Archive for the ‘political system in Honduras’ Category

Guilty by Association: How the United States is Permitting Human Rights Abuses in Honduras

 By Jessica FarberResearch Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

 Guilty by Association: How Washington is Complicit in Human Rights Abuses in Honduras

In an opinion piece that appeared in the New York Times on August 11, titled “How the Most Dangerous Place on Earth got Safer,” Sonia Nazario paints a misguided picture of Honduras as a country that was once ravaged with violence, but has since been bravely rescued and is now stable thanks to aid from the United States.[i] On the one hand, the author highlights an important point: some violence-prevention programs funded by the United States in Honduras are indeed working, and their focus on human capital and social justice is a welcome departure from the “iron-fisted” security measures that have characterized U.S. aid in the past. What the author neglects to mention, however, is that an enormous portion of the same aid package is also funneled to a government that, in conjunction with a corrupt military and police force, is carrying out massive human rights violations against its citizens. Given the increasing number of activists killed with impunity under the rightwing government, whose power the United States helped to consolidate following the 2009 coup against democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, continued funding to Honduras deserves additional scrutiny.

A Contradictory Approach

As Nazario rightfully acknowledges, the withdrawal of all funding to Honduras could be harmful because it would interrupt successful violence-prevention initiatives at the local level. The pilot programs she describes, in which the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S.A.I.D.) partners with community leaders to implement programs that engage and counsel gang members and other vulnerable youth, are both novel and exemplary. With such programs, the United States finally seems to acknowledge that simply intensifying security measures to kill off gang members does nothing but fuel the fire. Nazario admirably emphasizes the need to address the long-term structural factors behind gang violence and advocates for the implementation of more of these types of programs throughout Central America. Furthermore, in “a striking rebuke against the rising isolationists in American politics,” Nazario highlights the positive impact that U.S. spending can have for both Americans —in terms of stemming the flow of migrants— as well as for marginalized populations in the developing world.[ii] The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a longtime proponent of grassroots and social justice programs, applauds Nazario for her intentions in this respect.[iii]

While Nazario is not wrong to shed light on the specific U.S. initiatives that are succeeding in violence prevention, it is far too soon to claim that the United States has single-handedly created a dramatically safer Honduras. On the contrary, such a position ignores the complex roots of the violence in Honduras, and leads one to question whether the author is not trying to obfuscate U.S. complicity in the violence. As Nazario mentions in her article, crime and violence are major issues plaguing Honduran society, but she erroneously attributes most of this violence to gangs, narco-trafficking and other forms of organized crime that the Honduran government needs help in dealing with. To genuinely contribute to the overall sustainable development of Honduras, it is essential for the United States to acknowledge that much of the gang and drug-related violence, as well as the scores of uninvestigated murders of activists, are politically motivated and are carried out at the urging of elements of the military and the police. The article effectively distracts readers from the government’s abysmal human rights record and its own role in perpetuating violence in a country where 98 percent of crimes go unsolved.[iv] Amnesty International’s Marselha Gonçalves Margerin recently told National Public Radio that “the U.S. government has been treating these [Central American] governments as victims of organized crimes and not really making them responsible for how they are treating, and failing to protect, their citizens.”[v]

Berta Cáceres: A Symbol of Impunity

This year, the collusion between private actors, the military and the government in Honduras, was placed in the international spotlight. The assassination of indigenous activist Berta Cáceres six months ago is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of human rights violations in Honduras over the past seven years. Her death, however, is the “smoking gun” that makes it impossible for the United States to turn a blind eye to the Honduran government’s complicity in human rights violations against opposition activists.

Just before midnight on March 2 of this year, 44-year-old Berta Cáceres, founder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Hondurans (COPINH), was gunned down in her home. In the months leading up to her death, Berta had been carrying out a peaceful yet vocal campaign to prevent the construction of the Agua Zarca dam on a sacred river belonging to the indigenous Lenca population. While the government was entirely aware of the threats to Berta’s life, and was repeatedly urged by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to offer her protection, any protection given was clearly inadequate. Given Berta’s stature as the winner of the international 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, and an inspiring leader of a global movement to preserve indigenous rights, her death triggered fear among activists all over Honduras.

The response of the Honduran government to Cáceres’ death was wholly inadequate and emblematic of the way it deals with human rights violations against opposition leaders. Instead of immediately interviewing individuals from any of the 33 construction companies against whom she had lodged complaints of death threats, the government selectively interrogated individuals within Berta’s own COPINH organization. It was not until May 2, exactly two months after Berta’s assassination, that the government finally launched a so-called “comprehensive” investigation to find the culprits.[vi]

This state-led “Jaguar Operation,” initiated in large part due to growing international scrutiny over the government’s inaction, finally resulted in the arrests of five individuals. Unsurprisingly, two of the charged individuals were linked to the construction company behind the dam, Desarollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA), two others were active members of the military and one was a retired military officer. Yet evidence increasingly indicates that the assassins were not alone in plotting the attack, and that they received their orders from the state.[vii] In a previous article, COHA referred to the Jaguar Operation as a “sham investigation” that “was designed not to serve justice,” but was rather a “strategy to protect the masterminds behind Berta Cáceres’ murder.”[viii]

What the inherently biased investigation did reveal, however, is “the blatant collusion between private interests linked to DESA, active members of the Honduran army, and a corrupt administration,” according to COHA Research Associate, Emma Tyrou.[ix] A June report in The Guardian exposed further proof of the state’s ties to the murder. The article disclosed testimony from a former Honduran military sergeant Rodrigo Cruz, suggesting that Berta’s name had appeared on a military “hit-list.” “I’m 100% certain that Berta Cáceres was killed by the army,” he told the newspaper.[x] The government’s reluctance to interview the sole eyewitness to the murder—Mexican activist Gustavo Soto who was also a victim of the attack—as well as its initial attribution of the crime to little more than a failed attempt at burglary, further suggests the government’s likely role in scuttling the investigation.[xi]

In the six months since Berta’s death, the administration of President Juan Orlando Hernandez has continuously neglected the pleas of her family and the international community to allow an independent investigation to take place. Since the IAHCR derives its mandate from the Organization of the American States, and is therefore a competent authority in Honduras, it is the only body that can create a commission of independent experts to carry out an impartial investigation.[xii] “The Honduran state is too closely linked to the murder of my mother to carry out an independent investigation,” Berta’s youngest daughter, Laura Cáceres, 23, told the Guardian in May. [xiii] “It is the government who awarded the dam commission and the government who sent military and police to work with DESA’s private security guards, who threatened my mother.”[xiv] To date, the Honduran state has refused to allow experts from the IACHR into the country, further suggesting it has something to hide.[xv]

As the closest ally of the right-wing Honduran government and the country’s largest bilateral donor, the United States is uniquely positioned to pressure President Hernandez to do something about the appalling state of human rights in Honduras. At the very least, such pressure could seek to persuade him to allow an independent investigation of the Cáceres murder to take place.

