Diorama of the Political Crisis

December 1, 2009

At a mall in Tegucigalpa, one artist illustrated the events leading up to Zelaya’s removal through a series of miniature figures. The nature of the exhibit lent a somewhat whimsical air to an otherwise serious chain of events. Below is an album of highlights.

The Crisis in Miniature

-Fernanda Lopez and Andrew Feldman

No más corrupción

November 29, 2009

It’s no secret that Honduras has a corruption problem. Ask anyone how he or she feels about the country’s politicans, and you’ll likely hear a description like that given by Elmer, a Honduran citizen recently returned from the United States to his home town of Valle De Angeles. “They all just want to take money for their own pockets. There are no good ones,” he said, gesturing skywards with exasperation. In Transparency International’s 2009 survey of corruption perceptions in countries around the world, Honduras came in 130th place, tied with much poorer countries like Nigeria and Uganda.

To help justify the arrest and expulsion of former President Zelaya from Honduras, Micheletti and other coup figures have painted his regime as extravagantly corrupt. Renato Alvarez, one of the best-known journalists in Honduras, regularly defends what he calls the “constitutional succession” on his nightly show, Frente a Frente. Speaking to our study group, Mr. Alvarez said that during his time in power Zelaya had offered him his own television and radio channel in exchange for adopting a supportive stance for his government. He claimed that Zelaya used government contracts and foreign trips to sway other journalists in his favor. (Of course, such behavior isn’t unique to Honduras, as cases like the Armstrong William scandal illustrate all too well).  However, when asked whether Micheletti and his government represented a less corrupt alternative to Zelaya, Mr. Alvarez said only that unfortunately, they too “come from the same political system.”

Many Hondurans feel that the coup ‘woke up’ the country by exposing dysfunction and corruption within its political class. But this sentiment is more often accompanied by a pessimism for the future than by firey support for a particular candidate, since the main contenders come from the ranks of the establishment. Presidential hopeful Porfirio Lobo of the conservative National Party, considered a front-runner, says that if elected he will strive to make Honduras a predictable and stable country in which to invest. Whether or not he wins, achieving this goal will require a hard stance against corruption, to say nothing of a more regular system for transferring power.

-Alex Soble

Competing Media Narratives

November 28, 2009

Dueling newspaper headlines illustrate the polarization of Honduran society. While the conservative La Tribuna (owned by former president Carlos Flores) claims that there is huge support for the elections, the left-leaning El Libertador (run by Jhonny Lagos, a leading critic of the government) urges voters to stay home on election day.

-Andrew Feldman

Channel 36: A last report…

November 26, 2009

Canal 36

Channel 36's last subversive message in the face of suspension.

As of September 28th, the screen on Channel 36 shows a short message to the public that reads, “the coup government interferes with Channel 36’s signal, preventing the dissemination of news.” The once-popular Honduran TV station was shut down by the de facto government under Micheletti in accordance to decree 124-2009, which allows for the suspension of any group that generates “social anarchy”. The decree, which was published in the official press on October 7, 2009, does not explicitly outline the censorship of media, but it does delineate the government’s right to repress everything that is perceives as threatening to Honduras’s  constitutional order.

According to news anchor Renato Álvarez, a self-proclaimed proponent of free speech, Channel 36 was testing the limits of expression and was becoming a means of disseminating hate when it urged the masses to take to the streets and to vandalize private property.  Álvarez called it “terrorismo difundido por los medios de comunicación” or terrorism propogated through media. Yet while popular claims that Channel 36 was inciting violence still stand, many Hondurans believe the current government censored the station as a result of its critical reporting on the government’s own policies.

Whatever the motivation behind the current censorship, Channel 36 was able to convey one last defiant message to the masses before it was shut down. Now, Channel 36 remains an eerie collage of colors and words that warn of an ever-present and repressive government.

-Mayra Macias

Political Integration and Trying the Cookie: An Interview with PINU Presidential Candidate Bernard Martínez

November 26, 2009

The first Afro-Caribbean presidential candidate of Honduras, Bernard Martínez Valerio, is one of the most interesting characters in this Sunday’s upcoming elections. A trade union leader and member of Honduras’s Garifuna community (of mixed indigenous and African descent), 47-year-old Martínez is seen as something of a wildcard after rising from near-anonymity following the ousting of former President Zelaya.

