What’s at Stake in Honduran Election

Protests continue over the disputed Honduran presidential election after a solid lead by a progressive was wiped out amid gross irregularities and the right-wing incumbent was declared the winner, reports Rick Sterling.

By Rick Sterling

For seven months in 1969, I hitch-hiked around the U.S., Mexico and Central America with my best friend from high school. Some class-mates from our school in Vancouver Canada saved their money then travelled to Europe or Australia but Ollie and I headed south. It was an eye-opening experience for two middle-class Canadians.

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

We had a lot of learning experiences in the U.S., but today I want to talk about Honduras because it is in crisis as I write this: the Honduran election took place on Nov. 26 yet the results are still in contention. Will the current right-wing government manage to retain power?

When we visited the capital Tegucigalpa in 1969 we went to the university campus to meet and hang out with young Hondurans. They told us about the recent visit of President Richard Nixon who had taken office a few months before and then travelled to Latin America. The Vietnam War was still raging in 1969 and people protested against the war and Nixon wherever he went.

The young Hondurans told us that when Nixon visited Tegucigalpa there had been a big protest. Several students who had been protesting from the top of a university building had been shot dead. It made an impression as did the warm and friendly people we met, some living in shacks along the banks of the Choluteca River running through the capital.

In Nicaragua, we heard more eye-opening stories from the youth there. They told us about the Somoza family dictatorship, how corrupt it was, and how they came to power through U.S. Marines. They also told us about the death of Cesar Sandino who fought for Nicaraguan independence but was killed by Somoza’s National Guard in 1934. The Nicaraguan youth told us that when the U.S. asked for proof of Sandino’s death, Somoza shipped Sandino’s head in a box to Washington.

Those and many other experiences changed my life. Over the coming decades I kept an interest in Central America.

In 1979, when Nicaraguans overthrew the Somoza dictatorship, it seemed like a good thing. But President Ronald Reagan did not like an independent Nicaragua. Violating international law, the U.S. organized a mercenary army called the “Contras” to destabilize and upend the Sandinista government. The mercenaries were trained in Honduras with U.S. funding, supplies and weapons.

The U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, John Negroponte, oversaw the mercenary army attacking Nicaragua and the emergence of death squads in El Salvador. Tens of thousands of peasants and opposition activists were killed with impunity. In Honduras itself, there was widespread repression and murder of those challenging the status quo.

In 1998, Honduras was hit by Hurricane Mitch. The second worst Atlantic hurricane ever recorded caused huge destruction and death, especially in poor communities with weak infrastructure. The shacks and modest dwellings along the river bank in Tegucigalpa were all ripped and washed away. Over 7,000 Hondurans died, including people we had met three decades before.

Six years later, in 2004, I was again reminded of the U.S. role in Honduras when the same John Negroponte who had overseen the Contra operations went to Baghdad to take over management of the Iraq occupation. Newsweek magazine said he was coming with a new strategy, which they dubbed the “Salvador option.”

Over the next year, sectarian death squads emerged to provoke sectarian bloodshed. Negroponte’s right-hand man in Iraq, Robert S. Ford, was later appointed as U.S. Ambassador to Syria in 2010 where he helped fuel the uprisings in that country. Thus there is direct connection between U.S. interference and aggression in Central America and the Middle East.

Honduran Control

For decades Honduras was alternately ruled by two political parties representing different branches of the country’s oligarchy. They traded power back and forth, effectively preventing alternative perspectives.

Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.

But things began to change in Honduras in 2006. President Manuel Zelaya came from the oligarchy but started to initiate changes benefiting the poor. He called for real land reform, raising the minimum wage and he questioned the need for US military bases. That was too much. In June 2009, President Zelaya was kidnapped in the middle of the night and flown from the capital to the U.S. military air base called Soto Cano, only 48 miles away. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been in Honduras just weeks before. She disapproved of Zelaya and his policies. The coup went ahead.

After the 2009 coup, conditions in Honduras deteriorated rapidly. Tegucigalpa became the homicide capital of the world. Tens of thousands of youth have fled the country as it has been wracked by drug wars, corruption, and police or paramilitary repression. Alongside this, there has been widespread popular resistance.

In 2011, I returned to Honduras to see the conditions first hand. With a delegation organized by Alliance for Global Justice and Task Force on the Americas, I visited peasants in the fertile Aguan Valley, indigenous communities in the mountains and workers and church activists in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.

We talked with a hard-working activist named Berta Caceres (who was assassinated five years later) and others in her indigenous organization COPINH. We learned that these communities were still actively resisting the coup and forming a new political party to challenge the right-wing coup government not with guns but with votes.

