Category Archives: Democracy

Principles of constitution or laws aimed at democracy, rule of law, transparence, decentralization, deregulation, or other purpose considered useful for democracy

Bondeuppror i Venezuela sprider sig

Finansierat av oljeinkomster driver Venezuelas president Hugo Chávez en vänsterpopulistik politik, med USA som yttre fiende, och med Kuba, Iran och Ryssland som axelmakter. Inrikespolitiskt är hans retorik den vanliga marxistiska, med hatiska utfall mot kapitalister och lantägare, och hans politik är att gradvis strypa yttrandefrihet, demokrati, mänskliga rättigheter, och att konfiskera tillgångar succesivt så att befolkningen inte provoceras att göra signifikant motstånd. Men denna gång kanske han gått för hårt och fort fram: Den snabbast stigande hashtagen på twitter i Venezuela var på morgonen “statskupp” (#GolpeEstadoVE), syftande på att Chávez genomför en de facto statskupp av samma slag som Adolf Hitler gjorde våren 1933.

Vattenkanon mot demonstranter, Caracas, Lilljulafton 2010
Vattenkanon mot demonstranter, Caracas, Lilljulafton 2010

Sedan flera år har det pågått konfiskering av företag i Venezuela. I åtminstone ett år har konfiskeringarna också omfattat bondgårdar. De konfiskerade gårdarna har ofta lämnats i träda efter att boskapen slaktats. I fredags slog jordbruksverket, understödda av gendarmer och militär, till mot 47 bondgårdar söder om Maracaibosjön, i delstaten Zulia.

Chávez kallar det expropriering, men alla vet att det är ren och skär konfiskation. I TV-tal påstår han att bönderna inte äger marken, att de inte brukar den, att de är slavdrivare, samt att förmännen i den trakten fortfarande har som tradition att ta oskulden från arbetarnas döttrar. Kanske det finns någon som tror honom, men de har nog inte tillgång till internet och twitter.

Från av gårdarna, El Peonío, en mjölkgård med tiotusentals hektar mark, tusentals kor, hundratals anställda, och en 94-årig ägare vid namn Jesús Meleán, blev militären dock handgripligen utkastade. Detta blev startskottet för ett spontant bondeuppror.

Vägar blockerades och budkaveln gick, med början i torsdags. Informationen spred sig som en löpeld på twitter, men i media var det tyst. Bondeorganisationer höll möten och beslutade sig för att gå i strid för alla de konfiskerade gårdarna. Andra grupper i delstatshuvudstaden Maracaibo höll ett stormöte i söndags och bildade Zulias Demokratifront, för att försvara lag och rätt mot staten. TV sände från dessa möten, men Chávez hejdukar såg till att blockera alla viktiga delar med meddelanden, typ Anslagstavlan. Detta drabbade till exempel delstatens guvernör, när han i sitt tal i hårda ordalag kritiserade Chávez politik.

Tack var twitter, och andra sociala media på internet, spred sig dock budet om ett folkligt motstånd fort. Folk tog till gatorna, och på måndagsnatten genomfördes en kastrullbankning. Idén är samma som användes i Iran vid revolutionen mot shahen: att folk skall (anonymt) kunna avgöra hur pass starkt motståndet mot regimen egentligen är. I många städer stod folk till och med på gatan och bankade, i andra, mindre, orter var det ännu tyst. Internet har sina begränsningar i ett fattigt land.

Själv har jag följt utvecklingen på twitter kontinuerligt sedan den 16 december, då hashtagen #SOSinternetVE blev den ledande i världen. I flera dagar stod den 94-årige Jesús Meleán som en symbol. Genom att säga till militärerna som kommit för att ta hans gård att det finge bli “över hans döda kropp” väckte han en moståndsanda hos de modlösa.

Detta mod var på väg att förbytas i förtvivlan då Meleán gick med på att sälja gården (om än till ett hutlöst pris) till Chávez hejdukar i måndags. Uppgivenheten spreds på twitter, “alla har ett pris”. Det var naturligtvis Chávez avsikt; genom att kompromettera symbolen uppnådde han det han aldrig hade kunnat uppnå med att fängsla eller köra över honom. Men segern blev kortvarig.

Fler och fler tweets började tala om att Meleán och hans gård var inte det striden handlade om. Då Chávez också erbjöd att återlämna 16 gårdar höll jordbruksrörelsen fast vid att samtliga 47 skulle återlämnas, annars fortsatte de stridsåtgärderna.

Under tiden kom det nya uppgifter från kongressen om nya lagar som antogs dagligen med många inskränkningar av friheter och rättigheter. Den pågående upprorsandan omformades. Det började smyga sin in antydningar om att man måste gå längre än till bara protest.

Under onsdagen började kvittrandet allt mer handla om regimskifte, att Chávez måste ut. På eftermiddagen släppte folk texter med uppmaning till civil olydnad och organisering, detaljerade planer, instruktioner, och beräkningar att det behövs 500.000 man för att få erforderlig effekt.

Bland de rykten som florerat, och vars tillförlitlighet jag naturligtvis inte kan kontrollera, kan nämnas att bönderna vars gårdar konfiskerats identifierat 30 medlemmar av FARC bland statens utsända. FARC är en i Sverige terroriststämplad knarkgerilla som verkar i Colombia, men som har en fristad på den venezolanska sidan gränsen (där aktionerna skedde).

Vidare nämndes i ett antal tweets att militärerna i aktionen stod under kubanskt befäl. Detta var, enligt kvittrarna, ett tecken på att venezolanska militären i stor utsträckning är ovillig att medverka i sådana omoraliska aktioner. Andra uppgifter förtäljer att en stor majoritet av landets militär skulle ställa sig på grundlagens sida mot Chávez om det kom till att välja. Det gäller dock inte den högste chefen för militären; han har klart sagt att han skulle inte acceptera att någon annan än Chávez blev president efter valet 2012.

