Responses to the Coup d'etat in Honduras on Sunday June 28, with special emphasis on producing English-language versions of commentaries by Honduran scholars and editorial writers and addressing the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Primer on Honduran Politics, by Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle

A second text written by the Minister of Culture, made available through the work of Adrienne Pine

[Note: this excellent and brief summary of the context of the coup should be read in conjunction with the previous post, my hurried and thus somewhat choppy translation of Pastor Fasquelle's passionate open letter to those responsible for the coup, titled after Émile Zola's famous J'accuse]

For the recent coup in Honduras to begin to make sense to an American public, readers require knowledge of a broader context, of political and historic circumstances surrounding the situation. Even with such background information, it is difficult to trace the multiple links that pull these events into a coherent picture.

Some of the players are evident, for example, the interamerican rightist coalition that connects CIA diehards with Cuban exile fanatics and rightist politicians in Latin American countries has been tremendously worried over the last couple of years with the advance of socially progressive politics in the region. Right wingers have attempted to put widely differing experiences and models in the same sack, making no distinction between Chile’s socialist President Bachelet and Venezuela’s Chavez, between Argentinian President Kirchner and Bolivia’s indigenous coca defender Evo Morales, Correa of Ecuador and, on the other hand Brazil’s Lula with whom the former is fighting, or between the left leaning presidents of Central American countries, as if there were none, for example, between President Zelaya, a rich landowner from the traditionalist Liberal Party --who has simply insisted on the need to address inequalities and respond to severe poverty-- and, on the other hand, Daniel Ortega, an avowed Marxist Leninist.

There are other common threads or denominators, such as the increasing pressure of fundamentalist christians (both Catholic and Protestant) in politics and on the state. (Clearly The Assault on Reason of former Vice President Al Gore analyses a similar thread in American politics). So that when President Zelaya vetoed a law which intended to prohibit the use of birth control pills, the clergy reacted with a vengeance. Americans should also be familiar with the lobbying of corporate interests in Congress and executive offices, especially by oil and pharmaceutical conglomerates, the communications industry and seekers of tax havens and exemptions. I know a couple of New York republicans who hate the democrats who tax them in order to finance public health services.

Yet, Honduran politics must be difficult to understand for an American reader. How, for example, can one explain to this public that in what Hondurans call “democracy” today, seven party bosses determine the totality of the electoral options (from President of the country to local officers) and no one can participate without their patronage. Or how to explain that our congressmen have no geographically determined constituency, as American congressmen from a given district, and therefore are not really answerable to anyone but the bosses who put them on the ballot. Or how can one explain that until three months ago there was no way one could ask the Honduran electorate if it agreed with legal reforms of different sorts. Because ours is only a “representative democracy” according to the constitution! A reglamentary constitution, with almost four hundred articles that regulate rigidly every aspect of national life, make no provision for change and which have, therefore, had to be reformed in more than one third of their contents, yet lacks guarantees. So Indian groups and African descendants have no rights over their lands, which belong to the nation. And no one can personally accuse any other party for any wrong suffered, but has to rely on public attorneys and their disposition to process! Really. I am serious.

And when we have obtained, through public opinion pressure profound reforms, passed with all votes in favor, applauded by international organizations, for example prohibiting the President of Congress (which gets a disproportionate part of the budget for its political activity) from aspiring immediately to the Presidency of the Republic, in order to limit his advantage with public funding, the incumbent has gone to the Supreme Court, which Congress also elects every seven years (and had to elect this year) and gets a sentence saying the said provision violates his constitutional right to be elected to office!! It’s for real.

So that when, based on the new Law of Citizen’s Participation passed on the first day of his term, President M. Zelaya proposed consulting the electorate through a nationwide poll on the need to convene a new constituent assembly to reform this perverse system, its beneficiaries began a prolonged war to stop him, accusing him wanting to become a dictator.

Or how do you explain to the American electorate that in Honduras where we have had in the last two centuries hundreds of revolutions and coups d’etat, military commanders really can invoke a judicial sentence ruling that poll to be unconstitutional (because it is a direct consultation) in order to disobey an executive order, an order of their Commander-in-Chief to transport the materials for the poll, to rebel, and can, after being discharged from their posts, attack the President’s home with machine guns at five o’clock in the morning of last Sunday and kidnap him pointblank and fly him out of the country, and convene Congress, a couple of hours later that day, and proclaim there has been no coup and that the legal successor is the President of Congress. I am not sure I understand that myself and I was born and bred in Honduras.

More Pastor Fasquelle's commentary on the role of the military in the coup d'etat, and his argument that the role played by the military will constitute a difficulty for the negotiations underway mediated by Oscar Arias, is featured in an interview today with Telesur. On July 5, Pastor Fasquelle spoke with the BBC about the politics of the coup, expressing the same views and voicing his concern that the situation could erupt in civil war.

[Adrienne Pine, an anthropologist who blogs at, translated and published this statement by this prominent Honduran intellectual. Her work is used here under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License, the terms of which govern any other use of this work.]

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