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ROME NEWS-TRIBUNE: U.S. stance OKs Honduran coup

December 11th, 2009

By Galen Cohee Baynes

The Obama administration handed a significant victory to the military-backed coup government in Honduras by recognizing the results of its recent presidential elections. This marked an astounding reversal of the previous U.S. position. Voting was administered by Roberto Micheletti’s government, which usurped power through a military coup, violently repressed peaceful protests, detained, tortured and assassinated opposition leaders, and censured independent media outlets.

The decision to accept these repressive election results further jeopardizes the Obama team’s already tarnished image throughout Latin America. From the start, dangerous ambiguity marked the official U.S. reaction towards the June 28 coup d’etat. As reports of human rights violations flowed out of Honduras, U.S. officials hardly made a peep. Instead of demanding democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya’s unconditional immediate return, the United States proposed negotiations with the de facto government, thereby legitimizing the coup leaders’ demands and giving them time to stall.

Though it appeared that the U.S. helped broker an accord after a four-month impasse, the State Department’s envoy Thomas Shannon announced soon after that the Obama administration was ready to recognize elections whether or not Zelaya was reinstated. With this wink and nod, Micheletti’s regime obstinately pushed election plans forward without even pretending to consider Zelaya’s return to office beforehand. The accords collapsed just one week after they were signed in late October.

Despite this failure, the U.S. remained steadfast in its support for the November 29 electoral process. A majority of the trusted international organizations that supply election observers—including the Organization of American States, the Carter Center and the European Union—refused to send delegates to oversee elections held by the coup’s regime. The State Department, however, gave the green light to election observers chosen by the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute.

Even these observers recognized their limited capacity to accurately monitor the Honduras electoral process. The National Democratic Institute’s website notes that “severe time constraints precluded sending long-term observers, a pre-election mission to assess thoroughly the campaign period, or a large-scale deployment of observers throughout the country.” A review of the U.S. election observers’ schedule for their brief time in the country reveals a series of elaborate parties and tourist trips.

So it’s no surprise that the Honduran elections were marred by many irregularities. While election observers flirted with women on the street, independent media stations experienced signal blockages. Peaceful protesters in northern Honduras were violently dispersed with tear-gas and beatings. Amnesty International reported several arbitrary detentions. Yet, the United States quickly announced that it will recognize the results of the elections.

That puts us at odds with the vast majority of international institutions and our Latin American neighbors that roundly condemned the elections as illegitimate.

Elections held under the tutelage of a military-backed regime don’t signify the end of a coup. They signify its victory. 

Galen Cohee Baynes is a member of the Witness for Peace International Team in Managua, Nicaragua.