THE BLOG

Libre in Honduras, More House of Cards Than Big Tent

The move by the Subcoordinator General of the Libre Party, Esdras Amado López, to form his own party -- Nueva Ruta (New Route) -- and run for President of Honduras in 2017 is significant, not because Mr. López has a chance in Hell of winning or even being more than a blip on the radar, but because it provides some fascinating insights on the dynamics within Libre. The first insight is perhaps already obvious, and that is that although Libre officially touts itself as a socialist party, and many of its members are indeed leftists, its devotion to any ideology, political/economic philosophy is awfully tenuous. In fact, Libre tends to pride itself on being a kind of "big tent".

The party is the home of extreme leftists such as Juan Barahona, Rafael Alegría, and Carlos Reyes. It has conservative liberals such as Manuel Zelaya and his wife Xiomara and his brother Carlos. It has more idealistic left-wing liberals such as Carlos Eduardo Reina and Eduardo Enrique Reina. It has peasants, it has lawyers, it has business people. It has extremely poor people, as well as members of the middle and upper classes.

On the surface, Libre appears to be an extremely inclusive, open, and tolerant organization. In reality, it is the opposite. Mr. López confirmed this last week when he talked about why he was leaving the party:

"The Libre Party is a very closed party due to the way it was founded. There are various forces with different ideologies, and I come from the private business sector. I am used to making decisions and not discussing them. Thus, I have to determine what is right for the country, and I am not willing to debate my ideas with a group of colleagues in Libre who have a different ideology, a different way of thinking. For example, if I talk to [President] Juan Orlando [Hernández}, the people within Libre get offended. If I talk to [President of the National Congress] Mauricio Oliva, they get offended. If I talk to Jorge Canahuati, the people within Libre get offended. If I talk to groups who hold power, the people within Libre get offended. So who should I talk to? With those who they want me to talk to? I am not an enemy of the business community in this country. I am a faithful believer in free enterprise, that the country has to walk on a path toward reconciliation."

The only thing that keeps it relatively together for Libre is a strong personal affection and loyalty to Mr. Zelaya and his family, no doubt strengthened by an unrestrained antipathy toward anyone perceived of having orchestrated or vaguely supported the coup against Mr. Zelaya in 2009. Even if you were against the coup, but happened to dislike Mr. Zelaya, you'd have a problem within Libre. The guiding principle seems to be, "Either you're completely with us or you're completely against us... and ya gotta like Mel."

This is the dilemma that Mr. López will now face, as he prepares to branch out on his own. All those Libre people in the department of Francisco Morazán who voted for him in the last general elections and gave him a seat in the National Congress... well, they're probably not very happy with him. In fact, many of them are already referring to him as a dirty traitor, one who is only interested in himself, someone of low moral character, no integrity. The personal insults are just beginning to fly, and there's plenty of time for them to grow creatively nasty. It is going to get real ugly for Mr. López. He must know it, and yet he feels he cannot remain within Libre and try to accomplish what he wants, politically. Libre is no more a big tent than the Republican Party in the United States.

Take away the Zelayas, and the house of cards will gradually come tumbling down, because there is very little else that unifies the people of Libre other than resentment over the coup, being against the status quo in Honduras, an intense dislike of anyone who holds wealth and power in the country, and a vague vision of how resources should be redistributed. Libre is extremely adept at marching, protesting, and disrupting. But it has shown a thorough inability to legislate and develop workable policies, because its members are unable to reach across the aisle. This has become the defining hallmark of the party, which is mainly why Mr. López is calling it quits.

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