As in much of the rest of the world, democracy is on the defensive in Latin America, in part because it has few principled defenders. A simple comparison of two ongoing political crises, in Venezuela and Honduras, illustrates the problem. After Venezuela’s populist anti-American government rigged state gubernatorial elections in October, the United States led a campaign of condemnation and stepped up sanctions. But when Honduras’s rightist pro-American president suspiciously reversed what looked like an upset loss in a presidential election a month later, the Trump administration congratulated him.
It was not alone in its hypocrisy; a number of Latin American countries have been critical of Honduras while ignoring the abuses in Venezuela. But as the hemisphere’s oldest and largest democracy, the United States has an obligation to stand up for free and fair elections even when it is not convenient. Not only did it not do so in Honduras, but it also undercut an effort by the Organization of American States (OAS) to document and correct the problems with the vote.
The trouble in the impoverished Central American state began when authorities announced surprising initial results from a Nov. 26 presidential contest: Incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández was trailing challenger Salvador Nasralla with more than half of the vote counted. An upset seemed in the making that would oust Mr. Hernández, who has cooperated with U.S. efforts to control drug trafficking and migrant flows from Honduras. The apparent victor was a television personality backed by a former leftist president.