honduras elections after the coup: for an active boycott

on the elections in Honduras, taking place six months after a military coup against centre-left president Manuel “Mel” Zelaya – by José Luis Rojo

What was bound to happen all along has now materialised: Mel Zelaya, the bourgeois leader of the resistance to the Honduran military coup, has ended up giving up everything in exchange for nothing. Signing the “Gaymuras-San José” accord (supervised by the Obama administration) he has capitulated. It is clear that the the US government proposed him a ‘double standard’ deal: Zelaya had to sign the deal, the other side only to make a vague promise eventually to “reinstall” him.

But the ‘letter’ of the deal does not oblige post-coup president Micheletti to reinstall him: this is at the mercy of the same pro-coup Congress which voted to depose Zelaya in late June. The Congress has no need to hurry either: “This crucial aspect (his supposed reinstallment) was placed as the fifth of seven items, not the first, and was drafted ambiguously, showing that Zelaya made too many concessions as he signed the accord”.[1]

Zelaya then proceeded to sell the deal to the world, a deal which in no way says what he interpreted it to mean: rather, he had conceded them everything but the shirt off his back.

Dying a death

It is clear that there was nothing in the ‘letter’ of the text to satisfy Zelaya’s demand: it came only from the text of Obama and Clinton’s principal envoy Thomas Shannon, who gave his word that Zelaya would be returned to power. “The question at hand is why, with this document, Zelaya allowed them to take him down a winding path avoiding his return to power: having thrown away the combative resistance, and in view of Micheletti’s obstinacy, in his eyes the only exit route open to him appeared to be to sign this document. Most pressure for this came from the USA, in particular the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Latin America representative Thomas Shannon [2].

However, even apart from these simply children’s games (saying one thing and doing another) there was worldwide paraphernalia about “having reached a deal in Honduras” and finding a solution to the crisis.

At root, however, it was nothing but a simple ruse by which the Obama government achieved what it desired: an escape route to allow it to endorse the coup régime’s 29th November election… even if Zelaya is not to be reinstated. In their eyes, in either case – whether or not he returns – it will be a matter for the “sovereign decision of the Honduran people”.

Micheletti – no fool, let’s be clear – has anchored himself in the ‘letter’ of the deal, which does not bind him to anything and gave him the opportunity to form “a national unity government” to his own liking…

With this Mel Zelaya blew his top – impotently – and, with no effect whatsoever, announced he had ditched the aforementioned ‘deal’. On the way there was a sharp fall in the heroic resistance to the coup, which time and again he had submitted and subordinated to the games of dirty top-level bourgeois diplomacy, and which remained almost unarmed after months and months of back and forth, meaning it represented an ever weaker threat to the coup regime.

In this context, the oligarchy and the thuggish Honduran ruling class closed ranks behind the staging of the 29th November electoral farce, at the head of which stands Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, the candidate of the right-wing Partido Nacional who for certain is a beneficiary – in the last instance – of the affair.

A shadow named Mel Zelaya

The agonies and the ultimate impotence of Zelaya paint a portrait of him as a “dwarf”, like other dwarfs among the other bourgeois politicians who claim to have any independence from imperialisms. In reality, Zelaya never even managed to rise to that level: even if at any given moment he was a member of Petrocaribe and ALBA, he never left the Free Trade Agreement, nor kicked the American marines out of Palmerola [3]. These facts must be evidence enough to judge his political “standing”…

However, his displacement (and the popular struggle for his reinstatement) could have created in some people’s minds the illusion that this would catapult him to the rank of a “bourgeois leader who might perhaps put up a fight”.

None of that took place. With the Gaymuras pact (and his whole trajectory these last few months) what he showed, in reality, is his feebleness faced with imperialism: many Chavistas have been angered by our contention that signing the deal meant “brown nosing” imperialism, but there is no other words to describe it, even if post mortem Zelaya ended up “angered” by the role of the Obama government.

Why did he genuflect so much, almost to the point of political suicide? This owes to Zelaya’s class background and the mood of his own class (the bourgeoisie) after the 28th June coup.

To explain: the fact is that Zelaya was ever more the mere “shadow” of his own social class, coming from a rich landowning family, proprietors of much of Honduras’ territory.

All that was left to “Mel” was the support of the mass movement: but not the support of his own party (which is also Micheletti’s party), any sector of the armed forces, or any other capitalist or institution.

At the same time, given the expressed rejection of the whole armed forces, he realised that he did not have a solid state apparatus at his disposal either: Zelaya’s Honduras did not at any moment bring into place the elements of state capitalism such as exist in Chávez’s Venezuela, although he had made deals with the latter.

