Show Hide image

My father has been punished for helping Honduras

After the removal of my father by a military coup sanctions against the regime are vital

Following the removal by a military coup of José Manuel Zelaya on 28 June, the people of Honduras have been engaging in a peaceful struggle for his restoration as president, for their rights, and for the convening of a constituent national assembly. Much is said about a possible military intervention by the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez; of a supposed wish by President Zelaya to perpetuate himself in power; and of Zelaya's alleged crimes, but these are all being used simply to mask the real reasons for the coup.

Since his election, my father has promoted the idea of "citizen power": the involvement of citizens in the decision-making process. He promoted the Citizen Participation Law, giving the people the right to use surveys, plebiscites and referendums to participate in decision-making. From the beginning, the media criticised his ideas, proposals and actions. Sometimes they called him mad. They accused him of ignorance. They branded his government ineffective. Later they called him populist, and now they say he is a communist and fugitive from justice.

In government, my father fulfilled his campaign promises, starting with cuts in fuel prices. This caused direct confrontations with the major oil multinationals. He denounced the plundering of the state electricity and telecommunications enterprises, which had been forced into bankruptcy. He worked for their recovery and to avoid privatising the few remaining state firms in a country where some 80 per cent of our resources have been privatised.

My father confronted the media. He condemned the media owners' contracts, exemptions from taxes, concessions worth millions, and illegal businesses such as firearms supply firms. He also achieved free education for all children, guaranteed school meals for more than 1.6 million children from poor families, reduced poverty by almost 10 per cent during two years of government, and provided direct state help for 200,000 families in extreme poverty, supplying free electricity to those members of society most in need.

His government raised the minimum wage by 80 per cent and, after 16 years of economic stagnation, achieved historically outstanding growth levels. Agriculture - in a country dependent on imports for 70 per cent of its grain - has been strengthened. The production of a wide range of grains has been developed. With ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, a regional trade group led by Venezuela), the state bank has been capitalised. Domestic employees have been integrated into the social security system, a co-operation agreement has been signed with Petrocaribe (a regional energy trading organisation), and the social conscience of the country's citizens has been boosted.

In a country where ten families control 90 per cent of the wealth, the Supreme Court of Justice and the national congress had easily manipulated our constitution to put it at the service of the dominant families.

In response, the president proposed a referendum, to be conducted in the November general elections, to determine whether a review of the constitution was required. This provoked an immediate reaction.

Manuel Zelaya wanted to hold an opinion poll to gauge public opinion on his proposal. Groups in power felt threatened by this and used their resources to try to prevent the initiative. The Supreme Court declared the poll illegal - a move which was itself illegal. The media tried to instil fear into the people, saying that the president's intention was to remain in power, and they began to use the image of President Chávez to try to link my father's opinion poll with socialism and communism.

Those in power thought it would be easy to silence the people after the coup. But 78 days later, resistance continues on a large scale. Even in the face of military and political repression, including assassinations by the coup regime, peaceful resistance continues every day in villages and neighbourhoods across the country. The leaders are persecuted, but they do not stop fighting.

Representatives of the de facto regime, its consultants and its media have shown the world their clumsiness and lack of principles every day. The coup has been rejected by the entire world and the regime is isolated by the international community.

Sanctions against the coup regime are vital. In addition, its planned "elections" this November must not be recognised. The voice of the people of Honduras must be heard. The country is being exploited by a group of people who benefit only themselves by dominating state institutions, and use force to ignore the wishes of the great majority of Hondurans.
The struggle of Honduras is a struggle for all nations.

Xiomara Zelaya is the daughter of Manuel Zelaya, the ousted president of Honduras

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Citizen Ken

Ralph Steadman for the New Statesman.
Show Hide image

Tim Farron: Theresa May is "the prisoner of the Ukip wing of her party"

The Liberal Democrat leader on his faith, Blairism and his plan to replace Labour as the opposition. 

This is Tim Farron’s seventh general election. His first was in 1992, when his Tory opponent was a 36-year-old called Ther­esa May. He was just 21 and they were both unsuccessful candidates in the Labour fortress of North-West Durham. He recalls talking “to a bunch of ex-miners who weren’t best pleased to see either of us, some kid Liberal and some Tory”. Now he sees his former and current opponent as “the prisoner of the Ukip wing of her party . . . I think it has rendered Ukip almost pointless – she is Ukip now.”

May was elected to parliament in 1997, but it took Farron until 2005 to join her. She leads the dominant Conservatives while he heads a party of only nine Liberal Democrat MPs. Still, their reversal of fortunes gives him hope. “After the 1992 election, every­one said there’s no way for a non-Tory government, and it turned out there was. So let’s not assume it’s a given there’s a Tory government [for ever].”

In April, I accompanied Farron to Manchester Gorton, in the lead-up to a by-election that was cancelled by May’s decision to call a snap election on 8 June. Still, the 46-year-old’s party has been in campaign mode for months; Lib Dems spoke of using last December’s Richmond Park by-election to test their messaging. It clearly had an effect: the incumbent Conservative, Zac Goldsmith, lost to their candidate, Sarah Olney.

Brexit, to which the Liberal Democrats are vehemently opposed, will be a dominant theme of the election. Their party membership has just exceeded 100,000, close to an all-time high, and they have enjoyed much success in council by-elections, with more to come in the local elections of 4 May.

However, any feel-good factor swiftly evaporated when Farron appeared on Channel 4 News on 18 April. He was asked by the co-presenter Cathy Newman whether or not he believes that homosexuality is a sin, a question that he answered obliquely in 2015 by saying that Christianity started with acknowledging that “we’re all sinners”.

