Responses to the Coup d'etat in Honduras on Sunday June 28, with special emphasis on producing English-language versions of commentaries by Honduran scholars and editorial writers and addressing the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Please Brief Valenzuela

Will someone please bring Arturo Valenzuela, the State Department's new Assistant Secretary for West Hemisphere Affairs up to speed on the Honduran election history? He seems to not know the history surrounding this election. Today in his press conference, he said:
In fact, the primaries were held in November of last year in each of the major parties. The vice president, Santos, resigned. He was Zelaya’s vice president. He resigned as vice president to run for office. He competed in primaries in November of last year.
In fact Elvin Santos did NOT compete in the primaries last November. He was ruled ineligible by the Supreme Election Tribunal. I'll refer you to a previous post from August this year for all the details since it involves constitutional amendments.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal ruled in August 2008, that Santos could not be inscribed in the primary election as a presidential candidate because he was still the Vice President, and he then had to install a puppet candidate, Mauricio Villeda Bermudez, as a placeholder. He resigned as Vice President on November 18, 2008, just before the primary election, but it was not until December 17th, after his stand-in had won the primary election, that Santos's resignation was accepted by Congress, and the TSE ruled that as long as he resigned at least 6 months before the election he could run. Villeda Bermudez was convinced to withdraw his candidacy in favor of Santos. That's how Santos became a presidential candidate. He did not compete in the primary election.

Valenzuela also seems not to know that two of the magistrates appointed to the TSE this time were at the time of their appointment holding political office in violation of the constitution, which of course caused a stir in Honduras but was no impediment to their appointment.

There seems to be much deep background about the Honduran elections that Mr. Valenzuela doesn't appear to know. Will someone please brief him?

Numbers Dropping

Something interesting is happening as the official numbers trickle out of the TSE. You will remember that according to a Tiempo article from this morning, with 8,862 of 15,260 urns counted:


number of votes

Porfirio Lobo


Elvin Santos


Bernardo Martinez


Felícito Avila


César Ham




This count, with 58.07% of the urns counted, yielded 1,605,442 valid votes, giving a straight-line projection of 2,764,666 valid votes in the whole election, for an expected number of 60% of the 4.6 million votes possible. That would agree with the otherwise unbelievable claim by the TSE that turnout would be over 60%, much higher than the 2005 election.

Now, we do not expect a perfect straight-line projection, since different districts can contribute different numbers of votes. But what has happened since is interesting and may come close to explaining why the TSE expected 60%+ turnout while the official exit polling group expected under 50%.

La Tribuna just reported a new set of numbers from the TSE in their Minute By Minute archive for today. This count is for 10,120 urns of the 15,260:


number of votes

Porfirio Lobo


Elvin Santos


Bernardo Martinez


Felícito Avila


César Ham




This count, of 66.31% of the urns, yielded a total of 1,675,511 valid votes which projected forward would suggest 2,526,784 valid votes expected when all the urns are counted, or only about 54% of the 4.6 million voter electorate.

What seems to be happening is that the original projection of turnout, based on the returns from just a few central municipios, especially the area around Tegucigalpa, overestimated the turnout in the rest of the country.

As these additional ballot boxes are counted, the percentage of valid votes is decreasing, approaching the levels reported by the exit polling company, whose sample was from across all of Honduras. At the same time, the number of null and blank ballots counted, as a percentage is increasing (6.94% versus 6.3%).

Or: polling wins. But will it trump propaganda?

TSE and exit polls "Only differ in abstentionism"

To recap: last night, at the official TSE press conference, the exit polling service announced turnout projections of under 50%; while the TSE itself said they thought the turnout would be over 60%.

One does not even have to delve into the on-the-ground reports by international observers and resistance activists, who saw light turnout where they were watching polls, to worry about why the two TSE numbers are so far apart.

In an article this morning in Tiempo on the declaration of Pepe Lobo as winner, the second paragraph says that
En la presentación de los resultados se produjo una polémica porque mientras el Tribunal Supremo Electoral proclamó que el abstencionismo fue del 38. 7 por ciento, la Fundación Hagamos Democracia, que tiene un centro de cómputo similar al del organismo electoral, dijo que fue de 52. 4 por ciento.

[In the presentation of the results a controversy was produced because while the TSE proclaimed that abstentionism was 38.7%, the FHD, which has a center of computation similar to the electoral organism, said that it was 52.4%]
This is reporting on the same press conference we listened to live last night. The Fundación Hagamos Democracia is the exit polling entity in Honduras under contract to the TSE.

Later in the article Tiempo notes that
Ortez Sequeira leyó el informe de la Fundación Hagamos Democracia que establece que a esas alturas Porfirio Lobo Sosa tenía el 55. 72 por ciento de los votos frente a 38. 50 por ciento de Elvin Santos, resultados que a su juicio son similares a los del Tribunal Supremo Electoral y que únicamente difieren en el abstencionismo.

[Ortez Sequeira read the report of the FHD that established that at these levels Porfirio Lobo Sosa had 55.72 % of the votes against 38.5% for Elvin Santos, results that in his judgment are similar to those of the TSE and that they only differ in abstentionism.]
Well, duh.

So let's take a close look at the votes Tiempo reports, announced at the same time by the TSE:


number of votes

percentage of total

Porfirio Lobo



Elvin Santos



Bernardo Martinez



Felícito Avila



César Ham



Votos Blancos



Votos Nulos






Take a good look here at the number of blank and null votes: 109,535 out of 1,716,027 reported; 6.38% of the votes cast are ambiguous, and this should include protest votes.

