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November 26, 2009

Message to Ottawa: Nov. 29 Honduran ‘Elections’ are a Threat to Democracy in the Hemisphere

By Rick Arnold
Common Frontiers Canada

Just after dawn on June 28 of this year, Manuel Zelaya, the democratically-elected President of Honduras, was awakened at gunpoint by soldiers and flown out of the country. Behind this putsch lay a tiny minority of wealthy land owners, textile tycoons and media barons who opposed Zelaya’s efforts to change the face of one of the poorest countries in the Americas. Zelaya’s ‘crimes’ included raising the minimum wage by 60 per cent (to nine dollars a day), setting up financial aid for students, building a Honduran social security net, and legislating controls over rampant and exploitative mining and logging practices.

In the five months since the military-backed coup thousands of Hondurans opposed to the de facto regime have been arrested and many beaten and tortured. Well over a hundred opposition figures have been assassinated, and the independent media muzzled or shut down completely. In late September, after diplomatic efforts by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to resolve the conflict were stone-walled by the de facto regime, President Zelaya slipped back into Honduras and took refuge in the Brazilian Embassy. Over 400 hundred soldiers and riot police then surrounded the Embassy compound and have virtually imprisoned Zelaya and dozens of his supporters. The UN has documented the use of chemical and sonic weapons against those inside.

Midst this brutal repression the dictatorship holds an ‘election’. Should other countries recognize the results of such an election to be held on November 29? Latin America says absolutely not. On November 5, the 25 nations of the Rio Group, which includes virtually all of Latin America, declared that they would not recognize the results of the Nov. 29 election if President Zelaya were not first restored to office.

Will Canada be recognizing these elections? All signs indicate that the Harper government will try and get away with arguing that it was a free and fair exercise of the will of the people, and that it is the only route open to restoring peace and stability. If Canada recognizes these elections it will not only be turning its back on the long suffering people of Honduras who are now well organized and will continue to resist after November 29, but will also be distancing itself from most other countries in our hemisphere.

Why is it that Latin American governments can recognize this threat to democracy in the region when Ottawa cannot? One reason is that the Presidents of Brazil and Chile were imprisoned and maltreated by military dictators in the 1970s and 80s. The Presidents of Bolivia, Argentina, Guatemala, and others have all lived through the repression of right-wing dictatorships. If Canada goes ahead and recognizes the elections in Honduras it would also be helping to reverse a trend that has seen democratic governments installed in every country from Alaska to Argentina. Earlier this month the President of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, had to fire most of the military leadership because of credible evidence that they were conspiring to bring him down, similar to what has happened to President Zelaya.

The Honduran regime has just issued a decree declaring a nationwide State of Emergency empowering the military command to oversee all activities related to the Nov. 29 elections. For its part the military has sent a letter to every mayor in the country instructing their offices to compile lists of inhabitants in the municipality who have been working against the coup. Hundreds of candidates both for Congress and for mayoralty office have now pulled out of these elections in protest. The case for democracy being denied could not be clearer!

The Harper government says that it is focusing on the Americas as a policy priority for Canada with the promotion of democracy as a key pillar. If Canada goes ahead and recognizes these illegal elections it would be illustrating that democracy and human rights count for zero in the political calculations of this administration. Such a stand by Ottawa would serve to embolden the de facto regime, betray a lengthy negotiation process, and endanger the lives of millions of Honduran citizens who will boycott elections they consider to be illegal. Canada needs to step up and do the right thing by not recognizing the Nov. 29 elections in Honduras.


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