"What's the big deal in Honduras? It was only a poll."
Many pundits do not understand why there was such a big deal made over Honduran ex-President Mel Zelaya's campaign to have vote on whether to change the constitution. He variously called it a referendum, a non-binding referendum, or an opinion poll. The problem is that outsiders are looking at this from the standpoint of the way things work in the US, Canada, and other countries.
For the past several months, Zelaya has been told that the vote was illegal, by the election officials, by the state attorney, by the congress, and finally by the supreme court of Honduras. I watched him myself on the state propaganda channel the day before the election.
He ridiculed the Supreme Court, calling them "the Supreme Court of Injustice", saying that they didn't know what they were talking about, that it wasn't unconstitutional. He ignored the congress and the Attorney General and said that they should be 'obedient.'
Zelaya's words were, "No one will stop the encuesta (poll). Only God or the Virgin Suyapa can stop it." He also joked about the order that had been issued by the Attorney General, saying that "They know where I am − I'm not afraid of them."
You have to understand that corruption plays a huge part in all elections in Honduras. From cash payments before the vote to manipulation of the final results, there is corruption all along the way.
Mel Zelaya even admitted that he won the presidency (by a very small margin) through corruption and that it is part of the game. Chávez won his election through fraud as well. Academics from Harvard and MIT and the IADB placed the chances of a clean vote in Venezuela at 1 in 100. Blessings from Jimmy Carter and OAS election observers only serve to legitimatize election fraud. Zelaya was taking a page from Chávez's book.
Regardless of what you would like to call it or whether you think it was legal to do so or not, the thing was rigged from the beginning.
Zelaya was using millions of dollars of the country's budget as well as money from Hugo Chávez in Venezuela to promote the vote. Voters were being paid to vote, as is the custom. Government workers were being threatened with their jobs. People were being denied admittance to public hospitals. Deals were made with union leaders. He was collecting "absentee" votes in advance. L.40 million in cash was withdrawn from the Central Bank of Honduras four days before the election to be used to pay voters. Zelaya, backed by Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, developed the idea (or vice versa).
For months, he promoted the election all over the country with vague promises of "more democracy". He made payments of $20 or $50, and a cell phone in small towns all over Honduras in return for a vote. He used the national TV station politically to promote this issue 24 hours per day. He had the ballots printed and they were delivered in a Venezuelan plane. He and a gang forcefully took control of the boxes of ballots. He was going to distribute the ballots. He was going to supervise the voting locations and he was going to count the votes. Then, once the result was announced, he was going to pick the members of the committee to change the constitution. Please! What kind of election is that?
No details were given on the ballots or even in the months of publicity as to what exactly needed to be changed. We watched dozens of hours of Honduras propaganda TV just to try to understand what was going on. I never, ever heard him say what he thought was wrong with the constitution other than it was "too old" (27 years). What he was asking for was a blank check to rewrite the constitution to suit himself. In fact, rumor has it that a draft Honduran constitution has already been written in Venezuela.
It was rumored that he had already collected more yes votes than the number of people who had voted in the May primary elections for both major political parties. The results of this vote was decided long ago. Many citizens recommended staying away from the polls to protest the sham that it was.
Long before the coup, ordinary citizens were protesting the cuarta urna (fourth ballot box), both individually and in large protests. They saw the money that was being spent on publicity. They saw their government officials campaigning for the cuarta urna when they should have had other priorities, like crime, unemployment, education, health care, and a myriad of other things which are much more important to citizens.
Even with attendance payments, crowds showing up for Mel's Cuarta Urna 'shows' were small. The photo at right shows one of the anti-cuarta urna/pro peace and democracy marches that took place on June 3 and 5.
If Zelaya had been allowed to hold an unregulated, unauthorized, non-binding public "opinion poll", who could object to the results later? Wouldn't that have been seen as going against the wishes of the public? It was a brilliant trap.
We watched Zelaya's propaganda channel for weeks prior to June 28. On Saturday, we watched Zelaya until the wee hours of the morning because we knew something historic was about to happen. We didn't know what, but we knew that the pot was going to boil over.