jump to navigation

Honduran Elections a Parody of Democracy December 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment
Published on Wednesday, December 9, 2009 by Foreign Policy in Focusby Laura Carlsen

The production Honduran Elections, staged at a small, rundown theater in Central America on November 29, left the audience unconvinced, and failed to resolve a confused and conflict-ridden plotline.

Written and directed by the Honduran elite and the Honduran armed forces, with the help of the U.S. State Department, the play opens on the empty streets of Tegucigalpa in what is announced as the most participatory elections in the history of the nation.

This is just the first of the inexplicable contradictions between the narrative and reality that run through the play.

Honduran Elections tells the story of a poor nation rocked by a military coup d’état and occupied by its own armed forces. The contrived plot then attempts to convince the audience that the same forces that carried out the coup —kidnapping the elected president and launching a wave of bloody repression — are now carrying out “free and fair elections” to restore democracy. The play follows these characters throughout election day, in a series of charades that leaves the viewer with the unsavory sensation of having been played as a pawn in a theater of the absurd.

For example, during the entire multi-million-dollar production, the elected president of this nation remains offstage. It is never explained in the play why this key figure was not given a role. The audience is expected to accept the fact that his absence is insignificant to the plot. Since the supposed message of the drama is that democracy has been restored to a country held under an illegitimate regime, the missing president makes no dramatic sense.

The major characters in the drama are a large group of miscast national and international observers, who remember their lines but frequently fall out of their roles as impartial observers; a mostly invisible Supreme Electoral Tribunal that issues undecipherable and contradictory statistics; and candidates who attempt to lend credibility to the plot but are so self-serving and devoted to the anti-democratic forces that their actions mock the very cause they claim to support.

This reviewer can only hope that the disastrous Honduran Elections will never be produced on another stage again. The writers, directors, and actors of the debacle have insulted the intelligence of viewers throughout the world and degraded the noble theme of democracy that purports to lie at the center of this deceptive drama.

Witness to a Sham

The mock theater review above is how it felt to witness the Honduran elections from my seat in Tegucigalpa last week. I arrived on November 27 to monitor human rights violations, and observe the context and accompanying conditions of an electoral process that could under no circumstances be validated, due to the fatal flaws in its origin.

The news is not that Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo of the National Party beat Elwin Santos of the Liberal Party. Since the military ousted the elected president Manuel Zelaya on June 28, the bipartisan system gave way to a far deeper duality — for and against the coup d’etat. Both Lobo and Santos favored the military takeover of the Honduran democracy and supported the illegal regime of Roberto Micheletti. Both sought to gain power by laundering the coup through these elections and to lock in a transition that guaranteed the continued power of the Honduran economic elite.

In fact, the November 29 national elections for president and congress shouldn’t have taken place. The voting was organized and overseen by an illegal coup regime. This regime officially suspended basic civil liberties, such as freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. It closed down independent media, or repeatedly blocked transmissions.

In Honduras, normal electoral activities were redefined as criminal behavior, including holding rallies and proclaiming the right to abstain. Reports of coercion in factories and among public employees came in from individuals who suffered the threats firsthand. The army enforced the dictatorial decrees in the street.

Some 100 registered candidates, ranging from presidential candidates to local mayors, withdrew from the elections in protest of the continued coup and the internal exile of the elected president. The popular resistance called a boycott and a “popular curfew,” urging people to stay at home on election day. This was in part to avoid confrontations with the over 30,000 security forces called out to “protect order,” in a nation where these same forces are responsible for massive human rights violations and scores of murders of members of the resistance.

The Honduran elections should never have taken place because Honduras, under the coup regime, failed to meet the basic criteria of “free and fair elections” set out in documents like the one issued by the Inter-Parliamentary Council in 1994. The Honduran state didn’t even come close to meeting the basic criteria of free elections by assuring freedom of movement, assembly, association, and expression. The security forces responsible for human rights violations before, during, and after voting have been granted complete immunity from justice. In San Pedro Sula, the police violently repressed a nonviolent march supporting the boycott, beating and arresting various people.

