Honduran Elections a Parody of
by Laura Carlsen
www.fpif.org/, December 8, 2009
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
Honduran Elections tells the story of
a poor nation rocked by a military coup d'Ãtat 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 Ã_kidnapping
the elected president and launching a wave of bloody repression
Ã_ 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
Ã_ 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
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
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 Ã_ 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
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."â¤
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'Ãtat 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.
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 safeguardsÃ-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 Ã_ the people of Honduras who joined
together to reject the hijacking of their democracy Ã_
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
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.
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.