So the percentage of valid votes represents either 41.22% of the eligible voters (if we take the exit polling as our guide, and deduct the invalid votes) or 54.92% (if we take the declared turnout estimate of the TSE, which international media have accepted, and again, deduct the invalid votes).

We would suggest people need to look carefully and skeptically at the real vote counts as they come in.

By people, we mean scholars and interested public, obviously, not the US State Department, which would recognize the election no matter what.

While Tiempo has been the sole newspaper abstaining from pro-coup reporting, it is not pro-resistance either; it seems genuinely to be trying to uphold some ideal of reliable journalism.

What the election results reported there are telling us is that, far from transparent, the more than 60% participation rate the TSE wants us to circulate (which differs from their official polling agency's estimate of under 50%-- which would be in keeping with normal expectations, given previous trends) has to be looked at skeptically.

It is good propaganda: but it literally is unbelievable.

Mayoral race in San Pedro Sula

San Pedro Sula, a city with an estimated population of 1 million to 1.5 million people, voted for a new mayor yesterday.

In a 1 million person population we'd expect 50.7 % to be of voting age, or 507,000 eligible voters, according to the TSE's own statements about the Honduran population. So what actually happened in San Pedro Sula, where yesterday there was public demonstration against the coup, and police repression of these demonstrators and of independent radio?

Expected turnout for San Pedro Sula, using the TSE's claim late Sunday of 61.3% participation, would be something like 307,ooo votes.

At 10 PM, the TSE's presidential vote tally had supposedly covered 61.86% of the votes.

Checking the math there to be sure this percentage is accurate, the reported total counted at that point of 1.716 million presidential ballots out of 4.6 million eligible voters of whom 61.3% were expected to vote matches this claimed percentage counted fairly well.

Unless something odd happened, we might thus expect that reports of other races at the same time would include the majority of the votes cast.

Yet La Prensa, last evening, in its Minute By Minute column, reported on far fewer than 100,000 votes for mayor of San Pedro Sula at the same time.

The results presented last night, on the basis of which the election for mayor was called, were:

Juan Carlos Zuniga (Liberal party) 33,185
Tuky Bendaña (Nationalist party) 29,796

This is a total of 62,981 votes.

Unless you want to claim that fewer people voted for Mayor than voted for President--the opposite of which was true in the last election-- the implication is that turnout in San Pedro was heading to be somewhat less than the 307,000 voters the TSE turnout estimates would claim.

How would San Pedro's reported numbers match up to the more modest (and we think, more believable) turnout estimates of the official exit polling? Remember that they said participation rates were just 47.6% of eligible voters.

This would lead us to expect ca. 240,000 voters in San Pedro Sula yesterday.

If the same proportion of votes were counted in San Pedro Sula by 10 PM, then we would expect something like 150,000 votes to have been reported.

Let's go further, and assume the registered level of null and void votes as were seen nationally (6.38%); we still would have expected to see about 140,000 votes reported.

Now, maybe they count the votes from the other races differently, or more slowly, or the precincts sampled for the national election somehow under-represent voting in San Pedro Sula.

But we will be watching to see what the final vote for mayor of San Pedro Sula actually is. And we suggest this kind of attention to local races will be well worthwhile for others as well.

State's Rich Fantasy Life

The US State Department has weighed in on the election results in Honduras this morning, and indeed there are no surprises here.

Honduran Election

Ian Kelly
Department Spokesman
Washington, DC
November 29, 2009

We commend the Honduran people for peacefully exercising their democratic right to select their leaders in an electoral process that began over a year ago, well before the June 28 coup d'etat. Turnout appears to have exceeded that of the last presidential election. This shows that given the opportunity to express themselves, the Honduran people have viewed the election as an important part of the solution to the political crisis in their country.

Except that the turnout appears not to have exceeded the turnout in 2005, according to the TSE's own firm hired to make the statistical projections and do exit polling. They report a turnout of 47.6% versus the TSE's claim of a 61.3% turnout. Their report has a 2% confidence interval (accurate at 98% level) whereas the TSE's claim is just an assertion, with no numbers presented to back it up. Both sets of results were presented at the 10 pm TSE press conference, but notice who the State Department decided to listen to.

The Honduran people overwhelmingly expressed themselves. Forced democracy where they could not choose candidates who represented them was not the solution for them. It was status-quo or "no go" and they didn't go in droves, despite the State Department's blind eye. Anyone who thinks the election resolved anything in Honduras is naive.

We look forward to continuing to work with all Hondurans and encourage others in the Americas to follow the lead of the Honduran people in helping advance national reconciliation and the implementation of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord. Significant work remains to be done to restore democratic and constitutional order in Honduras, but today the Honduran people took a necessary and important step forward.
One wonders what fantasy world the State Department lives in that the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord will ever be implemented. I hate to tell you, but its dead. The ink wasn't even dry on the signatures when Thomas Shannon publicly agreed to recognize the results of the elections no matter what, nailing its coffin shut. You've made half-hearted efforts to resurrected it, but you're not Merlin. Its not going to come back to life.

