Honduras, Bolivarianism, and Central America

Hounded in the Towns… these undesirables with their inflammatory attitude end up in the countryside. It is then they realize in a kind of intoxication that the peasant masses latch on to their every word and do not hesitate to ask them the question… “When do we start?”

-Frantz Fanon1

In almost every liberation struggle, there exists a fundamental difference between the interests of the progressive domestic capitalists and the oppressed, laboring masses. This dynamic takes on geographical terms in the contradiction between Town and Country, and is more than applicable to the anti-imperialist movement in Latin America. Predominantly moderate left wing-led South America bares a striking resemblance to the quintessential political landscape of a relatively better-off colonial city. Ravaged by the world food crisis and over a century of subjugation, politically destitute Central America resembles the countryside. When Central Americans ask the question “When do we start?” these undesirable Bolivarians with their inflammatory ideas about justice and participatory democracy retort confidently, “Right now”. As of August 25th, Honduras has joined the ALBA and taken them at their word. Just ask Hugo Llorens, who would have been the US Ambassador to that nation had his credentials not been withheld in defiance of American meddling in Bolivia and Venezuela.

Background

But first, one must understand Central American anti-imperialism and to do this the close correlation with South American resistance must be studied. Starting in the 1940s, progressive leaders like Jose Bustamante y Rivero in Peru and Romulo Betancourt in Venezuela came to power. More intensely repressed, Central America caught up about a decade later on, with their own brand of left-leaning nationalists like Jose Figueres Ferrer and Jacobo Arbenz. This time-difference repeated itself thirty years later, with the appearance of guerilla armies such as the Peoples Revolutionary Army in Argentina and the Tupamaros in Uruguay (along with the rest of the Revolutionary Coordinating Junta). Roughly 10 years later, in the 80s rather than the 70s, Central America exploded into struggle led by armed groups such as the FMLN, FSLN, and UNRG. Fast-forward another thirty years to about the year 2000 and we have people like Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales in South America. If history is any indicator, the upcoming decade will be one of anti-imperialism further north, in Central America.

In the 40s and 50s, progressive elites led the way. In the 70s and 80s, it was the masses who took the reigns. However at the dawn of the 21st century, both elements are united in their fight against US hegemony. This has proved stunningly successful, and it seems clear that, rather than an informal transfer of revolutionary energy, it seems that South American political institutions will directly aid in the development of Central American resistance. This political institution, for reasons that will be dealt with later on, will be the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). The ALBA is an alliance of left-wing governments (Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Nicaragua, and now, Honduras, with President Correa of Ecuador professing a clearly positive attitude towards it) based on mutual aid and integration in the face of neo-colonialism.

Zelaya and Honduras

This brings us to Honduras. Why on earth would President Manuel Zelaya of the Liberal Party of Honduras (a very generous observer would call the party center-left) support the socialist, anti-imperialist ALBA when he was happily shaking George Bush’s hand nearly two years ago to the day? Why would he take tremendous risks by showing solidarity with Bolivia and Venezuela by limiting diplomatic relations with Washington? To answer this, it’s imperative that we understand in whose interests he governs. The classic model of struggle between oppressed labor and oppressive capital takes on a new dimension when this capital becomes finance capital. Political economy therefore dictates that the imperialist power structure relies on a group of middle men, the national bourgeoisie, to act as a surrogate. It is therefore in this class’ interests to struggle against US hegemony to gain greater political sovereignty, but maintain capitalism. As a general rule, economic impulses take priority over political urges (when they don’t go hand in hand), and so they have been, until recently, loyal to the United States. However, something has happened to this capitalism that the national bourgeoisie wants so badly; it’s no longer their capitalism.

Implicit in the relationship between national and imperial bourgeoisie is a cut of the profits being reserved for the domestic capitalists. In the post-Cold War whirlwind of neo-liberalism, this basic tenant was violated. A report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean states:

“Average FDI [Foreign Direct Investment] flows to Mexico and the Caribbean Basin amounted to US$ 7.6 billion in the first half of the 1990s, then rose to US$ 17.4 billion in the second half; this figure was slightly below the average for the period 2002-2004.”