Det uppror som gror vilar på principer om icke-våld, på att följa grundlagens anda (men inte de grundlagsvidriga lagarna), och har som mål att återetablera demokratin och mänskliga rättigheter i Venezuela. Personligen tror jag dock inte att Hugo Chávez avgår frivilligt; jag tror att han kommer att säga om presidentpalatset som Jesús Meleán sa om sin gård: Över min döda kropp.

Det faktum att hans agerande de senaste dagarna klassificerats som statskupp av både oppositionen och flera inflytelserika observatörer utomlands ändrar dock ekvationen. Det är inte längre någon risk att militären anklagas för statskupp om de avsätter honom; de riskerar inte den isolering som Honduras råkade ut för (där var det Chavez som varnade för en förestående militärkupp som ett sätt att förhindra den). Med tanke på detta skulle det inte förvåna mig om Chávez blir avsatt av militären inom de närmaste dagarna – men det krävs att omvärlden tydligt säger ifrån att Chávez genomför en statskupp.

Är Carl Bildt beredd att tala klarspråk? Kan Du säga “Hugo Chávez genomför just nu en juridisk statskupp av samma slag som Adolf Hitler gjorde våren 1933”?

War of the Nerds

We may be witnessing the beginning of a whole new form of civil war, waged in cyberspace, and thus not in any particular country. An appropriate name may be War of the Nerds, since it is being waged in front of the keyboard rather than in the field. The issue is for or against WikiLeaks. The initial battles of this war has been described by CBS News (Dec 3rd, Dec 8th). Here is a timeline.

A complicating plot in the war are the accusations of rape and sexual molestation that has been waged against Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, from two women in Sweden. This has led to conspiracy theories of links to CIA. After having read the little factual information that is out there (most of the facts are secret due to the ongoing investigation and privacy protection of the accusers), it seems to me that we are faced with a cultural misunderstanding.

WikiLeaks supporters (one may assume) have seen the accusations as so bizarre, and the prosecutor’s reaction as so out of proportion, that they have suspected a trap. Also Information Clearing House, in a piece that was an obvious Cuban propaganda article, accused one of the women of being a CIA operative.

The fact is that she is a Social Democrat, having a rather high position within an organization affiliated with the political party that ruled Sweden for much of the 20th Century, a party that is clearly anti-imperialist. She has visited Cuba and written critical of both the government of Cuba and of USA, instead expressing support for the social democrats on Cuba, a group that (according to her article) is not supported in any way by USA. She is also a feminist. To assume that she would be working for CIA reveals a tremendous ignorance about Swedish politics.

The other woman allegedly accuses Assange of having had unprotected sex with her while she was asleep. Since she was not in a position to say “no” it was not consensual, and thus it qualifies as rape in Swedish law (there are other accusations but the details are not public). Rape is a serious crime, so an international arrest warrant is not strange in this case. One does not need to resort to a conspiracy theory to understand what is happening; it is perfectly logical. Sweden and the Swedish women are acting from their laws and their frame of reference. For them it is completely irrelevant what happens in the US; US politics is not only irrelevant but unknown to them, to the extent that the very words left and right are associated to different sets of ideologies in Sweden and USA. To try to interpret their acts from a US perspective is as meaningful as the Chewbacca defense in South Park.

The simple explanation seems to be that Julian Assange behaved inappropriately in a culture he was not familiar with, and that this has nothing at all to do with WikiLeaks or the “War of the Nerds”. The threats of prosecution from the USA are not related in any way, shape, or form to the legal case in Sweden.

The War of the Nerds

Returning to the topic, what this is about is information, access to it to be precise. To deny others access to information is a prime tool for power. That includes wars. A dictator does not have to pretend, but in a democracy the power elite has to use some device to preserve their information superiority. A key tool is to classify information based on a self-proclaimed necessity for state security. In modern warfare, USA has declared an intent to have absolute global information superiority.

We can see three kinds of challenges to this objective by the US. First state actors. The Soviet Union was the only one that could stand a chance, but eventually they collapsed. This left USA as the sole superpower.

Second we have the terrorists. These are non-state actors that use physical means, in an asymmetric war. The problem is that the winner ultimately is the one that has the moral high ground, and since terrorists do immoral things, they can only get sympathy if the enemy does even more immoral things. For instance, ETA had a lot of support in the Basque areas during Franco’s dictatorship, but most of that support evaporated once democracy was introduced in Spain.

The third challenge is against the information infrastructure itself. This is where the hackers come in. This is the War of the Nerds. The opening salvo is to expose the truth, to reveal the hidden information. The reaction from the Empire must be to stop this leak, since its power is threatened by it. Of course, until the leak is severe enough, the Empire will not act, since it would make it look week. But when the leak really may hurt it, it will strike back.

Cablegate

The few cables that have been released so far have mostly contained gossip, things that are generally known to the politically savvy persons in the country that the cable was sent from. Only in some cases have embarrassing statements and secrets come out. In other words, if the Empire is upset it is not because of what has been leaked already, but because of what may come.

What could these secrets be? There is one obvious sore spot, a deep inflammation in the world of foreign policy, and that is Palestine. Most Americans support Israel, and thus their government does it. However, the American people support Israel only because they don’t know the truth. There can be little doubt that the American government knows the truth (Jimmy Carter has even written about it).

Americans tend to believe that Palestine was a largely empty land when the Jews, in the Zionist plan, started settling the land. They also tend to believe that those Jews were descendants of Jews that were forced to leave that same land thousands of years ago.

