Honduras Delegation: When will the peoples’ will be respected?
November 17th – 26th SHARE and Sister-Cities led a binational delegation of Salvadorans and U.S. Americans in solidarity with Honduras to learn about the current human rights situation and observe the November 24th General Elections. Both U.S. and Salvadoran delegates shared that going together to Honduras marked a very special aspect of the delegation, adding another layer of richness to the cultural exchange and learning.
Part of the delegation began the journey in Tegucigalpa. We got a whirlwind snapshot of Honduras – first visiting communities struggling for the right to self-determination and respect for their land as the government promotes foreign investment in gold mining and hydro-electric dams and sends in the military when they protest, meeting with LGBT activists excited to be included in the social movement and LIBRE party, while aware of the long struggle ahead, then meeting up with the rest of the group and members of the Honduras Solidarity network for observation training, and traveling to the Bajo Aguan to learn about the struggle for land access and observe the elections. We observed a variety of irregularities, as did the SOA Watch, National Lawyers Guild, and the various organizations that observed with the Honduras Solidarity Network. Join us in calling on the U.S. State Department to stop legitimizing the disputed and fraudulent election.
Honduras shares many similarities with both current-day El Salvador and with El Salvador of the 1970s in the sense that Hondurans face many of the same neoliberal economic policies and a push for foreign direct investment favoring multi-national corporations, privatization of natural resources, and mining and hydro-electric dam projects supported by a small oligarchy that controls the majority of the wealth, property, and businesses in the country – very much like current day El Salvador, only intensified, because especially following the coup, the oligarchy has a tighter grip on power structures in the country, and has, for example, passed laws to allow open pit mining, and concessioning of rivers to private companies – actions the Salvadoran social movement has been strong enough to prevent. The Honduran government accompanies these policies with increasing militarization and repression similar to El Salvador in the 1970s – such that anyone standing up for change, in resistance to these policies or to specific mining and dam projects faces heavy repression. However, the blossoming of the social movement following the 2009 coup also mirrors the flurry of organizing across many popular sectors in El Salvador of the 1960s and 1970s.
In a particularly sinister link between foreign investment, militarization and repression, Honduran law requires foreign companies to contribute a percentage of their budget to the Honduran security forces. The military and police therefore have an incentive to protect mining and dam projects. Thus, for example, the military helps guard the installations of the DESA and SINDHYDRO companies, which began working to install a hydroelectric dam in Rio Blanco last April. Rio Blanco runs through the ancestral lands of the indigenous Lenca peoples, who were not consulted and have opposed the construction of the dam. On July 15th, when a group of unarmed community members went to talk with company officials, a member of the military gunned down community leader Tomas García at close range. Part of our delegation had the opportunity to visit the community and meet with the leaders, including Tomas García’s sister. Community members told us that they have received threats that following the elections, they will be evicted dead or alive.
We also learned that because of the land occupations campesinos in the Bajo Aguan have led as part of their struggle to recover the land they were forcefully pressured off of or had illegally taken from them, over 3,000 campesinos had criminal charges for land usurpation brought against them, which, amongst other things, prevents them from voting. A number of social movement leaders, including Berta Caceres, of COPINH have also had false criminal charges brought against them.
Thus the elections came in the midst of this moment of increasing crisis and repression, but also of bubbling hope. The social movement following the coup brought together all sectors of society – members of all the political parties and leaders for LBGT, women’s, indigenous, and Garifuna rights amongst others. The social movement created a political branch, the LIBRE party, agreeing unanimously on Xiomara Castro, wife of ousted president Manuel Zelaya as their candidate. Xiomara led the polls for months before the elections with the National Party candidate, Juan Orlando Hernandez rising to close the gap at the last minute. The right-wing National Party, which held nearly sixty percent of the seats in Congress, had consolidated control of all branches of the government, thus holding great influence over the electoral process. Additionally, violent repression targeted not only social movement leaders, but LIBRE party candidates. As Rights Action documented in a report on political violence, in the year and a half leading up to the elections, 18 LIBRE party candidates were murdered and 15 suffered violent attacks, while 11 National party candidates were murdered and two attacked, and 3 Liberal party candidates were murdered and two attacked. Furthermore, in Honduras the military transports the electoral materials and runs security in the centers – a fact that drew wide-eyed incredulity from all the Salvadorans during our training.
