It was his "New Agenda" platform that helped to sweep Carlos Roberto Flores Facussé (born 1950) into the presidency of Honduras in December of 1997.
Oscar A. Flores and his wife Margarita Facusséde Flores became parents for the first time on March 1, 1950. They named their son Carlos Roberto Flores Facussé. As was the custom in Honduras, he would have both his father's surname, Flores, and his mother's, Facussé. The future political leader of Honduras was born in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. Almost a half a century later, thousands would cheer for him in the same city as he took the presidential oath of office.
Like most of his nation, Flores was born into a Catholic family. He was not born into the same poverty, however, that had much of Honduras in its grip. Even by the 1990s, the average annual income for Hondurans was estimated at $650 in U.S. currency-one of the lowest in the western hemisphere. An estimated 80 percent of the population was reported to be in poverty in the 1990s.
The poor economic conditions of Honduras spawned a history of political unrest. Flores' father, Oscar, was part of that turmoil. Ruling in the 1950s was Julio Lozano Diaz. In 1956, despite a democratic process, Diaz did not want to turn control of the government over to new president Ramon Villeda Morales. The newspapers, including El Pueblo of which Oscar Flores was editor, recognized Villeda as the rightful president. Flores, Villeda, and another Liberal Party official were rounded up the next day without warning and exiled to Costa Rica. Later in the year, Diaz was himself deposed by the military, and Villeda was made president in 1958.
The incident left its mark on both Oscar Flores and young Carlos Flores. As Carlos Flores remarked in World Profile, the Making of a President, an alumni report for Louisiana State University, "Because of the hardship that [my father] had been through in leaving us when we were little-these were difficult times for us-he got the sense afterwards that politics wasn't worth it." Oscar Flores eventually abandoned the political arena and co-founded what became the popular Honduran newspaper, La Tribuna.
A Tiger in College
Carlos Flores was educated in the American school system in Honduras. The combined influence of the American schools and his mother had Flores speaking English from an early age. When it came time for college, Oscar Flores encouraged his son to go to school in the United States. Carlos Flores selected Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The school had drawn Central American students for decades, partly because of its agriculture department. Flores chose to study industrial engineering.
Flores' leadership abilities started to emerge when he began his studies at LSU in the late 1960s. The school, nicknamed the Tigers, heard a roar from Flores as he chartered the school's first and only fraternity for Hispanic students, Phi Iota Alpha. He was also an active president of the Honduran Student Association.
In 1970, while still an undergraduate, Flores met fellow student Mary Carol Flakes. Also a senior at LSU, she had a roommate who had visited Honduras over the summer and had met Flores. When school resumed in the fall, Flores went to see the roommate in the dormitory. He instead made the acquaintance of Flakes. They began dating and were married in 1974. The couple eventually had two children, Mary Elizabeth and Carlos David.
Before Flores married Flakes, however, he completed his education. After earning his bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering, Flores entered graduate school at LSU. In 1973, he earned a masters degree in international trade and finance. During this time, Flakes had also earned a bachelor's degree, although her field was textiles and marketing.
Business and Political Leader Emerges
Flores and his wife returned to Honduras after their marriage in 1974. At that time, Flores became involved in the private sector by serving on various boards of directors, including the Central Bank of Honduras. He also taught part-time at the National University. In 1979, Flores joined with his father in founding the newspaper, La Tribuna. Flores took over as president and chief executive officer of the newspaper after his father's death. The publication was sympathetic to the Liberal Party of Honduras. Unlike many Central American countries, the Liberal Party, along with its main rival, the National Party, had survived since early in the century.
Although the parties had endured, there had been military regimes until 1982 when a new constitution was drafted. Flores was instrumental in the writing of the document, beginning in 1980. In the years following, he was elected to the national congress as a Liberal Party candidate for three terms. Flores became a prominent figure in political circles, serving in the ministry of president Roberto Suazo Córdoba from 1982 to 1984.
Road to the Presidency
With the backing of one of the country's largest newspapers-La Tribuna -Flores was ready for the next step. He campaigned for the presidency in 1988. Flores won the primary, but it came at a cost. He had 35.5 percent of the total vote from a bruising primary election.
As the Liberal Party's presidential candidate, Flores faced some personal scandal. He was trying to distance himself from an earlier episode, which involved the National Corporation of Industrial Development, or CONADI. The program, designed to help launch private businesses, was funded with American aid. A number of projects were never completed, and rumors of corruption followed those who participated in the CONADI program. In the book The United States, Honduras, and the Crisis in Central America, Donald E. Schulz and Deborah Sundloff Schulz noted that the Facussé family, including Flores' uncle Miguel Facussé, had been involved with CONADI.
Still, Flores waged an active battle for the presidency. The National Party candidate, Rafael Leonardo Callejas, won with 50.9 percent of the vote, while Flores drew 43.1 percent. The Nationalists also won control of the Congress. Flores reflected on the loss almost a decade later in the World Profile, the Making of a President: "We [the Liberal Party] had been in office for three consecutive terms. The people wanted to alternate power and give the other party the opportunity to govern."
