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THE REGISTER CITIZEN: Give Hondurans More Time for Fair Elections

November 3rd, 2009

By Roxanne Hanson

The June coup that ousted Manuel Zelaya, the democratically elected president of Honduras, continues in a stalemate. With constant pressure from the United States, the European Union, international institutions like the United Nations and Organization of American States, and international mediators like former President Jimmy Carter, the de facto regime led by Roberto Micheletti finally agreed to come back to the negotiating table. But they also continue to block all proposed solutions that would return Zelaya to office.

The Obama administration has spoken out against Micheletti’s executive decree suspending constitutional rights, which coincided with the repression of peaceful protests and raids pulling independent media off the air.

My recent visit to Honduras, along with reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, confirms that this is a well-founded concern. I saw hundreds of soldiers and police, in full riot gear, surround protesters and use tear gas to break up peaceful groups of less than 200 people. Illegal detentions, assault, and even political assassinations have chilled the voice of Hondurans struggling for their democracy.

Sadly, despite the regime’s documented human rights violations, House and Senate Republican lawmakers have flown to Honduras to show their support for Micheletti’s coup.

The State Department, meanwhile, has tried to isolate Micheletti, and currently backs the proposed San Jose Accords brokered by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to resolve the four-month-old crisis. The accords call for Zelaya’s return to office, amnesty for all parties, and elections to be held at the end of November. By all accounts, the accords, which Micheletti refuses to accept, offer him a great deal.

The coup and ongoing repression have greatly damaged the rule of law and civil society in Honduras. The only way to ensure that democracy isn’t permanently crippled is to send a clear message that the United States doesn’t recognize the demands of bullies who throw democratically elected leaders out of the country in the middle of the night in their pajamas. President Obama and his administration have the opportunity to demonstrate strong support for a nonviolent movement for democracy in Latin America, instead of military dictators.

With constitutional rights restored only recently and continued media censorship, it’s hard to understand how negotiators can expect Hondurans to hold a free and fair election in less than a month. The United States, along with the rest of the world, has said it won’t recognize the November elections. However, the Obama administration has recently wavered on this important commitment. The U.S. can’t allow the coup leaders to drag their feet on reaching an agreement so that they can weasel their way into power through illegitimate elections.

Once the constitutional leader of the country is returned to office, Hondurans must be given the political time and space they need to make an informed decision about his successor.

While the coup’s regime may leave the presidential office, the lasting effects of this crisis will be with the country, and the rest of Latin America, for years to come. After such a polarizing and divisive time, the people of Honduras deserve more than a few days to decide their future.

Roxanne Hanson traveled to Honduras as a delegate with Witness for Peace.