Before right wing candidate Porfirio Lobo was pronounced the winner of the November 29 elections in Honduras, one senior US official spoke anonymously to reporters of his administration’s position on Honduras: “What are we going to do, sit for four years and just condemn the coup?” Instead, Washington offered its pivotal blessing for the elections, allowing a bloody dictatorship to paint itself in a democratic light.
The US could have put more pressure on the coup government, refusing to recognize the elections, denouncing the human rights violations and calling, as so many other governments around the world have, for the immediate reinstatement of President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a coup on June 28.
But the Obama administration decided to support the vote, which took place in a climate of repression, torture, political persecution and fear, and was marked by massive levels of abstention.
“[W]e face a militarized state with a defined and systematic practice against those who oppose the coup,” Honduran human rights activist Berta Oliva told the Real News. “[The coup leaders] have a clear objective, which is to silence and intimidate.”
On November 4, after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a US-brokered deal to return Zelaya to power, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Affairs Tom Shannon told CNN that the US would recognize the November 29 elections regardless of whether or not Zelaya was reinstated.
Leading up to this drastic turn of events, South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint had been blocking Shannon’s nomination as the ambassador to Brazil and Arturo Valenzuela as the replacement for Shannon. DeMint said he would lift the hold if Shannon established a deal for the US to recognize elections in Honduras without Zelaya’s return to power. (DeMint traveled to Honduras in October to meet with members of the coup regime.)
When Shannon changed the Honduran deal to fit DeMint’s request, the Republican Senator went ahead with his nomination of Shannon and Valenzuela to their new posts.
The US-brokered deal then called on the Honduran congress to decide Zelaya’s fate – even though the congress had approved the coup in the first place. When the vote on Zelaya’s return to finish his term in office took place on December 3, congress voted against reinstatement by 111 to 14.
Washington’s crucial support in this process helped the Honduran oligarchy carry on with their electoral farce and prevent Zelaya’s return to office. Perhaps that was the plan all along.
US Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens said the elections “will return Honduras to the path of democracy.” But many Hondurans aren’t interested in Llorens’ version of democracy.
Betty Vasquez of the Women in Resistance of Santa Bárbara, Honduras is one of many activists looking beyond the ballot box toward a popular assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution. Vasquez told Honduras Resiste, “We believe that the State powers have been so weakened that only through a constitutional assembly could a new democratic process be initiated.”
BENJAMIN DANGL is currently based in Paraguay and is the author of “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia” (AK Press). He edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Email: Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com.