Slain Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres.

In 2013, I returned again to Honduras, this time as an election observer. In the contest, the new LIBRE party surpassed the traditional Liberal Party and made a strong challenge to the right-wing National Party. There were many examples of election malfeasance but Juan Orlando Hernandez of the right-wing National Party was anointed as the new President.

Since then social and economic conditions have not changed. The Hernandez regime governs to the benefit of rich Hondurans and international corporations. He has a strong military alliance with the U.S. military and is very friendly with President Trump’s Chief of Staff, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly.

Wiping Out a Lead

That has set the stage for the most recent events. Days before the election. The Economist ran an article describing a National Party training session in cheating techniques. The election was held on Sunday, Nov. 26. On election night, with 57 percent of the votes counted, the opposition challenger was ahead by over 5 percentage points.

Then strange things began to happen. The election commission stopped updating the vote tally for 36 hours. The head of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said on Monday they were still missing 6,000 tally sheets from different polling places. A few hours later, he said they were missing 7500 tally sheets. When the vote count resumed on Tuesday, the existing President Hernandez was gaining votes, cutting the opposition lead and then winning. It all looked very fishy, even to the OAS monitors.

The situation is rapidly coming to a head. Initially, the opposition demanded a full and complete review of all the 18,000 tally sheets. Now they are calling for the annulment of the election and a new election under international supervision.

The Honduran government is either stonewalling or is paralyzed. Hundreds of thousands of Hondurans have protested in the streets, with at least 12 protesters killed. However in a dramatic change, the elite paramilitary COBRA security forces have started to refuse orders, saying their job is not to repress their own communities.

The repercussions of what happens in Honduras could also reach across Latin America. Just as the 2009 coup in Honduras was a setback for the entire region, the outcome of the current crisis will have wide-reaching consequences, too. As reported in Foreign Policy magazine, “The US has a lot riding on the Honduran election”; the U.S. foreign policy establishment wants the continuation of the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Despite all the indications of electoral malfeasance and human rights abuses, the Trump Administration has praised the conservative government. Meanwhile, some North American reporters, analysts and activists are doing what they can to support Honduran popular forces and to stop the theft of the Honduran election.

The coming days may be momentous. I have explained why it personally matters to me. But this is more important than one person’s connection to a country. It should matter to anyone concerned with progress, justice, respect and international law.   .

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist and currently president of the board of Task Force on the Americas. He can be reached at [email protected].

16 comments for “What’s at Stake in Honduran Election

  1. December 16, 2017 at 07:54

    The article brings back offensive recollections of Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Elliott Abrams, the two most altogether disagreeable advocates of Reagan’s slippery arrangements in Central America. Kirkpatrick must scoop coal in Hell, yet Abrams remains a vile effect on remote policy(currently causing a commotion in the MidEast).

  2. December 15, 2017 at 19:59

    Thanks, Rick. It is disgusting that Sec of State Rex Tillerson could claim that Honduras does not violate human rights of its citizens in order to justify continued US military aid (and thereby continued repression). And that the charge d’affaire, Heidi B. Fulton , could claim that the election was transparent and not fraudulent. She is no better than James Nealon, the former ambassador to Honduras, who, when told by our delegation that Berta Caceres’ life was in danger (this 18 days before she was assassinated) claimed, incredibly, that the US Embassy could not get involved in Honduran domestic issues. Apparently he did not know that CIA agents are routinely “covered” in US embassies.

  3. Bob Van Noy
    December 15, 2017 at 11:50

    Thank you Rick Sterling for this exceptional essay on your post college journey that has literally shaped your life. I’d like to thank the many responses from the regular CN commentators as well, especially Bob H. As I remember being infuriated by the Reagan/Jeanne Kirkpatrick duo on the media at the time. I regret now that their argument seemed incomprehensible (because it was) and it has taken a generation of intrepid journalists like Rick Sterling,Robert Parry and Gary Webb to sift carefully through the very deep obfuscation. I especially appreciate the writing of Naomi Klein and her precedent setting book “The Shock Doctrine” that thoroughly explained the entire corporate concept of Milton Friedman’s Chicago Boys. We can at least be grateful that all of that has been exposed and now is in the open. Now it is up to us as citizens to help stop the criminal use of our government.

  4. James
    December 15, 2017 at 11:02

    Thank you for this overview of the USA policy in Latin America-it’s thatfreedom and democracy being spread around!

