Honduras Again in the Balance

The initial Honduran election returns looked promising for the progressive challenger but the vote count has since stalled and the authoritarian incumbent sent troops into the streets to stop protests, as Dennis J Bernstein reports.


By Dennis J Bernstein

The future of Honduras hangs in the balance as the vote count from presidential election drags on. The challenger, Salvador Nasralla, a former sportscaster running at the head of a progressive left-leaning alliance, initially held the lead over incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández but that was reversed amid allegations of ballot manipulation and the imposition of a military curfew to prevent protests.

A win by Nasralla would represent an across-the-board rejection of Hernández’s iron-fisted rule.

A map of Honduras.

Dana Frank, professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said, “The Honduran elections, especially President Juan Orlando Hernández’s criminal candidacy in violation of the Honduran Constitution, continue to underscore the utter breakdown of the rule of law in Honduras since the 2009 coup — with the blessing of the U.S. government, which continues to celebrate a regime thoroughly marked by corruption and the vicious repression of basic civil liberties. Reports from the Honduran government claiming that the crime rate is down or that the police have been cleaned up should not be believed for a minute.”

I spoke to Assistant Professor Suyapa Portillo of Pitzer College on Nov. 27. Portillo and her students were international observers in San Pedro Sula in Honduras and visited over 13 voting centers throughout the most marginalized sectors of the city.

Dennis Bernstein: Could you just remind us who the candidates are in this latest election in Honduras?  There does seem to be a big difference between them.

Suyapa Portillo: The candidates are Salvador Nasralla, who is running for the Opposition Alliance, and Juan Orlando Hernández, the current president.  Actually, it is illegal for Hernández to run for reelection in Honduras.  After the coup d’etat, bipartisanship was partly broken and there were actually ten parties running in the north where I was an observer.

It was a very heated race but the electoral college reported around 1:40 am that about 45% of the electorate had voted for Nasralla and 40% for Hernández.  But because the current president controls the entire system, including the electoral college, he hasn’t conceded the election to Nasralla, which would be typical by this point.  It still is not clear whether Hernández is going to respect the constitution.

Dennis Bernstein: Talk a little about the stark differences between the candidates.  We have heard a lot about the violence in Honduras after the coup, which was supported by the United States government.

Suyapa Portillo: The National Alliance has been in power since the coup d’etat in 2009.  Since then, the crime rate has risen to an extreme degree.  Over 200 environmental activists have been killed and about that many LGBT activists.  Journalists and human rights defenders are facing threats if they stand up against the government.  A lot of the improvements in Honduras after the peace accords in the 1980’s are being rolled back by the National Alliance.  People in Honduras consider Hernández a dictator.  Even though he claims that crime has been reduced, what has really happened is that it is less reported on.  Hernández’s brother is one of the first high profile people to be linked to narcotrafficking.

Dennis Bernstein: We know that the US government, led by Hillary Clinton [as Secretary of State], sustained the coup that drove [former President] Zelaya out of the country [in 2009].  Clinton bragged about this in the first edition of her autobiography.

Suyapa Portillo: In Honduras narcotraffickers and gangs are taking over.  The levels of violence are through the roof.  We are seeing attacks against human rights defenders, organizers, feminists.  Honduras deserves a different form of government.  When Hillary Clinton bragged about the coup d’etat and when the Obama administration refused to call this a coup d’etat, they really set in motion all these murders.

Dennis Bernstein: Was this an important election?  Did people really want to get out and vote?  You take a risk when you vote in Honduras, particularly if you are a grassroots activist, a teacher, etc.

Suyapa Portillo: The entire country was militarized, particularly the city centers.  We visited thirteen voting centers in San Pedro Sula, in some of the most marginalized sections of the city where people expected the most violence.  There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm despite all the militarization.  People voted early, went home and then came back for the vote count.  This participation by the citizenry is new, emerging after the coup d’etat.  Every ballot box had its own count.

Salvador Nasralla in 2013. (Wikipedia)

We did see quite a few discrepancies: people showing up to learn that they had already voted, people coming to vote to find that their pictures were not available.  We saw a lot of tension between the ballot box people and the electoral college controlled by the government and the citizens.  Some of the neighborhoods we visited are controlled by gangs, but the people still came out.  In almost all of the thirteen voting centers we visited, Nasralla clearly had the lead.

