That’s not how you mediate a dialogue, that’s how you end one.
The job of a facilitator or mediator is to listen to both sides of an issue and to try to bring them into conversation about their common ground. It’s not the role of a mediator to publicly insult one side in the process they are mediating.
By his words, Biehl has been showing all along that he isn’t really a mediator.
Gentle readers will recall that in June, in response to the marchas de antorchas, with their demand for an international commission against impunity and corruption, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández unilaterally announced a Sistema Integral Contra la Impunidad (SICA, “Integrated System against Impunity”) and called for a “National Dialogue” whose participants the government would designate.
The proposal, not immediately available to the Honduran press at the time, called for the establishment of several oversight committees for the Honduran judiciary, all of the committee members appointed by the Executive Branch. It specified no procedures or reporting mechanisms by which the “National Dialogue” would provide any input or revision to the proposed SICA process or composition.
Hernández presided over the first few meetings himself, meeting with jurists and business, before turning the whole process over to a Congress member to organize and oversee.
Some parts of civil society saw the National Dialogue as a government show, with no stated objective, and refused to participate.
Those not participating include the indignados, who for the last 16 weeks have marched every Friday calling for a Comision Internacional Contra de la Impunidad (CICIH) and for President Hernandez to resign. The two opposition political parties that were first on the ballot this last election (LIBRE and PAC) have refused to participate for much the same reasons: the control of the process by the current government and the lack of any connection between the “dialogue” and possible reforms.
Hernández’s proposal “reforms” the Judicial Branch by making it responsible to committees for judicial oversight and review established and appointed by the Executive Branch. This further erodes judicial independence.
This was the official response of the government to the indignados, and it was hoped that it would weaken support for their calls for a CICIH, and silence their calls for Hernández’s resignation.
When that didn’t work, Hernández formally asked the OAS and UN for facilitators or mediators to help bring all of Honduran civil society to participate in the National Dialogue. Enter John Biehl del Rio.
Biehl del Rio has a fairly long history of engagement with Honduras.
As a chief adviser to Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, he was the principal mediator for the San Jose Accords intended to return José Manuel Zelaya to office after the 2009 coup. Before that he spent 4 years in and around Tocoa in the Bajo Aguan, teaching peasants about cooperatives.
It may be that in Honduras, Biehl del Rio sees similarities to how he described his native Chile in 2010:
“There is a political world that needs to go. When the national task fundamentally consists in practicing the art of disagreeing to thereby gain power, there prevails a will and ambitions that destabilize the possibility of a good government. The culture of confrontation which we inherit from the past, severely limits the ways to satisfy the necessities of the people. To use and supply yourself with stereotypes from another historical epoch to exercise opposition or to govern is to deliberately damage the country….If the opposition looks for the failure of the government to rise to power, it is jointly responsible for restarting one of the worst nightmares of the country.”
The nightmare Biehl del Rio was referring to in Chile was the rise of the military which overthrew Salvador Allende. While Biehl del Rio was not a supporter of Allende, he went into exile after Pinochet took power.
In Honduras, however, it seems the place of the military in his critique is taken by the indignados and political parties opposed to the current president. Much of what Biehl del Rio has said about the opposition in Honduras echos the sentiments about Chile quoted above.
Biehl told the Honduran press that
There are many people who have taken this hard time for Honduras as a kind of political pre-campaign, and this crisis as an opportunity to kill their possible rivals. This I have noted in conversations. With these people it is very difficult to make advances because they only have one thing in mind. Hondurans are very political, at least in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. They give the impression that everyone wants to be president and as such their positions are very sharp and cutting because they see that this is a weak moment.”
So for Biehl, the indignados are merely pre-campaign presidential politicking.
But Honduras isn’t Chile, and there are indications that Biehl del Rio may not completely understand Honduran politics.
Among his other pronouncements he called the Honduran Congress “representative of the people (or Nation) and a transversal cut through society”, suggesting it should play a leading role in the National Dialogue.
Now the Honduran Congress is many things, but it does not represent Honduran society, directly or indirectly. Congress members are loyal and answerable to the political party that ensures their election, and do not represent a local constituency. There is really no way to consider these political insiders a “transversal cut” through society– nothing in the Honduran political system works that way. This is part of the problem that has brought so many people out on the streets.
Biehl del Rio may see similarities to his Chile in 2010, but in the intervening years, he’s lost his ability to say this diplomatically, and is reduced to calling the Honduran opposition names.
That means instead of mediating, he has adopted a side– with a president elected by a minority of voters in an intensely split election, whose party is wrapped in a scandal over the financing of that very election, and who is trying to insist that he knew nothing of the money moving around. It’s a bad side to be on, and it is unfortunate that it has led him to dismiss the largest show of public engagement in governance in modern Honduran history.