Honduras Is a Mirror for All of Latin America

Luis Méndez
Hilary Goodfriend

Honduras has been under a decade of dictatorship, its 2009 coup heralding a reactionary tide throughout Latin America. Internationalist, anti-imperialist solidarity is desperately needed.

Ex-Honduran president Manuel Zelaya speaks at George Washington University on democracy and the Honduran coup on September 2, 2009 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Interview by
Aleksander Aguilar Antunes

Aleksander Aguilar Antunes

The FNRP is a Honduran socio-political organization that arose in response to the 2009 coup d’état, when then-president Manuel Zelaya was detained by the military and expatriated to Costa Rica, which unleashed a process of organization among the president’s sympathizers, unions, and popular and progressive sectors that repudiated the coup and took to the streets of Tegucigalpa to protest.

The Partido Libertad y Refundación (Freedom and Re-Foundation Party – Libre) was born from this process in 2012. After many maneuvers, the coup government finally was legitimated by the National Congress, which permitted the election of Porfirio Lobo Sosa (the right-wing candidate) and continued the institutional procedures that culminated in the fraudulent reelection of Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH).

Given this trajectory and context, what is the current situation of the FNRP? How does it evaluate that experience? How do the current Honduran struggles connect to what has happened and to the FNRP?

Luis Méndez

First, an important note to contextualize the FNRP’s situation: prior to the FNRP’s founding, there’s the Coordinadora Nacional de Resistencia Popular (Popular Resistance National Coordinating Committee) and the Bloque Popular (Popular Block), which at one time brought together broad sectors of the popular and social movement, from the onset of neoliberalism in the region (the 1990s) and the popular struggle against free trade agreements in Central America until the rupture of institutionality with the coup in 2009. In that year, the Frente Nacional contra el Golpe de Estado (National Front against the Coup d’état) was born, and subsequently the FNRP was founded, an accumulation of popular power that culminated with the formation of a political-electoral instrument defined as the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Libre).

There’s another question that emerges from the question you asked me, that might be a bit uncomfortable, but that is necessary to answer: Does the FNRP really exist today? I say this based on a primary argument from the foundational stages of the FNRP, conceiving of it as a large body that was able to incorporate different political, social, and popular actors with a strong anti-capitalist, anti-oligarchic, anti-imperialist, anti-patriarchal, and anti-racist political and ideological position.

In another sense, it was a National Popular Resistance Front with key lines of strategic advancement: political education, popular organization and mobilization, with a clear idea of its project of building popular power, of the re-foundation of the state and a new social pact that would require an initial, re-foundational National Constituent Assembly. From this original FNRP to the FNRP of today, I think that events have defined and displaced not only the organic sense of its local, national, and coordinating structures, but the strategic front project itself. Under the idea of the FNRP as a large body and the Libre Party as its political electoral arm, in reality, over time, it’s clear that the political arm has subsumed the body.

In subsequent periods, and following the defeats via electoral fraud, the popular forces have faced a fragmentation of forces, of ideas and leaders, as well as retreat in the face of a sobering panorama marked by a lack of strategic political leadership and uncertainty regarding the project of articulating popular power. Therefore, while the FNRP exists as a nominal structure and is a historic and exemplary project of maximum relevance after the 2009 coup, it is also a transitory project toward other forms of popular organization that reject the mono-directional and vertical forms of leadership that characterize traditional social movements and even new ones.

It was no surprise that, following the 2017 electoral fraud, during the period of territorial uprisings across the country, the FNRP did not play a role as a space of articulation in that process. Given the absence of a front of struggle, a convergence emerged against the regime’s continuity and the electoral fraud; it was a broad space that was able to articulate organizations and movements both in the social, popular sector, and in the Opposition Alliance.

Aleksander Aguilar Antunes

The first three months of popular struggle in the streets against JOH’s electoral fraud in late 2017 and early 2018 have been pretty intense, but they have also faced a lot of repression, violence, and persecution. Today, the Honduran population is afraid of filing police reports because the justice system has been taken over by powerful forces aligned with JOH, which has generated a climate of criminalization of protest. The opposition and resistance leaders have been accused of “terrorism” and persecuted in their own homes.

