Democracy alive and well in Honduras
December 17, 2009
It’s Sunday, Nov. 29, and I’m in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. This is my second visit in the last six months; I came in July to try to figure out what had really happened with the removal of former Honduran President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya.
Now it’s Election Day.
This has been a tough but, in the end, proud year for this tiny (half the size of Colorado) and poor country of 7.5 million people. In June, the Supreme Court of Honduras ordered the military to take Zelaya into custody and remove him from the country. This brought immediate condemnation from the United States, Europe and the rest of Latin America. The press was flooded with stories about a “military coup.”
What I saw in July was totally different.
I interviewed dozens of Hondurans, attempting to get both sides of the Zelaya story, but I couldn’t find any Zelaya supporters. Every Honduran (mostly poor, working-class people) said Zelaya had become a puppet for Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, had repeatedly violated the law and needed to be removed for the safety of the Honduran people. They did not want him returned and were proud of the way their Congress, the Supreme Court, the Attorney General and the interim president were resisting the international pressure to reinstate Zelaya.
It seemed to me that the Honduran authorities, most of them members of Zelaya’s party, had followed their laws in removing him. Knowing this, and having spoken to so many Hondurans, I still don’t understand why our government was so quick to back him.
Recommended Stories For You
Now I’ve returned for the elections and want to see if:
• They are open and fair;
• There’s a high percentage of voter participation;
• Whether Zelaya, now holed up in the Brazilian Embassy, would be a factor;
• How international observers are treated, and
• How the international community will react once it is all over.
I was astonished by what I saw.
First, the turnout was more than 60 percent, demonstrating that Hondurans want to move on from the Zelaya mess.
Second, the process was as open, efficient and fair as you could possibly imagine. I went to three polling places, spoke with many election officials, was allowed to photograph whatever I wanted and, in general, was treated with the utmost courtesy. There were some 3,000 observers, about 600 from 31 countries outside of Honduras, and the ones I spoke to related the same experience.
Honduras wanted to show the world its commitment to democracy, openness and fairness. I think Honduran officials did a superb job and I believe strongly that these results should be recognized as legitimate.
The two major candidates, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, who won, and Elvin Santos had both been selected through their respective nominating processes many months before the removal of Zelaya in June. The Zelaya issue so dominated the press accounts, however, that there was literally no mention of the other candidates and their campaigns until right before the election.
On election day, they finally began to receive the attention they deserved.
Although I didn’t hear any mention of Zelaya’s name on election day, the next night his supporters organized a cavalcade of cars and trucks that clogged Tegucigalpa’s narrow streets for a couple of hours. But then, as if it were Zelaya’s last gasp, the supporters disappeared.
The next day the Honduran Congress voted 111-14 not to allow him to resume the presidency in the few remaining weeks of his tenure. Although this isn’t the result the United States wanted, it is part of the agreement that we brokered. I believe we need to fully recognize the new government and allow Honduras to move ahead.
In conclusion, this was an electoral process of which all Hondurans are justifiably proud. For me, it was an honor to have been there.