Honduras: “What’s the problem” with a constituent assembly?

At a press conference in Tegucigalpa on Sept. 29, a reporter asked conservative Honduran president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa about calls from unions and grassroots organizations for a constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s 1982 Constitution. “But what’s the problem with that?” Lobo responded. “What’s the problem?” The president said he considered it his “moral duty…to invite the sectors that promote it to hold a dialogue… Let’s sit down and discuss [these things]. That isn’t the problem.”

Lobo’s comment seemed to represent a break from the official policy of ignoring calls for rewriting the Constitution, a proposal which the Honduran elite vehemently opposes. An effort by former president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009) to hold a nonbinding plebiscite on calling a constituent assembly was one of the reasons given for the military coup d’état that removed him from office on June 28, 2009, the day the vote was to take place. Lobo–who was elected on Nov. 29, 2009, in elections organized by the de facto government installed by the coup–has made it clear that his government does not support a constituent assembly.

But it is now obvious that there is widespread support for the idea. On Sept. 15 the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), a coalition of many different groups opposing the 2009 coup, concluded a campaign it started on April 20 to gather 1.25 million signatures on a petition calling for a constituent assembly. The final count, according to the FNRP, was 1,342,876 signatures.

This is a significant number in a country with a total population of about eight million, and considerably higher than the number of votes Lobo received in last year’s elections. According to Honduras’ Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), there were 4,611,211 registered voters at the time of the elections; 2,300,056 people voted, the TSE says, and Lobo received 1,213,695 votes. Even this number is too high, according to the resistance, which boycotted the elections and estimates that the actual turnout was much lower than the 49.9% claimed by the TSE. (Honduras Culture and Politics blog, Oct. 1; La Tribuna, Tegucigalpa, Sept. 29; El Tiempo, San Pedro Sula, Sept. 17; TSE website, accessed Oct. 3)

In other news, Marvin Ponce, a legislative deputy for the small center-left Democratic Unification (UD) party, said there was applause in the generally conservative National Congress at reports on Sept. 30 that a coup was taking place against the leftist government of Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa. Many of the current members also supported the 2009 coup in Honduras.

On Oct. 1, after it was clear that Correa was still in office, the FNRP issued a statement congratulating the “heroic people of Ecuador” for their “triumph over the retrograde forces of the oligarchy and imperialism.” “We too will drive out the tyrants imposed by the force of arms,” the FNRP said. (Vos el Soberano, Honduras, Oct. 1)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 3.

See our last post on Honduras.