Honduras' problems continue, despite democracy Election today won't bring economic, social change

November 30, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Democracy is wearing a little thin in Honduras.

After 16 years of civilian rule, the mere fact of being able to vote for their president today is no longer enough for the citizens of this Central American nation. They want real change and are becoming impatient with their political system's inability to provide it quickly enough.

"Without resolving the needs of the poorest, the nation is heading toward ungovernability and confrontation," warned the Roman Catholic Church's weekly newspaper Fides. "Hondurans must demand specific and viable programs to ensure that our democracy extends beyond the electoral to the political and then stretches to the economic and social."

Wedged between three nations that waged U.S.-backed civil wars in the 1980s, Honduras became a staging ground for revolutions but never had a significant rebellion of its own. Without a major upheaval and a formal peace agreement, Honduras lacked a catalyst for change, analysts say.

As a result, the return to civilian rule simply meant a return to the traditional parties that had governed before the nine-year military dictatorship in the 1970s. Further, the military has clung to power here: The armed forces only agreed in October to give up control of the police, probably next year. Soldiers will collect the ballot boxes and announce official results today.

"At first, people felt really enthusiastic about elections," said Raquel Martinez, who at 40 clearly remembers the return to civilian rule. "Now you vote mainly out of a sense of obligation, [but] as for thinking that they will solve your problems?" She shook her head.

With her earnings from a small stall in Tegucigalpa's main market, Martinez supports her elderly parents, a 16-year-old son and an infant grandson her 18-year-old daughter abandoned. People like her have seen their incomes shrink as the economy has suffered under an international debt bigger than Honduras' gross domestic product.

She is exactly the kind of voter that Nationalist Party candidate Nora Gunera de Melgar -- the first woman to run for president in Honduras -- had hoped to attract. Critics contend that Melgar, the 56-year-old widow of a military dictator, and her main opponent, Liberal Party businessman Carlos Flores, 47, the son of an exiled newspaper publisher, have done little to raise issues in the electoral debate. Flores has a substantial lead, according to most polls.

Pub Date: 11/30/97

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