In this political context, are popular territorial uprisings, insurrection, and civil disobedience still the most appropriate paths of struggle? Do you think that the only way out of the Honduran crisis is still “popular rebellion,” as you stated in your text, “Post-electoral Honduras in crisis: consolidation or the end of the nascent dictatorship,” published January 17, 2018?

Luis Méndez

Popular rebellion and territorial uprisings represent a legitimate means for the people to contain, and, in the best of cases, overthrow the current dictatorial regime of Juan Orlando Hernández’s project of death. [These are] territorial uprisings that go beyond the defense of the vote and electoral process, they are territorial uprisings that are about the defense of life, of nature’s common goods, of the public sphere. In that sense, I maintain the thesis of popular insurrection as a legitimate path, both in practice and in law, as established in Article 3 of the Constitution of the Republic:

No one owes allegiance to a usurper government nor those who assume public duties or positions by force of arms or use of means or procedures that violate or ignore that which is established by this Constitution and the law. The actions of such authorities are void. The people have the right to resort to insurrection in defense of the constitutional order.

For the JOH dictatorship, these forms of popular rebellion and popular self-determination represent a threat to the status quo and to its already weakened national and international credibility; therefore, it is easier for the regime to submit the people to a state dictatorship, or death and terror, than to abandon its project of continuity.

The popular rebellion and territorial uprisings that we have seen in the wake of the 2017 elections have been both organized and unorganized, in spontaneous situations or those conditioned by the conjuncture. In those self-convening processes, the population seeks organizational and defensive mechanisms, even rejecting the leadership of worn out or discredited actors, from political parties to organizations from the popular movement itself.

Aleksander Aguilar Antunes

The current socio-political environment in Honduras continues to be marked by conflict and violence, which has been a characteristic of the country for some time and has become a daily tonic since the popular mobilizations broadened and intensified following the opaque 2017 presidential election results. The novelty in the Honduran process of struggle, however, is the apparent lack of strategy of the current opposition — led by the “defeated” candidate Salvador Nasralla, Honduran president Mel Zelaya, deposed in 2009, and the Libre Party — for achieving a coherent and constructive response to their demands.

In your opinion, is this reading correct? Has the partisan opposition been able to guide the potential and disposition of the Honduran society’s struggles in the streets and popular protests?

Luis Méndez

Honduras has a history of coups, enclaves, and political calculations. And that coloniality in the ways of doing electoral politics carries the imprint of the history of caudillismo, which in this conjuncture, as in other moments of our political history, does more harm than good to our processes of emancipation.

The triumph of the 1954 strike lay in the fact that it was led by workers, by strike committees, by local committees. Contrary to what happened in 2009 and 2017, the organized social and popular movement and the non-organized populations have been a sort of caboose to the project of disputing power. As a result, the popular forces, lacking autonomy and self-determination in the face of the crisis and this dispute over power, become excessively dependent on politically unstable or excessively calculating leaders.

In that sense, yes, there is an absence of strategic leadership, or a minimal plan for the struggle that allows the popular forces to advance toward the true project of popular power.

Aleksander Aguilar Antunes

We have read stories about how foreign investment in extractivist projects in the country (dams and mines) have been paralyzed or have diminished due to the reports of human rights violations and the impunity that followed the execution of the activist Berta Cáceres in 2016, which had enormous international repercussions. Nevertheless, under her influence and that of other leaders, Honduran indigenous people defending their territories against extractivist policies have been called “opponents of development.”

Has this prejudice extended to other sectors in the struggle, to collectives and individuals that report illegal concessions and demand investigations into the murder of territory defenders? What has the impact of the political assassination of Berta Cáceres been in the organization of socio-political struggles in Honduras?

Luis Méndez

Berta showed us a horizon not only of Honduran struggle, but of resistance all over the world. Berta is all of the struggles, because she worked for all processes oriented towards the emancipation of the people.

Berta, COPINH (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras, Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras), and the Río Blanco resistance contained and repelled the monster of Sinohydro and Desarrollos Energéticos SA de CV (DESA), a company founded by Honduran capital that, with a $24.4 million loan from the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica (BCIE, Central American Bank for Economic Integration), subcontracted the Chinese company Sinohydro, which belongs to the Power Construction Corporation of China group. This was a victory of the Lenca people in defense of the natural commons. Berta in defense of the forest, Berta in her struggle against US troops in Honduras: anti-patriarchal, anti-racist, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist Berta.

