Archive for March, 2014

Honduran Bishop Luis Santos Villeda: Wealthy elite were behind coup

Luis Alfonso Santos
Saturday, August 8, 2009

Eugene, Oregon, U.S.A., Paul Jeffrey, Catholic News Service, CNS  http://www.catholicnews.com/  in http://www.normangirvan.info/  August 6, 2009

A Catholic bishop in western Honduras said members of the country’s wealthy elite were behind the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya.

Bishop Luis Santos Villeda of Santa Rosa de Copan also said the country needs a dialogue between the elite and Honduras’ poor and working-class citizens.

“Some say Manuel Zelaya threatened democracy by proposing a constitutional assembly. But the poor of Honduras know that Zelaya raised the minimum salary. That’s what they understand. They know he defended the poor by sharing money with mayors and small towns. That’s why they are out in the streets closing highways and protesting (to demand Zelaya’s return),” the bishop told Catholic News Service.

In a July 30 telephone interview, he said it is misleading to consider Honduras a democracy, either before or after the June 28 coup.

“There has never been a real democracy in Honduras. All we have is an electoral system where the people get to choose candidates imposed from above. The people don’t really have representation, whether in the Congress or the Supreme Court, which are all chosen by the rich. We’re the most corrupt country in Central America, and we can’t talk about real democracy because the people don’t participate in the decisions,” he said.

While Bishop Santos has criticized Zelaya for forging too close an alliance with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the prelate said those behind the coup are not advocates of democracy.

“They are gangsters, but their game is up. They plot together over dinner one night but the next day pretend to have disagreements in order to deceive the illiterate. They don’t care that children are dying of hunger, or that people die in hospitals without medicine,” he told the Jesuit-run Radio Progreso July 29.

In the interview with CNS, the bishop said that after an appeal from Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the wife of the ousted president, he had dispatched food and water to embattled protesters.

“As a church, we continue offering humanitarian aid where it’s needed,” he told CNS. “And, taking into consideration our preferential option for the poor, we urge a dialogue between the unions, peasant groups and popular organizations on the one side and the economic powers behind the coup, which are linked to the transnational mining companies, the fast food chains and the petroleum distributors. The dialogue should be between these powerful groups and the poor and weak. … The international community doesn’t have anything to do with it.

“Who lives with the shocking misery here — the lack of education and medicines, the lack of even sheets in the hospitals — are the poor of Honduras. So national reconciliation needs to be between the poor, represented by their leaders, and these economically powerful groups,” he said.

Bishop Santos’ analysis of the political crisis appears at odds with that of Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras.

In a July 4 appearance that the interim government ordered all the country’s television and radio stations to carry live, Cardinal Rodriguez urged Zelaya to remain outside the country, warning of violence should he attempt to return.

“We think that a return to the country at this time could unleash a bloodbath in the country,” Cardinal Rodriguez said. “To this day, no Honduran has died,” he added, urging Zelaya to think about his actions “because afterward it will be too late.”

One protester was killed by government soldiers July 5 when troops closed the Tegucigalpa airport to prevent Zelaya’s plane from landing. At least one other pro-Zelaya demonstrator has been killed since.

Cardinal Rodriguez used the July 4 appearance to read a letter from the country’s bishops’ conference. The letter, which did not use the word “coup,” argued that what had transpired was “in conformance with the law.”

A source within the bishops’ conference told CNS that a lively discussion took place during the meeting in which the letter was drafted, with the cardinal reading from a folder of legal documents provided by the interim government to bolster the case against Zelaya. Bishop Santos reportedly argued strongly for a different position, but finally conceded.

Most of the bishops in Honduras are foreigners and reportedly did not take an active part in the discussion.

Asked by CNS about the meeting, Bishop Santos, who often has differed publicly with Cardinal Rodriguez on political issues, declined to comment. Yet he did say the cardinal’s position was not the only Catholic viewpoint.

“The coup plotters took the appearance of Cardinal Rodriguez in the media as if it were the position of the Catholic Church. But in Honduras we have eight dioceses, and each bishop is autonomous legally and within canon law,” he said.

He pointed out that in his diocesan cathedral July 2 he had read a statement from his diocesan council repudiating “the substance, form and style with which a new head of the executive branch has been imposed on the people.”

Other Catholic groups, including the Central American province of the Jesuits and the region’s Dominicans, as well as the clergy of the Honduran Diocese of Trujillo, have issued statements criticizing the change of government and calling for authentic democracy.

The United Nations, the Organization of American States and the European Union have condemned the coup and demanded Zelaya’s return.

Cardinal Rodriguez received a letter of support from leaders of the Latin American bishops’ council, known by the acronym CELAM.

In an interview from the Nicaraguan-Honduran border, Zelaya told the independent news organization Democracy Now! July 30 that Cardinal Rodriguez “conspired with the coup leaders. He betrayed the people, the poor. He took off his robes to put on a military uniform. And with his words, he really contributed to the assassinations that have taken place in Honduras.”

On July 28 a group of human rights activists filed a motion with the government’s special prosecutor against corruption, asking that the courts charge Cardinal Rodriguez and former Honduran President Carlos Flores with the misuse of public funds. The accusation alleges that the government has paid a monthly stipend of 100,000 lempiras (US$5,300) to the prelate since December 2002.

Repeated attempts by CNS to reach Cardinal Rodriguez at his office and residence were unsuccessful.

Source: http://www.normangirvan.info/honduran-bishop-wealthy-elite-were-behind-coup/

In Honduras: Peasants vs. the 10 ruling families

­por Orsetta Bellani­­
Exclusive for El Reportero 

http://www.elreporterosf.com/?q=node/6689

Every day, twenty people are killed in Honduras. It’s the most violent country in the world and the causes for this can be found in its history.

In the 70s, while in the neighboring countries (Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua) left-wing guerrillas were consolidating, Honduras was a US fiefdom. The country was used as the basis for the operations of the Contra, the guerrilla force used by the U.S. to combat the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

Honduras has been the “Republic of Bananas” par excellence. Here for 10 years banana companies like Chiquita and Dole, whose trucks are forming endless processions in the streets, have replaced the state. In the city of Tela, who hosted the eponymous banana company in the last century, the corporation brought electricity, school and work. Today, more than a Banana Republic, Honduras has the appearance of a Republic of the African Palm.

As a result, as revealed by the Honduran Foreign Minister, the country currently imports half its supply of maize and rice, with an obvious loss of food autonomy.

According to Rel-Uita, Honduras today produces over 300 thousand metric tons of palm oil and 70 percent is sold in foreign markets.

The estates of palm oil, whose oil is destined for the food industry and the production of agrofuels, are grown by farmers who – according to the data provided by organizations member of the campaign “Vamos al Grano” – around 75 percent live on a dollar per day.

They work with chemicals that contaminate soil and poison the aquifers layers of the third poorest country in Latin America. This creates intolerance among the peasants and generates income for the Facusses, one of the most powerful in the country and throughout Central America.

