Honduras: An uneasy accord
NewsNotes, November-December 2009
After more than four months of political turmoil and repression not seen since the 1980s, the end of the civil-military coup in Honduras finally appears in sight, though the agreement, mediated by Costa Rican president Carlos Arias, includes some significant hurdles to jump before political normalcy returns. The remaining months of 2009 will be key for the future of Honduras and the region.
The following article was prepared on November 2; events in Honduras continue to change even as NewsNotes goes to print.
A week before the accord, the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) released a report on human rights abuses under the coup regime. Between June 28 and October 10, over 4,000 violations of human rights including 21 assassinations and violent deaths were reported. COFADEH’s report emphasized its concerns over the treatment of teachers in the country who have been subject to “illegal and arbitrary retention of salaries, profiling, legal suits brought against them by the Public Ministry, persecution, illegal detentions and even assassination.” In addition, it described violent repression, especially of youth, media censorship and a sense of déjà vu with the violence of years past. From the report, “The military dictatorship that we live under today is very similar to that of the decade of the 1980s, however, there is an important difference. During the 1980s, those who repressed the people hid their faces and their names. Today, those who repress the people have names, faces and uniforms: ‘blue-green – olive and white.’”
The 12 points of agreement reached on October 30 include the establishment of a national unity and reconciliation government with representatives from various political parties and social organizations filling the president’s cabinet positions. Both sides agreed to not call for a constituent assembly for a new Constitution until after the new president assumes power in January of next year. According to Laura Carlsen of the Americas Policy Program, “This point of the accords caused Juan Barahona, a leader of the National Front Against the Coup, to resign from the Zelaya negotiating team because it has become central to the movement not only to restore, but to expand Honduran democracy.”
The accord calls for elections to be held on November 29 with the transfer of power to the elected president on January 27, 2010. It also calls for a four-member Verification Commission composed of two members of the Organization of American States (OAS) and two others to be appointed by coup regime president Roberto Micheletti and exiled president Manuel Zelaya. Additionally, “for the purpose of clarifying the events occurring before and after June 28, 2009,” the accord establishes a truth commission “to identify acts that led to the current situation and provide the people of Honduras with elements to avoid repetition of these events in the future.” The commission should be established in the first half of 2010 by the next government.
The new agreement does not necessarily end the political standoff or the coup regime. Andres Thomas Conteris, a reporter who has stayed with Zelaya in the Brazilian embassy for weeks, pointed out a number of possible barriers. First, the most difficult point of negotiations -- the reinstatement of Zelaya to the presidency -- remains unresolved. For weeks, negotiators reported general agreement on all points of the accord except the issue of the restitution of Zelaya. Two weeks prior to signing this pact, Micheletti agreed to Zelaya’s restitution, only to come back the next day demanding that the Supreme Court ratify that decision. Knowing it was unlikely that the Supreme Court would approve – having ordered his June arrest -- Zelaya countered, proposing that the Honduran Congress decide. Both sides agreed to ask the Supreme Court for their non-binding recommendation and for Congress to make the final decision. As no deadline was set for either body to act, and the proposed elections are less than a month away, the opposition could try to stall the process, although international pressure could persuade Congress to decide quickly to reinstate.
Other difficult issues include the creation of a cabinet with members of opposition parties, and the Verification Commission. Both sides have agreed that no one would receive amnesty, but due to the warrant against Zelaya, he could be arrested as soon as he leaves the Brazilian embassy. If this were to happen, the coup would deepen and repression increase.
Tom Loudon of the Quixote Center said even if all goes quickly and elections take place on November 29, “it is impossible for there to be transparent and fair elections this month.” Both opposition candidates who represent the large resistance coalition opposed to the coup “have been subject to extensive persecution. The independent candidate Carlos H. Reyes has spent part of the last four months in hiding, due to death threats. He was also viciously attacked at a protest three months ago, and has spent his time since the attack in the hospital, and subsequently undergoing therapy for his mutilated wrist.” As Loudon points out, “The obvious danger is that an election under these circumstances could bring a very similar power structure as that present under the putsch government, the repressive apparatus firmly entrenched and a sheen of legitimacy which would have never been possible for Micheletti.”
Whatever happens, this episode in Honduran history has awakened a vigilant and active people’s movement that will play a significant role in determining the country’s future for years or decades to come. While the elites of the country may think that this agreement may quell demands for a new Constitution, the people’s movement remains clear. In their statement on the agreement, they announced, “We reiterate that a National Constituent Assembly is an unrenounceable aspiration of the Honduran people and a non-negotiable right for which we will continue struggling in the streets, until we achieve the re-founding of our society to convert it into one that is just, egalitarian and truly democratic.”
See also the Americas Project's Honduras blog