Sunday, November 29, 2009

Honduras - So Much Drama!

Honduras voting for new president

Posters of Porfirio Lobo in a street in Honduras
Porfirio Lobo is considered the favourite to win

Presidential elections are under way in Honduras, five months after a political crisis ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

He was forced from Honduras at gunpoint in June, and replaced by Roberto Micheletti. Neither are candidates.

The favourite to win is conservative Porfirio Lobo from the National Party, and Elvin Santos from the Liberal Party is considered his nearest rival.

Mr Zelaya has called for a boycott of the election. Voting began at 0700 (1300 GMT) and will last nine hours.

Mr Lobo, 61, narrowly lost to Mr Zelaya in 2005, and Mr Santos, 46, was previously Mr Zelaya's vice president in the divided Liberal Party.

About 30,000 soldiers and police are to provide security for the elections, but many fear violence could erupt.

The political crisis and election have divided the region, with the US indicating it would endorse the result if the elections are deemed "free and fair".

Costa Rica, which has long been the mediator between the two sides in this crisis, has said likewise, but other Latin American countries have opposed the vote.

Argentina and Brazil have said they will not recognise any government installed after the election, arguing that to do so would legitimise the coup which ousted an elected president, and thus set a dangerous precedent.

The main regional grouping, the Organisation of American States, has declined to send an observer mission.

BBC correspondent Stephen Gibbs in the capital Tegucigalpa says that while supporters of Mr Zelaya are watching events with dismay, many Hondurans are expressing optimism that an end to the country's political crisis is in sight.

Congress is due to vote on Mr Zelaya's reinstatement on 2 December. His term ends on 27 January.

Mr Micheletti temporarily stepped down from office - for a week until 2 December - to allow the elections to proceed "peacefully and transparently", his spokesman said.

Mr Zelaya was forced into exile on 28 June after trying to hold a vote on whether a constituent assembly should be set up to look at rewriting the constitution.

His critics said the vote, which was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court, aimed to remove the current one-term limit on serving as president and pave the way for his possible re-election.

Mr Zelaya has repeatedly denied this and some commentators say it would have been impossible to change the constitution before his term in office was up.

He sneaked back into the country in September and has been living in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Another country that I have been passionate about is Honduras. Last March, I traveled to Honduras on a medical mission trip. Soon after, the coup of the president made me realize the politics in this beautiful country was not quite as peaceful as I had imagined.

It will be very interesting to observe the elections in Honduras as it progresses!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Back Home

Well, it has been a few weeks since I returned from South Africa and Mozambique. After catching up a little bit with school, going to Chicago for the Federal Reserve Challenge, and taking a few midterms, I think I can finally reflect on my incredible experiences.

First, the opportunity to interview a former president of any country is something that is pretty unique. Former President Chissano's interview regarding his country's progress towards democracy is something that not too many people can say that they did. And I am very honored to have been a part of the experience.

The presidential election observing was the most profound when I was able to interview voters while they were waiting in line. The lines were pretty long and it was warm, but everybody was in order and patient. The most significant thing was that everybody that I spoke to was proud of their country's movement toward democracy and multi-party elections, but many also expressed hope for something better in the future. They recognized that the 2009 elections were not necessarily the best model, but they realized this flaw. The notion that the younger generation is pushing for MDM and the older generation is pushing for Frelimo may be true, but from my interviews, I got the message that Frelimo is preferred because people are afraid of change. They are nervous about a completely new party coming into office without having any experience. Well, of course they don't have experience...because the ruling party will go out of its way (plaster the city with Guebuza posters, fly in helicopters, spend incredible amounts of money on their campaign) in order to prevent any other party from having any experience.

What really made me realize the impact of Frelimo in Mozambique is the fact that everybody was censoring what they were saying about Frelimo when they were talking to us. Ministry officials even refused to talk to know, probably because they will lose their jobs if anybody high in office heard about it. I wonder if there are any Mozambican "Will Ferrells" doing SNL sketches mocking President Guebuza? Probably not...

I truly hope that Mozambique is able to prosper and let their people have their say in government and have the ability to speak freely in their country. After seeing the election results and the breakdown of representatives within each of the provinces, I am not too sure how this is going to happen, but there is always hope.

So, what did I bring back??? Certainly, not a lot of souvenirs because 1) My luggage couldn't handle a 35 pound wood carving of a hippopotamus 2) I am a horrible shopper/barterer. (Michelle snatched about 10 canvas paintings when I only got 3....for the same price).
I did bring back some pretty cool things though. First would be some very neat friends. Meeting people and sharing adventures with them has formed a very quick bond between all of us and it is pretty exciting. As Sumate said on the first day we met, "we're all family". The second thing that I gained was inspiration and an increased confirmation of what I want to do with my life after medical school. I know that has always been a calling for me to serve others, but I was unsure of where I was supposed to go. The more I listen to the clues though, I have a greater sense of where that "where" is supposed to be.