Democra-Phobia: Fear of Citizen Power in Honduras

By Al Giordano

Strip away all the sensationalism, distortion, simulation, ideological axe-grinding, flotsam and jetsam of media coverage of events in Honduras over the past month and it still boils down to one central conflict:

The coup regime fears, and was imposed as a last line of defense against, “Citizen Power.”

Citizen Power – “Poder Ciudadano,” in Spanish, which was the credo on the posters and ads of Manuel Zelaya’s victorious 2005 presidential campaign – manifested itself this year in popular demands for a referendum on whether to write a new Honduran Constitution via democratically elected representatives to a constitutional convention.

It’s that simple, and the coup regime’s fear of authentic democracy is exactly why the failed “talks” in Costa Rica between the two sides have now ended without agreement on anything at all, as foreseen here and elsewhere.

That’s why the violent kidnapping of the president - accompanied by the military occupation of TV, radio and other independent media - took place on the dawn of an election day, Sunday, June 28, when the people of Honduras were going to vote in a nonbinding referendum on whether to have a vote in November over said constitutional convention, known as a constituent assembly in Honduras.

The hasty timing of the coup was intended to prevent the people from voting, and it speaks volumes of what the coupmongers believed the results of that referendum would have been, had the vote been allowed to happen. Their informed belief was that the referendum would have been approved and, even though it would be non-binding, that would have put to rest, once and for all, their claims to somehow speak for a majority of Honduran citizens.

After all, a much less risky strategy would have been to go out, the democratic way, and defeat the referendum at the polls. Lord knows they had the money to mount such a campaign. That the coup plotters did not even attempt to defeat it at the polls reveals the weak hand they are playing.

The question that was to be poised to voters – it bears repeating - was this one:

"Do you think that the November 2009 general elections should include a fourth ballot box in order to make a decision about the creation of a National Constitutional Assembly that would approve a new Constitution?"

And the coup plotters’ justification for the military putsch included the repeated claims that can be summed up as, “we had to do it this way because the constitution didn’t give us a clear enough path to remove the president legally.”

Got that? It translates as: “Yes, our Constitution is flawed, so flawed that we had to burn it, but any attempt to change it by democratic means is a threat that requires us to violate it in order to save it.”

The subsequent debates over the interpretation of many of the Honduran Constitution’s 375 articles and how they may or not may not apply to the situation – a loud discussion that has not, after 23 days, convinced a single nation of the world to recognize the coup regime as a somehow legitimate government, because the pro-coup arguments are that specious – have been intended to obscure the central point: that the entire reason for the timing of the coup was to prevent the Honduran people from speaking as a nation.

The popular demand for a new constitution has not gone away. Indeed, it remains a central requirement from the highly informed and increasingly politicized working and poor majority in Honduras.

Twenty-four-year-old Hortensia “Pichu” Zelaya, daughter of the legitimate President Manuel Zelaya, repeated that demand on Saturday at this anti-coup demonstration in Tegucigalpa:

She reminded that Zelaya’s 2005 presidential campaign revolved around the theme of a “fourth branch” of government it called “Poder Ciudadano,” or “Citizen Power.” In that campaign, contrary to much that has been written, the very thing the oligarchy fears – grassroots citizen participation in Honduras’ government, which throughout history has been controlled by the manipulations of the upper classes – was the central campaign promise, ratified by the voters at the polls.

“They are afraid of the people,” the presidential daughter said to the multitude. “A people without weapons. A people that comes in peace… A people that struggles… A people that no longer wants to be repressed… This people is tired of it, which is what we have demonstrated….”

Noting that social programs of the kind that her father instituted “are not enough,” Hortensia recounted: “President Zelaya discovered that if it is not enough, it will be enough to work with the people. That’s why we defend the non-binding poll of the public opinion, the Fourth Ballot Box, and why we want the National Constituent Assembly.”

The seven-point proposal last weekend by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias included the concept that a restored Zelaya presidency would somehow have to ignore the will of an organized citizenry to rewrite the nation’s constitution. The proposal was dead in the water because the grassroots bases in Honduras would never agree to that or abide by it.

