Amid the historic elections in Honduras, we spoke with sociologist Eugenio Sosa of the National Autonomous University of Honduras who advised the Libre Party on building proposals with social movements. He shared his reflections on the electoral process taking place today.
Peoples Dispatch (PD): What are the priorities of social movements for the coming time period for Honduras? How has that been incorporated into Libre’s Government Plan?
Eugenio Sosa (ES): There are many overlapping priorities in the demands of the social movements and Libre’s proposals. The first axis has to do with the whole issue of extractivism and territories. This government, with its neoliberal model, has furthered the destruction of the territories of the Indigenous people and Garífunas by concessioning rivers and territories for mining and other activities.
The jewels in the crown of this extractivism are the Special Economic Development Zones, the infamous ZEDES. This project causes a greater fragmentation of the country, of the idea of the nation. It means breaking the territorial power and above all, it strikes at the environmental and cultural heritage of the Afro-Garifuna communities and also of the indigenous communities and peasant communities.
This issue has been addressed by the coalition that Xiomara [Libre’s presidential Xiomara Castro] is part of, which comprises not only Libre, but also the Saviour Party of Honduras. This coalition has said that it will make a significant effort to repeal these laws, especially the ZEDES, and prevent extractivism. It depends on the new Congress. As you know, in this election, we are also voting for Congress and the mayors. So the composition of the new Congress will be key.
The other proposal is to recover public companies and services because they [the government] have been destroying the few state-owned companies Honduras did have.
Obviously, the biggest state-owned entity in our country handled water but it was changed. The power and telecommunication sectors were also totally privatized. The case of the electricity company is critical because hydroelectric groups have a lot of power and do a lot of business. Honduras pays excessive amounts for electricity – the company has been bankrupted. These are exploitative contracts because whether or not the energy is consumed and whether the private companies provide it or not, according to the contract, they have to be paid the total rate.
This is why we have a line calling for the recovery of the public companies. As I say, it is not much, but I believe that more than the companies, it is a step towards rescuing the public sector.
There is an emphasis on the human rights of the most excluded groups, especially in relation to women and people of sexual diversity because a lot of hate crimes take place. Libre put that in the plan and has had to pay a very high cost in the political campaign.
Another proposal is for more open and plural foreign relations. Honduras has a long history of elites being extremely subordinate to the United States and US interference has been unlike anything seen in Latin America. For instance, in the previous elections, when the court made the declaration in the framework of the fraud, the chargé d’affaires – because there was no US embassy there – was next to the representative of the court giving the data. So Libre is considering more open relations, more diplomatic relations. It has not said that they are going to break with the United States, that they will be an enemy or anything but Libre wants the freedom to establish relations with other countries such as China. That is raised in the plan.
In the economic realm, it calls for respect for the business sector, but also for giving support to the productive agri-food economy, ensuring food security and support to the social aspects of the economy. Then there are the more controversial issues in the plan which frighten the elites a lot, including the issue of the National Constituent Assembly, which in principle is proposed so as to reorganize the Constitution because it has been disrupted and violated. There is also a call to generate a more participatory process of the people.
PD: What has been the response of the people to the polarization campaign of the regime?
Eugenio Sosa: The ruling National Party has been in power for 12 years but has been declining in popularity because of its links to corruption, drug trafficking, and even organized crime.
They seek continuity and speak as if the last 12 years did not happen. So they try to hide what they have actually done, and have focused on generating fear. They even admit that the situation is super bad. They do not say so directly but covey the message by declaring that what is coming may be worse.
After Salvador Nasralla joined the Libre ticket, the ruling party’s campaign took an even more negative turn – their entire campaign ran on the anti-communism and anti-abortion planks. They also kept referring to Libre’s relationship to the Sao Paulo Forum and its relationship with Venezuela, with Chávez and Maduro, and even kept bringing up Fidel constantly, even five years after his death. They said he was responsible for what is going to happen to us here in this country. Curiously, Nicaragua was never mentioned, because [president Juan Orlando] Hernández has very good relations with Ortega. So no, Nicaragua was not in the center, despite it being the closest country they could have used.
Libre decided not to take that narrative seriously, but focused on the fact that we are going to win. Our proposals took a different focus so as not to give more air time to their campaign planks. Libre made the decision to show the people that the current government is a bad government, and not focus on whether or not Libre is communist. They focused on the corruption of this government, what they have done, how they have damaged the people and how they have stolen from the people. Above all, Libre sought to highlight that Xiomara is the only person who can really guarantee that this government will go away.
Libre is going to have two major blocks of votes: the votes that believe in the Libre project, which are probably not the majority of the votes that they are going to get, and the votes that want the National Party to leave and that are not convinced or sure of the Libre project, but that are going to give it the benefit of the doubt. This situation has brought Libre votes from sympathizers of traditional parties of the oligarchy, because the National Party has taken their criminality way too far. There may even be votes from certain sectors of the governing party itself.
This allowed Xiomara to become the only option to generate change and for her to have the real possibility of winning the election. If the opposition was divided, the victory would still have been possible but it would have been an uphill battle.
PD: Why are these elections so important?
ES: I think that basically the first element is that the citizens have expectations of change, that things can be better, that Honduras is not condemned by providence to be this poor country and that we really have to take a moment to reorganize the country. And that is why these elections are key. We have a choice between continuity or the hope for change.
The second reason is the fact that the country has had very big setbacks. This is seen in terms of respect for the Rule of Law, in terms of the quality of elections, and in social issues like poverty and opportunities for youth. There are also a lot of young voters. Honduras has a large youth population and these young people leave university with almost no options. Migration has become almost the only option for many.
This is a country where a small group of rich people, along with this other group of thieving politicians, have done what they want and caused immense damage. People really think that change could greatly improve their life on a day to day basis.
The elections are important because the many sectors want stability. They want stability for foreign investment, for their businesses. In reality this government, which eight out of ten Hondurans considered illegitimate, generated many difficulties.
We are in the midst of the pandemic where the most scandalous corruption schemes happened such as the purchase of mobile hospitals which never arrived or arrived as junk. When people were dying outside of the hospitals, all this generated a great social crisis, a great problem of political legitimacy and a lack of opportunities.
In light of this mass rejection of the ruling party, the opposition created a very short but very clear phrase, which has enthused many: “they are leaving”. This has had a very strong impact.
But one concern is the role the United States in the elections, in this context at a time when there is great desire and determination for change. Those from the National Party are their traditional allies, they are their partners and front men. But then we know that when they do not serve them, they throw them in the trash can because they have no friends.
So one has to think about the limits. The gringos know that they have a problem in Central America. If there is one place where they have always done what they have wanted it is Central America and particularly Honduras.
But I think it’s going to go well. And Biden’s officials have sort of said that it might be better for us to respect the results than to support another fraud. I think that supporting another fraud is complicated for the country. If there is fraud again, if the National Party persists with fraud, the situation is going to be the same or worse than 2017. In other words, people are going to leave, they are going to be pissed off. But that is not going to be like that. It is over.