“In Honduras there are ten families who make the decisions. They control industries, banks, media, police, the Supreme Court, the Public Ministry, the National Assembly and the Government,” says Miriam Miranda, Chair of OFRANEH (Honduran Black Fraternal Organization). The Honduran oligarchy began to be structured in the midtwentieth century, when a handful of Jewish and Palestinian families migrated to Central America, attracted by the foreign capital investment of the multinational mining and banana companies. These families have been able to put aside the historical tensions between the two peoples and now control 40 percent of national production. The State is its largest customer in a context in which, as emphasized by the president of COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) Berta Caceres, “the State does not exist, but rather strengthens the institutions who hold effective control.” Almost all Honduran oligarchs contribute financially to the two parties, and several members of these families have been ministers of the government in power.

In 2009, former President Zelaya blocked the same oligarchy he belonged to. He announced minimum wage increase of 66 percent, accession to ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, an alliance between progressive Latin American countries promoted by Chavez) and promised agrarian reform.

It was never approved: on June 28th, 2009, the day that Zelaya had called the people to vote for a consultation to decide whether to convene a constituent assembly, the country’s oligarchs staged a coup. Zelaya was overthrown and a government in line with the interests of the oligarchy put in place, so intertwined with drug-trafficking that according to Wikileaks, it uses Facusse’s properties as a landing strip for aircraft. An example of the arrogance of the Honduran oligarchy is the Lower Aguan issue. In the 90’s the government privatized the land, following the advice of the International Monetary Fund.

“Because of the threats, here in Lower Aguan everybody started to sell, especially to Facusse. Those who refused were killed,” denounces Vitalino Alvarez, from the organization MUCA (Aguan Unified Peasant Movement). Then, when the peasants rebelled, the government promised the restitution of much of the land. Not only the terms of the agreement have not been met, but also by early June Miguel Facusse threatened to evict seven farms – about 4,000 hectares – negotiated with the government, where they settled thousands of peasant families affiliated to MUCA.

However, by late June the peasant organization MARK (Authentic Vindicator Movement from Aguan) won an important victory: Tegucigalpa court of first instance ruled the restitution of 1,800 hectares of land to the families of the same organization who were dispossessed of their land in 1994, acknowledging the illegality of its ­acquisition by Facusse and Rene Morales Carazo. However, according to the MARK, the corrupt Honduran judges admitted protection measures filed by the two landowners, thereby reversing the ruling.

That decision sets the stage for further violence in the Lower Aguan where from the beginning of 2010 until today, Facusse’s guards have killed 51 people involved with farmers’ organizations and one journalist and his partner.

“The decrees of the government legitimate impunity since the coup: when it is so widely it is applicable to a plan,” said former President Zelaya during the inauguration of the International Meeting for Human Rights in Solidarity with Honduras, which took place in February in Lower Aguan.

El martirio y el asesinato del padre Ivan Betancourt

Anales Históricos  5 julio, 2009 – 10:43 AM

 

Juan Ramón Martínez

ultima foto de Ivan Betancourt

ultima foto de Ivan Betancourt

Hace 34 años, Iván Betancourt, colombiano, sacerdote católico, enamorado de los pobres de Olancho, fue ajusticiado en la finca Los Horcones, propiedad de Manuel Zelaya, padre del actual Presidente de Honduras. Otras trece personas, corrieron igual suerte que el padre Betancourt. Después de muertos por varios disparos, sus cadáveres fueron depositados en un pozo malacate, rellenado y aplanado con tractores, para destruir todas las huellas que condujeran a descubrir los cuerpos inertes y a establecer vinculaciones con los culpables. Mientras la población se preguntaba dónde se encontraban las catorce personas desaparecidas. El mayor Enrique Chinchilla anunciaba, contando con el apoyo de periodistas locales pagados, que estos se habían ido a las montañas en donde supuestamente se habrían organizado en guerrillas para combatir al gobierno dirigido por Juan Alberto Melgar Castro. La investigación efectuada por una Comisión Militar, confirmó que la especie era falsa; y que, más bien las catorce personas desaparecidas, habían sido asesinadas; y que los responsables del crimen eran el mayor Enrique Chinchilla, el sargento Benjamín Plata, el ganadero Manuel Zelaya y el empresario maderero Enrique Barh. Enjuiciados, encarcelados y condenados, fueron objeto de una amnistía gestionada y lograda por los diputados del Congreso Nacional. Posteriormente Chinchilla fue asignado al servicio diplomático en donde representó a Honduras en diferentes países. Actualmente reside en la Costa Norte de Honduras. Benjamín Plata falleció víctima de un atentado. El señor Zelaya murió en su cama, por causas naturales; y sólo sobreviven a aquella masacre, la más horrible de toda la historia de Honduras, el ex mayor Chinchilla y el señor Barh.

Conocí a Iván Betancourt en 1968 en Choluteca. Estaba recién venido de Colombia, de donde había ingresado a misionar en Honduras. Era entonces un diácono que se preparaba para ordenarse sacerdote, cosa que efectuó un poco de tiempo después.

Era un hombre de mediana estatura, pelo desordenado que trataba de mantener disciplinadamente sobre la frente de tez bastante clara, casi blanco en el modelo valorativo hondureño, con una voz sonora y agradable y con una disposición alegre que le hacía un contertulio de primera mano. Contaba chistes, –típicos muchos de ellos de curas–, en donde la burla era contra los sacerdotes y refería anécdotas en donde mostraba cómo de tropezón en tropezón iba tomando conciencia de la dolorosa realidad que los estudios teológicos y la atmósfera falsa del Seminario, había disimulado. No podía entender la desigualdad y la exclusión; y creía que la pobreza era un pecado que había que redimir y cambiar. Cuando le conocí, llegó a Choluteca para conocer la metodología que bajo la dirección del padre Pablo, aplicábamos en la formación de los “animadores sociales”, una suerte de liderazgo de alta participación que surgía desde la base y que animaba la acción colectiva a partir de la realidad asumida como problema. Iván Betancourt se sintió impresionado por la metodología, la estudió críticamente y se regresó a Olancho. Después de ordenado fue párroco en Catacamas. En varias oportunidades que visité esa hermosa ciudad olanchana, en afanes de promoción de las cooperativas de ahorro y crédito, me encontré brevemente con Iván. Conversamos sobre lo que hacía, los problemas que confrontaba y las amenazas que le hacían los terratenientes. Se reía con facilidad de todo e incluso de su muerte. No porque creyera que su fin era volverse santo por medio de una muerte violenta en manos de personas que le rechazaban por su fe, sino –y esto es una especulación personal– porque era una fórmula que él usaba para evitar que el miedo le paralizara y le incapacitara para cumplir su misión.

