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.

3 thoughts on “Honduras, ugly duckling turned swan”

  1. Från wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honduran_general_election,_2009#Military_role_in_elections) om valet:

    Assassinations of political party members

    Democratic Unification Party

    Democratic Unification Party (PUD) member Roger Iván Bados (sometimes written Báez[6]) was “threatened with death immediately after the coup” and shot dead on 11 July 2009 next to his house in San Pedro Sula.[7] His assassination was attributed to the coup d’etat by Dr Luther Castillo of the Garifuna community organisation Luaga Hatuadi Waduheñu Foundation[6] and by an international human rights mission.[8] On 12 July, a leader of PUD,[8] Ramón García, was “riddled with bullets” after he was forced by unknown people to get off a bus.[8][9]. His assassination was attributed to the coup d’etat by Luther Castillo and two international human rights missions.[6][7][8]

    Military role in elections

    The military of Honduras are responsible for helping in the logistics of carrying out elections.
    According to a legal adviser of the Honduran military forces, the military are opposed to left-wing government. In July 2009, legal counsel Colonel Herberth Bayardo Inestroza stated that the Honduran military was opposed to President Manuel Zelaya, whom the military had removed from Honduras a few days earlier, because of his left-wing politics. Inestroza stated, “It would be difficult for us [the military], with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That’s impossible.” (Spanish original: “Difícilmente nosotros, con nuestra formación, podemos tener relación con un gobierno de izquierda. Eso es imposible.”)[10]

    Alleged military conspiracy for election day massacre

    On 11 November 2009, Andrés Pavón of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras stated that the Honduran military planned to disguise soldiers as a fake armed wing of the National Resistance Front against the coup d’etat in Honduras that would massacre members of the Democratic Civic Union on 29 November 2009, with the goal of discrediting the National Resistance Front and creating a cycle of lethal violence between pro- and anti-coup civilian groups.[26] Pavón said that military officers “loyal to the Honduran people” had informed him about the plan and stated that the plan is to be carried out by supporters of the de facto government.[26]

    State of emergency during election

    Over thirty thousand security personnel are involved in running the election, including 12,000 military, 14,000 police officers and 5000 reservists.[27] Mayors have been requested by the army to provide lists of “enemies” (Spanish: enemigos) of the electoral process in order to “neutralise” them (Spanish: neutralizarlos).[27]


    Inte bara trevliga omständigheter direkt.

    1. That text in Wikipedia is hysterical. Wikipedia is being used as a propaganda channel by the chavistas. It is a disgrace, and a shame, since it could have been a very useful tool if it had not been used for political propaganda purposes. Just one example, bringing up the military’s role in the election, but not mentioning that it (1) is written in the constitution that it shall be that way, (2) the commander of the military during elections is TSE, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and (3) that TSE is an independent branch of government in Honduras and thus appointed while Zelaya was president.

      Did you understand? There has been no coup because nothing has changed, except the president, and he was replaced by the democratic institutions having the authority to do so. After this constitutional succession Venezuela threatened war and armed revolution. A country has the right to defend itself. People who participate in an illegal uprising against the democratic government have to take the consequences of their actions. It is patently illegal. They broke the law. They committed high treason, since a foreign power was involved.

      I am not defending alleged political assassinations, but given how many people are assaulted, threatened, and assassinated all the time in Honduras one cannot automatically assume they were political assassinations. Furthermore, even if they were, there is absolutely nothing that suggests that it was the state that carried them out. If it happened those responsible should be prosecuted, that is the policy. It is, however, a known fact that the Honduran police and military have been poor at investigating these kind of things, since decades. That is why this opportunity should be used to put pressure on reforming that part of the state apparatus.

  2. Ulf,

    I applaud you for your continued insightful and detailed coverage of Honduras. I believe your ugly duckling metaphor is apt.

    Sometimes, unexpectedly, great leaders emerge at critical turning points. Roberto Micheletti is such a leader. There is no question that he will occupy a prominent position in the history of Honduras.

    The coverage in much of the press (the WSJ being an exception), including the Swedish press, and regrettably the Swedish Presidency of the EU has been appalling in its lack of attention to fact.

    It is truly frightening that political agendas can be used to such an extent to completely color and warp a rather straightforward story.

    Curiously, in a leader this morning, Svenska Dagbladet in Stockholm, declared that the elections in Honduras were not an expression of democracy. I guess if you do not like the people’s will, it is not democracy.

    The Wikipedia article cited above is unfortunate, and I am sure will be corrected in due time. For those who are truly concerned about Honduras, it is now time to support its new government and the courageous people who overwhelmingly went to the polls to show their support for the democratic process yesterday.

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