U.S. follows Mexico in backing disputed Honduran vote result

WASHINGTON/TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday followed Mexico in signaling that Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez had won a heavily disputed presidential election last month, lending weight to his legitimacy in spite of ongoing opposition protests.

Slideshow ( 3 images )

The Honduran electoral tribunal at the weekend declared U.S. ally Hernandez the winner of the Nov. 26 election in spite of widespread misgivings about the count, which turned in favor of the incumbent after suddenly halting with the opposition ahead.

Violent protests have broken out in Honduras over the vote, and the Organization of American States (OAS) urged the country to hold new elections to resolve the dispute. That proposal has, however, been rejected by senior Honduran officials.

Hernandez’s rival Salvador Nasralla traveled to Washington this week to urge the United States not to recognize the vote, but a senior U.S. State Department official said that his government had no evidence that would alter the results.

“At this point ... we have not seen anything that alters the final result,” the official told reporters, saying Washington may wait to make a definitive judgment in case the opposition presents additional evidence of fraud in the election.

Mexico on Tuesday congratulated Hernandez for being declared victor. Mexico’s step, which followed the recognition of Hernandez by Colombia and Guatemala, strengthened the incumbent’s hand and could tilt other countries in his favor.

“The Mexican statement, and its review, indicates that a call for a new election is a pretty dramatic outcome in this case,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Washington may hold off on making a final judgment until the end of a five-day period when the opposition can produce further evidence to contest the results, the official added.

He said a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state met with Nasralla, who has accused Hernandez of stealing the election.

“He did not have any new (allegations of) fraud (or) evidence to present to us, and I think we are going to work through this quickly to get to a definitive U.S. statement, he added.

“The Mexican statement is going to have a strong influence on whether we think we can move forward sooner. The Mexicans seem pretty certain in their statement.”

Hernandez on Wednesday named a new head of the armed forces, Rene Orlando Ponce, who quickly indicated on local radio that solving the impasse would be for Honduras alone. “We’re not going to accept any interference beyond Honduran law,” he said.

Reporting by Arshad Mohammad in Washington; Writing by Makini Brice and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and James Dalgleish