Honduras: business sector gets nervous

On Aug. 25 the US State Department announced that it had temporarily stopped issuing visas to Hondurans in an effort to pressure the de facto Honduran government to allow President Zelaya’s return to office; there will be exceptions for emergencies and for people who are immigrating to the US. On Aug. 26 US deputy assistant secretary for Andean, Brazilian and Southern Cone affairs Christopher McMullen indicated that the US might apply additional sanctions. More than half of Honduras’ trade is with the US.

Honduran business leaders, who generally backed the coup, started worrying about economic damage from the political crisis as early as July 5. The visa suspension has increased their concern. “This visa thing has a very big negative effect, especially because it affects the purchase of raw materials, which are necessary for the production processes of small and medium industry,” Enrique Núñez, president of the National Association of the Medium and Small Industry of Honduras (ANMPIH), told the Agence France Presse news service. He called for a political solution to the crisis.

There are fears that that the US may even suspend Honduras’ participation in the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), which especially benefits the maquiladora sector. Jorge Canahuati Larach, a major figure in the industry, told AFP: “The best thing for the country is for us to find a middle point between the two positions” of the coup supporters and the coup opponents.

Adolfo Facussé, president of the National Association of Industries of Honduras (ANDI), dismissed the threat of a suspension of DR-CAFTA. “[W]e’re ready to resist,” he said, “because it’s better to eat tortillas and beans for year than to return to the situation we were in before, under the influence of Mr. Chávez”—Venezuela’s leftist president Hugo Chávez FrÍas, an ally of Zelaya. But an Aug. 27 editorial in El Tiempo—a major daily based in San Pedro Sula, the center of maquiladora production in the country—took the threat of further US sanctions very seriously, warning Micheletti that “it’s not possible that the entire world could be wrong, including the great majority of Hondurans, and that only a sector of the economic and political elite, allied with the military command, is the arbiter of what’s right.” (AFP, Aug. 27; El Tiempo, 27)

El Tiempo’s owner, Jaime Rosenthal Oliva, is himself a member of the “economic and political elite” and a good example of the interconnections between politics, business and the media in Honduras. One of the country’s richest people, Rosenthal has fought to keep unions out of his maquiladoras, and his Promotur tourism company has been accused of trying to seize land belonging to communities of the Garífuna ethnic group. He is a powerful politician in the Liberal Party (PL), and his son, Yani Rosenthal Hidalgo, was presidency minister under President Zelaya in 2007.

In addition to his maquiladora connection, Jorge Canahuati is the majority owner of two of Honduras’ largest newspapers, La Prensa and El Heraldo. Also in the Canahuati family are Honduran Maquiladora Association head Jesús Canahuati and his brother Mario Canahuati, a former ambassador to the US who ran for vice president in 2005 for the National Party (PN). (NACLA Report on the Americas January-February 2009; NACLA website, Aug. 3)

ANDI president Adoflo Facussé is a cousin of former president Carlos Flores Facussé (1998-2002), owner of La Tribuna, another of the country’s main newspapers. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ag. 6 from AP)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 30

See our last post on Honduras.