That is one of Berta’s dimensions, of her legacy that is reborn in every struggle. In response, the discourse of the political, corporate, and transnational groups, and that of the media that has been castrated by capital, works to dismiss those who defend the territory as “opponents of development,” under the logic of their own concepts of “development,” a development centered on death, on annihilation, and on the accumulation of capital.

For this reason, private corporations, in their conspiracy with the Honduran state, murdered Berta. We’re clear about this, in declaring that Berta’s murder was a state crime.

She was a pioneer in the project of re-foundation; she initiated the territorial uprisings. After Río Blanco, one by one other uprisings have taken place in various places: in the North, South, East, and West, and Berta’s spirit is in all these struggles, her cosmogonic view of life is present. Berta always talked about ancestral force, a power and legacy that makes the construction of unity, consensus, and struggle possible today.

Aleksander Aguilar Antunes

The case of the Misión de Apoyo contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad de Honduras (MACCIH, Honduran Mission against Corruption and Impunity) seems emblematic in the debate about the weight of international and geopolitical factors in the Honduran crisis. The initiative, which was inspired by the CICIG in Guatemala, was received with mistrust by the opposition and resistance forces, with critiques that claimed its objective was to mitigate social discontent, demobilize the citizenry, and buy time in order to achieve reelection.

Nevertheless, the MACCIH has uncovered some corruption cases, it has identified culprits, and it has demanded civil and criminal responsibility, all of which has made it into a threat to JOH and his allies in the legislative and judicial branches (it revealed that legislators appropriated public funds marked for NGO community activities, which turned out to be false and never carried out; until now, at least thirty NGOs and sixty legislators are implicated).

What is your analysis of that context and the influence of these factors on the evolution of the current crisis?

Luis Méndez

The OAS (Organization of American States) has historically played an accommodating role for the hegemonic interests of imperialism and the Right on the continent, and, in the case of the post-coup context in 2009, it played a similar role with the San José Agreement, the Guaymuras Pact, and subsequently with the Cartagena Agreement.

The MACCIH arose as a mission against corruption and impunity with the role of “accompaniment,” according to the regime, as an argument to dilute its belligerence. Up to that point, the regime’s script was well planned, even for Luis Almagro himself (the current OAS general secretary), who calculated that the mission in Honduras would be totally subordinated to his decisions.

Nevertheless, reality overtook any political calculation, and the MACCIH, which at first was not well received by the Honduran population nor by the protest movement due to the OAS’s prior actions (its closeness with pseudo–civil society groups), this MACCIH that was not well liked at first began to show signs of autonomy and independence, and, with the first reports and clear statements about wanting to go to the root of the problem, naming organized crime networks within the government itself, the population began to give it support, especially when it called the network of legislators the tip of the spear, or the thread that would lead to a giant network of corruption within the National Congress.

This tremor caused the government, which had requested the MACCIH, to become its detractor, using an argument of defending “sovereignty,” to the degree that the Supreme Court accepted a suit of unconstitutionality against the Mission. Subsequently, with the arrival of Luis Almagro and his hypocrisy, some of the members of the technical team were sidelined and resigned from the Mission, including its spokesperson, Juan Jiménez Mayor.

The MACCIH had shaken up the networks of corruption so much that, with the jailing of the ex–first lady, Rosa de Lobo, and the confiscation of her assets (including that house that once belonged to ex-president Porfirio Lobo), and with the report of the corrupt legislators network, the Congress tried to overturn the asset seizures law in order to safeguard their structures of corruption. This action was vetoed by the regime, more due to pressure from the international community and the United States than the dictatorship’s own interests.

In this scenario of growing crisis, the hypocrisy of the international community also played a role, on the one hand cosigning the electoral fraud and, on the other, trying to contain corruption, if not everywhere, in a large part of the state structure. This is an international community that evaded going to the root of the problem.

Aleksander Aguilar Antunes

In the Central American region, and in other geographic areas, we have seen, and we have even participated in some acts of support and international solidarity with the people of Honduras in resistance to the 2009 coup and against the 2017 electoral fraud.