Dennis Bernstein: How do you account for this enthusiasm?  You talked a little about the violence in the country which ensued after the coup.  But talk about some of the grassroots struggles that have gotten people out in numbers to vote.

Suyapa Portillo: 2014 saw the formation of the military police, a body that had not existed since the eighties.  This puts military-grade weapons in the urban centers.  When Hernández came into power, he granted 300 mining concessions to local elites and foreign companies and people felt he was giving away the country.  These land concessions came into direct conflict with indigenous communities.  You started to see incredible numbers of murders of human rights defenders and land rights defenders.

Dennis Bernstein: Some feel he is trying to turn the country into a free trade zone.

Suyapa Portillo: The Nationalist Party vision is just to get rich off of the people.  There are no increases in minimum wage, there is no way out for people.  In fact, in 2014 we saw an exodus of unaccompanied minors.  There is really no future for young people in Honduras.  Education is impossible to access without money.  The military police have attacked university students organizing for reform.

And Hernández has put his entire family in office.  All the ministers are his brothers, sisters, cousins–which is again something that hadn’t happened since the 1980’s in Honduras.  Most importantly, there are no jobs.  The economy is not growing.

Dennis Bernstein: The US government would know about the trafficking in Honduras because the United States has an extensive presence there.  So there is nothing that would be a secret to the US.

Secretary Tillerson meets with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, at the Department of State, March 21, 2017. [State Department photo/Public Domain]

Suyapa Portillo: The United States knows that there is impunity, that no human rights charges will ever see the light of day.  Oftentimes, plaintiffs are either killed or leave before cases are resolved.  Remember that Honduras was under military rule from 1963 to 1980.  For most Hondurans this is recent history and they don’t want to return to that.

The young people want a president who will represent them and the issues that they care about.  Libre and the New Alliance have a proposal that makes sense to them.  The activists we saw were remarkably young people.

Dennis Bernstein: This disastrous policy initiated by Obama and Clinton and intensified under Trump has led to a surge of people leaving the country.  It is sort of a cynical policy because you have got various politicians in the US lecturing mothers in Honduras and El Salvador how dangerous it is to send their kids up north and yet we are creating the circumstances for extreme suffering and very little choice.

Suyapa Portillo: If people cannot make ends meet, they will migrate.  We have to also remember the history of corporations in Honduras.  The United Fruit Company and Dole used to provide jobs for people along the north coast and then when the hurricanes hit factories were closed and unions were lost.

New, non-union, exploitative corporations are now coming in, which is also pushing people out.  Along the north coast, just about every family has someone living in the United States.  The government has to have a plan for dealing with immigration.  What kind of policies will make people want to stay, rather than risk the very dangerous journey through Mexico?

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.

23 comments for “Honduras Again in the Balance

  1. Andrew Blake
    December 4, 2017 at 15:39

    This is what The USA has become, an Imperialist Fascist Kleptocracy fomenting coups to support Dictators world wide. Note that this fascism was actively petpetrated by HR Clinton & Obama, and then further increased under tRumps Admin. Also note how frightengly similar the current actions of the Honduran Dictatorship are to The USA’s current administration & congress. We (the USA) ARE becoming a Banana Republic / Petty Dictatorship, but our citizens still don’t get it.

  2. LJ
    December 3, 2017 at 20:40

    Thank Obama and Hillary for this. Trump is not to blame. The Coup was a disgrace and should have been a campaign issue except the Democrats were entirely to blame. This interview does not report that the USA was the only nation in the OAS to support the coup. That is the Organization of American States, This was Hillary’s baby, like selling fracking internationally and Libya> Her agenda as SOS ( Besides soliciting donations from Foreign interests for the Clinton Foundation but that was on her private Email server so it was OK according to FBI Director Comey, except that he said it was ” Grossly negligent” which meant it was prosecutable.). . Let’s see what happens . You will know how bad it is when it’s like El Salvador and the Gangsters start migrating along with the disenfranchised and unaccompanied minors. I guess the USA will be a big sanctuary and Central America will be a free Trade zone for International Mining Companies and Fruit growers, as suggested.

  3. Andrew Nichols
    December 3, 2017 at 20:03

    ….continue to underscore the utter breakdown of the rule of law in Honduras since the 2009 coup — with the blessing of the U.S. government, which continues to celebrate a regime thoroughly marked by corruption and the vicious repression of basic civil liberties.

