First 100 days in Honduras: New Hope?

May 7th will mark the 100th day that Porfirio Lobo Sosa is president in Honduras. So how has he done, and what is the status for Honduras now?

Pepe Lobo started out already before he was sworn in by going to the Dominican Republic, and signing an agreement that the then deposed president Manuel Zelaya would be allowed to leave Honduras for DR on the day of Lobo’s inauguration.

This decision was politically necessary. Honduras was virtually bankrupt due to (1) Zelaya’s disastrous policies and corruption, (2) the global recession, and (3) the harsh economic sanctions from the world against Honduras for having defended itself against the coup d’état that Mel Zelaya was carrying out in 2009. It was politically necessary to get Zelaya out, and end the military siege on the former Brazilian embassy (which had become necessary under interim president Micheletti, when Zelaya engaged in sedition from its roof, without Brazil stopping him, even though it is a violation of international law).

However, no matter how politically necessary it was, it was very unpopular in Honduras, where they wanted to see Zelaya in prison for his crimes. Micheletti stepped back from the stage at that moment, expressing no opinion about the action taken by Lobo, but deferring to the president elect. This was a wise move, and it clearly demonstrated that Micheletti respected democracy.

Lobo went on to have a Congress dominated by his party pass a law with a long term plan for Honduras. However, from before the election there has been an element on the extreme left that refuses to recognize him as the legitimate executive of the country. And after his trip to DR, many who supported Micheletti and had great hopes for Lobo, lost their faith in him. The only side from which he has got support is the United States. That is not a desirable seat. History is full of regimes that have had a strong support from USA, but not from their countrymen. It usually does not bode well.

So why is the US ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, acting as a proconsul in Honduras, a viceroy? During the political crisis that started March 23, 2009 (when Zelaya decreed that a poll on holding a referendum on creating a constitutional assembly would be held June 28, 2009), to June 26th, 2009, the democratic institutions of Honduras acted appropriately. However, on June 26th, in the middle of a very tense situation when it was perceived that Zelaya was carrying out a coup d’état that had to be stopped, and the US backed Zelaya rather than democracy, the democratic institutions started taking decisions that were not entirely legal, according to the report from Human Rights Foundation.

Specifically, the arrest order for Zelaya was not formally correct in all details, they claim. Also the acts by Congress on June 28, and the Court on the following days, were not formally within the law, according to the report. However, the report does conclude that the Supreme Court had every right and justification for removing Zelaya from office – they just didn’t follow the proper protocol.

Since it is precisely this failure to follow protocol that caused the legal act to be interpreted as a military coup, and this had disastrous consequences for Honduras’ economy, as well as for Obama’s foreign policy, it is easy to see why Obama would like to offer advice to Honduras so that they avoid making such – for him – embarrassing formal mistakes. I am the first to admit that it is a good thing that the democratic institutions receive competent advice.

However, to have the US ambassador provide that advice is very detrimental for peace and reconciliation. It’s like sieving mosquitos and swallowing elephants. It is disastrous for the US image in Latin America and the Middle East (think Iraq and Afghanistan, and how the US is helping those regimes). It is also disastrous for Lobo, since it severely undermines his credibility among his own constituents.

The advice should be provided, but not through a political method. It should instead be provided via academic channels, from a foreign university via a Honduran university, for instance. Academic conferences, workshops, networking; that is the appropriate method for this kind of assistance. In my opinion both Obama and Lobo – not to mention Llorens – are counterproductive in how they go about this business.

In his defense, it may well be that Lobo doesn’t feel he has much choice but to accept the dictates from Big Brother Obama. The one who is in debt is not free, as Swedish PM Persson said.

As if this was not enough, the high crime wave from 2009 shows no sign of decreasing. There is seemingly indiscriminate killings of journalists, and there is obviously not a single reason behind them. Most of the crimes are certainly committed by street gangs and drug cartels, two kinds of organized crime. The justice system, including the police, is for sure corrupt, making it hard to stop this wave of crime. This is a serious problem, in fact, more serious than the calls for an illegal constituting constitutional assembly.

The first quarter of this year there were no foreign investments in Honduras. It completely dried up. Some believe that investments are the first step to turning the economy around, but the first step has to be taken by ordinary Hondurans.

Investors seek to minimize risks. The lower the risks, the lower return on investment they can accept. In Honduras today, the risks outweigh any reasonable expectation for ROI. These are some of the risks:

1. Revolution (i.e. that the constitutional assembly is held and is successful) since that would most likely result in private companies being nationalized without compensation, as in other countries that Chavez controls;

2. Criminality: murders, kidnappings, extortion, burglary, corruption;

3. Strikes, blockades, civil unrest, terrorism;

4. Infrastructure failure like electricity cutoffs, if the country cannot afford to buy oil, since much of the electricity is generated from diesel-powered plants;

5. Unexpected government mandates, such as Zelaya’s sudden raise of the minimum salary by 60%.

How could any board justify to the shareholders investing in Honduras in the present situation? The economy is in the tanks, and nothing will improve until there is stability. But here is the thing: This stability cannot be imposed from the outside (no foreign troops in the world can create stability in a country, because occupation is the opposite of stability). Nor can it be created top down alone.

While Pepe Lobo can try to improve the justice system and the police – and he is trying very hard in those fields – it will not be enough unless the people take responsibility, too.

The first step to economic progress is personal responsibility.

Personally, I am convinced that Honduras can be among the top 40 richest countries in the world within 40 years, if the Hondurans embrace this goal and starts working for it. It requires a concerted effort, it requires inspiration, but what will make it happen is that the masses start taking responsibility for their country, for their laws, for their development.

Personal responsibility means doing the right thing all the time, not just when someone is watching. It means rejecting corruption, and not protecting criminals even if they are family. Perhaps this is a foreign concept, but the law has to come before blood if the circle of corruption is to be broken. (It may also take a reconciliation process in which past corruption is forgiven in exchange for testimony, so that a fresh start becomes possible and the risk of revenge against the one who breaks the circle is eliminated.)

The challenges are thus great, but not insurmountable. What it does take is more than a political process; it is more of a spiritual awakening that is required. Meanwhile Pepe Lobo seems to be doing the best he can under the circumstances, and one can only hope that the Obama administration does not trip the wagon.