Honduras’ Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo: Another Disaster for Central American Democracy Waiting in the Wing

Source: Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Tomorrow, January 27th, as the world’s eyes continue to be riveted on the unfolding disaster in Haiti, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo will be installed as Honduras’ president, succeeding de facto president Roberto Micheletti. Lobo, a supporter of the June 28th military coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya, was chosen in a November election held under conditions of qualified state terror. As the majority of Hondurans boycotted the elections, and dozens of candidates for lower offices withdrew, the vast majority of countries around the world classified the ballot as illegitimate.

In the hours and days following the election, the illegally-appointed Supreme Electoral Tribunal committed fraud by announcing a voter turnout that was indisputably more than 12 percentage points higher than its own officially-published numbers. The doctored higher figure was cited repeatedly by Lobo, Secretary of State Clinton, and other friendly faces to legitimize the disputed ballot. Many Honduran and foreign observers argue that later international support for the Lobo Administration will eventually ensure the invalidation of Zelaya’s most important reforms. This support will guarantee long-term repression and a growing degree of tight-fisted control in the country, as well as endangering democratic institutions and social justice reforms throughout the hemisphere as the result of an echo effect.

Though State Department officials insist that the Honduras election process was transparent, in fact, no international observers were present to confirm the tally because—as announced by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on September 23rd—the conditions for a free and fair election were not present. A scathing 147-page report released Wednesday, January 20th, by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission corroborates this, citing a litany of well-documented human rights abuses, including numerous political assassinations committed prior to, and following the election. The report describes a militarized environment in which dissonant or critical opinions have been officially prohibited in “an egregious, arbitrary, unnecessary and disproportionate restriction, in violation of international law, of the right of every Honduran to express himself or herself freely, and to receive information from a plurality and diversity of sources.”

While no official international observers were on the ground election day, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) sent “monitors” to oversee the Honduran election that the OAS and Carter Center had refused to legitimize with their presence. Both the NDI and IRI are funded by the U.S. Congress through a highly conservative Reagan-era umbrella organization, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The archly conservative IRI has supported efforts implicated in the ousting of democratically-elected presidents in Haiti and Venezuela in recent years. The day of the election, the NDI had its monitors caught on tape refusing to discuss police violence, which they had witnessed outside the polls in Honduras’ industrial city of San Pedro Sula.

The parallels between Honduras and Haiti are striking; each country has been saddled by a history of undeserved debt—an enduring legacy of colonialism—and in each country’s case (after over a century of often U.S.-installed dictatorships) an elected president who was responsibly engaged with bringing social justice to its citizens, was evicted from office. The vehicle for this was a military coup at least tacitly backed by Washington. By aiding the foes of Manual Zelaya in Honduras and Haiti’s Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Washington indirectly or directly ousted from power those who had been prepared to protect public resources from the pressing demands of the IMF for privatization, and shrink the public sector infrastructure of both countries. The skewed development of these countries, as well as guidance from private entities and the U.S. government, subjected the national interests of Haiti and Honduras to be hostage to the view of these outsiders. This is a situation that could turn the smallest windstorm into a hurricane, when it comes to a natural disaster’s impacts on the average resident and outside political manipulations.

Although President Obama initially joined the international community in condemning the Honduran coup and calling for the restoration of democratic order as a precondition for recognition of elections in that country, Washington in fact has been aggressively lobbying other Latin American presidents to recognize the incoming Lobo government. Despite the de facto government’s refusal to reinstate Zelaya or follow the time line and process laid out by the Guaymuras Accords, the Obama Administration has signaled its intention to recognize a “unity” government representing only the coup leaders, and to support the Honduran Congress’ decision to give amnesty to those responsible for the military coup and the thousands of human rights abuses that followed. In a recent interview with COHA, independent Honduran journalist and filmmaker Oscar Estrada expressed some of the opposition’s apprehensions about Lobo:

“With the entrance on the scene of Porfirio Lobo Sosa, there begins a new phase in the project of domination begun by the June 28th coup d’état. [Lobo’s] recent reconciliation agreement is nothing more than an attempt to whitewash the coup and demobilize the popular resistance.”

Lobo, the man who speaks today of dialogue and peace, has offered safe conduct for Mel Zelaya to leave the country. But, just days ago, he proposed a neoliberal “national plan” for the next 28 years. By means of his own legislative bloc, he seeks to approve an amnesty that principally favors the country’s violators of human rights, and plans to govern with the backing and protection of the paramilitary structures that have terrorized the people during the past six months.

Honduran opponents of the coup, who since June 28th have organized almost daily protest actions, including numerous marches numbering in the hundreds of thousands, similarly plan to protest Lobo’s inauguration.

The Obama Administration has so profoundly bungled the situation in Honduras that it has destroyed hope among many of its citizens as well as Latin Americans that a ‘new era’ of relations with the United States is in the making. Add to that the multiplication of U.S. military bases in Colombia, the mistakes being made in response to the tragedy in Haiti, and the missed opportunities in Cuba, and one cannot claim with any degree of optimism that Obama is off to a robust start to implement an energized and enlightened new Latin American policy.

COHA Senior Research Fellow Adrienne Pine, Ph.D, also serves an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at American University. Dr. Pine recently authored the book Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras (University of California Press).