Arnold August: Honduras – Constituent Assembly is the Solution
A long, but excellent analysis from Arnold August.
By Arnold August, November 17, 2009.
One side is the barely veiled alliance between Washington and Micheletti. The other side consists of the Constitutional Zelaya Government, the National Front against the Coup d’Etat and the principal former presidential candidate linked to the latter who has decided to boycott the November 29 elections. The candidate had formally taken his final position to boycott the elections once it was clear that Micheletti refused to reinstate Zelaya as the president despite the accords reached to that effect.
One can examine the position of the USA/Honduran oligarchy alliance by looking back, from the perspective of November, to the initial reaction of Washington towards the June 28 coup. It tells us a lot about the stance from that memorable but regrettable day to date. It is consistent in its essential. Initial reactions are quite telling. They set the stage for the future and provide the essence of a position which cannot be subsequently covered up by superficially changing words and actions.
On June 28, President Obama stated that he was concerned about “the detention and expulsion of President Mel Zelaya.” He then called on “all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law.” He terminated with the appeal for “dialogue.”
On June 28, Hillary Clinton basically stated the same position. There are certain features which stand out in Washington’s stance and which continue to date:
1. Placing the de facto regime on the same footing as the forcefully expelled Zelaya.
2. For appearances sake, intermittently, stating that Zelaya is president.
3. Highlighting dialogue as a solution. This is a tactic for stalling, buying time on behalf of the coup leading up to elections to legitimize the coup.
4. Refusing to call June 28 a coup on all occasions.
However, some may argue that Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the State Department did in fact from time to time call June 28 a coup. Yes, this is the case, but depending on the circumstances. We have seen above how Obama skilfully avoided calling it a coup on June 28. The next day a joint press conference with Columbia President Uribe took place.
Even though Uribe is a strong ally of the USA, his government still joined with the other South American countries at the time to denounce the coup and demand the return of President Zelaya. Colombia is a member of the Rio Group as well as UNASUR both of which together include the vast majority of South American nations. These regional bodies have taken and continue to take a strong stand against the military coup and in favour of the unconditional restoration of Zelaya. In this June 29 press conference with Uribe, Obama being aware of the audience, called June 28 a “coup” and stated that Zelaya is the “democratically elected President.”
On July 7, in Moscow, Russia which is one of the countries contributing towards pulling apart the unipolar world and being part of the new multi-polarity, Obama deemed fit to call for the restoration of Zelaya, but this time did not mention a coup.
In another set of circumstances, at a joint press conference with conservative Canadian Prime Minister Harper who more openly favors the Micheletti regime, the joint statement indicates that Obama and Harper “restated U.S. and Canadian support for the peaceful restoration of democratic and constitutional order in Honduras and called on all parties to accept the San José Accord.”
Once again, there is no mention of a coup; the name Zelaya is not even to be found anywhere. It is another indication of how the Two Track policies (the hard-line Track I as symbolized by Harper and previously by the Bush era, and Track II, adopted by Obama) exhibit no real contradiction between each other. The objective of both Tracks is the same. It is merely a question of which one of the two is considered to be more effective in reaching the goal of domination over South America.
On August 10, in Guadalajara, Mexico, the Joint Statement by North American Leaders (Obama, Harper and Calderón) resulted in another variety of phrases. In these circumstances, the joint statement mentions the coup, (they did after all meet south of the Rio Grande) but even then the name Zelaya is nowhere to be seen. In place of conveniently omitting Zelaya, we are left with the usual vague mention of accords, the restoration of democratic governance and rule of law.
Washington at times does not mention the word coup but at other times it is explicitly stated that on June 28 a coup did take place. Yes, this is true, but never a—military—coup. This is not a minor issue. I have already documented in detail how the State Department, from June 29 to early August, had avoided dealing with whether or not the US was to legally classify the coup as a military coup according to Section 7008 of the 2009 Appropriations Act, approved by the US Congress.
From August to mid-October when it had by then become a moot point, Washington continued to steer away from this point. Section 7008, bluntly entitled “Military Coups”, states:
“None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available…shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree: Provided, That assistance may be resumed to such government if the President determines and certifies to the Committees on Appropriations that subsequent to the termination of assistance a democratically elected government has taken office.”
