Amid declining living standards and a terrible security situation, Hondurans go to the polls on Nov. 24 to elect a new president, national legislature, and local officials, plus representatives to the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN). So far, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, is leading the presidential polls.
Manuel Zelaya was elected as the Liberal Party's candidate in 2005. During his administration, Honduras became part of the DR-CAFTA, a free trade bloc that ties small Central American countries (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica) plus the Dominican Republic to the United States in a manner favorable the interests of multinational corporations. However, Zelaya had his country also join PETROCARIBE, a regional petroleum market that greatly advantages the poorer countries of the Caribbean and Central America, and ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for Our America), in which Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia are the leading states.
Zelaya carried out internal economic reforms including raising the minimum wage and implementing land reform. When he tried to carry out a referendum on holding a mass-participation constituent assembly to debate constitutional changes, he was overthrown by the military and sent into exile, on June 28, 2009. Businessman Roberto Micheletti was installed as interim president, and there followed a long conflict between Zelaya's working class and low-income support base and the military and police. In November 2009, with police and soldiers in the streets repressing Zelaya supporters, an election of shaky validity was carried out, bringing to the presidency Porfirio Lobo, of the right wing National Party.
Although President Obama originally denounced the coup, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strove to legitimize the electoral farce. The new government pulled Honduras out of ALBA and PETROCARIBE (though Honduras rejoined PETROCARIBE in May 2013).
Honduras under Lobo has known neither prosperity nor peace. It has the highest murder rate in the world. Many of the killings are political. Peasant leaders, activist women, journalists, attorneys and youth activists have been subject to threats, attacks and murder, sometimes involving security personnel. In the Bajo Aguan region, local farmers have been locked in a conflict with the wealthy and powerful Facussé family, who uses the land to grow African palms for the international market. President Zelaya had promised a new land distribution, which his successors blocked. Since the coup, 89 poor farmers have been murdered in the course of the dispute.
Persecution of Honduras' Native American, Afro-Honduran and Garífuna communities is also intense. Currently, there is a major movement to defend Berta Cáceres, a leader of the Lenca indigenous people and coordinator of COPINH (Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) who is facing prison on trumped up charges because of her role in opposing a dam project which will harm the economy of her people. The gay-lesbian-transgendered community has been especially impacted.
The neoliberal policy of production for export based on rock-bottom cheap labor has been a godsend for transnational corporations, but has been hard on workers. Last month it was revealed by their union that workers in one manufacturing plant of the Kyungshin-Lear corporation are denied adequate bathroom breaks and thus have to wear diapers on the job.
Xiomara Castro de Zelaya is the presidential candidate of the LIBRE (Freedom and Renovation) Party, which grew out of the resistance to the coup that ousted her husband. She promises, if elected, to return to his progressive policies. Social welfare projects that he started, and which the Micheletti and Lobo governments stopped, will be re-initiated. Honduras will return to ALBA. And she will renew push for a constituent assembly.
President Lobo's National Party has nominated Juan Orlando Hernandez, the president of the Honduran Congress. The Liberal Party, which was badly split by the 2009 coup, has nominated Mauricio Villeda Bermudez, son of a former president. But both these traditional old Honduran parties are running behind Xiomara Castro and also Salvador Nasralla of the brand new Anti-Corruption Party. Nasralla, a TV personality, may end up in second place after Castro. General Romeo Vazquez Velazquez, the military officer who overthrow Zelaya, is running as the candidate of the Patriotic Party, also on the right. Three other parties are also running candidates.
Honduras does not have a run-off system for presidential elections, so the best bet is that Xiomara Castro, whose polling has been about 28 percent, will win. The National and Liberal Parties will likely be severely punished for their role in the coup and its aftermath.
Candidates and campaign workers for LIBRE are facing harassment and violence. The military is a very visible presence. If Xiomara Castro's lead continues, the same forces which overthrew her husband will try to stop her by fair means or foul.
Progressives say Americans should insist that the U.S. government and political leadership of both major parties keep their hands off the Honduran election.
Photo: Xiomara Castro de Zelaya speaks with reporters. honduraselogoali.blogspot.com