The Obama administration is moving further away from its stated support for the reinstatement of the ousted President Manuel Zelaya. On Monday, the State Department praised this weekend’s Honduran elections, which saw coup backer and wealthy landowner Porfirio Lobo emerge victorious with 55 percent of the vote. Zelaya’s supporters boycotted the election, and many Latin American countries have refused to recognize its outcome. [includes rush transcript]
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AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Washington, DC, as we turn now to Honduras, where the Obama administration is moving further away from its stated support for reinstatement the ousted president Manuel Zelaya. On Monday, the State Department praised this weekend’s Honduran elections, which saw coup backer and wealthy landowner Porfirio Lobo emerge victorious with 55 percent of the vote. Zelaya supporters boycotted the election, and many Latin American countries have refused to recognize its outcome. But speaking in Washington, DC, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, called the vote a significant first step.
ARTURO VALENZUELA: While the election is a significant step in Honduras’s return to a democratic and constitutional order after the 28th June coup, it’s just that. It’s only a step, and it’s not the last step. Given the gravity of the coup d’état and the polarization that Honduras has undergone, both before and after the coup d’état, it’s extremely important that Honduran leadership, moving forward in the next few months, attempt to follow the overall broad frameworks of the Tegucigalpa–San José Accord. And by that, I mean that what are the additional steps that need to be taken? A government of national unity needs to be formed. The Congress has to take a vote on the return of President Zelaya to office. And another element of the San José Accord that I think it would be very, very important as Honduras moves forward to try to reestablish the democratic and constitutional order is the formation and the structuring of a truth commission, which was also contemplated in the original Tegucigalpa framework.
AMY GOODMAN: The Honduran coup regime says turnout was relatively high at 62 percent, but independent estimates have put turnout at about 47 percent. Speaking in Portugal, Zelaya’s foreign minister, Patricia Roda, said most Hondurans see the vote as illegitimate.
[translated] What has happened is an attempt to wipe clean a military coup, which clearly couldn’t be wiped clean. The Honduran people know what it was: a crime. And as a crime, they recognized it, and yesterday they decided not to take part and become accomplices.
AMY GOODMAN: The Honduran Congress is scheduled to vote tomorrow on whether to accept a deal that would allow Zelaya to serve out the remainder of his term, which ends next month. Lawmakers are expected to reject the proposal, further complicating the prospects for resolving the Honduran political crisis.
For more, I’m joined here in Washington by Sergio Moncada. He’s co-founder of the group Hondurans for Democracy. And on the phone with us from Honduras is Patricia Adams. She is co-coordinator of the Honduras Accompaniment Project for the Quixote Center, which organized an international human rights delegation to Honduras that arrived last week.
Patricia, let’s begin with you. Describe what you saw. What happened with these elections? And why are you in Honduras?
PATRICIA ADAMS: We’re in Honduras because it’s important that there be international presence here, not officially recognizing and sanctioning the election, but rather a presence on the streets and in the communities and alongside the grassroots in order to witness and observe their experience of the elections, the electoral process and the entire climate in which the elections are taking place.
And what I saw — I was in Tegucigalpa — was very empty streets and incredibly overwhelming calm, manifested by the fact that most people were observing the popular curfew that the National Front organized and called for. The people stayed inside their homes. Many didn’t vote. Most of the polling — all the polling places that I drove past throughout Tegucigalpa on Sunday were pretty much empty. A much greater number of police, military and poll organizers than actual voters. And the reports that we had from the three teams we had in other parts of the country confirm that, that the people observed the popular curfew and that there were very few people voting, with the exception of San Pedro Sula, where they took to the streets. And as you probably saw, their repression was violent — their protest was violently repressed.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by Sergio Moncada, co-founder of Hondurans for Democracy. He is here with me in Washington, DC.
Sergio, your response to these elections, and what happens now?
SERGIO MONCADA: Thanks for having me here.
The response is the same as many Hondurans. We believe these are illegitimate elections being held in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Just to give you some examples, the democratically elected president of Honduras right now is housed in the Brazilian embassy, where snipers have guns pointed at him throughout the day. And he has been, for the two months he’s been there, subject to constant harassment, nightly marches of the military that surround the compound, not to mention what’s happening to the people of Honduras. As was mentioned before, on the day of the elections, around 500 to a thousand protesters took to the streets peacefully, and they were violently repressed by the police and the military.