There are several points here. Firstly, if the coup was classified as a military one, according to the US legislation, any ambiguity about funds being provided to the putschists would, in principle at least, be eliminated. Secondly, once a “democratically elected government has taken office”, which is a scenario that the US is favouring through the November 29 elections, the following question is posed:
Who will have had to publicly go to the US Congress and explain that assistance to the de facto regime should be resumed after the November 29 elections, universally condemned and not recognized? President Barack Obama.
Thirdly, by circumventing the classification of the coup as being a military one, this provides both Washington and the Tegucigalpa military regime the space to manoeuvre they needed in order to declare either openly or indirectly that there is indeed a legitimate constitutional issue for which Zelaya is of course to blame; this provides much needed credibility to the very raison d’être of the de facto regime.
Fourthly, the political clout against the Micheletti regime would have been devastating if the coup was declared to be military according to Section 7008. The putschists, who were very conscious about the controversy surrounding Section 7008, would probably not have lasted as long as it did.
This eclipsing of Micheletti is something that Washington, as we have seen through the evolution of the situation, did not and does not desire. The coup perpetrators got the message loud and clear from Washington since June 29 when Section 7008 was first raised by reporters in the State Department briefings; some cosmetic remarks and actions, for the sake of appearances, against the regime did not really bother the coup perpetuators.
Yes, Washington wanted Micheletti to dialogue, but only in order to incorporate Zelaya into a new Micheletti-led government which would legitimize the elections, a trap into which Zelaya, the Front and the progressive candidate eventually all refused to fall. The US wants to maintain its SOUTHCOM military command in Honduras at its military base in Palmerola, through which Zelaya passed when he was abducted from his home and sent to Costa Rica.
THE “M” WORD
The US and their allies in the Honduran military/oligarchy underestimated the determination of the Honduran people, their quickly rising political consciousness, organization, and self-confidence. The US was not able to break the unity between the different forces composing the post-coup Honduras political landscape.
Time magazine hit the nail on the head with its article entitled: “Why Obama Won’t Use the M-Word for Honduras’ Coup.” One has to explain the following: According to the hypocritical and puritanical establishment media norms existing in the US, in order to sidestep explicitly and publicly mentioning a word which is considered to be unacceptable or grotesque, only the first letter is used.
In this case, sarcastically, it is “M” for “military” coup as opposed to a non-military coup. In this September 5 article, Time writes:
“…The Administration also sent a significant mixed signal. It didn’t use the m-word: Military. Its lawyers have determined that while Zelaya’s overthrow was a coup d’état, it was not technically a military coup….By not calling Zelaya’s ouster a military coup, it gives coup leaders the impression that what they did was merely second-or third-degree coup-mongering instead of the first-degree military kind.
When the military hauls away a democratically elected president, it’s a military coup, period, regardless of who takes power afterward. It’s a rule that needs to apply not just in Honduras, but whenever the U.S. has to take on coupsters.”
On October 30, when an accord was reached between Zelaya and Micheletti, Hillary Clinton was elated at the apparent success of Washington’s policy carried out since June 28 based on “negotiations and dialogue”. She was euphoric to the extent of jumping the gun and declaring “We’re looking forward to the elections that will be held on November 29….”
However, by November 5, due to the complete unwillingness of Micheletti to implement even the already water-downed agreement, the accord fell through. On November 6, following through on the same theme with which the State Department began on June 28, State spokesman Ian Kelly said that the both sides should return to the negotiating table to reach an agreement, blaming both Zelaya and Micheletti for the failure.
Given that Washington did not classify coup as a military one, the White House can still keep the door open to the holding of elections even if Zelaya is not returned to power. Firstly, by avoiding the M-word, Washington provides itself the luxury of cultivating the doubt hovering over the head of Zelaya’s legal/constitutional activities leading up to the coup.
This is of course aided by the US establishment media which more often than not maintains the disinformation that Zelaya was organizing a referendum on June 28 for a Constituent Assembly and the eventual possibility of running again for elections in violation of the Honduran constitution.
It has to be repeated time and again that the Fourth Bulletin Box consisted of nothing more nor less than a poll or plebiscite to ascertain whether the Honduran electorate considered the eventual election of a Constituent Assembly for a new constitution appropriate or not (something entirely legal according to the current Honduran constitution.)
