The 2009 military coup created the context for the current electoral coup. Since then, successive presidents have cemented the position of the National Party by putting in place a panoply of measures that would make Machiavelli blush.

Road blockade in Atlantida district, December 13, 2017.
Road blockade in Atlantida district, December 13, 2017. (TRTWorld)

NOTE: This story doesn’t have a byline of the reporter because the person could be at risk while working in Honduras if identified. 

On November 26, 2017 Hondurans went to the polls to elect their president. Incumbent Juan Orlando Hernandez, candidate of the right-wing National Party, stood against former broadcaster Salvador Nasralla, candidate of the centre-left Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship.

Twenty-four hours after the polls closed, with 57 percent of ballots counted, Nasralla held a commanding five-point lead. “The technical experts here say it’s irreversible,” one of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s magistrates told Reuters.

Then the machinations began. Orders came for counting to cease. David Matamoros, head of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, reported a mysterious computer glitch via Twitter. The count slowed dramatically, and the results dribbled out. Nothing was announced for hours.

When the counting recommenced, Nasralla’s lead over Hernandez started to narrow. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal eventually declared Hernandez the winner by a margin of 1.5 percentage points.

There’s considerable evidence of foul play. The day before the election, The Economist magazine published a leaked tape of a government official coaching voting centre workers to commit fraud. The Organization of American States called for a new election, arguing that the vote was so riddled with irregularities that it was “impossible” to determine the winner.

Throughout Honduras, the announcement that Hernández had overtaken Nasralla was met with disbelief. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets.

“People started to protest immediately,” says Damale Zelaya, 32, from the Santa Lucia municipality. “We went to public squares, we blocked streets, and we protested from our neighbourhoods.”

“Throughout December the country was convulsed by occupations,” says Santis David Martinez, 24, from the town of Tela on Honduras’ north Caribbean coast. “There were over one hundred road blocks throughout the country. They are a way we have to apply pressure so that the will of the people is respected.”

Then the repression came. The government imposed a curfew from 6pm to 6am, and suspended constitutional rights.

“At one of the road blocks I attended, a guy was shot by the army. The bullet struck his arm and part of his chest,” says Santis David Martinez, who claims security forces regularly use live ammunition to disperse protesters.

“The military-police are following protesters. They follow them back to their neighbourhoods in Tegucigalpa,” says Damale Zelaya. “They followed my cousin back home and threw tear gas canister inside her house.”

Videos of security forces deploying tear gas in people’s homes are widespread. Towards the end of December, Genesis Yaneth Alvarez, a three-month-old baby, died of asphyxiation after the house she was staying in was gassed.

Over 30 people have been killed since the November 26 election, according to the human rights group COFADEH.

“Political assassination has been systematic”, says Bertha Oliva, COFADEH’s founder. “We’ve not only seen people physically eliminated, but also death threats, and torture.”

COFADEH says that state security forces are responsible for two-thirds of the deaths, but that death squads are also active.

Santis David Martinez alleges that on New Year's Eve, “One of the kids who participated in the highway occupations in the village of San Juan Pueblo was shot by unknown men on motorbikes.” 

Kimberly Dayana Fonseca, 19, shot in the head on December 1, 2017 by police.
Kimberly Dayana Fonseca, 19, shot in the head on December 1, 2017 by police. (TRTWorld)

The quiet American 

A 2010 State Department cable describes Juan Orlando Hernandez as someone who has “consistently supported US interests.” The US considers Hernandez a major ally in the War on Drugs (though he and his inner circle are alleged to have taken payments for drug trafficking) and on repatriating Hondurans from the US. And at a time of when the Trump administration finds itself isolated, Hernandez provides much-needed diplomatic support. 

In December, when most of the world backed a UN General Assembly resolution calling for the US to drop its recognition of Jerusalem, only seven countries joined the US and Israel in voting against the resolution. Honduras was one of them. President Trump, usually so raucous, has made no public comment about the Honduran political crisis. 

Neither has the State Department condemned the human rights abuses perpetrated by state security forces since the election. The silence is telling. On December 3, in the face of international opinion, Heide Fulton, the top US official in Honduras, congratulated the Supreme Electoral Tribunal on an “orderly count” of votes. On December 22 the State Department released a short press release congratulating Hernandez on his victory. 

The timing was adroit; there’s no time quite like Christmas to bury bad news. But US complicity goes deeper. Units of the Honduran military and police receive training from the FBI, US marines, and US Special Forces. In 2015, for instance, the Honduran National Police received courses in “Advanced Close Quarter Combat,” while military units received training on “Special Forces Advanced Military Operations in Urban Terrain.” 

On November 28, just two days after the election, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson certified that Honduras had made enough progress in combating corruption and upholding human rights to receive its next tranche of security aid. Honduras received over $17 million for financing their military and police from the US in 2017, and $114 million since 2009. And then there’s the weapons. US arms companies export munitions, guns, teargas and bombs to Honduras. 