The Honduran government’s murky role in the case of Berta Cáceres illustrates the controversial nature of U.S. aid to the country. Berta’s assassination is not an isolated incident and the United States cannot view it as such—she remains a symbol of the hundreds of Honduran activists targeted and killed by government, military, and police forces. Just days after Berta’s death, environmental activist, Nelson García was killed, and in July Lesbia Yaneth Garcia, another COPINH employee, was found dead with a machete wound in her skull. At least one member of the military and one man working on the hydroelectric project she was protesting have been implicated in Yaneth García’s death.[xvi] Global Witness recently reported that Honduras is the second most deadly country in which to be an environmental activist, and the Spanish newspaper, El País, described the nation as “a field of death for environmentalists.”[xvii] So while the overall number of homicides in the country may have decreased over the past few years, as Nazario notes in her article, the number of activists killed has markedly increased. Since 2010, 114 environmentalists have been murdered in Honduras.[xviii] And environmental defenders are not alone; anyone who publicly voices opposition to the state faces similar danger. According to the National Human Rights Commissioner of Honduras (CONADEH), 43 journalists were murdered between 2010 and 2014, and only twelve of the alleged murders had been brought to trial by the end of that year.[xix] The IACHR received reports of the murders of 86 legal practitioners and 22 human rights defenders in the same period.[xx] The Human Rights Watch World Report 2016 also found that peasants’ rights activists as well as LGBTQ activists have been victims of hundreds of uninvestigated attacks.[xxi] Essentially, it is no longer possible to express dissatisfaction with the government without becoming a target of the state.

 Towards a “More Safe” Honduras

The uptick in activist murders can be traced back to the period directly following the 2009 coup d’état against President Manuel Zelaya. Zelaya had supported rural peasant and environmental movements, such as Berta’s, in their fight against land dispossession and mining. However, after 2009, the new administration led by President Porfirio Lobo cut subsidies for social programs, rolled back progressive land reforms, and sought to open infrastructure construction to foreign investors, declaring in 2011 that Honduras was “open for business.” [xxii] Encouraged by the United States, the successive rightwing governments have proceeded to grant mining concessions and dam-building contracts to foreign companies, displacing many indigenous communities in the process.[xxiii] This has made peasants’ rights groups and indigenous activists —who argue that the affected communities were not properly consulted by the foreign firms—political opponents of the government.[xxiv] As Greg Grandin reported in The Nation, “since Zelaya’s ouster, there’s been an all-out assault on these decent people—torture, murder, militarization of the countryside, repressive laws, such as the absolute banning of the morning-after pill, the rise of paramilitary security forces, and the wholesale deliverance of the country’s land and resources to transnational pillagers.”[xxv]

While the existing evidence is not sufficient to prove the United States’ involvement in plotting the coup, it is now clear that the State Department under Hillary Clinton was a key player in legitimizing the post-coup government and effectively prevented Zelaya from running for re-election. Though the Obama administration initially criticized the military coup that put Roberto Michelletti in the presidency and other leaders of the coup in his cabinet, the United States was the first to recognize the new Porfirio Lobo government that was put in place by elections months later.[xxvi] This recognition was granted despite the fact that all opposition candidates had boycotted the elections and all international observers (besides the U.S. Republican party) withdrew, refusing to recognize the elections’ legitimacy.[xxvii] While the U.N. General Assembly called for the “immediate and unconditional return of Zelaya,” and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) refused to recognize the outcome of the elections, the U.S. State Department blocked the Organization of American States’ (OAS) resolution to not recognize elections held under the de facto government.[xxviii] Instead the United States praised Lobo for “restoring democracy” and promoting “national reconciliation.”[xxix]

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Washington continues to stand idly by as the rule of law in Honduras deteriorates. While former Secretary of State and current presidential candidate Hillary Clinton continues to deflect criticism of her involvement in the 2009 coup and her running mate, Tim Kaine, touts his time in Honduras as the most formative eight months of his life, the U.S. government maintains its commitment to propping up the very agents who are perpetuating injustice. Since 2009, the U.S. has sent $200 million USD in aid directly to the military and police force in the name of fighting crime and drug trafficking.[xxx] Instead, this money has allowed the state and the military to maintain the status quo, which is the violent repression of its citizens. Only a shallow analysis could describe such aid as a heroic contribution towards a safer Honduras. By solely focusing on the role of non-military spending in Honduras, Nazario’s article upholds the narrative that an infusion of U.S. taxpayer dollars will help to pull Honduras from the depths of poverty and violence. Last year, Congress approved a $750 million USD budget for the Alliance for Prosperity Plan (APP) to be administered by the U.S., Guatemalan, Honduran, and Salvadoran governments. The plan aims to address the “push factors” of violence in the so-called Northern Triangle. As analyzed in previous COHA articles, the APP could, in theory, be beneficial, but an alarming 60 percent of the funds to Honduras go to military financing and training.[xxxi] It remains to be seen how the vague conditions on this aid play out in practice.[xxxii]
With so much money invested in the training of the Honduran security forces, the United States cannot remain oblivious to the mounting evidence that the military is behind the recent murders. Fusina, one of the units of the military that allegedly received the “hit-list” with Berta Cacéres’ name on it, receives direct military training from the U.S. Marine Corps and the F.B.I.[xxxiii]

The Honduran police force teems with corruption as well. Marvin Ponce, Vice President of the Honduran Congress estimates that over 40 percent of the police force is involved in organized crime. [xxxiv] Additionally, Human Rights Watch reports that “the use of lethal force by the national police is a chronic problem… Investigations into police abuses are marred by inefficiency and corruption … and impunity is the rule.”[xxxv] Perhaps even more concerning, the assassinations of two Honduran investigators (in 2009 and 2011) looking at the complicity between drug traffickers, police leaders, and organized crime, were found to be linked to top Honduran police officials, according to leaked documents.[xxxvi] Of course, the Honduran government has fiercely refuted claims that either the state or the military are involved in human rights violations.[xxxvii] Following President Hernandez’ lead, U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby claimed at a June 22 press briefing that “there’s no specific credible allegations of gross violations of human rights” in Honduras.[xxxviii]

So why is it that the United States so steadfastly supports the Honduran state, despite all the evidence that it is allowing its citizens to be murdered with impunity? The answer stems from the strategic economic and military importance of Honduras. Honduras holds the United States’ only air base between South America and the United States, and since the contra war in Nicaragua in the 1980s, Honduras has served as the regional hub for U.S. military operations in Central America. American corporations also have extensive mining and hydroelectric investments in Honduras, as well as banana companies like Dole and Chiquita, and apparel, auto industry and other manufacturing plants. Out of all the Central American governments, the Honduran government is also the most ideologically aligned with the United States.

