The grip of US imperialism on Honduras is holding – but the masses are restless in their chains

hondurasOn Sunday 26 November, 2017, Honduran voters went to the polls to elect a President, 128 members of the unicameral National Congress, 20 members for the Central American Parliament and mayors for the municipalities of Honduras. The count is usually carried out at the polling station with the tally being written down and signed by the officials at the count, this tally sheet is then uploaded to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal website with the results while a photocopy of it, along with the officials’ signatures, is given to all the parties involved.

On Monday 27 November, a magistrate of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (SET), announced that presidential challenger Salvador Nasralla held 45.17% to the incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández’s 40.21%, a clear 5% lead, at just over the halfway mark (57%) and described this trend towards victory for the leftist coalition candidate Nasralla, as “irreversible”.

Then the SET halted the count for 36 hours and announced that the final results may not become available until Thursday, 30 November. Over the course of the following week, as the count was restarted, the SET released updated vote totals, which saw Nasralla’s lead steadily erode and Hernández unbelievably pull ahead in the count. The SET paused the count a second time for several hours because of alleged ‘computer problems’ which, coupled with the announced results, brought people onto the streets. There were Hernández’s National Party members and supporters claiming victory and the supporters of the Opposition Alliance Against Dictatorship (a coalition formed mainly of leftist Libre and PINU parties) who were challenging the announced results and fearing another ‘stitched up’ election, a fear that is based on the solid ground of recent experience.

On Thursday 30 November, with around 94% of the votes counted, Hernández’s lead had reached 42.92% while the share for the opposition candidate had slipped to 41.42%.

On 1 December, the SET, out of the blue, announced that they would release no further results until they had been able to review all of the 1,031 tally sheets which had not been properly filled out by the political parties. These 1,031 tally sheets represent 5.69% of the total vote. Hernández claimed victory and announced a ten-day curfew from 6pm to 6am to try to calm the violence associated with the ongoing protests that were being organised against the fraudulent vote counting after Nasralla also claimed victory denouncing the SET and declaring that he would not recognise the results, and urged his supporters to take to the streets in peaceful protest, which they did across the country.

To really understand the fears and anger of those protesters on the streets you have only to look at the recent history of Honduras.

In 2009 there was a military coup d’état to remove the leftist President Manuel Zelaya (who is now supporting Salvador Nasralla). The primary justification for the coup was the claim that Zelaya’s administration was going to try to change the Honduran constitution to allow a President to serve more than one term in office (see Proletarian issue 32, ‘Honduran masses resist fascist coup and support President Zelaya’ and Lalkar issue Nov-Dec 2009, ‘Honduran National Front of Resistance to the Coup celebrates restoration of Zelaya!’ for further information. At the behest of the US government, elections were rushed forward to try to give the coup some legitimacy and were won by Porfirio Lobo Sosa of the National Party, amid claims of vote-rigging and widespread intimidation by the military. During this presidency, many outspoken journalists and leaders of the Honduran National Front of Resistance along with leaders of indigenous people’s rights groups were assassinated.

In 2013 Honduras once again had the chance to elect a President. The winner was Juan Orlando Hernández and his National Party although many protested that the Libre Party candidate, Xiomara Castro, was beaten fraudulently. The accusations were declared unproven but the memory of the ‘stolen’ elections following the coup remains with the poor masses and especially the indigenous peoples who suffer constant discrimination and oppression including beatings and assassinations of their representatives in their struggle for equal rights. Between 2013 and 2017 the SET, which is presided over by a prominent and active member of the National Party, David Matamoros Batson, who formerly served as a member of Congress for the National Party and was formerly its general-secretary, have worked around the law to assist President Hernández to stand for a second term of office, a move that smarts deeply with the many who supported Manuel Zelaya against the coup by the army and the comprador bourgeoisie to remove him for ‘allegedly’ wanting to alter the constitution on that very point.

