Briefing on the Honduran Elections
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
November 30, 2009
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MR. KELLY: Well, good afternoon. Welcome to the briefing room. We’re very pleased to have with us today Arturo Valenzuela, Assistant Secretary for West Hemisphere Affairs, and he’ll give you some remarks on the elections in Honduras yesterday and the way forward.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thanks very much. Yeah, it’s a real pleasure to be here for the first time before you in the position of Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
As you all know, Honduras held an election yesterday. We see this election as a very important step forward for Honduras, and I would like to commend the Honduran people for an election that met international standards of fairness and transparency despite some incidents that were reported here and there. I also want to commend Pepe Lobo for his ample victory in these elections and also for some of the gracious remarks that we heard from some of the other candidates in this electoral process – Santos and Ham and Avila and Martinez.
Having said that, let me stress the most important point, and that is that while the election is a significant step in Honduras’s return to the democratic and constitutional order after the 28 June coup, it’s just that; it’s only a step. It’s – and it’s not the last step. Given the gravity of the coup d’état and the polarization that Honduras has undergone, both before and after the coup d’état, it’s extremely important that Honduran leadership moving forward in the next few months attempt to follow the overall broad frameworks of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord.
And by that, I mean that – what are the additional steps that need to be taken? A government of national unity needs to be formed. The congress has to take a vote on the return of President Zelaya to office. And another element of the San Jose Accords that I think would be very, very important as Honduras moves forward to try to reestablish the democratic and constitutional order is the formation and the structuring of a truth commission, which was also contemplated in the original Tegucigalpa framework and San Jose Accords. And the truth commission would be a body that would look into the incidents and the situation that led to the coup, but at the same time, as the accord says, I think – I was thinking about it in the Spanish version of the accord – it also will provide the elementos, as it says in the accord – the elements to help the Hondurans make the necessary reforms to their constitutional process and to bring about a fuller reconciliation of the Honduran people.
That’s really all I want to say as – for opening remarks. Let me again repeat the construct: We see, again, the elections as a necessary step forward, but not a sufficient one. And why do we see the elections as a necessary step forward? Because the elections provide the Honduran people for a way out. And these elections are not elections that were planned by a de facto government at the last minute in order to whitewash their actions. These elections were elections that began several months ago. 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.
And this has been an ongoing process during this period. And we think it’s very important that this particular electoral process was in place at this particular moment because it provides the Honduran people with a legitimate way out. They’re able to vote for new authorities. But again, it’s not the only thing that the Honduran leadership needs to do. They really need to, in order to be able to restore the democratic and constitutional order, take the additional steps that I’ve outlined.
QUESTION: Yeah, Ana Baron-Clarin, two questions. One is about the government of reconciliation, unida nacional. How do you see it? Do you see it between the new president and Zelaya, or between the – Micheletti? How do you see the evolution of that?
And the second question is on the OAS. As you know, many of the countries are not going to recognize the government. So even if they go through all the steps, what will happen with Honduras and the OAS?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Yeah. Let me say that the new government will take office on January 27th of next year, and this is why – and this is absolutely critical in this interim period that the Honduran leadership on all sides of the divide, but particularly within the Liberal Party, because what’s sort of ironic about the conflict in Honduras is that this is a conflict very much within the Liberal Party. Santos is from the Liberal Party, Micheletti is from the Liberal Party, and Pepe Lobo is from the Liberal Party. And in some ways, the victory of the National Party of – did I say Lobo was the Liberal Party? No, I meant Zelaya, Zelaya of the Liberal Party. Lobo of the National Party, last time he lost to Zelaya by about 3 percent of the vote. This time, he’s ahead of Santos by about 17 percent of the vote. So we urge that this government of national unity draw from all of the sectors of Honduran leadership.
QUESTION: So does the U.S. then recognize that Lobo is the president-elect of Honduras, then?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: The United States takes note of the election. We see that Lobo was the frontrunner, that he won the election. We commend him for that. He will be the next president of Honduras. But what I want to do is reiterate very sharply for you, and that is that Honduras still, because of the gravity of the military coup that – of the coup d’état that took place, that in fact, a process needs to be put into place to restore Honduras to democratic and constitutional order. And that can only be done through the steps that I’ve already outlined.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Is this truly another problem to complicate a little bit more the situation? Is that – Mr. Zelaya says that he doesn’t want to be back in power, because that means to recognize the recognized election. So you are asking the five point of the agreement, and one of the points is to vote in the congress Zelaya to come back, but he doesn’t want to come back. So first question: How do you deal with that?
