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Honduras: A Little Too Much Wishful Thinking, Way Too Many Loudmouths

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In an interview published yesterday by Honduras' El Heraldo newspaper with well-known Honduran columnist and political analyst Juan Ramón Martínez, Mr. Martínez explained why he thought the socialist Libre Party is in decline. He attributed the recent decision by Libre's second-in-command, Esdras Amado López, to leave Libre and create his own political party -- Nueva Ruta -- to a realization that Libre has no chance of ever winning a presidential election so long as it is led by Manuel Zelaya.

In Mr. Martínez's opinion, Mr. López believes that Mr. Zelaya will continue to "impose his whims and obsessions, and that for that reason it is preferable to set up a different shop and see if it is possible to win over the support of the entire electorate that supported him personally, and to hell with Libre." Mr. Martínez noted that [Mr. López] "has realized that Zelaya is an obstacle, a partnership that is a losing strategy."

Mr. Martínez speculates that Mr. López could end up taking with him the moderates within Libre -- leaving the party with only the extreme leftists such as the leaders of the unions and the communist university students, along with those who have simply had it with the Liberal Party, and that these groups would end up fighting among each other, thus further weakening Libre.

Mr. Martínez's analysis has some merit. It is possible that Mr. López might attract a significant following among Libre moderates, and that this would hasten the disintegration of the party. But it is at least equally possible that Mr. Martínez may be seriously overestimating Mr. López's popularity and underestimating how badly people within Libre react to those they perceive as traitors. Mr. Martínez may have a blindspot here due to his desire to see Libre as little more than a temporary anomaly in Honduran politics, and his expectation that a sizable chunk of the Libre electorate will soon realize the error of their ways and return to the Liberal Party.

But this expectation is probably more hope than anything else. There are no indications that Mr. López will lead a mass exodus from Libre. While there is growing frustration within Libre that it does not have the strength to mount a viable opposition to the ruling National Party on its own, and that it is going to have to find ways to create a unified block with the Liberals and members of Salvador Nasralla's PAC, that is a far stretch from abandoning the cause.

Given the overoptimism of Mr. Martínez with regard to the demise of Libre, the last question of his interview is moot: "So then, who wins as a result of Libre's problem, the right?"

Mr. Martínez's answer:

"Honduran democracy wins. The Liberal Party wins, because it is in this manner that it can regain its position as the main opposition party. But this will depend on whether it abandons the timidity that has come to define it under Mauricio Villeda Bermúdez, who must do a better job of articulating who [the Liberal Party] represents within the population. Does it represent the poor, does it defend the poor, or does it only defend the owners of the Liberal Party. Third, does it defend democracy, does it oppose dictatorships and the fight against continuismo (remaining in power beyond legal presidential term limits), and, fundamentally, does it speak out clearly against corruption. The silence of Mauricio Villeda with respect to the acts of corruption committed by [Enrique] Flores Lanza, the majority of the ministers [under the Zelaya government], and of course by Manuel Zelaya Rosales himself is suspicious because it reflects hesitancy and a lack of moral consistency."

Those are strong words by Mr. Martínez, who is a longtime close friend of the Villeda family. But the critique contains more emotional frustration than balanced perspective or substance -- both of which are core to any decent analysis. The reality is that Mr. Villeda has consistently spoken out against Mr. Zelaya and his cronies. He has consistently emphasized the values of the Liberal Party and how they have always been focused on improving the lot of the poor. He has consistently stressed the importance of abiding by the Constitution and remaining true to democratic principles. He has consistently and passionately voiced his feelings against authoritarianism and corruption.

Possibly Mr. Martínez has just not been listening closely enough. Perhaps he simply wants Mr. Villeda to beat the drums louder and more frequently. It's true that many Hondurans like lots of loudness and repetition. That's why people like Mr. Zelaya, Mr. Nasralla, and Mr. López tend to get so much coverage in the media. But Mr. Martínez is old enough to know by now that, after a while, loudness and repetition merely become noise, and noise is not an indication of good or responsible leadership.

Mr. Villeda is the president of the Executive Central Council of the Liberal Party (CCEPL). He's the leader of that party, not a member of Congress, which means his primary responsibility at the moment is to find ways to strengthen the party and make it competitive once again in general elections. The best way to do this is to work diligently, intelligently, and humbly behind the scenes to better organize and mobilize Liberals, and reach out to former Liberals who have joined Libre and the PAC out of frustration and protest to the old Liberal Party. Rebuilding a battered party is a difficult and delicate task. You have to keep everyone in line and relatively happy, while bringing in new people who may not be warmly welcomed at first. The process cannot be rushed, and it requires deft hands.

Mr. Villeda has a monumental challenge of re-inventing the Liberal Party, without sacrificing its traditions and philosophy. This is not a job for loudmouths, complainers, and whiners always looking for the next headline or TV interview, and Mr. Martínez's insinuation that silence is somehow analogous to weakness is infantile. Among adults and great leaders, a modicum of silence is among the strongest attributes, because it suggests that there is more than just talk to the individual. Boy do we Hondurans love to talk.