La última vez que le vi, debió haber sido en 1974. Fue en ocasión de la inauguración de las actividades de las escuelas radiofónicas en Olancho Antonio Casasola, con la mejor buena intención y dentro de un espíritu dialogal que nunca le abandonó, organizó un acto en el centro Santa Clara, que un año después sería la primera estación del calvario que los militares y los ganaderos sometieron a los mártires de Olancho, para acercar a militares, políticos, ganaderos y sacerdotes. Allí, frente al coronel Lisandro Padilla y su plana mayor, Iván hizo el último discurso que le escuché. Empezó sellando la pobreza de la población de Olancho, ponderó la enorme calidad y cantidad de recursos que Dios les había dado a todos, criticó la forma cómo unos pocos se habían aprovechado de los mismos; e hizo responsables a los militares por haberlo permitido. Por supuesto, a Padilla no le pareció gracioso lo dicho por el padre Iván Betancourt. Tengo la impresión que allí empezó, esa misma noche su muerte violenta en manos de Chinchilla y sus cómplices. Casasola, para tratar de arreglar la confrontación producida, me pidió que interviniera. En el ánimo de ordenar un poco las cosas, lo único que pude agregar es que, estábamos en la obligación como católicos, de asumir que todos, de alguna manera, éramos responsables del desorden establecido y dominado por la injusticia y la inequidad. Padilla no se tragó el cuento. Sin embargo, para demostrar su desagrado, nos invitó a Casasola y a mí a un restaurante drive in de su propiedad que estaba instalado en el otro lado del río Juticalpa, después del puente llamado de la Marimba, por la forma que sonaban las tablas cuando pasaban los vehículos. Allí, Padilla y sus compañeros militares bebieron copiosamente. Casasola y yo, por prudencia nos mantuvimos sobrios, pese a las reiteradas incitaciones castrenses. En algún momento, Padilla me dijo, con usted sí se puede hablar Monchito, en cambio con otros, no hay diálogo posible. Nos despedimos de los militares cerca de las cuatro de la mañana. A Iván nunca más lo volví a ver. Un poco más de un año, los militares –que se la tenían jurada y los ganaderos que lo veían como una amenaza– lo asesinaron en la finca de Los Horcones de Manuel Zelaya, un 25 de junio de 1975. Hace 34 años.

Tegucigalpa, junio 26 de 2009

Activistas exigen el fin de los feminicidios y la impunidad en Honduras

El 98 % de los 2.192 asesinatos de mujeres registrados entre 2010 y 2013 en Honduras están en la impunidad debido a la falta de investigación, según cifras de la Tribuna de Mujeres contra los Femicidios, que aglutina a siete organizaciones de féminas no gubernamentales. EFE/Archivo
El 98 % de los 2.192 asesinatos de mujeres registrados entre 2010 y 2013 en Honduras en impunidad.

25 de Marzo de 2014  Redacción: laprensa.hn / redaccion@laprensa.hn

El director de Oxfam Internacional, George Redman, declaró este martes a Efe que a esa organización “le preocupa mucho” el nivel de impunidad en las muertes de mujeres en Honduras.
Organizaciones feministas de Honduras, con el respaldo de Oxfam Internacional, exigieron hoy el fin la violencia que afecta a las mujeres en el país, donde han muerto 71 féminas en lo que va de año, así como de la impunidad que rodea esos casos.

El director de Oxfam Internacional, George Redman, declaró este martes a Efe que a esa organización “le preocupa mucho” el nivel de impunidad en las muertes de mujeres en Honduras.
El 98 % de los 2.192 asesinatos de mujeres registrados entre 2010 y 2013 en Honduras están en la impunidad debido a la falta de investigación, según cifras de la Tribuna de Mujeres contra los Femicidios, que aglutina a siete organizaciones de féminas no gubernamentales.

“La mujer en general sigue siendo víctima de una cultura muy patriarcal, además no cuenta con las mismas oportunidades y beneficios que se le otorgan a los hombres”, subrayó Redman.

Instó a los operadores de justicia a “cumplir con el debido proceso judicial” para reducir los niveles de impunidad en los casos de muerte de mujeres, que representan el 52 % de los 8,5 millones de habitantes del país centroamericano.

La petición fue hecha durante la presentación del “Premio Nacional por la comunicación para la Igualdad y contra la violencia de género”, auspiciada por la Tribuna de Mujeres contra los Femicidios y Oxfam Internacional.

En declaraciones a Efe, la coordinadora de la Tribuna de Mujeres, María Luisa Regalado, valoró el papel de los medios de comunicación y su importancia para concienciar a los ciudadanos para erradicar la violencia de género en Honduras.

“Con el premio buscamos reconocer el trabajo de los periodistas hondureños que dan visibilidad a la violencia que sufren las mujeres y educan a la población sobre los derechos de la mujer”, explicó Regalado.

Precisó que la convocatoria del premio está abierta hasta el 25 de octubre próximo y cuenta con tres categorías en las que podrán participar profesionales del periodismo vinculados a medios impresos, electrónicos, radio y televisión.

Las categorías del premio son: Reportaje, Imagen Periodística y Columna.

La presidenta del Comité de Mujeres por la Paz Visitación Padilla, Gladys Lanza, dijo por su parte a Efe que “es alarmante” el número de féminas asesinadas en los últimos cuatro años en Honduras.

“Nos duele ver que las autoridades hondureñas no hacen nada por investigar y castigar a los responsables de las muertes de mujeres”, subrayó.

Lanza señaló a la educación como “un factor clave” para erradicar la violencia de género en Honduras, y abogó “al papel fundamental” de los medios de comunicación para lograr “cambiar esa cultura patriarcal” que impera en el país.

En un comunicado, las activistas expresaron su “preocupación” por los altos niveles de violencia contra las mujeres en el país y “la indiferencia” de las autoridades hondureñas.

“Vemos con preocupación que aún cuando se ha tipificado la figura del femicidio no existe una aplicación de las leyes y se castiga a los responsables” señalaron.

En Honduras, el Código Penal tipifica el femicidio como delito grave y lo sanciona con penas de hasta 40 años de cárcel. 
Fuente:EFE

http://www.hondurastierralibre.com/2014/03/activistas-exigen-el-fin-de-los.html#more
PADRE IVAN BETANCOURT
Nació el 28 de julio de 1940 en la ciudad de Fredonia, Departamento de Antioquia, República de Colombia. Sus padres Luis y Felisa Betancourt

Hizo sus estudios secundaria en Cali, Colombia, de 19594 a1959. En la Universidad San Buepaventogotá obtuvo su licenciatura en filosofia en el año de 1963 y
luego hizo sus estudios eclesiásticos de teología de 1965 a 1968.

Vino a Honduras en septiembre de 1968. Fue ordenado sacerdote en su ciudad natal el 1° de agosto de 1970. Al regreso trabajó en la pastoral juvenil en Juticalpa y después fue párroco en Dulce Nombre de Culmí, donde quienes se vieron afectados por su trabajo pastoral lo calumniaban y recogían firmas para expulsarlo.

Un hombre enérgico
El Padre Iván era un hombre enérgico, activo e incansable. Cuando vino a Honduras se integro al primer equipo de evangelizacion de Olancho. Trabajó con los Delegados de la Celebración de la Palabra.

Siempre tuvo un especial inte¬rés por la familia. Por esta razón decidió estudiar y especializarse en este campo. Hi¬zo un estudio intenso en Ottawa, Canadá en la Universidad de San Pablo donde obtuvo su Master en Pastoral Familiar

Al regreso de sus estudios en 1974, se dedicó a la Pastoral Familiar. Cuando murió comenzaba con sus “labora¬torios conyugales” como él llamaba a los cursos que daba a parejas. Siendo él un hombre de oración, enseñó a sus feligreses a poner la oración en primer lugar, como él lo hacía. En términos muy claros rechazó las injusticias y por la justicia murió

“No se queden dormidos, muévanse por alguna cosa importante en la vida. No basta criticar. Hay que hacer algo… No nos cansemos de buscar algún modo de progresar. Pienso que es muy triste quedarse uno estancado como ciertas aguas podridas a un lado del camino. Hay que progresar, no importa cuantos años tenemos, siempre se puede ir un poco mas adelante. Nunca hemos terminado”

Ivan Betancourth
Carta a los cristianos de Catacamas

25 de junio de 1975 nunca se olvidará

Fuente: Vida Laboral Edic. # 20, Julio de 2005

Canada’s Development Aid Dollars at Odds with Communities

Two queries submitted to the Canadian government with support from MiningWatch in recent months have turned up further evidence that Canadian aid spending is at odds with communities’ interests.