    I saw an interview with Marco Rubio and he was already starting in about election interference in Mexico by Russia!!’

    And the media in the USA keeps people ignorant with its lies

  5. LJ
    December 14, 2017 at 21:17

    Most people who will read this article can remember how the Election in Mexico in 2006 where Obrador clearly beat Calderon was invalidated in a manner similar to Hondoras’s recent election. At that time , actually on election night when Obrador still appeared to be headed towards winning ( because pro Calderon regions were counted first and Calderon held onto a very slim lead after 6% o0f the vote had been counted) Our Presidente George W. Bush called and congratulated Calderon on his victory. When the vote count was stopped Calderon was suppose to have been ahead by a couple percentage points. When “official” were released a couple weeks later by some miracle Calderon won by the exact same margin. Of course the ballots were destroyed and there was no recount. the USA gets what it wants just like Lola gets what Lola wants. Now Obrador according to polling is clearly in the driver’s seat heading towards the next election in Mexico . His lead appears insurmountable. Would you like to wager that the next election in Mexico will be stolen like the election in 2006? What kind of odds will you offer. Trump will not allow Obrador to win the Presidency in Mexico and either would Hillary Clinton. It will be a neat trick if our government can get what it wants in Mexico again but never underestimate Uncle Sam

    • December 14, 2017 at 23:11

      ” Trump will not allow Obrador to win the Presidency in Mexico and either would Hillary Clinton.” LJ,…if so, it won’t be Trump who makes the decision.His handlers, however know how to permeate borders.

      • LJ
        December 15, 2017 at 17:51

        Parsing words. Obrador will win the next election in Mexico barring an act of God , which is to say Assassination. PS Hillary would not be making decisions either but she would be portrayed as WAY mas presidential than Trumpsky.

  6. December 14, 2017 at 18:48

    It does not matter that a totalitarian military empire thinks Cosmos should kneel before it and accept the superior directions of Pentagonistan propaganda.

    Cosmic powered biology manifest as human is part of expanding cosmos still banging.

    Sure, go right ahead;

    Make Earth great again !

  7. December 14, 2017 at 17:33

    The article brings back unpleasant memories of Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Elliott Abrams, the two most thoroughly obnoxious proponents of Reagan’s insidious policies in Central America. Kirkpatrick must be shoveling coal in Hell, but Abrams remains a sinister influence on foreign policy(currently raising Hell in the MidEast).

  8. mike k
    December 14, 2017 at 17:33

    After all, it’s just another banana public. Who cares what happens there, as long as they keep us supplied with bananas……… (Joe Public yawns his indifference.)

    • Sam F
      December 14, 2017 at 19:25

      Eliminating the corporate pressure upon US policy in Latin America would help. One scheme tried before is to nationalize the foreign (banana) companies, paying them only the low values they claim to avoid taxes. If this were done by the ICC it would have legitimacy, so of course the US refuses to sign the Treaty of Rome. Perhaps the UN could establish such a nationalization compensation process, and tell the US companies to get out. Another option would be leveraged buyouts of controlling shares of US corporations engaged there, or for China to do that and finance their transfer to those countries, conditional to those remaining state corporations.

    • Bob Van Noy
      December 15, 2017 at 12:32

      mike k and Sam F. Surely America is waking to the lies and propaganda. I don’t think they are yawning any more. And, Sam F. I will never stop thanking you for your patience and intellect at working a viable solution to all of this. Thank you Robert Parry for this site.

  9. mike k
    December 14, 2017 at 16:11

    Honduras is added to the long list of US atrocities and genocides. Nothing new here, eh? Just another notch in Uncle Sam’s belt.

    • mike k
      December 14, 2017 at 16:15

      Don’t know if that evil b–ch Hillary wears a belt, but if she does Honduras is notched on there.

  10. Joe Tedesky
    December 14, 2017 at 14:18

    Let’s all hope that the elite paramilitary COBRA security forces stay on the side of the a Honduran people.

    • Sam F
      December 14, 2017 at 19:14

      Yes, the true patriotism of “the elite paramilitary COBRA security forces … saying their job is not to repress their own communities” is just what the US needs and does not have. We can be sure that they were not trained at the US academy of totalitarian repression (formerly School of the Americas or SOA).

      This is a superb article by Rick Sterling. The details of subversion operations of John Negroponte and Robert Ford are invaluable. All Americans should see that the US oligarchy never does “democracy promotion” and is the world’s worst manipulator and destroyer of democracies. The US oligarchy accuses Russia, Cuba, and others to conceal its own crime from its own citizens.

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