Smaller Political Parties and Movements

Honduras Table of Contents

Since Honduras's return to civilian democratic rule in the 1980s, two small centrist political parties, the Pinu and the PDCH, have participated in regular national presidential and legislative elections. Neither party, however, has challenged the political domination of the two traditional parties. Both parties have received most of their support from urban centers of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, Choluteca, and La Ceiba. In the presidential elections of 1981, 1985, and 1989, Pinu received 2.5 percent, 1.4 percent, and 1.8 percent, respectively, and the PDCH received 1.6 percent, 1.9 percent, and 1.4 percent. Both parties have presented presidential candidates for the 1993 national elections.

Pinu was first organized in 1970 by businessman Miguel Andonie Fernández as an effort to reform and reinvigorate the nation's political life. This urban-based group, which draws support from middle-class professionals, first attempted to gain legal recognition (personería jurídica) in 1970, but the PNH blocked Pinu's attempts until the 1980 Constituent Assembly elections. Pinu won three seats in those elections, important because only two votes separated the two traditional parties in the National Congress. Pinu also held a cabinet position in the provisional government headed by General Policarpo Paz García (1980-82) in 1980. In the 1981 elections, Pinu acquired three legislative seats, whereas in the 1985 and 1989 elections it won only two seats. Pinu became affiliated with the Social Democratic International in 1988. In 1985 and 1989, Enrique Aguilar Cerrato was the Pinu presidential candidate, and in 1993 businessperson Olban Valladares was the party's candidate.

The origins of the Honduras Christian Democratic Party (Partido Demócrata de Honduras--PDCH) date back to the 1960s, when, in the wake of Vatican Council II, the Roman Catholic Church became involved in the development of community organizations, including unions, and student and peasant groups. In 1968 lay persons associated with the Roman Catholic Church founded the Christian Democratic Movement of Honduras (Movimiento Demócrata Cristiano de Honduras--MDCH), which in 1975 became the PDCH. According to Mark Rosenberg, the party became more progressive than the Roman Catholic Church and maintained solid ties with peasant organizations. Although the party applied for legal recognition, the PNH blocked the process, and the party did not receive recognition until late 1980, too late to be part of the Constituent Assembly drafting a new constitution, but just in time to compete in the 1981 national elections. In those elections, the PDCH earned just one seat in the National Congress. In the 1985 elections, the party won two seats in the National Congress, but in 1989 it did not win any representation. Efraín Díaz Arrivillaga, who reportedly gave the party the reputation for being the "conscience" of the Honduran National Congress in the 1980s, was the PDCH's 1989 presidential candidate; the 1993 candidate was businessperson Marcos Orlando Iriarte Arita.

In the early 1980s, amidst the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua and the civil conflict in El Salvador, several radical leftist guerrilla groups that advocated some type of armed action against the Honduran government were formed in Honduras. The Honduran Revolutionary Party of Central American Workers (Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores Centroaméricanos de Honduras--PRTCH) was formed in 1976 as part of a regional party. The Morazanist Front for the Liberation of Honduras (Frente Morazanista para la Liberación de Honduras--FMLH), first active in 1980, was named for Honduran national hero Francisco Morazán, who had tried to keep the Central American states unified in the early nineteenth century. The Lorenzo Zelaya Popular Revolutionary Forces (Fuerzas Populares Revolucionarias Lorenzo Zelaya--FPR-LZ), founded in 1980 and named for a communist peasant leader who was murdered in 1965, traced its roots to a pro- Chinese faction of the PCH. The Cinchoneros Popular Liberation Movement (Movimiento Popular de Liberación Cinchoneros--MPLC), founded in 1981, was named for a nineteenth century peasant leader. With the exception of the MPLC which had about 300 members, the groups had memberships of fewer than 100 participants each.

In 1982 these new radical groups joined the Communist Party of Honduras (Partido Comunista de Honduras--PCH), under the loose umbrella of the National Unified Directorate-Movement of Revolutionary Unity (Directorio Nacional Unificado-Movimiento de Unidad Revolucionario--DNU-MUR). The PCH, which was formed in 1927, had been the country's major leftist opposition group through the 1970s, but had rarely resorted to violence before its affiliation with the DNU-MUR. An offshoot of the PCH that was not part of the DNU-MUR was the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Honduras (Partido Comunista Marxista-Leninista de Honduras--PCMLH), formed in 1967 by PCH dissidents.