Arabs, on the other hand, know that Palestinians lived in Palestine already when the Jews first arrived over three thousand years ago, and that the Jews arrived as conquerors, their “God” allegedly having “given” them the land. They also know that at the end of the Ottoman Empire, there were about 10,000 Jews living in Palestine, in peace with a much larger population of Palestinians, and that there was no “empty land” in the country. Furthermore, they know that close to 1 million Palestinians were driven into exile when the state of Israel was established by the Zionists. They were driven from their homes, their lands, the graves of their ancestors. And they know that they still live in refugee camps to this day, in other Arab countries.

Returning to Cablegate, what dangerous secrets is it that the US government is hiding from its people?

The Palestinians that have been desperate enough to engage Israel as freedom fighters have been labeled “terrorists”. When the superiority of Israel became so extreme that guerilla warfare in Palestine saw rendered all but impossible, the asymmetrical war was continued outside Israel. Again they were labeled terrorists, now with more justification. When Arabs from other countries joined the asymmetrical war in sympathy with Palestine, the propaganda painted them as Moslem extremists. By implying a religious reason for their fight, the nexus with the conflict in Palestine was hidden from the US public.

If the cables shed light on how the US government conspired with either Israel of Zionists in fabricating this propaganda, it would be earth-shattering for international diplomacy.

It would, however, be good for peace and democracy.

As it stands, forces such as Ahmedinejad in Iran, Castro on Cuba, and Chávez in Venezuela, are exploiting the legitimate grievances of those who are disenfranchised by the US policy. They are courting them and pretending to be their friends. In reality, of course, they are evil forces, dictators, who are just shamelessly exploiting a weakness that the democracies have exposed.

That is why it would be best for peace and democracy to come clean, to be transparent, to wash the laundry and go on. Hold an election and get new people in, it’s a democracy, isn’t it?

It is hard to make predictions, especially about the future. However, WikiLeaks may have documents ready to leak that can expose not just the primordial propaganda lie since WWII, but also documents on the way banks operate, that may cause people to realize how the banks have been systematically stealing the profits from working men and women for decades. This creates a long list of potential enemies to WikiLeaks: The powers behind governments, the powers behind banks, the powers behind media, the powers that support Israel. In short, the entire US / EU power elite.

On WikiLeaks side we have the hackers. Forget Ahmedinejad / Castro / Chávez, they are just opportunists. The only ones with WikiLeaks are the normal, everyday Internet users. May the force be with you.

El Salvador wants to Reform OAS

El Salvador wants to reform the Democratic Charter of OAS (OEA in Spanish). It is obviouslys not functioning, since Cuba was allowed back, Honduras is not allowed back, and they do nothing in response to the coup d’état that Daniel Ortega i slowly carrying out in Nicaragua right now.

The foreign minister of El Salvador, Hugo Martínez, said that “it is already overdue that Honduras returns to OAS”. He critized the “heterogenous” reaction and announced that El Salvador is working on a proposal to reform OAS.

Advice to the Red in Honduras

Are you a sympathizer with the “resistencia” in Honduras? Then this is for you. Learning from the history you can avoid some costly mistakes.

We all know Honduras needs democratic reforms, rule of law, and an improved standard of living for the poor. If someone wants to make you believe that the rich in the country don’t want that, they are selling you snake oil. The only thing they object to are the false prophets who are preaching solidarity, while in reality they have a completely different agenda.

Let me take two examples from history, the French and the Russian revolutions, as examples to learn from.

A French journalist who writes about Honduras in US newspapers, wrote as follows: “Working in Central America, where journalists are often accused of conspiring against the status quo, can be daunting. Perched on the highest rungs of government, a crypto-fascist element continues to regard incorruptible and outspoken journalists as gadflies and muckrakers, meddlers, purveyors of social discontent, and blabbermouths who threaten the established order. People in positions of power and influence still equate popular aspirations — the quest for truth, justice, respect for human rights and calls for transparency by the governing elite with political agitation and left-wing subversion.”

Since the deposal of Zelaya last year, I have consistently tried to get the truth out, argued for justice and the respect for human rights, and called for transparency in government in Honduras. Have I been rejected by them? No. On the contrary, they have thanked me for doing exactly that. So why has this journalist such a different experience? Perhaps the real reason is revealed in a letter he sent me, in which he wrote: “… and the “Constituyente” of 1790 rid France of its parasitic gangrene — a bloated aristocracy and a corrupt, all-powerful clergy. It drafted and promulgated the Declaration of the Rights of Man, established a secular state and instituted a radical and absolute separation between Church and State — a mandate that is fiercely enforced to this day. A few heads in a basket is not too high a price to pay to purge a country from its feudal masters….”

“A few heads in a basket”? He is advocating political murder, and wonders why those he wants to murder don’t like him? Is he for real?

Lesson: You have to respect human rights yourself, if you want others to respect your human rights. The one who breaks the law becomes unprotected by the law. It is never, ever, justified to kill any person for any reason, nor to torture.

But what about the French Revolution, doesn’t he have a point? Keep in mind what happened next, before you declare it a success. A dictatorship under Napoleon, the self-declared emperor, who threw all of Europe in war, who killed millions through his wars. Is that a success? Not in my book. The French Revolution is an example of what NOT to do.

But let’s take another example, one that is more relevant to Honduras today: the Russian Revolution. In 1809 Russia conquered the part of Sweden known as Finland. They were allowed to continue using the Swedish laws and form of public administration, since it was more advanced than the Russian. Also the Congress was kept in place. By 1860 the Finnish language, spoken by the poor majority, was given official status.

The social gap in Finland at that time was perhaps the strongest one anywhere in the world. The Russian capital St. Petersburg was built to be the world’s most splendid capital, and it was close to the border to the Grand Duchy of Finland. Not far on the other side of the border Finns still lived in primitive huts in the forest, at about the same standard of living as the poor in Honduras today. The gradient was mind-boggling, and it was accompanied by an ethnic division; the swedish-speakers were the economic elite, the Russians had the power, and the finnish-speakers had nothing but growing ambitions based largely on socialist ideals.

