We can understand Honduras president-elect Pepe Lobo's dilemma. Besides the political pressure, he's inheriting a bankrupt government. I've used the term "between a rock and a hard place" a couple of times.
Manuel Zelaya stepped into a cushy financial position in 2006, at least cushy by Honduras' poor standards. Many hundreds of millions of US dollars of debt had been forgiven thanks to efforts by the previous president, Ricardo Maduro. New aid was flowing in.
Zelaya received a government in as good financial shape as it has ever been. He took advantage of that and ran it into the ground with expensive failed projects, increases in government jobs, malfeasance, corruption, and extreme excesses, including the 61% raise in the minimum wage which his own government didn't have the money to pay to its employees. (Many government salaries by law are based on multiples of the minimum wage so the increase not only affected minimum wage employees.)
Eventually, aid began to be reduced because, for example, the UN and Sweden complained of poverty funds being used to meet government payroll and campaign promises rather than being used for the poor. Couple that with the effects of the international financial crisis and the resulting large reduction in family remesas, the economy is a mess. The internal debt is now at L. 23 billion (US $1.2 billion), more than tripled from 2006. The external debt of Honduras in 2008 reached the same levels as 2005, before the condonation.
That is the state that Micheletti received. There had been no budget, no financial reports. They didn't know where the money had gone − except the L. 50 million in cash withdrawn from the national bank which was caught on video on June 26. The country again had huge debts, virtually no aid, and no access to BCIE or the IMF for loans and disbursements on government projects already approved and underway.
Without the immediate restoration of aid and access to loans, there will be no money to meet payrolls, much less continue projects and meet Lobo's campaign promises.
So, Porfirio Lobo will be in a bad spot when he takes over. He has been getting pressure from the US and OAS for months. Oscar Arias ominously threatened that Honduras could become the Albania of Latin America.
On the one hand we have had President Roberto Micheletti who has strongly and consistently stood up with dignity against the intervention of the international community for seven long months. However, on the other hand, we have a president-elect who didn't make it even one day in office. That doesn't sit well with many, including many in Lobo's own party.
Everyone seemed to be surprised by this new accord. There was apparently no discussion with civic groups prior to making this decision which implies that Pepe Lobo has placed more importance on pleasing the international community than pleasing the people of Honduras. Some analysts on television say that this shows disrespect for the court and attorney general, who have outstanding criminal charges against Zelaya and others. That is ironic, since disrespect for the other institutions of government was a big part of Zelaya's downfall.
There also is the huge problem of the rule of law. There are pending court cases and accusations of crimes of corruption and financial malfeasance on the part of Zelaya and that undefined "intimate circle of friends" who will also be guaranteed safe passage out of Honduras. One of his inner circle, Rasel Tome (photo), has violated a court order and has been prohibited by the court from leaving the country. The Unión Cívica Democrática issued a strong pronouncement on that.
The Honduran people have been victims of corruption and impunity for far too long. They thought they were going to see justice. If Zelaya and his ministers who are guilty of financial crimes do not have to face justice, why should Pepe Lobo and his ministers or the next administration have any fear of justice either? Will we go back to business as usual in Honduras, from the new "yes, we can" attitude back to the old, "what's the use?" attitude?
Harmony, reconciliation, and all that jazz
Pepe Lobo (photo) talks and has always talked during the campaign of peace and reconciliation and dialogue. During the campaign, he was criticized for refusing to take a stand on several issues, saying only that he would dialogue with the people first. Apparently, he didn't.
Now Pepe says, "They tell me that 85% are against amnesty and 15% in favor, but they elected me president to govern and not to be popular, they elected me to do what is correct for Honduras and I will do it to bring peace to the nation."
Peace and reconciliation are badly needed, however, Pepe has been rebuffed by the resistance who refused to participate in the formation of the national plan and who have a big protest planned for inauguration day. He's been rebuffed by the teachers' unions who walked out of a meeting rather than agreeing to follow the law and who are currently planning their first teacher strike to coincide with the first day of the new school year, February 1. Lobo has also been rebuffed by Mel Zelaya, who refused to even recognize him as president elect, and only does so now because of personal benefit. There really is nothing Pepe Lobo can do that will appease either Zelaya or the resistance − nothing short of a constitutional assembly putting them in charge of the country.