From Polls to Percentage Points

But the elections did take place. On November 29, some Hondurans, particularly in the wealthiest neighborhoods, came out to vote while most of the poor stayed home. Those of us who drove from poll to poll to check for participation, militarization, and incidents confirm this phenomenon.

Concerned that the eyewitness accounts of sparse participation could undermine the U.S. message of “mission accomplished” in Honduras, Ambassador Hugo Llorens appeared at the polls to make the pre-emptive declaration that the “elections are a technical issue and the statistical results will tell the real story.” We were all told not to believe our own eyes, as all eyes then turned to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

On the night of November 29, the Electoral Tribunal (TSE by its Spanish initials) triumphantly announced that 61% of registered voters had turned out to vote. This was a bald-faced lie. Their own statistics showed that only 49.2% of Hondurans had voted — a considerable decrease from past elections. Real News reports that an elections official, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of his life, claimed that Saul Escobar, the head of the Tribunal, invented the statistic.

The elections observation organization, Hagamos Democracia (Let`s Make Democracy) contracted by the TSE to deliver early results, reported a 47.6% turnout. In an exclusive interview with journalist Dick Emanuelsson, Rolando Bu of Hagamos Democracia attempted to explain the discrepancy, “We are working on the basis of the voter registration list we received of 4.6 million. I haven’t spoken with the magistrates (of the Tribunal) yet, but it is likely that they are subtracting aspects such as migration and deaths.” Needless to say, it is not acceptable practice to alter the voter registration list during the counting process.

Hagamos Democracia is financed by the National Democratic Institute, an arm of the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy. The NDI issued an elections report, sidestepping the critical issue of turnout and noting only that a discrepancy existed. It stated that it could not send a formal observation mission because there was no pre-electoral observation, which is a critical part of the process. Yet the NDI’s 22 members wore “elections observers” vests during their work.

The NDI report also noted the compromised impartiality of many of the international observers. “Regrettably, the TSE offered funding for transportation, lodging, and meals, and a number of observers accepted this offer. The Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation states that international election observers “should not accept funding or logistical support from the government whose elections are being observed, as it may raise a significant conflict of interest.”

This conflict of interest soon became painfully obvious. Interviewed on international television about the elections, I noted that the elections would not solve the political crisis in Honduras due to the lack of legitimacy of coup-run elections and the climate of violation of human rights, and because many nations would not recognize the results. A crowd of “observers” gathered around the interview in the hall in front of the Electoral Tribunal and verbally attacked me, shouting “liar” and ordering that I be thrown out of the country. I tried to engage in debate but the attacks continued and, fearing for my safety, I was escorted out of the area by a Tribunal security guard.

The Crisis Deepens

The United States played out the script written since mid-October. The newly confirmed Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Arturo Valenzuela immediately called the elections “a significant step in Honduras’s return to the democratic and constitutional order after the 28 June coup.” He went on to emphasize that it was just a first step, and that the nation must establish a government of national unity within the framework of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord.

But on December 2, the Honduran congress closed the circle on the consolidation of a military takeover in the country by voting against the reinstatement of President Manuel Zelaya. “We’re disappointed by this decision since the United States had hoped the Congress would have approved his return,” Valenzuela said in a statement. “And our policy since June 28 has been consistently principled, and we’ve condemned the coup d’état and have continued to accept President Zelaya as the democratically elected and legitimate leader of Honduras throughout this political crisis. However, the decision taken by Congress, which it carried out in an open and transparent manner, was in accordance with its mandate in Article 5 of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord. Both President Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti agreed to this accord on October 30th.”

