Monday, November 30, 2009

The Lobo victory in Honduras

Another wealthy rancher is president of Honduras but presumably this one has enough sense not to alienate fellow members of the elite by raising the minimum wage etc. While as the article mentions many countries will still shun Honduras they can rest easy in that the US and its allies do recognise the elections and will soon declare that everything is on the up and up and the aid pipeline will be turned back on and also the military co-operation. The US never did withdraw troops or even its ambassador. The entire negotiations were a complete fraud. The negotiations were supposed to negotiate the return of Zelaya to the presidency but instead they negotiated the Micheletti plan of never allowing him to return and of legitimizing the presidential elections. This is the new smart diplomacy.

Victory declared in Honduras poll
November 30, 2009
By Rory Carroll

• Rancher Porfirio Lobo takes presidential election
• While some party, others vow to fight on for Zelaya

Within hours of the polls closing the celebrations began. Cavalcades of honking cars raced up and down Boulevard Morazan. The Hotel Maya filled with cheering people in blue T-shirts. The media fell into paroxysms of delight.

A wealthy rancher named Porfirio Lobo had just won Honduras's presidential election, heralding a "democratic fiesta". By dawn today the revellers were heading home, perhaps stopping for breakfast at one of Tegucigalpa's myriad Pizza Huts, Burger Kings and Wendy's.

"This is a wonderful day. The country has regained its equilibrium," beamed Ana Gomez, 29. After days of grey skies even the tropical sunshine returned.

But not everyone was minded to party. Honduras is in crisis: internationally isolated, shunned by investors and aid agencies. The president ousted in a June coup, Manuel Zelaya, is besieged in the Brazilian embassy, the compound ringed by barbed wire, police and soldiers. "These elections are illegitimate," he said.

Foreign governments lined up to condemn the vote as a whitewash. Many boycotted it and vowed "continued resistance". The homeless children who sleep on rubbish dumps in Tegucigalpa's slums were too hungry or high on glue to care.

How did it come to this? How did a sleepy central American backwater known for coffee and Maya ruins become a dangerously polarised international pariah?

Miguel Alonzo, sifting through the debris of his office, had an answer. "We are run by an oligarchy, that's how." The root of the crisis, he said, was the fact that an elite made up of little more than 10 families runs Honduras. "They control the economy and they control politics."

On Saturday Alonzo's civic association, Comal, paid the price of backing Zelaya's boycott campaign. Police and soldiers stormed the office and carted away computers, cash and documents. They said they were looking for weapons.

That, and the violent crackdowns on pro-Zelaya rallies, seemed anachronistic. Latin America had supposedly left repression behind in the 1980s and embraced progressive democratic governments.

"Honduras is different!" Roberto Micheletti, the de facto president, boasted last week. He was talking about its defiance of international pressure to restore Zelaya to power, but was right in other ways. From the late 19th century Honduras was turned into a giant banana plantation by US fruit corporations. They dominated the economy and made and broke governments. US marines intervened in central America more than 30 times, and in Honduras seven times, between 1900 and 1934. The US supported friendly despots on and off until 1981, when democracy replaced military rule. Power alternated between the National and Liberal parties, but an Americanised conservative elite pulled the strings.

The 10 most powerful families, many descended from Palestinian and Jewish immigrants, dominate banking, insurance, manufacturing, telecommunications and media, including TV and newspapers.

Half the population of 7.6 million still lives on less than $2 a day. "Hondurans are not being well served by their institutions," Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations thinktank said with understatement. Slums such as Cementerio, a fetid sprawl of shacks with human scavengers and mangy dogs, resemble a Hogarth sketch. Armed gangs make it one of the deadliest places in Latin America.

Unlike the rest of central America, however, during the cold war no leftist insurgency arose in Honduras, a placidness which neighbours mocked as doziness.

Zelaya changed that. Elected in 2005, he was an improbable revolutionary. A wealthy logger and part of the ruling elite, in 2007 he veered left and embraced Venezuela's socialist president, Hugo Chávez. An ideological conversion or tactical ploy, depending who you ask.

Mel, as he is universally known, lowered school fees and raised the minimum wage. The implementation was clumsy and in some cases backfired, costing jobs, but the poor embraced Zelaya.

The constitution constrained him: to avoid lapsing back into authoritarian rule Honduras limited the executive to one term. It was the "world's worst constitution", according to Costa Rica's president, Óscar Arias. Zelaya tried to change it by holding a non-binding referendum in June. The elite and middle class, already alarmed by the president's leftist shift, revolted. "He was going to perpetuate himself in power, just like Chávez, we had to stop him," said Romero Alguilera, owner of a taxi fleet.

With the blessing of congress, the supreme court and Zelaya's own party, masked soldiers seized and exiled him on 28 June. The world condemned the coup – even the Obama administration, which had no love for a Chávez ally. Governments withdrew ambassadors, aid was frozen and investment evaporated. The de facto rulers seemed unaware that coups were no longer acceptable: the US resisted full-blown sanctions but cut aid and visas for the elite.

The 10 families, with Micheletti as their frontman, fought back. They hired Washington lobbyists to woo Republicans and Democrats. The tactic was to run down the clock until Sunday's election, intended to cement Zelaya's loss of power.

The authorities closed pro-Zelaya media and curbed civil liberties. Security forces snuffed out protests with teargas, clubs and in some cases live rounds, leaving hundreds injured and several dead.

Zelaya sneaked back into the country in September but failed to rally mass support. Local media, controlled by the ruling elite, ran false stories that Cubans, Iranians and Venezuelans were hiding in the Brazilian embassy. One newspaper even reported there were Martians.

"Resistance" rallies dwindled and the ubiquitous grafitti – "Mel is coming!" – looked ever more wishful. As the elections loomed, the White House broke ranks with the region and hinted it would recognise the result, emboldening Costa Rica, Panama, Peru and Colombia to follow suit. Canada and the EU are expected to do the same.

Lobo, the president-elect, ran on a slogan of change, but the well-heeled revellers in the Hotel Maya spoke of equilibrium restored. "Things will get back to normal," smiled Luis Gomez, a business graduate. Honduran normal, that is.

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