After five months of political chaos in Honduras, repeated attempts to reach a negotiated agreement for restoration of constitutional order have failed due to the defiant recalcitrance of the Roberto Micheletti coup regime and the complicity of the State Department. Given this impasse and the deepening human rights crisis, it is widely recognized that conditions for holding free, fair and transparent elections on November 29, just days from now, do not exist.
Recognizing this dilemma, in late October the United States rushed a high-level State Department delegation to Honduras, bringing Micheletti back to the table and brokering the October 30 "National Reconciliation Agreement" requiring the reinstatement of President Manuel Zelaya by November 5. However, in a move paralleling the behavior of the Micheletti regime, a few days later, State Department officials reversed their position, stating that the elections would be recognized by the United States with or without restitution of President Zelaya, effectively breaking the accord.
In a press release on November 5, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, who had been using a procedural tactic to hold up the Obama administration nominations of Arturo Valenzuela and Tom Shannon, suddenly announced that he was withdrawing the hold because he had reached an agreement with the administration relative to the situation in Honduras: "I am happy to report the Obama administration has finally reversed its misguided Honduran policy and will fully recognize the November 29 elections. Secretary Clinton and Assistant Secretary Shannon have assured me that the US will recognize the outcome of the Honduran elections regardless of whether Manuel Zelaya is reinstated."
A subsequent announcement by Senator Richard Lugar confirms that in fact the United States intends to recognize elections sponsored by the coup regime without prior restitution of Zelaya. Lugar also announced that the State Department is funding election observer missions from the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute.
Lugar also used his statement to encourage Brazil in particular to consider that "recognition of the election will be the only way for Hondurans to look beyond the 5-month-old crisis." Just a few days ago, the Brazilian foreign minister warned of a "deterioration" of US relations with South America. Brazil is one of 25 countries in the Rio Group which issued a declaration on the same day of DeMint's statement, declaring that this important group of countries will not recognize a government resulting from Honduran elections if Zelaya is not previously restored.
Late last week, President Zelaya announced that he will not accept restitution at this late date in order to not be used to legitimize elections. In a letter to President Obama renouncing the possibility of a return to office in the days prior to the election, Zelaya wrote, "... 3500 people detained in one hundred days, over 600 people beaten and injured in hospitals, more than a hundred murders and countless numbers of people subjected to torture directed against citizens who dare to oppose the regime and express their ideas about freedom and justice in peaceful demonstrations. All this converts the November election into an anti-democratic exercise under an uncertain state of lawlessness with military intimidation for large sections of our people ..."
Zelaya's assessment of the illegitimacy of elections under current condition is shared by large majorities in Honduras and the international community. The broad-based national resistance movement has called for a total boycott of the elections. Participation in the elections has become a kind of ethical litmus test for all candidates. Candidates who run are widely considered to be supporting the coup, placing tremendous pressure on candidates to withdrawal.
The first candidate to withdraw was Carlos H. Reyes, a well-known Independent Party candidate for president and leader of the resistance movement against the coup. His popularity has surged as revulsion to the violence perpetrated by the coup regime has impacted communities and homes throughout the country. Some strategists believe that had a reinstated President Zelaya endorsed Reyes, he could have won the vote, but would have lost due to fraud. After consulting with grassroots assemblies in different parts of the country, Reyes announced his decision to step down.
Last week, the popular Liberal Party mayor of San Pedro Sula announced that he was stepping down as a candidate, in spite of his healthy lead in the polls. Another 110 mayoral and 55 candidates for Congress are reportedly pulling out of the election, and the number continues to grow. Both the leftist UD and the PINU parties are split, with many Congressional candidates stepping down, but the party leadership wanting to stay in the race. These small parties have the most to lose, as they risk losing the position of their party on the ballot.
The UD party has suffered severe criticism for not withdrawing. Their active involvement in the resistance movement morally obligates them to withdraw, but some party leaders see this moment as an opportunity to win more contests than they normally could. However, as the pressure mounts it seems that withdrawal from the elections by the party is imminent, although not yet certain.
With just days to go until the elections, tensions are mounting in Honduras. Micheletti has threatened those encouraging abstention with lengthy prison terms. The resistance movement has called a civic strike for the entire week prior to elections, widespread protests beginning on Friday and a full boycott on Election Day. This comes in a context of heighten levels of state terrorism.
Recently, the military issued a letter to every mayor in the country, instructing mayors' offices to compile lists of inhabitants of the municipality who have been working against the coup. The letter asked for the list to be compiled immediately and stated that each mayor would receive a follow up visit. Mayors who do not comply with this order also risk consequences. This systematic profiling of the population is a blatant violation of human rights and dangerous signal of the levels of repression to come.
In declaring that it will recognize the coup regime sponsored elections on November 29 without prior restitution of constitutional order, the United States has emboldened the coup regime, betrayed a lengthy negotiation process and endangered the lives of millions of Honduran citizens who are committed to democracy, human rights and the rule of law and who will boycott elections they consider to be illegal.