Has this had any meaning or impact in Honduras? What has been the importance of this internationalism in the most intense moments of street protests?

Luis Méndez

Without internationalism, without the solidarity of the peoples of the world, Honduras would be more than a catastrophe, [it would be] political and social pandemonium.

In the case of the 2017 electoral fraud, the role that social movements, progressive political parties, and alternative media played, together with other internationalist actors in Latin America and from other continents, was extraordinary. They raised their voices all over the world to denounce not just the fraud that was cosigned by the OAS and the European Union, but also the threats, persecution, and murders against the anti-JOH resistance, and the permanent violation of human rights.

Aleksander Aguilar Antunes

In 2015, after the embezzlement of over $335 million from the health care system was made public, it generated a tremendous movement of outrage. Its principal expression was the torchlight marches, which over the course of several months—when JOH was already president and cries of “Fuera JOH!” echoed everywhere—brought together thousands of people in intense street protests to denounce the looting of the Honduran Social Security Institute (IHSS), and, deliberately seeking to distance themselves from the institutional and traditional parties, became a symbol of a possible “awakening” of the citizenry in the face of the absences and mismanagement of the Honduran state.

Following the “incorporation” of political parties into the movement, the torchlight marches divided into two groups: the Plataforma Indignada (Platform of Outrage) and Honduras Indignados Somos Todos (We Are All Outraged Honduras). What is the relationship of those mobilizations to the struggles against the fraud in 2017? Are the political actors involved in that movement different from those today? What feedback has occurred between those intense moments of protest and direct action during a period of barely two years?

Luis Méndez

The robbery of the IHSS was a detonator for “another awakening” of the citizenry, a sort of shaking up of the individual and collective conscious of the population in defense of the public sphere and against corruption. The torchlight marches reflected that, but they also represented a rupture with the leadership dynamics of traditional social movements (the labor, peasant, and teachers’ movements) and the birth of new ones. Indeed, you could say that these processes of outrage became a unique aspect of the brand-new social movements, which had certain strengths, but also certain weaknesses of a strategic nature.

The political parties, directly or indirectly, were always present in the outrage movement; the young people that led the process from the beginning were members of the opposition parties (Libre, Partido Anticorrupción [PAC], Liberal, Partido Innovación y Unidad [PINU]). In some ways, the biggest crisis that this movement generated was the displacement of the “old” leaders of the FNRP, who weren’t able to lead, to be the vanguard of the movement, which created the crisis of a power struggle.

Plataforma Indignada, Honduras Indignados Somos Todos, and Oposición Indignada (Outraged Opposition) were collectives whose members took on an important role in planning the turnout, information mobilization, and positions on social media. Unfortunately, with the arrival of the MACCIH, on top of the elections, the street pressure was halted and certain leaders from those movements joined the political-electoral tickets of their parties.

The northern region entered into a different dynamic, one that was more autonomous, with greater levels of organization and sustainability of the struggle through the Mesas de Indignación (Outrage Roundtables), which today continue to carry out popular mobilizations. The outrage movement raised up the slogan of “Fuera JOH!” which, more than just a slogan, became a point of consensus and unity for advancing popular forces.

Aleksander Aguilar Antunes

With regard to the previous question, and expanding it, one notable characteristic of the Honduran struggles in that period in 2015 was the presence of many young people, especially university students, that don’t want to be associated with a specific political party membership, and the use of social media and digital tools to convene mobilizations. Has this remained the case in the 2017 struggles? Have young people and digital technology consolidated their present in the current Honduran political struggles?

Luis Méndez

If there is a motor force driving popular mobilization at this moment, we should point to and recognize the role of the university student movement, which has not only permanently defended university autonomy, but has joined the struggles of other sectors in defense of the public sphere and accompanied the popular organizations and movements. In the midst of the student movement’s internal contradictions, it is young people who have shown that it is possible to move forward organically without the politically dysfunctional “strongmen” formats typical to organizations and movements, which become security niches or cushions for some leaders.

In a country where sectors of the labor movement “leadership” have made pacts with the regime to the degree of publicly recognizing officials of the dictatorship, what remains if not outrage, discontent in the collective imaginary, unease with leaders who “betray” the movement?

