Witness for Peace Nicaragua/Honduras team members have just returned from a trip to Honduras where they found the streets exploding with campaign paraphernalia like those pictured here. The 90-day period of official campaigning for the November 24th general elections is in full swing and the streets are covered with posters, billboards, graffiti and people dressed in party colors handing out stickers. The elections seemed to be on everyone's mind. In most casual conversations the IT heard speculations and theories about what will happen; if the country will be different on November 25.
The last elections took place in November, 2009 just four months after the democratically elected President Mel Zelaya was deposed through a military Coup D’Etat. Most international observers boycotted the election claiming that free and fair elections were impossible while the country was still living in a police state -- one in which basic civil liberties had not been restored and repression of protest was rampant. Despite widespread claims of fraud, the U.S. State Department was the first to recognize the elections, a decision that was announced before the ballots had been fully counted.
Four years later, the electoral environment is different. Despite the fact the country is still suffering from a human rights crisis and many continue to see the past election as illegitimate, many Hondurans will return to the polls with hopes that this year the electoral process will be legitimate. Many Hondurans are calling these elections the most important in Honduran history because of unprecedented support for candidates outside of the two traditional parties. There are candidates from 9 parties on the ballot, including the newly formed LIBRE Party, whose candidate Xiomara Castro is wife of the deposed President Zelaya and is supported by many left-leaning Hondurans.
Sports commentator Salvador Nasralla also has received support in the polls, running under the Anti-Corruption Party (PAC).
While recognizing the importance of representation nontraditional parties in the election, most people Witness for Peace spoke with very pessimistic about the possibility of an election free from fraud and repression. Violence against candidates from parties that challenge the two party system is already very serious. According to leading human rights organization COFADEH, since May 2012 at least 23 LIBRE candidates have been murdered and many others have been threatened, kidnapped and tortured. Other candidates have also faced violence--at least 5 candidates from the National party have been killed and 3 from the Liberal party.
Moreover, many members of civil society have told us they’re worried about fraud on Election Day itself, especially when it comes to the counting of votes. For example, news outlets have frequently reported on concerns about the equipment used to transmit vote counts from each polling place.
In September, Honduras announced the creation of a new military police force. This force is composed of members of the military, and the stated purpose is to combat organized crime and drug trafficking by patrolling amongst the civilian population. Honduras is recognized as the murder capital of the world; crime is certainly a serious issue. Witness for Peace partners in Honduras, however, expressed that it is no coincidence that the new force was announced shortly before the elections. The implied message is that if fraud occurs or is perceived to have occurred, and Hondurans protest the election results, they will be repressed.
Unlike the elections in 2009, the U.S. has been very quiet throughout this electoral process. The Embassy has stated that they’re supporting the Electoral Tribunal by donating software and consulting on results transmission technology, while USAID has been promoting campaigns encouraging people to vote and collecting data to reduce future elections-related violence. Many of our partners in Honduras say that no one really knows what activities U.S. agencies are involved in. Across the board, the Hondurans that we spoke with advocated that the U.S. should not intervene in the results of the elections. They affirmed that the U.S. should do what they can to ensure free and transparent elections and, in the event of fraud, should not recognize an illegally elected administration. Aid for the police and military continues contributing to an overall climate of militarization and fear.
Many Hondurans fear that no matter who wins, the dominance of corporate interests in Honduras, and the repression of leaders like Berta Caceres, will likely continue. At the same time, communities will continue to struggle against concessions of their land and rivers for megaprojects. Berta, coordinator of the indigenous rights organization COPINH, is in danger of serving jail time because of her leadership in a peaceful protest against the construction of an illegal hydroelectric dam.
We have heard the call of these communities, and we, too, will keep organizing in solidarity with them. We must continue mobilizing to push our elected officials to end all military and police aid to Honduras until all human rights abuses cease. Click below to take action!