Angel Salgado lay brain-dead at the public teaching hospital the day I arrived in Tegucigalpa. On the eve of the November 29 elections, which the Honduran (and world) press later hailed as peaceful and fair, the army shot him in the head for accidentally passing one of the many military checkpoints set up around the city.
On December 2 Angel died, joining scores of other victims of the Honduran coup regime. That same day, the Honduran Congress–emboldened by its public relations victory in the elections–voted against reinstating the elected president, Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted from office on June 28 after serving for three and a half years. The vote confirmed Latin America’s first successful twenty-first-century coup, and crowned the failure of US diplomacy to restore constitutional order in the impoverished Central American nation.
Honduran National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo won handily November 29 over the runner-up from the badly divided Liberal Party. Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela immediately recognized Lobo as the elected president, hailing the elections as “a significant step in Honduras’ return to the democratic and constitutional order after the 28 June coup.” The country’s coup-controlled press trumpeted the vote as proof that democracy was alive and well in Honduras. The international press endorsed the “generally peaceful” elections, with the New York Times calling them “clean and fair.”
The Honduran elections were far from free, fair or peaceful. The coup regime rejected all diplomatic attempts to restore the nation’s democracy before holding elections, keeping the constitutional president trapped behind barricades in the Brazilian Embassy. It then pretended that the elections themselves constituted a return to democratic order.
The coup’s dictatorial decrees restricting freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of movement held the nation in a virtual state of siege in the weeks prior to the elections. Over forty registered candidates resigned in protest. Members of the resistance movement were harassed, beaten and detained. In San Pedro Sula, an election-day march was brutally repressed.
I arrived to monitor the elections and continue the work I had begun with the International Women’s Human Rights delegation in August. The delegation documented assassinations, rapes, beatings and arbitrary detentions over the months that followed the June 28 military coup d’état, working closely with the Honduran coalition Feminists in Resistance.
The day before the elections, the feminists I talked to were on edge. The coup regime had called out a security force of 30,000 to “maintain order” on election day. To avoid more bloody confrontations, the National Front Against the Coup D’état urged its members to stay inside during the elections and to uphold a nationwide elections boycott.