This time, he told Newman, he was “not in the position to make theological announcements over the next six weeks . . . as a Liberal, I’m passionate about equality”.

The Channel 4 interview divided opinion. One Liberal politician told me that Farron’s stance was “completely intolerable”. Stephen Pollard, the influential editor of the Jewish Chronicle, described it as
“a very liberal position: he holds certain personal views but does not wish to legislate around them”. Jennie Rigg, the acting chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, said it was “as plain as the nose on my face that Tim Farron is no homophobe”.

Farron declined the chance to clarify his views with us in a follow-up phone call, but told the BBC on 25 April: “I don’t believe that gay sex is a sin,” adding, “On reflection, it makes sense to actually answer this direct question since it’s become an issue.”

For his critics, Farron’s faith and politics are intertwined. He sees it differently, as he told Christian Today in 2015: “. . . the danger is sometimes that as a Christian in politics you think your job is to impose your morality on other people. It absolutely isn’t.”

Tim Farron joined the then Liberal Party at the age of 16 but didn’t become a Christian until he was 18. Between completing his A-levels in Lancashire and going to Newcastle University to read politics, he read the apologetics, a body of Christian writing that provides reasoned arguments for the gospel story. “I came to the conclusion that it was true,” he told me. “It wasn’t just a feel-good story.”

In speeches, Farron now takes on the mannerisms of a preacher, but he had a largely non-religious upbringing in Preston, Lancashire. “I don’t think I’d been to church once other than Christmas or the odd wedding,” he says. “I went once with my dad when I was 11, for all the good that did me.”

When we meet, it is Theresa May’s religion that is in the spotlight. She has condemned the National Trust for scrubbing the word “Easter” from its Easter egg hunt, a row it later emerged had been largely invented by the right-wing press in response to a press release from a religious-themed chocolate company.

“It’s worth observing there’s no mention of chocolate or bunny rabbits in the Bible,” Farron reminds me. “When people get cross about, in inverted commas, ‘us losing our Christian heritage’ they mean things which are safe and comfortable and nostalgic.” He pauses. “But the Christian message at Easter is shocking, actually, and very radical.”

British politics is tolerant of atheists (such as Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg) alongside those who, like David Cameron, are culturally Christian but whose faith is “a bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes”. But the reaction to Farron’s equivocation on homosexuality prompted many to wonder if a politician who talks openly about his faith is now seen as alarming. Nebulous wishes of peace and love at Christmas, yes; sincere discussions of the literal truth of the Resurrection? Hmm.

Tim Farron’s beliefs matter because he has a mission: to replace not only Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the opposition but Theresa May in Downing Street. Over lassis at the MyLahore curry house in Manchester, he tells me that Britain is facing two calamities. “One is Brexit, indeed hard Brexit . . . and the other is a Tory government for 25 years. We have to present a genuine, progressive alternative that can not only replace Labour as an opposition, it can replace the Tories as a government.” This is ambitious talk for a party with nine MPs. “I understand the ridicule that will be thrown at me for saying those things: but if you don’t want to run the country, why are you in politics?” He pauses. “That’s a question I would ask most people leading the Labour Party at present.”

What does he think of May, his one-time opponent in North-West Durham? “She strikes me as being very professional, very straightforward, somebody who is very conservative in every sense of the word, in her thought processes, her politics, in her style.” He recalls her 2002 conference speech in which she warned Tory activists: “Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us: the nasty party.”

“In many ways, she was the trailblazer for Cameron in being a softer-focused Tory,” he says. “It now looks like she’s been trapped by the very people she was berating as the nasty party all those years ago. I like to think that isn’t really her. But that means she isn’t really in control of the Conservative Party.”

Voters, however, seem to disagree. In recent polls, support for the Conservatives has hovered between 40 and 50 per cent. Isn’t a progressive alliance the only way to stop her: Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru all working together to beat the Tories?

“Let’s be really blunt,” he says. “Had Jeremy Corbyn stood down for us in Richmond Park [where Labour stood Christian Wolmar], we would not have won. I could have written Zac Goldsmith’s leaflets for you: Corbyn-backed Liberal Democrats.

“I’m a pluralist,” he adds. “But any progressive alliance has got to be at least equal to the sum of its parts. At the moment, it would be less than the sum of its parts. The only way the Tories are losing their majority is us gaining seats in Hazel Grove –” he ticks them off with his fingers, “– in Cheadle, in the West Country and west London. There’s no chance of us gaining those seats if we have a kind of arrangement with the current Labour Party in its current form.”

What about the SNP? “Most sensible people would look at that SNP manifesto and agree with 99 per cent of it,” Farron says. “But it’s that one thing: they want to wreck the country! How can you do a deal with people who want to wreck the country?”

There’s no other alternative, he says. Someone needs to step up and offer “something that can appeal to progressive younger voters, pro-Europeans and, you know, moderate-thinking Middle England”. He wants to champion a market economy, strong public services, action on climate change, internationalism and free trade.

That sounds like Blairism. “I’m a liberal, and I don’t think Blair was a liberal,” he replies. “But I admire Blair because he was somebody who was able to win elections . . . Iraq aside, my criticisms of Blair are what he didn’t do, rather than what he did do.”

Turning around the Tory tide – let alone with just nine MPs, and from third place – is one hell of a job. But Farron takes heart from the Liberal Party in Canada, where Justin Trudeau did just that. “I’m not Trudeau,” he concedes, “He was better-looking, and his dad was prime minister.”

There is a reason for his optimism. “I use the analogy of being in a maze,” he says, “You can’t see a way out of it, for a progressive party to form a majority against the Tories. But in every maze, there is a way out. We just haven’t found it yet.” 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

0800 7318496