As the Honduran election approaches on Sunday, November 29, let's be clear about the conditions under which it is taking place. Human rights abuses are rampant, freedom of speech is under attack, and the election process is in the hands of the very people who perpetrated the coup. Clearly, no free and fair election is possible under the repressive thumb of the military coup that has been in place for five months.
While the 23 nations of the Rio Group from Latin America and the Caribbean have condemned the election and announced they will not recognize its outcome, the Obama administration still insists it will recognize the results--once again isolating the United States from those who are upholding democracy in the hemisphere.
President Obama should join the rest of the world and immediately declare the elections fraudulent and demand the immediate restoration of President Manuel Zelaya, the withdrawal of the Honduran military, and a delay of the election until three months after Zelaya has been full reinstated.
Imagine a "free and fair election" under the conditions in Honduras today (and imagine if this were taking place in the United States):
- The same Honduran military,which perpetrated the June 28 coup forcing President Manuel Zelaya out of the country, and which has brutally occupied the country for five months, physically controls the ballots, the ballot boxes, the computers that tabulate the results, and the dissemination of the outcome.
- The legitimate President of the country is being held captive in the Brazilian Embassy under draconian circumstances, and has denounced the elections as fraudulent.
- The leading opposition candidate, the independent Carlos H. Reyes - who has a real chance of winning a free and fair election - has withdrawn his name from the ballot in protest. Throughout the country, hundreds of candidates for congress and municipal office, including those from the mainstream parties, have announced they are withdrawing from the election. They include the mayor of San Pedro Sula, the nation's second largest city.
- All three trade union federations, the leading human rights organization, women's groups, organizations of indigenous and African-descent peoples, the gay and lesbian movement, and the campesino movement--united in the National Front Against the Coup d'Etat--have denounced the election as fraudulent.
- The coup government has made it illegal to advocate not voting.
- Peaceful demonstrations are routinely teargassed. As the Committee of Families of the Disappeared (COFADEH) has documented, dozens of people have been killed, over 600 beaten, and over 3,500 illegally detained, including lawyers who have shown up to secure the release of detainees. Opponents of the coup continue be threatened, illegally arrested, and beaten in their homes.
- The military has recently instructed all mayors in the country to compile a list of persons in their jurisdiction who oppose the coup.
- The two presidential candidates remaining in the election from the traditional parties of the oligarchy, Elvin Santos from the right wing of the Liberal Party, and Porfirio Lobo Sosa from the National Party, both initially supported the coup.
No free and fair election can take place under these circumstances. Only when the legitimate President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, has been fully restored to office for three months, only when the military has been pushed back into its barracks, and only when civil liberties are completely restored can an orderly transfer of power to a new administration take place.
By persuading coup leader Roberto Micheletti to briefly step aside in the week before the election, the U.S. State Department has tried to whitewash the election at the last minute. But that doesn't change the fact that the Honduran military and the oligarchs, who perpetrated the coup and who have dictated the nation's politics for decades, are still brutally repressing the people of Honduras.
The vast majority of Hondurans aren't fooled. After five months of military repression, they know the difference between a fraudulent cover for the continuation of the coup regime, and a truly free and fair election under the rule of law. So does the European Union, the Organization of American States, and the Rio Group. They understand well the dangerous precedent the Honduran coup represents.
President Obama should refuse to recognize the results of the election and bring an end to embarrassing isolation of the United States from the rest of the world.