Keep a Close Eye on Honduran Elections Sunday

Keep a Close Eye on Honduran Elections Sunday
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By Pamela Spees, Senior Attorney with the CCR who has filed cases in the U.S. related to the 2009 Honduras coup.

Pick up any U.S. newspaper next Monday morning, and the international page will undoubtedly be reporting the results of this Sunday's presidential election in Honduras. Throughout the summer, the front runner had been Libertad y Refundación (LIBRE) party candidate Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the wife of President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a 2009 military coup. But "the man to watch," who is suddenly and mysteriously neck and neck with Castro in certain polls, is coup enthusiast and National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández. In addition to his support for the military coup that ousted Zelaya, Hernández has the distinction of being the leader of the December 2012 "technical coup," in which Congress deposed Supreme Court justices and fired the Attorney General, replacing them with National Party loyalists. He was also the man behind the formation of the new military police who are patrolling Honduran streets. This weekend's election takes place within the context of a four-year-strong, massive resistance to the post-coup government and violent state repression against that resistance. One thing that is clear is that Honduran civil society wants a more democratic country and more independence from U.S. interests.

In this heated pre-election atmosphere, international election observers have begun pouring into Honduras to monitor whether the election is free and fair, and their observations should be carefully heeded next week. Given recent electoral processes in Honduras, we should be wary of accepting too quickly official Honduran and U.S. assessments of the election. Five months after the world denounced the coup and called for Zelaya's return, the United States became the single loudest voice legitimating a November 2009 election that was held in a context so problematic and laden with violence that respected election observers from the United Nations, Organization of American States, the European Union, and the Carter Center refused to monitor or support the elections. The election was also subject to a widespread boycott by the resistance movement. The U.S. parted ways with the overwhelming majority of countries in the region and around the world and promptly recognized the results of the controversial election and normalized relations with the newly "elected" regime of coup supporter Porfirio Lobo Sosa. Perhaps contributing to the U.S.'s about-face during the intervening months between the coup and the 2009 election was a group of U.S. lobbyists, paid by the post-coup interim government of Roberto Micheletti as well as maquiladora conglomerates, and others who had cut their teeth helping the U.S. prop up repressive Central American regimes at the end of the Cold War, who were busy consolidating the coup in Washington D.C and in U.S. press.

The U.S. not only changed its tune when it came to the election, it also resumed funding to the Honduran military and police, funding that has increased every year since. But for small portions that have been suspended following grassroots activism and Congressional pressure on the Obama administration to address human rights issues in Honduras, the money continues to flow despite harsh repression and brutality under the Lobo regime. The support continues amid the widespread and increasing violence --including the murder of 67 lawyers and 29 journalists since Lobo took office, at least 18 LIBRE party activists and political candidates killed since May 2012, and frequent attacks on LGBTQ persons who have been an important voice in the resistance. The U.S. has been largely silent about this violence. Meanwhile, its money has spoken volumes as the tap to the Honduran military and police - who are complicit in and often driving the extra-legal violence - stays open.

Now the U.S. faces pressure from around the world to stay out of this weekend's democratic process in Honduras, unlike in 2009. This time around, the resistance has gained even more ground, but the U.S. right-wing chatter by some of the same lobbyists from 2009 is also back again, attributing political assassinations to common crime, condemning the efforts of international solidarity activists as "interfering" in the elections, and generally laying the public relations groundwork for possible U.S. support of an illegitimate election result.

Whatever happens on Sunday, human rights and democracy must come first. The United States has had a dismal human rights record over the past several decades with regard to Honduras, and it has proved far too willing to accommodate coup leaders and their advocates over the past four years. Sunday's election must not be a repeat of the 2009 election, when the outcry of a country was swept aside in favor of military and corporate interests and the resistance was attacked, assassinated, and jailed.

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