Qu?tate tu pa ponerme yo
– Song by Marc Anthony
Sufragio efectivo, no reelecci?n
– Francisco I Madero political slogan, Mexico, 1910
Remember the plotters who kidnaped and exiled President Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya and those who helped provide the facade of legitimacy for the June 28, 2009, military coup d’?tat? Almost two years later, this group of landed gentry, businessmen and military goons joined most of Latin America in welcoming Mel’s return to Honduras.
Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the media stenographers treated Mel’s 2011 homecoming as if he had coached a winning Honduran soccer team. For the few with memories, Mel in 2009 “threatened democracy” by asking the citizens to vote: for or against changing the Constitution. Washington now beams with satisfaction ? as if that former banana republic has returned to its proper servile place among “democratic” nations in the OAS.
In 2009, the now celebratory Hillary Clinton tried to legitimate the Honduran coup. The State Department had lined up with neocons, Chiquita Banana, Honduran business tycoons and military brass to condemn Zelaya for overstepping the sacred Constitution.
Hillary has forgotten her righteous condemnations and supports the agreement reached by her arch foe Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez (socialist), and her ally Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos (conservative), and Washington’s recently acquired Honduran puppet president Porfirio Lobo (conservative) to laud progressive Zelaya’s return.
The coup makers did not foresee Latin American governments ? progressive or conservative ? collaborating, as Colombia and Venezuela did, outside OAS and U.S. domains. But they like the results. On the surface the accords showed Latin Americans had reached maturity, where right and left could unify (except for Ecuador) around the concept of law and as a region, by excluding the U.S. and Canada, solve their own problems. But behind this rosy face lurked the same old partnership of local oligarchy and the Monroe Doctrine.
How did this “miracle” occur?
On April 9, 2011, in Colombia, Presidents Santos and Ch?vez got Lobo and Zelaya to reach an agreement ? something neither the State department nor the OAS had achieved. (Ecuador refused to agree on lifting OAS restrictions on Honduras because the accords did not call for bringing to justice those who carried out the coup and assassinated and tortured hundreds in the aftermath.)
On May 22, Lobo and Zelaya, the kidnap victim, signed the Cartagena Accords. Santos and Chavez witnessed. The two Hondurans agreed to abide by the Constitution, guarantee Zelaya’s safe return to Honduras, with explicit recognition that he would participate fully in political life. Similarly, these conditions would apply to former Zelaya ministers now living in exile.
In 2009, Zelaya tried to eliminate some institutionalized anti-democratic features by offering voters a chance to decide, through a plebiscite, if they wanted to change parts of the Constitution ? like term limits (Article 234). Such an action, Washington and the Honduran oligarchy feared would allow Zelaya to use the support of the ALBA initiative (supported by Venezuelan President Chavez, ALBA aims to establish a Latin American alternative to “free” trade) to obtain capital resources, which he could then direct toward improving the lot of Honduras’ poor, a step toward his likely re-election. That formula had worked in Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia. By ousting Zelaya and removing Honduras from ALBA, the Honduran oligarchy and Washington could keep Honduras in the hands of the old order.
In January 2011, however, the Zelaya-hating forces seemed to reverse themselves. With Washington’s support the legislature approved the legality of holding a plebiscite on ending term limits, the very reason they had kidnapped and exiled Zelaya. Plebiscites and referendums got the kosher stamp only months before the Cartagena deal emerged.
A curious media would ask: Why did the oligarchy, with Washington’s covert blessing that initially snatched and exiled Zelaya because he planned to hold a plebiscite to ascertain whether the Honduran people wanted to have a constitutional convention to re-write the constitution, now reverse itself and approve those once sinful notions?
Even the Supreme Court, which in 2009 had declared Zelaya’s intentions unconstitutional, in 2011, decided these changes had magically become legal and downright good for the “people’s aspirations.” U.S. backers will pour tens of millions into any oligarchy-selected candidate, but Zelaya, no longer head of state, is not eligible for ALBA funds. Zelaya, with his Liberal Party split, has less leverage. The grassroots leadership that fought for the Zelaya government and its leader in 2009 suffered the brunt of the repression and political killings. They want the guilty brought to justice. Their demands will work against “reconciliation.”
Under the Cartagena accords Honduras can return to the OAS. The “weighty” accusations against Zelaya and the legalistic blather used to justify the coup have disappeared. (Wikileaks revealed the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa in 2009 advised Washington the so-called legal arguments were bunk.) So Honduras suffered a brief interruption in the otherwise smooth development of Latin American “democracy”.
The coup delighted the Honduran oligarchy and its Washington backers, but the rest of the world disapproved. Foreign lending institutions, for example, withheld or delayed loans to Honduras. By late 2010, Lobo and company understood that investments would not pour in without formal and informal “recognition”.
In the past the Hondurans predictably played the musical chairs game; the oligarchs (economic power) shared via electoral rotation the political leadership as well. Behind the initial rejoicing over the Cartagena Accords then lurks a possibly bleak scenario. Hondurans might again face oligarchical rule, but now with the stamp of Latin American approval; unless, of course, those who resisted the coup can work with Zelaya and win an election with a real people’s alternative. Justice for the victims of the coup ? the dead and the tortured, however, will have to wait.
Nelson P. Valdes is Professor Emeritus, University of New Mexico