And the second one is that it seems to be that United States is a little bit alone in the recognition of the elections, because in (inaudible), most of the countries of the region are saying no to the elections. So two questions.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Okay, let me take the first one first. I’m aware of the fact – we’re all aware of the fact that President Zelaya made the statement over the weekend, and in fact, I spoke to him last Friday and we had a cordial conversation. It was the first time I’ve spoken to him, so it was a conversation that had perhaps less substance than it would have under normal circumstances.
But I think we’re going to continue to urge President Zelaya also to see whether he can come back to some kind of a process of dialogue with others in Honduras to achieve this government of national unity. But I’m not going to judge what he is going to be doing in that regard, but we’re certainly going to be pressing, hopefully with other countries as well. And I’m confident of that, and this gets to your second point.
There are quite a few other countries that have taken a position that’s, I think, similar to the one that we’ve outlined, and that is that while the election is a necessary step, it is not a sufficient one. And this is for what reason? Because there has to be an end game for Honduras. There has to be an exit. And an election that was a preexisting process, a legitimate expression of the will of the Honduran people, is a perfect step out of this crisis, but not a sufficient step. And the countries that are closest to us on that, for example, are, at this particular point, my understanding is the Central American countries, although we’ve been talking to several others as well.
Let me say that I did speak to President Colom, for example, from Guatemala over the weekend. I also spoke to President Arias over the weekend. We’ve reached out to others. And the Secretary has also made quite a few calls to the region on – not only on the issue of Honduras, but also on some other issues that are of concern to us – on Peru – she reached out to Peru, to Uruguay, to Argentina, to Brazil, to the foreign ministers, and also spoke to President Funes in El Salvador.
I’m aware of the fact that there is – that – you remember the Iberia-American summit is meeting today in Portugal, and these are all the countries of the Spanish-Portuguese part of the Americas, together with Spain and Portugal. Portugal is a host now. And there is concern among these countries about Honduras. The precedent of a military coup is one that cannot stand, and we certainly agree with that. And I want to make that very, very clear. And it’s a coup d’état – let me correct myself on that. It’s a coup d’état. We can get into the etymological things about that or the exegetical discussions about what those mean, but I think they’re concerned about the coup d’état standing as a precedent, as we are. But they’re also – I think we’re going to be looking forward to some kind of an exit strategy, as we are. And the exit strategy goes by this construct of an election as well as the formation of a government of national unity.
And let me reiterate the truth commission that is also, I think, a very important step to be taken.
QUESTION: Hi, congratulations.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thanks.
QUESTION: Indira Lakshmanan from Bloomberg News. I wanted to ask: Will the United States recognize the new government if the Honduran congress fails to vote to reinstate Zelaya on December 2nd? Because that’s been a longstanding demand of the U.S. that he should be reinstated. And even if he’s voted to be reinstated and then decides that he doesn't want to be reinstated, then how is the U.S. going to step in or propose to help solve the political crisis?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: I would prefer not to deal with hypotheticals on this. We’re – the election took place yesterday. Mr. Lobo has had a series of meetings. Others have been meeting in Honduras. As I said earlier, the Central American countries are very disposed to engage. This is what we’re working on now, and I don’t want to speculate about what might happen if certain things don’t happen.
QUESTION: Forget speculation then.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just is the U.S. setting as a condition that the congress should vote on December 2nd to reinstate Zelaya?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: We are urging for the congress to vote. That was part of the accord. We support the accord. We would like to see the congress vote for his --
QUESTION: And if they don’t?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: We would urge the congress to take that step.
QUESTION: Thank you. Sonia Schott. The OAS will have a meeting next week. What to expect from this extraordinary meeting, considering that the U.S. is also a member of the OAS? And the second one, what are the lessons to be learned regarding Honduras for the region?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, I think, again, it’s extremely important for the region – and the United States shares this – that a coup d'etat – this will be the first coup d'etat that took place since December 1991 when President Aristide was taken out at gunpoint from Haiti. And it’s – we – the history of coup d'etats in Latin America is a very long one. And in fact, Latin American politics was often described as Praetorian politics, where coup d'etats were the norm rather than in some ways the exception. And in fact, from 1930 till 1980, almost 40 percent of all changes of government in Latin America were through coup d'etats.
