The president elect in Honduras, Porfirio Lobo, has gathered representatives from the different political parties and society to develop a new social pact for the country, expressed in the form of a 28-year plan that will be implemented by the 7 coming administrations. The present constitution has only existed for 28 years, and it is still the longest surviving in the nation’s history. This plan can thus not be described in any other way than to represent a new social pact, un compacto social, between all the sectors of the Honduran society.
The only ones invited who did not attend were some who believe that change can only come if the constitution is overthrown by illegal means, such as Cesar Ham, leader of the neo-communist party UD, and until this week supporter of the reinstatement of deposed president Zelaya who wanted to do just that.
The plan will be based on a national dialog that has been carried out in a number of open meetings during the general election campaign, by the various presidential candidates, in the shadow of the political crisis. The topics include all major aspects of policy, e.g. health care, employment, taxes (Lobo rejects taxing the poor but is open to raise taxes on the rich, even though he is from the right wing party), education, and the criteria for hiring officials to high government positions.
The project originated in the aftermath of the deposing of president Zelaya, when the whole world condemned the “military coup” and financial aid was frozen. A common feeling in Honduras was anger mixed with pride, resulting in a determination to cooperate within the country for the best of the country, and to make away with any dependence on foreign aid. Examples of other countries that have gone from poverty to wealth in a matter of decades have been held up as inspiration, e.g. South Korea and Sweden.
The key to success is that every group gets a stake in the economy. That is why everyone is invited to the table. This is the time when they can get what they have been fighting for. This is the time when everyone can get their fair share at the cake, and then get to work with making the entire cake bigger.
One of the required layers of the cake is a stable supply of reasonably priced renewably generated electricity. Honduras has, according to statistics from a hydropower trade publication in the 90’s, the second highest unexploited hydropower potential per capita in the world (after Iceland). Environmental protection prevents full exploitation, but there is still a natural resource that can be used to decrease the present dependence on imported oil (which is what brought Honduras in the arms of Hugo Chávez, the leading neo-communist in the Americas).
Another useful development, in my opinion, would be to adjust the land ownership legislation so that land can conveniently be leased. That would make it much easier to get optimal land use on each plot. As it is, I’ve been told, the one using the land gets ownership after a few decades, which makes leasing land completely impossible.
A third desirable change is in the political appointments. There are far too many political positions, and too few public servants. Compare Sweden; in Sweden a minister has one political secretary for each field of responsibility, but all the remaining posts are public servants. All fact-finding and implementation is carried out by long-serving skilled public servants. (The US suffers from the same flaw as Honduras, with thousands of politically appointed persons in each administration; often they are relatively young and inexperienced, the opposite of what one would hope from those who are running the country.)
Those are some of my opinions having worked as a consultant in Honduras. Many other points could be made, and are being made, such as fighting crime, and improving the infrastructure. Honduras has a great potential for tourism, but it needs to raise its ambition level when it comes to keeping the roads and parks nice and clean, especially in the capital.
There are so many problems, but personally I am optimist for the first time, that Honduras will be able to solve these. The reason is that for perhaps the first time, all of these different sectors are truly committed to working together for the good of the country. This makes me believe that Honduras can transform from an ugly duckling, a poor banana republic with perhaps as much as one million illegal guest workers in the US, to a swan, a free and independent welfare state that can take care of its own citizens.
It should be noted by the US, that Honduras is discussing introducing universal health care. For all those in the US who are against this reform in their country, it surely must be embarrassing if Honduras would put their ambition level higher than they do.
The key to transformation is to leave nobody behind. Nobody should be left to die for lack of health care. It will be interesting to see if the US or Honduras becomes first with universal health insurance. Based solely on the political will, it definitely tilts towards Honduras.