Pepe Lobo, and dirty war in Honduras

Since Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa took office as President of Honduras on January 27, 2010, there have been reports on the web of an apparent increase of murders targeting those who want to overthrow the form of government and institute a new constituting assembly.

The self-denominated “Popular Resistance Movement” consists of members of a range of organizations, including several trade unions, groups of landless farmers (or farmers whose right to the land they cultivate is disputed), and indigenous organizations. They have reportedly decided to continue insisting on a “constituting assembly,” even though said institution has already been declared unconstitutional by the highest court of the country. Moreover, the report said that they had decided to use “militant” methods in the struggle.

It might seem obvious to an outside observer that the movement thus has placed itself squarely outside the law, and that the appropriate response from the government would be to use the judicial system and the police force to prevent them from succeeding with any criminal objective.

The reports of a new dirty war in Honduras, targeting these individuals and their family with beatings, rape, and murder, thus seems illogical – provided that the judicial system in Honduras works. The problem is that it doesn’t work very well, in the opinion of many. Crimes can often be committed with impunity, since only a fraction of the 14 murders per day in average in the country are solved. In fact, lynchings are not uncommon as people get frustrated over the lack of justice, and a while ago there was a shootout in a neighbourhood of the capital when thieves tried to rob a water truck (all the thieves were shot and most died).

Honduras had a dirty war, with over one hundred trade union activists murdered, just a couple of decades ago. Unless clear signals are sent now, from the president and others who can sway the opinion, a new dirty war risks starting – or continue, if it already has.

This is the time for Pepe Lobo to go out in a televised address to the nation and say, in no uncertain terms, that his government has a zero tolerance for extra-judicial punishment. He needs to clearly denounce all aspects of the dirty war, and in so strong words that there can be no doubt about his sincerity.

Pepe needs to do this in order for all those who might be tempted to “help” him, to understand that their “help” is entirely unwelcome and counter-productive. It is not enough for him not to approve it. He has to actively disapprove of it, or else it will start – that is my prediction now. I base that prediction on the attitude of people I have talked with. Just like Dick Cheney and many others in the U.S. have an attitude that some forms of torture is acceptable (by not calling it torture), there are those in Honduras who tacitly accept the need to “cleanse” the country of certain “elements,” so to say. In each case the fight against (real or imagined) terrorism might be used as justification for violating human rights (even though this is entirely unsupported by law).

Incidentally, the fact that those in the U.S. who approved, ordered, and carried out torture in violation of international law, have not been prosecuted after all these years, can be taken as a sign by people in Honduras that it is OK to violate human rights when dealing with terrorists. In fact, USA – including President Obama – has a major responsibility for possibly opening the floodgates for a new wave of human rights abuses in the world. A difference is, though, that Honduras is subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, and they are watching what the country is doing in terms of human rights (unlike the case with USA). However, by the time they would intervene it would already be too late; the crimes would already have been committed, the damage already done.

So the question is, will Pepe Lobo denounce the dirty war as a tactic? Will he stake out a third path, a path of peaceful reconciliation, and forcefully denounce violence and illegal acts on both sides in the social conflict?

If he does not, Honduras will remain at status quo for several decades more. This means continued desperate poverty, so desperate that millions prefer to live illegally in the U.S., or getting involved with crime. No country in North America can afford to let this happen. Pepe must instill confidence in law and order, for all law abiding citizens, and he must forcefully insist in respect for the fundamental human rights of life and liberty.

Footnote: While writing this, the word on the web is that Pepe Lobo is getting too close to Zelaya, that he may be dropping the charges and allowing him back, and even to serve in the Central American parliament Parlacen. Personally I believe that this is just part of a psychological war, part of the effort to create uncertainty. As I have written previously, the party that has most to gain from this is the drug cartels. They also have most to gain from a new dirty war, in my analysis, but it does not detract from the need for Pepe Lobo to clearly come out against it. On the contrary, it makes it even more important for him to try to unite the people against the threat of organized, international crime.