Salvador Nasralla, the opposition candidate, travelled to Washington on Monday, 18 December, to meet with representatives of the OAS, the State Department and human rights organisations, to look for a solution to the post-electoral conflict in Honduras. In another clumsy move, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), on Sunday afternoon, 17 December, declared right-wing candidate Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) of the National Party (and current president) as the winner. Clearly this has been a fraudulent election.
The Alliance Against the Dictatorship immediately called for mobilisations in all public squares of the country (an action that was overtaken by events). After nightfall last Sunday, highways were occupied and fires lit, barricades were set up and banking and judicial offices were burned. Manuel Zelaya, coordinator of the Alliance Against the Dictatorship, called on Nasralla to return from Washington because nothing will be solved there. It is the people who will decide on the streets who the real winner of the elections is, he said. Faced with the new wave of action, Luis Almagro, secretary general of the OAS, has proposed that new elections be held as a way out of the conflict in a clear attempt to defuse the workers' struggle. Nasralla says he can win the election again, but JOH refuses to repeat it.
The TSE is an instrument at the service of JOH, with a soft internal opposition. They alleged that JOH won with a difference of 50,446 votes (1.53%), obtaining 1,410,888 votes (42.95%) compared to 1,360,442 votes (41.42%) for Salvador Nasralla. The vote count resembled a runner clearly behind, who then came up with a tremendous sprint to win at the finish line by a hair. But an electoral count cannot behave that way. The opposition has denounced the inexplicable system crash, with just over 5,000 voting centres from the countryside, out of the 18.129 tables in total, left to tally. When the system was suddenly restored it already gave JOH in the lead. The Alliance has denounced that many electoral acts have been manipulated and changed.
After the elections on 26 November, Honduras has witnessed an insurrectional movement from the people who are against this fraud. The state has responded with repression (the number of people killed in the protest is up to 22, including 3 minors) and instituted a curfew that the people defied by going out to the streets in the urban neighbourhoods and villages throughout the country. On 3 December one of the largest ever demonstrations in Honduras was held. The resolve is such that the police have split. All these efforts and sacrifices can be undone by the TSE announcement. These are crucial moments: the rural and urban workers have understood that without their decisive action, JOH will impose himself and the nightmare will continue.
Why has the movement not triumphed?
We should ask ourselves: why has such a forceful movement not been able to triumph so far? The answer lies in the fact that it has not had sufficient organisation and adequate leadership to move to more decisive actions. The Alliance has limited itself to the legal struggle and crucial moments were lost, resulting in setbacks for the struggle. The national strike on 11 December was a sign of weakness, showing, as it might be expected, a certain weariness over time. Many people could not take part in these actions as they had to go to work, since in their workplaces no protests were organised.
Throughout this time, the regime has embarked on a media campaign to try and manipulate or deflect attention. For example, the OAS’ Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), brought to light cases of corruption involving congressmen. An airplane crash, where allegedly a number of Hondurans died, including the sister of JOH, also dominated the news. Nobody has seen pictures of the dead woman and people are claiming that it is a lie. There has also been a campaign to criminalise local leaders, on the one hand using infiltrators to stage provocations and actions of sabotage; and on the other levelling false accusations at local leaders to bully them into retreat.
A new action was organised in response, with a call for a new strike on 15 December, and the results were better, even if not totally satisfactory. The blocking of streets was announced beforehand and the police mobilised in advance to stop them and also repressed the planned actions, disbanding several of them. With the actions being not as massive, the repression was easier, and at least two comrades were killed by the police. In spite of everything around 100 highways were occupied on this day, although this was a far cry from the highest moments of the struggle. It was after these signs of weakness that the TSE felt encouraged to declare JOH the winner. This temporary ebb did not amount to defeat, the people were prepared and ready to act if it was really worth it.
The working people of Honduras have the recent experience of struggle against the military coup of 2009. The National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP) was formed at this time. It was a mistake to effectively sideline this organisation in favour of the creation of Libre. This party was formed from the rank-and-file of FNRP but incorporated bureaucratic and bourgeois elements from the Liberal Party. The electoral struggle was prioritised, leaving the popular struggle in the background. As a result, at a time when the movement needs more decisive action, there is insufficient organisation to make it happen.