While many interpret Martínez’s candidacy as an attempt by his party  to exploit the Garifuna leader’s ethnicity and ride on the coat-tails of Barak Obama in the U.S., Martínez himself is quick to argue that his sudden rise was due entirely to his own ability to respond to the troubling questions raised by the country’s political crisis. “I wasn’t worth a cent before June 28th,” he said with a smile. “After that Sunday the Honduran Obama disappeared and Bernard Martínez took his place.”

This Bernard Martínez is backed by the Innovation and Unity Party (PINU), a social democratic party which Martínez locates at the “center left” of the Honduran political spectrum. Along with his criticism of the undemocratic two-party system that has dominated Honduran politics since the 19th century, Martínez’s political platform stands out by proposing a “government of integration” . What makes him unique, he posits, is his desire to secure political representation for marginalized members of Honduran society.

Laudable goals aside, however, Martínez was unprepared to elaborate on specific policy proposals in his interview with our study group. In discussing how his government would deal with the resistance movement, the ambiguity of Martínez’s language was unmistakable. He would be willing to “sit down and talk to them,” but would “go firm” if the resistance boycotted his plans. Possibly because of the unexpectedness of his candidacy, Mr. Martínez seems to have given little thought to the practical implementation of his lofty ideals.

Martínez’s views on the overthrowing of former President Zelaya are unambiguous. He holds that former president Miguel Zelaya’s portrayal of a champion of the underprivileged is incorrect; in his opinion, “gullible” Zelaya sought to associate himself with Venezuelan Hugo Chávez to fulfill an ungraceful pursuit of dictatorial powers. In this context, Zelaya’s removal from office was a wholly legal measure sheltered under the contentious article 239, one of the artículos pétreos of the Honduran constitution.

Looking forward to the upcoming elections, Martínez believes the electoral process is much more than a government ploy to whitewash the events of June 28th. They had already been called long before then and thus have nothing to do with either Zelaya or Michelleti, and everything to do with the civic rights to self-governance of the “Honduran sovereign.” The only way to resolve the currently “uncomfortable” political situation is through “the democratic electoral channel established by the laws and constitution.” He furthermore trusts that the elections will be “very peaceful”, allowing people to “vote with confidence.” In his opinion, reports that predict a bloody outcome for this Sunday are simply to dissuade Hondurans from voting.

When asked whether the Honduran constitution is democratic, his reply once again portrayed his pragmatic outlook. “This is our constitution,” he begins. “You might not like it abroad, but it’s the only one we have.” Would the country benefit from a constitutional change? According to Martínez, Honduras should not make sweeping changes to a constitution that the corrupt political classes have never followed properly. “How can I say that this cookie is bad if I’ve never tried it?” asked Martínez with a smile as he made a move for the food platter.

-Alexandra van Nievelt

Bernard Martinez
Alexandra, Mayra, Bernard, Zoe, Justin
Alexandra, Mayra, Bernard, Zoe, Justin

Photos by: Mayra Macias

La Tribuna

November 26, 2009

On Tuesday we met with the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (Supreme Electoral Tribunal/TSE) to discuss their role in the elections and the specifics of Sunday’s voting.  The TSE members gave us a thorough explanation of the electoral process and answered our questions about the details of the planning process. The meeting made La Tribuna, one of Honduras’s larger newspapers:

Estudiantes de Yale se interesan en elecciones

Articulo

The print version of the article

-Andrew Feldman

Estudiantes de Yale se interesan en elecciones

Graffiti as Political Protest

November 24, 2009

“Cuando los medios de comunicacíon se callan, las paredes son las que hablan.”

-Gloria Oqueli

-Mayra Macias and Andrew Feldman

 

“cuando los medios comunicacíon se callan, las paredes son las que hablan”

From Coup to Constitutional Succession

November 24, 2009

Less than twenty-four hours in the open boulevards and narrow, graffiti-filled streets of Tegucigalpa, we went on an enthralling ride across the Honduran political spectrum. From meeting with former President for the Central American Parliament (Parlacen) at its Honduran office, to holding a Q&A session with AB News Anchor Rodrigo Wong at Canal 10 headquarters, we gathered a distinct view of the political crisis that led to the ousting of President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales. We discovered the intricacy of the political situation. We found that controversy begins with the wording which describes the formation of the de facto government led by Roberto Micheletti.

