Hon­duras elects new pres­i­dent in blow to Hugo Chavez

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - BY ROBERT BUCK­MAN

TEGU­CI­GALPA, Hon­duras | Hon­duran Pres­i­dent-elect Por­firio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa lost lit­tle time in sig­nal­ing to the world com­mu­nity that he is reach­ing out to re­solve the le­git­i­macy is­sue stem­ming from the over­throw of Pres­i­dent Manuel Ze­laya.

Vote to­tals avail­able last week gave Mr. Lobo, the can­di­date of the cen­ter-right Na­tional Party, a land­slide win of 55.7 per­cent to 38.6 per­cent for Elvin San­tos of Mr. Ze­laya’s Lib­eral Party.

The Supreme Elec­toral Tri­bunal es­ti­mated voter turnout at more than 60 per­cent.

Mr. San­tos, who served as Mr. Ze­laya’s vice pres­i­dent be­fore re­sign­ing to ac­cept the Lib­eral nom­i­na­tion last year, joined other prom­i­nent Lib­er­als in sup­port­ing Mr. Ze­laya’s forcible re­moval on June 28 for pur­port­edly try­ing to al­ter the con­sti­tu­tion to re­main in power.

Mr. San­tos con­ceded de­feat at 11:30 p.m. Nov. 29. He, too, seemed to be urg­ing an end to Hon­duras’ in­ter­na­tional iso­la­tion.

“To­day Hon­duras tells the world that we Hon­durans, who may live in a lit­tle coun­try in the heart of Cen­tral Amer­ica but who have big hearts, know how to solve our prob­lems peace­fully and demo­crat­i­cally,” he said.

Mo­ments later, in front of cheer­ing sup­port­ers, Mr. Lobo said of his op­po­nent, “Elvin has acted with stature and pa­tri­o­tism.”

Mr. Lobo, who turns 62 this month, said he would form “a gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. There is no more time for di­vi­sions. Let’s all move for­ward to­gether for Hon­duras. Our gov­ern­ment will be for every­one without re­gard to po­lit­i­cal colors.”

From his refuge in the Brazil­ian Em­bassy, where he has been holed up since Sept. 21, Mr. Ze­laya said in an in­ter­view with Ra­dio Globo in Tegu­ci­galpa that his call for a boy­cott was suc­cess­ful de­spite the high turnout. This, he said, was be­cause many vot­ers ab­stained when cast­ing their bal­lots.

U.S. Am­bas­sador

Hugo of the poor­est na­tions in the West­ern Hemi­sphere.

Mr. Lobo is the eighth pres­i­dent elected since democ­racy was re­stored 28 years ago and the third from the Na­tional Party. He is a wealthy rancher and a Uni­ver­sity of Mi­ami busi­ness grad­u­ate.

Al­though both tra­di­tional par­ties are es­sen­tially cen­ter-right and con­trolled by the coun­try’s oli­garchy, Mr. Ze­laya, a pop­ulist, moved the coun­try sharply to the left and brought it into Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez’s Bo­li­var­ian Al­ter­na­tive for Latin Mr. Ze­laya fell apart. Mr. Ze­laya and Mr. Micheletti blamed each other for the fail­ure.

The hemi­sphere is sharply di­vided over whether to rec­og­nize Mr. Lobo’s gov­ern­ment if Mr. Ze­laya is not re­in­stated first.

The Hon­duran Na­tional Congress is sched­uled to vote on his re­in­state­ment to­mor­row, but he has now dis­avowed in­ter­est in re­turn­ing to power.

More­over, the Supreme Court ruled 14-1 on Nov. 26 that he should first re­spond to out­stand­ing crim­i­nal charges against him.

Mr. Ze­laya’s push for a ref­eren-

“They wanted to turn Hon­duras over to Chavez,” Juan Manuel Ze­laya, a news ed­i­tor with Ra­dio CHN, said of over­thrown Pres­i­dent Manuel Ze­laya. “Hon­durans don’t want that. We want a Hon­duras that is free and in­de­pen­dent. We may not have the best con­sti­tu­tion in the world, but we don’t have the worst, ei­ther.”

Llorens on Nov. 30 de­clared the elec­tion “free and trans­par­ent” and called for re­newed di­a­logue be­tween Mr. Ze­laya and in­terim Pres­i­dent Roberto Micheletti.

He said the United States would work with the new gov­ern­ment “in a very constructive way, and we’ll seek the man­ner to reestab­lish the strong ties that the United States and Hon­duras have al­ways had.”

The United States ac­counts for 62 per­cent of Hon­duran ex­ports and 50 per­cent of its im­ports. Hon­duras, a Vir­ginia-sized repub­lic of 7.8 mil­lion peo­ple, is one Amer­ica (ALBA).

The heavy turnout and Mr. Lobo’s con­vinc­ing victory present a dilemma for the Wash­ing­ton­based Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States, which ex­pelled Hon­duras for re­fus­ing to re­in­state Mr. Ze­laya and re­fused to send of­fi­cial ob­servers for the elec­tion. The OAS an­nounced it would “ex­am­ine” the elec­tion re­sults be­fore de­ter­min­ing whether to read­mit Hon­duras af­ter Mr. Lobo is in­au­gu­rated on Jan. 27.

The United States did not send ob­servers be­cause a deal it bro­kered that would have re­in­stated dum to elim­i­nate the sin­gle-term limit for the pres­i­dency prompted the Supreme Court to is­sue a war­rant for his ar­rest. Sol­diers flew him out of the coun­try in­stead of tak­ing him to jail.

Mr. Ze­laya has in­di­cated he will leave the Brazil­ian Em­bassy and seek po­lit­i­cal asy­lum in neigh­bor­ing Nicaragua.

Be­sides Venezuela, Brazil and Nicaragua, other re­gional coun­tries re­fus­ing to rec­og­nize the elec­tion re­sults in­clude Ar­gentina, Ecuador, Gu­atemala and Paraguay.

Only four — Colom­bia, Costa Rica, Panama and Peru — have ac­ceded to Pres­i­dent Obama’s call to rec­og­nize the re­sults in or­der to “start from zero” and re­solve the cri­sis.

Mr. Lobo said Nov. 30 that France, Ger­many, Italy, Switzer­land, Ja­pan, In­done­sia and the United Arab Emi­rates had in­formed him they would rec­og­nize his gov­ern­ment.

The at­ti­tude among many Hon­durans seems to be that it is best to move for­ward and close the Ze­laya chap­ter.

Miguel Veraona, who said he has driven a taxi for 18 years, said Mr. Ze­laya “was a good pres­i­dent. He worked for the poor, not for the rich, which is why the rich guys threw him out.”

Still, Mr. Veraona said, “With the elec­tion, there is no point in bring­ing him back now. No one wants that.” He said he voted for Mr. Lobo. “He’s a strong man, and that’s what we need to deal with crime,” he said.

Hon­duras has one of the world’s high­est mur­der rates and has been plagued for years by organized gangs. One fac­tor in Mr. Lobo’s land­slide victory was his prom­ise to get tough on crime.

Juan Manuel Ze­laya, a news ed­i­tor with Ra­dio CHN and no re­la­tion to the de­posed pres­i­dent, faulted Mr. Ze­laya’s in­tran­si­gence for the fail­ure to end the cri­sis.

“They wanted to turn Hon­duras over to Chavez,” he said of the Venezue­lan pres­i­dent. “Hon­durans don’t want that. We want a Hon­duras that is free and in­de­pen­dent. We may not have the best con­sti­tu­tion in the world, but we don’t have the worst, ei­ther.”

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