Alexis Aguilar

In an ideal world, Honduran ousted president Manuel Zelaya would return to power, the coup leaders would be tried and sentenced to prison, and Zelaya’s non-binding referendum on constitutional reform would be allowed to go ahead. But we live in a world where the U.S. calls the shots, and the U.S. has basically told Zelaya: “As president you railed against us and now you come asking for help because even your ALBA friends (Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador) are not much help in this one.”

The U.S. is willing to help Zelaya in order to live up to its image as a supporter of democracy, but that help will come at a price. The U.S. does not want Latin America to drift away from its sphere of influence and fall into the sphere of countries such as China, Russia, and Iran. Thus, it does not wish to betray its traditional allies that have served it well: the elites and the military, who throughout Latin American history have controlled the economies and populations of their respective countries.

This being the case, Zelaya will probably have to give up on his constitutional referendum, and the coup perpetrators (including the military that have been busy beating and killing coup opponents) will receive amnesty in return for him being allowed to finish his term. Such a result would mean a win for the conservative forces, since Zelaya’s attempt to reform the constitution in order to decentralize power and turn Honduras into a participatory democracy is what sparked the coup.

The Honduran constitution, drafted in 1982 under the auspices of the Reagan administration, was designed to concentrate power in the hands of the two ruling parties: the Liberal and the National party. These parties, in turn, are controlled by the Honduran elite, made up of wealthy businessmen and cattle ranchers. Grassroots groups and popular organizations — indigenous, women, peasant, and labor groups — are given little representation under the current constitution and hence the need for reform.

Yet not all is necessarily lost for Zelaya’s cause. Upon his return, he should appoint a new chief of the armed forces with no allegiance to the elites. He should then begin to reduce the size of the military (Costa Rica and Panama have done away with theirs) to lessen its clout and avoid a repeat of last month’s ill-advised incident. He should withdraw from the conservative Liberal party to which he belongs and from which he has moved away ideologically, and either form his own party or join forces with the leftist Democratic Union Party (PUD).

The November presidential elections should be pushed back to allow for new primaries, since the current candidates from the Liberal and National parties, Elvin Santos and Porfirio Lobo, supported the coup and have lost legitimacy in the eyes of many — and may actually have become legally ineligible to run. The general elections to follow will then be a true test of Zelaya’s popularity. If the candidate from his party were to win, a referendum on constitutional reform could be carried out some time in 2010, and perhaps Honduras would come out of this ordeal with a strengthened democracy, one that includes the Honduran poor, and a diminished, non-politicized military.

—Alexis Aguilar, Honduran American
Salisbury, Maryland