    Nothing to see here….Now repeat after me..Venezuela…..Venezuela……Maduro dictator…..Maduro dictator…. There now…Doesnt that feel better?

  4. mike k
    December 3, 2017 at 18:02

    You will very rarely go wrong if you suspect evil intent behind the actions of the US Government. “Evil and death are our greatest products!” How’s that for a US infomercial?

  5. Larry Gates
    December 3, 2017 at 14:01

    The goal of U.S. foreign policy is the facilitation of corporate greed. Justice, human suffering, and death are a non-consideration (except, of course when phony rhetoric about justice and human suffering is used as a mask to hide what is really going on.)

    Welcome to Pax Americana. Our empire is in every way comparable to the Roman Empire.
    On this issue Obama and Clinton are just as guilty as the Republicans.

    • evelync
      December 3, 2017 at 16:46

      It took me years to realize that our Commerce Dept. considers itself a sales dept. for big bidness. Much like Prince Charles, the Duke of Windsor is a glorified arms merchant for Great Britain.

      • LJ
        December 4, 2017 at 14:40

        So true Evelyn,, but ‘….. Prince Andrew would fly all around the world advocating the scam.. . I ran into him once taking in a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the surrounding area. OK guy. Nice coat, nice limo, lots of security, big perimeter but I’m no threat. He would always exhort the British expat business community to look out for Merry Old England’s cut of the deal. Charles with his faux morality and environmental consciousness and British architecture and all that .. etc. was never to be trusted.and was rarely tasked with the big deals. They had Tony Blair and Maggie Thatcher do it instead..

  6. mike k
    December 3, 2017 at 11:12

    Honduras is simply a victim of the USA’s rape and pillage policies. Hillary helped them, just as she did with Libya. Anyone who thinks a woman cannot be as evil and vicious as a man, needs only look at Hillary to be confuted.

    • evelync
      December 3, 2017 at 14:53

      ain’t that the truth…..as a woman it was distressing but at the same time a wake up call to see how Madeline Albright and surprisingly Gloria Steinem, of all people, were compromised by the Clinton machine when they dutifully went out to publicly berate women who weren’t “WITH HER >>>” in the Democratic Primary:

      “The most recent rebuke came from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the first woman to be appointed to that role. She told young women at a campaign event this weekend, “Just remember, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

      But the line that really enraged women supporting Sanders came from Gloria Steinem, the 1960s feminist icon. In an interview with Bill Maher, Steinem said, “When you’re younger, you think: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’” “

      (the link to this will be in the following comment)

      It wasn’t only young women who were turned off by this McCarthy-like attack and I suspect these two ladies were shocked by the response they got and therefore backed off. I wondered at the time whether they held the Clinton campaign accountable for pressuring them into saying something that they should themselves have known better not to say if they have a shred of fair play in their bones……

      • Will O'Reilly
        December 3, 2017 at 20:46

        The only other choice was trump.

        • evelync
          December 3, 2017 at 22:31

          Yeah, during the November 2019 election, it was just Hillary or Donald but during the primary, when some of us believed Bernie was the best candidate because of his policy positions and values and because he had the best chance against Trump (based on the first 2 reasons) if the 400 baked-in Super Delegates were free to support the public will and the Clinton machine didn’t have financial control over the DNC, there was the possibility that things might have turned out differently.

          Not sure if I’m addressing your point or misunderstand your point, Will.


          • evelync
            December 3, 2017 at 22:36

            sorry, November 2016 NOT 2019

  7. December 3, 2017 at 09:03

    Hard to tell exactly what the facts are because this report is filled with left wing boilerplate ideological cant. Most ordinary people aren’t reflecting ideology but responding to what their own on the ground experiences are.

    • evelync
      December 3, 2017 at 16:40

      I guess I missed what you are referring to in my first reading – which was the 2012 publication of this document. The link to the 2012 document no longer works and I expect this 2013 version which has an active link is, based on my quick read through, a very close final version.

      Please, if you have a moment, refer me to the page(pages) you have in mind or the particular quotes that you find to be “left wing ideological cant”.

      When I read the document in 2012, I found it a courageous, compelling history of what happened from the viewpoint of the indigenous people who suffered greatly from the oppression and the violence.

