Honduras Coup Tests Democracies

By Alfredo Prieto

Events in Honduras dominate the headlines in Latin America. Photo: Luis Miranda
Events in Honduras dominate the headlines in Latin America. Photo: Luis Miranda

Events in Honduras, which dominate the headlines of the Latin American press of late, constitute – if anything – evidence of the weaknesses of democracy and democratic institutions in Central America. The region is characterized by a polarized income distribution, caciques and a culture of violence that prowls like wolves around sheep.

Honduras is typified by having one of the most rancid and conservative political classes in the region, surpassed perhaps only by that of El Salvador’s, uncomfortable to its core with the idea that the democratic option implies the acceptance of the popular will expressed at the polls.

The Liberal Party, the political base of Zelaya, has never had a bent for radicalism, though the president committed the capital sin of attempting to transform the La Palmerola military base into a civilian airport, carrying out certain reforms and calling for a referendum.

To compound this, he had also tried to align the country with regional integration movements, which whipped up the opposition of the historically entrenched plutocracy. Their extreme reaction – the coup – gave the sensation they were pulling out the rug from under Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.

Nonetheless, the country seems to be divided, although growing popular mobilization around the displaced president suggests that political support for the coup is in decline.  Today backing for the coup has lost some sectors that supported the takeover in principle.

The maneuver was exceedingly clumsy and poorly executed – as evidenced by the fake letter of resignation, imitated Venezuelan style – that didn’t convince even their own supporters. They are like the Bourbons: they neither forget nor learn.

As for the way out of the crisis, I declare myself among the band of skeptics.  Costa Rican mediation, headed by one of the architects of the pacification of the Central American conflict in the 1980s – that is to say, for the neutralization of all radicalism – seems to point to a foreseeable dead end.

The coup leaders will not step down from power by that road, nor will Zelaya be restored to his elected office. The OAS sanctions don’t seem to be providing any desired effect beyond regional and world political isolation, while the US position is inconsistent at best, a prisoner of inter-bureaucratic contradictions where the hawks pull in one direction and the doves in the other.

Honduras is a case study for those who want to investigate and understand the nature of decision making by the United States power structure.  You cannot legitimize a putative creature of the military as an “interim president” on the one hand, and on the other affirm that Zelaya is the only legitimate president.

Nor have they even acknowledged what happened as being a coup.  They have not made themselves clear as to whether or not policy toward Latin America constitutes an effective priority, beyond rhetoric.  Rather, they give the impression that our region’s nations constitute a burdensome weight that drags the country further down amid a distended domestic agenda, difficult conflicts like Iraqi and Afghanistan, and tricky relations with Russia.

A tiny democracy and one without depth, plus the “banana republic oligarchy”, are the greatest handicaps in the Honduran process. The coup clearly constitutes a dangerous precedent.  If its executioners are not removed from where they are, it will send a powerful message to Latin American’s other politically conservative classes.  Their positions in the face of these present changes is not really very different from the most putrid sectors, but who hold real power, in one of the poorest countries in the entire hemisphere.