On April 12, 2012, the Interprovincial Association for the Defence of Environmental Rights, a coordinating committee that brings together communities from three provinces in northern Peru affected by Barrick Gold’s Lagunas Norte project wrote to then-Minister of International Development Bev Oda. They expressed their dismay at CIDA funding of a pilot project at the site between Barrick Gold and World Vision.

The communities’ concerns arise from a history of unfulfilled agreements, “where not only have sustainable development processes not been fostered in the areas of health, education, livestock husbandry and agriculture, but neither have processes of social inclusion and human development been stimulated. Communities have been divided, and parallel organizations to those that already existed have been formed, through which existing organizations have been denied representation in projects that [Barrick’s local subsidiary] planned.”

“Multiple times we have provided technical studies that demonstrate that their activities are contaminating our water sources. But they do not want to recognize these studies, for which reason we believe that they will most likely continue their contaminating practices,” the committee added. “We feel cheated by these and other so-called social responsibility activities because this has not helped to reduce poverty nor to address exclusionary processes,” and they therefore asked CIDA to abstain from supporting this type of project and rather “monitor the activities of this company in our country, and coordinate with the state such that the rights of those affected by its activities would be respected.”

More than five months later, now-Minister of International Development Julian Fantino replied to the letter, entirely ignoring these issues and stating: “more, not less, of these projects are needed if developing countries are to successfully transition to highly productive economies that enable free enterprise and empower free people to participate in global value chains and shape a more prosperous world.”

In June 2012, MiningWatch also contributed input into an Order Paper Question that was put forward by opposition Member of Parliament Hélène Laverdière in the interest of finding out which Canadian government agency has been funding technical support on problematic amendments to Honduras’ mining code since the spring of 2012. The results were received in September and revealed that CIDA is sponsoring Canadian assistance through the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) in Toronto.

IPAC is a non-governmental organization with prior experience in Honduras. In 2010, it recruited a Canadian lawyer from a firm that works closely with the mining sector to participate in the Honduras Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Commission was established following the military-backed coup that ousted former President Mel Zelaya. Canadian participation in this commission was criticized for its connection with the Canadian mining industry, and civil society organisations set up a parallel commission out of lack of faith that the official one would consider the severity of human rights violations in the wake of the coup.

The proposed mining code reforms, on which Canada is now advising, have also been highly controversial, as indicated in our last newsletter. Most recently, the National Coalition of Environmental Networks released a public declaration in October stating that the public input process has been restricted and that key civil society proposals such as a ban on open-pit mining, community consultation prior to granting of mining concessions, and a significant increase in taxes and royalties, have not been accepted. They anticipate that the bill could be passed as early as December of 2012, and are anxious that it will immediately lift the suspension on some 400 mining concessions already granted across the country.

After seeing the recent report tabled in early November by the Canadian Foreign Affairs and International Development Parliamentary Committee on the role of the “private sector” in meeting Canada’s international development goals, our concerns about the tying of Canadian aid to mining company interests are heightened. It is apparent that CIDA’s role in fostering controversial public-private partnerships and participating in such anti-democratic policy and institutional development in other countries will continue to be ramped up, regardless of what the most affected groups might be saying.

January 8, 2010

Canada, Honduras and the Coup d’Etat

A look at Canadian diplomacy, aid, and trade in Honduras

by Dawn Paley

Hondurans demonstrate against the June 28 military coup on December 11, 2009, in Tegucigalpa. Photo: Dawn Paley

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras—Last summer’s coup in Honduras put the small, Central American country perhaps best known as the original banana republic, back on the map.

In the months since President Mel Zelaya was removed from his home by the military and flown from the Honduran capital to Costa Rica on June 28, much has been made of the crisis.

Hundreds of thousands of Hondurans have protested the coup, denouncing the military, the local oligarchy and the US as the main perpetrators of Zelaya’s removal.

Zelaya’s critics, which include the most powerful sectors in Honduras, say he was removed from office because a non-binding referendum on opening up the process of a Constitutional Assembly was illegal.

Reports of US involvement emerged immediately: the plane that flew Zelaya out of the country stopped to fuel up at Palmerola, a joint US-Honduras air base less than 100km from Tegucigalpa. Shortly after the coup, powerful pro-coup Hondurans sent a delegation to the US and hired lobbyists in Washington, DC. US trade and commercial interests with the small Central American country abound.

But the extent to which countries like Italy, South Korea, Taiwan and Canada, all of which have significant trade and investment links with Honduras are connected to the coup has remained largely unexplored.

In Canada, with the exception of a few editorials in the mainstream media, little attention has been paid to what is certainly one of the most important events in the hemisphere over the last decade. While Canada’s links to Central America are much less significant than those of the US, they are still worth exploring.

Far from calling for the return of Zelaya to power and condemning the military’s actions, Canada’s good-neighbour ambiguity has ignored the violence unleashed by the coup regime, and the position of organizations such as the UN General Assembly, whose members demanded that Zelaya be allowed to return to the presidency.

Canada also declined to condemn the military and the coup government after massive peaceful resistance marches across Honduras were violently repressed by the coup regime, which also moved to temporarily shut down radio and TV stations critical of the coup. Detentions, torture, disappearances, beatings and murders of anti-coup activists have continued unabated since the coup.

On November 29, the de facto government presided over the country’s regularly scheduled presidential elections. Dr. Juan Almendares, former presidential candidate and ex-rector of the Autonomous University of Honduras, calls the November elections a “second coup.”

“We are faced with a situation that’s very delicate, where there was a military coup, where a president is named, and then there is a second coup, which was the election, the fraudulent election,” he said in an interview at his clinic in Tegucigalpa.

Almendares points out that the same soldiers that have beaten, tortured and killed Hondurans were responsible for guarding the ballot boxes on November 29.

“There is no doubt that there was fraud, because they were illegitimate elections,” said Almendares.

Regardless, Canada’s Junior Foreign Minister Peter Kent’s praise for the country’s controversial elections was glowing.

“While Sunday’s elections were not monitored by international organizations such as the Organization of American States, we are encouraged by reports from civil society organizations that there was a strong turnout for the elections, that they appear to have been run freely and fairly and that there was no major violence,” said Kent.

Laudatory press releases aside, Canada has yet to formally recognize the elections, which it will not be required to do until January 27, inauguration day for President-Elect Porifio Lobo. Honduran media report that Kent continues to pressure Lobo to find a way to remove de facto President Roberto Micheletti from office before that date.

Honduras is one of the Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA) target countries, and the top recipient of Canadian development funds in Central America. In 2007-2008, CIDA disbursed $17.9 million in government-to-government aid to Honduras.

According to the CIDA website, the organization has given funds for use in education, sanitation and governance, through which its partners have “trained civil society groups in social auditing and improved the transparency of government spending.”

