On December 17, after a chaotic presidential election in Honduras weeks before—involving unexplained computer malfunctions and possible vote rigging—the country’s electoral commission proclaimed the incumbent president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, the winner. Supporters of the Honduran opposition reacted with fury. Both the Organization of American States and the European Union, the two organizations that monitored the vote, noted irregularities. And the OAS rejected the official tally, calling for new elections.
For many Hondurans, the current scene is all too familiar: it is a possible repeat of the turmoil surrounding the 2009 coup d’état, and a tragic continuation of a progressive loss of credibility in its electoral institutions. What is different today is that the United States—along with most other countries in the region—has remained largely silent. Although it may be tempting for Washington to try to sweep the problems of democratic legitimacy and corruption under the rug, given its partnership with Honduras in fighting drug trafficking and illegal immigration, doing so would be a mistake. The experience of Honduras over the past eight years offers a cautionary tale for Washington: Unless Honduras' democratic legitimacy is restored, the country will continue to struggle to alleviate the many symptoms of its broken system.
AN UNMISTAKABLE ASSOCIATION
Honduras’ current crisis in governance has a long genesis. One could argue that it can be traced back to June 2009, when the military partnered with the country’s traditional political parties to forcibly remove the civilian, democratically elected president from power. Critics of Manuel “Mel” Zelaya justified the move by accusing the president of seeking a second term, which would have undermined the limits placed on the office by Honduras’ constitution. What actually sealed Zelaya’s fate was his alienation of the traditional elite. He was a member of one of the country’s wealthiest families and came to power promising continuity. But in 2007, he suddenly changed his stance. He adopted a “Bolivarian” platform of left-of-center social and economic policy, allied with Cuba and
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