Reporting throughout Honduras over the past 118 days of resistance to the coup d’etat, we heard the same thing from the people on the ground wherever we went: That whether or not President Manuel Zelaya returns to the post he was elected to serve, that whether or not “elections” happen on November 29, that whether or not the world views them as legitimate, all of that is secondary to the people’s primary demand: for a new Constitution and a constituent assembly (“constituente”) of elected representatives from every sector of society to write it democratically.
A little bird flew by my window this morning - the date the "talks" for a negotiated solution to the Honduras coup definitively broke down and ended - and suggested the following strategy idea, one that has been under discussion in important corners of the Honduran civil resistance: Why wait for an illegitimate regime’s permission to hold the referendum that the coup was designed to stop?
The coup was held on June 28 precisely to stop a non-binding referendum – one that asked if Hondurans wanted the right to vote for or against a new Constitution – but the regime’s own insistence on holding faux “elections” on November 29 inadvertently provides the people with the opportunity to do the very thing the coup was intended to stop: To put up ballot boxes outside of every “official” polling place and survey the people on that original question.
Now that the Honduran civil resistance and its diverse social movements are so much better organized in every town and city than ever before, the little bird asked, why not utilize the November 29 date of the regime’s sham “elections” to hold a real referendum? The suggestion is to place a “First Ballot Box” (“primera urna”), outside of every official polling place, that asks the first question anew: “Do you favor convening a national Constituent Assembly to democratically write a new Constitution for the Republic of Honduras?” “Yes” or “No?”
That little bird must have likewise carefully listened to the voices from below.
We heard it - and reported it to you - from the northeastern cities of Trujillo, Tocoa, and Saba and the nearby farms of Guadalupe Tepayac. We heard it throughout our reporting from coastal La Ceiba and from the Afro-Honduran and Garifuna communities throughout that coast. From the popular barrios of San Pedro Sula and the highway blockades of Comayagua the same central demand was on everyone’s lips: ¡Constituente! From the colonias in resistance throughout greater Tegucigalpa, ¡Constituente! From the western mountains of Santa Rosa de Copán to the fields and jungle outposts of Olancho, the same demand: ¡Constituente! That is what a majority of the Honduran people seek and that is precisely what the coup d’etat – supported by only 17 percent of the public, according to the COIMER & OP poll – was executed to try to stop.
It was this yearning for a new Constitution – and President Zelaya’s endorsement of the people’s desire to vote on it – that provoked the coup d’etat on June 28. That was the date that Hondurans were scheduled to vote on a non-binding referendum – a “consulta” – about whether they would like to cast ballots on November 29 into a “fourth ballot box” (“cuarta urna”) for or against such a constituent assembly to democratically remake the Constitution and the nation.
The coup on that date not only illegally removed the President from the country, it not only shut down the two most trusted TV and radio news networks in the land, but it also unleashed a wave of violent military and police attacks on the referendum ballots and boxes throughout every municipality in the country to prevent that non-binding consulta from happening. Why did they attack cardboard boxes? Because the oligarchs and the minority 17 percent of Hondurans that are with them knew full well that the results of that referendum would have demonstrated that an overwhelming of majority of Hondurans want to vote to construct a new Constitution. And that national expression of popular will would have created unstoppable momentum toward that goal.
And since the current Constitution – drafted in 1982 by those in power, including current coup dictator Roberto Micheletti – allows for a fixed playing field in which the few control the resources and freedoms of the many, the one thing the coup regime can’t tolerate is that the Constitution be rewritten to become one that is of, by and for the people. That small group in power knows very well that the majority of the people no longer want the few to decide everything for them.
What the little bird proposes would be a textbook “dilemma action,” in which a civil resistance puts the regime on the horns of dilemma in which it has no good options to respond.
If the Honduran social movements were to schedule their own referendum on that same November 29 date – a parallel vote, with a new ballot box outside of every polling place in the land for voters to deposit their decision on whether to convene a constituente for a new Constitution – the regime would be left with two very bad options. Sure, the regime could send its soldiers and cops to attack the peaceful process and the citizens that carry it out. But that would lead to startling news images of violent repression on Election Day itself, and a subsequent guarantee that no nation in the world – much less, the majority of the Honduran people - would be able to recognize the November 29 official election as legitimate.
Or, the regime could alternately let the peaceful action happen, in which case the resistance could then count the votes announce the results of its national survey on Election Night – which would likely be overwhelmingly in favor of a new Constitution and a constituente to get them there – and thus place the constituente back at the front of the national agenda at the very time when the regime’s sham “election” will have culminated and played itself out.
If the last 118 days of resistance and repression are prologue, it’s probably likely that the imbecile regime of Micheletti and his Simian Council will opt for Election Day images and videos of its police and soldiers attacking something as wholesome and non-threatening as ballot boxes from every corner of Honduras. That would certainly end its claims to be democratic or civil or legitimate, and make it impossible for the world or the Honduran population to accept the regime’s “election” results as legitimate.
The little bird added that it would not be recommended to call the authentic referendum the “cuarta urna” or “fourth ballot box,” as it was referred to last June. That title came from the way Honduran elections are structured. The first ballot box was to be that where people would have deposited their votes for President (and for the Central American Parliament). The second ballot box was for Congress. And the third ballot box was slated for municipal offices. The coup regime – especially since its September 29 “state of siege” decree suspending Constitutional freedoms of speech, press, assembly, transit and due process – has already made it too late for fair and free elections to culminate as soon as November 29. Therefore, its first, second and third ballot boxes are no longer legitimate.
A Civil Society-driven referendum or consulta would become, thus speaks the little bird, the de facto First Ballot Box, La Primera Urna.
The regime says it wants an election campaign between now and November 29. The little bird says, “why not give them one?” Why not give them posters that say “Vote Yes on the Primera Urna?” Why not go door-to-door and house-to-house campaigning for it? Why not hold “Vote Yes” Campaign rallies in every city and town? And why not organize it all at the local level in Honduras’ 394 municipalities, and even further down to the election district level?
Each such rally, every such poster or flyer, would serve up a challenge to the illegitimate regime: Let it happen, or plague its "elections" with the stain of its own violent and repressive tendencies.
The coup regime’s investment in its November 29 “election” as its last gasp for national and international legitimacy unwittingly puts the national resistance in the driver’s seat on that date. A strategy of direct interference with the regime's phony “election” (say, one of attacking the regime's own ballot boxes) would be seen, the little bird says, as offering mixed signals and confusion over which side authentically supports democracy. But a strategy of putting up parallel ballot boxes, near each of the regime’s polling places, would either succeed in making the very referendum that the coup mongers feared on June 28 happen for real, or it would cause that regime to ham-handedly make the photo and video images from its own election day that define it to the nation and the world those of its own troops attacking and destroying ballot boxes.
If the regime attacks ballot boxes, it loses. If it more wisely allows the very referendum the coup was designed to prevent happen, it also loses. That would make the previous six months of coup government irrelevant, and an abject failure. Because the very next day, on November 30, the center of the national agenda will remain, and more strongly become, the public demand for a new constitution - and a constituent assembly to make it democratically so.
Thus spoke a little bird.