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Honduras Joins ALBA Amid Protest Over Ortega

August 29, 2008

Baptizing Honduran President Manuel Zelaya as “Comandante Cowboy of ALBA,” Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the father of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), traveled to Tegucigalpa Monday morning with his ALBA counterparts from Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica and Nicaragua to officially welcome Honduras into the socialist club.

While lauding the Honduran president as a “brave” leader for signing his country up for ALBA, Chávez blasted his critics in Honduras as “sellouts or just ignorant.”

Speaking in inflammatory terms, Chávez  called Zelaya’s supporters “soldiers” and asking them to defend their president against the Honduran oligarchs and those who answer to the interest of the “yanquis.”

Honduras’ incorporation into ALBA has been strongly opposed by that country’s business sector and more conservative political leadership. The Honduran Private Business Council (COHEP) called ALBA “a political, military and ideological alliance that is contrary to our history, values and ethical commitments.”

Former President Ricardo Maduro said Honduras’ inclusion in ALBA was like “biting the hand that feeds it,” in reference to the $3 billion that Hondurans living in the United States send back each year in remittances.

Chávez, however, told Hondurans they were better off without the United States. “If we don’t free ourselves from the chains of the yanqui empire, there will be no future,” Chávez bellowed.

Chávez told Hondurans that now they are “protected” by an energy accord under ALBA, promising that all the energy and oil they need are now “assured for at least 100 years.” He also promised 100 tractors, increased trade, production credits, joint investment projects, and a new petrochemical company.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, for his part, called Honduras’ signing of ALBA “historic” and warned of the conspiracy of “the eternal enemies of the poor,” who “lie, slander and try to confuse the poor.”

Ortega, whose presence in Honduras was met with protest by feminist groups there, had a reason to be leery of his enemies.

Last week, the Honduran Minister of Women’s Affairs Selma Estrada left her post in protest of Ortega’s visit due to the decade old accusation of sexual abuse filed against Ortega by his stepdaughter, Zoilamérica Narváez. Other feminists joined the protest Monday by demonstrating in the street of Tegucigalpa dressed in black and holding pictures of Narváez.

President Zelaya, for his part, criticized the failings of the free-market economy and said that “ALBA will open a door of hope to overcome the great problems of a capitalism,” such as the food and energy crises.

“If the system had resolved the poverty for more than 4 million Hondurans, we wouldn’t be looking to the south and to socialism,” Zelaya said.

Some analysts, however, are downplaying Honduras’ decision, calling it a pragmatic move in desperate times.

“Zelaya probably believes that whatever cost Honduras might suffer in its relations with Washington as a result of its ALBA association is manageable,” said Michael Shifter, of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington, D.C., think tank on Latin America. Joining ALBA is mostly about oil prices in a moment of crisis, Zelaya said.

 

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