Public Pressure Mounts in the United States

Aside from Berta Cáceres’ three daughters who have traveled the world in recent months to call for international pressure on the Honduran government, international organizations, civil society groups, and U.S. policymakers alike have urged the Obama administration to leverage its financial support of the Honduran state to call for justice. Ever since 2009, in the face of mounting evidence that the United States is funding a criminal regime whose collusion with private interests is now well-documented, pressure on the U.S. government has grown. In 2010, thirty congressmen sent a letter to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging the Obama administration to stop funding the Honduran state, especially the police and military, until the culture of impunity is addressed. [xxxix]

After years of similar pressure on the State Department, including another congressional letter to Secretary John Kerry last year with lackluster results, opposition to the funding reached a crescendo this summer after Berta’s death. In June and July, a vocal campaign to “Stop Aid to Honduras” gained traction in the United States, using the U.S. Leahy law as the crux of its argument. Under this law, the State Department and Department of Defense are prohibited from contributing funds to any foreign military unit where there is “credible evidence of human rights abuses.”[xl] The United States is also prohibited from providing funds to a government instituted through a military coup.[xli] Despite a Wikileaks-exposed email from the U.S. ambassador to Honduras stating that the overthrow of Zelaya undoubtedly “constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup,” the Obama administration has avoided calling it a military coup so that aid can continue unabated.[xlii]

On June 14, Henry C. Johnson (D-GA) proposed the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act, which offers the opportunity for the United States to hold the Honduran government accountable for its actions. The bill would halt all aid to Honduras for military operations, training, and arms until the government carries out exhaustive and transparent investigations into the deaths of activists that have been linked to the Honduran police and military.[xliii] This is the bill to which Nazario refers in her article, classifying the legislation as “an attack from the left.” Though she acknowledges that the human rights concerns that the bill represents are legitimate, she claims that its passage “would be a mistake,” due to the beneficial violence prevention programs carried out by the police.

Conclusion

Because of the United States’ tightly bound relationship with Honduras—most importantly, the Honduran government’s dependency on U.S. aid—Washington has a responsibility to the Honduran people to make a serious commitment to ending the ongoing human rights crisis. Simply providing the government funds to “reform itself” will no longer suffice. It is time for the United States to recognize its complicity in funding a criminal regime, and halt all aid to the Honduran military and police until that government can prove its own commitment to justice. Once this happens, the United States can continue to fund beneficial social justice programs such as the ones Nazario mentions in her article. Until that happens, however, human and environmental rights defenders will face extreme peril at the hands of a government that does nothing to protect them and is in collusion with the very actors who use violence to maintain control over marginalized groups. In Berta Cáceres’ own words in her acceptance speech of the 2015 Goldman Prize, “Despertemos, despertemos humanidad, ya no hay tiempo”—wake up humanity, we’re out of time.

By Jessica FarberResearch Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Original research on Latin America by COHA. Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and instituional attribution. Exclusive rights can be negotiated. For additional news and analysis on Latin America, please go to LatinNews. com and Rights Action.

Featured Photo: Crowd. Taken from Flickr.

[i] Nazario, Sonia. “How the Most Dangerous Place on Earth got Safer.” 11 August 2016. New York Times. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/14/opinion/sunday/how-the-most-dangerous-place-on-earth-got-a-little-bit-safer.html

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Farber, Jessica. “War in Peace: Exploring the Roots of El Salvador’s Gang Violence.” 18 July 2016. Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.coha.org/war-in-peace-exploring-the-roots-of-el-salvadors-gang-vio-lence/

[iv] Farr, Sam. “Obama Asked to Curtail Assistance to Honduras.” 19 October 2010. The North American Congress on Latin America. Accessed 26 August 2016.  https://nacla.org/news/obama-asked-curtail-assistance-honduras

[v] Gonsalves Margerin, Marcelha. “Seeking Justice after the Murder of Honduran Activist Berta Cáceres.” National Public Radio. 27 April 2016. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.wnyc.org/story/seeking-justice-after-murder-honduran-activist-berta-caceres/

[vi] “Una amplia y exhaustiva investigación basada en métodos técnicos y científicos,” statement issued by the Public Ministry of Honduras, published on social media by the Honduras media TN5 Estelar. May 2, 2016. Accessed July 7, 2016. https://www.facebook.com/TN5Estelar/photos/a.330734023616440.77404.326888920667617/1113789491977552/?type=3&theater

[vii] Lakhani, Nina and Ed Pilkington. “US investigating allegations Honduran military had hitlist of activists to target.” 8 July 2016. The Guardian. Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/08/honduras-military-hitlist-activists-us-investigation

[viii] Tyrou, “The Symbol of Berta Cáceres Continues to Expose Criminal Coup Regime and its Deadly Extracgive Formula for Honduras.” 12 July 2016. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.coha.org/the-symbol-of-berta-caceres-continues-to-expose-criminal-coup-regime-and-its-deadly-extractive-formula-for-honduras/#_ftn11

[ix] Tyrou, Emma. “Justice for Berta Cáceres: Yet Another Murder Proves that Death and Impunity Prevail.” 11 July 2016. Washington Report on the Hemisphere, vol. 36, issue 11. Accessed 26 August 2016.

