Costa Rica has embraced the controversial presidential elections in nearby Honduras, taking sides on an issue that divides the international community.
“I´m thinking about the Honduran people, that´s what motivates me … to advocate for recognition of the elections,” Costa Rican President Oscar Arias said Monday during the Ibero-American Summit in Estoril, Portugal.
Arias continued, “This is a people that lived through war in 1969, that in the year 1998 was devastated, literally devastated by Hurricane Mitch, and they don´t deserve a new Hurricane Mitch of politics with the non-recognition from the countries of Latin America and the international community as a whole.”
Arias was not alone in giving a thumbs-up to the winner, opposition candidate Porfirio Lobo. Colombia, Panama, Peru and the United States are endorsing Sunday´s vote as the way out of Honduras´ five-month-long political impasse, citing high voter turnout and a fair electoral process.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said, “ Significant work remains to be done to restore democratic and constitutional order in Honduras, but today (Sunday) the Honduran people took a necessary and important step forward.”
Latin American countries, including notable economic heavyweights Brazil and Venezuela, have remained opposed to Honduras´ elections because they took place before the country restored the presidency of ousted leader Manuel Zelaya, whose restitution looks increasingly unlikely as the Honduran Congress heads into a vote over the matter on Wednesday.
Spain remains critical of the elections but has not entirely shunned the results. “We don´t recognize but neither do we disregard the election,” Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told Reuters.
For Arias, such opposition will only damage one of the Hemisphere´s poorest countries. He said about 20 percent of Honduran government spending relies on European and North American aid. Furthermore, “disregarding the new government would mean turning Honduras into a kind of Central American Albania, a kind of Central American Myanmar,” he said, comparing his neighbor to some of the world´s most globally isolated nations.
Arias and others in the pro-election camp hinged their support on the condition of a fair and transparent voting process, they said.
Yet a rising number of international observers spoke out Monday against conditions some described as unbefitting fair and clean elections.
“On election day … there were a number of incidents that confirmed the climate of repression in which the electoral process took place, which represented the consolidation of the coup d´etat of June 28,” the Center for Justice and International Law said in a statement.
One incident occurred in the northern city of San Pedro Sula, when soldiers forced peaceful marchers and bystanders to flee the streets, using tear gas and water cannons, according to an eyewitness account from Tom Loudon, the head of a delegation of human rights observers from the U.S. social justice group Quixote Center.
Non-governmental organization Amnesty International (AI) reported that authorities have detained protestors under a decree prohibiting gatherings of more than four people. “Justice seems to have been absent also on Election Day in Honduras,” said Javier Zuñiga, head of an AI delegation in Honduras.
Zelaya, in a seemingly somber mood after the vote, jabbed at an interviewer from CNN en Español for what he said was her network´s failure to cover the negative side that marred the elections.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank, cited other incidents involving raids of offices and homes of civil society groups, including a Quaker agricultural cooperative. The group also said the authorities jammed the signals of opposition broadcasters and threatened to bring criminal charges against anyone advocating a boycott of the election.
However, at least one observer noted a calm, clean process. Norman Caldera, who served as foreign minister under conservative former Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños, said he went to six polling stations and was impressed with how well the representatives of different political parties worked together.
“Democracy rests with the will of the people, not the will of the international community,” Caldera told The Nica Times on Sunday. “Honduras is deciding its own fate.”
Though other issues were listed on its agenda, the summit in Portugal seemed to function as a forum for only one Ibero-American issue: Honduras. What the summit´s participants will decide and how their opinions will affect the embattled Central American nation remains to be seen.
Mike Faulk contributed reporting from Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
See the Dec. 4 print or digital edition of The Nica Times for analysis on the Honduras.