Coming back up to date, when it became obvious to the Honduran masses what was taking place (again) with the elections they filled the streets across the country with peaceful protests. It was the Military/police that resorted to violence from the start, first with tear gas and then live rounds. At least fourteen people have died in clashes so far, two of them policemen, although Salvador Nasralla, who has called on his supporters to get onto the streets, has stressed that peaceful protest only is required. He has hinted though that some agent-provocateurs are entering crowds of Opposition Alliance protesters and that maybe some false-flag operations have been carried out by the military on behalf of the National Party.

Has fraudulent activity by the National Party taken place? This can only be answered affirmatively and this fraudulent activity takes many forms. Every party, and there are quite a few, is entitled to have registered representatives present at every polling station count. Many of these smaller parties, who may not be contesting in all areas or don’t even have enough supporters in all areas to even get representatives, sold these registration papers wholesale to the National Party, allowing them to ‘pack’ many counts.

The counting of votes from quite a few polling stations was not carried out onsite but instead taken to the SET offices in Tegucigalpa. The tally papers of very many counts are unsigned meaning that there is no verification of their authenticity. The published results of many counts which show strong support for the National Party presidential candidate do not match the signed photocopies that were given to the Opposition Alliance Against Dictatorship, and the Liberal Party is confirming that the tally sheets in its possession are the same as those of the OAAD. Unsurprisingly, the National Party says that the tally sheets that they have match the SET declared results. Given that the National Party controls the body that is overseeing the election, there can only be widespread scepticism re the two stoppages of the count. An accusing finger is also being pointed at the National Party from a very strange quarter, the conservative Economist magazine, which had an article saying that they have a tape recording in which voting centre workers were being coached on how to commit fraud during the vote counting process. This article carries some weight not only because of the impeccable right-wing credentials of the magazine but also from the fact that this article was published prior to the election. In a press conference, Nasralla pointed to the fact that more than 5,000 tally sheets were scanned in Tegucigalpa, where they’re arriving to be counted and not at the polling stations. And those more than 5000 tally sheets represented over 1.5 million votes, the vast majority of which were from areas where he had very strong support. He is calling for a full recount of all of those 5000 plus tally sheets.

The European Union Observation Mission did make some mention of the fact that there are pretty considerable irregularities in this process compared to the 2013 election (which, considering that the majority of Hondurans consider the 2013 one as fraudulent as well, is quite a condemnation, even if delivered in a bland and understated form). It also observed the unashamed one-sidedness of the media throughout the election process with only negative comments being made re the Opposition Alliance generally.

The Organization of American States (OAS) has questioned the results of the elections citing multiple irregularities and outlined steps toward reviewing the vote count it wishes to be taken, warning that if the irregularities were too widespread it could recommend a new election. The US Government has endorsed the OAS measures as a way to “reach a credible conclusion.” Nevertheless, the US chargé d’affaires, Heide B. Fulton, gave this message while standing beside the embattled president of the electoral commission, which many Hondurans viewed as a gesture of US support for the National Party-run agency. The US State Department also gave Hernández a very public thumbs up when, two days after the vote, it certified that Honduras was meeting human rights conditions, strengthening transparency and cracking down on corruption. That approval was required to facilitate the release of 50% of promised American aid. The aid, around $17 million, will go to the Honduran security forces, ostensibly for counter-narcotics and anti-gang programmes and to fund an effort to purge the police of corrupt officers and train recruits.

The Honduran National Party pointed to this certification as a ‘vote of confidence’ in Juan Orlando Hernández from the United States, for his “arduous fight against corruption and criminality.”

For the US of course, there is no question of human rights, democracy or genuine electoral transparency in Honduras; the question always was, and always will be, which candidate serves the interests of the US elite best? That person is Hernández but the people of Honduras are angry and simmering with hatred for both the puppets and the puppeteer and, given that elections are scheduled over the next year in seven countries that the US considers ‘its backyard’, including Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia, the grip of US imperialism in the region could become very shaky before 2018 is over.