[x] Lakhani, Nina. “Berta Cáceres’ name was on Honduran military’s hitlist, says former soldier.” 21 June 2016. The Guardian. Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/21/berta-caceres-name-honduran-military-hitlist-former-soldier

[xi] Birss, Moira and Gustavo Castro-Soto, “In Crisis, we Find Hope.” 28 April 2016. The North American Congress on Latin America. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://nacla.org/news/2016/04/28/crisis-we-find-hope

[xii] Oscar Arias Sánchez to President of the Republic of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernández. April 27, 2016. Accessed 26 August, 2016. http://bertacaceres.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Ex-Costa-Rican-president-and-Nobel-Peace-Prize-winner-Oscar-Arias-urges-JOH-to-allow-IACHR-investigation.pdf

[xiii] Lakhani, Nina. “Berta Cáceres murder: four men arrested over Honduran activist’s death.” 2 May 2016. The Guardian. Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/02/berta-caceres-murder-four-men-arrested-honduras

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Blitzer, Jonathan. “Should the U.S. Still be Sending Aid to Honduras?” 17 August 2016. The New Yorker. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/should-the-u-s-still-be-sending-military-aid-to-honduras

[xvi] Associated Press. “ Police in Honduras arrest three in slaying of activist.” 13 July 2016. The Los Angeles Times. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-honduras-activist-arrest-20160713-snap-story.html

[xvii] “New Data on the Murder Rate of Environmental and Land Activists in Honduras, the Highest in the World.” 4 March 2016. Global Witness. Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.globalwitness.org/en/press-releases/global-witness-releases-new-data-murder-rate-environmental-and-land-activists-honduras-highest-world/

[xviii] Planas, Roque. “U.S. Aid to Honduras in Doubt after Killings of Activists.” 11 August 2016. The Huffington Post. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/honduran-aid-activist-killings_us_57acf39fe4b007c36e4dec10

[xix] “The World Report 2016: Events in Honduras in 2015.” The Human Rights Watch . Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/country-chapters/honduras

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] “Honduras is Open for Business.” 26 July 2011. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.coha.org/honduras-is-open-for-business/

[xxiii] Carasik, Lauren. “Blood in Honduras, Silence in the United States.”16 July 2016.  Boston Review. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://bostonreview.net/world-us/lauren-carasik-blood-honduras-silence-united-states

[xxiv] Isacson, Adam, and Sarah Kinosian. “Which Central American Military and Police Units Get the Most U.S. Aid?” Washington Office on Latin America. April 15, 2016. Accessed July 08, 2016. https://www.wola.org/analysis/which-central-american-military-and-police-units-get-the-most-u-s-aid/

[xxv] Grandin, Greg. “The Clinton-Backed Honduran Regime is Picking Off Indigenous Leaders.” 3 March 2016. The Nation. Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.thenation.com/article/the-clinton-backed-honduran-regime-is-picking-off-indigenous-leaders/

[xxvi] Frank, Dana. “Honduras: Which Side is the US on?” 22 May 2012. The Nation. Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.thenation.com/article/honduras-which-side-us/

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Zunes, Stephen. “The U.S. Role in the Honduras Coup and Subsequent Violence.” 19 June 2016. The Huffington Post. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-us-role-in-the-honduras-coup-and-subsequent-violence_us_5766c7ebe4b0092652d7a138

[xxix] Frank, Dana. “Honduras: Which Side is the US on?” 22 May 2012. The Nation. Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.thenation.com/article/honduras-which-side-us/

[xxx] Blitzer, Jonathan. “Should the U.S. Still be Sending Aid to Honduras?” 17 August 2016. The New Yorker. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/should-the-u-s-still-be-sending-military-aid-to-honduras

[xxxi] Iesue, Laura. “The Alliance for Prosperity Plan: A Failed Effort for Stemming Migration.” Council on Hemispheric Affairs. 1 August 2016. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.coha.org/the-alliance-for-prosperity-plan-a-failed-effort-for-stemming-migration/

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxiii] Isacson, Adam, and Sarah Kinosian. “Which Central American Military and Police Units Get the Most U.S. Aid?” Washington Office on Latin America. April 15, 2016. Accessed July 08, 2016. https://www.wola.org/analysis/which-central-american-military-and-police-units-get-the-most-u-s-aid/

[xxxiv] “Ponce claims 40% of police tied to organized crime.” 21 July 2011. Honduran Weekly. Accessed 26 July 2016. http://www.hondurasweekly.com/joomla-pages-iii/archieved-articles/53-news/national/6730-ponce-claims-40-of-police-tied-to-organized-crime

[xxxv] Frank, Dana. “Honduras: Which Side is the US on?” 22 May 2012. The Nation. Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.thenation.com/article/honduras-which-side-us/

[xxxvi] Malkin, Elizabeth and Alberto Arce. “Files Suggest Police Leaders Ordered Killing of Antidrug Officials.” 15 April 2016. The New York Times. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/16/world/americas/files-suggest-honduras-police-leaders-ordered-killing-of-antidrug-officials.html?_r=0

[xxxvii] “HONDURAS: Government Denies That Military Killed Cáceres” Latin News, June 24, 2016. Accessed July 8, 2016. http://www.latinnews.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=69211&uid=17952&acc=1&Itemid=6&cat_id=802664 &utm_content=buffer7ec07&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

[xxxviii] “Press Briefing with John Kirby.” 22 June 2016. U.S. Department of State. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2016/06/258980.htm

[xxxix] Farr, Sam. “Obama Asked to Curtail Assistance to Honduras.” 19 October 2010. The North American Congress on Latin America. Accessed 26 August 2016.  https://nacla.org/news/obama-asked-curtail-assistance-honduras

[xl] Carasik, Lauren. “Blood in Honduras, Silence in the United States.”16 July 2016.  Boston Review. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://bostonreview.net/world-us/lauren-carasik-blood-honduras-silence-united-states

[xli] Ibid.

[xlii] “A Selection from the Cache of Diplomatic Dispatches.” 19 June 2011. The New York Times.  Accessed 26 June 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/11/28/world/20101128-cables-viewer.html?hp&_r=0#report/cables-09TEGUCIGALPA645

[xliii] “H.R. 5474: Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act.” 14 June 2016. Govtrack Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr5474/text

Journalists demand justice for 22 colleagues murdered in Honduras

Journalists and defenders of free expression gathered in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, on Monday to demand justice for the 22 journalists who have been murdered in the country since 2014.

“We demand the investigation and trial of those responsible for the deaths of those journalists,” said Wendy Funez, a representative of the Freedom of Expression Committee (C-Libre), during a protest outside the attorney general’s office.

The demonstrators placed coffins at the entrance to the office in memory of the 22 journalists killed during the lifetime of the current government, headed by President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

In those cases, 91% of the murderers continue to enjoy impunity, said C-Libre director and former prosecutor Edy Tabora.