The loophole in the Tegucigalpa Accord that allowed the coup-controlled congress to first delay the vote until after the elections and then vote against reinstating the president allowed for the violation of the main point of the San Jose Accords, mediated by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias. The U.S government played a major role in inserting this loophole. State Department official Thomas Shannon negotiated with Republican Senator Jim DeMint over recognition of the elections without reinstatement of Zelaya in return for Senate confirmations of Valenzuela and Shannon’s own confirmation as ambassador to Brazil.

Now the State Department has launched a concerted campaign, along with the coup regime, to get foreign nations to recognize the Honduran elections. Regional countries that have or hope for free trade agreements with the U.S. have agreed to play along. So far the countries that have announced they will recognize the elections include Panama, Peru, Colombia and Costa Rica.

Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, and several European countries have announced they will not recognize the elections. President Lula da Silva reiterated Brazil’s position from the Summit of Latin America, Spain, and Portugal, stating that his government would not recognize the Honduran elections or enter into dialogue with Pepe Lobo. “It’s not possible to recognize a coup supporter. Period,” he said in reference to Lobo. Lula added, “This is a matter of common sense, a question of principles, we cannot make agreements with the forces of political vandalism in Latin America.”

International media such as CNN, along with the State Department and the Honduran coup leaders, are heading up the charge to call the elections “clean and fair”, as The New York Times put it, and use the false voter turn-out rate as the sole indicator of the election’s legitimacy. Some allies appear to be weakening their stance against recognition.

Opposition Regroups

President Zelaya, who remains holed up in the heavily barricaded Brazilian embassy, told the BBC that the elections were fraudulent and would only intensify the crisis. The National Front Against the Coup has decided to cease the daily demonstrations in the street and move on to building a broad movement for a constitutional assembly. Juan Barahona, a leader of the Front, announced that the focus on reinstating Zelaya has ended. Zelaya has announced that he would not return to government until the end of his term on January 27 because it would be validating a coup-managed transfer of power.

Human rights groups have stated that the violations committed under the coup will not be forgotten. Honduras suffered a wave of human rights violations including assassinations, rapes, beatings and arbitrary detentions of resistance members. An Amnesty International delegation, after 10 days in the country, noted in a press statement that the “crisis in Honduras does not end with the election results, the authorities cannot return to business as usual without ensuring human rights safeguards…There are dozens of people in Honduras still suffering the effects of the abuses carried out in the past five months. Failure to punish those responsible and to fix the malfunctioning system would open the door for more abuses in the future.”

Roberto Micheletti has now returned to power after a “leave of absence” in a new stage of the political and legal limbo that has characterized this nation since June 28. Some wonder how long any president can remain in office now that a military coup has been deemed successful. “Many Hondurans fear that the coup’s success represents a threat to the future stability of a democratic state,” writes Robert White of the Center for International Policy, who then poses the following rhetorical question. “If the few dozen men who hold the strings of power and wealth can escalate one of the nation’s recurring political brawls into the overthrow of an elected president, how can future democratic leaders dare to challenge the culture of wealth and impunity that has made Honduras one of the most corrupt, crime-ridden, and unjust nations in the world?”

The spectacle mounted to justify the coup leaders’ retention of power has now played out. In the sequel, the excluded character — the people of Honduras who joined together to reject the hijacking of their democracy — will play a key role. Throughout the country, farmers, feminists, union members and citizens are more organized than ever before. The demand for the constitutional assembly to change one of the world’s most obsolete constitutions is at the center of this new phase.

In the end, the Honduran political crisis cannot be resolved without a legal means to channel dissent and eliminate the gross injustices of Honduran society. A broad swathe of the population that rejects the “elections panacea” scenario is determined to fight for just that, and nothing less. They deserve the support of the U.S. government and the rest of the international community.

Copyright © 2009, Institute for Policy Studies

Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Laura Carlsen (lcarlsen (at) ciponline (dot) org) is director of the Americas Program (www.americaspolicy.org) for the Center for International Policy in Mexico City.

 

Published on Wednesday, December 9, 2009 by Agence France-Presse

Mercosur Leaders, Venezuela Reject Honduras election

MONTEVIDEO – Leaders of five key South American countries vowed Tuesday not to recognize last month’s presidential election results in Honduras, which they condemned as “illegal.”

