Democracy wins in Honduras

The people of Honduras have spoken and declared that they want a prosperous future for themselves and their nation. I commend and congratulate the Honduran people and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal for carrying out a peaceful and transparent election without major incidents.

This election was overseen by a record number of observers in Honduras’ history, made up of more than 15,000 domestic observers and 700 international observers. We must accept the results and support the electoral process, which represented more than 60 percent of voter turnout, the highest in over a decade. Voters freely chose Juan Orlando Hernandez as their new leader.

International election monitoring teams from the European Union and the Organization of American States, as well as domestic Honduran observers from local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including Hagamos Democracia (Let’s Make Democracy) and Alianza Por La Paz y Justicia (Alliance for Peace and Justice), have declared their support for the election results and stated that the election was carried out smoothly. In addition, representatives from most political parties were present at the overwhelming majority of voting tables, where the election results were counted.

Therefore, any effort to deem these elections as fraudulent would be contrary to the truth and unsubstantiated by the election’s turn of events.

This election represented more than just another election in Latin America. When I traveled to Honduras in September 2009 after the political crisis, I found a country that was yearning for democratic changes and denouncing attempts for complete control by Mel Zelaya. This new election gave the Honduran people the opportunity to put behind them their troubled past and concentrate on the potential of a bright future.

With this election, the people of Honduras once again elected to reject violence, combat intimidation, refuse leftist ideology and use their power at the ballot box to prevent destructive policies from the past.

However, the new leader of Honduras will face major challenges, including a divided Congress, and must attempt to tackle fiscal issues, corruption, high unemployment rates and drug trafficking in one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. In order for this democracy to thrive, we must take a serious look at the security and human-rights situation in Central America, which is especially being threatened by transnational organized crime and drug traffickers.

With the elections behind us, this new beginning gives the U.S. government an opportunity to reassess our bilateral relationship with Honduras. In terms of security, the United States has supported the security situation not only in Honduras, but specifically, in the northern triangle of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. However, in Honduras, the military and police need to be professionalized, as weak institutions and a large infiltration of narco-traffickers in the government corrupt these institutions. Thus, another key aspect of U.S. support must be to strengthen the ties between prosecutors and the vetted police so that they can thoroughly investigate cases and prosecute criminals under the rule of law. Good work is already being done in this regard with the U.S.-supported Special Victims Task Force, and I expect that with the full support of the next Honduran government, much more progress will be realized.

As we move forward in our relationship with the new Honduran government, another issue we must address is human rights. Although the Honduran police and investigators are making progress in their investigations into alleged human right violation cases, more can be done. The historic high level of impunity in Honduras is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. This is why support from the United States is desperately needed so that Honduran officials can strengthen their judicial system to properly prosecute human rights violators, including corrupt police officers and military personnel. In addition, the new Honduran government should institute reforms and continue to work with local NGOs to develop benchmarks that will lead to more transparency and accountability for the Honduran people.

It is vital for the United States to support training for vetted units who investigate drug trafficking, money laundering, arms smuggling, bulk cash smuggling and crimes against vulnerable populations. Our investment in Honduras has paid dividends. Over the past year and a half, the government of Honduras, with U.S. support, interdicted more than approximately 22 metric tons of narcotics and seized $21 million in drug-related cash and assets that led to numerous arrests and served as a deterrent to criminal networks. In addition, information gathered from these engagements helped to seize between $500 million to $800 million in assets from Los Cachiros, a dangerous criminal organization. These positive results demonstrate that bilateral interdiction operations are crucial to effectively combat drug trafficking and the presence of transnational organized crime in Honduras.

Resolving the many challenges facing Honduras will not be easy, but I am confident that the future of Honduras is bright and strong. Whether it is related to security, trade, or human rights, the U.S.-Honduras bilateral relationship will remain constructive and supportive. I hope that the freedom-loving people in El Salvador and Nicaragua are also watching the elections in Honduras closely and see it as a model to use and protect their own voting powers to determine their democratic future. Honduras matters because it shares common ideals and values with the American people that derive from the belief in democratic principles and fundamental freedoms for a nation and its citizens.

The people of Honduras have voiced their affirmation of these universal principles, and it is incumbent upon our nation to support them in the difficult tasks ahead.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican representing the 27th district in Florida, is former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and current chair of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.

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