The immediate effect of this deluge of finance capital is the strangulation of domestic business, while the political effect is an increase in the attractiveness of progressive ideals leading to drastic, pro-ALBA actions like the one taken by Zelaya.

Why not form an organization independent from both the United States and the Bolivarians? We must remember that precedents for Central American struggle are derivative to a large degree from South America. The closest thing to an international manifestation of the desires of the newly progressive domestic capitalists in that region is the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR). Centered around the Southern Cone of South America, it would be an organizational stretch for them to expand to Central America. Even if the logistics were there, it’s doubtful to an extreme to think that, on the verge of liberation, the Pink Tide (as the moderate-left wing governments in South America are referred to) will help their counterparts further north; especially now that it would be perceived (correctly so) to be a slight to their Bolivarian allies.

Beyond Self-Interested Elites

While the actions of the Honduran government will greatly benefit the impoverished population and should be met with solidarity, there is a solid wall of class antagonisms and ulterior motives that will prevent any alterations to the social structure of the nation (or any nation that follows in its footsteps). Action only by the masses can end capitalism and the exploitation it’s based on. What opportunities open up to the vast majorities when the ex-collaborators with imperialism turn on their foreign backers? The main advantage the people have gained is space — space to organize without repression and space get a foot in the door of state power.

The ALBA, being a broad, action-based organization created solely for the purpose of struggle against neo-liberalism and the artificial borders that reinforce it, has the ability to reach a hand out to aid the political maturation of worker-oriented (regardless of economic sector) emancipation movements.
Because of the influence the radicals would gain through these inevitable leftward diplomatic realignments (many are bound to follow Honduras) they would earn some sort of political reciprocation. The absence of opposition to mass organizing and mobilization is a matter of course, and hence the political consciousness of the people will spike dramatically. This would be reflected by a change in the makeup of the governing administration. However, a separate electoral force to serve the interests of the masses might drive an indelible wedge between nationalist elements. In its stead, social movements must flex the collective muscles of the people to further modify the trajectory of the state (and can, of course, mobilize in the electoral sphere when it becomes necessary).

Social Movements

These umbrella organizations have, in this recent wave of anti-imperialism, been an important engine of popular power and consultation. The tasks of social movements will differ according to type of nation in which they operate. Of the seven nations, the FSLN government of Daniel Ortega is the only one which governs solely in the interests of the poor majority. However, with the memory of Contra terrorism fresh in Ortega’s mind the Nicaraguan government is understandably wary of bold advances away towards socialism; making the government unpopular. It’s very likely that the FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes will win the upcoming election in El Salvador and join Ortega in governing in the Bolivarian tradition. Just as likely, Funes’ timidity (buckling under the pressure of a hostile media, he’s made worrying statements contrary to the FMLN’s heroic tradition of radicalism such as, “El Salvador needs a democratic, realistic and responsible left”) will cause the same problems that the FSLN faces. In these nations, the social movements could provide a rejuvenating shove to the left.

The second and most prevalent scenario will be one in which social movements operate in nations ruled by representatives of the national bourgeoisie, oscillating between anti-imperialism and voluntary subjugation. Social movements in these countries will likely have, very soon, the option of work in conjunction with the ALBA (which has and will most likely continue to take a diplomatic tone) as a looming specter in a carrot-or-the-stick dynamic. Already, mass organizations have made their presence felt in nations with a moderate-left government. For example, in Panama, two large political strikes were called, on August 14th and another on September 4th. This undoubtedly had influence on the ruling PRD’s (Democratic Revolutionary Party) internal elections held on September 7th. This clout will increase exponentially as a domino effect of Central American cooperation with the ALBA becomes apparent.

