Report #1 - Todos Somos Honduras Delegation Report - January 23-24, 2010
Both the resistance and Honduras are at a crossroads, and a decision has to be made of how to go forward in a new phase that opens with the January 27th inauguration of Pepe Lobo. This was the message from different leaders of the resistance movement in the northern region during our first 2 days in Honduras.
Delegation members from Chicago and New York arrived in San Pedro Sula on a hot Saturday morning and traveled by car to El Progresso to meet with both long time and the new generation of social justice activists and members of the anti-coup resistance. We met with Radio Progreso and Father Melo; with Carlos Amaya, activist and independent political candidate and a leader of the Socialist Workers’ Party. We talked about their work and their assessment of the situation going forward since the November elections.
This region of Honduras contains acres and acres of lush banana plants with the ripe banana bunches wrapped in plastic ready for harvest. It was in this region that first the British and later the US banana companies established the dictatorship of “The Company” (referring to United Fruit, Standard Fruit: now respectively Dole and Chiquita) in Honduras. It was here that in 1954 the banana workers went out on what became a national general strike of most of the organized workers in Honduras. A monument to the banana workers and the 1954 strike stands in the Parque Central of the city of El Progreso, just down the street from Radio Progreso.
Arriving at Radio Progreso we found the compañeros in the middle of a marathon fund raiser for the people of Haiti, out in the street in front of the Radio facility with live broadcasts and collecting donations from people passing by on foot or in cars.
We were met by Karla Rivas, Director of Press Communication, with whom we discussed the work of the radio station and the challenges for its work in the new situation.
The station is celebrating more than 50 years of existence in May of this year. From its beginnings the radio station worked with the trade unions, workers’ associations and campesino communities. Organizations, such as the CNTC (National Center of Rural Workers) have programs on Radio Progreso. In 2005 the station began to emphasize work with youth. Currently besides the radio shows, the station publishes print bulletins as well.
In 1979 the radio station was shut down for three months by the government under the National Security law - the violation of national security cited in the closure was that the radio had played a song by Chilean musician, Victor Jara. The station has always faced political pressures because of its political positions.
The day of the coup, June 28, 2009, the military came into the radio facilities and shut down the transmission. The radio reopened the next day and the decision was made to report about the coup and to serve as a source of information and at the same time to inform in a different way. “We decided to report the information that was the most factual possible and to allow for opinions and dialogue. Karla emphasized that the coup changed everything and that Radio Progreso will never be the same.
“The coup left us with many lessons. Everything the radio has worked for over time bore fruit at a time of crisis, locally, nationally and internationally. Look around, you see the average age here of our team is people in their 30s. Very few of us had lived the experience of the coups and repression of our history; we had only read stories, but not lived it.” Our team had to learn to take security measures for themselves and how to be active citizens in the country. “Sometimes we would say, “are we crazy” because we were the only ones reporting what was happening here.”
“The radio’s programming is aimed at accompanying the people in the new situation in which hopes and dreams have been awakened and the possibility of the new Honduras, that the people deserve, is really a possibility it may be 5 years or 10 years, but it is possible”.
“The problem is not just the constitution but goes deeper than that. How do the people see themselves participating in the process of governing the country and what role do the politicians have in serving the people. The people have to advance to create a change in the rules of the game with a new organization where people in their own communities create the proposals and that government has to take those into account.”
We met over a long breakfast with Father Ismael “Melo” Moreno. Padre Melo is the director of Radio Progreso and of the center, ERIC, Equipo de Reflexion y Investigacion Comunitaria (in English, The Team for Community Reflection and Study). ERIC is a Jesuit institution in Progreso founded in 1980. ERIC currently is conducting two studies: 1. The study of religious phenomenon in Honduras to identify which phenomena demobilize society and which mobilize society. 2. A study of how political culture and democracy and citizen to answer the question of why a political culture exists that allows the government to be the property of the elite. The center also organizes “schools” for political education and citizenship formation. These schools consist of 8 months-long courses that consist of modules including gender, the environment, human rights and other elements. On the human rights front ERIC also works directly on human rights cases and has helped bring cases to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.
We also asked Padre Melo about the goals and the challenges of the resistance movement in Honduras.
“Honduras is at a crossroads facing two different roads. One of the roads leads in a direction that is already in progress: a strong authoritarian political regime.” The actors in this regime are the military/police, big business and the traditional politicians. This regime, now being launched with the presidency of Pepe Lobo uses repression and de-legitimization to criminalize and attack any opposition but also uses an element of charity to the poor to generate the appearance of governmental benevolence. This regime works to create internal conflict in the social movements. It uses a conservative fundamentalist religious ideology combined with traditional neoliberalism.
“The other road is the road to build a participative peoples’ democracy; a patriotism that is not aligned with international monopolies or multinational corporations”. This requires creating a social pact that has to have at least these elements: 1) Define the common content of the pact, the social demands, such as education, health, land rights, the use of natural resources. 2) Define new political actors in the process. The actors in this new road won’t be the traditional parties. Participation in the electoral process could be through independent candidates or through the creation of new party structures. 3) Define the electoral strategy and the structural changes that need to be made in the political institution. This road would allow the creation of a Honduras that is not in the hands of the elite.
