By Emile Schepers
As many feared, the aftermath of the fraudulent Honduran election of November 26 has now degenerated into harsh repression and violent death. Opposition to the corrupt right-wing regime of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, of the National Party, has boiled up as it has become obvious that an effort is underway to steal the election.
It was originally expected that Hernandez, a close U.S. ally, would win reelection easily, but as the first vote tally, announced November 28, showed a solid lead for Salvador Nasralla, the candidate of the center-left Alliance of Opposition to the [Hernandez] Dictatorship (Alianza de Oposición Contra la Dictadura). The largest party in the Alliance is LIBRE (Liberty and Refoundation Party), which is left wing and headed by former President Manual Zelaya, who was overthrown in a military coup d’etat in June, 2009. The Alliance also includes the smaller Innovation and Unity Party.
Nasralla is supported by the left, although he is not himself a leftist. A win by him could evidently not be tolerated by the powers that be in Honduras. The National Party’s operatives control all three branches of government in this impoverished and violence-wracked Central American country. The US administration was bent on keeping the present president in power.
Hernandez is running for reelection in what many see as a blatant violation of the Honduran constitution, which like that of Mexico and a number of other Latin American countries, does not permit re-election of the president. To deal with that little problem Hernandez, who was elected in 2013 in an election that was also plagued by charges of fraud worked with his allies in Congress to oust four Supreme Court judges. He then appointed new ones who were his supporters, and they subsequently ruled that the clause in the constitution that prevents re-election is itself unconstitutional.
The Hernandez regime has been characterized by many forms of misrule, including corruption. A big chunk of the budget of the Social Security Institute was diverted into Hernandez’s National Party in a scheme involving Hernandez’ own sister. Hernandez has also been linked, directly and through his brother and his national security chief, to the international drug trade. On the latter score, if he were to be ousted from the presidency, he might face criminal charges and even possible extradition to the United States to face trial, as has happened to some people in his circle.
Hernandez and the people he works with have been ruthless in suppressing opposition. The police force is highly militarized, and has a reputation for corruption and violence. Since the 2009 coup that brought the National Party to power, there have been scores of murders of social justice activists and journalists. The case of Berta Cáceres, a Lenca indigenous environmental defender, is one of many such. The murderers of Cáceres have still not been prosecuted; there are strong indications that security forces were involved. Under the post-coup regimes, Honduras has become one of the most violent countries in the world.
The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), the body charged with carrying out elections and counting the vote, is controlled by Hernandez’s allies. The chief magistrate of the TSE, David Matamoros Batson, is the former head of Hernandez’ National Party, which controls the electoral body. The left wing LIBRE Party is not represented in the TSE, but one of the alternate members of the body, Marcos Ramiro Lobo Rosales, from the Liberal Party, caused consternation in government ranks when he announced that Nasralla’s lead in early vote totals was irreversible. Subsequently, the presidential candidate of the Liberal Party, Luis Zelaya (no relation) said basically the same, and called for Hernandez to recognize that Nasralla had won.
After the initial tallies showed Nasralla ahead, the announcement of vote totals suddenly stopped, and only started trickling out days later. The delay, according to TSE head Matamoros, was caused by computer failures. But, in fact, all the election results had been sent in to the TSE shortly after the elections finished, so it is hard to see how this could be true. Noting Nasralla’s lead, Hernandez said that when votes came in from rural regions, he would be revealed as the winner. This strange statement fueled the growing suspicion that massive electoral fraud was afoot.
And sure enough, the subsequent vote tallies showed Hernandez inching ahead of Nasralla. The opposition pointed out serious irregularities, including numerous tally sheets that had not been signed by local election officials, as required by law.
Matamoros stated that the results would be announced November 29, then postponed this until December 2 which came and went without any announcement of final results. Meanwhile, the opposition was mounting protests to demand, first, that there be a total recount and now that there be a new election. Street protests began, and were countered by increasing violence from the militarized security forces.
On December 1, the government announced a “state of exception,” similar to martial law, for the whole country, to last ten days. Freedom of movement will be curtailed, protests prohibited and a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew imposed on the population. There are hints of press and media restrictions.
But protests have been mounting, eliciting a violent government response. Early on December 2, a 19 year old woman, Kimberley Dayana Fonseca, was gunned down by police according to witnesses. Another death has also been reported as well as more violence and numerous arrests. Some sources were reporting at least six fatalities as of December 3.
Besides the electoral opposition, human rights groups in Honduras and beyond are speaking out against the renewed repression and the electoral fraud. The Honduran Mesa de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Roundtable) denounced Hernandez’s candidacy as illegal in the first place, and also denounced the ongoing repression. In the United States, the Alliance for Global Justice and the faith-based Latin American Working Group both posted action notices on their websites calling for people in the United States to strongly protest the situation and to contact their elected officials to demand no U.S. support for the illegitimate and violent Hernandez regime.
But what will be the attitude of the Trump administration? The signs are ominous. For many decades and even under the Obama administration, Honduras has been seen as a key regional ally of the United States. U.S. military bases and personnel in Honduras have worked for many years with Honduran political and military leaders to control the Central American area and beyond. (IPA Service)
The writer, a veteran rights activist, is a regular contributor to the “People’s World” daily.