In that sense, the university students, but also young people from other social and political movements and organizations, display a deep repulsion for those leaders that have controlled not just the labor movement, but other social and popular spaces as well. This doesn’t mean that the student movement isn’t exposed to infiltration, but, given the dilemma of the absence of leadership, this movement exploded with more democratic and horizontal forms of decision-making, with the full conviction that it is possible to advance in defense of the public sphere without making shadowy pacts or arrangements with the regime. To summarize, the young people represent an ethical face of the struggle, and that is progress.

Aleksander Aguilar Antunes

Finally, what exactly does the proposal for a “re-foundational National Constituent Assembly” mean? Who is advocating for it, how did it arise, and what is the current state of the discussion and its viability in Honduras?

Luis Méndez

We’re back at the starting point. In the foundational stage of the FNRP, there was a fracturing that produced two currents of thought. One of them, more within the system, proposed advancing toward taking power within the dynamic of an institutionality dominated by the coup order (the electoral authority, the Supreme Court, the Public Ministry, and all of the institutions subordinate to the executive), and from there fight via the political-electoral instrument that emerged with the signing of the Acuerdo de Cartagena.

The other current, “re-foundational” (whose members largely come out of the National Popular Resistance Coordinating Committee), proposed precisely the opposite as a response to the crisis, to the break with institutionality in the wake of the coup in 2009: [they proposed] a re-foundational constituent assembly, in contrast to the one proposed by the FNRP during the assembly processes in 2011. This was a point of inflection, of deep contradiction, that led to the Movimiento Refundacional (Re-foundational Movement)’s split from the FNRP coordination structure.

The Espacio Refundacional proposed a self-convening constituent process and permanent mobilization as the way to oust the dictatorship from power. What happened then? A sector of the popular movement associated with the Bloque Popular aligned itself with ex-president Manuel Zelaya’s leadership as general coordinator of the FNRP, and another sector, whose members largely came from the Coordinadora Nacional de Resistencia Popular, joined the Espacio Refundacional. At this point, somehow, two fronts had formed: one more within the system, which supported the electoral route, and the other more antiestablishment, which didn’t see the conditions at that moment for an electoral fight under the rules of the coup regime.

Berta Cáceres of COPINH, Miriam Miranda of OFRANEH, Magdalena Morales of the CNTC, Father Fausto Milla of the Instituto Ecuménico de Servicios a la Comunidad (INEHSCO, Ecumenical Institute of Community Service), Father Ismael Moreno of the Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación de la Compañía de Jesús (ERIC, Jesuit Reflection, Research, and Communication Team), Tomás Andino of the Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores (PST, Socialist Workers Party), and other popular movement actors, were key in pushing the idea of this re-foundational project shaped by the territorial struggles in defense of the natural commons, by the self-convening popular processes, by the construction of power from below, and by other forms of imagining politics and power.

To conclude, I think that in this post-coup stage, and despite the contradictions between the electoral and re-foundational currents, the political-electoral project took on an identity in relation to the re-foundation project along the way, and identified the Libre Party as its political-electoral instrument, which seems to me a re-foundational contribution to the notion of the political party.

At that moment, neither the leadership nor the party membership truly understood the category of “re-foundation” as a dialectical exercise, to begin with, and then as a militant practice; much less the concept of self-convening or territorial uprisings as concrete realities of struggle, since these were proposals created by the Espacio Refundacional, where the so-called “refundas” formed their own organic structure and identity. As a result, we had a “re-foundational” current and an “electoral” current, which emerged in the wake of the 2009 coup. The contradiction continues.

Co-published with NACLA.

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Luis Méndez is a Honduran poet, artist, and popular educator. He is a founder of the political school of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (National Popular Resistance Front, FNRP) as well as its first popular resistance collectives.

Aleksander Aguilar Antunes is a Salvadoran-Brazilian linguist and journalist. He is a post-doctoral researcher with “Pueblos in Movimiento” program of the Asociación Latinoamericana de Sociología (Latin American Sociology Association, ALAS) and a founder and coordinator of the Central Americanist network-platform “O Istmo.”

Hilary Goodfriend is a doctoral student in Latin American Studies at the Universidad Nacional Autónomo de México (UNAM) in Mexico City.

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