Among CIDA’s previous activities in Honduras is a three- million-dollar “trade readiness” program, which included a component focused on “addressing issues related to […] consensus-building around international trade agreements.”

In addition, the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade disburses part of their Counter- Terrorism Capacity Building Fund, destined for police training, to Honduras, and the Department of National Defence runs a Military Training Program that includes the participation of Honduran soldiers.

On the financial front, it is possible that Canadian companies active in Honduras will see an improved investment climate stemming from the political crisis.

The corporate sector in Honduras, which includes national and foreign businesses with operations in the country, supported the coup, as did the military establishment and religious institutions.

A leaked June 26 memo from the Chamber of Commerce in Tegucigalpa asked members to donate amounts upwards of $1,000 “in defence of democracy and social and economic liberties” two days before the military removed Zelaya to Costa Rica.

The Honduran National Business Council (COHEP) sent out a press release the day after the coup, stating, “What occurred today [sic] was not the changing of one president for another; today, framed in national unity, the respect for the Constitution, national laws and institutionalism was achieved.”

Canadian corporations such as Montreal-based Gildan Activewear and Scarborough-based label maker Mayfair Canada are members of the Honduran Manufacturing Association (AHM), which itself is a member of COHEP. They are joined by Calgary’s Merendon, a jewelry company whose directors are charged with defrauding shareholders in what the RCMP have called one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in Canadian history.

Following the coup, the AHM sent out a press release, stating, “Notwithstanding the political crisis that Honduras is experiencing, we recognize that our Constitution is in effect, that the three branches of the government have not ceased to exist and perform their functions, that the economic, financial labour and social activities are being performed as usual without violation from the government of Honduras.”

Canadian investments in Honduras are not limited to the manufacturing sector. Mining corporations Yamana Gold, Breakwater Resources and Goldcorp all have investments in the country, and all three companies are members of a national metal mining association, ANAMIMH, which is also affiliated with COHEP. The coup came before the final reading of a new mining law before congress, which would have restricted mining in the country and banned the use of cyanide in Honduras.

“The [mining] law was proposed to favour communities, but the mining companies have turned it around,” said environmentalist Carlos Amador in an interview at his home in El Porvenir. He expects the law that will be passed in 2010 by Lobo’s government to be the opposite of the proposal, and encourage more large-scale, transnational mining in Honduras.

“It’s like in 1998 when [Hurricane] Mitch hit Honduras: they’re saying that the only way to improve the Honduran economy is to open the doors to investment in mining,” said Amador.

IN FOCUS: Canada-Honduras economic ties

Canadian exports to Honduras in 2008 were worth $86,850,495, and imports from Honduras $151,574,812, amounts that have grown steadily over the last 60 years.

Honduras was the last country in Latin America with which Canada reached a “most-favoured-nation” agreement, which was signed in Tegucigalpa 1956 by Canada’s then-ambassador to Cuba. Most-favoured-nation deals were predecessors of modern-day free trade agreements, designed to reduce tariffs and eliminate trade barriers.

At that time, Canada was exporting about half a million dollars a year in goods to Honduras, mostly in leather, flour, tires and powdered milk. A full 90 per cent of Honduran exports to Canada were bananas, worth closer to a million dollars annually.

By 1975, Canadian exports to Honduras were worth $8.1 million, climbing to $24.2 million by 1980.

Negotiations for a free trade agreement between Canada and four countries of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador) began in 2001. Negotiators last met in February 2009, but according to Foreign Affairs Canada there are no more rounds of negotiation planned at this time.

Dawn Paley is a journalist based in Vancouver.

(I include this article which while not specifically about Honduras provides insight into Canada’s push for a Free Trade Agreement with Honduras)
January 8, 2014

Commercial motives driving Canada’s foreign aid, documents reveal

By KIM MACKRAEL

Internal CIDA analysis of bilateral aid programs suggests Canada’s commercial interests have become a key consideration in determining how much aid a developing country will receive

The federal government is evaluating trade and investment opportunities in dozens of developing countries to help determine how foreign aid should be disbursed, raising questions about whether Canada’s push for “economic diplomacy” is an effective way to reduce global poverty.

An internal analysis of bilateral aid programs, produced by the Canadian International Development Agency and obtained by The Globe and Mail, suggests Canada’s commercial interests have become a key consideration in determining how much aid a developing country will receive. The report, titled Reviewing CIDA’s Bilateral Engagement, was written shortly before CIDA was merged with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in June.

The CIDA assessment is the clearest sign yet that Canada’s development objectives were shifting even before the merger was announced in the 2013 federal budget. And it comes as Foreign Affairs has instructed officials to make opening new markets to Canadian goods and services the dominant focus of Canada’s foreign policy.

A majority of the three dozen countries included in the foreign aid report are promoted as destinations for Canadian aid in part because of the commercial benefits they can offer to Canada.

For example, Indonesia is “an important commercial and political partner” for Canada in Asia, and growing commercial interests in Egypt and Jordan mean those countries should both continue to receive foreign aid, the document says.

Benin is favoured because it provides a stable political and investment climate, while Ghana is a “promising economic partner.”

More than a dozen countries are identified as having mineral resources that are of interest to Canadian firms, including Mongolia, Peru, Bolivia and Ghana. The conflict-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo is of “strategic interest” to Canada, the document notes, because of significant investments in that country’s extractive sector by Canadian companies.

Stephen Brown, an aid expert at the University of Ottawa and author of a book about CIDA, said the document suggests that trade interests are increasingly winning out over development values.

“Over all, the government seems to have forgotten that Canadian law defines the purpose of Canadian foreign aid as poverty reduction,” he said. “Even before the merger, we’re seeing huge emphasis – not in every country, but in the majority of countries – on what Canada has to gain and especially what Canadian private companies have to gain.”

Margaux Stastny, a spokeswoman for International Development Minister Christian Paradis, wrote in an e-mail that Canada’s development work remains focused on improving the lives of those who are most in need. But she added that the goal of reducing poverty cannot be addressed in isolation, meaning security, governance and trade must also be taken into account.

Mr. Paradis has noted that the “vast majority” of global markets the federal government is targeting for trade and investment are located in developing countries. “By stimulating the economy in these countries and helping them create an environment conducive to investment, we are contributing to the well-being of people living in poverty,” he told an audience in Montreal late last year.

Poverty, aid effectiveness and other considerations, such as domestic politics and regional security, are also considered but appear to receive less attention over all in the partly redacted document. In the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the assessment notes that that there is “tremendous need” in the African country, which is among the poorest countries in the world, and points out that Canada has worked there to prevent sexual and gender-based violence.

The report was produced in March, 2013, less than two weeks before the government announced it would eliminate CIDA as a standalone agency. It was provided to The Globe in response to an access-to-information request.

The decision to merge CIDA’s development work with the Foreign Affairs and International Trade department prompted criticism from some international development experts and non-governmental organizations, who worried Canada’s commitment to poverty reduction and humanitarian aid would be diluted. Others welcomed the amalgamation, saying it would reduce conflicting messages in Canadian foreign policy and could help increase overall resources for poverty-reduction efforts.