New sectors have joined in to denounce and fight against the imposition of JOH, such as the Convergence Against Continuity, which held a press conference alongside members of the Alliance against Fraud. Among those in the audience were the renowned union leader Carlos H. Reyes and Berta Oliva, founder of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH).
Nevertheless the entry of the organised labour movement brings constraints to the struggle, because even though H. Reyes has come out against the coup we have not seen declarations or decisive actions from the trade union movement. The organised labour movement should leave its mark in the struggle primarily by defending a clear class-based program in favour of the workers and using their methods of struggle. These include the formation of popular assemblies, where the rank-and-file can voice their opinions and carry out actions such as strikes. This will allow unionised workers to stop working to join the struggle, and thus in addition to paralysing production we can strike against the capitalist class that supports the National Party and JOH. The movement is very deep and inspiring, but in the medium term, if it does not organise itself, it will tend to disperse, leading to a defeat of the struggle. In 2009, a National Popular Assembly was established in the struggle against the coup. In a similar fashion today, popular assemblies should be set up in every workplace and education institution, neighbourhood and village. They should elect representatives who would form a new national assembly, to direct the movement in the streets and organise a national plan for the struggle.
The OAS and the EU
The leaders of the Alliance have stated that there have been attempts to divide them, but their unity is holding strong. However, there are differences between Nasralla and Mel Zelaya, with the former having declared publicly that he trusts the OAS and the European Union, while the latter has made stronger statements against imperialism. But Mel Zelaya has publicly said to the imperialists that he will not govern, that Nasralla is the one who will, and that if he is the problem he will step aside.
The main concern of the EU and the OAS is that the movement of the masses does not grow too much – they have always called for calm. Shortly after the TSE announced JOH as the winner, José Antonio de Gabriel, European Union observer in Honduras, gave a press conference that amounted to backing the TSE’s announcement. After a new popular uprising, Marisa dos Santos Matias, MEP from the Portuguese Left Bloc, and chief of the EU observation mission, denied that JOH’s victory had been recognised and that the process had been endorsed.
The OAS observers published a tame report about the elections but: “it considers that this has been a low quality electoral process and for that matter cannot state that doubts lingering over it have been clarified”.
The OAS General Secretariat produced a statement calling for dialogue without sectarianism, respecting the rule of law and peace. But it recognised that: “Deliberate human intrusions in the computer system, intentional elimination of digital traces, the impossibility of knowing the number of opportunities to violate the system, pouches of votes open or lacking votes, the extreme statistical improbability with respect to participation levels within the same department, recently printed ballots and additional irregularities, added to the narrow difference of votes between the two most voted candidates, make it impossible to determine with the necessary certainty the winner.”
This is called fraud, but the OAS refuses to use such terms. Further on it says: “For the aforementioned reasons, and given the impossibility of determining a winner, the only possible way for the victor to be [sic] the people of Honduras is a new call for general elections, within the framework of the strictest respect for the rule of law, with the guarantees of a TSE that enjoys the technical capacity and confidence of both the citizens and political parties.”
The call for a new election represents an attempted way out that deactivates the revolutionary mobilisation of the masses. The leaders of Libre have rightly called on the people to maintain social protests. Zelaya, despite his criticism, has left it to Nasralla to decide whether or not to accept this new election proposal. Nasralla, after his meeting with the OAS, has accepted the OAS proposal to call for new elections.
Heide Fulton, chargé d'affaires in the US embassy in Honduras, has tweeted some statements that the people have seen as meddling. On 3 December, in a clear attempt to endorse the process, she said: “Congratulations to the Honduran people for the peaceful protests today and to the TSE for the orderly process now underway...As the OAS suggested, the broad participation of civil society in the count now underway helps ensure that this democratic process remains in the hands of the people”. While Fulton was saying this, Mel Zelaya was telling protesters that the most right-wing sectors of imperialism were the ones stopping Nasralla’s victory.
