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3 December 2009 Edition

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International: Uruguay and Honduras

A Tale of Two Nations

FROM Uruguay comes confirmation that the new order in Latin America – progressive and popular – continues to grow and consolidate. On 29 November, Uruguayan voters chose a former guerilla as their new president, putting him a clear 10 percentage points above his rival in a run-off vote.
Jose Mujica was a founder member of the National Liberation Movement – the ‘Tupamaros’ – that waged a major armed campaign against the rightist, militarised state during the 1960s. In 1973, the army assumed outright control (again) and established a military dictatorship that lasted until 1985. Jose Mujica spent those 12 years in jail.
Indeed it was only in 2005, when socialist Tabare Vazquez won the presidency, that the military/political right saw their 150-year-long stranglehold on power brought to an end.
The popularity of the outgoing Vazquez was seen as a factor in Mujica’s victory over his centre-right opponent.
Remarkably and almost uniquely, amidst the turmoil and chaos of global capitalism, Uruguay is experiencing sustained economic growth, something which is being attributed to the policies of the socialist administration: primarily, the introduction of a progressive income tax system that sees the rich paying more, with the new revenue utilised to tackle unemployment and poverty. Revolutionary. It could even catch on here!
That Mujica’s victory represents a genuine rejection of the old order was confirmed by the result of a referendum run simultaneously with the presidential poll. In this instance, voters affirmed their support for the repeal of amnesty legislation from 1986 that had been used to shield military personnel from prosecution for abuses committed during the 1973-’85 dictatorship.
Already, the country’s Supreme Court had ruled against the amnesty legislation, while Uruguay’s last dictator – Gregorio Alvarez – was very recently sentenced to 25 years in jail, for his part in the campaign of terror run by the military.

But in Honduras meanwhile, the dregs of Latin America’s old order continue to cling stubbornly to power  – with the tacit support of the major powers.
Aid money continues to find its way to Tegucigalpa and while the coup regime may be internationally isolated, it does not suffer the level of opprobrium nor the sustained campaign of opposition that is supposedly directed at those who diverge from the one true path. Cuba comes to mind.
While the democratically elected, militarily deposed and still rightful president – Manuel Zelaya – remains under siege in Tegucigalpa’s Brazilian embassy, those that deposed him have mounted a charade of monumental proportions, in the form of new ‘elections’ to fill the presidential post, albeit a post that has not actually been vacated. And guess what? They won.
A wealthy rancher named Porfirio Lobo is apparently the new president elect of Honduras. Lobo actually lost to Zelaya in 2005, but has now seen that anomaly rectified through the rather ingenious device of the latter being forcibly removed from office.
Manuel Zelaya’s name was not on the ballot paper, as he had called for a boycott of the ‘illegitimate’ election. Yet remarkably, the country’s Electoral Tribunal has announced that voter turnout was up dramatically, on the 2005 elections. This has been rejected by Zelaya and his supporters who say that voter turnout was as low as 35%. There were no independent, international observers present.
Despite the charade, the US along with stalwart allies in Panama and Peru have made it clear the ‘electoral route’ taken by the coup regime provided them with a plausible enough cover story to begin the process of readmitting Honduras into the international ‘community of nations’. There are signals that the EU could follow suit.
However, the community of nations in Latin America are having none of it, and regional powers Brazil and Argentina along with Ecuador and Venezuela have made it clear they too see the recent election as a farce. And where those four go, many others will follow willingly.
They will do so even if they hate and despise President Manuel Zelaya and all that he stands for. And they will do so for the very same reasons that motivated Uruguay’s electorate to reject the past and support bringing the country’s brutal military to book.
The past is a living thing in Latin America. Memories are strong and wounds still raw. Over the years, tens and hundreds of thousands lost their lives at the hands of tiny ruling elites, of the sort that hold power in Tegucigalpa now. Ten families are said to own Honduras.
If Manuel Zelaya can be ousted and the transgressors rewarded, what message does that send to other threatened elites across the continent?

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