In the absence of the military coup classification—avoiding the “M” word—Obama would not have to go to Congress after the elections to ask for resumption of aid and support to a government emerging out of illegitimate elections, classified as such internationally and domestically.
As the situation has evolved the President’s appearance in Congress, or even through a representative, would been a political disaster for him as the condemnation of the elections is virtually unanimous in South America. Instead, what the US and Micheletti wanted from Day 1 was to stall and to hold elections in order to legitimize the coup, presenting the Honduran people and the peoples of the world with a fait accompli.
THE NOVEMBER 29 ELECTIONS
This latest step in the US/Micheletti positioning with respect to the elections is exposed in the following November 6 State Department briefing by Department Spokesman Ian Kelly. This meeting with the press took place after Republican Congressman Jim DeMint declared that Hillary Clinton and Assistant Secretary for Latin America Thomas Shannon assured him that the US will recognize the elections whether Zelaya is returned as president or not:
“QUESTION:Anything to add on what Congressman Jim DeMint says about the recognition of the electoral results in Honduras [that] you are going to recognize the electoral results with or without Mr. Zelaya?
MR. KELLY:Well, I think we have agreed to support the electoral process. We are providing technical assistance to the elections process in Honduras. And …we’ve made this commitment to support this process because of the accord between the two parties….
QUESTION:Senator DeMint says that…he was given specific assurances from the Department that … the Administration will recognize the election as legitimate even if Zelaya has not been reinstated. Is that correct? Can I get a yes or no answer on this?
MR. KELLY:I think what we have said, what the Secretary has said, and what I’ll say —
QUESTION:Can I just get [an answer]–
MR. KELLY:– is that we support this accord which calls, first of all, for a Verification Commission, then for – and that’s been done. The next step is the formation of a government of unity and reconciliation, then a Congress vote on the restoration, and then the elections. So far, only one step has been carried out….”
By November 9, while it was already a known fact that the negotiations are over and the anti-coup forces are concentrating on what to do about the elections, Kelly disregarded the situation in Honduras. Kelly completely ignored the fact that on November 8 (before his statement below), the most important opposition presidential candidate Reyes (and Zelaya himself) called for a boycott of the elections. It was not “business as usual” as Kelly seeks to impose. He responded to a question on Honduras stating that that“they [negotiators] are still talking with a view to, first of all, the formation of this national government of unity and reconciliation, which is called for in the agreement.”
The more the situation evolves towards a non-recognition of the elections from virtually all of South America and within Honduras, the more the US pushes for the elections as a solution. This increasingly arrogant and haughty attitude was expressed on November 10 by Philip J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary of the State Department:
“MR. CROWLEY: Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Craig Kelly has arrived in Tegucigalpa today to continue working with the parties and the verification commission. He’ll be there today and tomorrow, focused on trying to move the process forward towards a free and fair election and the seating of a new government in Honduras at the end of this month….
QUESTION:[At] today’s meeting of the OAS, most of the countries…say they are not going to recognize electoral results, also the Group of Rio. How do you see the way out for Zelaya?
MR. CROWLEY:Well, I don’t think we see a way out for Zelaya per se….We have over several months wanted to see the return and restoration of constitutional order. It’s not about any one person. It’s about a return of democratic processes and democratic government in Honduras….”
On November 12, several days closer to the elections, the same position is maintained. During the press briefing that day, a reporter questioned Kelly regarding reports of mass arrests, curfews, emergency media harassment and limitations, and asked “does that undermine the electoral process?” Kelly avoided the issue and instead repeated that “…we support the election process there,” while repeating that the accord should be implement by “the two parties.”
The Honduran newspaper Tiempo quoted Presient Zelaya on the November 11 visit by Assistant Secretary of State Craig Kelly to Zelaya who said that Kelly told him that “‘The United States has not changed its position, which continues to maintain the condemnation of the coup, the non-recognition of the current authorities and continues to struggle for my restitution.’”
However, the USA is not only supporting the elections but directly involved in organizing them in collaboration with the putschists whom Kelly says that the USA does not recognize; the elections are being held in defiance of Zelaya and the Hondurans who call for the non-recognition of these elections because the goal of the vote, among other objectives, is to perpetuate the non-restitution of Zelaya!
