onset of the Christmas season to US willingness to support a “Honduran solution to the Honduran problem”—which happens to coincide with US interests in the region—to Honduran media obsequiousness, not least observable in tunes lauding the Honduran electoral process played on national radio and accompanied by such thoughtful commentary by radio personalities as: “What a nice song.”

The untenable nature of such a reality was recently summed up by Resistance member Jeremías López, a primary school teacher in the Honduran department of Olancho, who credited the coup with having provided the impetus for an unprecedented level of spontaneous and large-scale social organization in the country. The fact that slogans like “NO TO ELECTIONS” still abounded on the façades of voting centers on election day suggests that a regime that is not capable of erasing graffiti will be even less adept at erasing a collective experience of resistance.

BELÉN FERNÁNDEZ can be reached at belengarciabernal@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Belén Fernández is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso, and Martyrs Never Die: Travels through South Lebanon.

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