TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – The Nov. 29 presidential election won by conservative National Party candidate Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo may have ended the first rather hefty volume in Honduras’ political crisis, but the story appears far from over.
Lobo, an agricultural businessman who lost the 2005 presidential elections to his childhood friend, Manuel Zelaya, won this time around with an estimated 52 percent of the vote. Finishing in a distant second, with 36 percent, was Elvin Santos of the deeply divided Liberal Party – the same political organization whose membership includes ousted President Zelaya and de facto leader Roberto Micheletti.
In his first hours as president-elect, Lobo called for reconciliation – a tall order in a country whose wounds are still raw.
“Here there are no winners or losers,” Lobo said in his victory speech. “I call for a national government of reconciliation. Now there’s no time for more divisions.”
Yet political division remains the order of the day in Honduras, even after the United States and several other Latin American nations announced they would recognize the election results.
The division was apparent on election day itself, as Zelaya supporters called for a national boycott of the polls and attempted to protest in the northern industrial capital of San Pedro Sula. Witnesses said 500 Zelaya supporters were attacked by police and military for demonstrating against the elections. Police and soldiers reportedly fired teargas and beat demonstrators indiscriminately for more than two hours, according to eye-witnesses accounts.
“It was a peaceful march,” said Tom Loudon, leader of a delegation of humanrights observers from the U.S.-basedQuixoteCenter. The police repression, Loudon said, was “not from any provocation,” rather “just pure aggression.”
Juan Barahona, the national leader of the Zelaya-sympathizing Resistance Front Against the Coup, said 48 of its members were arrested during the violence in San Pedro Sula, but all were later released.
“Ever since the coup, it’s been a period of permanent repression against the resistance,” Barahona said. “Sunday was a product of that.”
He said Lobo’s election is just a continuation of the coup so long as he and the interim government stand opposed to Zelaya’s restitution. Zelaya, who was ousted from government June 28 and has been holed up in the Brazilian Embassy for two months, has said repeatedly he will not accept restitution after the elections.
“We don’t recognize this president and we won’t open a dialogue with him or any other coup leader,” Barahona said.
Many other Latin American countries, including most ofSouth Americaand the left-leaning bloc of countries belonging to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), have also said they don’t recognize the elections.
In neighboring El Salvador, President Mauricio Funes said he doesn’t think the elections will resolve the Honduran crisis. While in Nicaragua, Ortega, who is close to Zelaya, said Nicaragua does not recognize an electoral process that only seeks to “legitimize the military coup” in Honduras.
Similar comments were made by several South American nations, including Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina. At press time, the EU had not yet made its position clear on whether or not it will recognize the new government of Honduras.
Post Election Spin
In the hours following the election, both pro- and anti-Zelaya factions released wildly different numbers to support their respective conclusions about the failure or success of the poll.
Zelaya supporters said they think voter turnout was low. The resistance hopes that what they claim was a high abstention rate will sway the international community to not accept the elections. Zelaya told Venezuelan cable network Telesur that 65 percent of the voters boycotted the polls.
“They can’t elect someone who doesn’t have the support of the Honduran people,” Barahona said.
The Supreme Elections Tribunal, meanwhile, is reporting that 62 percent of the 4.6 million eligible voters in Honduras turned out to the polls, and that the final voter-abstention rate could be even lower as the all the ballots are tallied over the week.
Micheletti, who had stepped down from the presidency from Nov. 25 to Dec. 2, released a statement that gushed over the success of the elections.
“We have lived without a doubt one of the most important events in the history of our country, of Central America, ofLatin Americaand the democratic world,” Micheletti said.
Observers, Voters Opine
Although the Organization of American States refused to send observers to the polls, thousands of other international and domestic observers participated in last weekend’s contentious election. Many said they were impressed with the way the electoral process played out.
Norman Caldera, Nicaragua’s ex-Foreign Minister, observed the vote and said he saw tranquility, order and lots of participation on the day of elections. He said he went to six polling stations and was impressed with how well the representatives of different political parties worked with each other at each one.
“If you didn’t already know, you could hardly tell they were from opposing sides,” Caldera said.
Calixto García, a 70-year-old tailor from Tegucigalpa, voted early Sunday and said he, too, was impressed with the turnout. García said he has seen a lot in Honduras’ history, including its transition to democracy in 1980, but considers last Sunday’s vote “the most important elections we’ve ever had.” García voted for Lobo.
Rigoberto Acusta, 40, said he used to be a member of the Liberal Party but that the governability crisis, which he blames on Zelaya, made him disillusioned with his old party and convinced him to change his political stripes.
Now, Acusta says he has confidence in the results of the elections. “It’s a legal government. One for the people,” he said.
As President-elect, Lobo should make his first priority improving international relations, Acusta said.
“He has to start the reconciliation process,” Acusta said. “That’s the key for ending this crisis.”
However, many pundits and foreign leaders claim the Honduran crisis is far from over. Last Sunday’s vote didn’t fix the situation in Honduras, they say, it only changed the dynamic.
Zelaya, for his part, may be considering seeking asylum in Nicaragua, according to an interview he gave last week to the Brazilian press.
And in Nicaragua, President Ortega thinks the situation in Honduras is not over yet.
“It will be the people of Honduras who, in time, decide what attitude to take and how to define the situation there,” Ortega said this week.