Padre Melo was asked about why fundamentalist religion seems to believe that it owns God.
“This is a real issue and ongoing discussion. The ideological argument used by the elite religious hierarchy is that the communists will come and take away God. Sometimes this is made worse when leaders of the left disrespect those who join in the social struggle and have religious ideas.” The elites in power have an interest in making people think that those who struggle for political transformation are all atheists. This is promoting a type of faith that is locked up in the Bible and isn't involved in real life.
“Those who keep saying that faith doesn’t have anything to do with politics are those who want to legitimize the politics of the powerful. The most important mission of those of us with faith who believe in the struggle of the people is to nourish and educate our people to link their faith to life. When we question why God is being trapped in the Church, they (the hierarchies) won’t stand for it. God is not a god of the politicians but of the people.”
Carlos Amaya is a well known activist, independent political candidate and a leader of the Socialist Workers Party in Progreso. The delegationmet with Amaya and with members of the Young Socialists in La Comuna, the offices of the PST in Progreso. The Young Socialists includes unemployed youth, university students, and high school students. The group included students from the National Autonomous University in San Pedro Sula and Pedagogical University “Francisco Morazan.
Carlos Amaya provided some historical background on some of the organizing that was taking place in the movement way before the coup and that was a factor in forming such a strong opposition when the coup was staged.
According to the Amaya, since 2002 there has been an effort to lead initiatives from the community bases in the different regions, and not necessarily from the capital city. One example the compañer@s gave was the launch of the struggle against the privatization of potable water in Progreso in 2003, the struggles in defense of natural resources, and protests against privatization in general. For almost 7 years before the coup, there was the process of unification and by 2008 a list of 12 key demands were developed that were the points of unity of what became the National Coordinator-ship of Popular Resistance (Coordinadora Nacional de Resistencia Popular).
The coup wasn't necessarily against Zelaya's presidency but more so an attack on the organizeworker's's movement that was getting stronger and stronger. The idea that removing Zelaya from the middle would allow the coupmakers to attack the principal organizers directly. As seen, following the coup, there were more than 50 activists killed, arbitrary detentions, activists charged with terrorism and treason, and a growing number of political prisoners.
Amaya identified a contradiction for the coupmakers in that they wanted to carry out anti-democratic, repressive policies but at the same time try to keep up the false appearance of democracy to attempt to legitimize the coup as a democratic removal of Zelaya. Immediately after the coup, the organizations that made up the Coordinadora Nacional de Resistencia Popular along with the movement for the fourth ballot box, came out to protest. After a process of 2-3 weeks, the National Front Against the Coup, Frente Nacional en Contra del Golpe, was created to oppose the coup.
The coup, as seen by the PST, is an expression of the class division of the country. It is not a split within the bourgeoisie but a conflict between the bourgeoisie and the working class. Historically, the winner of a Honduran election wins everything, positions, state contracts, etc. With the elections of the 27th of January, the country saw the highest abstention rate ever. Pepe Lobo, the declared winner, now needs to negotiate with every golpista sector to govern. He has a quota to meet with each sector and is not necessarily appeasing each everyone. Already, one Christian Party leader has gone as far as to accuse Lobo of being in bed with Chavez, ironically, the same accusation made of Zelaya. With this quota and facing a strong opposition, the thought is that it will be very hard for him to govern.
Another interesting analysis was the unique experience in Honduras in that the process of social change has begun with a strong popular movement. This is unlike Venezuela or Bolivia where a popular person wins power and then the alliances are forged afterwards between the organizations in the movement.
At this point the same state institutions that created the coup are still there, the supreme court, congress, public ministry, etc. Under this type of rule, who convokes the constitutional assembly and under what parameters? Lobo himself has proposed an assembly as well. However, under these conditions, that would produce the same type of outcome as the coup and not represent the interests of the people. It would seem that Lobo would need to be removed from office before beginning the Constitutional Assembly process.
The Frente finds itself at a crossroads. Some sectors say that joining the electoral process is necessary in order to capture state power in 2014. Others say that joining that process will tie up the movement and risk losing much effort to election fraud. Along with this the Liberal Party members want to rescue the Liberal Party. and rebuild it while others propose independent candidates. Alternatively, the PST proposes is a national strike as a strategy. It will be up to the Frente for if they get internal democratic consensus, they might be able to get a unifying plan of action.
The Young Socialists added that youth have and continue to play an important role in the movement. After the coup, students formed their own independent organizations to address issues within their schools as well as to participate in resistance to the coup. One of the most significant accomplishments was a huge march of 4000 high school and university students against the proposed reinstatement of obligatory military service by the defacto government. Students as young as 13 and 14 years old have come out to the marches and carried out their own actions.