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Mantecan serving as Honduran vote observer
Mark Oliver, a past district governor for Rotary, stands in front of a Maple Avenue mural depicting Rotary service around the world. - photo by DENNIS WYATT
Mark Oliver has insured many things over his life – cars, houses, and businesses.

Come Sunday the Manteca insurance agent and former mayor is going to help insure something even more valuable: A fair election for the people of Honduras.

Oliver was invited to Honduras to serve as part of the corps of impartial international observers for Sunday’s presidential elections. The observers are charged with helping make sure Honduran election laws are followed.

Participation is high in elections since Honduras only became a democracy late in the 20th century.

Oliver noted that foreign powers are at odds with the current government after then President Manuel Zelaya ordered a non-binding referendum  on June 28 on whether to have a fourth ballot box in this Sunday’s election if they wished to form a constitutional assembly along with electing a new president at the same time.

The Supreme Court ruled the president didn’t have the power to order such a vote but the president went ahead and did so anyway. Zelaya dismissed the head of the military command for refusing his order to hold the vote. The high court then ordered General Romero Vasquez’s reinstatement and then instructed the military to arrest Zelaya.

Oliver noted that despite foreign protests, the Supreme Court’s ruling on the election was based on the Honduran constitution. After that point, however, there is controversy in Honduras whether the court could order the military to arrest Zelaya.

Although he was not selected because he is a Rotarian, the path that led Oliver to the honor of helping make sure the basic tenets of a democracy – a fair vote and correct tabulation of the results - are followed in the Central American nation started with a service project involving the Manteca Noon Rotary Club.

The local Rotarians under the leadership of member Ricardo Cuevas, a Manteca dentist and native of Honduras, was preparing to undertake an international project involving the local Rotary district and the one governing the Central American country. Then Hurricane Mitch hit in 1998 delivering a devastating punch to much of the country.

That led to the Manteca Rotary Club securing a $470,000 grant from Rotary International.  The original project was to provide dental services to the poor. Since then however, Rotarians from this area with the help of members who are optometrists including Fred Stellhorn of Manteca and Dave Gallagher of Modesto – have examined Hondurans in the Marcala area with vision problems and provided 30,000 of them with recycled eye glasses matching their prescription needs.

Rotarians also built 40 homes, arranged for medical supplies that drastically reduced the cost of doctor visits for rural poor in one section of the country, put in place local water systems, and conducted dental clinics among a number of other outreach projects.

Oliver has taken more than 30 trips to Honduras where he has become fast friends with a number of people. It is one of those friendships that got him nominated to serve as an international observer Sunday.

“A number of Hondurans we have developed friendships with have visited Manteca as well,” Oliver noted.