Given these circumstances, held back by his bourgeois class position from giving consistent support to the resistance, the least that can be said is that the many “cards” in his hand meant nothing, except perhaps the supposed favours of the “international community”…

From Zelaya to Obama

“His government fell short at the moment of putting words into action with regard to the Honduras coup d’état, and as a result the USA once again left itself more isolated on the continent”[4].

This passage reminds us of the key role the Obama government had in this whole affair. Its trajectory is more than clear: a constant drift to the right, not having fulfilled a single point of his supposed “reformist” agenda. Obama rescued Wall Street but the country has the highest unemployment rate in generations [5]. Obama partially pulled out of Iraq… but only to devote himself more to the war in Afghanistan, extending it to the territory of Pakistan itself. Obama now says that he will shut down Guantánamo “in the course of 2010″… not in January as he had promised. Obama had promised measures to facilitate the unionisation of “informal” sectors of the American working class… only to leave this initiative on this shelf. Barack Obama has been nothing more than part of a media showcase (which has a lot to do with his so-called “reformism”), dressing up very badly as something other than the continuation of the Bush administration.
How did this “evolution” play out on the territory of Honduras? Very simple: from very early on, and inspite of his rhetorical condemnation of the Honduras coup, he aligned himself more and more with the coup. Putting the arch-pro-imperialist Oscar Arias[6], neo-liberal president of Costa Rica, at the head of the negotiations was a clear indication of where his government was headed. This course of action went far indeed: Hillary Clinton ended up condemning Zelaya himself more times than the coup regime.

This being so, the dynamic was ever further to the right. The Republicans attacked the president to the effect that “Obama is ceding ground to Chávez over Zelaya” and that “Chavismo is the USA’s main problem in the region” leading him to lean, almost openly, in favour of the coup. This, not before putting out a series of cynical declarations of the type – ‘they have always been against us interfering in Latin America, and yet now they’re asking us to condemn the coup’.

However, the USA did indeed intervene – with all its weight – in the Honduras crisis. Having said it would not in any way recognise the legitimacy of the 29th November elections, indeed it ended up doing so!

The Obama government is day-to-day the strongest international support for the Honduran bourgeoisie to be able to “turn over a new leaf” with the elections, capitalising on all its gains to rub out all the concessions Zelaya had made to the mass movement: as if his time in power had never taken place.

The refusal to call a general strike

From the start the Honduran resistance was contradictory in nature. On one hand there developed a heroic, unabashed struggle under the military regime: there has barely been a day since 28th June where the resistance has not been challenging the coup in the streets. At the same time there were put in place a series of organisational initiatives which, based on the Coordinadora Nacional de Resistencia Popular, giving way to the Frente Nacional de Resistencia, throughout this time managed to coordinate and/or centralise the fight against the coup.

But from the start the resistance also contained contradictions, the most obvious being the concentration of all demands on the return of Mel Zelaya… leaving the rest by the wayside. And it was clear that it everything was based on the return of Zelaya, then he could not but be the political leadership of this movement. Liberals and Zelayista leaders of the popular movement were thus completely subordinated to Zelaya. Zelay himself subordinated the resistance to the ideas and experiences of his travels around the capitals of the world, looking for the so-called “international movement to reinstall him.

On this track he missed various opportunities to knock down the coup-mongerors. One of the earliest, and most important, came on Sunday 5th July when a crowd estimated at 150,000 people arrived at the international airport in Tegucigalpa in the hope that the elected president would land his plane.

Months afterwards, the impact of Zelaya’s surprise return to Honduras was also wasted: his rhetoric, after he sprung up at the Brazilian embassy, was of “reconciliation” with the coup regime rather than wider mass mobilisation as a response.

Besides, it is clear that the strategies of the resistance itself failed: it never gave up on the “strategy”of protest marches alone.
With anti-working class cretinism characteristic of this type of bourgeois or petty-bourgeois leadership, they never took seriously the idea that to break the coup we had to paralyse the country!

Twenty times in the leadership of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia our comrades in the Honduras Socialist Workers’ Party, members of the Socialismo o Barbarie tendency, stressed the need to launch a general strike to bring down the coup thugs and twenty times this suggestion was passed over. Lamentably this leadership could never have really have compensated for the lack of instances of real grassroots democracy [7].

Given these circumstances the resistance “ran out of ammunition”: mediating via the zig zags of negotiations and false expectations of top-level negotiations, over days, weeks and months it unravelled, although without being entirely defeated.

For this reason, we should not yet rule out a day of action on 29th November with widespread abstention and a later return, more forcefully, of the struggle against the legitimacy of the coup and the new government. Above all if the Coordinadora Nacional de Resistencia Popular had held meetings and was calling a civic stoppage for the week prior to the elections, showing the real strength it could have.

The withdrawal of the independent candidacy, as a revolutionary step
This brings us to the electorial situation. On 9th November the independent candidate Carlos H Reyes formally withdrew (before the Supreme Electoral Tribunal) his candidature.

