Towards the Reconstruction of the Country: The Constituent Assembly of Indigenous and Black People of Honduras

From February 21st to 23rd, the Constituent Assembly of Indigenous and Black People of Honduras  held a forum in San Juan Durugubuty. Called by the main civil society organizations of the country, the assembled communities sought to collect and systematize the proposals of the Garifuna people and of the seven indigenous groups of the country for a new Constitution.

From February 21st to 23rd, the Constituent Assembly of Indigenous and Black People of Honduras (also known as the Constituent Assembly of the People that come from the land and sea) held a forum in San Juan Durugubuty. Called by the main civil society organizations of the country, the assembled communities sought to collect and systematize the proposals of the Garifuna people and of the seven indigenous groups of the country for a new Constitution.

Social movements in Honduras have been demanding a new Constitution which recognizes the rights of communities of indigenous and African descent, as well as women, for a long time now. “Listen, think about the fact that the current Constitution mentions women only one time, and that’s when it says that a man has to marry a woman”, Tomas Gómez Lembreño, of COPINH (Civic Council of Peoples’ and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras), told me. “To reconstruct the country, we have to change this Constitution that gives power only to the National Congress, the Executive Branch, the Supreme Court, and businessmen. Until today, the people haven’t had power: so the new Constitution needs to affirm that natural resources belong to the people, it needs to recognize multilingualism, the pluri-cultural nature of Honduran society, and the rights of women”.

The demand for a new Constitution on behalf of the Honduran people got even stronger in 2008, the year that Honduras joined ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America). June 28th, 2009 also has a special significance in the struggle to reconstruct the country, when ex-President Zelaya convened a popular committee on the issue of electing a Constituent Assembly. It also happens to be the same day of the coup d’état, orchestrated by the Honduran oligarchy—the ten families loyal only to transnational capital, who own 80% of the wealth in this Central American country.

“We must that we come together and construct a forward-looking program, implementing changes and not reforms: change signifies destroying something to build something else”, said Miriam Miranda, general coordinator of OFRANEH (National Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras), during the inauguration of the Constituent Assembly of the People. And the journey towards that program has already begun: over the course of three days in San Juan Durugubuty, around 1,800 representatives of the Garifuna and other indigenous groups debated rights, sovereignty, autonomy, culture, justice, health, communication, education, work, biodiversity, the development of soil and subsoil, natural resources, land, and the economy. The representatives debated these points according to the specific worldview of each community, until common proposals could be reached in each of these areas.

According to the first Constituent Assembly of Indigenous and Black People of Honduras, the government has to become ‘pluri-cultural’ and multilingual. It must prohibit the looting and privatization of Mother Earth through capitalist suppression, which is responsible for the poverty of Honduran men and women. The indigenous and black communities must, moreover, be recognized as autonomous nations that live in autonomous territories, not simply as ‘ethnicities’. All of this input will be brought to the second meeting of the Constituent Assembly of the People, where the analysis will be deepened in order to then formulate constitutional laws.

“So Hondurans who are neither indigenous nor black can’t participate in the drawing-up of the new Constitution?” we asked Miriam Miranda of OFRANEH. “At this time we are of course building our own Assembly of Indigenous and Black people, but all sectors of society should build their own Constituent Assembly: young people, workers, women, homosexuals. We are making a call to all sectors which make up Honduran civil society to help reconstruct the country.”

Women have already replied to Miranda’s call, deciding to convene a Constituent Assembly of Women during the first week of May, where they will bring together proposals on the rights of women.

Ultimately, the document that comes out of the Constituent Assemblies will have to get the endorsement of communities. This process itself is a test of the democratic power of the indigenous assemblies, in which decisions are made only after long debates where all present are called on to participate, and where votes are done by consensus. This kind of process seems especially important in a historical moment where the failure of Western ‘representative democracy’ is beginning to show.

The proposals of the Honduran Peoples’ Assemblies will be taken to the FNRP Assembly (National Popular Front of Resistance, which brings together all of the anti-coup currents in the country), with the hope that it approves the document and joins the struggle.

But the FNRP is like a bit like magma, comprised of many different layers within itself: from grassroots organizations like OFRANEH and COPINH, to trade unions and the June 28th Movement (constituent members of the Liberal Party that disassociated themselves from the coup). There is no one uniform political perspective within the FNRP—neither in terms of its own internal structure, nor the means to fight the coup-leaders: when certain factions of the Popular Front called for armed struggle, other sectors (the trade unionists and the liberals, who manage the assemblies and decision-making processes of the Front in a hierarchical, vertical fashion) argued that this would cause splits and internal divisions in the upcoming Presidential election. In the eyes of the grassroots social movements, participating in the elections would only serve to whitewash the coup d’état, and legitimate the moribund Honduran political system.

“The decision to jump head-first into an electoral process without any democratic conditions”, writes COPINH in a communiqué, “is, for us, tantamount to participating in the right-wing circus of the coup-leaders, or in their playground, with a ‘coup-referee’ and with rules set by the coup-leaders. […]What is the hurry of these decision-makers to involve themselves in a political campaign in such unfavorable conditions? The reasons are no doubt personal.”

This stance is shared by Alfredo López, vice president of OFRANEH, who I managed to run into during the Constituent Assembly of Indigenous and Black People: “When we talk of reconstructing the country, we aren’t talking about an electoral path. All those people who think we should go to the elections are traitors to the interests of their communities. What’s more, there is no possibility of success, because even though we have the majority of voters on our side, we will never win at the ballot boxes. They will take out those votes and inflate the results: if the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, the Solicitor General, and the Electoral Tribunal are all part of the same factions that participated in the coup, then there is no hope of winning. We would end up frustrated and ultimately we would legitimate this bullshit. We have to continue the political pressure, continue fighting in the streets against this disgrace. It has to be a peaceful revolution, but it doesn’t happen overnight: we have to work, and with this work we will force them to listen to the Assembly of the 26th and 27th of February.”

And listen they did: the FNRP Assembly, which came to a close in the days following the Constituent Assembly of the People, decided not to transform the Front into a political party, at the very least while the minimal requirements necessary to guarantee transparent elections are absent. But on March 8th, contrary to the FNRP Assembly’s decision, the constituents of the June 28th Movement announced their participation in the internal elections of the Liberal Party. It appears that the internal fractures of the FNRP still have not healed.