Honduras: Joining ALBA
A Step Towards the Centre-Left,
Says President [Zelaya]
by Thelma Mejía
http://ipsnews.net/, August 26,
Honduras has joined the Bolivarian Alternative
for the Americas (ALBA), amid criticism from the business community
and right-wing political sectors.
Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who
took office in 2006, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez
signed the membership document Monday in the presence of Presidents
Evo Morales of Bolivia and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, and Cuban
Vice President Carlos Lage.
Chávez initially promoted ALBA,
which now has six members -- Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Honduras,
Nicaragua and Venezuela -- to counteract the U.S.- led plan to
create a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which has now
ALBA was launched at the People's Summit
held in parallel to the official meeting of heads of state at
the Fourth Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina
in 2005, as an alternative to the "neoliberal" (free
market) model, embodying cooperation, solidarity and complementarity
and committed to fighting poverty, inequality and unequal terms
of trade, according to its founding document.
Chávez highlighted Zelaya's "courage,
because in spite of the demonisation of ALBA, he has not hesitated
to join a Latin American integration project based on the thinking
and spirit of our foremost heroes."
"Today we are signing not only a
fraternal pact of solidarity, but also an integration project
for Latin America that stands out as an alternative to imperial
hegemony and integrates progressive governments that are proposing
a way out of oppressive imperialism," Chávez said.
Chávez had an altercation with
the Honduran press, whom he called "pitiyanquis" (little
Yanqui imitators) and "abject hand-lickers of the Yanquis.
There are many of them here, as in the rest of Latin America,
where the chief 'pitiyanquis' are the owners of the media,"
Meanwhile, Ortega faced protests from
some women's organisations in solidarity with his adopted stepdaughter,
Zoilamérica Narváez, who has alleged that he sexually
molested her over a period of 11 years. Her lawsuit against the
Nicaraguan state for denial of justice is currently being heard
by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Ortega's visit to Honduras also triggered
the resignation of the minister in charge of the National Institute
for Women, Selma Estrada, who refused to be part of the official
welcoming committee. Street demonstrators wore black, as a sign
Honduras' entry into ALBA is "an
act of freedom, because we are a free and sovereign people,"
Zelaya said. "This is a heroic act of independence and we
need no one's permission to sign this commitment. Today we are
taking a step towards becoming a government of the centre-left,
and if anyone dislikes this, well just remove the word 'centre'
and keep the second one."
Among the benefits of ALBA membership
will be projects to improve health, nutrition, education and culture,
"so thank you, President Chávez, for opening ways
to freedom for Latin Americans, because we were not born to be
slaves nor to have masters," Zelaya said.
"When I met with (U.S. President)
George W. Bush, no one called me an anti-imperialist and the business
community applauded me. Now that I am meeting with the impoverished
peoples of the world, they criticise me. I hope they will retract
their statements in the coming hours," he said.
"Who has told them they have an absolute
right to privatise? I invite them to participate in dialogue,
and to sign a truly national pact with a vision for the country,"
None of the presidents spoke about the
concrete meaning and scope of ALBA.
Honduras' plans to join ALBA unleashed
bitter confrontation between the left and the right in this Central
American country over the past two weeks, ending with the withdrawal
of private sector representatives from all official public acts,
including Monday's signing ceremony, on the grounds that it harms
free enterprise and endangers the Central American Free Trade
Agreement (CAFTA) with the United States.
The business community's stance was matched
by that of the most conservative Honduran political sectors, on
whose behalf former President Ricardo Maduro (2002-2006) was one
of the main spokesmen.
Joining ALBA will increase the deportation
of Honduran migrants from the United States, said Maduro, who
warned "don't bite the hand that feeds you," alluding
The governing Liberal Party mobilised
some 30,000 people to attend the public ceremony, offering individual
payments of between five and 23 dollars. Liberal Party head Patricia
Rodas justified the payments four days ago, saying that "if
the right finances worse things, why shouldn't we mobilise our
Renán Reyes, one of those responsible
for mobilising people from the remote jungle region of La Mosquitía,
on the eastern Atlantic coast of Honduras, told IPS "they
promised us a bonus of 300 lempiras (15 dollars) per person, but
we can't find the politician who is supposed to pay us, although
we know he was given the money."
The non-governmental Social Forum on Foreign
Debt and Development of Honduras (FOSDEH) called for transparency
in the use of resources that the country will receive as a member
of ALBA, as well as with respect to its scope and limitations,
and for public access to information, as the official text signed
on Monday has not been published.
Mauricio Díaz, the head of FOSDEH,
told IPS that "the financial content of the ALBA pact is
unknown to date, no one will talk about it, there is no information,
only political pronouncements. But the people deserve to know
what the country is letting itself in for in terms of debt and
"The prime goal of (Honduras joining)
ALBA is that the government wants money in the short term, but
the needs of government seldom coincide with the needs of the
people. This creates a delicate situation, because ultimately
it is the people who pay for the inappropriate expenses incurred
by a government," he said.
The lack of information was the main argument
put forward by Congress in refusing to ratify Honduras' admission
to ALBA, which is required by the country's constitution.
Two weeks ago, members of Congress reported
that a group of lawmakers aligned with the executive branch would
receive payments of around 52,000 dollars in exchange for voting
for the ratification of Honduran membership of ALBA. This was
promptly named the "petrosubsidies" scandal, in reference
to the presumed source of the money, the oil-rich Venezuela.
Presidential spokesman Enrique Flores
told IPS that "there has been much speculation about ALBA,
but the truth is it's a good alliance for the country. In due
course the transparency measures will be made known; not everything
can be accomplished in one day, it's necessary to be patient."
In January, Honduras joined Petrocaribe,
a Venezuelan initiative under which this country is supplied with
20,000 barrels of crude per day for one year to fuel thermal electricity
plants on favourable terms: 60 percent of the bill is to be paid
within 90 days, and the remaining 40 percent over 25 years, with
a grace period of two years and an annual interest rate of one
Honduras hopes to reduce its trade deficit
with the other member countries of ALBA. In 2007 it exported a
total of 110 million dollars to ALBA countries and imported nearly
170 million dollars' worth of goods and services.
The country is in serious economic difficulties,
and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has frozen new loans
because it believes Honduras has not complied with the financial
restraints that were the conditions of previous IMF loans. Inflation
has risen, as have public subsidies to several sectors.