Nearly three-and-a-half years after the coup that removed democratically elected president Manuel “Mel” Zelaya from power, Honduras is gearing up for a presidential race that, for the first time in its history, will present an opposition party to challenge the country’s institutionalized political hierarchy.
Gaining popularity in the presidential race is the Liberation and Re-foundation Party (LIBRE), which was formed in 2011 as the political arm of the National Front for Popular Resistance (FNRP), a network of political and social organizations created in response to the 2009 coup.
“It’s the first time in Honduras’ history that there is a mass opposition party,” said Dana Frank, a history professor at U.C. Santa Cruz who has written extensively about Honduran politics. “It’s a tremendous threat to the internal lockdown on politics by the Honduran oligarchs to the two traditional parties.”
By consensus of all five of LIBRE’s subgroups—June 28 Movement, Popular Refoundation Force (FRP), Progressive Resistance Movement (MRP), People Organized in Resistance (POR), and July 5 Movement—the party has nominated Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, wife of the ousted president, as the presidential candidate in the 2013 general elections.
Her registration in the presidential race is viewed with much anticipation in the country.
“Xiomara Zelaya has demonstrated that she is the right one to make real changes in Honduras,” said Amado Martinez, a former member of the Liberal party who now is a representative of LIBRE. “She represents a government with real social democracy.”
The level of voter participation for the Nov. 18 primary elections is expected to be much higher than in previous years. According to the Electoral Tribunal of Honduras, 120,000 ballot boxes will be set up in the 18 regions of the country.
“With LIBRE, there is a new political party on the field—we will see if this party will stay and grow, and how it will integrate into the political life of the country,” said Hector Manuel Monroy Chavarria, consul general at the Honduran Consulate in San Francisco.
While a total of nine parties are registered for the general elections in 2013, only four of these parties will participate in the primary election process.
In addition to LIBRE, the Electoral Broad Front in Resistance Party (FAPER) is another new party that will present candidates vying for nominations during the primary elections. Also participating in this month’s elections are the Liberal party and the National party—both have traditionally been the most powerful political parties in Honduras.
“There has been heel-dragging by the government about allowing LIBRE to move forward as a legitimate political party, because there is obviously a huge threat to the long-term power of the old parties,” said Frank.
Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. According to the United Nations, 86 murders are committed for every 100,000 inhabitants, and 25 journalists have been killed to date since 2009.
The country has become the stomping grounds for drug traffickers in Central America—violence and repression are the order of the day, perpetuated by corruption in the police force and government.
“The Honduran government wages war on its own people and is spectacularly corrupt,” said Frank. “It is outrageous that the United States continues to support this government with tens of millions of dollars.”
Many attribute the escalation of the country’s current crisis to the coup of 2009, in which former President Zelaya was ousted by members of his own Liberal political party.
“Honduras went into a political convulsion,” said Porfirio Quintano, a member of the Colectivo de Hondureños en Resistencia Nor Cal, describing Zelaya’s renunciation of his upper-class privileges as “the sin” that caused the coup. “People started opening their eyes and saw that the dominating class was marginalizing and suppressing them.”
Though ravaged by violence and political uncertainty, Honduras is in many ways struggling for democracy and reform.
Chavarria said that while Hondurans residing abroad will not be able to vote in the primaries, there is a possibility that polling stations will be set up at some of the major consulates across the United States for the general elections.
“It’s very important that every person has the right to choose, but of course it is very complicated for the Hondurans living in the United States,” he said.
Asked about the new political map in Honduras, Ramon Martinez, a student at City College of San Francisco, said he hopes that more Hondurans will be interested in the politics of his country.
“It’s our own fault for not informing ourselves, and that’s why there is no progress,” said Martinez. “Hondurans living in the United States should not waste the opportunity to educate themselves here. That way, we will be able to draw our own conclusions and not repeat other people’s lies.”