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Honduras accord: a gain for Ottawa?

July 14, 2011

An exchange between Todd Gordon/Jeffery R. Webber and Richard Fidler addresses whether the Cartagena Accord, which opened the road to Ex-President Manuel Zelaya return to Honduras, marks a victory for the Canadian government in its efforts at capitalist penetration of the Central American country.

The article by Gordon and Webber was published in Bullet July 13; Fidler’s response was posted the same day to this site.

Here are the opening paragraphs of Gordon and Webber’s article, “The Cartagena Accord: A Step Forward for Canada in Honduras,” followed by Fidler’s reply. For the initial texts in this exchange, see “From Cartagena to Tegucigalpa: Imperialism and the Future of the Honduran Resistance” (Gordon/Webber) and “Honduras resistance launches political party, as repression continues” (Riddell).

Todd Gordon/Jeffery R. Webber:

Honduras entered a new political phase on May 28 with the return of exiled former President Manuel Zelaya. His repatriation followed the signing of the Cartagena Accord between Zelaya, Honduran strongman Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, and the governments of Colombia and Venezuela. From the vantage point of Canadian imperialism – a major external force in Honduras – the new topography of politics in the country is less a hindrance to, than an opportunity for, expansion on several fronts.

There is an argument, popularized by sections of the international Left, which presents Cartagena as a democratic breakthrough. That is, if judged against the repressive period inaugurated by the June 28, 2009 coup against Zelaya, post-Cartagena Honduras can be expected to adhere more closely to norms of human rights and to offer greater opportunity for democratic participation, relatively free of fear and intimidation. Such arguments conceal the systematic authoritarian continuity that underpins the new phase. The novelty of the period lies rather in the fresh packaging of the old dictatorship, something like a Bush war made palatable by Nobel Peace laureate Obama.

The construction of a democratic facade in post-coup Honduras found its earliest expression in the fraudulent November 2009 elections that ushered in Lobo and showed the door to Roberto Micheletti, the immediate successor to Zelaya following the coup. Cartagena then allowed the return of Zelaya to the country, the readmission of Honduras into the Organization of American States (OAS), and formal recognition by the Lobo regime of the new Frente Amplio (Broad Front) party of the official resistance. It is against this backdrop that the activities of Canadian capital in Honduras, and all their associated violence, are likely to intensify, with the support of the Harper government.

The Ottawa connection

Honduras has become an important anchor to Canada’s engagement with Central America, an engagement driven by the promotion of strong property rights for capital and the containment of challenges to these rights through diplomatic, economic and security strategies.

Canada extended considerable energies in trying to ensure a particular ‘resolution’ to the coup. From the outset, the Harper administration sought to end the isolation of Honduras from the acceptable elements of the ‘international community’ – the country’s membership in the OAS was revoked because the coup violated this regional institution’s democratic charter – while at the same time securing its segregation from the orbit of Venezuelan influence and that of other Centre-Left governments in Latin America and the Caribbean. A brutally repressive, free-market regime, furbished with a hollow democratic shell, is the ideal model for the isthmus in the eyes of Canadian interests in Honduran mining, maquilas and tourism.

As a major source of foreign investment in Honduras, and with a strong predisposition toward neoliberal zealotry, Ottawa’s post-2009 coup policy has been to contain Zelaya and back pro-business Lobo. Zelaya was a member of a populist faction within the traditionalist Liberal Party whose modest social reforms and pragmatic shift toward closer relations with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez did not serve to ingratiate him with the ruling coterie in the U.S. or Canada.


Response by Richard Fidler:

Readers of this website may be interested in a second article that Jeff Webber and Todd Gordon have now posted on the struggle in Honduras (see In it, they take much the same line that Jeff Webber took in From Rebellion to Reform in Bolivia (Haymarket Books): that Evo Morales (and the mass forces he led) had betrayed the popular movement arising out of the water and gas wars by agreeing to contest a national election in 2005 — an election that placed Morales and the MAS in the presidency, putting the mass struggle on a new, more advantageous footing for the struggles to come.

This article argues that the Honduran resistance has been weakened by the Cartagena Accord, but the argument is not sustained. The Accord, while not ending the repression of course, has apparently opened up some democratic space for the popular resistance — and the resistance movement, in its overwhelming majority, is using it in part to build an electoral front to contest the next national elections. Is there any evidence that the Accord has undermined the resistance to repression? What is the basis for the authors’ claim that, in negotiating the Accord, Chávez and Zelaya have somehow sanctioned the Lobo post-coup regime? If the Accord remains in force, the Frente can reinforce the grass-roots resistance to repression in the streets and communities with a battle at the ballot box, with or without Zelaya heading its slate.

