Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Honduran Coup May Be Over, But Where Is Honduras Headed?

Though we haven't talked about it in awhile, the Honduran political landscape continues to change and head in uncertain directions. Last Tuesday, Porfirio Lobo was inaugurated, bringing an end to the "provisional government" of Roberto Micheletti. One of Lobo's first acts was to allow former legally-elected president Manuel Zelaya leave the Brazilian embassy and head into exile in the Dominican Republic.

The inauguration has led several to suggest that the Honduran coup is officially over, as the country has returned to democratic practices and the provisional government of Micheletti has come to an end. In some ways, I think this is true - the particular lifetime of the coupist government has come to an end, and Honduras has technically returned to electing its leaders, but turnout was questionable at best and the government itself limited freedom of speech during the campaign, factors which are hardly the marks of a "healthy" election.

But that doesn't mean the processes themselves are over. First, it will be interesting to watch what the military does under Lobo. Will it fade into the background in an attempt to get people to forget its role in the illegal removal of Zelaya? Will it continue to play an up-front role in influencing politics in Honduras? Will it remove Lobo if/when he does something that Congress, the Supreme Court, and/or the military don't like? Then, there is the issue of the economy, which is in even worse shape since the coup than before the coup (again, I suspect due in no small part to global opposition to the Micheletti government), and the broader social problems and inequalities haven't disappeared at all. As Boz mentions, if anything, Lobo is facing an even tougher landscape than Micheletti or Zelaya, exactly because on top of those social problems, the economy has only worsened.

And then, of course, there's the political landscape. Just because Zelaya is gone and Micheletti out (though still a senator-for-life) does not mean that the political rifts that the coup and its wake created have gone away. As the last post at the Honduras Coup 2009 blog reminds us, the coming months (and years?) will be really important in seeing what comes of Zelaya's supporters and opposition to the regime. Will it just fade away? Will it become a powerful political movement unto itself? Will it be able to effect any changes in Honduran society or politics via grass-roots mobilizations? Any of these things seems possible, and serve as strong reminders as to why the coup may be technically over, but its effects will be long-lasting politically as well as economically. These are all issues that Lobo will have to face and address, and he may not be able to deal with all of them in ways that satisfy the elites, the masses, or either group. His effort at an allegedly "broad" cabinet may be a start, but as the writers at the new Honduras Culture and Politics blog (former writers of the Honduras Coup 2009 blog) point out, what exactly that "broad" cabinet means is up for interpretation and questioning. And the fact that Zelaya may be in exile now does not mean he won't be a force in politics in Honduras down the road. With popular support for Zelaya still clearly strong, and with Micheletti still in the government, and with the military cleared of any wrongdoing, Lobo has a very fine tightrope to walk indeed. For example, I'm particularly curious about the way the symbol of Lobo actually accompanying Zelaya to the airport may be perceived in Honduras. Certainly, Zelaya's removal was illegal, even if Honduras's Supreme Court isn't going to allow court cases against military members involved to proceed. The fact that Lobo was inaugurated, and then accompanied Zelaya to the airport, could be interpreted in Honduran society in any number of ways: as an informal way to assume the presidency from the last legitimately elected leader of Honduras; as Lobo just trying to defuse the situation from both sides; as Lobo showing questionable allegiances; and various other ways. What the Honduran citizenry does with symbols and events like these will not only be worth watching, but essential in seeing where Honduras goes from here.

At the end of the day, I think you can make a strong argument that the coup itself has "ended." But the processes it unleashed are only beginning, and I agree with others in pointing out that the inauguration does not mean we should quit paying attention to Honduras. It will be interesting to see what directions Lobo, the Honduran elites, and the Honduran citizenry take from here on out.