Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak. I'm a professor of anthropology who has been a member of the faculty at Berkeley for 20 years and was a member of the faculty at Harvard for nine years before that.
During that entire time and before, for a total of 37 years, my research has been about Honduras and has involved long periods of residence in Honduras. I lived in Honduras during the period in the late 1970s and early 1980s when its last open military dictatorship turned over power to civilian authorities, wrote the first version of the current constitution, and initiated a long period of building civil society and governmental institutions.
External trade has been critical in that process, yet I come before you to argue against the completion of this agreement. Events in Honduras over the past five years have reversed the progress seen in civil society and government in the prior period. The checks and balances that would ensure that the rights of most Hondurans are respected continue to be dismantled. At this point it is difficult to see how intensifying external trade will avoid the pitfalls of worsening the situation of the average Honduran. It will also remove the important leverage on the Honduran government to strengthen the rule of law, combat impunity, protect human rights, and improve the standard of living for all its people.
The breakdown in these conditions has its roots in the increasing concentration of wealth and political power in the hands of a very few families throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. But the immediate cause of the severe deterioration was the coup of 2009 and its aftermath.
The National Congress of Honduras convened against its own procedures, retroactively authorized the forceful removal from office of President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales. It then, with no authority in law or the constitution, appointed its own leader as the leader of a de facto regime, which defied international pressure and remained in office through the remainder of 2009.
The de facto regime soon embarked on policies that including using the army and police in actions against citizens exercising their right to protest. Numerous suspensions of the right to assembly and protest were put in place, all of them out of compliance with the requirements of Honduran law and its constitution. Protestors were shot, beaten, and some died in open conflict with the military or police.
Concurrently, a still ongoing wave of assassinations began, targeting members of the press—not one of whose murders has been solved—opposition activists, and minorities who opposed the de facto regime.
The de facto regime was still in power when a national election was held in November 2009. That election saw no recognized international monitors. First-hand reports by international NGOs concerned about peace and indeed reports in the Honduran press showed that citizens protesting the election were subjected to attack by the police. For example, in San Pedro Sula, the second-largest city in the country and the centre of commerce, voter turnout reported declined from the previous election. The opposition had called for a boycott of the election and there is evidence that many who turned out at polling places defaced ballots as a form of protest.
Initial reports of vote counts were later revised sharply downward and the procedures of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal give no confidence in those results whether in their original or revised form.
The candidate thus designated as elected by the Honduran authorities, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, entered office under a cloud of illegitimacy, although he was recognized by a number of international governments concerned to move on from the coup. He spent his entire presidency initiating a series of steps to try to erase the stigma of the coup. He did not, however, remove from their places all the individuals who had been appointed during the de facto regime and some of them remain in power today. And more significant for the present proceeding, the Lobo Sosa government continued a process initiated under the de facto regime in which Honduran governmental institutions were used in the service of the wealthy, removing protections of the environment, of human rights, and citizen participation in decision-making.
While appointing individuals to posts charged with protecting human rights, Lobo Sosa never provided those offices with sufficient resources to do their jobs.
Lobo Sosa greatly strengthened the now militarized police administration, while engaging in an ineffective process purporting to cleanse corrupt police. He deployed the armed forces against peasants protesting land expropriation and supported legislation that established a new policing drawn from the military, which is used now against civilians, something not seen since the end of the military dictatorship.
His minister of security, who continues in office under the current president, presides over investigative police who ignore most crimes, who bungle those investigations they undertake, and who are routinely implicated in violent crimes. Most recently the same individual repudiated the independent institution recognized by the UN as the source of reliable murder statistics for the country in an attempt to institute a new definition of murder that would lower the reported crime rate.
Lobo Sosa's successor as president, Juan Orlando Hernàndez, who is from the same political party, was the head of congress during the Lobo Sosa administration. His congress took steps that weakened the separation of powers already imbalanced in Honduras and, in particular, undercut the Supreme Court, which in Honduras is appointed for terms and thus already highly vulnerable to political influence. Hernàndez and Lobo Sosa collaborated in passing legislation, repeatedly deemed unconstitutional, that would allow construction of model cities in places where Honduran laws would not apply to Honduran residents allowed to live there, to provide labour for international corporations.
In his first months in office, Hernàndez instituted a reorganization of government that has demoted to a lower position many of the key civilian offices and eliminated others, including the ministerial level office under the Lobo Sosa administration for human rights. Meanwhile he's aggressively pursued the same legislative agenda that he initiated as head of congress.
While the election in the fall of 2013 did see international observers, it was also flawed. Independent analyses showed that the vote-count process included many questionable results, with more than 100% of registered voters recorded in some districts, and these were overwhelmingly credited to Juan Orlando Hernàndez. Even so, Hernàndez entered office with a minority of votes in an election that was split between four parties, two of them newly created in protest of the status quo.
Starting the very day of the coup in 2009 and continuing today, the most salient governmental issues have been the steps taken to enrich a small wealthy elite at the expense of the majority of the Honduran population, leading to the highest level of inequality in Latin America.
While international press credited the coup to fear that President Zelaya intended to remain in office, the actual triggers of elite opposition to his policies were economic actions, including the raising of the minimum wage, which marginally eroded the income enjoyed by Honduran companies marketing their goods internationally.
The economic interests behind the coup are self-evident in the legislative agenda that was pursued the very same day as the coup, that consisted of passing laws authorizing a variety of government contracts beneficial to the elites. During the de facto regime, other laws were passed dismantling environmental protections, changing the way that contracts were issued, and generally opening up economic development from government oversight.
In sum, beginning with the break in the rule of law in June 2009, Honduras has seen a remarkable reversal of its previous 20 years of progress in governmental and civil institutions, and this continues. The process is one that is transparently designed to increase power of the wealthy elite. It disadvantages the majority of the Honduran people. Some of the changes, such as restrictions in rights and militarization of civilian policing, having been given the mirror of justification based on the presence in Honduras of active drug cartels, has been a smokescreen for other actions, such as legislation allowing congress to investigate and remove from office any government official, creates impunity and concentrates power in the hands of the congress.
In this environment it's difficult to see any way a free trade agreement would avoid being co-opted as a tool of the concentration of wealth and the continued decline of the status of the majority of the Honduran people. We're hoping this agreement would allow the Government of Canada to bring to bear pressure on Honduras to restore civilian rights, to reign in police and military over-reach, and to protect the common good.