Guerrilla groups in Honduras were responsible for numerous terrorist incidents throughout the 1980s. These included a successful plane hijacking in exchange for the freeing of political prisoners, the holding of hostages, bombings, and attacks against United States military personnel and advisers. Political assassinations included the January 1989 murder of General Gustavo lvarez Martinez by the members of the MPLC. Nevertheless, compared with neighboring El Salvador and Nicaragua, these groups were small and did not attract much popular support. According to analysts, one fundamental reason is the conservative nature of Honduran society, which is not conducive to a revolutionary uprising. Moreover, according to political scientist Donald Schulz, Honduran society is characterized by a network of interlocking interest groups and political organizations that have reconciled conflicts that could have turned violent. Schulz also observes that important escape valves like agrarian reform, a strong union movement, an entrenched two-party system, and the restoration of elected democracy in the 1980s also enabled Honduras to escape the revolution of its neighbors.

Some analysts maintain that another important factor explaining why revolutionary groups did not gain much ground in Honduras was the government's swift use of repression. In the early 1980s, when General was military chief, the military waged a campaign against leftist groups that included political assassinations, disappearances, and illegal detentions. Those leftist political leaders who escaped the military's campaign did so by going into exile. In the summer of 1983, the military struck against the PRTCH, which reportedly was moving a contingent of almost 100 guerrillas into the Honduran province of Olancho from Nicaragua. The Honduran military claimed that most of the rebels were killed in combat or died from exhaustion while hiding out from the military, but human rights organizations maintain that most of the rebels, including a United States-born Jesuit priest, James Carney, were detained and executed.

With the end of the Contra war in Nicaragua in 1990 and a peace accord in El Salvador in 1991, Honduran guerrilla groups lost important sources of support. By 1992 most guerrilla groups, including the six groups of the DNU-MUR, had largely ceased operating, and many political exiles had returned to the country in order to take advantage of an amnesty offered by the Callejas government. Some former exiles worked to establish new political parties. For example, the PCMLH formed the Party for the Transformation of Honduras (Partido para la Transformación de Honduras--PTH), and the FMLH established the Morazanist Liberation Party (Partido Morazanista de Liberación--PML). Other leftist groups operating openly in the early 1990s included the Honduran Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Hondureño--PRH), the Workers' Party (Partido de los Trabajadores--PT), the Patriotic Renovation Party (Partido de Renovación Patriótica--PRP), and the People's Democratic Movement (Movimiento Democrático del Pueblo-- MDP).

These six parties, which reportedly planned to run under a united front in 1998 elections, presented a plan to President Callejas in 1992 to reform the country's electoral law in order to facilitate the participation of smaller parties in national elections; the plan included a reduction of signatures required for a party to be legally registered. In order to be legally registered, a political party must complete a complex process that can be made even more complex by the politicization of the electoral tribunal. A party seeking legal recognition, according to the nation's Electoral and Political Organizations Law, must have local organizations in at least half of the nation's departments and municipalities, and must present valid nominations of at least 20,000 registered voters affiliated with the party asking to be registered.

Despite the incorporation of most leftist leaders and groups into the political system, there were still sporadic terrorist actions in Honduras in the early 1990s instigated by remnants or factions of the armed guerrilla groups of the 1980s. For example, although four top leaders of the Cinchoneros renounced armed struggle in May 1991, a faction of the group still wanted to fight and was responsible for the burning of an electric company building in 1992. Moreover, a small fringe group known as the Morazanist Patriotic Front, which appeared to be unrelated to the FMLH, vowed to continue armed struggle and claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks and several political killings in the early 1990s.

At various times during the 1980s, there were also reports of the presence of right-wing extremist groups, which were associated with the Honduran military. Most observers judged that the military and police were largely responsible for right-wing extremism throughout the 1980s. In the early 1980s, when the military was under the command of General Álvarez, reportedly more than 140 disappearances of government opponents were carried out, largely by a secret army unit, or death squad apparatus, known as Battalion 3- 16. For the balance of the 1980s, the military and police were reportedly involved in extrajudicial killings of opponents and torture, but not at the high level of the first part of the decade. In 1988 and 1989, a paramilitary group known as the Alliance for Anticommunist Action (Alianza de Acción Anticomunista--AAA), which human rights organizations contend was tied to the military, was involved in a campaign to intimidate leftist leaders and human rights activists. The AAA took credit for several activities aimed at intimidating the left and human rights groups, including making death threats, circulating threatening posters with the AAA logo, and defacing property.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress