Washington Post Gets Honduras Wrong

Manuel Zelaya  (cc photo: Santiago Armas/Presidency of Ecuador)

Manuel Zelaya (cc photo: Santiago Armas/Presidency of Ecuador)

The Washington Post editorial page has never had much good to say about left-wing governments in Latin America. That’s not surprising, given the paper’s political slant. But making up facts in order to bolster your argument is something media outlets are supposed to avoid. 

Today (11/27/13) the Post  gloats over the Honduran election, the results of which they see as a rebuke to left-leaning former President Manuel Zelaya, who was removed from office in a 2009 coup:

Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya styles himself a man of the people. So it must be hard for him to absorb the fact that his people do not actually want him–or his wife, Xiomara–to run their country again. That is what Honduras’ national elections on Sunday proved: Ms. Zelaya, running as a stalking horse for Mr. Zelaya, who is constitutionally prohibited from another term, lost by about five points to conservative Juan Orlando Hernández, who got 34 percent in a multi-candidate field.

What is it that the Post doesn’t like about Manuel Zelaya? It has to do with what the paper says is his record:

As president four years ago, he attempted to stage an illegal referendum so as to gain a second term, which provoked his equally illegal ouster by the military.

That makes his coup sound like a both-sides-were-wrong matter. But the Post isn’t getting the story right; Zelaya’s referendum wasn’t a sneaky attempt to prolong his term. As Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic & Policy Research  (L.A. Times, 7/23/09) pointed out:

Zelaya’s referendum, planned for the day the coup took place, was a nonbinding poll. It only asked voters if they wanted to have an actual referendum on reforming the country’s Constitution on the November ballot. Even if Zelaya had gotten everything he was looking for, a new president would have been elected on the same November ballot.

So Zelaya would be out of office in January, no matter what steps were taken toward constitutional reform.

All right, so the Post doesn’t get the facts right about the coup against Zelaya. But they have a case for not liking him this time around, too. According to the paper, in the face of electoral defeat 

the Zelayas cried fraud, despite a unanimous verdict to the contrary from international and Honduran election observers, and called their supporters into the streets. 

Actually, there’s no such unanimous verdict. 

The National Lawyers Guild, for instance, issued a preliminary statement (CEPR, 11/25/13) that warned against drawing any hasty conclusions about the outcome :

The NLG International Committee wants to alert our members and other interested parties that US media and government reports of a free, fair and transparent election in Honduras are premature and inappropriate. Such unsupported claims will only exacerbate tensions in a country that recently suffered a coup, followed by massive attacks on human rights defenders, opposition party candidates and activists that continue to this moment. Honduras has a flawed electoral system with many deficiencies, including control of the process by political parties, unregulated and undisclosed campaign financing, and inadequate resources, training and voting facilities that disadvantage poor communities. In addition, Honduran electoral law provides for no run-off election. Without a runoff election in which a majority of voters choose leadership, the electoral aspirations of two-thirds of Honduran voters who voted for change are frustrated, and the winner of a mere plurality is denied a real mandate.

There are still questions about the vote; the government’s electoral council announced that Hernandez had an “irreversible” lead, even though less than 70 percent of the votes had been counted (AP, 11/26/13). The AP also reported that the 

announcement came after an unexplained, hours-long lull in the release of vote updates during the day. The major candidates also disappeared from public view amid reports of meetings between the political parties. Neither election officials nor the parties offered any comment about the delay in returns.

And there have been other accounts (Real News, 11/26/13) of irregularities and intimidation. That the Washington Post editorial page would describe this as a “unanimous verdict” that the election was free of fraud tells you all you need to know about the Post‘s reliability when it comes to discussing its south-of-the-border adversaries.


About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.