Foreign Affairs

Democracy Won in Honduras, Now Obama Can Help It Advance

This past weekend, a tiny Central American country proved to the world that democracy and freedom are alive and well in Latin America, despite attempts by thugocrats like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and others to destroy it.

Last Sunday, the people of Honduras went to the polls in a peaceful, fair and free election to vote for their next president.  Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo won the presidential election with 56 percent of the vote and has vowed to unify Hondurans in the wake of former President Manuel Zelaya’s removal last June.

With this election, the people of Honduras have rejected Chavez and Zelaya’s anti-freedom and anti-American vitriol and instead have embraced freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.  While Chavez has bought or stolen elections in countries like Argentina, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, the people of Honduras did not allow him to manipulate their democratic process. 

Now, with the Honduran presidential election over, the United States has an opportunity to act as a leader in Latin America by standing on the side of freedom and not with the thugocrats of the hemisphere.

In June, the Obama administration had a rush to judgment and suggested that Zelaya’s removal was a military coup.  Now they are saying that the United States will not recognize Honduras’ new democratic order unless Zelaya is restored to power or President Micheletti steps down as the head of the unity government.  The administration was wrong then, and it is wrong now.  

While the Obama administration has made some encouraging statements about the progress made in Honduras since Zelaya’s removal — such as acknowledging that Sunday’s elections were fair and also recognizing President-elect Lobo as the next president of Honduras — unfortunately, the administration’s actions have not matched its words.

For example, the administration is still withholding the visas of Honduran officials, and they have not restored economic or anti-drug trafficking assistance to Honduras.

While the Obama administration has softened its rhetoric on Honduras, they have found themselves in a box.  They have recognized the results of the Honduran election — with strings attached.

This is the wrong approach.  The administration must stand with the people of Honduras by recognizing their desire for freedom and democracy and supporting their efforts to keep it.

Immediately, the Obama administration must restore vital aid to Honduras, as well as reinstate the revoked visas of Honduran officials.  The Obama administration should also put forward a resolution in the Organization of American States (OAS) that would reinstate Honduras’ membership in the organization after being shunned by Secretary General José Insulza and others.  

Other nations have recognized the results of the Honduran election, including Costa Rica, Peru, Panama, Japan, and Germany, and more are sure to follow.  The United States should encourage its allies around the world to stand with us on the side of freedom and against the tyranny of Zelaya and Chavez by recognizing the results of the Honduran election.

While democracy prevailed on Sunday, the situation in Honduras is not yet resolved.  Starting today, as part of the October 30 accord, there will be an important vote in the Honduran Congress on Zelaya’s potential reinstatement.  The Supreme Court has already made its judgment known, releasing a legal opinion over the weekend that once again states that Zelaya cannot and should not be reinstated.  

The world will be watching the results of this vote carefully, and I’m hopeful that the Honduran Congress will follow the Supreme Court’s lead and vote down Zelaya’s reinstatement.

In fact, I strongly believe that Zelaya has no right to a vote on his potential return to power, and instead should face criminal charges for his illegal attempts to alter the Honduran Constitution and for inciting violence and riots in the streets.  

In addition, the Obama administration should remove Ambassador Hugo Llorens from his post so he cannot manipulate this vote.  Federal investigators at the Government Accountability Office are currently examining allegations about Ambassador Llorens’ unprofessional conduct and possible interference with internal Honduran politics.  It is important that the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa remain neutral as the people of Honduras strengthen their democracy by renouncing the tyranny of Zelaya, Chavez and others.

Democracy is not a political tool, but a cherished value that must be closely protected and defended at all costs.  President Obama, Secretary Clinton and the entire administration have a chance to show the world what it means to be a beacon of hope and opportunity in the hemisphere, and that we support the Honduran people as they seek to preserve their democracy and the rule of law.

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