In addition to that, the day prior to that, we had many instances. One of the most visible instances of repression was the ransacking of the offices of an agricultural co-op in central Honduras. And on the day of the election, the group that I lead with other Hondurans here in the Washington area staged a protest in front of the DC voting site, one of five voting sites in the US. And one of our — one of the protesters that joined us had her sister arrested by the military the day prior to the election, simply for participating in a protest. And the State Department claims that these were free and fair elections, and our group and many other groups here in the US beg to disagree. This could not be further from the truth.
AMY GOODMAN: Sergio, what do you think that the United States should be doing right now?
SERGIO MONCADA: Well, my — from reading between the lines, the US State Department is — wants to have it both ways, with the statements of Mr. Arturo Valenzuela yesterday. I think we’ll be hearing for the next couple of days more reports about the actual number of voters that turned out, the discrepancies between the official numbers and, for example, the numbers that are being provided by the company that was hired to do exit polls. And I believe the State Department will keep playing this game of, well, recognizing this, and we want Hondurans to move ahead, but the State Department will really have to play a much, much, much aggressive role in actually healing the divisions within the country. Hondurans are so divided right now, it is impossible — impossible —- to achieve peace. In fact, there are many factions within Honduras, in both camps, that are speaking of the very tangible possibility of a civil war happening.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn right now to Andrés Conteris -—
SERGIO MONCADA: And what’s happening in the region —-
AMY GOODMAN: —- who is inside the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, where the elected president, Manuel Zelaya, has been holed up now since he snuck back into the country.
Andrés, what is the response of the President inside?
ANDRÉS CONTERIS: Amy, President Zelaya clearly says that this election has to be rescinded. It cannot be justified in any legitimate way, because of the very poor participation by the electorate. It needs to be reprogrammed, and that is the only way that democracy can return to this country, because this election was an instrument of the coup regime to cover up the repression they’ve been doing and to try to reach out to the international community. And that is why it needs to be completely reversed, both the coup and the election itself.
AMY GOODMAN: And the response to the election of Porfirio Lobo? Who is he? And this issue of what will happen in this legislature? Would President Zelaya, under any circumstances, take office again before the end of his term in January?
ANDRÉS CONTERIS: Porfirio Lobo, known as Pepe Lobo, is a very wealthy businessman who has been in Congress for a while. He’s part of the National Party. He has totally tried to ignore the coup itself in his campaign, so as not to be basically blamed for it and not to get involved with that messy issue.
In terms of what President Zelaya will do, he will remain here as long as he can in the Brazilian embassy, and he will continue to get the pressure from both the domestic resistance as well as the international community in trying to reject the election and in trying to reprogram it to call for new elections. If the Congress votes this week to restore him, he will not accept that, unless those who have committed crimes in the coup itself will face justice. That’s the only way he would return to office, is what he has said.
AMY GOODMAN: And let me put that question to you, and — what is the response inside the Brazilian embassy of what the US should be doing right now and the role it has played?
ANDRÉS CONTERIS: The US has been complicit in the coup itself and has used the accord signed between the Zelaya and the Micheletti camps as a way to move forward without really restoring democracy. So, the United States — when the accord was signed, Thomas Shannon, the assistant secretary, immediately went to the media and said that the US would recognize the election in spite of the fact that there would be — that Mel Zelaya would be restored or not. This was a violation of the spirit and the word of the accord. The United States had no justified reason to do that whatsoever. And so, the US has been part of the problem here in not restoring democracy. And the US now, really if it is to wash its hands of this, if it is to come clean, it must also reject the election because it has had such low participation, and it must go along with what President Zelaya says, to reprogram it so that democracy can be returned.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us. Andrés Contreris is speaking to us from inside the Brazilian embassy, where he has been holed up the President and several dozen others, the elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya. I want to also thank our guests here in New York, as well as in Honduras. Sergio Mancada is the coordinator, co-founder of Hondurans for Democracy, and Patricia Adams is co-coordinator of the Honduras Accompaniment Project for the Quixote Center.