So what's the likely US policy going forward? We've now recognized the sham election where exit polling suggests that fewer than half of the electorate actually participated. If the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord is dead and buried, as I contend, then I can only see the State Department returning to its practical, unprincipled stand, exemplified by Lew Anselem's comments on the elections, and a swift return to the status quo, a complete white-wash and acceptance of a 21rst century coup by our government. What a sad bunch of politicians.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

TSE announces 61.3% Participation; other estimates range lower

(Corrected at 8 AM EST) The Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) headed by Saul Escobar, reported in national broadcast at 10:00 pm, that turnout was 61.3%. He also reported they had preliminary, unaudited, results, from about 8,600 polling places (out of 15,300), that they had counted 1.7 million votes for all offices so far.

However, these were unaudited results because the system they had set up to verify the numbers transmitted by cell phone, which appears to have been to make a digital recording of the call, failed, so they have not been able to check that the numbers digitized and entered into the vote counting computers matched the numbers called in by the various polling places.

The TSE is spinning this turnout as just what you would expect given the recent trends, which they said was in line with a 6% per election decline in each of the last several elections, even though this is a supposed increase.

Already, La Prensa reports in their Minute by Minute column a turnout of 61.3 % which would be an increase, not a decrease, from the previous election. This would lead one to expect approximately 2.8 million votes.

So, what does this mean in terms of legitimacy of the election and effectiveness of the call for boycott by the Frente de Resistencia? Even by the TSE's numbers, which are unaudited and preliminary, and don't match with press reports, that's a 38.7% abstention rate.

The TSE had hired a polling firm to do exit polling. They presented a report the TSE conference as well. They sampled 1000 polling places (of the 15300) and reported only a 47.6% participation rate (at a 98% confidence level). This report is more in line with what the Frente de Resistencia. The polling firm further reported they saw a 7% decline in voting over 2005. The results reported by the TSE are based on their sample precincts.

Thus we can expect a great deal of interpretation being projected into the void.

El Tiempo, in a story projecting Pepe Lobo as winner, reported that the TSE had counted 570,954 votes from 4159 polling places "selected strategically to have the tendency in all the country". This is a sample of 27.2% of the planned polling places. While it would not scale directly (since other polling places could have larger numbers of voters) it is curious to see 1/3 of the polls yield only 500,000 votes, and still have claims for 62% turnout, which would project 2.8 million votes overall.

This would be implied by the turnout estimate Bloomberg reports, citing TSE magistrate Danny Matamoros (although it is unclear when Matamoros made this statement, whether before the 10 PM announcement over radio that we report on here, or after). Matamoros is widely quoted as claiming long lines of voters led to the indelible ink running out, which makes him seem rather invested in portraying this as a huge electoral turnout. As in most elections, we are likely to need to wait sometime for official figures, and meanwhile, unofficial claims will likely be taken up and repeated as if they were established facts.

The next thing to watch for are reports of the differences between votes cast and valid votes, to detect any effect from deliberate null voting.

For now, if the TSE's approved exit polling projection reported at 10 PM can be taken at face value (rather than the unsupported claim made at the same time), there was no massive turnout of Honduran voters yearning to use the ballot box to move beyond the coup. At best, there was a continuation of the long-established gradual discouragement of eligible voters about the worth of voting, which we have previously suggested is itself a kind of unorganized protest against elected government.

But it is also reasonable to propose that there was a measurable effect from the campaign to boycott the vote, whether we use Boz's numbers (and say that about 100,000 voters stayed home in protest) or suggest a different target number would have been reasonable in such a politicized election year.

That the results would favor Porfirio Lobo was never in question. The actual numbers are unvailable on the TSE website as of 8 am this morning, and the website for vitural observers that gave access to the cameras, is not broadcasting images of the count.

So much for the TSE's promise that they had a triple backup system that would prevent any delays in delivering the results. They made the results official without having actually successfully counted the votes.

Rafael Alegria: 65-70% Abstention Nationwide.

Radio Globo is reporting turnout from different polling places. Each polling place has about 300 names. In Tegucigalpa, turnout was varying between 30 and 45 percent according to heads of polling places. Radio Globo's reporters found that in some of those polling places outside of Tegucigalpa are reporting turnouts of 17-42 voters per polling place, so far today, with fewer than 30 minutes left to vote. Similar numbers in San Pedro and La Lima. Since the official story is that turnout is "massive" it will be fun to see the "official" numbers. The informal ones are quite an education.

Rafael Alegria, a leader of the Frente de Resistencia, is saying on Radio Globo, that their census of voter turnout suggests that anywhere from 65-70% of the electorate stayed home and did not vote today.

Polling Places Opened One Hour Longer, Running Out Of Ink

The TSE took to the national radio network to announce that it was OK that voting places were running out of the indelible ink that was to be used to mark a finger of anyone that voted. The indelible ink was supposed to be a check on who had voted, but they admitted it was a redundant check, since they had the primary record in the register of who voted. Therefore they allowed as how polling places that ran out of ink could continue to let people vote.

The TSE also ordered that, in order to accomodate the multitude of voters, in what otherwise has been reported as a light turn out by the non-Honduran press, polling places in Honduras and the United States would remain open an extra hour, until 5 pm in Honduras.

They also repeated the threat to prosecute any public media, print or broadcast, that announces any results before they do.

Protests Tear Gassed in San Pedro Sula

Early this afternoon, Radio Globo and Vos El Soberano report, that a peaceful protest that was marching towards the center of San Pedro Sula was dispersed with tear gas and water canons. Tiempo reported that 5 people were arrested, and a further 4 hurt, including a Reuters cameraman. The clash between protesters and the military was broadcast live on channel 6 in San Pedro Sula.