[The presidents of the four permanent members of the Mercosur trade bloc -- Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay -- as well as the leader of Venezuela, condemned Honduras' first, post-coup elections last month, because balloting took place without the reinstatement of ousted President Manuel Zelaya. (AFP)]
The presidents of the four permanent members of the Mercosur trade bloc — Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay — as well as the leader of Venezuela, condemned Honduras’ first, post-coup elections last month, because balloting took place without the reinstatement of ousted President Manuel Zelaya. (AFP)

The presidents of the four permanent members of the Mercosur trade bloc — Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay — as well as the leader of Venezuela, condemned Honduras’ first, post-coup elections last month, because balloting took place without the reinstatement of ousted President Manuel Zelaya. 

In a statement released after a summit here, the leaders said that because Zelaya “had not been reinstated to the duties to which he was democratically elected… (we) completely reject the November 29 elections.”

Zelaya, who was ousted in a coup last June, remains holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa under threat of arrest, after Congress last week voted against bringing him back to the presidency. His term in office was to have ended on January 27.

The joint statement, read out by Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez and signed by the five heads of state, underscored their “strongest condemnation of the coup in Honduras” and rejected the “unacceptable, serious violations against the human rights and freedoms of the Honduran people.”

The declaration added that the Honduras elections had been conducted “in an unconstitutional, illegitimate and illegal” manner, and were a blow to the region’s democratic values.

The United States and the European Union have hailed the elections as a first step forward out of the five-month crisis. Costa Rica, Panama and Peru also have backed the polls.

Honduras’s military ousted the left-leaning Zelaya on June 28 with the backing of the courts, Congress and business leaders, because of his plans to alter the constitution, which was viewed as a bid to extend his term in office.

Meanwhile, the winner of the November 29 election, president-elect Porfirio Lobo, told a news conference Monday that he hoped foreign countries would “open up a little” to Honduras, which had suffered widespread international condemnation and aid freezes after the coup.

Lobo was set to meet in Santo Domingo Thursday with Dominican President Leonel Fernandez. Lobo was expected to ask Fernandez to help mediate in the lingering Honduran political crisis, Dominican media reoprted.

Lobo will arrive in the Dominican capital from San Jose, where he was to meet first with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli on a tour to rally support for his bid to lead Honduras.

© 2009 Agence France-Press

How Obama Betrayed Honduras July 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments
Published on Wednesday, July 29, 2009 by The Guardian/UK

The United States must honour its promises to Central America by refusing to support the coup leaders in Honduras

by Hugh O’Shaughnessy

Let’s hope that the United States finally decides that it’s going to do what its president said it would do for Central America. It should be a simple task, that of cutting off its support of the bad guys in Honduras and starting to honour the commitment to democracy that Barack Obama clearly announced when he met the leaders of Latin America at the Summit of the Americas.

So far the administration’s actions towards the gang of semi-educated ruffians who took over in Tegucigalpa and who feel, for racial reasons, that the US leader is beneath their contempt, has been – to put it kindly – ragged. The almost universal cry of “foul” went up when the legally elected Manuel Zelaya was sent out of the country in his pyjamas by Roberto Micheletti, an obscure politician and businessman, who had seized power.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton was first off the starting block when she condemned the impostor’s action. Then Barack came along to say what she had chosen not to say: that the real president should be returned to the office he rightfully exercised.

Now however the word from every involved agency in Washington is that Zelaya should be allowed back on the strict condition that he does not upset friends of the US, the Republican party and the telecommunication companies in DC with his state-owned corporation Hondutel. This is ridiculous for two reasons. The first is to do with simple justice – Zelaya won a victory in clean elections. The second has to do with the US president’s image in the western hemisphere. The last eight years in the Middle East and the unfolding debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan should have taught the US and the British governments that if they attempt the impossible – such as trying to invade and occupy countries on spurious grounds and with recourse to kidnapping and torture – they will get egg all over themselves. And egg stains never look good on presidential or prime ministerial lounge suits – much less on military uniforms, gold braid and medal ribbons.

