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The Honduran Elections: Persistent Courage Trumps Attempted Tyranny

Honduras successfully holds its scheduled elections, completing months of refusing to cave to international pressure.

by
Dan Miller

Bio

November 30, 2009 - 10:49 am

With better than 61 percent participation, the Nationalist candidate Porfirio Lobo won approximately 56 percent of the vote — beating his principal rival, Elvin Santos, by approximately 200,000 votes. Santos conceded the election at 11:25 p.m. on Sunday in a very gracious speech.

The Honduran elections, planned long before the June 28 “coup” removing President Manuel Zelaya, went forward as scheduled. Pursuant to the Honduran constitution, control over the military had been turned over to the electoral tribunal on October 28. The military transported the ballots to the five thousand voting locations, many of which are in quite inaccessible areas:

To transport the material available 108 trucks, 225 light vehicles, two planes, four helicopters and 17 boats, all owned by the [military].

But to meet the goal light trucks will join the 840 other state institutions and 25 containers of 40 feet must be rented by the TSE [and] over 15 mules, also rented to drive the material to areas inaccessible by car.

There has been some carping about the “militarization” of the elections, but the use of military to help carry out the election is mandated not only by Article 272 of the Honduran constitution, but also by Article 4 of the October 30 accord.

By Friday, November 27, the resistance movement seemed to be fading into something approaching oblivion, although it called for the suspension of the elections pending the reinstatement of Zelaya. The sale of alcoholic beverages was prohibited from 6:00 a.m. on November 28 through 6:00 p.m. on November 30, as is common in much of Latin America. A laboratory for making bombs of the sort recently used against the Supreme Court building was seized by police on November 28. There were other minor incidents as well. Various artifacts establishing a link to the “resistance” were found. On election day, more than thirty weapons and explosives were found and confiscated. A candidate for local office, who had been a Zelaya supporter but decided to support the elections, received death threats from the “resistance” which characterized her as a traitor.

Zelaya stated on November 28 that he feels alone and isolated but “will defend this mandate, I am not willing to negotiate my position.” The Honduran borders with El Salvador and Nicaragua were closed, apparently by mutual consent, “to avoid any problems or speculation.” By the afternoon of November 28, there seemed to be a sense of resignation on the part of Zelaya and his supporters.

U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens visited several poling sites in Tegucigalpa, and “besides stressing normalcy and calm with which elections are being developed … lauded the ‘housekeeping’ of the electoral process.” By most accounts, the elections were peaceful, fair, and transparent. Even the head of the principal leftist party voted and urged others to do so, claiming (rather strangely) that not to vote would be supportive of the “coup.” One minor problem did develop: The fingers of those who vote were to be marked with indelible ink, and in the afternoon supplies were running short in some places due to the heavy voting. The supplies were replenished promptly. “Five hours … [after] the election started, thousands of Hondurans [were] still standing in line at polling stations in order to exercise their right to vote.”

Many Hondurans in the United States voted in Miami, New York, and in other population centers. In New York, some two thousand were expected to vote. Many had to come from as far away as Boston.

The electoral commission had webcams at various sites so that the world could watch. Many television stations were available on the internet. The usual suspects whinedbefore, during, and then after the elections — but to little effect.

Massive turnout was reported in Tegucigalpa, the capital city, as of 10:30 on Sunday morning. According to Liberal Party candidate Elvin Santos:

We are delighted by the huge and massive influx to the polls, that we are all very happy. What happens now is that we are moving forward so dramatically and we expect that turnaround that is taking forward. Our preliminary reports and what is happening in San Pedro Sula Olancho tell us that we are heading for a resounding success.

Due to heavy voter turnout, the polls were kept open an extra hour, until 5:00 p.m. local time (6:00 p.m. EST). International observers from Mexico and Guatemala declared that the election was exemplary. The OAS will decide what it wants to do on December 4 — after the National Congress decides whether to reinstate Zelaya. Red-faced? Well, maybe.

Overall participation in the electoral process was at approximately 61 percent of all 4.6 million registered voters (compared with 55.38% during the 2005 presidential elections). Porfirio Lobo, from the center-right Nationalist Party, won with 56 percent of the vote (preliminary count) and will assume the presidency.

“Today begins a new era in the history of Honduras, Change It begins today,” he said, referring to the slogan of his campaign. … [His principal opponent] Sosa thanked Hondurans mainly because they turned out to vote to legalize the electoral process. “Thanks to the nationalists for having a strong and outstanding participation,” he said. … “There are no winners or losers, [except the winners] the Honduran people and their right to live in peace and democracy.”

