THE U.S. response to the recent presidential election in Honduras shows that not much has changed under President Barack Obama.

When military leaders overthrew the democratically elected government of President Manuel Zelaya back in June, the Obama administration responded ambivalently. Obama himself denounced it as coup, but the State Department refused to do so.

As a result, Washington continued to send development and military aid to the country weeks after the military installed the dictatorship.

Then the Obama administration appeared to have brokered a deal to reinstate Zelaya, but when the de facto government declined to follow through, Obama let it slide.

Zelaya and his supporters boycotted the presidential election on Nov. 29. When Porfirio Lobo, one of the wealthiest men in the country, was declared the winner, many Latin American countries refused to recognize the results. And with good reason: There were massive reports of human rights violations before and on election day, in a country under a state of emergency and with the ousted president under siege in the Brazilian Embassy in the Honduran capital.

But the Obama administration called the election “a step forward.”

This looks and smells like traditional U.S. policy toward Latin America. It is a policy that traditionally supports power-hungry elites that control most of the wealth at the expense of the majority of the population.

For decades, Washington has carried out this policy by supporting repressive governments, taking the side of the wealthy in civil wars and rubber-stamping elections marred by rampant civil and human rights violations, repression of the press and military intimidation.

The administration’s approach to the Honduran crisis is not the only disappointing policy direction Obama has taken when it comes to Latin America.

He has maintained the draconian embargo on Cuba, criticized progressive governments in Latin America and cemented ties with the repressive government in Colombia.

But his weak response to the Honduran coup is his worst move yet in the hemisphere, and the Honduran people are paying the price.

The day before the elections, more than 50 heavily armed soldiers and police officers ransacked the office of COMAL (Alternative Community Marketing Network). That’s a network of women who are small farmers. Their crime? Educating local peasants about the current political crisis in Honduras.

On the day of the election, more than 500 unarmed protesters staged a peaceful sit-in in front of tanks and troops — and were attacked with water cannons and gas.

Rule by gunpoint is not democracy — nor is it a step forward.

Ana C. Perez is executive director of the San Francisco-based Central American Resources Center. She wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues.

–McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 4, 2009 A15

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