On 10 December, under the pretext of the International Human Rights Day, Fulton put out a statement that said:
“Today, on International Human Rights Day, we pause to reflect and remember that we are all entitled to fundamental freedoms and basic human rights, regardless of nationality, race, religion, political persuasion or other distinguishing characteristic. A strong respect for these human rights is essential for a flourishing democracy.
“Civil society and the media are fundamental to preserving citizen participation in the democratic process and holding accountable those who govern. They must be allowed to do their jobs without interference, including investigating and reporting on allegations of human rights violations.
“In Honduras, we applaud the steps taken to strengthen the National Protection System for Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communications and Justice Operators in the last year. We encourage the current and future Honduran administrations to continue to strengthen the Protection Mechanism’s efforts to protect these brave individuals when they are threatened, and to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for any attacks against them.
“We welcome the commitment of Honduran authorities to investigate allegations of human rights violations related to the post-electoral period, and urge that all such investigations be timely, thorough, and transparent.
“We also reiterate our call for all involved in the electoral process to support a transparent, impartial, timely and peaceful determination of the election result, consistent with Honduran law, in a manner that maximizes citizen participation and represents the will of the Honduran people as expressed in the 26 November election.”
In Fulton’s fancy offices there is no tear gas, nor bullets that have killed dozens of Hondurans during the violent repression by JOH’s government. Imperialists shed crocodile tears, but have had no doubts in supporting oligarchic and post-coup governments. A former colonel of JOH stated that this government, with US support, had created death squads in Honduras, in his words:
“(The US embassy) not only supplied weapons to the death squads, they also paid for the houses that worked as safe houses, where they took people to torture and kill, and all this was paid by the American embassy.” The Honduran oligarchy has a long reactionary tradition of collaboration with the US. Honduras became the centre of counterrevolution in Central America, after the fall of Somoza in Nicaragua. When Micheletti staged the coup d’etat, the national stadium was turned into a centre of torture against the people and more than 200 people were murdered with the support and complicit silence of imperialism.
On the night of 17 December, Mel Zelaya said in a press conference that he was constantly receiving death threats but that one could give his life for the cause of transforming society in Honduras. He called on the people to defy the repression and take to the streets.
A new popular uprising
Manuel Zelaya called on people to take to streets starting on the night of the 17th and the public squares on the 18th. During the night, throughout the country highways were blocked and barricades erected, and official buildings set on fire. This Monday Honduras woke up to find the main highways occupied. The police attacked but this time they met a fierce resistance.
An example of the brutality of the repression was witnessed on the Danli exit. The people were engaging in the occupation in a peaceful manner. A huge squad from the military police arrived and started firing hundreds of gas bombs against the defenceless population. Not only did they charge against the protesters, they attacked people that were walking by and also houses. They threw hundreds of gas bombs and two of them into a poor house, with a door made out of wooden sticks, with metallic sheets for walls. A poor family with children was inside. An old woman and a newborn baby had to be taken to the hospital as a result of the effects of the teargas.
In San Pedro Sula, a young protester died after being hit in the lungs. In this city there have been reports that officers from a private security firm have fired on peaceful protesters. The large majority of those killed these days are young people, who are the most willing and determined participants in the struggle.
Any revolution worthy of the name divides the forces of repression along class lines. The masses square up valiantly against state forces. There are civil war scenes but also scenes of people protesting against the military for these actions and, outraged, they tell them that they are willing to give their lives and that they cannot go on defending JOH, especially when they share the same misery conditions. A wounded policeman was captured by the people, he was abused and cursed, but not physically attacked, and in the end he was freed.
