Juan Ramon Duran
HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 10 (IPS) – Although the international community [including Cuba] has warned that it will not recognize the results of the November elections in Honduras, the de facto government in power since the June 28 coup d’etat says the vote is going ahead.
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who mediated the unsuccessful talks between ousted President Manuel Zelaya and the coup government, says the elections scheduled for Nov. 29 could be “a solution to the crisis.” Others like prominent Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes have expressed similar views.
But many, both within and outside Honduras, say the results of the elections would only be valid if the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti accepts the “San Jose accord” – the 11-point compromise proposed by Arias that includes Zelaya’s reinstatement as president to complete his term, which ends in January.
Eulogio Chavez, a leader of the powerful FOMH teachers’ union, told IPS that his union would “boycott the general elections and refuse to recognize the results because they are being held under a de facto government that has usurped power.”
Chavez said the National Resistance Front Against the Coup d’Etat, which his union forms part of, is opposed to the elections and in favor of Zelaya’s suggestion to elect a constituent assembly to redraft the constitution in order to strengthen democracy in this impoverished Central American nation of seven million people.
At a national assembly on Sunday, the National Resistance Front approved the call for a constituent assembly.
Zelaya was overthrown after weeks of political arm-wrestling over his plans to hold a non-binding popular vote on constitutional reform on June 28. But analysts say he was ousted because some of his social policies and his alignment with more radical left-wing leaders in Latin America, like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, put him at loggerheads with the country’s conservative elites, including his own party.
Meanwhile, presidential candidates Cesar Ham of the left-wing Democratic Unification Party and Carlos H. Reyes, an independent trade unionist, said they would only take part in the elections if the country’s constitutional order is restored – in other words, if Zelaya is reinstated as president.
The National Resistance Front includes the FOMH – representing more than 50,000 teachers -, the country’s three central unions, and the Popular Bloc, which groups more than 10 trade unions representing over 30,000 public employees.
Micheletti, on the other hand, has the support of the armed forces, the police, more than 100 of the 128 national legislators, the 15 Supreme Court magistrates, and Attorney General Luis Rubi and conservative civil society organizations.
Washington takes tougher stance
After meeting last week with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other U.S. officials, Zelaya warned that time was running out and that if a political solution was not found soon, Honduras would fall into anarchy and chaos.
Once again condemning the June 28 coup in which Zelaya was removed from his home at gunpoint by the military and put on a plane to Costa Rica, Washington cut off all non-humanitarian aid last week and said it would not recognize the results of the Nov. 29 elections under the current circumstances.
The governments of Latin America have also stated that they will not recognize the elections, as has Organization of American States Secretary General José Miguel Insulza and other figures in the international community.
The Honduran Supreme Electoral Court (TSE), nevertheless, insists that the elections “are irreversible and are the only solution to the crisis.”
In an editorial in a newspaper he owns, La Tribuna, former president Carlos Flores (1998-2002) copied the entire U.S. State Department press release on the “Termination of Assistance (to) the De Facto Regime”, urging his readers to study it carefully in order to understand the Obama administration’s position.
The statement says Honduras’ November election “must be undertaken in a free, fair and transparent manner. It must also be free of taint and open to all Hondurans to exercise their democratic franchise. At this moment, we would not be able to support the outcome of the scheduled elections. A positive conclusion of the Arias process would provide a sound basis for legitimate elections to proceed. We strongly urge all parties to the San Jose talks to move expeditiously to agreement.”
Zelaya has accepted Arias’ compromise, which would restore him to the presidency but with significantly restricted powers, while offering an amnesty for political crimes and creating a unity government of all Honduras’ political parties.
Micheletti, however, not only refuses to consider Zelaya’s return, but says that if he does come back to Honduras he will immediately be arrested and accused of “abuse of power” and corruption.
The de facto leader has offered to resign and to be replaced by Supreme Court president Jorge Rivera Aviles. But that proposal was not accepted.
The TSE has launched a campaign urging Hondurans to come out en masse and vote in November, arguing that the elections will be safe, transparent and respectful of voters.
Campaign Rallies and Protests
TSE magistrate Enrique Ortez told IPS that measures will be taken “to guarantee the electoral process and reduce fraud and political manipulation to a minimum.”
Since Sept. 1, the country’s two traditional parties, the center-right Liberal Party and the right-wing National Party, have been campaigning in the media and holding election rallies.
The National Resistance Front, in the meantime, has continued to hold street protests in the capital and other cities, demonstrating against the coup and the election campaign.
Ramon Custodio, head of the National Human Rights Commission (CONADEH), a government body, told IPS that the November elections are essential for the “survival” of Honduras’ democratic institutions.
He expressed concern over the trend of growing abstention, which stood at “27 percent in the 1997 elections, 33 percent in 2001 and 44 percent in 2005, which is dangerous, because if it rises above 50 percent, we would have a government without majority support.”
Leo Valladares, with the civil society electoral observer group Mirador Electoral, told IPS that the organization will observe the elections in November, since the TSE is an independent body and “has nothing to do with the June 28 coup d’etat.”
“The lack of election observers and recognition of the electoral process by the OAS and the rest of the international community are alarming, but in the end it will be the massive turnout by Honduran voters that will give the process legitimacy,” said Valladares.