Honduras: Anti-Coup Resistance Movement “Firmly United”

(IPS) – The National Resistance Front Against the Coup d’Etat (FRN) in Honduras is carrying out a nationwide consultation among its members to establish its position with respect to the expected talks between ousted President Manuel Zelaya and the de facto government, the movement’s leaders said.

Although face to face talks between Zelaya and de facto President Roberto Micheletti have been ruled out for now, a dialogue to come up with a solution to the political crisis will begin next week, John Biehl, an adviser to Organisation of American States (OAS) secretary general José Miguel Insulza, said Friday.

Marvín Ponce, a lawmaker of the left-wing Democratic Unification (UD) party, said the FNR is "firmly united," despite the diversity of social, labour and political sectors represented by the movement that began to take shape and hold protests immediately after Zelaya was removed from his house at gunpoint by the military and put on a plane to Costa Rica on Jun. 28.

"We are carrying out a consultation process to decide how and with what position we will participate, with regard to the different proposals to solve the conflict," Ponce told IPS Thursday, under the close watch of a squad of policemen who just a few minutes earlier had violently broken up a protest by some 300 members of the FNR outside the U.S. embassy.

Demonstrations have also been held outside the Brazilian embassy since Zelaya slipped back into the country and took refuge there on Sept. 21.

Ponce said the FNR is made up of the UD, the Movement of Liberals (members of the Liberal Party) against the Coup, a faction of the Social Democratic Innovation and Unity Party (PINU), the country’s three central trade unions, the federation of teachers’ unions, a group of cooperatives, a coalition of trade unions of public employees known as the Popular Bloc, and the Coordinator of Popular Resistance, an umbrella group of grassroots and popular organisations.

This broad range of organisations, with a total combined membership of around 100,000 people, have come together in the FNR around two basic demands: the reinstatement of Zelaya to finish out his presidential term, which ends in January; and the election of a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution, in order to bring about significant social changes in Honduras, said Ponce.

Koritza Díaz, a former president of the powerful union of high school teachers, said it is only logical that sometimes contradictory views would emerge from within such a large social movement as the FNR, after so many months of continuous action.

"The FNR has short, medium and long-term aims," said Díaz. "The popular pressure exerted by means of daily protest marches in the streets of Tegucigalpa has kept the usurper government from consolidating its hold on power.

"President Zelaya’s presence in the country and his reinstatement are the first point on the country’s agenda and have overshadowed the campaign (for the Nov. 29 presidential elections) in the public mind. The de facto government had to declare a state of siege to intimidate us and try to curb such a vigorous protest, never before seen in this country," said the trade unionist, in the middle of a shoving match between the police and demonstrators.

On Sunday, Micheletti declared a state of siege for 45 days, suspending key civil liberties. But after allies in Congress, the electoral authorities, the media association and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged that the emergency measures be lifted, Micheletti said he would do so.

After removing a small sign reading "No to the Coup" that was covering her mouth, Díaz said the movement had achieved 50 percent of the short-term aim of the return and reinstatement of Zelaya.

The medium-term focus, she said, was to push for a constituent assembly. And the long-term struggle, she said, is for "true democracy in Honduras, not this democracy that just involves going to vote every four years, but a real solution to the country’s problems, especially a radical fight against poverty and corruption."

As Díaz was talking to IPS, some 20 Women’s Rights Centre activists showed up dressed in black and holding white carnations, formed two lines and began to sing the national anthem. But they were immediately surrounded by police. In response to the shoving by the police, they sang "they’re afraid of us, because we’re not afraid." However, they eventually yielded to the police pressure and left.

One of the women’s rights activists, Regina Fonseca, said the de facto government "talks about dialogue, but look at how it blocks our right to protest."

"They propose dialogue while pointing their rifles at us," she said, before telling the police chief heading the operation to break up the protest: "Look, dog, you should defend democracy instead." To which the officer just smiled.

New proposals emerge

Ponce said the situation has been changing so quickly from one day to the next in Honduras since Zelaya returned that four different initiatives for dialogue and proposed solutions have emerged amidst the climate of extreme tension.

Up to two weeks ago, the only proposal was the "San José Accord" or "Plan Arias" put forward by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias in his failed attempt to broker talks between the two sides after the coup.

The first initiative was that of assistant Catholic bishop of Tegucigalpa Juan José Pineda, who spoke with Zelaya in the Brazilian embassy and later met with Micheletti, thus taking on the role of mediator.

At first, Pineda talked about a "Plan Arias II" but he then said it was better to speak in terms of a "Tegucigalpa Plan", as a Honduran solution to a Honduran problem – thus sending "a message to the international community that we can solve our own problems."

But both Ponce and Díaz said the dialogue proposed by Pineda might be a "trap" designed by the coup government to divide the resistance movement.

They said the aim might be to win the agreement of the Liberal Party followers of Zelaya and thus gain time to allow the Micheletti government to win international recognition of the late November elections and of the newly elected administration.

That would represent the continuity in power of "the same old vested interests," made up of politicians from the two traditional parties – the centre-right Liberal Party of both Zelaya and Micheletti and the right-wing National Party – and the business elite, who have had a hold on power since the country returned to democracy in 1982, they said.

Another initiative emerged from four of the six candidates running for president in November, who initially met in San José with President Arias and said they would act as mediators, attempting to get Zelaya and Micheletti to sit down at the negotiating table.

In meetings sponsored by U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens, Adolfo Facussé, president of the national association of industrialists, proposed that Zelaya be reinstated as president for a few days before he is put under house arrest – rather than thrown into jail, as he is facing an arrest warrant – until the elections.

The Honduran office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, a German foundation for liberal politics with ties to Germany’s pro-business Free Democratic Party, set forth a five-point proposal that would involve the resignation of both Micheletti and Zelaya and the naming of the next in line as president, under the Honduran constitution, to ease the tension until the elections.

A former Zelaya administration minister, Francisco Sibrián, said a division in the FNR was not likely to arise.

"The movement’s social foundation is made up of around 60,000 primary and high school teachers, most of whom are Liberals, and they all agree there was a coup (which is denied by the Micheletti government and its supporters) and that it is urgent to overturn the coup by reestablishing Zelaya in his post," he said.

"They are trying to divide us and break us up, to weaken us, but they aren’t going to succeed because the Liberals are historically opposed to coups," said Sibrián.

Ponce said one option that is gaining support in the FNR is that once Zelaya has been reinstated as president, a Broad Front would be created to support the independent candidacy of trade unionist Carlos Reyes or UD candidate César Ham.

Ponce said Ham has greater electoral weight while Reyes has more influence in the labour movement. "César Ham is willing to step aside as a presidential candidate so that we can all throw our weight behind Reyes," said Ponce.

Sibrían, a member of the Liberal Party, said he would not back the party’s candidate Elvín Santos, because he supported the coup. "My feeling is that President Zelaya and his followers agree on supporting Carlos Reyes," he said.