Time to Support Honduras' Elections
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- The presidential election that will take place Nov. 29 is the legitimate way to solve the crisis that has given this country a disproportionate international presence since President Manuel Zelaya was deposed in June.
This is an obvious conclusion after talking at length with interim President Roberto Micheletti, judicial and legislative authorities, members of the opposition, business leaders and foreign observers during a recent visit. Nobody in the current government is interested in a fraudulent election, nor is one likely given safeguards that include a widely respected national electoral tribunal and Supreme Court. The authorities seem eager to have the burden of international censure lifted by keeping their promise to hand power over to an elected president.
In these circumstances, it makes no sense for the Organization of American States to say it will not recognize the winner of an election whose competing candidates were nominated when Zelaya was still in power. The polls place the opposition ahead, and all sides, including Zelaya's Liberal Party, are holding street rallies and saturating the airwaves. The vote will be held not a minute later than would have been the case if Micheletti had not taken over.
Accepting for the sake of argument that Zelaya's ouster was a classic military coup, it is plainly absurd to deny Honduras a solution that liberal democracies usually demand of illegitimate presidencies -- that elections be held and successors seated. This was the objective in challenging Chile's Augusto Pinochet and Argentina's junta between 1976 and 1983.
The OAS is bent on compounding its increasing irrelevance by not sending observers or assisting with the election. How does it prove that the Honduran election is fraudulent if the OAS doesn't accept the government's invitation to witness the process from within? Other entities, including the National Democratic Institute, are sending missions.
I suspect these considerations, and not just the "hold" that Republican Sen. Jim DeMint had placed on the confirmation of a new assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, explain why the Obama administration finally announced it will recognize the winner of the Honduran vote. Outgoing Assistant Secretary Tom Shannon told me a few weeks ago that the elections were the solution. Washington's fear of finding itself isolated from Latin American governments demanding Zelaya's reinstatement pushed the administration to subsequently question the scheduled vote. That posture, rejected by two-thirds of Hondurans convinced that Zelaya had repeatedly broken the law and tried to destroy the democratic system in place since 1982, became impractical so late in the game.
Now, Canada and many Latin American governments are signaling that they too will recognize the winner, while autocratic countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia, with support from Brazil and Spain, are still holding back. The World Bank has discreetly resumed ties with Honduras yet the Inter-American Development Bank remains on the side of Hugo Chavez and his allies, a mistake that I suspect will not last long.
Meanwhile, Zelaya, whose party is contesting the election that he does not accept, is trying to exacerbate tensions. Bombs have been thrown at buildings storing the ballots and police suspect Zelaya supporters.
A couple of weeks ago, the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord was signed by Micheletti and Zelaya. It leaves to the National Assembly the decision on whether to reinstate the latter until the handover of power. The slow-motion approach taken by the assembly is in part politically motivated, but it is also in accordance with the agreement, which provides for judicial consultations and sets no timeline.
During our visit, the exiled Cuban writer Carlos Alberto Montaner, Guatemalan consultant Julio Ligorria, a group of Central American civic leaders and I were heartened by the degree to which the actors in this drama went out of their way to show allegiance to the rule of law. Some understood the grave mistake originally made by expelling Zelaya from the country; all of them expressed pride in having withstood outside pressure and responded to international skepticism with a legitimate election.
Let us hope that Hondurans do not succumb to the temptation, after what they perceive as a David versus Goliath kind of victory, to continue to go it alone in the future. Honduras desperately needs to engage the rest of the world diplomatically and economically in order to address its most important mission -- putting itself on the path to prosperity. Swallowing some pride is in order.