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Honduran Election Day in US: A Recipe for Fraud?

November 17, 2009

Laitano recently learned that the identification card she once used to vote was no longer valid; she needed to register with an electoral tribunal and the deadline had passed.

 

But rather than have citizens submit them (ballots) at their local consulate, the Honduran elections council says it will collect the votes independently.

“The consulate has nothing to do with the electoral process,” Carlos Romero, director of Honduras’ Supreme Tribunal of Elections, said by telephone.

 

Honduras’ crisis brings South Florida election showdown

Divisions over Honduras’ political future are evident not only in the Central American country but also in South Florida as legal issues arise over elections.

 

BY TRENTON DANIEL

tdaniel@MiamiHerald.com

 

Editor’s Note: This story is part of an occasional series appearing in The Herald in the lead-up to Honduras’ Nov. 29 national elections.

 

Honduras’ chief diplomat in Miami flips to page 117 of his nation’s election manual and insists that his fellow countrymen living here must vote for their new president at the consulate in South Florida.

In Tegucigalpa, more than 900 miles away, government officials say Fernando Agurcia is wrong. His consulate no longer has the authority to organize elections outside the country.

 

“Right now, we’re on standby,” Agurcia said. “Not knowing what is going to happen has been very stressful.”

 

Hondurans may go to the polls on Nov. 29 with hopes of resolving the 20-week-old presidential crisis that was triggered by President Manuel Zelaya’s sudden ouster in a military coup.

 

Yet, for the half-million Honduran citizens living in the United States, 61,000 of them in South Florida, a new crisis is brewing over where they will vote, and how.

 

That’s because Agurcia was appointed by Zelaya. A framed photo of the toppled populist hung prominently in the consul general’s West Miami-Dade office where he defended his authority to administer the Nov. 29 balloting.

 

But the interim government of Roberto Micheletti, shunned by the Obama administration and Organization of American States, ordered Zelaya’s diplomats out. The U.S. State Department told him to stay.

 

The showdown in South Florida may not be a tipping point on the magnitude of the 2000 Bush-Gore elections that hung on dimpled chads and butterfly ballots.

 

Still, it is rattling nerves in particular here because the more outspoken Hondurans support Micheletti and his coup — and don’t want to vote in a process administered by a Zelaya ally.

 

In the months since Zelaya’s June 28 ouster, South Florida’s small Honduran community has united around a mutual concern for the political future back home. Activists, some for the first time, organized barbecue fundraisers for presidential candidates, voter registration drives and rallies.

 

OTHER CONSULATES

 

Beyond Miami, Hondurans will be invited to vote in Chicago, Houston, New Orleans, New York, and Washington, D.C. — all cities with Honduran consulates.

 

In 2005, when the last presidential election was held in Honduras, that nation shipped 11,000 ballots to the U.S. Only 990 votes were cast. This year, Tegucigalpa has sent 18,000 ballots based on registration.

 

But rather than have citizens submit them at their local consulate, the Honduran elections council says it will collect the votes independently.

 

“The consulate has nothing to do with the electoral process,” Carlos Romero, director of Honduras’ Supreme Tribunal of Elections, said by telephone.

 

Romero points to congress’ revisions to the electoral law in February 2008 that eliminated the need for a consul general to oversee the voting sites.

 

Here in the United States, the electoral council will set up a five-member commission — made up of representatives from each of Honduras’ political parties, Romero said. Each city has until Nov. 20 to report a voting site back to Honduras.

 

In Miami, the committee has chosen the Polish American Club at 1250 NW 22nd Ave. — not the consulate — but has not yet formally reported that site to Tegucigalpa.

 

“It’s strange to me,” Agurcia said. “They say they are following the law. It is against the law to do the elections outside the consulate general.”

 

UNCERTAINTY

 

The uncertainty has left local Hondurans worried about whether they’ll be able to cast their ballots.

 

“There’s a lot of confusion among Hondurans because we are going through a terrible situation back home,” said Miriam Laitano, 48, owner of a Honduras shipping company on Flagler Street.

 

Laitano recently learned that the identification card she once used to vote was no longer valid; she needed to register with an electoral tribunal and the deadline had passed.

 

SEVERED TIES

 

Some direct their frustration toward the consul, which is not granting passports or travel visas because of severed relations with Tegucigalpa.

 

“It’s a mess — they don’t help anybody,” said Rosemary Pell, 60, an insurance agent and activist with the anti-Zelaya group Alliance for Honduras.

 

Still, concerns over Honduras’ immediate future are evident throughout what may be the closest thing to Little Honduras, an east Flagler neighborhood rife with bodegas, cafés, shipping businesses and restaurants. Blue flags with five stars abound.

 

The owner of Los Paisanos restaurant on Flagler has hosted voter registration drives.

 

A flier is taped to the front window: Salvemos a Honduras — We Will Save Honduras.

 

“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” said the owners’ son, Javier Pavón. “I just hope the elections go through.”

 

Miami Herald staff writer Laura Figueroa contributed to this report.”

 

 

 

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