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Give Hondurans Time for Free and Fair Elections

by Roxanne Hanson

The June coup overthrowing Manuel Zelaya, the democratically-elected president of Honduras, may soon reach a resolution. With constant pressure from the US, European Union, international institutions like the UN and Organization of American States, and international mediators like Jimmy Carter, the de facto regime led by Roberto Micheletti has finally agreed to come back to the negotiating table. But they have yet to say that they will agree to any proposed solution.

The Obama administration has spoken out against Micheletti’s recent executive decree suspending constitutional rights that coincided with the repression of peaceful protests and raids pulling independent media off the air. In a visit there last week, 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.

Despite the documented human rights violations of the de facto regime, Republican Senators and Representatives have flown to Honduras to show their support for Micheletti’s coup. The State Department has tried to isolate Micheletti, and currently backs the proposed San Jose Accords brokered by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to resolve the three-month-old crisis. The Accords call for President 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 has so far refused to accept, offer him and the de facto regime a great deal.

The rule of law and civil society in Honduras have been greatly damaged by the coup and ongoing repression. The only way to insure that democracy is not permanently crippled is to send a clear message that the U.S. does not recognize the demands of bullies who throw democratically-elected leaders out of the country in the middle of the night in their pajamas. 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 a few days ago and continued media censorship, it is hard to understand how negotiators can expect Hondurans to get a free and fair election in less than 60 days. So far, the US, along with the rest of the world, has said it will not recognize the November elections. However, the administration’s push for the San Jose Accords indicates that were Zelaya to return to office, even for a few short days, they might support the fast-approaching vote.

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. While the coup regime may leave the presidential office, the lasting effects of this crisis will be with the country, and the region, 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.


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