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Postelection protests build in Honduras

Martin Reischke
December 4, 2017

The government of Honduras has responded to ongoing protests by declaring a state of emergency. For four years now, President Juan Orlando Hernandez has been systematically transforming the country into a military state.

Image: Getty Images/AFP/O. Sierra

The European Union's 100-observer mission to guarantee transparent elections in Honduras seems to have failed. Although the voting passed comparatively quietly, there is still no official result almost a week later — and the current figures from the electoral commission indicate a narrow victory for the incumbent president, Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Accusing the president of electoral fraud, the opposition has taken to the streets. There have been repeated clashes between security forces and protesters. On Friday evening the government imposed a state of emergency, initially for a period of 10 days.

The EU mission had little chance. The real problem is the stark politicization of the electoral authorities in favor of the government. A representative of Hernandez's National Party is on the top electoral court, but there is no one on it to represent the opposition.

There were also many more governing party representatives supervising and checking both voting and the count at individual polling stations. And the long delay in the vote count has not helped strengthen trust in the institutions either. Against this backdrop, the opposition's skepticism seems well-founded — even if details as to the extent of the electoral fraud remain unclear.

Added to this is the fact that many Hondurans regard Hernandez's latest candidacy as illegitimate; the constitution expressly forbids re-election. However, Hernandez and the National Party have used the past few years to bring various institutions under their control.

Honduras: Hernandez
Official results haven't been released, but Hernandez celebrated the initial exit pollsImage: Reuters/E. Garrido

Hernandez appointed friends and family members to important army posts, the defense budget was radically increased, and judges considered too independent were dismissed. This is the only explanation as to why the Constitutional Court permitted the head of government to stand for the presidency again.

'Total control'

Hernandez's tenure has seen new laws to drastically restrict freedoms of the press and assembly. Protests against his policies have been harshly suppressed. But, because the government has extensive control over state institutions, the only option open to the opposition alliance and its presidential candidate, Salvador Nasralla, is to take protests about the lack of transparency in the election to the streets. However, this escalation has benefited the government. "It needs confrontation in order to justify its repressive politics of total control," the Honduran human rights expert Dennis Munoz said.

The state of emergency represents a new level of militarization in Honduras, however. Fundamental civil liberties have been suspended. Numerous reports from local observers indicate that security forces have used large-scale violence to suppress demonstrations.

Perhaps the only country that can stop Hernandez and his political ambitions is the United States. No important decisions can be made in Honduras without approval from Washington. In recent years, however, Hernandez has stood firmly at the US's side on security policy issues aimed at stemming the northward flows of migration and the drug trade.

And US officials have been willing to close their eyes to the democracy deficit in Honduras. Investigations by prosecutors in New York indicate that four years ago Hernandez may have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug money to finance his first disputed election campaign. However, so far not even this has persuaded the US to scale back its support.