Now, that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and with this new wave of democratization in Latin America, which was a very significant achievement for the countries in Latin America. The decade of 1980s, the number of coup d'etats that led to changes of government went down from about 40 percent, which was the pattern that I said earlier, to about 20 percent. And since – since the 19 – the late 1980s – in fact, since Pinochet finally was voted in an election in Chile out of office when he lost the plebiscite of 1988, there’s really only been one situation where – before where a head of state has been taken out of gunpoint into exile in another country, and that was in Haiti in 1991. So this pattern cannot be repeated again. And the countries of the hemisphere are united on this principle. And this is why the gravity of the Honduran situation is uppermost.
So where do – where are we going with this? I think that for Honduras to, in fact, be restored to the Organization of America States – in other words, to be voted back in, because it was suspended – it’s going to have to show that (a) that the situation was grave and (2) that it’s taken steps to restore the constitutional and democratic order. And those are some of the things that I’ve outlined. The most important thing of all is create some kind of a government of national unity and to work to try to build a spirit of reconciliation in the country.
And we’re sort of, I guess, confident that there – we see some steps in that direction right now.
QUESTION: Is there any chance that the U.S. will not recognize the results of this election? Because you didn’t say that the U.S. will recognize --
MR. VALENZUELA: I don’t want to get into hypotheticals. What’s – what is clear is that the Honduran people did vote yesterday, and they voted by an ample margin for a gentleman by the name of Pepe Lobo. I – he will be the next president of Honduras. For the countries of the hemisphere and for the United States to work towards the restoration of Honduras to the Organization of American States later on, Honduras must do more than just simply this election. It must follow a process of national reconciliation through a government of national unity. And that’s what we’re urging the Honduran leadership to engage in. The people of Honduras want nothing less. I think that the fact that the turnout in Honduras met the same range of the elections in Honduras that have happened in the past, the fact that so many people voted for an opposition candidate is an expression of their wish to be able to move forward as well.
But I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about what might happen with this. We’re urging for a government of national unity to be constituted in order to be able to bring Honduras back into the Organization of American States.
QUESTION: But as of now, the U.S. is not recognizing the results officially?
MR. VALENZUELA: Could I --
QUESTION: I’d like to hear it. Are you recognizing the results?
MR. VALENZUELA: We take note of the results, yes. We recognize that there are results in Honduras for this election. That’s quite clear. We recognize those results, and we commend Mr. Lobo for having won these elections. And as I say, this is an important step to restore the democratic and constitutional order in Honduras.
QUESTION: Do you see --
QUESTION: So is it not a legitimate concern that by recognizing the election, you could be encouraging further coups?
MR. VALENZUELA: No, because I think that we have to make absolutely clear that any country that encourages a military coup, or if a military coup takes place, they run the risk of actually being suspended from the Organization of American States, of not being recognized by the Organization of American States. That’s something that cannot happen in the future. And I would very much hope that the leadership in Honduras would be able to bring together this kind of government of national unity and take the steps that are necessary, including the vote in congress, for the restoration of President Zelaya.
I want to make that absolutely clear. We’re not walking away from that at all, that construct. The congress is supposed to vote on October – on December 2nd, and we urge the congress to move swiftly to vote on the matter of President Zelaya’s restitution.
MR. KELLY: We have time for one more question. Jill.
QUESTION: But if – why have congress vote if you already know who is going to be president? Why have that congressional vote?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: The issue is not who is going to be the next president. The Honduran people decided that. The issue is whether the legitimate president of Honduras, who was overthrown in a coup d’état, will be returned to office by the congress on December 2nd, as per the San Jose-Tegucigalpa Accord. That was the accord that both sides signed at that time. They say that this was the construct in order to be able to restore constitutional authority and a democratic process in Honduras.
And we are urging the formation of a government of national unity, that the congress vote on the restoration of Zelaya, and three, that a truth commission be structured in order to be able to move forward. That’s our position. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Who do you expect on the truth commission? What --
MR. KELLY: Okay. Thanks a lot.
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