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Past Comment II
The death of democracy in Honduras
Daniel Bagheri S.
January 29, 2018
Daniel Bagheri reports on the ongoing tensions in Honduras following the 2017 national elections.
Saturday 27 of January 2018 marked the inauguration of Juan Orlando Hernandez as the president of Honduras, and while the US was quick to congratulate the incumbent president, Hondurans were taking to the street for the 7th consecutive day in protest. Many people in Honduras see the reappointment of Juan Orlando as an illegal usurpation of power by the ultra right Nationalist party.
Almost everyone I talk to on the streets of Tegucigalpa uniformly condemn violations of basic human rights at hands of the Regime. Nevertheless, Juan Orlando Hernandez was sworn into office along with his cabinet through an elaborate series of ceremonies that were publicly broadcasted inside the heavily guarded and enclosed National Stadium of Tegucigalpa. Just outside the stadium, however, bullets and tear gas were once again pouring upon unarmed peaceful protestors. The contrast between the serene ceremonial proceedings and the unrest just outside of the stadium could not be more defined. It is ironic to witness the next president of the country being sworn into office promising to uphold the will of the people amidst large-scale violent crackdown of protestors and opposition activists by his security apparatus. This is a man who has been accused of grave human rights violations and gross transgression against the Honduran constitution, placing his hand on the very constitution he has again and again disregarded to begin his second term in office. Since 2013, Juan Orlando Hernandez has modified the constitution on a number of different occasions and has enacted laws that serve to solidify his hold on power. For instance, in 2014, he enacted a law that would enable him to run for a second term in office even though presidential term limits have been explicitly limited by the Honduran constitution for decades.
So how did we get here?
The most obvious source of the current unrest in Honduras stems from the recent election process that has been marred with accusations of grave electoral fraud and corruption. The opposition Alliance party was at one point leading with a significant margin, however, this trend was sharply reversed after a series of unexplained glitches and malfunctions in the computer systems of the electoral committee responsible for maintaining the vote count, resulting in several delays in the electoral count. Over the next to few days more and more evidence surfaced that pointed to gross misconduct and fraud within the Electoral committee and at the ballot boxes. It was not long before the National party eventually subdued the opposition. After an unprecedented, lengthy, and controversial electrical count, Juan Orlando Hernandez declared himself the victor, leading by a 1% margin over the opposition Alliance party on 17th of December 2017. This led to the overall unrest through the country that has continued to this day.
However, the current political crisis in Honduras has a deeper root, one that goes back to the 2009 coup d'état that saw the removal of former president Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales. The perpetrators were ultra right wing military elites, supported and armed by the United States. In the wake of the coup, the military imposed emergency rule until power was handed over to the current right wing National Party. The National Party has since maintained its hold on power through three elections, all of which have been marked by widespread electoral fraud and corruption.
Since 2009, the Honduran government has initiated economic policies that has seen the establishment of Economic Zones where foreign multi-national corporations can exploit natural resources and act with impunity from Honduran national laws. Privatization of public industries, public spaces and wholesale exploitation of Honduran natural wealth has become the norm here. Even more sinister, the murder of journalists, environmental activists and human rights defenders has only intensified in the recent years. The assassination of indigenous leaders such as Berta Cáceres who dare to protest the exploitations and destruction of their lands have gone unanswered and without justice.
As a result of the government’s policies, and its implicit denial of the basic rights of many of its own citizens, every major indigenous peoples organization and federation has officially denounced the authority of Juan Orlando. Indigenous leaders and community members are among the loudest critics of Juan Orlando’s government and many have joined the nation-wide protest movement in force. Given their significant demographic representation in the region, the growing discontent of indigenous peoples in Honduras has the potential to lead to violent internal conflict if the current trend continues. This was the experience of Guatemala during their long civil war that saw many thousand of people displaced and hundreds killed.
Many see the usurpation of power by the National Party also as a way to gain immunity for the chronic corruption and illegal activities that has gone uncheck under the government of Juan Orlando for years. These corruption cases included various forms of collaborations between the head of the police and the military and even members of the Juan Orlando family with crime syndicates and Narco-traffickers. Furthermore, members of the parliament with close associations with the National party, including advisers to the president, have been accused of misappropriating upward of 30 million dollars from the social security funds that rightfully belonged to Honduran people.
Annually, millions of dollars of foreign assistance and military aid by the US is directed towards maintaining a repressive military apparatus within Honduras to prop up an increasingly authoritarian government. Yet a large portion of the Honduran people and most notably indigenous nations in the country lack access to basic needs such as education, basic healthcare, roads, water, electricity etc.
Honduran democracy died with the coup of 2009 but this death of democracy plays out again and again with every symbolic inauguration ceremony with empty promise made amidst bullets and repression.
Daniel Baghari S. is an Indigenous Peoples Rights Advocate, Cuso International.
Daniel Baghari S. is an Indigenous Peoples Rights Advocate, Cuso International.