Dirty elections in Honduras, with Washington’s blessing


Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández speaking on August 23, 2016. PHOTO/Reunión/Presidencia El Salvador/Wikimedia

US support for the corrupt election in Honduras continues its history of obstructing the country’s democracy.

Soldiers marching in the middle of the road, bullets whizzing through the air, protesters running for cover through thick clouds of tear gas. Unfortunate tourists venturing the streets of Tegucigalpa in December last year might well have wondered whether they’d stumbled onto a military coup, like the one that rocked Honduras in June 2009 when left-leaning president Manuel Zelaya was kidnapped by troops and bundled onto a plane to Costa Rica.

The source of these latest scenes of chaos was an election gone wrong. On November 26, voters went to the polls in a tense climate, with many convinced that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), dominated by the ruling National Party, would stop at nothing to ensure the victory of the increasingly authoritarian incumbent, President Juan Orlando Hernández.

After a long, unexplained delay, the TSE announced that Salvador Nasralla ? candidate of the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship ? was in the lead by 5 points with 57 percent of votes counted. But then the electronic vote count was delayed for more than thirty hours. Over the following days, additional “technical failures” occurred. When the count resumed, Nasralla’s lead gradually evaporated and by late in the day on November 30, Hernández was ahead by 1.5 percentage points.

Tens of thousands of outraged Hondurans took to the streets. The government responded by declaring a curfew and deploying military and police who assailed protesters with an intense barrage of tear gas and live ammunition. At least thirty demonstrators were killed over the following month.

But on the afternoon of December 9, as an angry crowd roared outside, tranquility and good cheer reigned inside the TSE’s downtown headquarters. Standing next to TSE president David Matamoros, US chargé d’affaires Heide Fulton took the microphone and called on Hondurans to respect the results of the electoral process. With this tacit endorsement, there could be little doubt that the official results would stand, regardless of the enormous irregularities that had taken place. Hernández appeared guaranteed to remain in power for at least another four years, free to continue implementing his agenda of hardcore neoliberalism accompanied by a sweeping militarization of the country.

A History of Interference

It’s hard to say exactly when it was that Hondurans began half-jokingly referring to the US ambassador as “the proconsul.” The term appears to have surged in popularity in the early 1980s, when the US embassy accompanied ? many would say “directed” ? Honduras’s tenuous political transition from military rule to a militarized limited democracy. John Negroponte, the US ambassador during many of those years, had a straightforward mission: establishing Honduras as the launching pad for the Reagan administration’s war on left movements and governments in Central America. This involved, on the one hand, securing a permanent and expanded US military presence in the country, and on the other, ensuring a preeminent US role in Honduras’s internal politics with the goal of maintaining the political status quo.

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