From the Wall Street Journal on how Honduras beat Chavez (and Insulza)
In elections, Honduras Defeats Chavez by Maria Anastasia O’Grady
The tiny country beats back the colonial aspirations of its neighbors.
Unless something monumental happens in the Western Hemisphere in the next 31 days, the big regional story for 2009 will be how tiny Honduras managed to beat back the colonial aspirations of its most powerful neighbors and preserve its constitution.
National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo was the favorite to win in pre-election polls. Yet the name of the victor is almost beside the point. The completion of these elections is a national triumph in itself and a win for all people who yearn for liberty.
The fact that the U.S. has said it will recognize their legitimacy shows that this reality eventually made its way to the White House. If not Hugo Chávez’s Waterloo, Honduras’s stand at least marks a major setback for the Venezuelan strongman’s expansionist agenda.
The losers in this drama also include Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Spain, which all did their level best to block the election. Egged on by their zeal, militants inside Honduras took to exploding small bombs around the country in the weeks leading to the vote. They hoped that terror might damp turnout and delegitimize the process. They failed. Yesterday’s civic participation appeared to be at least as good as it was in the last presidential election. Some polling stations reportedly even ran short, for a time, of the indelible ink used to mark voter pinkies.
Latin socialists tried to discredit Honduran democracy as part of their effort to force the reinstatement of deposed President Manuel Zelaya. Both sides knew that if that happened the electoral process would be in jeopardy.
Mr. Zelaya had already showed his hand when he organized a mob to try to carry out a June 28 popular referendum so that he could cancel the elections and remain in office. That was unlawful, and he was arrested by order of the Supreme Court and later removed from power by Congress for violating the constitution.
It is less well-known that as president, according to an electoral-council official I interviewed in Tegucigalpa two weeks ago, Mr. Zelaya had refused to transfer the budgeted funds—as required by law—to the council for its preparatory work. In other words, he didn’t want a free election.
Mr. Chávez didn’t want one either. During the Zelaya government the country had become a member of Mr. Chávez’s Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), which includes Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. If power changed hands, Honduran membership would be at risk.
Last week a government official told me that Honduran intelligence has learned that Mr. Zelaya had made preparations to welcome all the ALBA presidents to the country the night of his planned June referendum. Food for a 10,000-strong blowout celebration, the official added, was on order.
ALBA has quite a bit of clout at the Organization of American States (OAS) these days, and it hasn’t been hard for Mr. Chávez to control Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. The Chilean socialist desperately wants to be re-elected to his OAS post in 2010. Only a month before Mr. Zelaya was deposed, Mr. Insulza led the effort to lift the OAS membership ban on Cuba. When Mr. Zelaya was deposed, Mr. Insulza dutifully took up his instructions sent from Caracas to quash Honduran sovereignty.
Unfortunately for him, the leftist claims that Honduras could not hold fair elections flew in the face of the facts. First, the candidates were chosen in November 2008 primaries with observers from the OAS, which judged the process to be “transparent and participative.” Second, all the presidential candidates—save one from a small party on the extreme left—wanted the elections to go forward. Third, though Mr. Insulza insisted on calling the removal of Mr. Zelaya a “military coup,” the military had never taken charge of the government. And finally, the independent electoral tribunal, chosen by congress before Mr. Zelaya was removed, was continuing with the steps required to fulfill its constitutional mandate to conduct the vote. In the aftermath of the elections Mr. Insulza, who insisted that the group would not recognize the results, presides over a discredited OAS.
At least the Obama administration figured out, after four months, that it had blundered. It deserves credit for realizing that elections were the best way forward, and for promising to recognize the outcome despite enormous pressure from Brazil and Venezuela. President Obama came to office intent on a foreign policy of multilateralism. Perhaps this experience will teach him that freedom does indeed have enemies.
Almost 400 foreign observers from Japan, Europe, Latin America and the U.S. traveled to Honduras for yesterday’s elections. Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, the German parliament and Japan will also recognize the vote. The outpouring of international support demonstrates that Hondurans were never as alone these past five months as they thought. A good part of the world backs their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.