“The amount of firearms exported to Honduras has grown in recent years, from less than $100,000 in 2004 and 2005 to over $3 million in 2015 and 2016”, says the independent researcher John Lindsay-Poland, citing data from the US Census Bureau.

Tear gas manufactured in Arkansas by ALS. US arms sales to Honduras have risen in recent years, according to data from the US Census Bureau.
Tear gas manufactured in Arkansas by ALS. US arms sales to Honduras have risen in recent years, according to data from the US Census Bureau. (TRTWorld)

2009 events

To really understand contemporary events in Honduras though, you have to go back almost a decade. 

At dawn on June 28, 2009, Manuel Zelaya the left-leaning president of Honduras (and today an ally of Nasralla) was kidnapped. He was taken from his home at gunpoint and bundled onto a plane by Honduran Special Forces. Hours later, he appeared on the tarmac of San Jose airport in Costa Rica. He was still wearing his pyjamas. 

There is circumstantial evidence that the US-Honduran military nexus was decisive on the day of the coup: before being flown out of the country, the plane carrying Zelaya was flown to Palmrola Air Base, a US-Honduran military installation, for refuelling (the US has always maintained it did not know Zelaya was aboard the plane). 

General Romeo Vasquez, the head of the Honduran military and the man who led the coup, graduated from the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, an institution that has trained countless Latin American officers implicated in coups and human rights abuses. 

In Washington, President Obama at first condemned the coup, saying, “It would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections.” 

But as the months went by, and a slick lobbying and PR campaign by the Republican Party and the Honduran oligarchy gathered steam, US policy towards Honduras pivoted, and the Obama administration ended up supporting the coup. 

The Honduran elite went on to organise elections for November 2009 to consolidate their coup. Human rights violations in the run up to the election were so widespread that the United Nations, the Organisation of American States, and the Carter Center refused to send election monitors. Only 50 percent of the electorate participated in both the presidential and congress elections that year. Porfirio Lobo of the National Party was declared the winner and installed as the new president of Honduras. 

The State Department rushed to recognise the elections as “free, fair and transparent.” The flow of military aid, suspended for a mere six months, was turned back on.

The 2009 military coup created the context for the current electoral coup. Since then, successive presidents have cemented the position of the National Party by putting in place a panoply of measures that would make Machiavelli blush.

For example, in 2013 it emerged that the director of the Honduran social security system was at the centre of a $200 million fraud case, which plundered the country’s healthcare budget, and left dying patients without life-saving medicines. Hernandez admitted in 2015 that the National Party had received campaign donations from sham companies linked to the scandal. 

A carrot-and-stick approach has been used to discipline the national media. Channels that backed the 2009 coup have since had debts forgiven, and the distribution of state advertising is used to reward favourable coverage. Legal pretexts are employed to close channels critical of the government. Globo TV, for example, was forced to close in 2016. 

Meanwhile Honduran journalists willing to cover events with integrity regularly are jailed on charges of “defamation” and “sedition.” Then there are the disappearances. One gruesome statistic makes the point: according to the NGO Global Witness, since 2010 more than 120 environmental activists have been murdered. Not only do police and judicial authorities largely fail to take action; in many cases the evidence points to their complicity in the killings. 

'I can’t stop people protesting' 

In the face of this full-spectrum repression, the country’s pro-democracy movement has reacted with verve and tenacity. Though for now the international media have lost interest in Honduras, protestors remain out in force, and road blockades are continuing until 27 January – the day of Hernandez’s inauguration. Everything is being done to
preventing the coronation.

Speaking with Salvador Nasralla by telephone on January 6 just before he marched with tens of thousands of people in a demonstration in San Pedro Sula, the country’s second-largest city, a defiant tone was evident.

“I’m sure that I will be president because 80 percent of the population supports me; speak to Hondurans and you’ll see I have the backing of I have to eight out of every ten people,” he told me. 

This figure might sound implausibly high, but independent reporters in Honduras confirm it is simply hard to find many people who support Hernandez. “I can’t stop people protesting,” Nasralla continued. “I want the protests to be peaceful, but unfortunately, since the election, 36 people have been killed, there are now 800 political prisoners, and the narco-traffickers don’t want me in power.” 

Nasralla supporters are wise to the US-Hernandez link. Thousands attended a protest in front of the US embassy on December 21 carrying crosses bearing the names of those killed in the post-election violence. “Why are we protesting in front of the embassy?” says Damale Zelaya. 

“Because all this really couldn’t be happening without the help of the United States.” On January 5 a group called the “Indignados” (the Indignant) organised another demonstration entitled, “Put the rubbish where it belongs”. Protesters brought with them their household waste, and piled up a mountain of trash outside the embassy.

 According to Nasralla, the US is supporting Hernandez in spite of electoral fraud “because they are scared that the next President of Honduras will be a communist. But what they don’t understand is that I’m not a communist.” 

“I do want the people of Honduras to have access to the wealth of their country, something which in the history of this country has never, ever happened.”

Source: TRT World