Honduras: Agreement signed for democratic rights

By Felipe Stuart Cournoyer and John Riddell

May 24, 2011 -- http://johnriddell.wordpress.com, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- On May 22, Hondura's president Porfirio Lobo Sosa and former president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales signed an agreement 'For National Reconciliation and the Consolidation of the Democratic System in the Republic of Honduras".

Lobo was elected in November 2009 in a rigged vote organised by the regime installed through the June 28, 2009, military coup that overthrew Zelaya. The majority of Latin American and Caribbean nations refused to recognise the legitimacy of the Lobo government, despite the strong support it received from the United States and Canada.

The present agreement, finalised in Cartagena, Colombia, also bears the signatures of Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuela's foreign minister Nicolás Maduro (on behalf of President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías) as witnesses.

This agreement opens the door to significant changes in the Central American political landscape and to the re-entry of Honduras into the Organization of American States (OAS) and SICA (Central American Integration System).

An earlier article on this website, “Freedom for Joaquín Pérez Becerra!” discussed the context that led Colombian and Venezuelan presidents to join in sponsoring this initiative.

Resistance welcomes the agreement

In a May 23 statement, the political committee of the National Front for People’s Resistance (FNRP), the main organisation coordinating popular resistance to the coup inside Honduras, noted that “this agreement for international mediation enables us to put an end to our exile [and] reinforce our process for the refoundation of Honduras”. It issued a “call to all members of the resistance inside and outside Honduras to unite in a great mobilization to greet and welcome our leader and the General Coordinator of the FNRP, José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, at 11 a.m., May 28, 2011, at the International Airport”. The statement noted that the agreement complied with the four conditions set by the FNRP.

The FNRP also expressed “thanks for the process of international mediation” carried out by the Venezuelan and Colombian presidents.

Terms of the accord

By the terms of the Cartagena Agreement, the signatories commit themselves to:

  • Guarantee the return to Honduras in security and liberty of Zelaya and all others exiled as a result of the crisis. (More than 200 other exiled leaders of the resistance are also now able to return under the terms of the agreement.)
  • Assure conditions in which the FNRP can gain recognition as a legal political party. 
  • Reaffirm the constitutional right to initiate plebiscites, particularly with respect to the FNRP project of convening a national constituent assembly. (It was President Zelaya’s move to hold a non-binding plebiscite on calling a constituent assembly that the organisers of the 2009 coup cited to justify their action.)
  • Create a Secretariat of Justice and Human Rights to secure human rights in Honduras and invite the UN Human Rights Commission to establish an office in Honduras.
  • Constitute a monitoring (verification) commission, consisting initially of the Colombian and Venezuelan presidencies, to help assure the successful implementation of the agreement.

US disruption attempt

Notably absent from discussions leading to the Cartagena Agreement was the United States, which has long been the arbiter of Honduran politics. Washington kept silent on the Cartagena mediation process, while in fact attempting to torpedo it.

Alexander Main, an analyst for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, noted on May 19 that when, as part of the mediation process, Honduran courts dropped charges against Zelaya, the US State Department issued an “exuberant statement” the following day calling for the suspension of Honduras from the Organization of American States (OAS) to be “immediately lifted” – a move that would have cut short the Cartagena mediation process. This suspension, enacted in protest against the coup, was one of the factors driving the illegitimate Honduran regime to seek mediation. (See “What Now for a Post-Coup Honduras“.)

“For good measure,” Main says, “the [US] statement noted that ‘since his inauguration, President Lobo has moved swiftly to pursue national reconciliation, strengthen governance, stabilize the economy, and improve human rights conditions.’”

In fact, according to the Committee of Family Members of Disappeared Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH), politically motivated killings have taken the lives of 34 members of the resistance and 10 journalists since Lobo took office. No killers have been prosecuted either for these crimes or for the 300 killings by state security forces since the coup.

Showdown at the OAS

The US canvassed energetically among Central and South American countries subject to its influence for support for immediate reinstatement of Honduras – prior to the conclusion of the mediation process. “In mid-May these divisions came to a head when a diplomatic tussle took place at the OAS”, Main reports.

In Main’s opinion, “the U.S. is not prepared to accept a political mediation in Honduras in which it doesn’t play a leading role. The U.S. has traditionally been deeply involved in the internal affairs of Honduras”, and “the country continues to be of great strategic importance to the U.S.”

The OAS secretary general, José Miguel Insulza, called a meeting of the OAS Permanent Council that was to consider readmitting the de-facto Honduran regime. According to a reliable source at the OAS, Main reports, several Latin American countries, apparently including Colombia, demanded cancellation of the meeting on the grounds that it was “premature”. Within hours, the meeting was cancelled.

The failure of this US-inspired maneuvre opened the road for the signing of the Cartagena Agreement nine days later.

Regional sovereignty

The Cartagena Agreement, and the process that facilitated it, marks an important victory for the Honduran resistance. More broadly, it reinforces the process of Indo-Latin American and Caribbean efforts to shape their own national and regional policies free from imperialist domination. (See “Honduras se reintegra al CA-4”.) It developed outside the OAS framework, and will help to strengthen and consolidate the new Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) that will meet this coming July in Caracas, Venezuela, chaired jointly by that country and Chile.

The Cartagena accord’s impact in Central America was immediate and far reaching. Lobo and Zelaya flew from Cartagena to Managua the same day of the signing ceremony for a special meeting of the SICA (Central American Integration System) at which Honduras was welcomed back by three other Central American presidents – Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua), Mauricio Funes (El Salvador) and Alvaro Colom (Guatemala). At the meeting Ortega announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Nicaragua and Honduras.

In a joint statement, the four presidents called on the OAS to re-admit Honduras, and new agreements were also announced regarding a customs union of the four countries. These measures mark a defeat for those forces in Central America inimical to the regional integration process, including Costa Rica's government and its hostile campaign to isolate Sandinista Nicaragua diplomatically and economically.

Need for continued solidarity

Whether the Honduran government will fully carry out the Cartagena agreement remains to be seen. In particular, the coup has produced an entrenched pattern of systematic repression and unrestrained operation of death squads in Honduras. Experiences in other countries, including Colombia, show that such right-wing repression can run rampant, with under-the-table support from security forces, despite formal statements of government disapproval.

The establishment of the Colombia-Venezuela monitoring commission will be vital to keeping the pressure on the Lobo government. Friends of Honduran democracy will need to do some monitoring as well, as an expression of continued solidarity with the Honduran people.

Further reading

Toni Solo, “Varieties of Imperial Decline: Another Setback for the U.S. in Latin America”, May 23, 2011.

Ida Garberi, “El regreso de Mel Zelaya es un deber, el retorno de Honduras en la OEA es indigno”, May 24, 2011.