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Honduras: already signs of trouble

25 November 2013

As of earlier this evening, the Honduran Elections Tribunal … based on 24 percent of the vote… showed National Party presidential candidate Juan Orlando in the lead with 249,000 votes over Xiomara Castro of LIBRE’s 202,000. Both candidates, based on these incomplete returns are claiming victory.

What makes this election so important… well beyond Honduras… is what it says about both U.S. influence in the Latin America, and the role of “traditional” politics. Honduras, like the United States, has — for as long as anyone can remember — been a two-party state, with two right of center pro-capitalist parties: the Liberal and National Parties. The 28 June 2009 coup d’etat removed Liberal Party president Manuel (Mel) Zelaya and installed Roberto Micheletti. While in the United States and Canada, every attempt was made to claim Zelaya’s removal was legitimate… and if not legitimate, then necessary given the Liberal pol was pushing Honduras into an alliance with Venezuela though extra-legal means, no one outside the two North American powers bought this. What the rest of the planet saw was that Zeleya’s “crime” was promoting a referendum on a new constitution to replace the flawed 1982 Constitution (which among other things, forbids exiling a president… which in this instance was done) which was hastily cut and pasted together as part of negotiations to end 42 years of military rule (under the “tutelage of the United States).

Even the conservative, pro-U.S. government of Mexico’s Felipe Calderón having rejected the U.S./Canadian position, Calderón led the way in forming CELAC … the Council of Latin American and Carribean States… as a counterweight to the OAS (Organization of American States) with the same membership, but without the United States and Canada… the two countries that denied a coup had taken place. Mexico’s PRI, while pro-U.S. and pro-NAFTA over the last 20 years, rediscovered its nationalist heritage in the last election, and in coming into the Presidency (and a congressional majority) has taken a less subservient attitude towards the “Colossus of the North” in good part because even the conservative elements in the party recognized that U.S interests and Latin American interests collided.

The interim government that replaced Zelaya was also headed by Liberals, and another Liberal politician, Porfirio Lobo won the tainted 2010 special election to finish out Zelaya’s term. Resistance to the coup has been fractured, and there were eight parties on the ballot. The main elements within the resistance coalesced into a pro-Zelaya part of the left, LIBRE (Partido Libertad y Refundación), and the Liberals have been toast. Xiomara Castro, LIBRE’s candidate, is Mrs. Mel Zelaya.

Should initial counts hold up, the Liberals will have gone from the main party to a third party, with LIBRE — if not the ruling party — then the mainstream opposition. As it is, opposition parties, overall, received more than the majority of votes, with the Nationalists and Liberals together less than half the votes.

With both Castro and Nationalist candidate Orlando having campaigned on promises to push through constitutional changes (although Orlando’s changes would allow for a larger role for the military in civil policing, creating an even more repressive society than the one the opposition parties sought to change), a Nationalist government is going to have to respond to LIBRE’s own demands for economic and social change.

I don’t mean to say that a housewives Buernos Aires, or factory workers in Saõ Paulo or Aguascalientes are going to be influenced by what Honduran voters do, and even if reaction to today’s elections lead to violence (or, more troubling, to pressure on the U.S. government to “fix” Honduras) are they going to take much notice of the country, but the effects on their governments, and their government’s responses, are felt throughout Latin America. And, while Honduras is the last country one would consider a trend-setter in Latin American political thought, what makes this even more important is that being such a “backwater” of political and social innovation, when there is genuine interest in change, one can safely assume that the region as a whole is no longer satisfied with the status quo.

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