Blog / Dec. 6, 2017

US releases millions of dollars to Honduras despite protestors killed and cries of fraud in election crackdown

Honduras is in turmoil. After going to the polls more than a week ago, there is still no official result in the Presidential elections. The incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández has suspended constitutional rights and implemented a curfew amidst widespread, mostly peaceful, demonstrations at alleged fraud.

At least 11 people have been killed during the crackdown according to media reports.[1] Incredibly, some police are now refusing to enforce the curfew stating “We can’t kill our own people.”[2] There are reports that troops from the Cobras, a US-trained special force, have clashed amongst each other over the refusal to repress the protestors.[3]

Meanwhile - despite having a five per cent lead after preliminary results were released – the opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla has since been overtaken by President Hernández after inexplicable delays in the vote count, system ‘malfunction’ and strong indications of fraud. Human rights defenders have been attacked, hundreds of protestors arrested and foreign journalists deported.[4]

Farcically, in the midst of these events, the US government has certified that Honduras has been fighting corruption and supporting human rights, clearing the way for the government to receive millions of dollars in U.S. aid.[5]

How did this crisis in Honduras happen?

How on earth did we get here? And how is the sitting President even contesting the poll given Honduras’ constitution specifically bars re-election?

The answer lies in the violent capture of state institutions by Hernández’ National Party. The 2009 coup, which paved the way for the National Party to seize power, ironically came about under the pretext of opposition to the left-leaning President Zelaya’s plans to submit the re-election issue to a referendum. After the coup Hernández and his party replaced the Supreme Court with judges intended to support their political agenda. Years later those same judges ruled in his favour, allowing him to stand for re-election.

The National party supported the coup in 2009 and have since presided over the most violent period in Honduras’ history for human rights activists. Here at Global Witness we have documented more than 120 killings of ordinary Honduran citizens campaigning for land and environmental rights since the National Party came to power.[6] This has made Honduras the world’s deadliest place to be a land or environmental defender.    

In our report released earlier this year we exposed several National Party figures, including its head, in alleged corrupt acts and human rights abuses. One of Honduras’ most powerful political figures, the Vice-President of Congress Gladys López, launched a defamation case against us after we exposed her links to illegal dam projects run by her husband. One of these projects, Los Encinos, has led to the killings of at least three indigenous protestors.[i]  We were threatened with arrest by a government minister during a live TV debate and were on the receiving end of a sophisticated campaign of bots, fake documentaries and the like to discredit our findings.[7]

What could be next for Honduras’ beleaguered citizens?

Despite these attacks we received overwhelming support from local civil society and ordinary Honduran citizens – the ones who have to live in this climate of oppression every day. And they now, finally, may be having their voices heard. Thousands are defying the curfew to join ‘cacerolazos’ – spontaneous demonstrations of pots and pans being clashed together on the streets.  The opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla claims he has clear evidence of fraud and is demanding a recount. Election observers from the main regional body OAS have stated "the close margin of the results as well as the irregularities, errors and systemic problems which surrounded these elections, don't allow the Mission to have certainty about the results."[8]

The evidence of fraud grows daily. The Economist was leaked a recording of a 'training' of poll officials in fraud in favour of the National Party.[9] The paper goes on to say "If the results released by the TSE [Electoral Tribunal] at each stage of the count were a representative sample of the country, the chance of such a shift from Mr Nasralla in early results to Mr Hernández in later ones would be close to zero."[10]

The electoral tribunal (TSE) overseeing the election is now on the back foot. Their meddling has come as no surprise to Honduran observers. The TSE’s head David Matamoros is a National Party appointee as are most of the institution.   

Something now must surely give. But the one country with the most influence in Honduras has largely stayed silent. In fact, rather than condemn these actions, the US has put out a signal of ‘business as usual’ by agreeing to release millions of dollars in aid. This money is supposed to be held back unless there are improvements on human rights and corruption.

Ludicrously, amidst this crisis, the US may well have given the government the spur they need to reject the will of the people. It’s a travesty. A travesty that sadly this small Central American country knows too well. The US government must obey its conscience, and the conscience of millions of Honduran citizens. It is key in ensuring Honduras follows a stable, democratic path. The US must call for a full recount of the elections, condemn the human rights abuses and suspend its aid propping up a corrupt regime.           
 

Billy Kyte is a Global Witness Campaign Leader for the protection of land and environmental defenders. Follow him on Twitter at @BillyKyteGW


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/04/honduras-election-board-refrains-from-declaring-winner-as-violence-continues

[2] http://www.web.ellibertador.hn/index.php/noticias/nacionales/2570-somos-pueblo-y-no-podemos-matarnos-con-el-pueblo-policia-hondurena

[3] http://tiempo.hn/agentes-cobras-se-reusan-salir-reprimir/

[4] http://www.pasosdeanimalgrande.com/index.php/en/elecciones-en-honduras-2017/item/1966-como-no-hay-castigo-altos-jefes-policiales-siguen-violentando-la-labor-de-defensores-de-derechos-humanos-en-el-contexto-de-las-elecciones and https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/04/honduras-election-board-refrains-from-declaring-winner-as-violence-continues

[5] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-honduras-election-usa-exclusive/exclusive-u-s-document-certifies-honduras-as-supporting-rights-amid-vote-crisis-idUSKBN1DY2K7

[6] https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/honduras-deadliest-country-world-environmental-activism/

[7] https://www.globalwitness.org/en/blog/youd-better-make-sure-cars-bullet-proof-account-our-recent-trip-honduras/

[8] http://criterio.hn/2017/12/04/oea-responsabiliza-la-alianza-oposicion-atrasar-escrutinio-especial-e-insta-acuerdo-candidatos/

[9] http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21731725-recording-obtained-economist-suggests-it-may-be-merits-investigation-hondurass?zid=305&ah=417bd5664dc76da5d98af4f7a640fd8a

[10] https://www.economist.com/news/americas/21731972-questions-about-integrity-vote-count-will-not-go-away-analysing-juan-orlando



[i] When asked to comment by Global Witness on these allegations, Gladis López and her husband denied any responsibility for attacks against indigenous activists. Both denied any conflict of interest or illegality in the approval by Congress of contracts for the projects.

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