Although commerce and politics have played a role in Canada’s development decisions in the past, aid experts say the emphasis on favouring developing countries that offer trade and investment benefits to Canada is a more recent shift.

Diana Rivington, a former director of human development and gender equality at CIDA, said the change shows a greater focus on the short-term benefits Canada can gain from development work. “What I see in these choices is a vision of Canada that is not as broad as it was,” she said.

Scott Gilmore, founder of a development organization called Building Markets, said he does not see a problem with Canada’s foreign aid benefiting domestic interests when it is also helping people in developing countries.

“It’s not a zero-sum game,” said Mr. Gilmore, who is also a member of an external advisory group that is being consulted about the CIDA merger. “There are lots of things that Canada can do that maximize our ability to reduce poverty which also – simultaneously – are of benefit to Canada, either [to] our foreign policy interests or our trade interests.”

In 2011, the federal government announced it would launch a series of jointly funded pilot projects involving Canadian mining companies and non-governmental organizations – a move often cited as an example of CIDA’s work with the private sector. The agency also established a new institute aimed at providing regulatory advice to developing countries with significant mineral potential.

The projects were criticized for providing what was seen by some as indirect subsidies for mining companies’ corporate social responsibility programs. Proponents argued CIDA’s work with the extractive sector can help harness those companies’ resources to help improve the lives of people in poverty.

Hélène Laverdière, the NDP’s international development critic, said the CIDA assessment demonstrates that Canada is increasingly using foreign aid to further its trade interests. “That’s not the job of our international assistance, and the ODA Accountability Act is very clear that [aid] should focus on poverty reduction, taking into account the perspectives of the poor and human rights, of course.”

The handful of countries where commercial interests do not appear to be a significant factor include Haiti, which is of “long-term foreign policy interest” because of its large diaspora community in Canada and past commitments. Aid to Afghanistan is important to honour past sacrifices and commitments, and to “burden share” with Canada’s allies, and development efforts in the West Bank and Gaza should continue because they have been welcomed by Israel as crucial support for peace in the region.

Kim Mackrael is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/globe-politics-insider/commercial-interests-taking-focus-in-canadas-aid-to-developing-world/article16240406/#dashboard/follows/

Honduras 08MEn el marco del día internacional de la mujer, este 08 de marzo, las organizaciones que conforman el Foro de Mujeres por la Vida, el ERIC y Radio Progreso lanzarán la segunda etapa de la campaña “Ni encerradas Ni con miedos”, seguridad para todas, en todos los espacios, con todos nuestros derechos.
Será en la caminata denominada Marzo de rebeldías y calle, donde las mujeres conmemorarán este día dedicado a las luchas que tanto han realizado para la construcción de un mundo más igualitario, donde la vida de las mujeres y los hombres tenga el mismo valor.
“Estamos a un día de nuestra gran movilización del día internacional de las mujeres, llevaremos color en nuestras caras, fuerza en nuestras voces y cantos de esperanza. Ante este sistema devastador las mujeres llevamos nuestro cuerpo y pensamiento, nuestro ser para luchar, para evidenciar que la misoginia debe terminar, celebraremos la vida que queremos tener: libre de miedos, libre de encierros, reivindicando nuestro derecho a soñar, a vivir libres de violencia, a ser felices.
Recordaremos a las que fueron vilmente asesinadas y en memoria de sus vidas, de sus risas, y de sus hermosos nombres seguiremos en pie de lucha, todo el tiempo que sea necesario”, dice la invitación que fue colgada en las redes sociales para invitar a esta caminata que saldrá a las nueve de la mañana en la ciudad de San Pedro Sula, al norte de Honduras.
Primera etapa
La campaña “Ni encerradas, ni con miedos” fue lanzada el pasado mes de agosto de 2013, con el esfuerzo del Foro de Mujeres por la Vida, ERIC y Radio Progreso para exigir seguridad para las mujeres. Esa seguridad que garantice el buen vivir para esta población que representa más del cincuenta por ciento de la población hondureña, y que son violentadas por el sistema patriarcal que quiere dominar sus vidas y sus cuerpos.
“En un primero momento la campaña, tocó el espacio privado, la violencia que tantas mujeres sufren en sus propias casas, a manos de aquellos hombres que están cercanos a sus vidas. Además de esa violencia doméstica, la campaña busca cuestionar y hacer consciencia de las responsabilidades del hogar, ya que únicamente recaen en las mujeres, cuando deben ser asumidas por todos los miembros de la familia”, dice Carolina Sierra del Foro de mujeres por la Vida, una organización que aglutina a diversas organizaciones de mujeres de la zona noroccidental de Honduras y que lleva muchos años en la lucha por los derechos de las féminas.
Sierra agrega que en esta segunda etapa, se toca el espacio privada, aquí haciendo referencia a las acciones en materia de seguridad que emprenden los gobiernos, pero que hasta el momento no buscan la protección de la vida y la integridad de las mujeres.
Dunia Pérez, como parte del equipo coordinador de la campaña en representación del ERIC y la Radio Progreso dijo que la campaña busca contribuir a desconstruir el concepto de seguridad basado en la represión, armamentismo, remilitarización y evidenciar las violencias contra las mujeres en los espacios íntimos, privados y públicos como un problema de seguridad, que debe asumirse por el Estado y la ciudadanía en general.
Pérez recordó que la primera etapa mencionó la situación que las mujeres viven en los espacios privados, con énfasis en la violencia intrafamiliar y los roles de género que asigna la sociedad. En la segunda etapa, “aquí mencionamos los espacios públicos, la violencia simbólica, acoso callejero y proceso de remilitarización que vive en momentos la sociedad hondureña y su impacto en la vida y los cuerpos de las mujeres.
Habrá una tercera y cuarta etapa que estará destinada a la defensa del territorio y bienes de la naturaleza y el acceso a la justicia, aquí hablaremos sobre los feminicidios y el fracaso de la institucionalidad lo que lleva la fortalecimiento de la impunidad, concluyó diciendo Dunia Pérez.
Reconceptualización de seguridad
 
Para las mujeres indígenas, jóvenes, niñas, afrodecendientes, campesinas, pobladoras, con retos especiales, urbanas, rurales, obreras, académicas, profesionales, artistas; la seguridad es un derecho humano, que parte del fortalecimiento de la autonomía y libertades. Se basa en el principio de seguridad humana, pero construido desde las realidades vividas.
Para las mujeres la seguridad debe estar vinculada con la libertad, con el derecho a decidir sobre sus cuerpos, con la posibilidad del disfrute de todos los derechos y sobre todo la certeza de una vida libre de violencia y de miedo.
Desde la concepción, la seguridad debe conectarse con los espacios íntimos, privados y públicos. Requiere partir de una construcción de la ciudadanía que tome en cuenta las diferencias y las particularidades de cada mujer y se conecte de lo local a lo nacional, respetando el derecho de autodeterminación de los pueblos.
Las mujeres buscan una seguridad que elimine prácticas culturales de violencia y que fortalezca los procesos de construcción colectiva y la participación.
Por ERIC y Radio Progreso

– See more at: http://aler.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=6245:honduras-ni-encerradas-ni-con-miedos&Itemid=226&lang=es#sthash.2A0p5WdP.dpuf

