How Democracy Works: Honduras
I’m sharing with you today a story from the newsletter of the Marin Task Force on the Americas. It moved me deeply to see what democracy means in a small village in the mountains of Honduras.
La Union, Honduras: Election Day Report by Maria Robinson, TFA board member:
In the days leading up to election day I was contacted about violence in the aldeas (villages) of La Union and specific threats to the family of Rigo Matute. Rigo is a coffee farmer and activist whom I met during the Honduras election of 2012. He has since become head of the Consejo Electoral Municipal of La Union, with authority to investigate voting irregularities. Rigo and his family had been threatened when someone tried to break down the door of the bedroom where he and his wife Demi and two young children were sleeping. It was suggested that I accompany Rigo and his family during the election process. La Union is dominated by the Reyes family, prominent in National Party politics. Rigo is known as a LIBRE supporter. He had just been informed of a plan to douse him in gasoline and light him on fire!
On Thanksgiving Day, I flew to San Pedro Sula, where I was met by Demi and was driven for four gut-wrenching hours over mountainous roads in La Union. Staying at their home, I would observe the election from the inside. It was a scary time. Since vote-rigging on election day has been made difficult, the local Nacionalistas were applying pressure before the voting day. In the middle of the night Rigo was called to a nearby aldea where two 4X4s had been driving around with loaded guns in a threatening manner for five days. The locals were meeting them with only rocks, brooms, and machetes.
During election day, I accompanied Rigo to several aldeas. In one heavily Libre area, the election officials slowed down the voting so that the LIBRE area supporters had to wait in the hot sun for hours to vote. Later, an alarmed election observer called to report that the President of the Mesa Electoral (a Nacionalista) was trying to invalidate LIBRE vote-counting by marking ballots with double entries.
The actual vote-counting was slow and very public, each vote being read aloud, held up for all to see, and stamped so it could only be counted once. In the end, the Nacional Party candidate for mayor lost, thus ending the 100-year domination of the Reyes family in La Union.
Wow. This election ended the hundred-year domination of one family in a remote region of Honduras — and it was peaceful! That’s pretty exciting.
Democracy is not new to Honduras, but it has been interrupted frequently. Honduras was the original “banana republic.” The term refers not only to the country’s main crop but to the fruit companies from the United States that exerted extraordinary influence over the politics of Honduras and its neighbors. That influence was enthusiastically bolstered by the invasion of U.S. troops in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925.
Throughout the 20th century, Honduras was torn between progressive worker-oriented democracy, conservative business-oriented democracy, right-wing dictatorships supported by the military, and just plain old military dictatorships. I’m not going into detail about the involvement of the U.S. during this time. I think seven invasions in 22 years, to support the United Fruit Company, gives you an idea.
Honduras entered the 21st century as a democracy. But in 2009, the army ousted President Zelaya, of the LIBRE party, and flew him into exile in Costa Rica. You know, if those damn Hondurans could learn to vote for the right candidates (that is, pro-business) instead of being seduced by visions of social justice and worker’s rights, they could damn well KEEP their democracy! But as it is, the army just has to keep coming in and giving the people the government they really NEED! So in 2009 began for the umpteenth time, the rule of the right-wing Nacionalistas, this time lasting 12 years.
The Nacionalistis finally got their butts kicked at the highest level in November 2021, at the same time as they were defeated in the remote aldea of La Union. Xiomara Castro, ex-President Zelaya’s wife and the former First Lady, was elected President. Since her husband was ousted, Castro ran for president in 2013 and vice-president in 2017, before she was finally elected in 2021.
So the people of Honduras have truly fought long and hard for this progressive liberal democracy they achieved in November 2021. Let’s hope they can now hold on to it for a while.
I’m not saying that the progressive candidates of the LIBRE Party are pure of heart or incredibly competent or incapable of being corrupted by power. I mean, I hope they are. But they’re human beings and therefore imperfect. I’m saying the majority of Hondurans have wanted the LIBRE Party in charge of the country at least since 2009, and they are entitled to have that!
And I’m saying that no family should dominate the political life of a town for 100 years. I love the description of the vote-counting in La Union. So conscientious that the poll workers held up each ballot to show the voters who had gathered to watch.
Democracy. Ya gotta love it. Or, as Winston Churchill so eloquently said:
“Democracy is the worst form of government — except for all the others that have been tried.”
And, let me tell you, Honduras has tried quite a few.
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