production "Honduran Elections" staged at a small, rundown theater in
Central America on Nov. 29, left the audience unconvinced and failed to
resolve a confused and conflictive plotline.
directed by the Honduran elite and 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 participative elections in
the history of the nation.
This is just the first of the inexplicable contradictions between the narrative and reality that run throughout the play.
elections" tells the story of a poor nation rocked by a military coup
d'etat and occupied by its own armed forces. The contrived plot then
attempts to convince the viewer 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. It follows these actors throughout election day, in
a series of charades that leaves the viewer with the unsavory sensation
of having been played as a pawn in this theater of the absurd.
To give just
one 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—viewers
are 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 is a senseless oxymoron.
actors 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 actuations come off as a mockery of the very cause they claim to
can only hope that the disastrous debut of the play "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.
theater review above is how it felt to witness the Honduran elections
from my seat in Tegucigalpa this week. I arrived on Nov. 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 in elections, and to lock in a transition that
guaranteed the continued power of the Honduran economic elite.
29 national elections for president, Congress, and mayors should not
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.
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.
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.
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 Inter-Parliamentary Council in 1994.
This affirms that the state must assure that "freedom of movement,
assembly, association, and expression are respected, particularly in
the context of political rallies and meetings," that all parties have
access to public-service media, and that "State authorities take the
necessary steps to prevent electoral violence … and ensure that
violations of human rights and complaints relating to the electoral
process are determined promptly within the timeframe of the electoral
process and effectively by an independent and impartial authority, such
as an electoral commission or the courts."
elections did not even come close to meeting these basic criteria. The
security forces responsible for human rights violations before, during,
and after voting have been granted complete immunity from justice. In
San Pedro Sula, a non-violent march supporting the boycott was violently repressed and various people were beaten and arrested.
From Polls to Percentage Points
elections did take place. On Nov. 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.
the eye-witness accounts of sparsely attended polls 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 warned not to believe our own eyes,
as all eyes then turned to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.
On the night of
Nov. 29, the Electoral Tribunal (TSE by its Spanish initials)
triumphantly announced that 61% of registered voters had turned out to
vote. Astoundingly, this was a bald-faced lie. Their own statistics
showed that only 49.2% of Hondurans had voted—a considerable decrease
from the 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
observation organization, Hagamos Democracia (Let's Make Democracy)
contracted by the TSE to deliver early results, reported a 47.6%
turn-out. 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.
Democracia is financed by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), 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
elections observation mission due to the lack of pre-electoral
observation that constitutes a critical part of the process, and yet
its 22 members wore the "elections observers" vests in 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."
of interest soon became painfully obvious to me. After being
interviewed on international television about the elections, where 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 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.
cited by NDI states, "International election observation, which focuses
on civil and political rights, is part of international human rights
monitoring and must be conducted on the basis of the highest standards
for impartiality concerning national political competitors and must be
free from any bilateral or multilateral considerations that could
con?ict with impartiality."
Honduran Crisis Deepens, Divides the World
The United States played out the script written since mid-October. The newly confirmed Arturo Valenzuela immediately called the elections
"a significant step in Honduras' 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 Dec. 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. Valenzuela issued a statement
saying, "We're disappointed by this decision since the United States
had hoped the Congress would have approved his return. And our policy
since June 28 has been consistently principled, and we've condemned the
coup d'etat 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
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 his 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
United States have agreed to play along. So far the countries that have
announced they will recognize the elections include Panama, Peru,
Colombia, and Costa Rica.
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
International media such as CNN, along with the State Department and the Honduran coup are leading a 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
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 Jan. 27 because it would be validating a coup-managed transfer
A Nov. 30
communiqué from the Front states, "We reiterate that all actions
carried out by the current de facto regime and its successor will not
be recognized by the people. We emphasize our rejection of any amnesty
for all human rights violators."
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. A 10-day delegation of Amnesty International notes
in a press statement entitled "Honduras: No Return to Business as Usual"
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
A Nov. 30 report from the delegation of the National Lawyers Guild
(NLG) cites the human rights violations under the coup and concludes,
"Having analyzed the legal and constitutional issues involved and
sending delegations to Honduras, the NLG has verified that the election
of November 29, 2009 was not free, fair, or transparent, and the United
States government should join the international community in refusing
to recognize its legitimacy. It should speak out forcefully against the
coup, close down all U.S. military operations in Honduras, and block
all U.S. aid and trade that benefits the illegal coup and its
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. In a recent
editorial, former Ambassador Robert White of the Center for
International Policy poses the rhetorical question, "Many Hondurans
fear that the coup's success represents a threat to the future
stability of a democratic state. 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?"
mounted to justify retaining power within the forces that carried out
the coup has now played out. In the sequel, the excluded actor—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,
Honduras' political crisis cannot be resolved without a legal means to
channel dissent and eliminate the gross injustices of Honduran society.
A broad swath of the population that rejects the "elections panacea"
scenario is determined to fight for just that, and nothing less.
interests of real democracy, stability, and national well-being, they
deserve the support of the U.S. government and the rest of the
international community in rejecting the elections, restoring
constitutional order, and correcting the inequalities that lie at the
base of the ongoing political crisis in their nation.
Laura Carlsen (lcarlsen(a)ciponline.org) is the director of the Americas Program (www.americaspolicy.org) for the Center for International Policy in Mexico City.
This article originally appeared in Laura Carlsen's column for Foreign Policy In Focus at http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/6622.
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