A sprawling piece of graffiti at a school in a poor Tegucigalpa neighborhood warned: “Your Life is Not Worth a Vote!” The intent of the message was to scare voters away from the November 29 national elections in Honduras.
As I rode around town in my capacity as an electoral observer, I turned on a pro-Zelaya radio station, Radio Globo. It was broadcasting endless reports about repression, massive absenteeism, and government intimidation. At first I thought I should flee to the safety of my hotel, but instead I turned off the radio when I realized it had nothing to do with the reality around me.
Across Honduras, people did what they normally do on election Sunday. Voters voted, officials officiated, and the police and military kept away hooligans and drunks. A soccer-hungry nation watched Barcelona battle Real Madrid, while Sunday strollers laughed at the antics of clowns before the cathedral in central Tegucigalpa.
In general, the media-induced sense of crisis contrasted starkly with the reality of a pro-American nation anxious to put Manuel Zelaya and his Hugo Chavez–like antics behind it.
The Honduran electoral process, with its carefully controlled paper ballots, tamper-proof national identity/voter cards, and bevy of domestic and foreign observers, was filled with checks and safeguards to prevent electoral tampering. The electoral process had begun well before the June 28 removal of Manuel Zelaya, and it moved forward largely independent of the political turmoil that was churning the country.
Even the U.S. State Department, as Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela said before the Organization of American States (OAS) on November 23, recognized that
this was not an election invented by a de facto government in search of an exit strategy or as a means to whitewash a coup d’état. To the contrary, it is an election consonant with the constitutionally mandated renewal of congressional and presidential mandates permitting the Honduran people to exercise their sovereign will.
When the dust settled, the voter turnout appeared to have exceeded the turnout of 2005 — despite the campaign of the so-called resistance aimed at scaring people away. Unlike in 2005, there is a clear winner, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo of the National party. Lobo won with a huge mandate, one that makes Latin American populists like Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua extremely jealous.
The bottom line for Honduras is that radical, pro-Chávez populism represents a faction of its population, but not a majority. This populist radicalism can prosper only when government officials subvert the checks and balances and protections built into the Honduran constitution of 1982. Zelaya tried it and failed. That should be a lesson to his successors.
For the time being, Mad Mel Zelaya will live on in the diplomatic space of the increasingly leftist-dominated OAS; in the double-standardism of a Brazil that warmly welcomes Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but refuses to send observers to, and repudiates a free and fair election in, Honduras; and in the propaganda machinery of the “Bolivarian” ALBA alliance, with its media arms like Radio Globo and the Telesur network.
On November 29, the Honduran people voted for sanity, normality, and a chance to make their own future. It is time that Washington and the inter-American community woke up to this fact.
– Ray Walser is a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.