So while it's fine to talk of dignity, pragmatism, forgiveness, and so forth as being needed to reconcile the country, I just don't believe it will happen. That would be assuming that Zelaya is a reasonable person who would show some dignity and love for his country and react accordingly − working on his part for reconciliation of the people as hard as he worked to divide them. Zelaya instead has shown himself to be a person who is not reasonable and cannot be trusted. I hope that I'm wrong, but I don't think I will be.
Regardless of the reasons for or acceptance or not of Lobo's decision to sign this agreement, I think that it will very likely be the worst decision that Pepe Lobo has ever made.
While this new 'agreement' puts many requirements on Pepe Lobo, it puts none on Manuel Zelaya or the international community. I can't even fathom how Fernández in his wildest dreams can claim to represent the international community, unless, of course, we want to admit that the US gave him the go ahead. Even that US blessing on the Tegucigalpa Accord had no noticeable effect on the subsequent actions of the international community.
Honduran analysts and attorneys have opined that there is no such thing as a "distinguished guest" category in international law. Some have said that Lobo has overstepped his bounds and even has broken the law, since in his current status as president-elect, he has no power to commit Honduras to anything. The Attorney General has indicated that this agreement has no effect on pending legal charges.
After going to the Dominican Republic, I predict that Zelaya's first many hours will be spent giving flamboyant press conferences in which he will expound on the abuses of the 'dictatorship' and claiming a 'win' for his side. It is becoming abundantly clear that the Dominican Republic is only a stopping off place, so we may be seeing another world tour from Zelaya in which he tries to continue to harm Honduras.
As a matter of fact, César Ham (photo), former presidential candidate of the UD (resistance) party told reporters Wednesday night that Zelaya's plans included travelling to Mexico and visiting other Latin American countries to help strengthen the resistance, and eventually returning to Honduras to push for a constitutional assembly.
Leonel Fernández told Telesur that Zelaya wished to settle in Mexico and wished to become a member of the Central American Parliament.
Telesur failed to note that members of the Central American Parliament (Parlacen) have automatic immunity for any and all crimes. Parlacen has the reputation of a useless, expensive, and corrupt ex-presidents club in which they can avoid prosecution for their misdeeds. Costa Rica is not a member and Panamá recently withdrew from the organization for those reasons.
With political asylum, Mel Zelaya would be subject to restrictions against political activities. Under this agreement, Zelaya is free to go to any country and to perform any acts. There is nothing to stop him from trying to develop influence against Lobo's government both within and outside of Honduras. Zelaya will be free to continue to promote insurrection and try to destabilize the country. We can also presume that he will have the financial support of Chávez to do this.
Some have already gone so far as to predict a future coup d'etat attempt by Zelaya against Lobo. A Venezuelan journalist reported Wednesday that Chávez has already met with Castro, Ortega, and FARC to plan the destabilization of Honduras using paramilitary forces.
Lobo has probably gotten assurances from the US or others that Zelaya won't do those things or that they won't allow that to happen. We already know what assurances from Zelaya, the US, and OAS are worth: nothing!
Same old Zelaya
Just to prove my point that there will be no peace and reconciliation from Zelaya, Honduran newspapers quote Zelaya as saying, "For me it is a good gesture from Porfirio Lobo, I feel that he is making it to unmask the dictatorship of Roberto Micheletti." Does that sound like peace is in Honduras' future? Oh, and by the way, many international news articles include the first part of the quote but omit the second part − why? Like in many other instances over the past seven months, to not reveal what a crazy, vindictive person the US and OAS are supporting.
Interestingly, while all the news reported that Zelaya is leaving for the DR, in typical Zelaya fashion, his spokesman reported that Zelaya "was considering the offer" to go the Dominican Republic if the conditions are right.
No one can deny that Pepe Lobo must have credibility among the international community. But in the long run, much more important to Honduras will be his having credibility among the Honduran people. Ensuring that corruptos, regardless of their political affiliation or social status, are prosecuted will go a long way toward that goal.
Pepe's deal with Zelaya - Part 1
UCD pronounces on the Lobo-Fernández agreement