The news of his withdrawal on the most-viewed political programme in the country, “30-30” on Sunday 8th November, fell as a true political “bomb”. Not only did the coup supporters try and play it down, saying that “Reyes is withdrawing because he was afraid of his lack of support”[8]

For the mass of the vanguard of the resistance in the country, Reyes’ exit from the illegitimate and fraudulent elections staged by the gangsters has given him impressive prestige. In the country which “gave in as not to be broken” the independent candidate assumed a principled and revolutionary position (not only tactically speaking) as argued by the Honduras Socialist Workers Party, which cannot but be a precedent of immense importance for the establishment of an independent working class pole in the country.

Besides, it is very clear that the withdrawal of the independent candidate is exacting fierce pressure on the centre-left formation Partido de la Unificación Democrática. But disgracefully this party, at the head its leader and presidential candidate César Han, in spite of everything now appear decided on presenting themselves at the elections, arguing that if they did not they would lose their elected representatives (and the money they afford to its coffers). “Why is it so difficult for the UD leadership, which so wants to be ‘on the left, and revolutionary’ to take a decision on such a simple question? Why have they not followed the example of the independent candidate Carlos H Reyes who withdrew from the electoral spectacle, keeping his word? We need only answer: the reason is that the UD leadership is opportunist”[9].

But we should beware: this is only the question of the central leadership of UD; among the grassroots are emerging criticisms and factions who could break with this leadership and evolve to the left [10].

The withdrawal of Carlos H Reyes (setting out the idea of a working-class political instrument in Honduras), simultaneous to the truly treacherous behaviour of César Han’s UD, is now opening up the possibility of political recomposition in Honduras to the left of Zelayismo.

From the starting point of having raised a principled banner – with wide impact – on the part of the independent candidate, it is thus possible to lay the basis for a working-class reference point in Honduras. It means a historic opportunity to establish a revolutionary working-class pole which our Honduras Socialist Workers’ Party comrades could commit everything to.

An abstentionist tradition which could play a very progressive role

After Reyes’ withdrawal, one novelty was the fact of Coordinadora Nacional de Resistencia Popular meeting again under that guise. Not only has it called a boycott of the 29th November election but it has resolved the possibility of calling a civic stoppage against the fraudulent elections in the week beforehand.

This is no minor question: it could be a major centre of support for the campaign for a boycott of the fraudulent elections being organised.

But there is even more that can be said against the coup regime (whether or not the general politics of the Honduran masses are slipping). It is that the illegitimacy of Honduran democracy goes years back. In the 2005 presidential elections (when Zelaya was elected by a wide margin) some 50% of the electorate abstained.

Abstentionism in these conditions represented apathy more than anything else (although insofar as that year there was no independent electoral alternative, and Zelaya was a landowner whose father was known as the murderor – thirty years before – of 15 peasants and liberation-theology priests over a land struggle.

However, given the level of politicisation, in which the resistance itself was implicated, this was somewhat in the balance. In the current situation, abstentionism (which independent sources cite as five out of ten voters) could be much more political, expressing the masses’ repudiation of the gangsters in power. This in spite of the fact that the regime’s electoral apparatus was on the march, that the media had indundated the country with electoral propaganda and that a significant part of the masses will surely go and vote nonetheless.

Preparing the workers’, peasants’ and popular counter-offensive

In conclusion: at the current moment, from the standpoint of the independent candidacy and the Honduras Socialist Workers’ Party, we are calling for an active boycott: in full recognition of carrying this out, withdrawing Carlos Reyes from these fraudulent elections. On this trajectory, we have to realise a national civic strike and establish the widest possible campaign for active resistance to the elections.

If a significant section of the masses expresses itself thusly, the new Pepe Lobo government will emerge with fatal wounds and open up a popular counter-offensivein the proper sense of the words for a Constituent Assembly and the government of the Coordinadora Nacional de Resistencia Popular.

[1] Emilio Martin, 16th November 2009

[2] ibid

[3] Palmerola, also known as Soto Cano, is the major US base in Honduras (a few miles from the capital Tegucigalpa, it was a base for the struggle against the Nicaraguan revolution in the 1980s

[4] Statement by 240 American academics calling on Obama not to recognise the 29th November elections.

[5] Unemployment figures in the USA have reached a level not seen since the Great Depression.

[6] A key aspect of the negotiations of the 1980s which betrayed the Central American revolution.

[7] The Honduras Socialist Workers Party pressured as far as possible this phenomenon such as it existed in the poor districts of the capital city.

[8] Let our readers know that Reyes was running third in the polls and the Organisation of American States expected some 18% support for his candidacy.

[9] Tomas Andino Mecía

[10] See the UD document “Workers to power” calling for rejection of the electoral fraud.