The tables were turned four years later when the Liberal Party and its new president, Roberto Reina, were back in power. Following the national presidential campaign, Flores had been reelected to congress in 1993. A popular politician, he became the president of the National Congress of Honduras, the second most powerful position in the Honduran government. From 1993 to 1997, the Honduran Congress, under Flores' leadership, ratified a number of reforms to the civil service, judiciary, and military sectors.
One of the more far-reaching changes was to the military, which became a force based on voluntary service. Going into the 1997 elections, Flores was perhaps most proud of the fact that the 1982 constitution was still intact and gaining more acceptance with the public.
Flores was again named as the Liberal Party's candidate in the elections of 1997, less than a decade after his first run. He campaigned on a "New Agenda" platform, vowing to move Honduras past its image of being primarily a banana and coffee exporter. Under the "New Agenda," Flores promised to promote education for low-income families by creating scholarships and developing partnerships with the private sector, to adjust salaries in order to keep pace with inflation, and to fight domestic violence and set up nurseries for working mothers. He committed to the development of a mixed private and public pension system. Foreign investment would be encouraged through the privatization of some state enterprises and by providing access to the country's natural resources. Flores also pledged to promote sustainable development while protecting the country's rich ecological diversity. Throughout the campaign, Flores made a plea for unity toward the future and the new millennium to achieve success for an "independent and dignified nation."
Critics were less impressed with Flores plans than the general public. They noted that Flores' message was short on details. Many suggested that it would be unlikely he would achieve much of what he had promised. Critics noted, for instance, that the state of the Honduran tax system needed to be revamped. Flores might be unwilling or unable, however, to carry out tax reform. Without an effective tax system, resources to promote education, health, and pension reform would be wanting. Wage increases would need to be accompanied by increases in productivity in order to prevent inflation. Without investing in education, health, and infrastructure, it would be unlikely that productivity would increase. In addition, foreign debt renegotiation, subsidies and low interest loans from industrialized countries, an increase in the tax base, and foreign investments would be needed in order to generate the revenues required to develop a pension system and provide greater opportunities for women who wanted to enter the work force.
Despite the criticism, Flores' message sounded with the electorate. With the political support of former president Suazo, Flores vied for his party's nomination. He distanced himself from the Reina administration, and successfully portrayed himself as an opposition candidate from the same party as the incumbent president. Flores was able to capitalize on his record as president of Congress and on the poor economic performance of the Reina administration. He won the Liberal Party's nomination, and on November 30, 1997, he won the national election. He polled 53 percent of the vote in the election, thus defeating his opponent, National Party candidate Nora Gunera de Melgar, the first woman to be nominated to the Honduran presidency.
On January 27, 1998, Flores was installed as president while 30,000 supporters cheered for him at a stadium. "Honduras is a country that does not tolerate the misery of underdevelopment," Flores declared, as quoted in the Associated Press. "With the help of God and the people, today we undertake a new agenda for Honduras." In addition, the new leader vowed to fight rising crime and government corruption as well as improve wages and stimulate investment in his nation.
Flores' "New Agenda" served as the centerpiece of his administration. The plan called on Hondurans to recover the faith and initiate a search for a more prosperous future. It also proposed ten central themes for the first four years of his administration to increase growth, reduce unemployment, and stabilize the economy. Flores' plan was faced with challenges as early as the spring of 1998. In April of that year, the United States, under the administration of President Bill Clinton, leveled a $5 million trade sanction against Honduras as a result of the Central American nation's failure to protect copyright properties, including American television shows. In a United Press International report, Flores called the decision "unfair and unfortunate." Also in April, one of Flores' cabinet ministers escaped being shot while traveling in a rural northern part of the nation.
The early incidents served to remind both Flores and Hondurans that challenges, some severe, would probably follow the nation through Flores' administration and beyond into the twenty-first century. But Flores maintained that a stable government could accomplish much. As he noted in World Profile, the Making of a President, "We have had four consecutive constitutional presidents. That is very positive…. People have learned to respect the constitution as a permanent guarantee of principles. They have the conviction that the system works, that government will respond to their expectations."
Further Reading on Carlos Roberto Flores Facussé
Honduras, A Country Study, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1994.
Martz, John D., Central America, the Crisis and the Challenge, University of North Carolina Press, 1959.
Schulz, Donald E., and Deborah Sundloff Schulz, The United States, Honduras, and the Crisis in Central America, West-view Press, 1994.
World Profile, the Making of a President (alumni report), Louisiana State University, 1995.
Associated Press, December 1, 1997; January 27, 1998. United Press International, April 2, 1998.
"Biography and New Agenda," http://www.partido-liberal.hn (March 30, 1998).
"Hondurans Vote In Lackluster Presidential Poll," November 30, 1997 (March 30, 1998); "Gunmen Attack Honduran Minister, One Wounded," April 4, 1998 (April 4, 1998). CNN Interactive, http://cnn.com,
Honduras This Week, http://www.marrder.com, November 30, 1996 (March 30, 1998).