The committee has called for the creation of a specialised unit to investigate “aggression against freedom of expression.” Tabora said there had been 218 attacks against journalists in Honduras in 2015.

Since the 2009 US-backed coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya, 59 journalists have been murdered in Honduras, reported TeleSUR. Four have been killed in 2016 and 12 were killed in 2015.

Yet, in April 2015, the Honduras National Congress approved the “journalist protection law”, which included measures such as providing police protection when a journalist receives a threat.

The law also planned the creation of a centre to monitor threats. Nothing has come of it.

Honduras no garantiza plenamente los derechos humanos de su población

Afiche sobre visita in loco CIDH Honduras

Tegucigalpa, M.D.C., 1 de diciembre de 2014. La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) inicia hoy su visita a Honduras. La presencia de la CIDH –máximo órgano de protección y promoción de derechos humanos del continente americano–, demuestra su particular interés e inquietud por la situación en el país.

En este marco, las organizaciones firmantes manifestamos:

Primero: A partir del golpe de Estado ocurrido en el año 2009, la institucionalidad democrática continúa fragilizándose. Las autoridades siguen sin reconocer la ruptura del orden constitucional; la mayoría de las violaciones de derechos humanos cometidas en dicho contexto se mantienen impunes; y las estructuras de poder (como la Corte Suprema de Justicia y el Ejército), que facilitaron el golpe de Estado, no han sido sancionadas. La independencia judicial todavía es un anhelo cada vez más lejano debido al alineamiento del poder legislativo y judicial con lo que dicta el poder ejecutivo.

Segundo: Paulatinamente se ha venido fortaleciendo el poder militar en detrimento del poder civil. En la actualidad, diversas instituciones públicas son dirigidas por militares como por ejemplo: la Dirección de Migración, Aeronáutica Civil, HONDUTEL, Registro Nacional de las Personas, entre otras. Adicionalmente, el gobierno creó la policía militar de orden público y ahora pretende darle rango constitucional, aun cuando se ha denunciado su participación en violaciones de derechos humanos.

Tercero: Las cifras de violencia no han disminuido, pese a nuevas disposiciones que modifican el método para establecer la cantidad de muertes violentas y que impiden el acceso a la información pública, según datos del Observatorio Nacional de la Violencia del año 2013, ocurren 79 muertes violentas por cien mil habitantes. La impunidad sobre este tipo de hechos es casi total (92%).

Cuarto: Si bien se han aprobado planes de acción en materia de derechos humanos, estos no se están implementando. Por ello Honduras está en deuda con la garantía plena de los derechos de todos y todas sus habitantes. En particular, preocupa la discriminación y exclusión de los pueblos indígenas, de los afrodescendientes –reflejado en el despojo de sus territorios y con el riesgo, entre otras cosas, de que estos pueblos desaparezcan; la violencia contra las mujeres, las niñas, las personas jóvenes, así como la discriminación y violencia en contra de las personas de las comunidades lésbicas, gays, trans, e intersex. También es preocupante la criminalización y persecución de defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos; las condiciones inhumanas que enfrentan las personas privadas de libertad; las amenazas y asesinatos contra quienes ejercen la libertad de expresión, así como contra operadores de justicia que han demostrado honradez y transparencia en sus trabajos.

Quinto: La visita de todos los integrantes de la Comisión Interamericana constituye una oportunidad valiosa para que el Estado hondureño rinda cuentas sobre sus actuaciones pasadas y presentes, pero principalmente para que informe sobre sus planes de cómo va a abordar las diversas problemáticas que aquejan al país.

La sociedad civil organizada da la bienvenida a la CIDH y espera que se continúe brindando un seguimiento cercano a Honduras, así como que se establezcan recomendaciones encaminadas a cambios estructurales que permitan mejorar la situación de los derechos humanos de todos y todas las hondureñas.

Consideramos que las nuevas autoridades del Estado de Honduras deben aprovechar la visita de la CIDH como una oportunidad para que, en estricto apego de sus obligaciones internacionales en materia de derechos humanos, se construya la institucionalidad democrática que tanto necesita el país.

Organizaciones firmantes:

Asociación de Jueces por la Democracia (AJD)

Asociación LGBT Arcoiris

Asociadas por lo Justo (JASS)

Asociación Para una Vida Mejor de Personas Infectadas/Afectadas por el VIH-SIDA en Honduras (APUVIMEH)

Casa Alianza Honduras

Centro de Derechos de Mujeres (CDM)

Centro de Estudios de la Mujer-Honduras (CEMH)

Centro de Investigación y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (CIPRODEH)

Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL)

Colectiva de Mujeres Hondureñas (CODEMUH)

Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH)

Comité por la Libre Expresión (C-Libre)

Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH)

El Centro de Prevención Tratamiento y Rehabilitación de Victimas de la Tortura y sus Familiares (CPTRT)

El Frente Amplio del Colegio de Profesionales de Educación Media de Honduras (COPEMH)

Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación de la Compañía de Jesús (ERIC-SJ)

Foro de mujeres por la Vida

La Red de Mujeres de Ojojona

Movimiento Diversidad en Resistencia

Movimiento Ambientalista de Santa Bárbara (MAS)

Movimiento de Mujeres por la Paz Visitación Padilla

Bad Role Models

The Embattled Arrival of Honduras’ Model Cities

“The Voice of Zacate Grande” is a community radio station named after the island in southern Honduras from where it broadcasts. Located off a dusty road that winds past modest homes and stunning views of the beautiful Gulf of Fonesca, the station has become a focal point of the local community’s resistance to the ongoing land conflict with Miguel Facusse, the richest man in Honduras and reportedly its largest landowner. On the wall outside the station hangs a portrait of Francisco Morazán, revered by Hondurans for his progressive vision and courageous leadership in the newly independent country more than a century ago. These days his portrait has become a symbol of a new struggle for freedom.

Zacate Grande’s plight seems likely to get worse. In May, the Honduran Supreme Court upheld a law, passed by the National Congress last year, authorizing the creation of so-called Zones for Employment and Economic Development (ZEDEs). Modeled on the charter cities concept designed by Paul Romer, an economics professor at New York University, ZEDEs will be semi-autonomous areas that are free to set up their own laws and enforce them via security forces and a judicial system established by them. In theory, these charter cities are designed to spur widespread economic growth by allowing free enterprise to circumvent the country’s weak political institutions.