And it’s a sign of the density and dishonesty of so many international media correspondents that they repeatedly boil down a concept as sweeping as a Constitutional Convention for Honduras and all it would entail – the democratic reformation of a government in each of its branches – to the sideshow possibility that it might or might not include an end to the single-term limit on the country’s presidents, depending on what the elected citizens decide and whether voters then ratify it.

They’ve tried to make it seem like the conflict is about whether Zelaya himself could run for reelection, even though the proposed Constitutional Convention – if approved on November 29 to happen sometime after that date, the same day a new president w ould be elected, and if it permitted reelection of presidents – would nonetheless happen too late to allow Zelaya himself to pursue it. See how badly they’ve mangled the real story out of Honduras?

The real story began and continues to be one of poder ciudadano: Citizen Power.

Which is why the inordinate focus on the circus up above – not only in the corporate media, but also among some colleagues of the left – so badly misses the point of what is occurring on the ground in Honduras.

It’s as if, for some, the past dozen years of struggle, sacrifice and multiple victories by Latin American social movements never happened, or as if they were merely symbolic, lacking in hard substance. But we have reported the real story, time and time again, here: Citizen Power in Latin America has considerably strengthened the role of Latin American peoples as their own subjects and no longer the objects of impermeable imperial rule from afar.

The analyses that assign all the responsibility for the coup’s success or failure to Washington are, in reality, quite dismissive of – and insulting to the people who organized - those victories from below and their consequences.

Immanuel Wallerstein, however, hits the nail on the head with this point:

“What about the United States? When the coup occurred, some of the raucous left commentators in the blogosphere called it ‘Obama's coup.’ That misses the point of what happened. Neither Zelaya nor his supporters on the street, nor indeed Chavez or Fidel Castro, have such a simplistic view. They all note the difference between Obama and the U.S. right (political leaders or military figures) and have expressed repeatedly a far more nuanced analysis.

“It seems quite clear that the last thing the Obama administration wanted was this coup. The coup has been an attempt to force Obama's hand.”

That’s not to say that efforts to unforce that hand in Washington aren’t worthy. We’ve done plenty of that, too. But to obsess upon a weakened empire that no longer has the absolute power to determine history in Latin American lands while also largely ignoring the struggle from below inside Honduras – a faux pas that most of the Washington-centric leftish analysis has committed – is to dismiss and disrespect the strides already made by organized peoples throughout this hemisphere.

As Narco News copublisher George Salzman noted in our comments section this weekend:

“If, as now appears not impossible, the Honduran Coup can be defeated by the large majority of ordinary people largely independently of the actions of the governments, that would be a greater victory for popular struggles than any other sequence of events.”

That is the authentic story from Honduras: the story written by its own people, from below.

And that’s why the “talks” in Costa Rica were a circus sideshow.

From here on out, it’s all about “Citizen Power,” the immediate history of the steps the people of Honduras take to organize their own freedom and a more authentic democracy. That’s been our focus here for the past month. And it will continue to be the central thrust of our reporting.

Update: Here's an important development in international solidarity with the popular movements of Honduras:

The International Transport Workers Federation has called upon its four-and-a-half million members in 656 labor unions worldwide (it includes Longshoremen, Teamsters and Seafarers among other union sectors in the US and throughout the world) to refuse to load or unload products from the 650 merchant ships that are registered under the Honduran flag for as long as the coup regime is in place.

Update II: A national coalition of social organizations in have set Friday, July 24, as the date of President Zelaya's return to Honduras and have called upon the citizenry to "organize itself" to receive him. The call is signed by the CUTH federation of labor unions, the Popular Bloc against the coup plus prominent Liberal Party members Carlos Eduardo Reina and Rasel Tomé, "at a place and time that will soon be announced."

Update III: More international solidarity:

(United Students Against Sweatshops hung this banner today on the building across the street from coup regime lobbyist Lanny Davis' office in Washington.)


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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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