The police and the army are instruments of repression in defence of the interests of big capital, but in their rank-and-file are people that live in the same conditions of poverty as the rest of the workers and peasants, and their relatives are often fighting in the streets. The Cobras and other groups have refused in the past few days to repress the masses. During this new wave of struggle, several police commanders have renounced their posts. The low-ranking policemen, out on the street, are infected by the revolutionary spirit of the people. The movement should organise self-defence committees, as well as agitating at the rank-and-file of the armed forces to divide them. Mel Zelaya called on the armed forces to put themselves at the service of the new president. The soldiers and police officers that refuse to repress should instead form committees in their battalions, use assemblies to remove the repressive commanders and replace them with members controlled by the rank-and-file, they should isolate the most reactionary elements of the police that keep repressing the people and turn the guns against the exploiters and their representative: Juan Orlando Hernández.
What happens next?
The Honduran popular movement is inspiring but it should aim to establish popular organisation. Libre would feel the impact at its rank-and-file and turn leftward under pressure from below. In each neighbourhood, village, workplace or education institution, committees for the struggle and general assemblies need to be created and elect representatives to coordinate the struggle at regional and national levels. Let us not forget the experience of the FNRP in 2009. In the subsequent stages, where the movement will not always count on the surge we see now, actions need to be better organised so that what happened in the 11 and 15 December strikes does not happen again. The interests of the working people should be made clear. A program of raising salaries, full employment, more spending on healthcare and public education, university access for everyone and so forth should be put forward. For that, the privileges of corrupt politicians and capitalists need to be brought to an end. Their assets, acquired through theft and exploitation of the people, should be expropriated, and put to work in an economy under the democratic control of the workers. For that purpose, in the rank-and-file of Libre and the people, a strong pole of organised workers needs to be formed.
The main actor in this struggle are the people, and if they triumph, it will be thanks to them and nobody else. JOH needs to go now, without any new elections. The regime needs to change and so does society at its roots. Nasralla is in Washington, while the people are fighting heroically, and he has accepted new elections. This OAS proposal was the bourgeois’ response to the new insurrectional uprising of the people. The bourgeoisie may sacrifice JOH and make some superficial changes to the state, but they want the capitalist system to remain untouched. That is why they call for calm and for respect towards the bourgeois institutions, that is why they call for new elections, hoping that the people will go back to their homes. The decision to accept or reject a new election should not be an individual decision of Nasralla. Instead, an assembly with grassroots representatives from the parties in the Alliance and other struggling sectors should be convened to accept or reject this proposal and to decide on a plan of national struggle.
The people want JOH to go but they also want a decent life. Nasralla and the leadership of Libre will be pressured by the ruling circles. They may reach agreements through which JOH is disowned, in exchange for a new government with its hands tied. Nasralla will be pressured from above: it is the role of the workers who have voted for him to stop him from giving in and to get him to implement a program in favour of workers and peasants.
The regime of JOH does not want to hand over power. Its representatives want to protect their privileges and they know that the people will demand that they pay for the crimes they have committed. The government secretary, Ebal Díaz, said on Twitter:
“Mr. Almagro, you have violated the procedures of the OAS and the observing mission, fostering more violence. You have been irresponsible, allowing a member of your team to collude with Salvador Nasralla to try and steal the election.”
American imperialism and the OAS, in a hypothetical scenario where they would want to sacrifice JOH to save the system, would pressure him and withhold international recognition. But this will only happen if there is a fear of losing everything.
The mass movement has worked wonders and showed its determination, and has the full potential to move forward and develop. For that the popular movement based on assemblies at the base needs to be strengthened. The actions of blocking highways and the people’s defence against police aggression are inspiring, but it is not sufficient to just resist because the movement will inevitably be worn down. How can we move forward? We believe that beyond blocking the routes, we need to paralyse the economy with a general strike. In places where the movement is strong enough, the municipal palaces should be seized and run by committees elected in popular assemblies.
These are crucial times for the history of Honduras and the Americas, because this battle will affect other countries in the region. The working class, the peasantry and the youth in struggle can only rely on their own strength and nothing else. The bourgeoisie fears the Honduran people, because they are no longer afraid, because they will not be content with breadcrumbs and want to get, once and for all, the decent life that Hondurans deserve.
Article originally published in Spanish on Izquierda Marxista.