On February 27, 2018, Honduran military and civilian police responded with tear gas and batons to protesters’ cries of “Fuera JOH!” and demands to free political prisoners and restore democracy. This is just one of the more recent acts of repression that has occurred since what was at best the disputed election and at worst the stolen election of November 2017.
Mass mobilizations and state repression
Since the election, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported that “at least 23 people [have] died as a result of the protests – 22 civilians and one police officer” of which “at least 16 were ‘shot to death by the security forces, including two women and two children.’” Other sources estimate that more than 40 people have died and over 2,000 have been arrested under the Honduras’s new anti-terrorism law.
Many of the raids and arrests have been carried out by the elite commando force known as Los TIGRES – a unit that has been trained by the Green Berets and receives support from the U.S. State Department. The unit has been accused of theft and corruption involving known drug traffickers. Despite mounting allegations and evidence of serious human rights abuses, the U.S. has failed to pull military aid to the Honduran government. In addition, information has come to light that the United Kingdom sold advanced spyware to the government of Honduras so that it could illegally monitor its own citizens.
An irregular election
The protests and violent repression that have followed the election were sparked by suspicious irregularities in the vote counting process. On November 27, 2017, the day after polling stations closed and at which point 57% of the vote had been counted, the opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla lead incumbent Juan Orlando Hernandez by 5 percentage points. The country’s electoral commission (TSE) suspended publication of electoral results. When the official results were eventually published on December 17, after the TSE spent 20 days trying to sort out the votes, Hernández had overcome Nasralla, beating him by 1.5 percentage points.
Outside observers have demonstrated that such a dramatic turnaround in the vote is statistically unlikely and possibly the result of fraud. Journalist Vijay Prashad, writing in AlterNet, wrote, “Things are so bad that even the Organization of American States, normally happy to toe the US line, has been outspoken in its condemnation of the stolen election. OAS asked Dr. Irfan Nooruddin of Georgetown University to look at the TSE data and at the dramatic vote swing that occurred over the 36-hour period of silence. His report, published December 17, shows that there are glaring irregularities in the process. ‘The pattern of votes,’ Dr. Nooruddin writes, ‘is suspicious.’ He shows that the irregularities cannot be explained ‘as pure chance.’ This is out-and-out rigging.” The Economist, known for its sober political analysis, also cited grave inconsistencies in the official vote count.
Crisis began with 2009 coup
You can trace the origins of the current political chaos in Honduras to the constitutional crisis that unfolded during the coup d’état against the administration of Manuel Zelaya in 2009. Then President Zelaya attempted to organize a non-binding popular referendum to amend the Honduran constitution to make it possible for future presidents to run for a second term (a change that would not go into effect until after Zelaya left office). Under orders from the Honduran Supreme Court, and with the tacit approval of the U.S. State Department under Hillary Clinton, the Honduran military detained President Zelaya and sent him into exile in Costa Rica.
The great irony in the current political situation is that Manuel Zelaya was ostensibly ousted because he wanted to reform the constitution to allow a presidential candidate to run for a second term. In a curious turn of events, Juan Orlando Hernández succeeded in making that very change to the constitution, allowing him to go on to “win” a second term as president in the contested 2017 elections. In 2012, while he was president of Congress and before he was even elected president for the first time, Hernández managed to oust four members of the Supreme Court and install four judges loyal to him. Those judges then issued a ruling legalizing a second run.
The current political situation in Honduras is disturbingly familiar: an illegitimate president propped up by U.S. military aid is holding on to office through state-sponsored violence. The government is perpetrating egregious human rights abuses as it tries to silences dissenters. What will we do to keep Honduras from backsliding into dictatorship?
How can we support real democracy in Honduras?
One of the calls from civil society is for the world to pay attention to what is happening in Honduras and to demand that the Honduran government release the dozens of prisoners being held for their pro-democracy activism.
Our friends at the Honduras Solidarity Network have asked us and our supporters to stand with them and demand the release of Edwin Espinal and the many other political prisoners who have been detained by Honduran security forces. For more information on how you can help free Mr. Espinal and the other political prisoners, visit their website.
We also need to urge U.S. lawmakers to suspend military aid to Honduras by signing on to the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act. Originally introduced by Representative Hank Johnson (GA-D) in March 2016 and reintroduced in March 2017, the bill was created in response to the assassination of indigenous enviromental activist and 2015 Goldman Prize winner Berta Cáceres. Please urge your representative to support the bill today to prevent more of your taxpayer dollars from financing state repression in Honduras.