Saturday, November 24, 2012

Re-founding Honduras from below: an indigenous perspective from COPINH's Berta Cáceres

Members of re-foundational space prioritizing building of social movement bases

What prompted the Honduran military to break down the doors of the presidential palace on June 28th, 2009 and kidnap President Manuel Zelaya first to the U.S. military base Palmerola and then to exile in Costa Rica was not the right's fear of President Zelaya himself. What the Honduran oligarchy and U.S. State Department truly feared was that Zelaya had opened the doors of the presidential palace to a grassroots social movement with a radical vision for re-founding Honduras from below. The day of the coup Hondurans were to vote on an advisory referendum about convening a constitutional assembly as a first step in "re-founding" Honduras and taking away power from the oligarchy and the transnational corporations who currently run the country. Though the referendum was non-binding, subject to congressional approval and Zelaya's term would be long over before any such constitutional assembly, just the idea of the excluded segments of Honduran society (which, together are the great majority of Honduras) being consulted scared the oligarchy enough for them to carry out a violent military coup d'etat and subsequently unleash three years of brutal repression against the Honduran resistance that continue to the present day.
While many in the resistance are hopeful that their recently formed LIBRE ("Freedom and Re-foundation" in English) party will bring Zelaya's wife Xiomara into the presidency next November and re-open the possibility of a constitutional assembly, a common worry also circulates - will the oligarchy and their military let got at the polls of what they took by force with arms during the coup? 

There is ample reason to worry. Many instances of fraud in last week's primaries have already been exposed, particularly in manipulation of numbers during the transmission of results from polling stations to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (run entirely by coup supporters). Accusations of people being paid to vote have been particularly widespread within the National Party, where there was a hotly contested primary race between two right-wing candidates. Questions are also being raised about the inflation of numbers who supposedly voted for the Liberal party, which, as numerous election observers saw first hand, had an extremely weak showing almost everywhere since a large part of its former base is now in the resistance's LIBRE party. Additionally, there were reports throughout the country of voters being unable to get their ID cards from authorities to vote and several people from the two major parties were caught the day of the elections with large numbers of ID cards. Even more worrying, several dozen LIBRE candidates have already been killed and many more have received death threats. The already severe climate of repression and terror is widely expected to worsen as next year's elections get closer.

Despite this, many people in the resistance are throwing their all into the political process against all odds. There is no doubt that many people are excited to go to the polls next November and see people on the ballot with whom they have been shoulder-to-shoulder in the streets since the coup. In its first appearance on ballots the resistance drew about half a million people to vote in the primaries last week. This despite the fact that there was already unity on the presidential candidacy of Xiomara and that many public and private sector workers were threatened with losing their jobs if seen voting for LIBRE (in the Honduran primaries any observer can see which party you are voting for because voters for each party line up separately outside different rooms). 

But there are also others who are concerned about all the energy going into the electoral process. A group of some of the most marginalized groups in Honduras - indigenous, peasant, Afro-descendant, feminist, artist and other organizations -  form what they call the "re-foundational space" within the Honduran resistance. While opinions vary and some groups in the re-foundational space are still actively working on getting LIBRE elected or have bases that will turn out to vote for LIBRE in the elections, there is a common belief that the growth of the social movement must be the priority in order to build enough power from below to truly re-found Honduras. Those in the re-foundational space believe power must be built from below first and foremost. They are demonstrating their approach by strengthening struggles in their respective sectors and creating spaces to jointly articulate their struggles, including recent gatherings such as the "Summit of Black and Indigenous Women," the "Summit of Fighters," and others.

Berta Cáceres, of the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), is one strong voice within the re-foundational space. "We don't believe that democracy and power are just practiced when people go to vote," she explains. She speaks of "building a movement from below to take on patriarchy, racism and capitalism" that must be based on a vision that reflects the realities of Hondurans in all of their diversity - indigenous, Afro-Hondurans, LGBT, feminists, peasants, artists, etc.. In the above video-recorded interview, Berta speaks of the urgent need to continue building the social movements and forging "our projects of life, which are contrary to the project of death and domination."

Prominent groups within the re-foundational space like COPINH and the Fraternal Organization of Black Hondurans (OFRANEH) have gained tremendous respect within the resistance for the energy, vision and large bases they have contributed through the most intense moments of the resistance struggle. Together they made their way all the way to the Nicaraguan border to greet Zelaya when he tried to re-enter the country, facing intense repression and death threats along the way. Coming out of communities that have been in resistance for hundreds of years, they have a long-range view of the struggle that goes well beyond the November elections. 

At the end of the day, both those who are putting all of their energy into the LIBRE party and the 2013 elections and those who are prioritizing building the social movements are committed to the goal of a constitutional assembly as a first step to re-founding Honduras. All of them are dreaming of a Honduras that sets an example for Latin America and the world of what justice and equality can look like. While they may differ on how to get there, one thing is clear. When the military broke down the doors of the presidential palace they got Zelaya out of Honduras, but could never get the dream of re-founding their country out of the hearts of Hondurans.

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