However, by 1899 an intense Russification started, led by general governor Bobrikov. The oppression was intense, the “walls had ears” as my grandfather said. On one occasion his 10-year old classmate was to be sent to Siberia for calling a man who worked for the Russians a “traitor”, but luckily the boy’s father sent him abroad before the police came. Most time in school was taken up with learning Russian, and they used Russian officers as teachers. In 1904 Bobrikov was murdered, and in 1905 the first Russian Revolution came – including in Finland, where a general strike was held in late October.

At the general strike the White and Red united. The White demanded Rule of Law; that the Czar respect the agreement with the Finns, that he respect their Constitution, their Congress, their laws. The Red demanded a constitutional assembly, a “constituyente”. In distress, the Czar agreed to the demands of the White, and they ended the strike.

The Red, however, continued in their demands for a constituyente. What I am about to tell you does not appear in the Wikipedia article about this time, but the Red turned their anger against the White. They went around murdering businessmen and other swedish-speakers whom they considered to be with the White side, with the “oligarchy”. They came also to my great grandfather’s house, but his workers stopped them, saying that he was a good employer and pleaded with them to save him. But it was a terror at the time.

In 1906 the Constitution of Finland was changed to become more democratic still. They created a unicameral Congress with equal rights not just to vote, but also to be elected, regardless of land ownership and sex. It was the first place in the world where women could be elected, and the second, after New Zealand, where women could vote. It would seem that this should satisfy the Red, right?

It did, for a while. But then the oppression from Russia started again, World War I came, and in early 1917 a second Russian Revolution at which the Czar abdicated. After that, Finland started working to be more independent from Russia. The Finnish Congress, which had a socialist majority, passed a law that it, not the provisional government in Russia, was the head of state of Finland. The Russian prime minister Kerenskij did not accept that, dissolved the Finnish Congress and called for new elections. This time the liberals won. Shortly after, in late 1917, the third Russian Revolution occurred, the Bolsheviks took power, and Russia started its long period as the Soviet Union.

However, Finland declared itself independent when that happened. The socialists considered the dissolving of the Congress and subsequent election invalid. Russia acknowledged Finland’s independence on January 4th, 1918, and the liberals in Congress started preparing for converting Finland into a sovereign parliamentarian monarchy. The socialists terminated their cooperation, and an uprising started. This led to what the left has called the Finnish Revolution, the right has called the War of Liberation (since Russian troops helped the Red), but which is now neutrally called the Finnish Civil War. The White side won, but the loss of lives was great on both sides.

World War II also brought great hardship to Finland. Attacked by the Soviet Union, and abandoned by the western democracies that chose to cooperate with Stalin (even though he at the time was a much bigger murderer and dictator than Hitler), Finland fought, at one time or another, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and Nazi Germany. It was the only belligerent on mainland Europe to maintain democracy throughout the war. Together with London and Moscow, the Finnish capital Helsinki was the only one in Europe never to be occupied, of the countries taking part in the war.

The Finns got a rough deal after the war, and had to pay restitution to the Soviet Union – while Germany got the Marshall help from USA.

Today Finland is one of the richest and most successful countries in the world. Why?

They learned the lesson, and they learned it well. You are the master of your own destiny, you and nobody else. To the White and Red in Honduras the message is clear: You have to cooperate and find common ground. If you let others interfere in your country, they will not have your best interest in mind. Only you can have your best interest in mind. And that common interest is best served by a fair and just democracy, in which all have a stake, and in which no minority is oppressed, but the rights of everyone are assured.

White-Shirts Demand Rule of Law

The organization Union Civica Democratica, or UCD, who went out en masse to demand that Zelaya stopped the attempts of overthrowing the Constitution last year, has today taken to the streets again to demand the same thing from the new president, “Pepe” Lobo.

Demonstration by the National Congress in Honduras, 2010-10-20.
Demonstration by the National Congress in Honduras, 2010-10-20.

One sign reads “Why do our leaders have to ask things that they should already know?”, referring to Lobo’s rhetorical statement “How can it be wrong to ask the people?”. Of course, the asking is just a trick to go around the democratic institutions, which is why it is explicitly ruled out as a way to change the constitution (in article 373).

Another sign reads, “Who does a constitutional assembly benefit?” and it has a check mark for “Politicians” but not for “the People”.

A sign in the back reads “Education YES, Re-election NO” (the president cannot be re-elected, and changing that is widely seen as the only credible reason for the call for a constituyente).

One sign near the center reads, “We demand RESPECT for the Constitution and the Rule of Law”. This is the core of the message of the white-shirts.

Without rule of law, no laws, no rights, no freedoms, no democracy matter. And that is why the Constitution must never be changed in an unconstitutional manner, no matter how justified it may be to change it. It is simply not worth the price. Besides, all important changes can be made perfectly legally already today.

While on this matter, a bird sang that people in the U.S. State Department believe that Honduras is at the brink of an insurgency. Since I have known the country, for about 15 years, I have noticed a striking similarity to Finland at the previous turn of century. They had very similar social tensions, they also had a small ethnically distinct upper class, and they had the reds and the whites just like Honduras today.

The Swedes in Finland correspond to the Palestinians in Honduras, and the Gringos in Honduras correspond roughly to the Russians in the Grand Duchy of Finland. On one occasion the red came to the house where my grandfather was alone at home, a young boy, totally defenseless except for a machine gun that he was prepared to use against them, should they break through the door. Fortunately for him the workers in the nearby factory came to save him before he had to pull the trigger. When I was young that machine gun still hang on the wall.

