The Honduran people late last month agreed that whatever the reasons for holding a presidential election in one of the murkiest domestic and international contexts possible they at least should cast their ballots. With an overwhelming number of countries in the region and around the world pledging to ignore results on the eve of the November 29 election due to the unresolved political conflict stemming from the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, the Honduran electorate went to the polls and voted, albeit what percent of the electorate voted remains unclear.
Honduras’ Supreme Electoral Tribunal originally announced that electoral turnout reached 61 percent, but after accounts from independent observers such as Hagamos Democracia reported a much lower turnout of 47 percent, the discrepancy has left the issue of voter turnout unclear. Whether or not the National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo won the election, however, is not in question. According to Honduras’ Supreme Electoral Tribunal and Hagamos Democracia, Porfirio Lobo won the election with more than 50 percent of the vote, thereby defeating Elvín Santos, Zelaya’s former vice president.
How the region and the world handle the results of the election remains anything but clear, but one overarching principle should underlie the decision—consider what’s in the best interests of the average Honduran voter who braved all the controversy over Zelaya’s ouster to choose a president to lead them in the future.
Indeed, the desire for harmony and open collaboration in the Western Hemisphere so evident just eight months ago at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago is now a distant memory. While the Hondurans themselves sift through the rubble of their political mess, the rest of the hemisphere is rather unhelpfully splitting into two camps. There are those in favor of recognizing the election results and moving forward to end the political crisis, among them the United States, Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia. And there are those still fervently against recognizing any elections until Zelaya is reinstated, including Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Spain, and the European Union.
Exactly how this international faceoff benefits the Honduran people, who still suffer from the effects of international aid cutoffs from virtually every major foreign lender and donor in response to Zelaya’s ouster, is questionable. Honduras’ economy has been particularly hard hit during the global recession as remittances sent from family and friends abroad, which normally account for approximately 25 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, declined by 13 percent in 2009, reaching $1.59 billion, down from $1.83 billion the year before. The overall Honduran economy is expected to contract this year, with some suggesting it may shrink as much as 4.5 percent.
While the international community remains divided over how to pressure or not pressure the Honduran government into action, the Honduran people, who already live in the second-poorest country in Central America, face a harsh economic reality that will only get worse the longer the international community withholds all economic and social cooperation programs and aid. And as the Honduran economy gets worse, the higher the incentive for Hondurans to leave their country in search of economic opportunity elsewhere, usually the United States. Knowing this likely scenario is perhaps the underlying motivation behind the United States’ having gone from initially refusing to recognize the elections to last month to working to broker an agreement that would allow all parties to accept the elections as legitimate.
But even more grave is the threat of what Joaquín Villalobos, former guerrilla leader in El Salvador during the 1980s, warned could happen throughout Central America if the crisis in Honduras is allowed to fester. Villalobos argues that due to the highly interdependent relationship between the region’s economies, Central America could become entangled in a “new, prolonged, contagious, borderless, and violent governability crisis that would only add to the grave problems of misery and insecurity afflicting the entire region.” This potential reality is perhaps the underlying motivation behind Costa Rica and Panama choosing to recognize the election results.
Whatever the motives behind each country’s response to Honduras’ presidential elections, the most important consideration for everyone should be the future peace, stability, and prosperity of the Honduran people. Not Zelaya, not those who carried out Zelaya’s ouster, and not their own agenda. The Honduran people remain vulnerable to a weak government, rising insecurity, and a poor economy. Addressing those concerns should be at the top of everyone’s priorities.
Remembering the central importance of the Honduran people would help the international community involved in a two-camp faceoff work to resolve their differences, find some common ground, and help Honduras’ political class find the best way forward for the sake of Honduran people.
Stephanie Miller is a consultant on U.S.-Latin America relations and was formerly the Research Associate for the Americas Project at the Center.