Elections took place Sunday, November 29th in Honduras with National Party leader Porfirio Lobo declared the winner.
But elections carried out under a state of emergency, with visible military and police presence, by a government installed by coup, with a significant movement opposed to the coup calling for abstention, and with the deposed President still holed up in the center of the capital city in the Brazilian Embassy, are no cause for celebration. As we wrote to the State Department on November 24th, “a cloud of intimidation and restrictions on assembly and free speech affect the climate in which these elections take place… basic conditions do not exist for free, fair and transparent elections in Honduras.”
The United States’ apparent eagerness to accept the elections and move on has put it at odds with many Latin American governments. “Latin American governments accused the administration of putting pragmatism over principle and of siding with Honduran military officers and business interests whose goal was to use the elections to legitimize the coup,” wrote Ginger Thompson in the New York Times.
The United States should not lift sanctions until civil liberties and human rights are respected and human rights abuses committed since June 28th are effectively investigated and prosecuted. Prior to sanctions being lifted, there must be an inclusive process set in motion for a serious, broad national dialogue to map out ways to strengthen democracy that involves all sectors, most particularly including those who have felt disenfranchised by the coup and elections under these conditions. The United States must work multilaterally with the OAS and partners in the region to support such an outcome.
Election Day Reports
The Quixote Center is leading a delegation of U.S. citizens in Honduras and is sending up-to-the-minute reports that can be seen on their website. Here is one excerpt from San Pedro Sula, Sunday, November 29th, at 1:30. “A peaceful march of over 500 people was just culminating at the Central Park of San Pedro Sula when a large armored tank with high pressure water cannons mounted on the top pulled up at the rear of the march—along with a large truck full of military troops. The 500 peaceful, unarmed protesters turned around to face the tank and troops—and in unison, they sat down in the middle of the street. The truck retreated 2 blocks. The soldiers got off the truck, and began to put on gas masks. Everything went silent—and suddenly the crowd was attacked with water cannons and gas. People are fleeing. There are wounded and detained. The QC delegation is fleeing the scene at this moment and will send reports.”
A Miami Herald article contrasted the perspectives of those who abstained out of protest and those who voted to seek a way out of the crisis. "'Why should I vote if the last one I voted for was run out of the country?' said cabdriver Braudilio Germán. 'I have voted in every one of the past elections, but I'm not voting in this one. In four years, if everything is running smoothly, I will vote again. They didn't respect my last vote, and I'm mad.' He said not a single member of his extended family planned to cast ballots."
"'There has to be elections—there has to be,' said Paola Rodríguez, 28, who choked back tears… 'Honduras is so much better than this.'''
Lack of Conditions Prior to Election Day
An international mission of Central American human rights groups concludes that “there are not the minimal guarantees of transparency, democracy and security for the November 29th elections.” The delegation, coordinated by the Central America program of Lutheran World Federation and including the Honduran human rights groups CIPRODEH and CODEH, observed that “although some political actors and institutions consider that elections are a necessary step to resolve the Honduran conflict, if they take place under the control of a de-facto government, in a militarized context… they can represent the deepening of the conflict rather than its solution.
Adam Isacson at the Center for International Policy asserts that while it is tempting to “shake the Etch-a-Sketch” and start over with a post-election Honduras, there are three reasons not to recognize the elections: 1) The people who carried out the June 28 coup will have gotten exactly what they wanted; 2) The conditions for a fair vote were not in place; and 3) Recognizing the elections will put the United States at odds with most of the hemisphere.
George Vickers in Foreign Policy tells the U.S. government, “Don't bless these elections and walk away. Instead, Washington should maintain its suspension of government-to-government assistance and not recognize the newly elected regime until there is a full restoration of civil liberties and steps are taken to prosecute human rights abuses. Next, the Obama team should work with the Organization of American States and other democracies—the vast majority of which is reluctant to endorse these elections—to find a way to bring Honduras back into the international community. For starters, if the new government is to recover any semblance of legitimacy, it will need to ensure that adequate conditions exist for a broad and pluralistic debate and dialogue, including with respect to any constitutional issues.”
The Organization of American States’ Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression “expresses its deepest concern regarding the attacks against freedom of expression registered in Honduras in the last few days, particularly the constant interruptions and interferences to the broadcasting signal of TV Channel 36 and the explosion in the building of Channel 10.”