The red insurgency in Finland was beaten down, every time, until the revolution succeeded in Russia and Finland became independent. But that’s not the main point, the point is why did it exist in the first place? My guess is that the ethnic stratification of the country created a glass ceiling for the domestic Finns, just as there is a glass ceiling for the “Indios” in Honduras. It’s unintentional, since the Swedes kept to themselves, the Palestinians keep to themselves, and similarly the Jews in Europe kept to themselves. When an ethnic group comes out on top of the others but keeps to itself, perhaps it is inevitable that resentment is created, that can be exploited to foment racist hatred by cynical persons striving for power (Stalin in Russia, Hitler in Germany, Zelaya in Honduras). This is just an attempt at an explanation, it is by now means an excuse. There is no justification for racism.

It is a fact, though, that Honduras needs democratic reforms, though this has nothing to do with race. However, the reforms must be done with respect for the Constitution. That work should start NOW, not mañana, and the goal must be to make the country rich – for everyone.

Saving Democracy in Latin America

Under the leadership of Venezuela’s president and former failed military coupster Hugo Chávez, self-declared Marxist, a number of Latin American countries in the ALBA alliance are moving towards what they call more “popular democracy.” Fidel Castro calls it communism, though.

The call for this “popular democracy” has reached also Honduras, where former president Manuel Zelaya argued that the people have a right to decide their own destiny, and therefore nobody should object when he was to hold a referendum that would lead to the constitution of the republic being thrown out. Never mind that the poll was fixed, and never mind that it had not been decided in democratic order. If The People does something, it has to be approved. And now the new president, Porfirio Lobo, is using the same arguments, the same words, while trying a different strategy that at the end of his term will lead to the same result: The constitution being thrown out so that he can be re-elected.

While neither of the two gentlemen say openly that their re-election is the one and only purpose of the maneuvers, one can deduce as much, since no other purpose would explain their acts.

I’m the first to admit that Honduras needs some reforms to decrease corruption and increase the rule of law and democracy. What these presidents are doing is, however, the polar opposite – while managing to convince part of the population that they are doing it to help them. It’s the classical trick of popular tyranny, practiced for thousands of years.

Forms of government, with Presidential Republic - the present form of government in Honduras - in the center.
Forms of government, with Presidential Republic - the present form of government in Honduras - in the center. Chávez, Zelaya, and the boys want to go left and make the parliament weaker. Experience shows more democracy is found to the right, with a stronger parliament. Click for full size.

Honduras – as most of Latin America – has a Presidential Republic form of government today (center in the illustration). Chávez’s “Socialism in the 21st Century” changes the constitutions to undermine the democratic institutions and introduce organizations that are outside institutional control (left in the image). Adolf Hitler did precisely the same thing to undermine the democratic checks and balances. They claim that it is done to give more popular democracy, but it is done at the expense of rule of law. The only one who really benefits is the president – now turned dictator.

A change that can be made totally legally in Honduras, without running afoul of the articles “cut in stone”, is to go to the right instead. A parliamentary democracy increases the rule of law and decreases corruption, there is empirical data to support that. It also provides a better protection against coups such as the one attempted by Zelaya.

The democracy can thus be strengthened by Congress, today, without changing the fundamental form of government. It will still be a Republic, the President will still be separate from Congress and elected directly by the people for a single four-year term. The only change is that his cabinet must be approved by Congress, and that Congress can fire them if they disapprove of their work. Also, the decisions must be taken by the Cabinet in a quorum, although formally it is the President as the head of the executive who will sign off on them.

Democracy in Latin America is under attack. With this little graph I hope that I have illustrated what can done to protect and improve democracy on the continent instead.

An earlier post on a similar topic: http://blog.erlingsson.com/?p=3319

Why Parliamentary Republics beat Presidential Republics

Parliamentary republics have separated the roles of head of state  and head of government. They are thus quite  similar to parliamentary monarchies, but the head of state is an elected president rather than a king or queen. Parliamentary constitutions are based on the premise that all power emanates from the people, and that the power is vested in their elected representatives in congress between the elections – just like the shareholders of a corporation elect a board of directors to manage business between the annual meetings.

Parliamentary constitutions are based on the principle of the sovereignty of the people, whereas presidential republics are based on the principle of separation of powers.

In practice this means that the government is dependent on the support of the congress, since the congress has the power to dismiss the head of government (and thus all of his cabinet). While in a presidential republic it would take a recall vote to depose the president (and thus all of his cabinet) for political reasons, in a parliamentary republic the cabinet can be dismissed by a vote in the parliament on short notice. This gives more political control over the government, and gives a voice to a larger segment of society.

The parliamentarians are elected in such a way as to represent the full range of diversity in the country, and proportional to the actual situation in the electorate. This is important; there cannot be one-person districts, because if so, a large percentage of the constituents may end up lacking representation. How large? Well over 50%, perhaps up to 67% or so, thanks to gerrymandering. If one third rules over two thirds, is that democracy? In a parliamentarian system with proportional representation, all parties larger than some 5% of the electorate can be represented in the parliament in proportion to their actual support.

A president only needs 50.01% of the electorate to win, and less if the vote counting is not proportional (as in the USA). Furthermore, presidential republics tend to be two party systems, just one up from one party systems. Thus, to buy the presidency it is enough to buy two candidates. It is self-evident that it is much harder to buy the government in a parliamentarian system, since you would have to buy the support of a majority of the congressmen.

Empirical Evidence

In a report from the World Bank titled “Accountability and Corruption – Political Institutions Matter” (World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 2708, 2001) the authors conclude that:

“The main results show that political institutions seem to be extremely important in determining the prevalence of corruption. In short, democracies, parliamentary systems, political stability, and freedom of press are all associated with lower corruption. Additionally, we show that common results of the previous empirical literature on the determinants of corruption – related to openness and legal tradition – do not hold once political variables are taken into account.” (my emphasis)

Also the political stability is higher in parliamentary systems. In How Democratic is the American Constitution? (2001), Robert A. Dahl writes that since 1950, only 22 nations have managed to remain stable with no coups or other discontinuity of the constitutional order. Of those 22, only 2 are presidential republics (USA and Costa Rica). The remaining 20 are parliamentary, 11 republics and 9 monarchies.