Sixty-one-year-old Lobo lost to Zelaya by 73,000 votes in the 2005 presidential election. This time, he is taking the middle course. Lobo stresses that he will tackle social injustice, poverty, and insecurity. Meanwhile, he advocates unity among Hondurans. Only in that way can Honduras achieve reform, and the people obtain liberty, democracy, and prosperity.

Lobo has also promised to try to establish amicable relations with Zelaya. Lotsa luck.

Now the big question is which countries will recognize the new government with Lobo as president, beginning on January 27 for a single term of four years. The United States will do so, as will Panamá and Colombia, both of which sent special ambassadors to Honduras to observe the elections. Peru probably will do so as well. The German Parliament expressed support for recognition of the elections, and Taiwan has also done so. Ditto Israel, the representative from which is in Honduras to observe the elections. The representative stated on November 28:

Obviously, my presence is unquestionable support given by the people of Israel to the people of Honduras in this election. … I think the government of Israel will recognize the logical outcome of these elections and the president-elect who will take office in the month of January next year.

Costa Rica said it will recognize the new government “if everything goes fine on Sunday.” According to Porfirio Lobo, the newly elected president, other Latin American countries will eventually follow suit: “Some who are saying today they won’t recognize the vote have told me they will recognize the elections.” However, Venezuelan el Presidente Hugo Chávez declared the elections a farce, and that Venezuela obviously will not recognize them — they just were not conducted in the same transparent and fair way that those in Venezuela are conducted. Right. Chávez et al seemed not to be very popular in Honduras on Sunday, where thirty thousand people protested his interference.

Uruguay won’t recognize the vote either. Brazil and other OAS member states, including Argentina, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, almost certainly will not, at least immediately. Cuba? Of course not. Iran? Don’t be silly. Zelaya has said that he will not recognize the results either, and that he plans to remain in the Brazilian Embassy as long as Brazil permits him to do so. It has also been reported and denied that he plans to seek asylum in Nicaragua after the new president is sworn in.

The “perennially indignant” Huffington Post and its ilk almost certainly will not recognize the results either.

Since Honduras seems not to care a fig about what the OAS or the members of the “international community” other than the United States may do or think, it probably does not matter much. It might be fun to speculate about how things might now be different had the United States not joined the “coup” chorus at the very beginning, but that would serve little other purpose. Now that the United States has backed way down from its earlier position that Zelaya must be restored, Honduras should be just fine. The United States is where the money is, and the sanctions imposed on Honduras to force an accord hurt. Without the sanctions, things should get back to normal.

The Honduran Supreme Court on November 25 issued a non-binding resolution informing the National Congress that Zelaya’s reinstatement would be unlawful. The vote was 14 to 1.

The Court did not release the full text of its non-binding ruling, but a court source and a lawyer close to the proceedings said it closely follows earlier decisions upholding Zelaya’s ouster after he moved to change the Constitution.

At about the same time, the Supreme Court building and a local television station were hit by grenades, causing some property damage but no injuries.

The National Congress is set to vote on the matter on December 2, although “Zelaya pulled out of the U.S.-brokered deal earlier this month and says he will refuse to return to power.” It is thought that roughly 80 percent of the legislators oppose the reinstatement of Zelaya.

According to Brazilian President Lula, the United States has seriously damaged its position with other Latin American countries by withdrawing its full support for the reinstatement of Zelaya. The incessant dithering by the Obama administration certainly demonstrated weakness (or at least cockpit distraction), which Chávez and his friends surely admire, and for a more or less principled stand to be taken after months of dithering doubtlessly irritates them.

The OAS presidents’ club is little different. As noted by Alvaro Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian intellectual:

The greatest threat to democracy in Latin America comes from its presidents, who once in office try to change the rules in order to remain in power permanently.

Chávez and his somewhat feeble-minded little brother Zelaya are in that category. The earlier U.S. attempts to disparage the Honduran “coup” to curry favor with them was disgraceful and did a lot of harm to Honduras. It is probably futile to hope that the belated support for national laws and constitutions — which eventually displaced the Obama administration’s efforts and those of other countries to make nice with countries which ignore their own constitutions and laws — augurs well for similar changes in U.S. foreign policy elsewhere.

If the United States must meddle in the internal affairs of other countries — particularly friendly ones, but even in those of some which are not so friendly — it should at least have the decency to do so in ways supportive of the principles which the United States once held dear. But then, the same could be said of many domestic as well as international policies.

Hondurans should be very proud of the way in which their country remained steadfast to the rule of law and the Honduran constitution. It would probably have been easier in the short run to cave in to the whims of the “international community,” but Honduras took a steady course in refusing to do so. Would that the United States might demonstrate the same level of steadfastness in her affairs.

Dan Miller graduated from Yale University in 1963 and from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1966. He retired from the practice of law in Washington, D.C., in 1996 and has lived in a rural area in Panama since 2002.
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