Fraud in Honduras and the Future of Fair Elections
On Sunday night, one week after the Honduran presidential elections, the streets ring with the clatter of pots and pans and cries of “Out with the dictatorship!” Some groups dare to disobey the government’s curfew and man highway blockades. Among the few allowed out are the soldiers, who patrol the streets with tanks, rifles and tear gas.
Also exempt from the illegal state of siege are the members of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, who have been conspicuous for their absence over the past week. Twice they’ve shut down and frozen the vote count. Since the elections on Nov. 26, they’ve hidden behind their own implausible numbers and discredited procedures. After noting an “irreversible” five-point advantage for Salvador Nasralla, the candidate of the opposition Alliance against the Dictatorship, the tribunal ceased reporting the night of the elections with 57% of the votes counted, and then returned 36 hours later to announce that, miraculously, President Juan Orlando Hernández had taken a narrow lead.
The majority of the population that voted to remove the incumbent from office took to the streets. On Friday, the Tribunal again shut down preliminary results, with Hernandez maintaining the edge. On Dec. 3 the head of the Tribunal David Matamoros announced the final count of 42.98% for the current president and 41.39% for Nasralla, after examining a little over a thousand counts from polling places. The Tribunal still has not declared a winner, saying it has yet to review disputed ballots.
But analysis of the figures reported on the Tribunal’s own website indicates that the irregularities and manipulation go far beyond these 1,000 tallies. The opposition demands an examination of more than 5,000 tally sheets tabulated when the system for reporting preliminary results was supposedly down. International observers from the Organization of American States and the European Union support the demand.
The problem of the legitimacy of the Honduran presidential elections began before voters even went to the polls. The Honduran Constitution prohibits re-election in an immutable article, that is, it is not subject to legislative or judicial modification. However, Hernandez justified his candidacy based on a decision by the court that attempted to supersede the constitution and lacked any type of legal consensus.
Other reports revealed that failure was not an option for JOH, as he is referred to in the Honduran press. The staunch U.S. ally reportedly had a “Plan B” in case his candidacy faltered at the polls. An investigation by The Economist revealed a tape of a training session before the elections led by members of Hernandez’s National Party that included inflating his vote, canceling opposition votes and manipulating poll watchers.
The obvious violations of the law and authoritarian control over electoral rules and bodies led to a debate on the Honduran left, with one side–among them the LIBRE party led by former president Mel Zelaya–participating actively in the elections by forming a coalition to run a centrist candidate, and the other side calling to abstain so as not to legitimate the process. That debate fell by the wayside with the surprise triumph of Nasralla (pollsters, many likely part of the machinations, predicted a handy win for Hernandez). Now demonstrations of tens of thousands of Hondurans demand respect for the vote and the departure of Hernandez. But the president, in the context of a political crisis that could unseat him, has been actively earning his epithet of “dictator”. The dusk-to-dawn curfew, the military occupation of the country since well before the voting, and repression in San Pedro Sula, Villanueva and other places expose the character of a despot willing to do what anything to prevent an electoral defeat he thought he had prevented.
Honduran human rights organizations have issued a flurry of increasingly urgent declarations. Honduran society has changed since the coup d’état in 2009, when, ironically, the military broke the constitutional order with the pretext of preventing then-President Zelaya from holding a referendum to consider, among other issues, the possibility of legalizing re-election. The double standard of the right was lost on no one when the post-coup government went up for re-election.
Eight years later, Honduran society is more organized, more unified and more savvy than before. Grassroots and human rights organizations have organized coalitions, many of which have taken leading roles in the current crisis. The Platform of Social and Popular Movements of Honduras declared its “absolute and categorical rejection of the fraudulent electoral process that seeks to legitimize the continuity of the model of repression and death, led by Juan Orlando Hernández”. The Platform called for “all organizations, villages, communities and municipalities to mobilize against the imposition and the illegal re-election of the military-civil dictatorship headed by JOH.” It also told its communities to be on the alert to defend their territory against militarization and repression, in fear of land grabs amid the chaos.
The National Human Rights Round Table warned, “Honduras is currently experiencing serious democratic setbacks and human rights violations, due to the manipulation of the electoral results of November 26,” and denounced that “the excessive use of force has moved on to terrorism of state “with attacks on peaceful protesters, journalists and media.
One of the questions now is whether the armed forces will turn their rifles against their own people. Doing so in the coup was costly in political terms, although the U.S. government directly rewarded them with millions of dollars in foreign military aid, nearly triple the funds in military aid with respect to the same period before the coup.
The role the Trump government is playing is another incognito. The State Department has maintained silence around the crisis in this country that became a strategic ally after the illegal ousting of the elected president in 2009. The U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa has remained rudderless since June when the ambassador left. In a recent interview, Mel Zelaya stated that the reins of U.S. policy in Honduras are held by the Southern Command, which has been carrying out a “Plan Colombia 2”.
Honduran security forces created and trained by the U.S. – among them, Los Tigres, identified by the human rights organizations as responsible for acts of repression that have left several demonstrators dead, and hundreds wounded and imprisoned.
Prominent Jesuit priest and activist, Ismael Morales, tweeted, “I directly accuse the Embassy of the United States for using its position to support this illegal and fraudulent process. Whatever might happen against our lives and our work to defend human rights will be in large part responsibility of the alliance between the Embassy and the dictatorship that arises.”
The OAS, which sent official observers to the elections, has said very little. In a statement on Sunday, Dec. 3 the organization supported the proposal for a special scrutiny of the thousand ballots and also of the 5000 in dispute. There is strong evidence that members of the OAS delegation witnessed irregularities and instances of fraud, however, they have not issued any statement about the process.
If fraud in Honduras is consummated with the use of the Armed Forces, the support of the Trump government and the silence of international organizations, what can we expect in the future? Honduras already taught us the negative lesson that a coup d’état will be tolerated in the 21st Century world system.
Democracy is not a linear progression. It is an aspiration that requires a constant work, and is shaped by advances and setbacks. If we allow this setback in Honduras, not only will the Honduran people suffer, it will embolden anti-democratic forces around the world. With key elections coming up next year in Colombia, Brazil and Mexico, it’s vitally important not to allow the right to establish a precedent of successful fraud in this Central American nation that has already suffered too much.