ESTORIL, Portugal (Reuters) - Latin American leaders were split on Monday over whether to recognize the election in Honduras, with larger countries saying failing to condemn the vote could destabilize the region.
Opponents of the election said it was illegitimate because it was backed by military leaders of a coup that ousted leftist President Manuel Zelaya in June and could end chances for Zelaya to return to power and complete his term, which ends in January.
If the leaders at the Ibero-American summit being held in Portugal were to agree to condemn Sunday’s vote, won by opposition candidate Porfirio Lobo, it could put them at odds with Washington.
The State Department said the vote had met international standards of fairness and Washington “recognized the results,” which meant Lobo would be the country’s next president. It said the election was a significant but not sufficient step in efforts to restore democracy in Honduras.
Diplomatic heavyweight Brazil condemned Sunday’s vote even before the results were known, as did Argentina and Venezuela, while Colombia and some smaller states, including Panama and Costa Rica, supported the process.
Summit host Portugal conceded the issue was causing rifts.
“There are problems in promoting a consensus and a declaration on the Honduras situation,” said Foreign Minister Luis Amado. “There are divergent positions over the political situation in Honduras and the impact of the elections.”
A declaration is expected on Tuesday — the last day of the summit.
“It (the election) is not legitimate,” said Marco Aurelio Garcia, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s foreign policy adviser. “We don’t recognize the elections.”
Lula said as he arrived in Portugal on Sunday that supporting the election could encourage other “adventurers” to stage coups in Latin America.
Patricia Rodas, ex-foreign minister in Zelaya’s government, said during the summit the elections were “an attempt to whitewash a military coup” and that they “did not take place under constitutional conditions.”
“The Honduran people responded with an abstention rate of over 65 percent ... The people manifested their democratic vocation by not participating in the process,” she said.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who has close ties with the United States, said he congratulated Lobo on his victory. “Colombia recognizes the new government and there has been a democratic process in Honduras with high participation.”
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias told reporters his government would support the election if there were no accusations of fraud coming from international observers.
“To not recognize the electoral process and the government would be to cause much damage to the Honduran people, who do not deserve it,” he said, adding that the nation — one of the continent’s poorest — has become even more impoverished after the coup and violence that followed.
Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said the election could not be ignored. “We don’t recognize but nor do we disregard the election,” he told reporters.
Portugal’s main union CGTP, other unions and rights groups addressed the leaders in an open “Statement from the Portuguese People,” urging them to take a unified stance and not recognize “these fraudulent elections and the powers they produce.”
Zelaya could not run in the election. He has camped out in the Brazilian embassy since he slipped back to Honduras from exile in September.
Additional reporting by Paul Day, Sergio Goncalves, Axel Bugge and Andrei Khalip; Editing by Alison Williams