Tuesday, December 1, 2009

World AIDS Day, No Boycott of Honduras Election, Lobo Wins as Expected, What's Next?

Today is World AIDS Day and I’m glad to hear that the spread of AIDS has slowed worldwide. Fewer people are becoming infected and fewer are dying, thanks in part to new treatments. AIDS prevention was one of our major tasks as health volunteers in Honduras. Every December 1, we undertook education programs and led a march through town carrying a big AIDS prevention banner.

Glad also that the Honduran election went fairly well and that the vote turnout may have even been greater than when Zelaya was elected four years ago, though there is some disagreement about that. In any case, the turnout was at least around 50%, according to the lowest figure, the usual percentage, so there was no substantial boycott. Now, the problem is what to do about Zelaya and his still diehard supporters, whose numbers may be dwindling. I cannot imagine that the congress will restore him to office when it meets tomorrow. It's noteworthy that winner Lobo is from the Nationalist Party, traditionally the more conservative of Honduras's two main parties, so there was no groundswell of support for Zelaya's stance or even for his Liberal Party. If Mexico and Canada do end up recognizing the Honduran election, as is rumored they will, that would be a good sign for the country. Argentina and Brazil are still standing firm on non-recognition.

A Wall St. Journal column praises Honduras for standing up to Chavez and company. And a subsequent news article reports that Colombia has recognized the election and that Spain has indicated that it might in the future.

In the following article, I see that my one-time acquaintance Adolfo Facusse has a few things to say. Not only is he part of the wealthy elite, the so-called oligarchy, but like many in that class, he is fluent in English and therefore easy to quote in US media. Javier Zuniga, mentioned in the subsequent article as an expert on Central America for Amnesty International, works out of the London headquarters. I’ve never met him, but have had some correspondence with him.
U.S. and some allies at odds over Honduras presidential election
Brazil doesn't want Zelaya's ouster in coup to go unpunished
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 1, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA-- The United States split with some of its Latin American allies Monday over whether to recognize the results of Honduras's presidential election, with Washington commending the balloting but Brazil saying the vote will not erase the stain of a coup.

The winner, Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo, a conservative businessman, has promised to promote reconciliation in this impoverished country, which was thrown into turmoil when the military exiled President Manuel Zelaya on June 28. But many Hondurans consider it unlikely that their internationally recognized president will be allowed to serve out the remainder of his term, which ends in January. Zelaya's return had been the goal of an aggressive campaign by the U.S. government and the rest of the hemisphere. But Honduran and U.S. officials concede that the Honduran congress is likely to vote Wednesday against reinstating Zelaya, who had alarmed many here by embracing Venezuela's anti-American president, Hugo Chávez.

Lobo is hoping Sunday's election -- scheduled long before Zelaya's ouster -- will help end a crisis that has isolated Honduras internationally and cost it millions of dollars in lost aid and revenue. "It's difficult not to recognize an electoral process in a democratic country," Lobo said at a news conference with foreign reporters. "This is how the crisis ends."

The exact turnout in Sunday's vote was still not known, with the country's electoral tribunal saying official figures may not be available for weeks. The tribunal said that, based on projections from about half the ballot boxes, 62 percent of eligible voters participated. However, an independent Honduran civic alliance that did a statistical sampling nationwide said 47.6 percent of voters turned out, 7.4 percentage points less than in the last presidential election, in 2005. The civic group's effort was funded by the U.S. government and received technical assistance from the National Democratic Institute, which is loosely affiliated with the Democratic Party. The International Republican Institute, a group that sent observers and has ties to the Republican Party, said the election was "free of violence and overt acts of intimidation" and appeared credible.

Many major international electoral observation groups declined to monitor the vote, however, citing the country's unresolved political conflict and irregularities during the campaign that included the temporary shutdown of pro-Zelaya media. The president was not on the ballot, but he appeared to be the big loser in Sunday's election, as many Hondurans ignored his appeal for a mass boycott. He has been holed up in the Brazilian Embassy since sneaking back into the country in September.
The military arrested Zelaya on June 28 on charges of abuse of power for allegedly organizing an illegal referendum that many viewed as a bid to stay in power beyond the one-term limit. Initially, the Obama administration insisted on Zelaya's return, eager to show its democratic credentials to a region long skeptical of them. But Honduran political and business leaders rejected the demand. Seeing few other options, the U.S. government dropped an earlier threat not to recognize the election.

"We stood on principle, but Central America really matters to us. The U.S. can't have a totally destabilized Honduras," one senior U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. In a statement, the State Department commended Hondurans for "peacefully exercising their democratic right to select their leaders."
Colombia, Peru, Panama and Costa Rica have indicated they will recognize the election result. Many other countries have refused to do so thus far, but analysts say Mexico and some Central American and Caribbean nations are likely to reestablish ties eventually.

Regional powerhouse Brazil and several other leftist governments have said that allowing a coup to go unpunished would send the wrong message in a region once dominated by military governments. "There are still many nations, especially in Central America, in vulnerable political situations," Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva told an Ibero-American meeting in Portugal, according to wire services.

One of Honduras's most influential businessmen, Adolfo Facusse, said in an interview that such opposition does not matter. "We don't care about Brazil," he said, noting its limited trade relationship with Honduras. "We get to Miami in two hours, we get to Brazil in eight."
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------December 1, 2009
Fate of Ousted Leader Clouds Election Result in Honduras

TEGUCIGALPA— Flush from his victory in the Honduran presidential election, Porfirio Lobo sat down for a congratulatory television interview on Monday morning. When asked if he planned to talk to Manuel Zelaya, the president ousted in a coup in June, Mr. Lobo made a gesture as though washing his hands. “Let Congress decide,” he said, referring to a vote scheduled for Wednesday over whether to reinstate Mr. Zelaya to serve the last weeks of his term.

