Three Paths: Electoral, Armed or Something Else
The social movements in Honduras find themselves in a dilemma with no ideal solution when it comes to the scheduled November 29 elections, devoid of any Cuarta Urna, and managed by a coup regime that has already demonstrated it cares not a whit for democratic process or such quaint concepts as the will of the people. Monsters that engage in coups d’etat won’t hesitate to utilize electoral fraud if they have to, and everybody knows it. No reasonable observer thinks that such “elections” can possibly be fair or free under a regime that establishes curfews, suspends basic constitutional liberties and pours acid on critical broadcast transmitters any time it feels the slightest bit threatened by nonviolent civil resistance from below.
If the Honduran social movements decide to participate in the November 29 simulation, they risk legitimizing a game that is already fixed against them. At the same time, because of the fracture in the Liberal Party between its golpistas and anti-golpistas, there would certainly be vast gains by the Democratic Union Party, gathering what the Liberals and their hapless standard bearer, former Vice President Elvin Santos, have spilled. And it would lead to a lot more of them in the national Congress, which is the body that can place a Cuarta Urna on the ballot, if not in 2009, then perhaps in 2010.
The opposition electoral forces are also plagued by tactical disagreements in their own ranks: While the UD Party nominated César Ham as its presidential candidate, another opposition personality, labor leader Carlos Reyes, is also on the ballot as the country’s first-ever Independent presidential candidate, one without a political party. UD leaders like Congresswoman Silvia Ayala tell Narco News that they’re suspicious that the country’s Electoral Tribunal put the Independent on the ballot – an unprecedented development in Honduran politics - to divide the opposition vote. Others, like labor movement veteran Pedro Brizuela in the San Pedro Sula region, express positive feelings about both Ham and Reyes but suggest that the somewhat older Reyes might be the stronger possible candidate to unite behind. And, finally, an important sector of the left simply will boycott any election called by the illegitimate coup regime, which makes victory virtually impossible even without the predicted electoral fraud due to suppressed voter turnout by an ambivalent population.
The eight nations that belong to ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas – Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela – have declared they will not recognize the winner of Honduran elections held under a coup regime, and its highly probable that neither will the Organization of American States (OAS).
And so the electoral path, if not fully closed, is littered with enough obstacles and landmines that those that haven’t disregarded it yet will likely come to that conclusion a day late and a dollar short, on November 30 of this year, once its tragedy is fully realized.
Upon collapse of the idea that fixed elections hold a path out of the coup, talk in some corners turns to armed struggle: of mounting a guerrilla war. There are always those of limited imagination who see only two paths possible: electoral or armed. Yet the most basic rule of guerrilla combat is one has to measure the “correlation of forces” before marching out on that highly exposed limb.
That correlation, if objectively analyzed, does not at present contain the successful ingredients that would be necessary to overturn the coup through the barrel of a gun. Unlike neighboring Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala – where well organized guerrilla movements have both won and lost against entrenched oligarchies and coups d’etat – Honduras has little experience in a field that, over recent decades, technology has made even more difficult. Unlike in the 1970s, when the Sandinistas in Nicaragua toppled the Somoza regime and when the FMLN in El Salvador came extremely close to doing the same for its nation, today there are telecommunications satellites orbiting above the earth that make clandestine insurgency, even in jungle terrain, virtually impossible. Ubiquitous cell phones, the Internet and the surveillance they bring with them over their own users add to the impediments.
**Advocates for the armed path – they tend to speak in whispers, and certainly have not yet organized wide support for that scenario – accurately point out that there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of Hondurans at present so committed to winning back their country that an armed resistance could conceivably outnumber and even overpower the 9,000 members of the Honduran Armed Forces and the 14,000 National Police, perhaps, maybe if everything went right. True, but that measurement of the correlation of forces omits another powerful sector: that of organized crime.
That narco-traffickers and other crime organizations are heavily armed in Central America is no secret. In the upper echelons of this milieu are the international crime syndicates, including the ex-Cuban supporters of terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles as well as Mexican and Colombian traffickers displaced by the preference by governments in those lands for competing crime organizations. Honduras, under a coup regime that is now cut off from much legal international aid, has put up the “welcome” sign to these bandits in search of a new flag to provide them with safe haven for their activities along the cocaine route between Colombia and the United States in exchange for the vast resources they bring.
And then there are the retail level narcos. As the above-mentioned US AID report notes, “According to police statistics, at the end of 2003, there were 36,000 gang members in Honduras.” Whether that estimate is exaggerated or undercounted its number has surely grown since then, and these must also be measured in the correlation of forces. Confronted with a guerrilla insurgency, the coup regime and its police agencies would have it in their power to bring these notoriously brutal armed sectors of organized crime into the counter-insurgency, and to do so literally overnight. Simply with a promise of impunity for their commerce in contraband, the coup regime can enlist the full weight of such armed organizations, networks and gangs to bring a wave of terror not just against any armed insurgency, but also against all social players that remain peacefully in resistance, and - coup defenders should be careful what they wish for - the vast law abiding civilian population, including middle and upper class coup supporters, expats and tourists, too. The demons would be unleashed upon the entire population, not just those from one political camp.**
An honest assessment of the correlation of forces has to conclude that, at present, both the electoral and armed paths that have changed history in other lands are closed, or about to shut, in Honduras.