In practice, however, ZEDEs seem likely to benefit only Honduras’ existing economic and political elites and foreign investors. The laws allowing ZEDEs have been designed to give their investors maximal legal and financial protection, leaving residents with only minimal legal recourse and democratic rights. If Zacate Grande is subsumed into the first ZEDE, the island’s 5,000 inhabitants will lose the right to help determine what happens to its land or its resources. And that has generated alarm among the residents about international investors more focused on earning a profit than building a sustainable economy and a fair political order.

THEORY AND PRACTICE

The Honduran government’s approval of the creation of model cities follows the marked deterioration of economic and social conditions after the 2009 coup that ousted President Mel Zelaya, a populist who had been elected in 2006. Between 2010 and 2012, the conservative forces that controlled the national government drastically cut spending on public services, including housing, health care, and education. Extreme poverty rose by 26.3 percent; almost two-thirds of Hondurans now live below the poverty line. And inequality increased rapidly — in the first two years after the coup, the wealthiest 10 percent of Hondurans reaped 100 percent of the country’s real income gains.

At the same time, violence and insecurity have careened out of control. Since 2011, Honduras has claimed the highest per capita murder rate in the world. The international media has typically attributed the violence to drug traffickers and gangs. But that has obscured the role played by the notoriously corrupt police force and military who enforce the government’s policies with lethal means. Over the past year and a half, more than 400 children have been murdered. Journalists, lawyers, judges, human rights defenders, land rights activists, opposition party members, members of the LGBT community, and indigenous activists are routinely targeted for brutal repression by state and private security forces.

It was against this backdrop of economic and social mayhem that Romer first urged Honduras to experiment with model cities. He claimed that in order to spur growth, Honduras should allow foreign investors to circumvent the country’s poor governance and endemic corruption. New cities, he argued, would bypass Honduras’ existing elites, to the benefit of the rest of the country. But Romer failed to consider that model cities could create a new style of corruption. Honduras’ existing political elites began using Romer’s concept to help deep-pocketed international investors manipulate the rules in their favor.

The law for Special Development Regions (REDs), which the Honduran Congress passed in 2011, ostensibly realized Romer’s vision for model cities. Romer envisioned inviting investors to develop new cities on uninhabited or sparsely populated land and placing few restrictions on how they could govern those areas. But he insisted that it was important to require transparency in order to ensure that the model cities were appropriately administered. Romer endorsed Honduras’ proposed law in 2011, but he unexpectedly distanced himself from it in 2012, in part because the Honduran government dispensed with the Transparency Commission on which Romer expected to serve.

That same year, Honduras’ Supreme Court invalidated the law on constitutional grounds. But shortly thereafter, the government illegally removed four of the five justices who had ruled against the REDs, replacing them with judges more amenable to the government’s agenda. In 2013, the Congress passed a law authorizing ZEDEs, which was substantially similar to the RED law, and even less protective of democratic principles. For example, the Honduran government permitted international investors to build ZEDEs anywhere in the country, including in areas that were already inhabited, thus dispossessing existing residents. (Romer had argued that it was important that workers “vote with their feet” — that is to say, they actively choose to live in the cities in question.)

ZEDEs will be overseen by a 21-person committee comprised of members that are allied with the national government and independent free market libertarians. That committee will delegate authority for each new ZEDE to a five-member subcommittee that will — with the expected input of major investors — appoint an administrator to oversee the creation of the zone’s civil, criminal, and administrative institutions. For the Hondurans who may suddenly find themselves living within these cities’ boundaries or neighboring them, this is an alarming prospect. They will be deprived of many of the constitutional and other types of protection granted to their fellow citizens. Moreover, they will lack meaningful legal recourse, for example, if the security forces created by investors are repressive, or the administrators prove to be corrupt. Each ZEDE is expected to develop its own judicial system of common law courts — again, under the guidance of individual investors — which is entirely independent of the Honduran civil law system. Further, there is no apparent mechanism to appeal beyond the ZEDE judiciary.

On May 26, the Supreme Court upheld the ZEDEs law. Feasibility studies are now underway at several sites in Honduras. In densely populated areas of over 100,000 people, citizens can reject a proposed ZEDE charter through a referendum. But for low-density communities and designated areas on the country’s coasts, no citizen input is required. That leaves the inhabitants of Zacate Grande without any right to self-determination.

THE FIGHT GOES ON

For marginalized communities in Honduras, model cities have stirred memories of the country’s long history of class struggles over land. Land captured centuries ago by European imperialists was eventually passed on to local oligarchs. Agrarian reform efforts initiated in the 1960s aimed to give marginalized communities formal ownership over the land they inhabited for generations, but those endeavors were undermined by business elites through coercion, fraud, and intimidation. Poor communities still suffer from dispossession, food insecurity, and repression as a result of their lack of legally recognized land title.

Honduras’ land-owning elites seldom feel compelled to do anything to mitigate that suffering. Indeed, when the country’s dispossessed have attempted to protest their condition, the elites have a history of fighting back viciously. Peasants in fertile the Northern Bajo Aguan region resisting land grabs by the Honduran businessman Facusse, have faced a brutal crackdown that has resulted in 140 deaths.

The pending arrival of model cities has been another case in point. On September 4, 2012, Antonio Trejo, a human rights lawyer who had been representing the peasants of Bajo Aguan, helped draft a constitutional challenge to the RED law, despite several death threats against him and repeated requests for police protection that went unheeded. Seventeen days later, he was gunned down outside a wedding he was attending in the city of Tegucigalpa. (Earlier that day, Trejo had publicly accused legislators of using the model cities to fund raise.) Five months later, his brother was shot by unknown assailants.

The residents of Zacate Grande refuse to be intimidated. “Voice of Zacate Grande” continues its daily broadcasts in support of the community’s struggle for self-determination. Unfortunately, the odds remain stacked against it. Honduras’ political and economic elites are skilled at dividing and conquering marginalized communities through various means. They might try to buy off some members of the community in order to create friction within it. They will likely continue to try to instill fear among the residents of the island. There are already reports of land speculators arriving in the town of Amapala, on neighboring Tiger Island, buying out some small landholders, and telling others that if they don’t sell, they won’t be able to afford the property taxes after the arrival of the ZEDEs. Residents will continue to fight for their rights and their survival, but with the advent of international capital drawing closer, the exploitation and dispossession of Honduras’ poor will likely continue unabated.