But Mr. Lobo, a veteran conservative politician, will not be able to wave away the coup and the political standoff that followed so breezily. For a start, although preliminary results show that Mr. Lobo won the election on Sunday with a margin of 16 percentage points, many countries have said they would not recognize an election held by a de facto government that was installed by a coup.

On Monday, there was very limited recognition. Panama and Colombia were the first to congratulate Mr. Lobo, and President Óscar Arias of Costa Rica said his government would recognize the outcome if there was no evidence of fraud, Reuters reported.
The United States issued a qualified response. “The issue is not who is going to be the next president,” Arturo Valenzuela, the new assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told reporters in Washington. “The Honduran people decided that. The issue is whether the legitimate president of Honduras, who was overthrown in a coup d’état, will be returned to office.”

Brazil and most other South American countries had already rejected the vote, while European countries, which are important aid donors, acknowledged the vote but said that Hondurans had to find some form of reconciliation.The United States continued to place its hopes for a resolution to the Honduran political crisis in an accord that it brokered a month ago and that both Mr. Zelaya and Roberto Micheletti, who leads the de facto government, signed.

The deal called for Congress to vote on whether to reinstate Mr. Zelaya, as well as the formation of a national unity government and a truth commission to investigate the events that led up to the coup and its aftermath. But none of the accord’s elements has yet been achieved. Congress delayed its vote, and then Mr. Zelaya renounced the agreement and remains a virtual prisoner in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the capital. On Monday, he said in a telephone interview that he would not return to office if Congress voted to restore him merely to serve as a figurehead. “The elections only changed the president, but it did not change any of the structure that carried out the coup,” he said.

Mr. Lobo has said that because he did not sign the accord, it is not up to him to fulfill it. But if he is to win recognition from other countries — and bring back the aid money that has been suspended — then he will probably have no choice but to go along with some version of the agreement.

Even before the political crisis halted investment and paralyzed an economy that was already buffeted by the global economic crisis, Honduras faced a dire situation. Remittances from Hondurans working in the United States account for almost a quarter of gross domestic product, and they have dropped 12 percent this year. The Honduran economy could shrink as much as 4.5 percent this year, said Mauricio Díaz Burdett, an economist at the Fosdeh research institution here.

Mr. Lobo had been vague as a candidate about what he would do first if elected, calling for a grand national dialogue before he would take office on Jan. 27. His family raises corn, soy and sorghum on one of the country’s largest farms. In a long political career, he introduced the idea of a mobile Congress, taking congressional leaders out to the countryside to hear complaints.

He has promised to work hard to win back the international recognition that was withheld after the coup. But the coup has revealed a number of fault lines in Honduras that were papered over in a country where a small elite controls the economy and politics. “The new president will have a very significant challenge in dealing with demands from the population for a more inclusive system,” said Jennifer McCoy, the director of the Americas Program at the Carter Center in Atlanta. “I think these demands were larger than Zelaya.”

A sense of that frustration was clear when Mr. Zelaya’s supporters gathered at a union meeting hall on Monday. “We’re motivated,” said Juan Barahona, a leader of the resistance, as Mr. Zelaya’s supporters now call themselves. “We won’t abandon the fight because in four years or sooner, there will be a new dawn.”

The opposition has been the target of human rights violations since the coup, with a kind of low-intensity repression of constant harrassment, arrests and beatings, particularly in the countryside, human rights experts say.José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch said that the de facto government had committed “widespread arbitrary detentions, killings and censorship” against Mr. Zelaya’s supporters and that the election would not wipe the slate clean.

On Friday night, for example, police and soldiers raided the offices of a farming organization in Siguatepeque, in the central region of Comayagua, saying they were looking for guns. After a three-hour search, they left with the organization’s computers, cameras and documents. “Impunity has been the hallmark of the regime,” said Javier Zúñiga of Amnesty International, who is a longtime human rights expert in Central America.
US: Honduras' election important but not last step
Associated Press
Monday, November 30, 2009

WASHINGTON -- The United States on Monday called Honduras' weekend election an important step forward but said more needs to be done to achieve reconciliation after a coup earlier this year threw the country into turmoil. Arturo Valenzuela, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, said the election was fair and transparent but that Honduras must make further efforts to restore democracy after President Manuel Zelaya was expelled in June. "While the election is a necessary step, it is not a sufficient one," Valenzuela said. "It's not the last step."

Many Western Hemisphere countries refuse to recognize Honduras' newly elected President Porfirio Lobo because of the coup, and Valenzuela was pressed by reporters on whether the United States recognizes Lobo's election. "He will be the next president of Honduras," he said. "We recognize those results, and we commend Mr. Lobo for having won these elections." Valenzuela said, however, that Honduras must do more than elect a new leader; it must also form a government of national unity and a truth commission meant to seek reconciliation.

The United States wants the unity government to be in place until Lobo takes office Jan. 27. Under a U.S.-brokered pact, Honduran lawmakers will vote Wednesday on whether Zelaya should be restored as head of that government. Valenzuela urged Zelaya to participate in talks on national unity.

Honduras' army threw Zelaya out of the country after Zelaya pushed ahead with plans for a referendum on changing the constitution even though the Supreme Court ruled the vote illegal. The move was widely condemned by other nations.

The International Republican Institute, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, said its observers witnessed "an election free of violence and overt acts of intimidation." In a statement, the institute called the Sunday election "credible and peaceful." The delegation was led by David Kramer, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state, and included representatives from Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Spain and the United States.

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