Mrs. Oqueli classified the coup as a golpe militar. She denies that Honduras wasmerely subject to a golpe de estado (coup d’état), an already controversial term within diplomatic circles, and one which both the European Union and the United States have only recently begun to employ. While citing the involvement of the armed forces in the June 28 arrest and expatriation of Manuel Zelaya, she emphasized the actions taken by Romero Basques Velásquez, who was reinstated as Head of the Armed Forces after the coup.  Zelaya dismissed Velásquez in the weeks prior to the coup over disagreements regarding Zelaya´s planned quarta urna. The army’s loyalty to Congress and the Supreme Court is just one example of how Zelaya’s administration polarized the Honduran government. According to Mrs. Oqueli, the judicial and legislative branches are heavily controlled by the diez familias – the ten most influential and affluent families in Honduras, regarded as having the ultimate say in Honduran politics.

On the other end of the spectrum, Mr. Wong acknowledged the coup, but disputed the military´s role. Wong argued that the coup was against the government, a golpe de gobierno, rather than one against the state. His preferred term (and the one favored by conservative groups), is based on a legalistic view of the Honduran constitution–Zelaya’s ousting and Micheletti’s rise to the Presidency was nothing more than a Constitutional Succession. Wong argued that Zelaya´s fate was the correct response his breach of Article 239 of the Honduran Constitution. This article is one of four immutable sections of the Constitution. It reads:

“citizen who has exercised the Executive Power will no longer be able to serve as President or Vice-President… should that citizen breach any article of or propose to reform this Constitution.”

According to Wong, the country was simply put back on a stable, democratic track after Zelaya’s “unpredictable and undefined policies based on a blueprint of Chavez’ Venezuela.” The two other branches of powers, the Supreme Court and Congress fulfilled their constitutional responsibility..

Albeit limited to a few lines from one article of the  Constitution Wong´s argument remains convincing. There is considerable evidence that Zelaya acted unconstitutionally when he publicly proposed a referendum on  the prospect of a constitutional assembly. Nonetheless, this legalistic take raises a lot of difficult questions. Article 239 does not mention the method of removing a President, let alone prescribe the arrest and expatriation of violators of the article.

Was Zelaya genuinely trying to reform the constitution in order to introduce a greater degree of grassroots democracy, and thus further popular participation in a political process that has been historically rigged and influenced by a conglomerate of a few wealthy families? Or was he trying to overthrow Honduras longstanding constitution to replace it with a document following the Venezuelan model? Another question worth mentioning refers to whether there was in fact popular support for the constitutional assembly – or at least enough to grant Zelaya a political victory in the non-binding popular consultation, the cuarta urna.

The answers to these questions are, obviously, quite polarized. Mrs. Oqueli went so far as to say that the Honduran crisis is more than political, “it is a power struggle between evolution and anti-evolution forces,” the result of which will influence the entire Central American integration process. Zelaya, she said, sought to establish a more democratic order that was more beneficial to the people, but that did not hurt the Middle and Upper classes. She recognized that he made mistakes in the fulfillment of his government strategy, however, by embarking on a bold alienation of government institutions and by exacerbating deep-rooted political fears by displaying an apparent, if only rhetorical, socialist inclination. She firmly stated that regardless of his fault, the actions taken by the Supreme Court and the Congress, implemented by the armed forces, were totally illegitimate. In her opinion, Zelaya was after all, merely giving the people a voice – “how can that be illegal?” Quite illegal, according to Mr. Wong, whose support for the constitutionality of the coup lies partly in a deep-set concern about the Venezuelan influence in Honduran politics, mainly because of the 7 billion barrels of oil potentially waiting to be extracted from the Honduran and Central American offshore areas. According to him, Zelaya’s constitutional assembly was part of a major 20-year grand political strategy for ruling Honduras with a new Partido Liberal Socialista, under an authoritarian constitution that allegedly has already been drafted by Spanish lawyers. There is no way to confirm these speculative remarks – as there is no way to look at the possible damage or profits of Zelaya’s constituyente to the Honduran nation that, together with Costa Rica, remained a paragon of democratic rule and stability. To be sure, one of the only things that both Mrs. Oqueli and Mr. Wong agreed to was that the military acted outside of its mandate by extraditing Zelaya. But was the mandate itself constitutional? Every question raises countless others that only tomorrow will bring answers to.

– Vinicius Grünberg

Photos from the First Day

November 24, 2009
Oqueli

Meeting with Gloria Oqueli, former president of the Central American Parliament (Parlacen).

Wong

Meeting with Rodrigo Wong, news anchor for channel Canal 10.

Studio

At the Canal 10 studio.

Scenery

Tegucigalpa from a hilly part of the city.

Photos by: Andrew Feldman and Mayra Macias

Arrival in Honduras

November 22, 2009

We arrived in Tegucigalpa this afternoon, and will start our reports tomorrow.


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