Radio Uno reports that 30 military are camped out on the first floor of its offices trying to get in to shut it down.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

And then there were five

The Russian news agency RIA Novosti, [link here should work] citing Honduran TV, reports Israel joining the US, Panama, Peru and Costa Rica pledging recognition of the election as long as it is calm.

Too bad the Honduran military chose today to attack the peaceful development project RED COMAL in Siguatepeque-- I will be waiting breathlessly for Israel to announce their retraction of recognition based on this assault of 50 soldiers on this group.

[Source for the latter report was email from Honduras: now posted on and in briefer form on Vos el Soberano. Even better report from Quixote Center.]

What has the Supreme Court really said?

One of the main developments this week was the long delayed conveyance of the Supreme Court's opinion about the issues surrounding the possible restoration of President Zelaya.

Greg Weeks is one of the few to have commented on the coverage in Honduran papers of the transmission of a report by the Honduran Supreme Court to the Congress. His summary, based on an article in the pro-coup La Prensa, concludes that the court report (which has not been released) says
Zelaya cannot be reinstated unless he faces the pending charges against him
And that this
means that Congress, which had been planning to vote on his reinstatement on December 2, won't be able to do so without contradicting the court.
Now, the report itself is not released, so any conclusions we can draw are dependent on reports in the press. So let's look at what the article Greg Weeks cited tells us (a full translation follows for those who want to check my work).

The La Prensa report is similar to others, and in particular, the direct quotes from the CSJ seem invariant even when other reports expand on the themes.

Focus in particular on what members of the court actually said.
The president of the CSJ, Jorge Rivera, declared that the Court "did not go deeply nor touch the base" of the question of the restitution or not of Zelaya, because it has cases pending against him...

He reaffirmed that Zelaya should submit himself to justice, although he reiterated that the CSJ did not pronounce in its report whether he should be restored or not.
(Another report expands on this point, quoting justice María Edith López Rivera “we cannot give an opinion because there still are legal cases pending in the Supreme Court of Justice”).

Just to underline this point, the report notes that
With the opinion of the CSJ, the National Congress now possesses the four reports that it solicited from the organs of State to base its debate, although it has clarified that those reports are not binding and that the decision about Zelaya only depends on the congressmembers. (emphasis added)
In other words: not only did the Supreme Court disclaim defining whether Zelaya could be restored-- since they would prejudice pending cases-- the National Congress has separately said that the reports it asked for were not binding on it.

Reports claiming something different based on quoted sources (as opposed to interpretations by the reporter), is a comment attributed to the spokesman of the court, Danilo Izaguirre:
"It is the same as what the Court said on the 21st of August, while he has pending reckonings with justice he cannot return to power".
This is the comment, clearly in response to an unreported question, that the English-language media, such as the AP, have played up.

But it directly contradicts what the justices themselves are quoted as saying while delivering their report to the National Congress.

Indeed, this was not what the August 21 Supreme Court opinion said; instead, like the present statements, it limited itself to insisting that the existing legal cases would have to be pursued if President Zeaya were restored:
In relation to the return of the citizen Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales to the Presidency of the Republic, until the conclusion of the present governmental term, the 27 of January, it should be taken into account that as has been mentioned previously, there exist penal actions presented by the Attorney General of the Republic; in consequence and in strict legality as long as there do not exist other applicable legal dispositions he cannot avoid having to submit himself to the established proceedings in the penal processual code.
So, what the Supreme Court said then and repeats now is that President Zelaya will have to have his day in court-- the day in court he was denied by being forcibly expatriated on June 28.

Then why is the impression being given that the CSJ report constrains Congress (when the pro-coup press states clearly the reports it solicited are not binding on it) and that the CSJ made a recommendation about restoral (when the CSJ members said it isn't offering such a thing because there are cases open against Zelaya before it-- which would be prejudiced by the court making public statements now)?

In reply, we can note three contributing factors:

(1) some reports (for example, this one from the AFP) say the CSJ reached judgments on the charges against Zelaya. This repeats the original big lie tactic of the first days after the coup, when people claimed-- equally falsely-- that the bill of charges dated June 26 was a verdict by the court, rather than being the accusations submitted for its judgment.

(2) most reports (like this one in elPeriodico de Guatemala) claim that the Supreme Court told the National Congress that Zelaya could not be restored. This one can only be explained as a form of spin, given the explicit disclaimers by the court. It is often combined, as in this example, with misrepresentation of the June 26 Supreme Court order, claiming it ordered Zelaya's removal from office rather than his detention and deposition for the case brought against him.

(3) more broadly, people continue to be confused about the implications for a sitting president in Honduras of having legal charges placed against him. It would be helpful for people to review previous posts here about immunity, impunity, and impeachment, but the bottom line is, there is no impeachment because there is no immunity from prosecution; but like any other citizen, the president has a right to due process, including the presumption of innocence.

That makes the insistence of the CSJ, both in August (in its comments on the original proposed San Jose Accord) and now on reminding people that there are charges pending a little confusing. There is nothing in the legal procedures for trying a high government official that suggests he or she can be, or must be, removed from office while under prosecution-- that would require a presumption of guilt, and would seem to be a denial of due process.

But maybe this is one of those places noted in international studies where the Honduran legal system has not yet caught up with the change, made relatively recently, that introduced the presumption of innocence. Before then, a person accused of a crime had to prove his or her innocence-- and that would have made staying in office tricky.

