|Honduras Elections: A Chance to Get it Right this Time|
In June 2009, democracy, human rights and the rule of law were shattered in Honduras. Democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya was flown out of the country at gunpoint and, in the days and months that followed, pro-democracy demonstrations were violently repressed and critical media outlets shut down. Elections organized a few months later under the coup regime did nothing to remedy the situation. Held in a climate of repression and boycotted by opposition groups, these elections were widely seen as illegitimate by many Hondurans and most governments in the hemisphere - with the notable exception of the United States.
On Nov. 24, new presidential and legislative elections will offer Honduras an opportunity to finally move forward. This time, a score of political parties is participating, including a new party –LIBRE – whose presidential candidate, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, wife of the deposed president, has had a narrow lead in the polls. But will these elections be truly free, fair and transparent?
The country’s dire human rights situation has had a chilling effect on the election campaign and could affect voter turnout. Violence has soared over the last four years, and Honduras now has the highest per capita homicide rate in the world. Since the 2009 coup there has been a troubling pattern of attacks and intimidation targeting opposition activists, journalists, indigenous community leaders, campesinos and other sectors that take on the powerful, be they the government, land owners or organized crime networks. More recently, opposition candidates and activists and their families have been violently attacked in increasing numbers and even assassinated, according to human rights groups.
The study indicates that although the global economic downturn played a role, the institutional turmoil caused by the coup, and the post-coup government’s policy choices are likely responsible for much of this decline.
In addition to speaking out against attacks, dozens of members of Congress have also urged the U.S. to suspend millions in security assistance if alleged abuses by military and police aren’t promptly investigated and dealt with.
Going forward, U.S. assistance should be predicated on accountability for perpetrators of rights violations and a demonstrated commitment to applying the rule of law to all of society, from the wealthiest and most powerful as well as the poor and disenfranchised, to corrupt security forces as well as the organized crime figures they are supposed to pursue.
Finally, should Sunday’s elections be marred by credible reports of irregularities and abuses, the Obama administration should refrain from immediately and unilaterally endorsing them – as occurred in 2009. Instead, the U.S. should work with a broad coalition of governments in the region to urge Honduran authorities to investigate alleged violations and take any necessary corrective measures. These elections are far too important to Honduras’ future to get wrong.
Alexander Main is senior associate for international policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.