For Washington, the return of Zelaya as President was never a sine qua non for the restoration of the democratic process. One may recall that Obama and the State Department, since June 28, at times mention Zelaya and on other occasions shun the issue. This depends on the situation, the country in which the words are uttered and in the company of which they find themselves. This is a policy whose main consistent common thread (despite the verbiage) is to stall until the holding of the November 29 elections as the vehicle to maintain the status quo. Zelaya is dispensable, but the planned voting is a principle not to be abandoned under any circumstances.
From June 28 to November, the USA/Micheletti alliance follows the same consistent position: accent on negotiations and dialogue; placing both sides on the same footing (even though the coupsters have the military/political repressive power while Zelaya has been in exile and cornered as a prisoner in the Brazilian Embassy); refusing to take into account the international and domestic demand for the immediate restitution of Zelaya at key moments as is the case now; and of course stalling so that the elections can take place under any conditions in order to legitimize, in favour of the status quo, the removal of the Zelaya government and its progressive domestic and international policies.
Avoiding the M-word proved to be a cornerstone of this policy, thus providing Obama and the State Department a free hand to oxygenize the military dictatorship and keep it on life-support until November 29. After this date, Obama will not even have to appear before
international and domestic public opinion to testify in Congress in order to re-instate those aspects of support for the de facto government which would otherwise have been cut-off if the coup had been classified as a military coup according to Section 7008.
THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY
The USA/Micheletti alliance constitutes a consistent and homogeneous position. However, it is back-firing. It is not bringing victory to the USA. The anti-coup forces also have a consistent position. From Day 1, firstly the National Front against the Coup d’Etat (formed in fact the following day, June 29), secondly the Zelaya government and thirdly the political forces opposed to the coup and part of the Front commonly put forward the following most important demands:
1. The immediate restoration of President Zelaya.
2. The return of the rule of law and democratic order that existed before June 28, involving the immediate halt of repression, and the expulsion of the military and police from power.
3. The non-recognition of the November 29 elections under the conditions which do not favour freedom of expression, association, such liberties not being compatible with de facto brutal military rule.
4. The need for the election of a Constituent Assembly with the mandate to work out a new constitution in order to re-found the Honduran nation based on equality, justice, full democratic political participation, and opposition to US domination over Honduras.
Some of the tactics practiced by all the components in this anti-coup alliance varied from one period to another and from one participant to another in this coalition. However, they are proving to be only tactical differences—and not strategic principles—on how to defeat the Micheletti clique and take advantage of the international pressures, the latter being apparent or real. And so at the end of the day, all the actors complement each other and are defeating all attempts to divide the alliance representing a variety of political and social forces from many sections of the society.
Zelaya calls for a boycott of the elections. The National Front does so as well. The most important of the anti-coup presidential candidates, the popular union leader linked to the National Front, Carlos Reyes, formally announced his final decision on November 8 to boycott the elections. According even to “official” polls taken at the end of October, Reyes was favoured by 14-16% of the voters.
However, as a question of principle and in the face of the impossibility of holding free and fair elections under a pro-US military dictatorship, Reyes made an emotional appeal to anti-coup activists on November 8. Thanks to the video shown by the Rel-UITA international trade union web site we can see the movement developing under our very eyes. Reyes announced that he reached this decision after consulting with 11,000 people in different regions of which 96% said NO to the elections.
With this decision, he went on to say, we have not lost anything; it is the putschists who have lost because they have to keep their power by bayonets. The experience of his independent candidacy, he claims, shows the following: People in the neighbourhoods, teachers, workers, peasants, women and youth select and put into action their own candidates; candidates are directly nominated by the people.
Nothing positive can come out of the elections without the support of the people, declared Reyes. We have to take advantage of their weakness in order to make sure that it fails and that we take the path towards the Constituent Assembly. Putting post-coup Honduras into its historical and geo-political context, Reyes told the packed union hall that the people of Honduras are following in the steps of Bolívar, Martí and Che.