 
Honduras 08MEn el marco del día internacional de la mujer, este 08 de marzo, las organizaciones que conforman el Foro de Mujeres por la Vida, el ERIC y Radio Progreso lanzarán la segunda etapa de la campaña “Ni encerradas Ni con miedos”, seguridad para todas, en todos los espacios, con todos nuestros derechos.
Será en la caminata denominada Marzo de rebeldías y calle, donde las mujeres conmemorarán este día dedicado a las luchas que tanto han realizado para la construcción de un mundo más igualitario, donde la vida de las mujeres y los hombres tenga el mismo valor.
“Estamos a un día de nuestra gran movilización del día internacional de las mujeres, llevaremos color en nuestras caras, fuerza en nuestras voces y cantos de esperanza. Ante este sistema devastador las mujeres llevamos nuestro cuerpo y pensamiento, nuestro ser para luchar, para evidenciar que la misoginia debe terminar, celebraremos la vida que queremos tener: libre de miedos, libre de encierros, reivindicando nuestro derecho a soñar, a vivir libres de violencia, a ser felices.
Recordaremos a las que fueron vilmente asesinadas y en memoria de sus vidas, de sus risas, y de sus hermosos nombres seguiremos en pie de lucha, todo el tiempo que sea necesario”, dice la invitación que fue colgada en las redes sociales para invitar a esta caminata que saldrá a las nueve de la mañana en la ciudad de San Pedro Sula, al norte de Honduras.
Primera etapa
La campaña “Ni encerradas, ni con miedos” fue lanzada el pasado mes de agosto de 2013, con el esfuerzo del Foro de Mujeres por la Vida, ERIC y Radio Progreso para exigir seguridad para las mujeres. Esa seguridad que garantice el buen vivir para esta población que representa más del cincuenta por ciento de la población hondureña, y que son violentadas por el sistema patriarcal que quiere dominar sus vidas y sus cuerpos.
“En un primero momento la campaña, tocó el espacio privado, la violencia que tantas mujeres sufren en sus propias casas, a manos de aquellos hombres que están cercanos a sus vidas. Además de esa violencia doméstica, la campaña busca cuestionar y hacer consciencia de las responsabilidades del hogar, ya que únicamente recaen en las mujeres, cuando deben ser asumidas por todos los miembros de la familia”, dice Carolina Sierra del Foro de mujeres por la Vida, una organización que aglutina a diversas organizaciones de mujeres de la zona noroccidental de Honduras y que lleva muchos años en la lucha por los derechos de las féminas.
Sierra agrega que en esta segunda etapa, se toca el espacio privada, aquí haciendo referencia a las acciones en materia de seguridad que emprenden los gobiernos, pero que hasta el momento no buscan la protección de la vida y la integridad de las mujeres.
Dunia Pérez, como parte del equipo coordinador de la campaña en representación del ERIC y la Radio Progreso dijo que la campaña busca contribuir a desconstruir el concepto de seguridad basado en la represión, armamentismo, remilitarización y evidenciar las violencias contra las mujeres en los espacios íntimos, privados y públicos como un problema de seguridad, que debe asumirse por el Estado y la ciudadanía en general.
Pérez recordó que la primera etapa mencionó la situación que las mujeres viven en los espacios privados, con énfasis en la violencia intrafamiliar y los roles de género que asigna la sociedad. En la segunda etapa, “aquí mencionamos los espacios públicos, la violencia simbólica, acoso callejero y proceso de remilitarización que vive en momentos la sociedad hondureña y su impacto en la vida y los cuerpos de las mujeres.
Habrá una tercera y cuarta etapa que estará destinada a la defensa del territorio y bienes de la naturaleza y el acceso a la justicia, aquí hablaremos sobre los feminicidios y el fracaso de la institucionalidad lo que lleva la fortalecimiento de la impunidad, concluyó diciendo Dunia Pérez.
Reconceptualización de seguridad
 
Para las mujeres indígenas, jóvenes, niñas, afrodecendientes, campesinas, pobladoras, con retos especiales, urbanas, rurales, obreras, académicas, profesionales, artistas; la seguridad es un derecho humano, que parte del fortalecimiento de la autonomía y libertades. Se basa en el principio de seguridad humana, pero construido desde las realidades vividas.
Para las mujeres la seguridad debe estar vinculada con la libertad, con el derecho a decidir sobre sus cuerpos, con la posibilidad del disfrute de todos los derechos y sobre todo la certeza de una vida libre de violencia y de miedo.
Desde la concepción, la seguridad debe conectarse con los espacios íntimos, privados y públicos. Requiere partir de una construcción de la ciudadanía que tome en cuenta las diferencias y las particularidades de cada mujer y se conecte de lo local a lo nacional, respetando el derecho de autodeterminación de los pueblos.
Las mujeres buscan una seguridad que elimine prácticas culturales de violencia y que fortalezca los procesos de construcción colectiva y la participación.
Por ERIC y Radio Progreso

– See more at: http://aler.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=6245:honduras-ni-encerradas-ni-con-miedos&Itemid=226&lang=es#sthash.2A0p5WdP.dpuf

Honduras: behind the crisis

Ismael Moreno

Honduras is in tumult following the forced removal of its president, Manuel Zelaya, on 28 June 2009. The coup has provoked a wave of protest and near-unanimous condemnation by the country’s neighbours, other regional powers, the United States and the United Nations. The deposed president is determined to affirm his right to office – as he did in a speech to the United Nations general assembly on 30 June – and return to Honduras to secure it. Those responsible for the coup seem equally committed to their chosen course of action.Ismael Morena, SJ, is the correspondent for Revista Envío in Honduras, where an earlier version of this article was published

What is going on in Honduras, and what lies behind this political and constitutional eruption?

Manuel Zelaya’s dream

Manuel Zelaya was elected president of Honduras in December 2005, and was inaugurated in January 2006. His four-year term of office – before the “constitutional coup”, and his replacement (until 27 January 2010, the day Zelaya’s term ends) by the ultra-conservative speaker of the national congress, Roberto Micheletti – was scheduled to be voted for in presidential elections on 29 November 2009.

But Zelaya has wanted to prolong his rule; in a pattern familiar from recent national experiences elsewhere in the Americas, he has been seeking constitutional means that would allow him to remain in office. The most controversial of these – and the source of much of the current troubles – is the so-called cuarte urna (“fourth ballot-box”): that is, a proposal to hold a national referendum on the drafting of a new constitution which would (Zelaya hopes) raise presidential term-limits and thus enable him to continue to rule Hondurans. Zelaya had called a public consultation on the referendum for 28 June, which was then declared illegal by the congress and supreme court; hours before the polls opened, he was arrested and ejected from the country.

There are several ways to interpret what Zelaya was trying to do with the referendum effort. The most plausible may be to see it in the context of the political project of Zelaya and his team – and the problems they have faced in relation to both internal Honduran power-structures and regional diplomacy.

These elements are themselves related. The “patricians” around Zelaya have had great difficulties with the framework they have constructed in order to join the Latin American trade bloc known as the Alternativa Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Alba), led by Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez). Moreover, the consolidation of the government’s international relations with the region’s leftist regimes – Cuba and Nicaragua as well as Venezuela itself – has caused great unrest among some of the country’s power-sectors.

