Honduras, ugly duckling turned swan

Today people around the president of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, feel like the victors of the election, even though the other party won. The reason being that the really important victory in Sunday’s election was that the people of Honduras came out in record numbers to vote, in obvious spite of Zelaya’s call for election boycott. This is a clear signal to the world that Honduras supports the interim regime, and rejects the world’s calls for Zelaya’s reinstatement. After this, no respectable democracy can continue claiming that democracy demands Zelaya’s reinstatement.

Roberto Micheletti never managed to get elected president by the people. He had perhaps not sufficient popular appeal, his demeanor being too serious. In June he was, however, elected interim president by the national congress, itself elected by the people. Today a large proportion of Hondurans, perhaps even the majority, consider that he was the right man at the right place at the right time. His frank but still respectful words when he addressed high foreign visitors gave many Hondurans tears in their eyes out of newfound national pride.

The poor in Honduras are quite likely poorer than in any other Latin American country, and the land once was the archetypical banana republic, disregarded by citizens and foreigners alike. This historical view is revived not at least in comments in foreign media and blogs, by those who uncritically call the arrest of Zelaya on the court’s order a military coup. For the majority of Hondurans the old image is now for always a part of the past. The country has grown a backbone, and is now living by its motto: Free, Sovereign, and Independent. The only ones to not embrace this new view are those who are of the notion that it was a military coup; they still see the country as a banana republic.

How could the tiny, poor, and despised country of Honduras withstand Chávez’s attempts to introduce the Bolivarian Revolution, when Venezuela, Ecuador, or Bolivia could not? As if in a fairytale by H.C. Andersen, the heroic deed was executed by the one the reader least expected it from. In 2009, Honduras the ugly duckling grew up to be a swan.

However, just like in a fairytale the transformation was painful and difficult. The problem for Honduras was that in in order to defend its newfound (this in only the 8th election) democracy, it had to arrest its own president for treason, and the whole world – without exception! – condemned that act as a military coup.

The treason of Zelaya consisted in plotting to overthrow the constitution, a coup quite simply. A contributing reason why Honduras managed to stop the coup was that they recognized the pattern from Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia, and that they could see the detrimental effect of passivity in Venezuela. Another factor might be that Honduras has strong family ties with Palestine. The Palestinians have first hand experience of the risk of giving even a finger to the one who desires to take ones land. The decision to arrest Zelaya was of course communicated to key groups including business organizations, in which Palestinians are prominent. The cultural experience from the Middle East has quite likely contributed to the decisiveness of the private sector to act, and the preparedness to stand firm even in the face of harsh economical sanctions.

Also the U.S. was consulted, but Senator John Kerry allegedly stopped the original plan to arrest Zelaya the night between June 25 and 26. It is not hard to understand why; it would of course have been better to make the arrest order public first, so that nobody would get the erroneous impression that it was a military coup. On this issue everyone I have talked to in Honduras agree, even those who were in on the plans. Two nights later the plan was carried out without informing the U.S. in advance. When I found out the details it was through TV, and my reaction was to get quite angry at the stupidity of doing it in secret, following the exact procedures of a classical military coup.

On the other hand, one has to consider their situation when they took the decision. The risk with making it public was that there might be an armed uprising, led by armed infiltrators from Venezuela mainly. It is totally clear that the procedure was designed to create a minimum of bloodshed and property damage. Nobody can know what would have happened if they had acted openly according to democratic principles. When passing judgment one has to keep in mind that Zelaya himself did not follow the democratic principles, and that he instructed his followers to also ignore them.

Undoubtedly one has to grant a democracy the right to defend itself, and to use the level of force that is required. It was clear already June 25 that Zelaya was a threat to democracy, based on his open contempt for the other branches of government, because that was the day he published a decree creating a referendum that the Supreme Court of Justice already had forbidden. It is thus perfectly possible to create a credible defense for the actions taken by the other branches of government in deposing Zelaya.

The hardships that subsequently befell Honduras, and the determined and principled defense that the little country put up for its democracy, is the stuff of fairy-tales. In no situation the protagonist could chose an easy way out; every step of the way Honduras had to go the hard and narrow road. But as if in a fairy-tale they survived every test, often by demonstrating some unexpected skill or using some trick that nobody had thought of.

Now the country has managed to hold free and fair elections. In spite of weeks of bombs placed by terrorists who wanted to discourage people from voting, the percentage of people who showed up to vote was higher than in many years, and higher than in many old and established democracies (70%). It is a clear vote of confidence from the people in the democracy. People working for Micheletti see yesterday’s election as a big victory, even though it was the other party that won, technically. However, the real victory was in the turn-out, and that victory was for Honduras and the team led by Micheletti.

When it comes to democracy, Honduras was the the banana republic with one military coup after another, that stood up to the entire world, defended its constitution, and gave the world a lection in democracy in the process. Honduras is the ugly democracy-duckling that grew up to a democracy swan.

As a memory of this I created a pocket-sized 3D model of Honduras and inscribed it. It goes to a person who has dedicated a lot of time and effort to help this transition process, and who I hope will continue working for Honduras regardless of administration in charge.

Honduras in 3D on one side, and inscription on the other.

Honduras in 3D on one side, and inscription on the other.

The inscription reads in translation: “Honduras, 28 June 2009, stood up to the world and saved its democracy, under don Roberto Micheletti Bain”.

Media: SvD editorial, SvD news, WSJ.

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