Hundreds in L.A. protest -- and participate in -- Honduras’ presidential election


While Honduras’ de facto government observed elections more than 2,000 miles away on Sunday, Honduran citizens in Los Angeles headed to a local school to make their voices heard -- one way or another.

Inside the Evans Community Adult School downtown, dozens of poll workers representing various political parties manned ballot stations. Across the street, protesters denounced what they called a fraudulent vote and urged a boycott.

The presidential elections, which take place every four years, have been a source of tension since President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a coup June 28 and deported to Costa Rica. Zelaya’s shift to the left had raised the ire of opponents who accused him of planning to remain in power beyond his term. Months of international efforts failed to reinstate him, and the U.S. has said it is prepared to recognize the outcome of Sunday’s vote. Several other countries have said they will not.

A Census Bureau survey estimates half a million Hondurans live in the United States -- more than 40,000 of them in Los Angeles County. They have been able to vote from abroad since 2001. In addition to Los Angeles, polling stations were set up in Houston, New Orleans, Miami, Washington, D.C., and New York City.

About 3,000 people in the Los Angeles area registered for a national identification card, which is required to vote, before the election. Representatives of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal who supervise the election on behalf of their political parties said at least 500 people had cast ballots by midday. But a few who went to the polls said they did so only to pick up the card, which also can be used to obtain travel papers and to conduct business in Honduras.

Outside the school, protesters like Suyapa Portillo, 35, of South Pasadena carried banners and shouted slogans denouncing the coup and urging people not to vote.

“If President Obama recognizes these elections he is legitimizing a violent coup, and anyone in the world can kidnap a president and take him to another city,” Portillo said.

Protesters called for a dialogue among political parties and Zelaya supporters that would lead to elections in the future.

But some who cast votes Sunday said the election would move the country toward resolution of the current crisis.

“I came here to fulfill my obligation as a citizen of Honduras,” said Teodorico Sierra, 69, of Los Angeles. “Anyone who wants to have a democratic government should participate through a political party, not like that,” he said, pointing at the protesters.

In front of the school, representatives of Honduran political parties handed out posters, stickers and doughnuts to prospective voters.

“We all want democracy,” said Martha Mena, 21, of Hollywood as she worked a table for the conservative National Party, which is backing Porfirio Lobo, 61, a wealthy landowner who was one of two front-runners going into the election. Elvin Santos, 46, of the Liberal Party, was the other.

The coup “probably wasn’t the best way,” said Mena. “But I believe we did it out of fear. Because we did not want our country going in that direction. We don’t want to be like Cuba.”