Zelaya and his team have long sough to concentrate power in the presidency as the key site of their political project, but in the process they ignored and alienated their Liberal Party political base. The “patricians” paid dearly for this misjudgment in April 2009, when the traditional Liberal interests won control of the party and eliminated anyone with influence in the presidency.

This trend was symbolised by Patricia Rodas, the party president, who dedicated herself to running state policy from the foreign-affairs ministry. The reward was close links with Hugo Chávez, but in the process she found her political base corroded. Rodas was arrested in the coup before being allowed to leave the country.

The re-election issue

The symbolic importance of the cuarte urna can be seen in this context. During general elections in Honduras, each voter gets three ballots: the first for presidential and vice-presidential candidates, the second for parliamentary representatives, and the third for the municipal mayor. Hence, three ballot-boxes.

The Honduran constitution – the work of a constituent assembly that convened in 1980 – specifies that parliamentary representatives and mayors can run for re-election, but not presidents. In fact, even the argument in favour of presidential re-election has in the past been viewed as treason. The articles in the constitution the provide for a single term have been considered “carved in stone” and not to be reformed for any reason. Indeed, legal specialists argue that these articles were formulated precisely because of fear that the military would infringe on Honduras’s then tender democracy by using rigged elections as a way of holding on to state power.

Three decades later, the importance of the military in the country’s political life has – notwithstanding the coup of 28 June 2009 – been sharply reduced. Many military leaders have been forced to take refuge in the subterranean corridors of organised crime or in the profitable private-security business. In part as a result, the arguments used to defend the articles against re-election have gradually dissipated; the issue was even raised, albeit discreetly, by the administrations of Rafael Leonardo Callejas (1990-94) and Carlos Roberto Flores Facussé (1998-2002). Their circles of followers, who wanted to smash the stone tablets impeding their favourite’s re-election, pushed the issue much more zealously.

The constitution has since 1980 been tweaked in other areas around thirty times, to the point where politicians of all camps are convinced that the document in no longer adequate. This is where the formal change proposed by Manuel Zelaya comes in: that in the November 2009 election-round, the voters will be presented with four ballot-boxes – the fourth one being used for a referendum on the question: “Do you agree with convening a constituent assembly to draw up a new constitution?” Most members of the political class has been in agreement with the idea – but most too are unhappy with the man promoting it; in great part because lurking behind the fourth ballot-box they see… Hugo Chávez’s shadow.

Zelaya’s government had proposed to launch a “popular consultation” in an effort persuade the national congress to approve the fourth ballot-box in the November elections. The coup against the president took place at the moment this was due to get underway. But the barons controlling the two traditionally dominant (and now discredited) forces – the National Party and the Liberal Party – began their own campaigns in May 2009. They saw the issue as a possible way of revitalising their parties, and in addition of robbing Zelaya of his “ownership” of the fourth ballot-box idea. Now, Zelaya has been robbed of more than this, and Honduran politics is in flux.

The independent route

The current crisis has altered Honduran political calculations, though until it is resolved – and depending on the way that happens – the direction of the constitutional argument will remain in question.

In the midst of the convulsion, one of the hopeful signs has been the continuation of a debate that began in 2006 about the possibility of independent candidacies in the presidential election. This debate, centred in Honduras’s traditional grassroots movements, came to nothing because of opposition from the organised left, whose leaders would consider electoral participation only from the narrow perspective of the existing leftwing parties.

That debate, like so many others, was derailed by the pressing needs of the moment. The tiny Partido Unificación Democrática was torn within by irreconcilable conflict over the proposal. As a result of the impasse, the leaders of the  grassroots social movement decided in late April 2009 to run an independent candidate in the November 2009 election: trade-union leader and human-rights activist Carlos Humberto Reyes.

The path won’t be easy, coup or no coup. The existing “electoral and political organisations law”, created by Liberal and National lawyers to protect their historic bipartite system, has long been used limit electoral competition and exclude any upstart from entering the country’s democratic space (the law, for example, requires that an independent candidate must supply 45,000 accredited supporting signatures to the supreme electoral tribunal as part of its registration effort). The effort of the veteran human-rights defender (and current national human-rights commissioner) Ramón Custodio to run for the presidency in 2001 foundered in the face of the law‘s institutional constraints.

The fourth and the fifteenth

The pre-coup political atmosphere revealed the fluidity surrounding the project of launching an independent candidate and the fourth ballot-box proposal. The establishment media owned by the country’s elite were quick to connect them, and to try to see evidence of Hugo Chávez’s influence. Indeed, the leaders of the grassroots movement and Zelaya do agree on several issues: Honduras’s attempt to join Alba; the Petrocaribe alliance with Venezuela to purchase oil on preferential terms; fervent support for Chávez himself; and fiery leftist slogans devoid of substance or critical analysis.

The most rightwing currents in Honduras have also tried to jump on the constitutional bandwagon; for example, none other than Roberto Micheletti, proposed in the second half of April 2009 that President Zelaya grant the working class a so-called “fifteenth salary” on May Day in exchange for full support for the fourth ballot-box.

This sounds progressive and worker-friendly – especially at a time of straitened living-standards, where (for example) Hondurans’ purchasing-power has fallen by 30% even compared to 2008 – but is more a trap set by the most conservative business sectors. The business leaders may be worried by a drastic reduction in people’s spending, but they are more interested in gaining a political advantage.

But the interests of political calculation also dominate the other side of the spectrum. Zelaya has exploited the grassroots movement’s need to be heard and the desire for prominence of  some of its vocal leaders – who for their part seem to have forgotten that the Zelaya who now embraces Chávez and mouths revolutionary slogans once made an alliance with Roberto Micheletti. These leaders also wanted to use Zelaya’s government as a lever to present themselves as the real representatives of the continent’s left in Honduras. In other words, this a temporary alliance of mutual manipulation.

The way forward

Carlos Humberto Reyes’s candidacy may yet prove an instrument towards a real break with the bi-party system. At the same time, even before the coup it was evident that his campaign’s links with the executive branch could compromise the very independence it is supposed to embody.  The implication is that the grassroots movement should maintain its critical capacity and establish a clear distance from the executive branch and the fourth ballot-box idea – whose objective was always to keep Zelaya in government at whatever cost.

The smoke from the “constitutional coup” will take time to clear. But even before it occurred, it was evident that Honduras needs a change of direction and new legislation that responds to the challenges of the complex 21st century.

A constitution changed piecemeal every time it suits the official political class can’t go on being the legal instrument that regulates the country’s life. The real debate isn’t the relevance of constitutional reform, but rather the intentions behind that fourth ballot-box. If the idea is to clean up the image of the political class, it would become just another instrument like the reform to elect the supreme court or the supreme electoral tribunal. Honduras’s laws are reformed mainly to satisfy  the power ambitions of the politicians themselves, some of whom dress in nationalist blue, others in Liberal red – all the while making a show of wearing the blue-and-white of the national flag.

What use, then, would be a fourth ballot-box that produces a constituent assembly of the same old politicians to draft a new constitution that responds to and updates the interests of the same old political class? The country needs a fourth ballot-box to bring together the interests of all the different social and grassroots elements to campaign for a country better than the one controlled for decades by the caste of traditional politicians, a sovereign country that respects the dignity of its poorest people. Whatever the outcome of Honduras’s current political trauma, this aspiration must remain on the agenda.