Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa and former president Manuel Zelaya Rosales signed an agreement on May 22: “For National Reconciliation and the Consolidation of the Democratic System in the Republic of Honduras”.
Lobo was elected in November 2009 in a rigged vote. The poll was organised by the regime installed by the June 28, 2009 military coup that overthrew Zelaya.
Zelaya had upset elite interests with policies such as raising the minimum wage and blocking privatisations. The coup organisers cited Zelaya's move to hold a non-binding plebiscite on calling a constituent assembly to justify their action.
The coup and the regime it installed faced sustained resistance by a broad-based movement struggling for democratic rights and a constituent assembly to help transform Honduras.
Most Latin American and Caribbean nations refused to recognise the legitimacy of the Lobo government, despite the strong support it received from the United States and Canada.
The present agreement, finalised in Cartagena, Colombia, also bears the signatures of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro (on behalf of President Hugo Chavez) as witnesses.
This agreement opens the door to significant changes in the Central American political landscape and to the re-entry of Honduras into the Organization of American States (OAS) and Central American Integration System (SICA).
In a May 23 statement, the Political Committee of the National Front for Peoples Resistance (FNRP), the main organisation coordinating popular resistance to the coup, noted that “this agreement for international mediation enables us to put an end to our exile [and] reinforce our process for the refoundation of Honduras”.
It issued a “call to all members of the resistance inside and outside Honduras to unite in a great mobilization to greet and welcome our leader and the general coordinator of the FNRP, Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales, at 11am, May 28, at the International Airport”.
The statement noted that the agreement complied with the four conditions set by the FNRP.
The FNRP also expressed “thanks for the process of international mediation” carried out by the Venezuelan and Colombian presidents.
By signing the Cartagena agreement, the signatories commit themselves to:
Guarantee the return to Honduras in security and liberty of Zelaya and all others exiled as a result of the crisis. (Over 200 other exiled leaders of the resistance are able to return under the terms of the agreement.)
Assure conditions in which the FNRP can gain recognition as a legal political party.
Reaffirm the constitutional right to initiate plebiscites, particularly with respect to the FNRP project of convening a National Constituent Assembly.
Create a Secretariat of Justice and Human Rights to secure human rights in Honduras and invite the UN Human Rights Commission to establish an office in Honduras.
Constitute a Monitoring (Verification) Commission, consisting initially of the Colombian and Venezuelan presidencies, to help assure the successful implementation of the agreement.
Notably absent from discussions leading to the agreement was the US, which has long been the arbiter of Honduran politics.
Washington kept silent on the Cartagena mediation process while trying to torpedo it.
Alexander Main, an analyst for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, noted in a May 19 that when, as part of the mediation process, Honduran courts dropped charges against Zelaya, the US State Department issued an “exuberant statement” the next day calling for the suspension of Honduras from the Organization of American States (OAS) to be “immediately lifted”.
Such a move would have cut short the Cartagena mediation process.
The desire to end Honduras's OAS suspension, enacted in protest against the coup, was one of the factors driving the illegitimate Honduran regime to seek mediation.
“For good measure,” Main says, “the [US] statement noted that ‘since his inauguration, President Lobo has moved swiftly to pursue national reconciliation, strengthen governance, stabilize the economy, and improve human rights conditions’.”
In fact, the Committee of Family Members of Disappeared Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH) said politically motivated killings have taken the lives of 34 members of the resistance and 10 journalists since Lobo took office.
No killers have been prosecuted either for these crimes or for the 300 killings by state security forces since the coup.
The US canvassed energetically among Central and South American countries subject to its influence for support for immediate reinstatement of Honduras ― prior to the conclusion of the mediation process.
“In mid-May these divisions came to a head when a diplomatic tussle took place at the OAS,” Main said.
Main said that “the U.S. is not prepared to accept a political mediation in Honduras in which it doesn’t play a leading role. The U.S. has traditionally been deeply involved in the internal affairs of Honduras.”
He noted that Honduras “continues to be of great strategic importance to the U.S.”.
OAS secretary general, Jose Miguel Insulza, called a meeting of the OAS permanent council that was to consider readmitting the de facto Honduran regime.
Main said that, according to a reliable source at the OAS, several Latin American countries, including Colombia, demanded cancellation of the meeting on the grounds that it was “premature”.
Within hours, the meeting was cancelled.
The failure of this U.S.-inspired maneuver opened the road for the signing of the Cartagena agreement nine days later.
The Cartagena Agreement, and the process that facilitated it, marks an important victory for the Honduran resistance.
More broadly, it reinforces the process of Indo-Latin American and Caribbean efforts to shape their own national and regional policies free from imperialist domination.
It developed outside the OAS framework, and will help to strengthen and consolidate the new Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). This body will meet in July in Caracas and will be jointly chaired by Venezuela and Chile.
The agreement's impact in Central America was immediate and far reaching. Lobo and Zelaya flew from Cartagena to Managua the same day of the signing ceremony for a special meeting of the SICA.
At the meeting, Honduras was welcomed back by three other Central American presidents ― Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, El Salvador's Mauricio Funes and Guatemala's Alvaro Colon. Ortega announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Nicaragua and Honduras.
In a joint statement, the four presidents called on the OAS to re-admit Honduras. New agreements were also announced regarding a customs union of the four countries.
These measures mark a defeat for those forces in Central America hostile to the regional integration process. This includes the Costa Rican government and its hostile campaign to isolate Nicragua's Sandinista government diplomatically and economically.
Whether the Honduran government will fully carry out the agreement remains to be seen. The coup has produced an entrenched pattern of systematic repression and unrestrained operation of death squads in Honduras.
Experiences in other countries, including Colombia, show that such right-wing repression can run rampant, with under-the-table support from security forces, despite formal statements of government disapproval.
The establishment of the Colombia-Venezuela monitoring commission will be vital to keeping the pressure on the Lobo government. Friends of Honduran democracy will need to do some monitoring as well ― as an expression of continued solidarity with the Honduran people.
[This article first appeared at wwwjohnridell.wordpress.com .]