Tegucigalpa came to a halt on Tuesday morning as 1,800 officers of the policia preventiva (preventive police) striking for better wages and working conditions blocked the main streets with their police cruisers. The officers have announced that their strike will continue until their demands are met.
Officers complained of “living like animals” at police stations across the capital that lack proper equipment and “proper facilities to work or rest," including sanitary facilities. Fearing reprisal, the officers remained anonymous in issuing their complaints.
The preventive police only earn about $150 a month and have not been granted the pay raise that should have gone into effect last January. They are expected to purchase their own uniforms and ammunition and only receive one weekend off per month. Alex Villanueva, director of the preventive police, warned that officers who continued to strike would be punished and chastised them for inciting “indiscipline and delinquency.”
Crime rates have increased dramatically in Honduras since the 2009 coup that forced then-President Manuel Zelaya into exile in Costa Rica. The Central American country claims the highest murder rate in the world according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime—averaging 20 homicides per day—increasing the risks for police officers.
Since the June 28th coup removed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya from power, the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti has vigorously defended the upcoming elections as the way out of the political crisis. In recent weeks, the central question has become whether the international community will recognize the upcoming presidential elections. With the breakdown of negotiations and Zelaya’s recent declaration that he will not accept restitution from the Congress (itself increasingly unlikely), the Organization of American States (OAS) will almost certainly not send election observers. Conversely, Panama, Colombia and the United States have indicated they will recognize the elections, which undermines the previous international consensus on the Honduran crisis.
Meanwhile, last week, independent presidential candidate Carlos H. Reyes pulled out of the race because President Zelaya had not yet been restored. Cesar Ham, the other pro-Zelaya candidate, will decide this week whether to end his presidential bid, as well.
But the other major story last week was that Rodolfo Padilla Sunseri, mayor of San Pedro Sula (the country’s second-largest city and commercial hub), has pulled out of his re-election race. This serves as an important reminder that these elections will determine—in addition to the President and the 128 members of Congress—the mayors of all 298 Honduran municipalities. Padilla Sunseri’s resignation reveals the importance of municipal politics a lens for understanding the last five months in Honduras. Honduran municipalities aligned with Zelaya have been hit hardest by the coup, and their plight reflects the political divisions within the country, the duplicity of the Micheletti regime and the difficult decision facing pro-Zelaya candidates.
Developments early this week in Honduras appeared to bring the promise of an end to the country’s political crisis and the restoration of democracy there. The media reported globally that a U.S.-led effort had succeeded in reconciling the demands of deposed President Manuel Zelaya with those of de facto President Roberto Micheletti.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Honduran congress was supposed to vote on whether to restore Zelaya to office and the November presidential elections would then be recognized and held without either Micheletti or Zelaya as candidates. A unity government was to have been formed by last night that would govern until the new president took office. The U.S. and the rest of the international community would then recognize the new administration and democratic governance would be restored.
In a stinging rebuke to widely disseminated comments by senior U.S. officials that the crisis was over, today’s reports out of Tegucigalpa indicate that the deal has collapsed. The Honduran Congress has yet to vote on Zelaya’s reinstatement and Micheletti has announced the formation of a unity government without Zelaya’s representatives. According to the ousted president, “The accord is dead.” AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini says that the U.S. strategy for resolving the crisis has apparently backfired and U.S. diplomats “may have put themselves in a bigger pickle than if they hadn’t” taken a diplomatic role.
Meanwhile, in Nicaragua, regional events appear to have overshadowed President Daniel Ortega’s bid to push forward a constitutional reform to allow himself to run for re-election in 2011.
It appears that Roberto Micheletti, the de facto president of Honduras, overplayed his hand on Sunday when he announced a decree that closed down two media outlets (Radio Globo and Canal 36), dissolved the right of assembly and permitted police to detain suspects without warrents. Just for good measure he also gave the Brazilian embassy a 10-day ultimatum to release elected-President Mel Zelaya, saying that the government would not respect the embassy as Brazilian territory (a violation of diplomatic protocol and what would amount to—according to the Brazilian government—as an invasion of Brazilian territory). And he threw out the OAS delegation that had arrived, saying they had come too early.
In a move familiar to President Zelaya before he was unconstitutionally removed, the Honduran Congress said that it would not support Micheletti’s decree.
A visibly shaken Michelletti issued a televised mea culpa and said the decree would be suspended. But its effects on clamping down on the media and heading off demonstrations were still felt.
The question is: has Micheletti lost it? I mean this both in the sense of his political strategy and his political/institutional support.
First, the wisdom of the move. The coup President has shown a remarkable level of stubborn disregard for the international community—a result in large part of his conviction of the legitimacy of the government’s actions and his belief that other governments haven’t taken Zelaya seriously as a threat to Honduran democracy. But the actions on Sunday have effectively closed off what was Micheletti’s last (narrow) path out of this: the November 29th elections and the hope that somehow, someway the international community would accept them as a path forward and recognize the winner.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.