Will the bipartite system get the opposition back under control?

Did last November’s election results break the traditional bipartite system? Has the Liberal Party crumbled due to its internal splits and its third-place showing in those elections? Who’s playing the role of opposition these days? While crucial, these questions have no firm answers in this first post-electoral moment.

Ismael Moreno

In the National Congress’ inaugural session on January 22, Liberty and Refoundation (LIBRE) Party representatives went so far as to break the microphone on the legislative board’s table in response to the National and Liberal parties’ manipulation to ensure that Mauricio Oliva, a National Party representative and military adviser, would be elected to chair the new board. After that stormy expression of repudiation, the LIBRE bench went unnoticed for weeks. Finally, on March 18, it showed signs of life again, but this time not in opposition to decisions by the Liberal and National benches. It was rather a confrontation that almost ended in blows between two of its own legislators over differing ideas on how to elect the national human rights commissioner, or ombudsperson.

The Right takes advantage of an opposition that gives such signals by contrasting it with the traditional opposition, one that accepts all the rules of the game and shares public administration under those same rules in exchange for political favors.

A new political map

The results of last November’s general elections redrew the age-old political map, with the National Party winning the presidency with under 37% of the vote, the new LIBRE ousting the Liberal Party from second place with nearly 28%, the Liberal Party moving down to third place with just over 20%, and the also new Anti-Corruption Party placing fourth with over 13%. These novel results highlight LIBRE as the opposition party with real grassroots representation. The central challenge for the traditional political leaders over the three and a half years before the next elections will thus be to assure an “opposition” that again works in their interests. To a great extent the future of the bipartite system depends on playing this right.

Already working for these stakes are the gurus of the two traditional parties: former Presidents Carlos Flores Facussé (Liberal), Rafael Leonardo Callejas (National) and Ricardo Maduro (National). Together with current President Juan Orlando Hernández (National) and other political strategists such as Hernández’s security minister Arturo Corrales Álvarez, the three are determined to redefine the opposition.

These gurus know full well that society’s growing instability and the enormous weakness of the State’s institutionality
are a fertile brew in which an opposition might develop that’s not only outside their bipartite control but effective, and could even turn into an authentic alternative to the traditional parties’ proposals. In their mind this real possibility, already visible in the election results, is an imminent danger.

LIBRE doesn’t fit the mold

It’s true that LIBRE counts a majority breakaway faction of the Liberal Party (PLH) among its ranks and that its indisputable top leader, formerly deposed President Mel Zelaya, who comes from the crudest Liberal traditions, is now a bridge between the minority that remains in his old party and those who left it. In spite of everything, LIBRE as opposition still enjoys the trust of the two-party structures. It doesn’t fit the mold designed over three decades, a mold for shaping an opposition that will complement the governing party, co-govern with it, share posts and make shady deals for managing public affairs.

The opposition has been understood in Honduras as “the same monkey on a different branch,” only absent from the presidential offices and sometimes the legislative leadership body, but always holding shares in the judicial branch and the State’s various watchdog bodies. It has functioned very well like this for those 30 years , so integrated into the bipartite machinery that its workings have become almost mechanical. This “opposition” gave full legitimacy to the “democratic” model, but after the 2009 coup and especially after the barrage of new party proposals headed up by LIBRE, these mechanics have been drastically upset. An opposition disengaged from that bipartite machinery is viewed as a serious problem to be resolved by those devoted to keeping the machine’s gears oiled.

How to resolve this?

How are they planning to resolve this political novelty that’s eroding the very foundations of their model? Firstly, the extreme Right represented by President Juan Orlando Hernández must try to grab away the banners and goals of struggle of the two new parties that won 52 of the Congress’ 128 seats and 30 of the country’s municipal governments. To do so, the government is expanding programs such as the one called the “Ten Thousand Voucher,” a handout program that each government in turn has given in dribs and drabs to the poorest to win over or maintain their party loyalties. Now this paternalistic program is looking to reach beyond the marginal sectors already obedient to the National Party. The government is also bringing on line other paternalistic programs such as “A Better Life,” aimed at marginal sectors susceptible to discontent and thus capable of mobilizing behind LIBRE’s leftist banners.

Another step the defenders of the old status quo have taken is in the field of foreign policy. President Hernández is initiating a rapprochement with left-leaning governments. His first foreign policy act was to attend the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit in Havana. CELAC, of which Honduras is a member, is made up of 33 independent States of the region and is conceived as an alternative integration mechanism to the Organization of American States, which is so dominated by the United States. A few weeks later Hernández revived diplomatic relations with the government of Ecuador and has taken steps to remain in Venezuela’s Petrocaribe initiative. There’s even talk of Honduras re-joining ALBA, if circumstances permit, which is ironic given that membership in it was not only interrupted by the coup that ousted Zelaya but used as an excuse for it.

The case of the ombudsman

The authoritarian political and economic model headed up by President Hernández has a long-term projection, with talk of consolidating it over the next 50 years. Achieving this requires an opposition that’s under control and incorporated into the model. The election of the ombudsperson in March was an example of some tactical maneuvering in that direction.

Obviously the goal was to assure that the new head of the constitutionally autonomous National Human Rights Commission (CONADEH) would be under the direct control of the executive branch. But they didn’t expect the barrage of diverse human rights organizations that became an authentic opposition in place of LIBRE’s weakened opposition in the National Congress. Not only challenging the intention of imposing the candidate for this post, these organizations proposed names and selection procedures. Twenty-one candidates turned up at the National Congress.

A legislative commission consisting of representatives from all parties including LIBRE was named to select candidates. Following hearings, the commission narrowed the choice down to seven for submission to the plenary. But in a lightning session on March 25, a National Party representative moved to elect Héctor Roberto Herrera, a candidate from his party’s crème de la crème who has the profile this authoritarian democracy needs; his election was pushed through with the votes of the National, Liberal and Anti-Corruption parties. At his swearing in to this post for the next six years, the LIBRE legislators shouted “Dictatorship! Dictatorship!” But nothing more…

The legislative siege

In Honduras’ bipartite system the the earth starts to move if any opposition escapes from machinery controlled by the party that didn’t win the presidency and istead identifies with an authentic Left. In the few cases in which such an opposition has threatened the breakdown of the traditional opposition’s machinery, it has always met with repression, physical extermination, ideological disqualification and an information barrier.