It is hard to see how the Harper government’s interests are advanced by this development. As the authors note, “Opposition to Zelaya’s return from exile was at the core of the Canadian strategy in the months following the coup….” Well, Ottawa lost that one.

It is also unclear to me just what the impact is of the Honduran readmission to the increasingly discredited OAS — especially in light of the recent foundation of CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations, a counter organization to the OAS which excludes both the US and Canada.

As the authors note, Canadian corporations continue to pillage Honduras’ resources, and the repression of opposition militants does not appear to have abated. No doubt these issues will be major concerns of the Broad Front for Popular Resistance in Honduras, as they should be for us here in Canada.

For other articles by Richard Fidler, see Life on the Left.

  1. Todd Gordon permalink

    1. Re. Canada’s opposition to Zelaya’s return: note the quote Fidler uses from our article says in the “months following”. That’s an important difference than now. They supported his return in the San Jose-Tegucigalpa Accord in November 2009 because his gov’t and its policies were undermined already and he wouldn’t have had substantive power.

    2. How has Zelaya’s return affected Canadian interests? Investment has increased as Cdn companies are now key backers of the first model city in Trujillo. And their actions, and those of companies, are done under the auspices of a normalized democratic Honduras — thanks to Cartagena, Zelaya and Chavez. Honduras’s formal international isolation was a lever, if not overly powerful but of some substance, against the Lobo gov’t. Cartagena removed that even though coup forces still wield power. How’s that bad for Canada? Repression continues, including of anti-mining activists: what has Cartagena done about that? Nothing.

    3. The direction of the Frente and Frente Amplio will be determined over the next several months, but it’s clear that Zelaya (from a wealthy landowning family) and some of his allies from the Liberal party will have influence over that (in what will in effect be a popular front-style organization), and indeed at the National Assembly they talked about organizing not mvts for a constituent assembly or for other reforms, but for the election, and even left open the possibility that Lobo could participate in shaping a constituent assembly process. That’s a direction that should give one pause for thought.

  2. The Cartagena Accord could not limit foreign investment in Honduras. Its primary purpose was to get Zelaya, the nominal head of the popular resistance movement, returned from exile, and to open up some formal legitimacy, some democratic space, for the resistance forces. Nothing Todd says here or in his articles belies that.

    If the resistance forces are emboldened by Zelaya’s return, and the prospect of early elections and possibly even the prospect of a subsequent Constituent Assembly, they are in a stronger position to fight the pillage of Canadian corporations – and, for that matter, to confront and eventually overcome conservative forces within the opposition camp. That is no aid to Canadian capitalist interests and their government in Ottawa.

    Surely, successful revolutionary strategy in Honduras cannot be reduced to enforcing the isolation of the Lobo government. A primary consideration must be the need to find ways to reinforce the popular opposition to that government within Honduras. Clearly, from Todd’s own accounts, that is how the Honduran resistance, in its vast majority, sees the issue, and the effects of Cartagena.

    Even if, as Todd reports, the Frente is currently focused on its election prospects, it still appears to be on a much stronger footing than it was during and immediately after the coup – when the masses were brutally deprived of even the right to vote on Zelaya’s proposal for a future Constituent Assembly. And,above all, it is now a coherent organized force, with its own dynamic and potential for independent growth – something it had not yet developed under Zelaya’s presidency. I can’t help but see that as a step forward, not back.

  3. Todd Gordon permalink

    Pushing towards electoral participation, in a popular front style organization, at the cost of the real grassroots mvt. building that had been taking place (which I think is what the leadership of the FNRP wants, quite frankly), is not a stronger position to be in to challenge the power of the Honduran ruling class and foreign capital, particularly given as noted before that coup forces still retain political and economic power and repression continues. Don’t overstate the democratic space that has been opened. Noting this context and the reality of the Zelaya etal popular front electoralist strategy is not reducing revolutionary strategy to enforcing the isolation of Lobo (which as stated has been ended by Cartagena). This isn’t an anti-electoralist stand on principle, but a recognition of the kind of processes taking place under Zelaya — what does it mean that repression of mvt activists continues despite Caratagena? that Zelaya has already hinted at possible compromise with Lobo around the constituent assembly?

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