Honduras Pres.-Elect Seeks Recognition

Thelma Mejía

Honduras remains a police state under a de facto government.  Photo: Giorgio Trucchi, rel-UITA
Honduras remains a police state under a de facto government. Photo: Giorgio Trucchi, rel-UITA

HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 9 (IPS) – Porfirio Lobo set out on an international tour Tuesday in an effort to gain recognition from the international community of his recent triumph in the presidential elections organized by the de facto government in Honduras that seized power five months ago.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, called for an independent investigation to ensure all those responsible for human rights abuses committed since the JunE 28 coup that removed President Manuel Zelaya are brought to justice and the victims given reparations.

Lobo’s first stop will be Costa Rica, where he plans to meet with President Oscar Arias, who he will ask for support in winning over the governments of Latin America that have refused to accept the results of the Nov. 29 elections because Zelaya, who was removed at gunpoint from the country in the coup, was not reinstated to serve out the rest of his term, which was to end on Jan. 27.

Lobo will then head to Panama and the Dominican Republic, where he will be accompanied by his main rival in the elections, Elvín Santos, who came in second in the elections.

Santos, who like both Zelaya and de facto President Roberto Micheletti belongs to the centre-right Liberal Party, “believes it is important to support the president-elect,” Juan Carlos Barrientos, one of his chief advisers, told IPS.

Maria Antonieta Bogran, who will be one of Honduras’ three vice presidents in the new administration, said to IPS that the aim of the tour was “to demonstrate to the countries the strength of the popular will expressed on Nov. 29, as a solid argument that invites reflection and analysis in order to move towards unity and reconciliation in the country.”

“We hope the countries will gradually come to understand, because international relations are an important factor in moving this country ahead and putting it back in the context of the international community, although we are aware that it is an uphill mission,” she said.

“We are confident that it will be successful, however,” Bogran added.

Lobo, of the right-wing National Party, took 55 percent of the vote. And for the first time in 27 years, the governing party will have an absolute majority in parliament, with 72 of the 128 seats, according to the preliminary results from the electoral court.

The National Party is also ahead in 16 of the 18 departments, or provinces, into which Honduras is divided, and in 248 of the 298 municipalities.

Lobo said his tour abroad is aimed at “opening doors.” He added that “we will not subject ourselves to any kind of imposition.”

He also said many governments had already phoned to tell him that they will recognize the outcome of the elections “very soon.”

“But I am not going to sit back and wait; I’m going to get moving, because Honduras needs to return to the concert of nations.

“The Honduran people went to the polls and voted en masse in a transparent process. The people made their decision and we would like recognition in a framework of democracy and freedom,” said Lobo.

Times of pressure

Since Zelaya was pulled out of bed by the military and put on a plane to Costa Rica in his pajamas on Jun. 28, Honduras has been isolated by the international community while facing continuous demonstrations against the coup and in support of the ousted president on the streets of the cities.

The Organization of American States (OAS) and European Union condemned the coup in no uncertain terms, ambassadors were recalled, economic sanctions were adopted, and the U.S. government eventually sent officials to negotiate an agreement to the political crisis. However, the accord that was reached did not bring about Zelaya’s reinstatement.

Resistance Leader Juan Barahona.  Photo: Giorgio Trucchi, rel-UITA
Resistance Leader Juan Barahona. Photo: Giorgio Trucchi, rel-UITA

After the elections, the administration of President Barack Obama recognized Lobo as president-elect. The only other countries in the Americas to do so were Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Peru.

The coup makers’ strategy was for the vote to be seen as a first step towards normalization, on the argument that the candidates who ran in the elections were chosen in primaries held over a year ago.

There was also speculation that Brazil might back down on its staunch refusal to accept the elections, even though Zelaya remains holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa since he slipped back into the country in late September.

Talk of that possibility was triggered by statements made by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff, his chosen successor.

Rousseff, who aspires to the presidential candidacy of the governing Workers’ Party, said the elections should be considered separately from the coup.

However, Lula’s spokesman Marcelo Baumbach said Monday that “The president’s position is clear. Brazil does not intend to recognize a government elected in a process that was organized by an illegitimate government.” Lula has also said he has no interest in talking to Lobo.

The Salvadoran parliament, in the meantime, passed a resolution recognizing Lobo as president-elect, as part of what is seen as a strategy by the right to force the left-wing government of President Mauricio Funes, which has only 35 out of a total of 84 seats in the single-chamber Congress, to accept the results of the elections.

At the same time, a special OAS meeting on Honduras failed to reach agreement on a statement refusing to accept the elections, and the regional body’s Secretary General José Miguel Insulza said that recognizing a government as legitimate was up to each country, which would “freely” reach its own decision.

Rights trampled

While the political crisis remains unresolved, Amnesty International issued a report last week after a 10-day mission to the country, during which it documented numerous human rights abuses committed since the Jun. 28 coup.

“The crisis in Honduras does not end with the election results, the authorities cannot return to business as usual without ensuring human rights safeguards,” said Javier Zúñiga, head of the Amnesty International delegation in Honduras.

“There are dozens of people in Honduras still suffering the effects of the abuses carried out in the past five months. Failure to punish those responsible and to fix the malfunctioning system would open the door for more abuses in the future.

“It is essential that the international community does not forget people in Honduras by giving a blank check to the new authorities over-looking the abuses of the past five months,” said Zúñiga.

The delegation said the abuses included killings as a result of excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests of protesters by police and the military, indiscriminate and unnecessary use of tear gas (with canisters thrown into offices, for example), mistreatment of detainees in custody, violence against women, and harassment of activists, journalists, lawyers and judges.

Amnesty also stated that “Most people interviewed said that after being injured or made ill by the (tear) gas, they were too scared to seek medical assistance as police and military entered hospitals in order to intimidate them.”

“During the crisis, institutions in Honduras have blatantly failed to protect basic human rights,” said Zúñiga. “It is particularly worrying that in Honduras the conditions which enable human rights abusers to go unpunished exist.”

Amnesty also demanded that “the military return to their barracks and that their law enforcement function is withdrawn” and “that all members of the security forces are held accountable for human rights abuses committed between 28th June and end of November.”

The London-based rights group also called for the development of a national plan for the protection of human rights.

For its part, the National Resistance Front Against the Coup d’Etat announced that it was no longer pressing for Zelaya’s return.

The coalition of left-wing political parties, dissident members of the Liberal Party, central trade unions, the federation of teachers’ unions, cooperatives, unions of public employees and grassroots and popular organizations said it would now focus its efforts on demanding the creation of a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution, and on the establishment of a political movement to participate in the next elections, four years from now.

It was precisely Zelaya’s attempt to hold a non-binding referendum to ask voters whether they wanted to elect a constituent assembly that led to the series of events that culminated in the coup.

“We have turned the page of demanding the reinstatement of President Zelaya, which didn’t happen,” said Juan Barahona, one of the leaders of the Front, referring to the legislature’s Dec. 2 vote against restoring the ousted leader to power.

The vote formed part of the U.S.-brokered deal between the two sides, which Zelaya declared null because Congress put it off until after the elections, which ran counter to the spirit of the agreement.

Zelaya is now accompanied in the embassy by just 12 supporters, including his wife Xiomara Castro. The police-military cordon around the compound was reduced over the weekend, making free transit around the exclusive residential neighborhood of Palmira possible for the first time in nearly two months.