Yet Obama is presiding over a group of politicians and civil servants who appear to think that they have it in their power to convince Latin Americans and the world that a Honduran coup d’etat is not a coup d’etat and that a dictatorship which imposes curfews and gags the media as part of a drive to help the interests of foreign businessmen is a democratic government.

The leaders of all the members of the Organisation of American States have condemned Micheletti, as have the UN and the EU. If Clinton and the survivors of the wilder rightwing fringes of the Bush administration to whom she is bizarrely allied have their way US reaction to the impostor will be ineffectual. 

Instead of treating the impostor government with all the weapons that the US has used against successive Cuban governments and against the elected government of Venezuela, Micheletti has been asked to play along with president Oscar Arias of Costa Rica. Arias has treated him as an equal, which he isn’t, rather than an aspiring Pinochet, which the deaths and injuries his police and troops on the border have inflicted on Zelaya’s supporters demonstrate that he is.

And that – as Clinton knows better than anyone – will be very damaging for Obama. The claims made by Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Fidel Castro of Cuba that nothing much has changed between the Bush era and the Obama era will have been vindicated. As Zelaya is denied his rights, the stronger Chávez and Castro become, along with President Lula of Brazil, the giant of South America. The Brazilian has said that anything short of Zelaya’s restoration to office would be unthinkable.

Chávez meanwhile has sent his foreign minister Nicolas Maduro to accompany Zelaya to the Nicaraguan-Honduran border, thus clearly identifying himself with the good guy. The shots of Zelaya and Maduro at the sharp end of the conflict will have done much to counteract the careful campaign of slander and denigration of Chávez that the State Department has mounted – not without success in the US and even European media – since the failure of its own coup d’etat against the Venezuelan leader in 2002.

The longer the State Department continues to favour Micheletti over Honduras’ rightful president, the more people will wonder why Obama needs enemies when he has friends like his secretary of state.

© 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited

Hugh O’Shaughnessy is a prize-winning journalist who has written on Latin America for over 40 years