This year such an opposition has acquired an official citizenship card and sits with equal rights in seats intended only for an opposition that defends the bipartite democracy. LIBRE is a danger, not only for being opposition but also for defeating the traditional parties. This requires that the Right redouble its efforts to both isolate and discredit LIBRE and bolster the Liberal Party.

That means first of all obstructing LIBRE’s opposition in Congress, obliging it to move its pressure outside ordinary parliamentary rules. Thus, in the final sessions of the previous legislature, the outgoing rightwing legislators reformed the Constitution so that major issues for the State and even constitutional changes previously requiring a qualified majority can now be passed with no more than a simple majority. That means that the 52 National votes plus the 26 Liberal ones will suffice for any decision the bipartite system wants taken in Congress.

This ploy was decided in negotiations between the National and Liberal leaders upon hearing the electoral results, to prevent the 36-member LIBRE bench from blocking or otherwise influencing decisions taken by Congress. Even in the remote event that they join the 13-member Anti-Corruption Party bench, their combined votes still wouldn’t be enough to break the legislative barrier jointly erected by the traditional party representatives.

But blocking any move by the thus-far independent opposition isn’t the only goal. The negotiations between the shaken political elites of the far Right have deep-rooted and far-reaching objectives that will be expressed in specific votes.

Raise the President’s profile

The agreement among the corporate media owners is to raise the profile of President Hernández and keep it raised. This strategy was kicked off by fanning the flames of the conflict with El Salvador induced by a dispute over Conejo Island in the Gulf of Fonseca.

They want to ensure that the President’s profile stays in the headlines and penetrates grassroots consciousness of him as a leader for the long term, not just four years. Congress’ president already sent out a first feeler by stating that people shouldn’t be afraid of the word reelection because Congress always has recourse to legal devices such as plebiscites and referenda should the need arise, but meanwhile we have a President with such solid leadership that it’s worth extending his mandate for more than the established single term.

A priority of the far Right’s strategy is eliminating the constitutional “articles set in stone” that prevent reelection. In the event of securing reelection, Juan Orlando Hernández would have the first option. The door is already being pried open for a Constituent Assembly or at least striking down these ironclad constitutional changes to allow reelection. Whether or not this Constituent Assembly is formed is now in the hands of the far Right.

At the same time they’re trying to turn the Liberal Party back into a force capable of winning the elections in November 2017. This option is based on the possible attrition of President Juan Orlando Hernández as well as the entire National Party due to their hardline policies on economic issues and their repressive and militaristic response to social demands, which could possibly lead to LIBRE coming out of those elections the victor. That unacceptable scenario makes regaining control of the badly split and weakened Liberal Party an imperative for the leaders of both traditional parties.

The gurus of the bipartite system don’t tolerate factors and actors that escape the mold of their political and economic model. With an oligarchic and kleptocratic identity, they’ve given clear signs of unwillingness to cede even a millimeter. And the term kleptocratic isn’t a gratuitous insult; they’ve earned their vocation as thieves over many decades of squandering state assets and diverting public funds into private accounts. A debate in search of an alternative model to the bipartite system based on a minimum consensus that might respond to the country’s chronic instability continues to be an extremely remote possibility.

What about the Left?

Pulling together the opposition needed if it’s to continue governing is a major headache for the elites of the bipartite system and they are investing energy and resources in that quest. Shouldn’t grassroots and leftwing sectors be devoting their efforts to consolidating a political opposition that will respond to the challenges they’re facing?

In the last four years the Reflection, Investigation and Communication Team (ERIC), created as a social work of the Jesuits in the city of El Progreso, Honduras, in 1980, has conducted four public opinion polls to find out what society thinks about the country’s situation and the behavior of the different social, political and religious actors. All four surveys show that the population distrusts the political proposals of all parties, but particularly the two traditional ones. Over 80% of those polled perceive politicians, including party leaders and legislators, as deceitful and believe all judges, public prosecutors, police and executive branch officials lie. Nonetheless, asked who they think is most responsible for trying to find solutions to the precarious situation they’re living in, people either don’t mention actors associated with the grassroots movement, the National Popular Resistance Front and left leaders in general, or include them way down the list.

The Honduran Left is significantly distanced from the population’s daily reality. It’s true that the Left, represented by LIBRE, pulled almost a million votes in last year’s elections, but they aren’t hard votes or votes of affinity. They’re largely a no-confidence vote against the traditional parties and a vote of desperation in the face of a crisis with no seeming solution. In other words, they are cast to punish the bipartite system more than ideological or militant votes for the Left. According to the surveys of the last four years, people feel no more distrusting of the traditional political parties than distant from grassroots and leftwing leaders.

To escape from this bubble

The organized Left and grassroots sectors are oblivious to this distance. With resources aimed at bringing about transformations that will help the people most hurt by neoliberal policies, every organization, every union, perhaps without realizing it, ends up offering recipes for resolving the crisis as if they were the only possible solutions when in fact they’re nothing more than proposals that guarantee the survival of the organizations’ own members.

While they all strive to comply with their particular agenda for struggle, the surveys from these past four years all found that people’s daily lives continue to be shaped by television and by the churches that know how to reach down into their hearts. Political grassroots and civil society leaders often live in a bubble, believing that what they think is what all impoverished people in Honduras think. This bubble offers a lot of security, including economic, and above all “saves” them from discovering their mistake of being politically, ideologically, humanly and even spiritually distant from the daily reality of people living in poor urban neighborhoods and rural villages.

Our population’s level of social and political awareness is so fragile that most people don’t care who’s in government and who’s in the opposition; it doesn’t matter who they are or where they come from. These people have serious food, security and employment problems to deal with every day, and the only thing that matters to them is that somebody solve these problems. The least of their worries is whether those who guarantee them food and security are an authoritarian dictatorial government or populist or leftwing leaders. It’s all the same to them.

We live in a country where the current circumstances, both objective and subjective, provide fertile ground for personalities with dictatorial features, strong men and arbitrary populists to flourish. Most of the Honduran population continues to be grounded in a profoundly conservative mentality. A Left that wants to put itself forward as the people’s opposition but is distant from those very people will continue to live comfortably in its bubble, churning out anti-neoliberal speeches. Breaking out of that bubble and eliminating its distance from what people feel, think, dream and suffer is a prerequisite to the Left achieving the status of an opposition that finally breaks the bipartite system.

Ismael Moreno, sj, is the envío correspondent in Honduras.