      The only voices that are silent in the document are the corporate benefactors of U.S. policies and the right wing powerful families allied with the multinationals. These parties were, apparently, against the reforms that were slowly taking place under Zelaya (a man who came, apparently, from wealth but who came to understand that protecting the rights of indigenous people was part of his job too.)

      Under Zelaya “free education for all children was introduced,[20] subsidies to small farmers were provided, bank interest rates were reduced,[21] the minimum wage was increased by 80%, school meals were guaranteed for more than 1.6 million children from poor families, domestic employees were integrated into the social security system, poverty was reduced by almost 10% during two years of government, and direct state help was provided for 200,000 families in extreme poverty, with free electricity supplied to those Hondurans most in need.”
      And according to the document he had permitted the morning after pill to women. The day after the coup that policy was reversed.

      I’d appreciate your sharing with us what you view as ideological cant.


      • Intellectually Conservative
        December 3, 2017 at 20:42

        What “Fran Macadam” refers to as left-wing ideological, etc, disparagingly is anything he or she does not care to investigate further nor understand. Of course it is hard for Fran to tell what the facts are, here and everywhere else.

  8. evelync
    December 3, 2017 at 01:59

    Here’s the Truth Commission Report that includes a wikileaked confidential cable to the U.S. from the U.S. ambassador to Honduras which admits the coup was illegal – start around page 56 to get to the cable.

    Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton refused to call the Coup a military coup.
    Calling it a military coup would have by U.S. law ended military aid to Honduras and that it is believed would have effectively ended the coup.

    The whole report is an eye opener into our shameful foreign policy that serves the largest corporations and the right wing families whose interests are aligned. This was one of Secretary of State Clinton’s “HARD CHOICES”.

    I’ll put the link in the following comment.

  9. David G
    December 2, 2017 at 23:06

    “Actually, it is illegal for Hernández to run for reelection in Honduras.”

    That’s a bit gobsmacking: wasn’t the supposed illegality of Zelaya’s running for a further term the “constitutional” justification for the coup?

    • jaycee
      December 4, 2017 at 00:34

      It was, and speculatively at that. Zelaya was arranging a referendum or plebiscite whereby Honduras’ voters would permit, or not, the beginning of a process to revise the Honduras Constitution, which had been written in the 1980s during the military dictatorship. Zelaya’s political opposition, in concert with the country’s right-leaning establishment, invoked the coup by claiming a self-serving Zelaya wished to rewrite the Constitution specifically to allow successive Presidential terms, expressly forbidden by the 1980s document. That is, Zelaya and his government were removed for something he might have endorsed sometime in the future dependent on a vote which had not yet happened.

      If you look at the media coverage on this event from 2009, Hugo Chavez features prominently. The coup was less about Zelaya himself and more about preventing the Honduran people from moving forward in a participatory democracy loosely allied with Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution. The coup was reactionary, and has turned out to be very very nasty. Much respect to the people of Honduras described in this interview, who have defied the illegitimate powers. If the will of the Honduran people is again unappreciated it will again confirm that “democracy” has qualifications, not least to the USA.

  10. Sam F
    December 2, 2017 at 22:06

    It is a great tragedy that the US has had a completely destructive anti-democratic policy toward Latin America from the beginning, the product of mindless bullying by the rich to suppress socialism. Now that US policy consists almost entirely of secret wars, the rich can get away with absolutely anything against the poor. They are truly traitors.

    I have lost contact with the orphan I once supported in Honduras, and wonder what he must think of this utter betrayal by the US. The US government has become a monster, unworthy of the loyalty of any of its citizens, and should be completely dismantled and redesigned as a true democracy, completely protected from the abjectty immoral rich.

    • Joe Tedesky
      December 2, 2017 at 23:11

      Yeah Sam, the U.S. biggest export is pain and suffering, and yet we think of ourselves as being always the good guys. The most tragic thing about Honduras is that most Americans have not a clue to what is going on with that country, or suspect the U.S. for having done so many awful and terrible things to Honduras. But forget all of that, and just stand for our National Anthem.

    • Dave P.
      December 3, 2017 at 14:09

      Yes. What U.S. has been doing since last four decades and long before that in Central America has resulted in the the utter destruction of their cultures and civilizations; pillaging and plundering those countries. And also has inflicted death and much suffering on the people in those countries. It is still going on to some extent. It is sad to think of it.

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