Obama and Clinton Nix Change in Honduras July 27, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment
Published on Monday, July 27, 2009 by CommonDreams.org by Roger Burbach
The situation in Honduras and Central America is growing increasingly tumultuous with each passing day as deposed President Manuel Zelaya confronts the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti with thousands of partisans mobilizing in the border areas. While Honduran army officers in Washington and the capital of Tegucigalpa issue statements indicating they may accept Zelaya’s return—if the civilian coup leaders concur–military and police units continue to fire on and even murder demonstrators. It is impossible to predict the outcome of this confrontation. But one thing is increasing clear–the growing conflict represents a failure of the Obama administration to reshape US policy towards Latin America in spite of its early rhetoric directed at the leaders of the region.
On June 29, the day after the coup, Barack Obama declared it “not legal” and said “we don’t want to go back to a dark past.” This was in keeping with his remarks at the Summit of the Americas in April when, in alluding to the US history of backing military regimes, he stated, “The United States will be willing to acknowledge past errors where those errors have been made.”
But US policy towards Honduras since the coup indicates that the Obama administration does not represent “change you can believe in.” Rather it is bent on imposing its will and propping up the status quo in Latin America, just as previous US administrations did.
Over the past decade a popular upsurge has swept Latin America comprised of indigenous movements, impoverished urban dwellers, peasants, environmentalists, feminists, and human rights advocates. They are demanding a more equitable distribution of the wealth of their countries and an end to political systems dominated by oligarchs, corrupt politicians and business interests allied with the United States. A string of New Left governments has emerged beginning with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1999 followed by Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva in Brazil in 2003. They have been joined by the election of left of center presidents in Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Paraguay and El Salvador.
This block of progressive forces spearheaded the international opposition to the coup in Honduras. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, reflecting the common sentiment around the continent, noted that the coup was a throwback to “the worst years in Latin America’s history.” The Organization of American States, which has historically been dominated by the United States, voted 34 to 0 to call for the restoration of Manuel Zelaya as president.
This unified opposition in Latin America left the Obama administration with no alternative but to call for the resignation of the de facto government. However, what it has done in the aftermath of the coup is to search for a way to undermine the reformist agenda advocated by Zelaya and to prop up the traditional interests aligned with the United States both within Honduras and in Latin America at large. This commitment to the old order is symbolized by the fact that Alvaro Uribe, the conservative president of Colombia, was in the White House meeting with Obama on June 29 as he issued his statement opposing the coup in Honduras. One of the points Uribe and Obama discussed was US access to three airfields and two naval bases in Colombia. Allegedly for use in the drug war in the Andean region, they are also aimed at counteracting the growing influence of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela who called the expanded US military presence “a threat against us” that could even lead “to a war.”
The US obsession with Venezuela is at the heart of its policy towards Zelaya. Philip Crowley, Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs at the US State Department, stated that the coup should serve as a “lesson” for the deposed president who had signed trade and petroleum accords with Venezuela: “We certainly think that if we were choosing a model government and a model leader for countries of the region to follow, that the current leadership in Venezuela would not be a particular model. If that is the lesson that President Zelaya has learned from this episode, that would be a good lesson.”
Even before the coup, the Obama administration made known its opposition to the reformist policies of the Zelaya government. At a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in early June in Tegucigalpa Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Zelaya in a private meeting that he should back off from trying to put a referendum on the ballot that would provide for the convening of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution for the country. The election of constituent assemblies was the vehicle used by Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador to overturn entrenched interests and to “refound” their political institutions.
The main diplomatic gambit used by the Obama administration in an effort to reign in Manuel Zelaya was to get President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica to broker an agreement with the coup leaders in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Arias had served US interests well in the 1980s during his first presidential term, using regional negotiations to undermine the revolutionary government of Nicaragua and the guerrilla movements in El Salvador and Guatemala while nurturing pseudo-democratic governments that adopted the neo-liberal economic policies then coming into vogue with the “Washington Consensus.” This time however, Arias failed, primarily because the OAS and most of the governments of Latin America made it clear that they would not recognize any government in Tegucigalpa other than one led by Zelaya. As President Luis Inacio da Silva of Brazil declared, “we cannot compromise” on the restoration of Zelaya.
In the end Arias issued a mediation proposal that called for the restitution of Zelaya as head of a national government of reconciliation with weakened executive powers. Micheletti’s de facto regime rejected the proposal. It is worth noting that one of the clauses in the proposed accord calls for Zelaya to refrain from promoting a constituent assembly, a clause that has been angrily denounced by leaders of the social movements in Honduras.
U.S. efforts to restore Zelaya have been quite tepid compared to other countries. While many ambassadors have been withdrawn, the US head diplomat Hugo Llorens, appointed by George W. Bush, remains in place. There are reports that he may have even given the green light to the coup plotters, or at least did nothing to stop them. And while the World Bank has suspended assistance, the State Department merely warns that $180 million in US economic aid may be in jeopardy. Most importantly the United States refuses to freeze the bank accounts and cancel the visas of the coup leaders, measures that Zelaya and other Latin American governments have urged Washington to do.
The Obama presidency probably hoped that like the years of the Bush administration Latin America would require only marginal attention in the grand scheme of world affairs. This may turn out not to be the case however if Honduras, the last of the banana republics, erupts in a civil conflict that draws in neighboring countries. “Change” may be the catch word for the new administration, but here an old French phrase may be more indicative of what is really occurring: “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose,” the more things change the more they remain the same.
Roger Burbach is the author of “The Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice,” and the Director of the Center for the Study of the Americas based in Berkeley, CA
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 183 other followers