TEGUCIGALPA - Honduras' disputed presidential election is likely to set Washington against emerging Latin American power Brazil over whether to recognize the winner of a vote promoted by the leaders of a June coup.
Conservative opposition leader Porfirio Lobo easily won the election on Sunday, but he will struggle to get recognition in Latin America where many leftist governments see the election as a nail in the coffin of ousted President Manuel Zelaya.
The United States has tried and failed to have Zelaya, a leftist, reinstated and now looks resigned to backing the election as the best way for Honduras' to get out of political gridlock and diplomatic isolation.
The State Department called the vote a necessary and important step forward after results came in on Sunday but did not say whether Washington would explicitly recognize Lobo's victory over ruling party candidate Elvin Santos.
Brazil, which is increasingly flexing its muscles as its economy becomes more powerful, refuses to recognize the vote.
Brazil will maintain its position because it's not possible to accept a coup, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Sunday.
Zelaya has taken refuge in the Brazilian Embassy in the Honduran capital, putting Brazil at the heart of a crisis in a region where the United States has long been dominant.
Washington supported coups and right-wing governments fighting civil wars against Cuban and Soviet-backed leftist guerrillas in Central America during the Cold War.
Today, millions of Central American immigrants to the United States send home money that is vital to the economies of countries like Honduras and El Salvador. Honduras is the second largest coffee producer in Central America.
Although the crisis has not affected Honduran coffee production, it is threatening U.S. President Barack Obama's attempts to turn a new page with Latin America, where leftist governments are in the majority.
Argentina and Venezuela also oppose the Honduran election, but Panama, Peru and Costa Rica have said they back the vote.
Lobo declared victory after electoral authorities gave him an almost unassailable lead with 55 percent of the vote, compared to 38 percent for Santos who conceded defeat.
A conservative landowner, Lobo said he would ask other countries to give him recognition.
We are prepared to approach them and ask them to understand that there is a government which was elected, that it is the precise will of Hondurans at the ballot box, that it is a democracy and we should all respect the leadership of countries, he said.
Lobo, 61, has also called on the international community to resume aid that was blocked in retaliation for the coup.
Due to take office in January, he must now decide what to do with Zelaya. He could try to negotiate a form of political amnesty for the deposed leader and the main players in the coup in a bid to unite the deeply divided nation.
Soldiers grabbed Zelaya from his home on June 28 and forced him into exile, sparking Central America's biggest political crisis since the end of the Cold War.
Neither Zelaya nor his arch-rival, Roberto Micheletti, who was installed as interim president by Congress after he coup, took part in the presidential election.
(Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Paul Simao)