Honduras Delegation: Election Neither Free Nor Fair

Jessica Arena

Early in the morning of June 28, 2009, Honduras President Mel Zelaya was removed from his home and the presidency by the military in an illegal coup d’etat. People were furious and took to the streets. After months of protests, which were met by police brutality and repression, the new military government held a presidential election on November 29th. Hondurans across the country boycotted the election and voter turnout was below 20%. Regardless, the military regime declared their candidate, Pepe Lobo, the newly elected president.

Hondurans wait in line at a polling place. Photo by Erik Sperling.

A NLG delegation went to Honduras in August of 2009 to investigate the constitutionality of the coup. They reported that after analyzing the legal and constitutional issues involved, that the election of November 29, 2009 was not legal, free, fair or transparent. Unfortunately the United States quickly acknowledged the election and congratulated Honduras on a job well done.

In November, 2013, Honduras held it’s first national election since the military coup d’etat. People came out in record numbers to vote for a new president, fill many congressional seats, and elect mayors throughout the country. NLG sent a delegation of 17 comprised of attorneys, legal workers, and law students to observe the historic election. The delegation also met with human rights organizations, attorneys, judges, U.S. ambassador Kubiske, indigenous activists, and special Honduran attorney generals charged with prosecuting human rights violations and defending indigenous rights.

The election was marked by polar realities. Throughout election day, the delegation witnessed unparalleled enthusiasm, civic engagement, and optimism in the Honduran people. This was contrasted by an enormous military presence, and numerous accounts of substantial and traceable fraud in the electoral process. In the end, the delegation reported that the Honduras national election was neither free nor fair. They report the results cannot be considered an accurate reflection of the will of the people.

The United States role in white washing the fraudulent election, again, is particularly concerning. The statement issued by Secretary Kerry on the Honduras elections on December 12, 2013 demonstrates the disturbing response. “[W]e commend the Honduran government for ensuring that the election process was generally transparent, peaceful, and reflected the will of the Honduran people.”1

This statement is not only inaccurate, but also tactfully and subtly shifts the focus away from the conspicuous and documented irregularities that leave many suspicious of the proclamation that Juan Orlando Hernandez (‘Orlando’), of the same coup National Party, as the new president.

Orlando, the previous president of congress, has a long and frightening history of eroding the democratic process and encouraging the militarization of Honduras.

Orlando has been the biggest advocate for the creation of a military police force. In the August of 2013, under Orlando’s direct campaigning, congress passed legislation creating this new force. After only two months of instruction, the soldiers marched onto the streets (the national police receive a whole year of training).

Soldiers checking identification at a polling place. Photo by Erik Sperling.

The young barely trained soldiers are now being used for ordinary policing in Honduras. They were seen throughout voting precincts with full army fatigues, large guns, no identification, and often with ski masks drawn over their heads.

Leyla Diaz of CIPRODEH, one of Honduras’ oldest human rights groups, explains, “it’s not known which functions are clearly those of the police and which are of the military. And in that confusion, what’s generated are human rights violations.”2

Another project of Orlando that deeply concerns human rights advocates is the model cities project. Model cities, aka charter cities, aka ZEDES (Zonas Especiales de Desarrollo y Empleo) are an alarming neo-liberal economic experiment in which an area of a country will be declared sovereign and in complete control by corporations. All governance will be privately run, including a privately hired judiciary and a contracted policing force.

In 2012, Orlando led the “technical coup” in which 4 of 5 Supreme Court justices were ousted and replaced by Orlando supporters immediately following a decision that model cities legislation was unconstitutional. Recently the new Supreme Court declared the model cities laws constitutional and passed the case on to the Public Prosecutor for comments. The Public Prosecutor is none other than Oscar Chinchilla, the one justice who did not find the model cities legislation unconstitutional in 2012.

On February 10, 2014, Orlando announced that the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) is beginning to research where to establish the first ZEDE. A document from the Honduran Ministry of Planning and External Cooperation (SEPLAN) website explains that KOICA will contribute $4 million USD to the project feasibility plan and offer a report documenting three preferred locations to Honduras. Honduras will then have one month to choose one of the three locations.3

NLG members are encouraged to keep a close eye on Honduras. A full report from the election observation delegation will be coming out soon on NLG’s international committee web page, nlginternational.org. For more information on the election observations, see the blog Jessicatarena.com. In May a research delegation is planned to return to Honduras. They will collect more documentation and write a report on the timely and urgent developments of human rights and the environment in Honduras.