As for rule of law, see a previous post on Rule of Law Index 2010.

There is thus empirical evidence that parliamentary democracies:

  • offer better protection against coup d’états
  • foster less corruption
  • foster more rule of law

Rule of Law Index 2010 published

Original text 2010-10-15: Yesterday a rule of law index was published covering 35 nations. They covered 9 aspects, and presented the results over a hundred pages, but did not provide any overview. Therefore I’ve compiled the data and made the following simple graph, with all the scores at a glance.

Rule of Law index 2010 (click for full size)
Rule of Law index 2010 (click for full size)

Sweden got the highest score, while the United States only came in the ninth place, between France and Spain. Most Latin American countries ended up below the middle with almost the same score, but Bolivia – the only ALBA country included – ended up in the bottom 10% in this global comparison.

Update 2010-10-18: Having read that corruption is correlated with the form of government, with parliamentary systems being less corrupt than presidential systems, I decided to add an analysis of the form of government to this rule of law index by calculating the average position for each form of government. Result:

Parliamentary monarchy: Average 6.9 (7 countries).

Parliamentary republic: Average 5.2 (8 countries).

Full presidential republic: Average 4.4 (15 countries).

The parliamentary monarchy is also known as constitutional monarchy. There were also two semi-presidential republics, two semi-constitutional monarchies, and one parliamentary republic where the president is also head of government, in the list.

It would seem that the parliamentary monarchy is clearly superior, but one should keep in mind that monarchies only appear in countries that have been stable for a long time, and there is a clear correlation between low corruption and long time of stable government. The most interesting comparison is therefore between the two main forms of republics: The full presidential republic, and the parliamentary republic. The latter comes out the winner hands down. This graph illustrates it strikingly:

Rule of Law score as a function of Form of Government.
Rule of Law score as a function of Form of Government. Green = parliamentarian monarchies (e.g. Sweden, Canada), blue = parliamentarian republics (e.g. Austria, India), red = full presidential republics (e.g. USA, Latin America).

In a parliamentary republic the president is the head of state, and represents the country. The head of government, on the other hand, is a prime minister (premier), often the party leader of the biggest party in the parliament (or the leading party in a coalition). The cabinet, which may or may not be selected from members of parliament, takes decisions by majority vote, runs the bureaucracy much like the board of directors in a corporation, prepares the budget, and prepares major legislative proposals. The cabinet can be dismissed by a vote of no confidence by the parliament, for whatever reason. When that happens the head of state has to ask someone else to form the government, and if unsuccessful, may have to call for an extra election to change the balance of power in the parliament.

This is the typical system in Germanic Europe, but in the Americas it is virtually unknown south of Canada. Given the attacks on democracy that is taking place in Latin America, including Honduras, I would submit that going towards a parliamentary republic would strengthen democracy. Experience post WWII shows that parliamentary republics are likely to succeed in establishing democracy, but presidential republics are likely to suffer coups and authoritarian setbacks.

Everyone concerned about rule of law, democracy, and prosperity – in Honduras, Nicaragua, or elsewhere – would be well advised to consider separating the role of head of government from the presidency, so that the latter only remains head of state, and to let the popularly elected parliament exercise oversight over the head of government and his cabinet. This is a constitutional reform that makes sense, and that can be done completely legally.

Democracy Advice to FNRP in Honduras

A one day debate on Facebook within the FNRP (the so-called resistance of Honduras) in April this year leaves me with mixed feelings. It seems clear that they desperately want participatory democracy, and reject the traditional style of politics in the Americas, the strong-man style of caudillismo. That is very good.

However, it also seems that for all their desires and energy (demonstrated in demonstrations the past year), they seem not to know where to begin. How to do it. Where to start. What to do. And that is tragic.

They dream of participatory democracy, but they appear not to know how to create it. They are lucky, though. Learning how is easy. They already have the hardest part taken care of: The will to do it.

It would be very good for Honduras if the FNRP would get organized in a participatory democratic way. Broad based political movements are important, as we have seen in Sweden for instance, with several parties that are so-called popular movements (“folkrörelser”), with a bottom up decision making process. That seems to be exactly what several of the participants in the debate want for Honduras, without really knowing that they don’t have to re-invent participatory democracy. It has existed for thousands of years.

A while ago I wrote a page on Democracy for Dummies, with the bare basics. It is not rocket science, all it takes is that the members commit to a democratic process, and write statutes or bylaws that reflect what they want. (BTW, “bylaw” literally means ‘village law’ since “by” is ‘village’ in Scandinavian languages.)

What these bylaws should say is of course very important, and that is something that has to be worked on diligently. Writing the bylaws correctly is very important for the success. It is the foundation upon which the rest of the building is constructed. Once they are mature, they can call to a constituting assembly and create their organization, e.g. a party with a bottom-up structure in which the congressmen and women are answerable to the members, and not to campaign contributors.

I do hope that they manage to pull this off, because it would benefit everyone in Honduras, also the richest. Yes, those that they call “golpistas.” I know that many in the “frente” believe that the “golpistas” are their enemies, but that is just not true. The enemies of the “golpistas” are not the people, the average Joe who wants to create a more equal society and participatory democracy. No, the enemies are the populists who pretend to share these values with the people, but who really are just out to help themselves, and who would, if they succeed, destroy the chances of economical prosperity in Honduras for decades.

As someone wrote in the debate I mentioned above, this is a struggle that the Honduran people has to do. They must learn for themselves to do these things. They must study. They must reject those who come in and say “I can do that for you, just give me a mandate”. That is caudillismo. What they need is democracy, and the only ones who can bring about democracy is the “demos”, the people.

