Did you know the Atlantic coast of Honduras features miles of stunning undeveloped beaches frequented only by local villagers? Or that its Mayan ruins at Copán are as haunting and spectacular as what you’d find in Guatemala or southern Mexico?

Maybe that sounds enticing, but Honduras isn’t drawing the waves of tourists Costa Rica has lured. And that’s not just because its food is lackluster. Honduras is experiencing the worst political turmoil in Latin America–thanks in part to the Obama administration’s embrace of a regrettable U.S. foreign policy tradition.

This tradition involves making a fuss about democratic processes when Latin American leaders attempt to help the impoverished majority, empathizing with arch-conservatives when they oust those leaders, pretending the ensuing elections staged by the arch-conservatives are “free and fair,” and ignoring the bloody aftermath.

Here’s a snapshot of Honduras’ astounding recent history:

  • June 28, 2009: Masked soldiers drag Honduran President Manuel Zelaya into a plane headed out of the country. In his pajamas. Months of dramatic mobilization and repression ensue, during which Zelaya manages to sneak back and hole up for weeks in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa.
  • Nov. 29, 2009: Porfirio Lobo wins elections boycotted by Zelaya’s supporters and shunned by observers from the European Union and the Organization of American States (OAS), which expelled Honduras from its organization after the coup.
  • Jan. 28, 2010: Lobo is sworn in.
  • July 29, 2010: Human Rights Watch issues a report decrying the rampant murders of Honduran journalists and other abuses in the first six months of Lobo’s government.

In one of the report’s damning examples, José Oswaldo Martínez, a journalist with Radio Uno in San Pedro Sula, said he “had received repeated death threats in phone calls, text messages, and emails, including one in July that said: ‘Because you won’t stop talking about that dog Zelaya, we are going to shut your mouth with a bullet.'”

Things are just getting worse. In August, the National Autonomous University of Honduras “turned into a battlefield between students and repressive forces, who beat, gassed, tortured and captured students at the request of university authorities,” according to the Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras, known as COFADEH. The university “has become a military and police state,” writes Juan Almendares, its former rector.

In addition to the eight journalists killed in the first six months after Lobo was sworn in, several more have since died or suffered savage beatings, according to COFADEH, which has joined several organizations to form a coalition called the Human Rights Platform of Honduras. Almendares and other representatives of this coalition will come to Washington in October to receive the Letelier-Moffitt international award at an annual ceremony where my organization, the Institute for Policy Studies, celebrates human rights heroes.

Despite the horrors that have taken place in Honduras, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insists that Lobo’s election was “free and fair,” and demands that the Organization of American States let the country rejoin that democracies-only club.

Her callous response won’t work in light of Latin America’s recent transformation. In the dark days when dictators ruled much of Latin America, the OAS wouldn’t have made any fuss. Today, however, the region’s democracies are thriving. Most of their economies have also diversified and become far less dependent on the United States as an export market. They’re standing up for Honduras because that’s what they’d expect their neighbors to do if the same thing happened in their country.

And Hondurans are also standing up for themselves. The Human Rights Platform of Honduras established an independent Truth Commission to investigate human rights violations that have occurred since the coup. Exposing the truth about the brutality going on in Honduras, coupled with courageous street heat, may go a long way toward halting this madness.

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Emily Schwartz Greco

Emily Schwartz Greco is the OtherWords managing editor and the op-ed manager at the Institute for Policy Studies. www.ips-dc.org Manuel Pérez-Rocha provided research assistance for this commentary.

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