So: we would repeat our conclusion of August here: the Supreme Court really said nothing new; and nothing that would prevent President Zelaya being reinstated. What they have noted, acting to represent their branch of government, is that he faces trial on charges. Since there is no amnesty in the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord, this obviously an accepted condition of possible restoral. Even if the legal cases were to proceed and reach a conviction, and that conviction were upheld on appeal, until conviction, the accused is innocent-- and could carry out his legal duties.

Oh, and the reported remarks of court spokesperson Danilo Izaguirre? assuming he was not misquoted, he was engaging in interpretation of the report, interpretation the court members themselves refrained from publicly. That interpretation presumably is based on the assumption that President Zelaya would have to be suspended from the exercise of office during trial.

The revised Penal Processual Code, Decreto 99-9-E (published in La Gaceta May 20, 2000, and effective February 20, 2002-- and therefore in use just a little more than seven years) actually has something-- well, really, everything to say-- about this, in its Title VI. This concerns measures that can be taken to ensure that the defendant is available for trial. Article 172 requires that there be sufficient reason to think someone might flee before any of the listed measures are adopted. (Remember the claim that Zelaya needed to be seized in a raid due to fear he would flee? this is why that claim was made.) Article 173 lists the available methods to ensure the defendant will not flee (or destroy evidence, a second rationale allowed). The courts can adopt "one or more" of the listed methods, which range from imprisonment to detention at home to monitoring by an officer of the court and/or periodic reporting to the court.

Number 12 on this list is
Suspension in the exercise of office, when an offense is attributed against public administration.
This is, so far, the only provision in the penal code that we have found that would imply an inability by an accused government official to remain in office while the case against him or her was heard. We could charitably assume that the conclusion Izaguirre is drawing-- against the explicit declarations of the Supreme Court justices-- is that Zelaya will not only have to undergo trial, but would need to be suspended from exercise in office. But that conclusion anticipates, and thus prejudices, any actual legal proceeding.

Which, we would remind readers, could also result in a verdict of innocent-- or else the claim that the court system is fair is entirely empty.

Whether Izaguirre also is suffering from confusion about what the procedure would have to be; or was expressing an opinion that being tried would require the president to step down; treating Izaguirre like the authoritative voice, in the face of the statements of the court justices themselves, makes no sense.

*******CSJ: Zelaya should submit himself to justice*****

The Supreme Court of Justice, CSJ, affirmed that the ex president Manuel Zelaya should submit to the trials that he has pending, which would impede the National Congress from restoring him the 2nd of December without violating the law.

A commission of four magistrates, headed by the president of the Judicial Power, Jorge Rivera, arrived yesterday at 11 AM at the Legislative Palace to turn over their report about the fifth point of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord, that establishes the power of Congresss to decide whether to turn back the officeholding of the Executive to its state before the 28th of June.

In the opinion delivered to Congress, which on this coming December 2nd will debate whether or not to restore Zelaya, the CSJ reaffirmed the criteria that it issued the past 21 of August.

The magistrate Jacobo Cálix affirmed that 14 of the 15 magistrates arrived at a consensus on the document delivered to the Legislature and the the same conforms to the Constitution of Honduras and its legal framework, but he did not specify who voted against it nor why.

The president of the CSJ, Jorge Rivera, declared that the Court "did not go deeply nor touch the base" of the question of the restitution or not of Zelaya, because it has cases pending against him, but that it did contribute "the elements so that the decision could be taken".

He affirmed that the report was based "on all the deeds that were committed before the 28th of June and what has been provoked later".

He reaffirmed that Zelaya should submit himself to justice, although he reiterated that the CSJ did not pronounce in its report whether he should be restored or not.

Rivera delivered the document in the office of the secretary of the Congress together with a commission of magistrates, without specifying its content because, he said, the deputies should know it first.

"The honorable National Congress now has available the information to analyze the general context of the official and public actions of the citizen José Manuel Zelaya Rosales that will permit them to assess if the same were realized in conformity to that imposed in the Constitution of the Republic of a legal order" indicated the CSJ in a communique.

CN has the 4 reports

With the opinion of the CSJ, the National Congress now possesses the four reports that it solicited from the organs of State to base its debate, although it has clarified that those reports are not binding and that the decision about Zelaya only depends on the congressmembers.

The Public Prosecutor, Attorney General of the Republic and the National Commissioner of Human Rights, Ramón Custodio have already delivered their opinions.

The Supreme Court indicated in August, in relation to the return of Zelaya to power, that "there exist penal actions presented against him by the Attorney General of the Republic".

Therefore, it said then, "while there do not exist other applicable legal requirements, he cannot avoid that he would have to submit himself to the proceedings established in the penal processual legislation".

Zelaya has an order of capture for offenses of which he was accuses in relation with the popular poll that he intended to celebrate June 28 to promote a Constituent Assembly, when he was deposed by the National Congress, that designated Roberto Micheletti in his place.

Shoddy reporting or more lies from the VOA?

A story posted today on the Voice of America website manages to perpetuate two major falsehoods in the space of just twelve paragraphs, and also fails to accurately represent the split between countries committed to recognizing tomorrow's vote and those that have publically declared they will not do so. Not a very good scorecard: 3 major problems in 12 paragraphs: barely 75% correct.