I wish them good luck, and I offer the advice to look for examples and guidance where democracy works and where there is an ancient tradition. Don’t try to learn from your mistakes, you won’t live long enough to make them all. Learn from the experience of other peoples instead!

Reforming Honduras Without a “Constituyente”

After all the talk about a constituting constitutional assembly, maybe it would be worthwhile to take a serious look at Honduras’s problems. Let me just first point out that to propose, promote, or assist in prolonging the presidential term limit, or allowing presidential re-election, causes a citizen to permanently lose his civil rights, according to article 42 of the constitution. Many in Honduras are now openly violating that paragraph. The fact is, that holding a “constituyente” is and remains treasonous. Furthermore, there are only 6 articles that cannot be changed legally. They are:

§4, which says that the form of government is republican, democratic, and representative.

§9, which defines the boundaries of the republic.

§239, which says that no president can be re-elected.

§373, which says that changes to the constitution can only be made by Congress by a 2/3 majority, and that two successive legislative sessions must approve the change for it to take effect.

§374, which lists the articles that cannot be changed under any circumstances.

§375, which says that if the constitution is supposedly changed by any other means it will still be in effect. This means that in the case of military surrender and occupation, revolution, or coup d’état that results in a new constitution (as when holding a constituyente), the old one is still in effect, and every citizen of Honduras has an obligation to collaborate in bringing it back in force. This is the final article in the Honduran constitution.

Rather than discussing if those paragraphs should be changed or not, it may be convenient to start from the other end: To first identify the problems to be solved. Next we look for the potential solutions to the problems. Finally we check what constitutional changes are required.

Problems

1. There is a lack of domestic peace.

Domestic peace means that different groups in society cooperate for the welfare of all, and compete with other countries in the world economy, rather than fighting each other. It means to make the Honduran cake larger, rather than trying to get oneself a bigger piece of a very small cake.

2. There is rampant corruption.

Honduras has a culture of corruption, which has to change. It has to become socially unacceptable to take or give bribes, or to take advantage of ones position. Of course, for those outside of government it already is, so if there was total transparency and accountability there could be no corruption.

Other issues are crime, and the apparent inability of the justice system to provide equal justice to rich and poor. The fact that some professions don’t pay tax is an apparent injustice, and may violate the constitutional provision for equality under the law (which, incidentally, any Honduran could file a case about at the Supreme Court of Justice if they wanted). There are many, many issues, but in my opinion, the rule of law and to establish domestic peace are fundamental, so I limit the problem list to those two.

Potential Solutions

Point 1 can be addressed in a similar way as Sweden did in the Saltsjöbaden Agreement in 1938. The Wikipedia description mentions the rules for strikes and lockouts, but omits some key points, namely what motivated the various groups to sign on to it. Every side got something of value to them:
– The party got all union members as party members, which gave them a financial advantage of huge proportions.
– The unions became in charge of unemployment insurance, which gave them members since all employees would join the union.
– The capitalists got peace on the labor market, but moreover, they got the unions as partners rather than opponents. With the huge funds the unions managed, they now have a vested interest in the capitalist system. The same goes for the social democratic party; they, too, were now totally committed to capitalism. (They tried a form of creeping nationalization of companies in the 1980’s, “löntagarfonder”, but that became their downfall and the end of their political hegemony in Sweden.)

The solution for Honduras may not look the same, but it should give something to all major actors that make them all work for the long-term good of the economic system of the country, and that eliminates wild strikes. This social contract can be created totally without legislation, if the unions and employer organizations are strong enough so that they can reign in the extremists on both sides.

Point 2 requires, in my opinion, that there is a stronger separation of powers in the government. Laws and regulations should be required to be general, and never to go into specifics. Congress and its members should be expressly forbidden to interfere in a specific case. In fact, they should not even be allowed to have a publicly stated opinion about how a law or regulation should be interpreted in a specific case. They should only be allowed to speak in generalities; anything else is “minister rule” – a very objectionable state of affairs.

This means that there must be only one power that passes laws, and that power must be absolutely banned from interpreting the laws. Already here we see that the constitution must be changed, since article 205 says: “Corresponden al Congreso Nacional las atribuciones siguientes: 1. Crear, decretar, interpretar, reformar y derogar las leyes;” The word “interpret” must be taken out, and other wording added to forbid “minister rule”.

Article 205 gives a long list of things that falls on Congress, and article 206 says that all but one of these cannot be delegated. Many of these deal with approving or disapproving individual acts of the Executive. The problem is that this opens the door for corruption, since Congressmen may be tempted to act in a way that benefits a certain constituent in return for a campaign contribution. By only allowing the Congress to dismiss the cabinet, for whatever reason, a greater separation is created. This is essentially the idea of parliamentarianism: That the parliament (congress) can fire the cabinet.

Proposal

This proposal is based on changing the system from a presidential republic to a parliamentarian republic, since that gives more separation of powers, which helps combat corruption, and since it also gives greater stability by separating the roles of head of state and head of government. Case in point, if Honduras had been a parliamentarian republic on June 28, 2009, the Congress could have dismissed the head of government without any consequences for the diplomatic relations with other countries (and the president would not have had enough authority to challenge congress or the supreme court in the first place).

Head of State: President

He (or she) would be elected by the people just like today, and the article that says the president cannot be re-elected can stand as it is (§239). All that needs to change is that some of the responsibilities, as listed in article 245, would be moved to the Prime Minister (PM). The president’s main role would be to represent the country internationally, as a figure head mostly, and to handle the formalities of creating and dissolving cabinets.

Head of Government: The Prime Minister and the Cabinet

The executive is in this system divided on two persons, and the head of government is the prime minister. To his help the PM has a cabinet of ministers (consejo de ministros, consisting of the secretarios de estado). All decisions must be taken by the cabinet in session, not by the PM or any minster personally. All items to vote on must be on an agenda distributed a certain time in advance, about 2 days, to give a chance for reflection. It may be convenient to have the President to preside over the meeting of the cabinet, with its 13 members (1 PM plus 12 state secretaries, or ministers), but without giving the President any vote except as a tie breaker.