What should social movements do when faced with a government not of the people or even the national bourgeoisie, but of pro-imperialist elites? As the only unequivocally pro-US government in Central America with any longevity, this is only applicable to Mexico, but as one of the largest nations in the hemisphere, it is of the utmost importance. An example of a group that successfully faced similar conditions as those found in Mexico can be found in Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo’s Patriotic Alliance for Change. The APC is an alliance of all forces opposed to the corrupt Colorado party (just as the Mexican people fight the corrupt National Action Party), and owes much of its support to the nation’s social movements. Mexico already has an alliance of left-leaning political parties (the Broad Progressive Front, composed of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, the Labor Party, and the Convergence Party) as well as strong social movements, which have recently staged two national demonstrations and will soon stage another. All that’s needed is for these two forces to link up and create a single vehicle for struggle against neo-colonialism.

So, to wrap up, we have, in accordance with recurring historical intervals, an emerging struggle in Central America. It could be assisted either by Pink Tide affiliated MERCOSUR or the Bolivarians. The later, being dynamic and action-oriented (as opposed to the lame-duck former), will naturally aid the newly rebellious national bourgeois forces of the region. The actions of Zelaya in Honduras will likely start a domino effect of moderate left-wing governments ascending into the ALBA. As a result the radical left, representing the poor masses, will gain strength. More broadly, it can now be asserted with confidence that the revolution sweeping Latin America will intensify at the Empire’s doorstep. Hugo Chavez best summed up this sense of a truly comprehensive movement when he said at the celebration of Honduras’ entry into the ALBA:

“We are now millions of men and women, workers, young people, students, Indians, mixed-racial people, whites. We have woken up; the people have awakened from their lethargy.”

  1. The Wretched of the Earth, page 28-29. []

Walter Smolarek is a student and supportive of the progressive presidential campaign of Gloria LaRiva and Eugene Puryear. He encourages you to learn more about it at www.votepsl.org. Read other articles by Walter, or visit Walter's website.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Norm Deplume said on September 20th, 2008 at 2:06pm #

    Hi,

    On the surface, your analysis looks good above, but unless you have lived in Honduras, you wouldn’t know that ALBA won’t have any benefit to the poor, much like in Venezuela. President Mel is one of our most corrupt presidents, even to the extent of paying everyone who went to the ALBA rally the equivalent of $25 and offering each congressman who would take it $50,000 for the vote when ALBA comes before congress shortly. Whether Honduras gets funds from the US or Chavez, most of it will be stolen and bribes are being paid so Chavez can control Honduras. Over the past month, someone has spent an estimated $5 million dollars on pro-ALBA and pro-Chavez ads on TV and in print here. The ads are running every few minutes. Why?

    Fortunately, even the middle and lower income people are not buying it. For the September 15th Independence day, President Mel was booed off the stage. He is busy scrambling to make a deal with the two presidential candidates so he isn’t jailed after he leaves office.

    Mel is part of the rotting inner core of much of Honduran politics. Nearly everyone in the country will be glad when he is gone. He gives the red, liberal party a bad name and his antics have virtually guaranteed the next president will be blue, conservative.

    Vaya bien, buena suerte.

  2. Walter Smolarek said on September 20th, 2008 at 4:59pm #

    Well Norm, it looks like we have a similar political philosophy; we both believe that power should be in the hands of the people rather than the wealthy. However, I think your application of this philosophy has a lot of flaws in it.

    You talk about Chavez using the ALBA to “control” Honduras, and I get the impression that you see the US and the ALBA as two sides of the same coin. The key difference is that Chavez’s ALBA is a socialist project, while US hegemony is perpetrated to further capitalism. Control of another country is just a means to an economic end. For example, the United States didn’t attack and occupy Iraq simply for the sake of its own control; they wanted to control Iraq so that American capitalists could plunder its natural resources. In the same way they want to control and plunder Latin America.

    Chavez, on the other hand, as a socialist, does not appease Venezuelan capitalists, he fights them. The ALBA is not loyal to any bourgeois forces; its loyalty rests with the poor, and therefore the solidarity it extends is a genuine representation of its political trajectory, a trajectory that will have tremendous benefits for the people.

