Zelaya’s Sombrero under a White Flag

By Dmitri Prieto

Manuel Zelaya, photo: Telesur
Manuel Zelaya, photo: Telesur

A president displaced from power by a junta – which not only has the support of the oligarchy, and seemingly almost all of the parliament, the armed forces, the police and the judiciary – is seeking to return to his country under a white flag and exercise his functions in a peaceful manner.

In this, he has the support of grassroots social movements, the “wretched of the earth”, especially the “poor” who have decided to “involve themselves in politics” in support of the charismatic avenging leader, who himself is far from being poor.  He belongs to a well off cattle-ranching family, and his political biography is part of the recent history of the (conservative) Liberal Party of Honduras.

The return of President Zelaya to his country, after being kidnapped by the junta, their allies and supporters of the economically well-heeled classes, is being wildly debated.  This is not only because of the importance that this situation could have from the point of view of the achievement (finally!) of the unanimous demand by international political bodies, but also for the strange, rare, and – it could be said – extraordinary situation that such an event would represent in Latin American political history.

This would be equally remarkable, I dare say, in the environment of current political science in general.  Of course, such an exceptional feat would be only present itself if the return of the legitimate president of Honduras becomes a fact; that is to say, if the strategies and tactics used by him and his team prove successful.

Crisis of Institutional Legitimacy

If the legitimate leader returns to his country unarmed, given that it is controlled by the very well-armed authorities behind the coup, he will need immediate support from structures that are alternative to the existing ones. Let us remember that it was the parliament that deposed Zelaya and named Micheletti president, after having verified the execution of a military coup.

The day that Zelaya was unable to land in Tegucigalpa.

Paradoxically, the return of constitutionality will bring into question the very constitutional order.   It is as if the coup paralyzed the possibility of institutional legitimacy… outside of a change in itself, which is to say, outside of a revolution.

The return of Zelaya would bring into question the very concept of state power as authority based on the control of armed institutions, or – as Max Weber put it – “the monopoly on legitimate violence.”

What resources does Zelaya have to enter the country and reinstall himself in power?  How would he do it?  What concrete actions or practices would be undertaken by him, his team, and those who support him to achieve the “consent of those governed” and the obedience of those who Lenin referred to as “the men with rifles”?

These involve major questions, before which theory prefers to remain silent, if it is doesn’t merely babble incoherent “answers”.  The true answer is in praxis.

Beyond the glorious stories of Mahatma Gandhi, I wanted to contrast what is happening in Honduras to three situations that occurred relatively recently in “Our America.”

First: Pinochet’s coup in Chile, in which the head of state refused to give up; he remained in the presidential palace and was bombarded while virtually alone in the face of the advance of heavily armed coup forces.

The resistance was silenced immediately by shots.  Allende died with dignity as a revolutionary. We were in the midst of the Cold War; there was no type of effective international action against the coup.

Second: the sad story of the Aristide government in Haiti, where the legitimate president was expelled by the force of weapons (not those of an army, but of irregular troops).  The “international community” demanded his restitution, but they arrived too late, and negotiations served only to de-radicalize the political program of the president, who when he returned had only weeks in power.

Third: the last presidential elections in Mexico, with the frustrated odyssey of leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who declared himself the legitimate president while alleging massive electoral fraud.

He was undone by the decisions of the electoral authorities and the tacit support that his competitor received through his opportune recognition as head of state by the “international community” (including leftist governments of the continent).  Lopez Obrador, in his quality as self-proclaimed constitutional president, created a government, named ministers, and mobilized his followers.

But the “international community,” and the “consensus of those governed”, as well as those “men with rifles,” indicated quite clearly who was behind the “real” Mexican government.

New Page of Blank Page

Transcending the period in which Pinochet in the Americas was possible, Zelaya is facing the possibility of a spectrum of variants between the second and third scenarios.  What will happen if he enters the country?  Will he achieve recognition as president?  What will be the political future of Zelaya and Honduras?

Zelaya’s wife, center, with her husband’s trademark white sombrero.

Paradoxically, the return of Zelaya as president would be an indicator of the crisis itself in the common notion of “governance” – the crisis of the notion of power as “legitimate violence” of those “men with rifles” supported by the “consent of those governed.”

Will the people of Honduras, their social movements and their legitimate president be capable of fulfilling the hopes?  If Zelaya returns, the history of revolutions will have a new page.

Today, however, we are looking at a blank page.  May our solidarity and our speaking out serve to keep the enemies of freedom from drenching that page in blood!