As Olivia Amadon of Cristosal noted in a post reflecting on the elections: “the question was never whether or not Xiomara Castro could get the number of votes needed to become President. The question has always been whether Xiomara Castro and the social movement that supports her would be able to overcome deep-seated political corruption and the concentration of power in the hands of the country´s economic elite, who have absolute control of the military and their own private security forces.”
As we observed the elections, the Salvadorans in the group led the way in identifying points of concern, from missing electoral materials, to vote buying, to pressuring voters. In one instance, a man running a voting table actually marked a ballot for a voter in front of everyone. Most of the Salvadorans had helped run polling stations in El Salvador for years, and the Honduran system resembles the Salvadoran system in many ways, though Honduras has significantly fewer officials present in the voting centers, more easily allowing for manipulation. Many U.S. Americans expressed that they would not have caught half as much without their fellow Salvadoran observers. When we gathered at the end of the day, Vilma Avelar, a member of the Romero Coalition, stated, “I am shocked at what we’ve seen,” a sentiment echoed by most of the group.
Here is the Sister-Cities SHARE report detailing our observations: REPORT OF INTERNATIONAL ELECTION OBSERVERS in Honduras-combined. It is part of the Honduras Solidarity Network/Alliance for Global Justice Report. Some of the other groups observing with the Honduras Solidarity Network documented extremely concerning incidents, such as the kidnapping of LIBRE party members scheduled to help run polling stations.
However, the fraud we witnessed during the voting was just the beginning. As votes were counted, each voting table filled out an official act stating the number of votes at their table, and scanned and sent them to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) in Tegucigalpa. Since each of the voting tables included members of the different parties and the counting is open for the public to watch, each party kept a running tally as results came in. Based on results from the field, both Xiomara Castro and Juan Orlando Hernandez declared their victories via twitter. At 9:00 p.m. the TSE came out with its preliminary results, with just 20% of the vote counted, showing Juan Orlando in the lead. While the vote count continued over the next several days, the TSE continued to affirm the same trend, eventually declaring Juan Orlando the winner. Even before the victory was declared official, various neighboring presidents began to call Juan Orlando to congratulate him.
The night of the elections U.S. Ambassador Lisa Kubiske congratulated Honduras on a transparent election and re-affirmed her words the following day. The National Lawyer’s Guild seriously questioned the U.S. government’s rapid characterization of the elections as transparent, given the concerning human rights situation, the National Party’s control over the electoral process, and observation of numerous irregularities. Join us in calling on the U.S. State Department to stop legitimizing the disputed and fraudulent election
Both Xiomara Castro and Anti-corruption party candidate Salvador Nasralla have disputed the election results, claiming fraud had been committed. Additionally, many of the scanned acts the TSE posted online had obvious discrepancies with the official numbers that the TSE reported. While the TSE has been correcting these inconsistencies, they never publicly acknowledged them. An independent initiative carried out their own online review of the acts, finding numerous acts with discrepancies but no change in the overall results.
As of December 2nd, the TSE agreed to re-count the acts, or tally sheets, though it will not re-count the ballots themselves or look into claims that some of the acts have been tampered with. Neither the exact procedure for the re-count, how to address discrepancies, nor updates on the status of the recount have been announced.
Nevertheless, the elections cannot truly be considered a loss for LIBRE. LIBRE ran as a newly formed party, and emerged as the second strongest political force, winning 39 seats in the congress, obliterating the two party system, in which the Liberal and National party had controlled the country for decades. With 47 seats instead of 71, the National Party will no longer be able to pass laws without building alliances.
Meanwhile human rights violations continue. The night before the elections, two LIBRE members were killed on their way home from training poll-workers. As LIBRE supporters took to the streets on December 1st to denouce fraud, they carried the casket of José Antonio Ardón, murdered the day before while organizing the protest. Just this past week, in the Bajo Aguan, Col Alfaro, a graduate of the SOA announced that the Honduran military is investigating Annie Bird, Co-Director of Rights Action for subversive activity with campesinos. Rights Action and Annie Bird have been key in documenting human rights violations and militarization in the Bajo Aguan and across Honduras. The Honduran military and private security guards continue to evict campesinos from their land in the Aguan. Please urge your congressional represetatives to denounce intimidation of human rights defenders.
For the time being, LIBRE and the social movement have chosen to protest nonviolently and to contest the elections through the corresponding government institutions. With the growing repression, will that commitment last?