    I fully agree that Zeleya is not to be trusted. However, what I tried to emphasize in the article was that we, as individuals firmly on the side of the people, have to think strategically. To change Honduras (or any other place), the people have to assume leadership. The ALBA will help keep Zeleya under control, and this will allow the people to organize themselves and get ready to seize their freedom.

  3. JD said on September 20th, 2008 at 8:03pm #

    Interesting reports out of human rights watch on Chavez’s Venezuela. I wonder why Hugo felt so threatened that he had to expel the authors?

  4. Walter Smolarek said on September 20th, 2008 at 9:50pm #

    The Venezuela Information Office has put out a good rebuttel to the politicized HRW report, you can read it here: http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/3812

  5. SW - Resident of Honduras said on September 21st, 2008 at 7:11am #

    I have to agree with Walter Smolarek – if you don’t live in Honduras you do not see what really goes on. President Zeleya is in this for himself – do not be fooled. He does not nor never has cared for the poor and advancing their position in life. All the help that has poured into this country has very little impact on the poor other than they are poorer. Those in power find ways to siphon the money and use it for their own personal means. And as to JD’s statement “The ALBA will help keep Zeleya under control, and this will allow the people to organize themselves and get ready to seize their freedom” – I read it as ALBA will have total control of all aspects of government and you will never see the poor benefiting from this agreement. The “people” will be those in control now along with the military who bleed this country dry. Right now, the people have freedom but they lack the education to understand their rights in a free country because those in power make sure they are oppressed and uneducated.

  6. Eriadanus said on September 22nd, 2008 at 1:17pm #

    It seems from some of the responses above that they come from well educated people as their English seems to have very few gramatical mistakes for someone whose first language is Spanish. My wife is from Honduras and most likely find such comments insulting. As far as the manipulation of ALBA by the elites would be rather difficult and I think reading of the ALBA document would be a good idea. As far as trusting Zelaya we have yet to see whether his endeavor to become a part of ALBA is sincere as he will be meeting with Bush this week, as the headlines read “Zelaya turns to Chavez out of Desperation”. The corruption in the state of Honduras like its relationship with the United States has a long history. One of the biggest problems in Central America as whole is Gangs and the proliferation of drugs via Colombia. The Gangs are very well armed, more so than the Gerrillas of the recent past. Endeavors like ALBA can disappear over night with a change of government. It seems poverty is sometimes used like a weapon as means to control resources.

  7. Tegucigalpa Voice said on September 22nd, 2008 at 3:31pm #

    Walter, the U.S. and ALBA are not two sides of the same coin, you are correct. However, the coin you speak of is the economic platform for which a country adopts – capitalism vs. socialism for the purpose of this conversation. It appears that you are not listening to the comments posted here. What they are attempting to tell you is that you can apply any economic platform here whether it be socialism or capitalism and the outcome with be the same…the poor here (Honduras) will suffer. This country is filled with profiteers and regardless of the system, they will find a way to line their pockets and exploit the labor force. ALBA is not the answer, in fact, it is more of a question. What are the mechanisms by which ALBA professes to make sweeping changes? There is nothing specific in the language as far as I can tell. It appears to be nothing more than generalized propaganda to contradict capitalism, when in fact, it appears to be positioned more as an alternative to Neo-Liberal ideas than to capitalism itself. This region needs citizens to seize control of their country and change the cycle of corrupt leaders all stemming from the same families, the 20 or so families that have run this country for decades. Start there and then we can discuss which economic system would best benefit the Honduran people.

  8. ron ridenour said on September 26th, 2008 at 9:15am #

    Walter,

    You said it like it is! And you did it in clear analysis with wit. I enjoyed and learned from, and was encouraged by, what you wrote.

    Keep on truck`in

    Ron

  9. Walter Smolarek said on September 26th, 2008 at 2:10pm #

    Thanks Ron, look for another article soon, I’m going to try to get it out in about a week.