Bertha Cáceres, is a leader of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH by its Spanish acronym – the Peoples’ and Indigenous Civic Council of Honduras). She is linked to the Independent and People’s Candidacy of Reyes. She related in a November 12 interview that:
“‘One should appreciate that these elections are taking place en in the context of the coup d’etat, and that the coup perpetrators hold real power over the different levels of the Honduran state; the restitution of President Zelaya is a situation difficult to turn around in a few days. For example, the Electoral Tribunal is organizing a delegation of international observers composed of those who have come to Honduras in order to support the coup….The army will have the jurisdiction over the Electoral Tribunal according the San Jose Agreement; the people are outraged to see that the same military forces who are responsible for having assassinated and tortured, are the very ones who are going to “supervise” democracy and the election in this country. These are the reasons for us to not participate in this farce; it is out of respect for the Honduran people, we are not going to validate the coup by the de facto regime with another similar government. What is going to emerge out of the electoral process will be a coup government, that is the continuation of the de facto regime, but with another face; it will take power on January 27, 2010. It will put forward the neo liberal program; we have not lost the perspective of what we are going to follow in the political arena, dignifying politics, as Father Romero has taught us, until we arrive at the National Constituent Assembly and the return to constitutional order….’”
Later on the same day (November 12), about 110 candidates for mayor and 55 for deputies announced their withdrawal from the November 29 elections in protest against the military coup. On November 13 and 14, further reports indicate a wave of mass social organizations taking a stand in favour of boycotting the elections.
On November 14, President Zelaya renounced any possibility of being reinstated in his position as president that will have the effect of glossing over the coup d’etat. He also declared that he does not recognize the November 29 elections because the putschists have already decided who will be president as well as the mayors and deputies.
On November 15, the Resistance reaffirmed that they will not vote. In a press release issued that day, the Front declared that “the date of the elections is approaching, and so the people and the resistance will not turn up at the polls.”
It seems to be quite obvious that the people of Honduras are leaving behind pre-coup Honduras by developing serious discussion on how to concretely oppose the fraudulent elections and thus head towards the next step, the Constituent Assembly.
For example, Ricardo Arturo Salgado, Honduran sociologist and writer working with rural workers and fishermen and an active member of the National Front, recalls that the Honduran people were originally hoping that the November 29 elections would open the door towards a Constituent Assembly. He forcefully raises the need to be fully organized in order to defeat the fraudulent elections, suggesting a general strike which overlaps the date of the vote.
On the one hand, there is the consistent, inflexible position of the Washington/Micheletti alliance, refusing to make any concessions. It is increasingly isolating itself in Honduras, and internationally especially in South America. On the other hand, all the anti-coup forces follow flexible tactics while sticking to strategic principles and collaborate with each other based on mutual comprehension and respect. In this way, they avoid any division which would have been a disaster and closed the door to a victory in the future.
The dividing line between the two opposing forces and their respective position is: Who is to wield political power in Honduras? Is it the wealthy few and their US-backers, or the people? Who will write the history of Honduras: the US or the people themselves by proposing their own candidates and then electing their own Constituent Assembly with the mandate to consult with the people in the course of elaborating a new Constitution?
Washington completely ignores the decision to actively boycott the elections taken by the main presidential candidate, Reyes, who reflects the unrelenting massive and courageous movement of the vast majority of Honduran people against the coup and in favour of a new Honduras. This is an indication of how the ruling circles in the USA manipulate elections (whether in the USA or in other countries) in their favour.
The peoples in South America writing their own constitutions carry important lessons for today and tomorrow. Cuba started in 1868 (in 1869 with the Guáimaro Constitution) and this culminated in the 1976 Constitution, since amended in consultation with the people. More recently, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador have carried out elections of Constituent Assemblies and the drafting of new modern Constitutions based on the concrete conditions in their respective countries.
Others are looking to follow a similar path. It is in fact this movement that was the target of the coup in Honduras. This coup also consisted of a warning against all of South America. While the people of Honduras fight in the streets, villages and the countryside, Washington further takes their policy against the relatively new movement in South America. The target of this policy coming from the north is the people wielding political power and being masters of their own destiny.
The Obama Administration continued on from his predecessor, further planned and finally executed the establishment of the seven military bases in Colombia. The opposition to these military bases in the heart of South America and to the coup in Honduras are virtually merging into one wave of indignation sweeping all of South America. Winning, maintaining and extending people’s political power and participatory democracy in each country according to their own respective conditions is the only answer.