First, the story claims that
Both Mr. Lobo and Mr. Santos support Mr. Zelaya's removal from power
Yet both Elvin Santos and Pepe Lobo have maintained a (largely unconvincing) claim not to have supported the coup. Lobo has, in campaigning, been quoted as saying once elected he will reach out to Zelaya.

Then, even worse, the story says
Both candidates also signed a pledge to respect the outcome of the vote and honor the constitutional ban on running for re-election. Mr. Zelaya was removed from office after pushing for a referendum to reconsider the ban.
To echo Greg Weeks, what would it take to get the media to stop repeating this inaccurate claim?

So, two outright incorrect statements. Then comes the misleading or incomplete report on recognition:
Brazil and Argentina have said they will not recognize the election because doing so would legitimize the coup. Costa Rica and Peru have suggested they are ready to recognize the vote.
Hmm. Now, who is missing from the list of countries that have said they will recognize the vote? I don't mean the US-- the previous paragraph says this has "divided Latin America", thus leaving the US position to one side. But what about the original statement by Panama's president Martinelli that has been widely trumpeted up till now?

And of course, the mention of Brazil and Argentina leaves out the explicit statement of Guatemala that it also will not recognize the election.

Is there something that links Panama and Guatemala (other than that they are Central American) that justifies not including them?

And of course, the entire Rio Group is on record as being opposed to the election. Do they have to come out, one by one, to be counted?

Reporting like this is inevitable, it seems. But it seems especially regrettable that it is coming from the VOA, which describes itself as
a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. Government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
and is widely recognized as speaking for the government.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Pre-election update

As the days count down to Sunday's vote in Honduras, there are four things we suggest people should be watching.

First: setting expectations

In a recent post, Boz has tried to project what he feels are the levels of turnout that would give clear signals either of success of the boycott, or of clear support for the claim that elections will allow moving on. Looking at recent election cycles, he says
There should be about 2.25 million total votes and about 2.1 million valid votes in 2009 if raw number trends continue as they have for the past decade.
So, Boz sets his expectations for clear-cut success of the boycott as a valid vote of 1.5 million or less; and for the de facto regime to claim no effect on the election, turnout of 2.4 million votes. I won't repeat his arguments; go read them for yourself; the main thing to take away here is that he is saying a turnout of 25% of the eligible voters will be clearly lower than expected, and a turnout of 50% of eligible voters would allow the de facto regime to claim legitimacy.

(For the record, turnout in 2005 was 55% according to the numbers Boz is relying on. So he is projecting a 5% drop would have happened this year no matter what-- which we would remind readers is an index of disaffection with the Honduran political system, the fundamental problem that these elections will not solve, and may well exacerbate.)

Boz makes the argument that in addition to not coming to vote, it is possible to protest an election by casting a
blank or null ballot, which will reduce valid votes.
So, the gap between the number of valid votes and total votes this time around might include protest blank or null ballots-- except for the fact that Honduran press reports efforts to discourage null votes before they are placed in the ballot box.

An article in La Tribuna, on which RNS commented previously, appeared under the headline
"TSE expects to reduce null votes":
The authorities of the TSE intend a drastic reduction of null votes by orienting the electors how they should exercise their suffrage... The TSE expects to reduce a great percentage of the null vote or the lack of voters, for which it is important to develop step by step each one of the activities that permit the Honduran to freely vote.
So, one confounding issue for interpreting the number of invalid votes (the difference between votes cast and valid votes) as evidence of voter boycotting is that there is a more deliberate attempt to reduce inadvertent null votes this year than previously.

Second: spinning declarations of potential recognition

The biggest prize for the de facto regime has been, of course, the regrettable decision by the US not only to say they might recognize the elections, but the subsequent increasingly strident claims that this election will somehow solve the whole crisis (and thus everyone else should get on board). Yet, as the New York Times correctly observes, the US has not officially declared an unconditional intention to recognize the election, saying "American officials have implied that the Obama administration will support the outcome".

Lesser prizes, Panama, Peru, probably Colombia, and today, Costa Rica, are consistently reported in Honduran pro-coup media as unconditional, even though these also have included the caution that recognition will depend on the election being "transparent". Mexico, widely expected to trend with this group, has actually been careful

The number of countries stating even more clearly that they will not recognize the Sunday vote outcome is of course much larger than this handful of pro-election countries, although sometimes, reporting obscures the actual extent of disapproval of the election.

In addition to the explicit announcements of Brazil, Argentina, and Guatemala against the election, the 23 Latin American and Caribbean countries making up the Rio Group and those of ALBA are on record against the coup-sponsored elections.

The position of Spain, influential in the EU, refusing to recognize the election is not prominently mentioned in most English-language press coverage, although Bloomberg does so in its story.

While not an official governmental view, it is worth noting as well the recent call of a group of MPs in Great Britain against recognition as well.

Broad rejection of the elections by the nations of the Americas should surely outweigh the endorsement of it by the US and a few pragmatic allies. And the voices heard from Europe are also voices of concern, not support for this dead end masquerading as a way out.

Third: overtures of conciliation

These are already coming from many directions. Honduran law professor Leo Valladares is quoted as saying
"Look, the negotiation between Zelaya and Micheletti was going nowhere ... Maybe, by changing the faces of the government, tensions will begin to subside and the new government . . . could be more conciliatory. Whoever wins cannot turn a deaf ear to the demands of the resistance."
Pepe Lobo, considered the likely recipient of the majority of votes on Sunday and almost ordained as the next president, seems to agree, being quoted as saying:
"Our mission is not just to win elections but to produce a change beginning with the reconciliation and unity of Hondurans"
and even more daringly, suggesting

that if he wins, he would include Zelaya in a national reconciliation talks and suggested that the ousted leader would be able to leave his refuge inside the Brazilian Embassy without fear of arrest. ...