The cabinet, but not the president, can propose laws to Congress, and submits a budget for congressional approval every year.

The president invites one person to form a cabinet, and thus be PM, normally the leader of the biggest party after the election. If this person is unable to get support by a majority of Congress, he or she will report the failure to the president, who will then charge someone else with trying, until a cabinet has been formed. The cabinet will sit until it no longer has the support by the majority of Congress. This could come after an election loss, or if a majority of the members of Congress vote against the Cabinet’s request on some important issue (most important of which is the budget). The President will then have to ask someone else to form a new cabinet. In some countries a new election is usually held in this case, but not in e.g. Sweden. An interim cabinet, even a minority one, can there rule until the next ordinary election. This seems to work well.

This is the new feature compared to the present system. Most of the President’s responsibilities, and possibly some of Congress’s, would be moved to the Cabinet.

Judicial power: The Supreme Court

The court should be the only power authorized to interpret laws. They should not be allowed to write laws, but should be expected to comment on proposed laws. This is pretty much how it is today. It may be convenient, though, to create (if it doesn’t exist) some administrative court system, charged exclusively with overseeing the way the government administration implements laws and regulations visa-vi individuals and companies.

In the US and I suppose in Honduras, constituents can turn to their elected politician for help against the government if need be, the idea being that if the politician does not help he or she can be voted out. Obviously this system does not work very well. Therefore I propose to instead use the Swedish system, in which the politicians are expressly forbidden to intervene, but there is instead a judicial review of the actions – at no cost to the plaintiff, obviously. This creates a much better separation of powers and is thus more in line with the ideology of Count Montesquieu.

Legislative power: Congress

The legislature adopts laws, the state budget, and decides taxes. Laws must be general in nature, and no law can be created for a specific purpose. The Congress cannot interpret the laws it creates. A separate Constitutional Commission reviews all proposed laws to assure that they agree with the constitution before they are voted on. All bills are presented publicly in their final form for an up or down vote at least, say, 7 days before the vote, except in a national emergency.

The Congress should get the new power to be able to expressly fire the prime minister (in other words, the cabinet).

Is it Possible?

In my judgment, YES, since the form of government will remain “republican, democratic, and representative.” It will in addition to that be parliamentarian, but that is a sub-category of “republican, democratic, and representative” so it should pose no problem with article 4. The other 5 unchangeable paragraphs are quite obviously not affected, so this would be constitutional as I see it.

What needs to be changed?

The changes are probably limited to Title V, the powers of the state. Most of the changes will be in Chapter VI, the executive power, but there should be changes, as mentioned, also to the legislative, and probably also to the judicial.

The path towards accomplishing this is long. The first step should be to write a report on the background, and explain in clear detail what the objective is with the change. This should involve or be followed by a national debate, on various levels.

The next step is to turn those objectives into a draft new constitution, by proposing the exact changes to be made to the existing one. In this step it may be appropriate to hold an academic conference with international participation, to gather the brightest constitutional scholars from around the world to scrutinize the proposed changes. The purpose is to find potential loopholes and flaws, so that the text may be refined as much as possible.

The final step is for Congress to vote on the change, as per article 373.

What about the Constituyente?

If this is possible, then why do some segments in Honduras argue that it is necessary to hold a constituting constitutional assembly (which as we have seen is patently unconstitutional)? What is it that they deem necessary to change, and that cannot be changed without such a, frankly, coup d’état?

They will not say. They offer no arguments. Their draft of a new constitution is not made available for scrutiny. However, we can deduce that it simply has to include making the president re-electable, since everything else that has any significance can be changed constitutionally. This matches what I have been told via a source in that group: They are discussing prolonging the maximum terms to between 8 and 16 years, from 4 today.

So which is better (disregarding the constitutionality for a moment)? A president is similar to an elected king in Medieval Scandinavia, I’ve heard (I wasn’t around). They both had a cabinet and a congress, but the congress could not dismiss neither the head of state nor his cabinet. Scandinavian republics (Iceland and Finland) have chosen not to return to that system, but instead to base their constitution on the parliamentarian monarchy as model, just replacing a hereditary kingship with an elected president. It retains more power to the people’s representatives, the parliamentarians, the congressmen. It allows for the immediate dismissal of the government for political reasons, unlike the present system in Honduras (the same as the US). All four countries in the top of the league when it comes to low corruption (New Zealand, Denmark, Singapore, Sweden) have a parliamentarian system of government.

It sure seems that if democracy is the goal, parliamentarianism is the way to go. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that those advocating for a constituyente in Honduras are – apart from traitors to the constitution – simple demagogues who are just out to enrich themselves, taking advantage of the people who don’t understand better.

Conclusion

I have argued for years and years that Honduras needs reform, and possibly also constitutional reform, and that the extreme social differences constitutes fertile ground for demagogues to come in. I have warned of revolution, since the situation was similar to that in Finland when my grandfather grew up, with the fighting between the red and the white around 1905. In 2009 the events in Honduras proved me right, unfortunately. The good thing about it, is that there is now a general acceptance of the need for reform. The ground is fertile for improving conditions now. The rich understand that they have to negotiate, give and take.

The time for a new social pact is now. This is a golden opportunity for Honduras.

The leaders of the workers and other groups would be well advised to cease the opportunity. Those that argue for confrontation are not your friends! They are demagogues who just want to fill their own pockets.

Hondurans, you will know your friends this way: They will try to create peace and justice, they will fight corruption, and they will try to establish a social pact that makes everyone the winner.

If the majority supports those goals, Honduras will be among the 40 richest countries in the world within 40 years, of that I am certain.