Tension is Rising in Honduras, as Election Standoff Continues


December 27, 2017

Picture: Supporters of opposition presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla march in protest for what they call electoral fraud in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Dec. 3, 2017 – Credit: AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

Mainly outside the scope of the mainstream media, tension has been rising in Honduras, over the 26th of November election results. Most recently, the United States of America have recognized the re-election of Honduran President Hernández, despite massive allegations of fraud. What do you need to know about the developments in the central-American country?

November 2017 Elections

Juan Orlando Hernandez, who became the country’s President in 2012, has not been famous for his stunning human rights record. Several journalists and human rights activists have been killed over the last couple of years, almost always with impunity. Where the Honduran Constitution strictly allows Presidential candidates to only one term in office, those rules were declared “inapplicable” to Hernandez by the Supreme Court in 2015, paving the way for his reelection bid for the 2017 race.

Despite the ruling National Party’s abuse of public resources, the electoral campaign offered Honduran citizens several alternatives for President. The opposition, however, was heavily divided between the center-right Liberal Party and the center-left Opposition Alliance. It was therefore a huge surprise when, with nearly 60% of the votes counted, Salvador Nasralla led by five percentage points. One of the magistrates on the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, called his win “irreversible,” and Liberal candidate Luis Zelaya publicly recognized Nasralla with his victory.

Then, the ruling party’s authoritarian forces started working, and after a 24-hour radio silence, the electoral council announced Hernandez as the winner. This dubious shift triggered accusations of fraud and, subsequently, street protests. As the authorities cracked down on protesters, the state declared a state of emergency early December, establishing a curfew and the right to involve the participation of the armed forces to support the national police in maintaining security and order. At least 14 people were killed during post-election protests, and more than 800 people have been arrested, according to Amnesty International.

Protest Movement got sparked

But the genie seems to be out of the bottle in Honduras. Over the last few weeks, “the disputed election has united diverse opposition groups and sparked a pro-democracy protest movement calling for a full and transparent recount.” Where several protests have led to violent standoffs between activists and security forces, a nonviolent movement has also taken hold of Honduras. The movement has mainly build on Honduran youths, leading peaceful rallies and candlelight vigils, while distributing white orchids to those who are supposed to repress them. The actions have even led members of the Honduras National Police force to refuse orders from the right-wing Hernandez government. Only a week ago, Honduras’ Opposition Alliance called on the protesters to continue their struggle in the streets.

Role Played by the International Community

Despite these hopeful developments, the opposition still faces significant challenges. The international community could play an important role in Honduras’ current struggle. On December 17, the same day that Juan Orlando Hernández was officially declared the winner by the electoral council, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, declared that the election process was plagued by irregularities, and called for new elections. The US, however, recently validated the results favoring Hernandez’s reelection.

The United States is by far Honduras’ most important international partner, providing large sums of security assistance to its government. Moreover, a large portion of Honduras’ GDP is due to receiving remittances from the States. Despite organizations calling on the American government to denounce fraud and violent repression following the elections, the Trump administration has decided to re-certify the Honduran government as complying with human rights protocols in order to allow the financial assistance to continue. As Steven Levitsky and Carlos Flores write in LA-times, “U.S. officials view the right-wing Hernandez as an ally, [and therefore] they seem willing to give him a pass on democracy and human rights.”

How has the United States policy of promoting democracy in the Americas changed over time? And how could the opposition movement overcome severe challenge for their pro-democracy movement?

Read more about the Honduras-situation here, here, and here.