"They have to get him out. If not, how?" said Lobo...

"What I know is that if we want peace for Honduras, we have to bring him into the dialogue."

Fourth: Finally, press coverage that admits the election is the culmination of the coup

The mainstream press is catching up with reality, a little bit too late, and a whole lot too little.

For example, read the LA Times story headlined "Honduras upcoming vote a boon to de facto rulers". It acknowledges that recognizing the election hands a victory to the authors of the coup d'etat of June 28, quoting Christopher Sabatini, senior policy director for the Americas Society:
"The U.S. needed a way out,... But what we've done is allow a coup to stand. And I fear this will erode regional consensus about the defense of democracy. . . . The U.S. has lost its moral authority to push back"
The New York Times quotes even more blunt commentary about the damage done to US influence in Latin America, noting the view of many Latin Americans that "recognizing the election will essentially legitimize a coup in a region that has been consolidating its democracies":

“The United States will become isolated — that is very bad for the United States and its relationship with Latin America,” the Brazilian foreign policy adviser, Marco Aurélio Garcia, said ... very important countries — the majority in terms of population and political weight — won’t recognize” the results of the election.

Even harsher criticism of US policy blunders comes from other directions.

Consider this statement by Robert White, the former Carter Administration ambassador to El Salvador :
The clumsy handling of this issue when they had the backing of the entire hemisphere is simply an embarrassment.
Or this one, by Lisa Haugaard of the Latin America Working Group
“It makes it look like coups are a viable way out, and that is a terrible message for the region”

This is the legacy of Sunday's electoral exercise:

We are left trying to figure out how low participation has to be to be interpreted as a sign of electoral protest, ignoring plummeting participation election after election which should long ago have been seen as electoral protest.

We are left with the spectacle of a US that declared a multilateral foreign policy in Trinidad and Tobago openly leading a tiny minority of countries of the Americas committed to recognizing the elections, alienating governments that see it putting the "stamp of approval" on the coup.

Which, remember, is taking place under the supervision of the armed forces, who have stockpiled plenty of tear gas for the election, prompting Amnesty International to express concerns about just how fair and open this election really can be:
There's an environment of fear and intimidation in Honduras ...We have seen an increased level of harassment against those who are seen as opposed to the de facto authorities.
Far from "starting from zero", as President Obama suggested, the situation in Honduras on Monday will stay precisely where it is-- with added sources of conflict provided by what will without a doubt be disputes about the Sunday vote.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Millennium Challenge Corp. Pushing to Restart Honduras Loans

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) office in Honduras established a drop dead date for the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (BCIE in Spanish) to restart loans to Honduras totalling $130 million.

"The resources of the BCIE are still suspended and we need a determination by February 2010 at the latest, or we'll have to phase out the program," said Martin Ochoa, director of the MCC office in Honduras.

The BCIE loan supports work on the "dry canal" project, specifically a stretch of road from Tegucigalpa to Rio del Hombre.

State Of Emergency Declared

Decreto PCM-30-2009 declares a national state of emergency for all activities related to the election in Honduras. The main thing it does is authorize the Secretary of State for Defense to enter into contracts for military operations, material and supplies related to the election without first getting bids, and authorizes him to employ the 5,000 reservists for the election.

Decreto PCM-29-2009 authorizes the employment of 5,000 reservists for the time they are needed, starting November 13. It does not specify a date for demobilizing them.

Decreto PCM-31-2009 authorizes a national disarmament starting on November 23, lasting until a second order is issued. It authorizes the confiscation of "all firearms, and the like", and orders the Security minister to carry it out, with the cooperation of the ministers of Government and Justice, and Defense.

Government Admits Blocking Channel 36

An Italian website reports that, during an interview, Carlos Lopez Contreras, the de facto government's Foreign Minister, admitted that the government had banned Channel 36. Lopez Contreras told the Italian news source, Adnkronos International, that the ban on Canal 36 was justified.

"If we look at respect for freedom of speech anywhere in the world, and you actually hear what the channel is saying daily, you would see that in any country in the world, with or without elections, this channel would have been suspended."

Channel 36, also known as Cholusat Sur, publicizes the hypocrisy of the de facto government.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Reduced Expectations

Today the Supreme Election Tribunal (TSE) began setting expectations about voter turnout for the election in Honduras. They also began better explaining the discrepancies in the number of voters on the official voting list, versus the population numbers for Honduras.

Adrienne Pine, over on Quotha, observed that something about the 4.6 million person official voting list, and the 7.6 million person official population just didn't add up. Today, Saul Escobar, president of the TSE, admitted that the real voting census is 3.4 million, but that there are an additional 1 million registered voters outside the country. The voters in the exterior have not come out to vote in the last two elections.

Escobar's number of 3.4 million is 44.7% of the population. However, to complicate things, an El Heraldo article from yesterday tells us that 49.3% of the population (3,737,976 persons) are under 18, the legal voting age, leaving 50.7% (3,844,125 persons) over 18, and a total population of 7,582,101. The missing 444,000 voters presumably are the disenfranchised who are not registered to vote. If Escobar is correct and there are around 1 million registered voters outside the country, the true population of Hondurans is more than 8.6 million, but unknown.

The de facto government has been calling for a massive turnout. In 2005, the turnout was 56%. That was the lowest turnout since the 1982 constitution entered into effect. Today the TSE began to set our expectations for how massive a turnout to expect.

Roberto Micheletti said that he had information there would be an 80% turnout. The TSE president, Saul Escobar, expects a 60% turnout, slightly higher than the 2005 election, but hardly massive. Anonymous TSE officials told another La Tribuna reporter that they expected between 2 million and 2.4 million voters, or, at best, 52.6% turnout, which would be even lower than the 2005 election. This official said, "it would be bad if we barely got over a million voters, but we hope for at least 2 million, a number similar to the 2005 election."

So the TSE is reducing our expectations for voter turnout, from slightly better than the last election, to slightly worse than the last election.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Valenzuela Dreams

Arturo Valenzuela represented the United States at the closed session of the OAS today. In it, he openly broke with the majority of the OAS representatives by urging them to accept the results of the November 29 elections in Honduras. Only Panama and the US spoke in favor of recognizing the elections.

It appears that Mr. Valenzuela is something of a dreamer with an active fantasy life. EFE reports (and again there are as yet no English language sources) that Valenzuela said the Micheletti's little vacation opened a space that should help expedite the formation of a unity government.

"We value this step and urge that it facilitate the formation of a national unity government, such as is established in the accord of October 30."

Exactly how does this expedite the formation of a unity government? What actually does Valenzuela think has changed? Micheletti is still in charge of the de facto government. Its not as if anyone else is now calling the shots.

I'm sure Mr. Valenzuela knows that Micheletti's "vacation" does not actually open any space for anything to happen in Honduras, but I guess he can dream....

....but that's not how foreign policy should be made.

Militarized Elections

Militarization is a reality. Today, Sunday, passing the turn off to Gracias on the western highway, not only were there police and troops but there was a machine gun on top of the cabin of a pick up with a soldier in the back. This is a place where there are often Transit Police check points (seat belts, non-functioning lights, etc.) But recently it has also been "manned" by the military and police (not just transit police).
So wrote a commentator on another of our blog posts.

Honduran elections have been militarized by definition since 1998. Article 272 of the Constitution spells it out:
to guarantee the free exercise of suffrage, [the Armed Forces] store, transport, and watch over the electoral materials and security of the process.
To that end, the President puts them at the control of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) one month before the election until the election is called and a winner declared.

So, we come to this year's elections. This time things are different. On June 28, the Armed Forces actively intervened in the constitutional government, and as their statements after the coup d'etat showed, they did so based in part by assuming they had a special active role in protecting the Constitution, and that this extended to deciding what kinds of political perspectives they would allow.

Since then, the Armed Forces has been deeply involved in suppression of civil rights in the country, changing forever the way those members of the public who have been threatened will see them.

Now Colonel Roger Alexis Turcios, who is in charge of the logistics and planning for the election, was asked if anything made this time different than in the past. He replied, "The security measures that we are taking this time are stronger and more strict". In the name of security, the military have expanded their role in this election.

12,000 police and 11,000 soldiers are assigned to guard 15,269 polling places. As part of the extended security measures for this election, the military were authorized to call up, arm, and equip an additional 5,000 reservists. "There are 11 military regions and each has a commander responsible for security in his region, and has his orders and plans," said General Bartolome Funez Castellon.

Because of their fear of an election boycott, the TSE has trained the 530 public prosecutors, as well as military and police officers, in what constitutes electoral crimes. General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez said, "we know that there are people that are inducing the public to not go and vote, for which they are committing an electoral crime, contrary to what they should do which is to urge lots of people to get out and vote ('vayan masivamente a votar') because we have chosen the democratic system which is the best in the world."

Vasquez Velasquez also said "We are doing sweeps at a national level, of reconnaissance, and also intelligence work, to detect if there are any problems in any areas and treat them with viable solutions."

Over the weekend, the police and military set up checkpoints around the country, where all vehicles including public transportation were stopped, and everyone's papers checked.

Friday the de facto government ordered a nationwide disarmament, so today these checkpoints started frisking everyone and confiscating any weapons found, even if the bearer has a licence to carry the weapon.

Foreigners are being asked to justify their reason for being in the country.

When people come to vote, they're going to pass a line of police about 300 feet (100 meters) from the polling place. Each polling place will be surrounded by a group of soldiers placed 150 feet away. There will be additional guards protecting election materials that will be stored nearby.

Inside the polling place will be "custodios", people designated as responsible for the management and provisioning of election supplies. Each of these will be a soldier who will authorize the release of more ballots, or indelible ink, from the nearby stores.

Now, this takes place against a background of threats against those who wish not to participate in this election, despite the fact that the constitutional call for obligatory voting has never been enforced by individual prosecution. As early as August, this was already emerging as a troubling theme linked to support for an enhanced role for the military in elections.

It takes place against a background of letters sent to municipal mayors throughout the country, directing them to send in lists of those identified as members of the resistance, on the theory that being a member of the resistance implies an intention to engage in some form of anti-electoral violence (as opposed to advocacy for electoral boycotts, which do not meet the definitions of anti-electoral offenses as specified in the electoral law).

And above all: it takes place against the background of the military coup d'etat and military repression since then.

This is the reality of the "free and transparent" elections that are promised for November 29.