Honduras is on the verge of serious upheaval. On Saturday, its re-elected president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, will have his second inauguration. But many Hondurans believe the vote count after the Nov. 26 election was tampered with. Moreover, the country’s constitution prohibits re-election of the president.
Since the tainted election, nearly 40 people have died in political violence. Many protesters are alleged to have been shot by the military. Others have simply “disappeared” -- gathered up from their homes, sometimes in the middle of the night, or nabbed off the streets. And even more people opposed to the vote count (which took weeks to complete) are being detained, their heads shaven as they are held in jails.
A week after the election, thousands of Hondurans poured into the streets to protest each day, a virtual sea of humanity in some cities. And they continue to turn out. Often, protesters are met with military riot squads, tear gas, water cannons and even live ammunition.
Opposition leaders called for a national strike a week ago. And people young and old have been blocking major roadways. Public discontent has been building for two months.
If you are unaware of what has been happening in this beleaguered Central American nation, it may be because news coverage in the U.S. media has been dismal, despite the horrific violence committed by Honduran government forces.
That this conflict should turn so deadly is hardly a surprise. Honduras is among the world’s most dangerous nations for environmental activists, who often wind up assassinated by masked gunmen or die under mysterious circumstances. It is also on the trade route by which Colombian cocaine comes to the U.S. We have strong interests in the stability of Honduras.
For one thing, North American taxpayers are footing the bill. So pat your pocketbook if the humanitarian costs are not troubling. Our military has bases throughout the country, as it is strategically situated in the region.
In fact, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed off on millions of dollars in aid to Honduras while the contested ballots were still being counted. The funds were supposed to be contingent on the nation’s progress at fighting corruption and supporting human rights. Yet Tillerson green-lighted the transfer of funds weeks before the election was certified.
About 10 hours after the polls had closed, the Honduran election commission said that Hernandez’s challenger, Salvador Nasralla, was ahead by 5 percentage points. Then, the tabulating was suspended. More than a day later, when reporting on the votes resumed, that lead had been reversed. Hernandez won -- a result that is clearly not being accepted by many Hondurans.
Note also that, amid this turbulence and violence, Hondurans seeking asylum in the U.S. are months away from potentially losing their rights to claim temporary protected status. That’s a right for Hondurans who were already in the U.S. to remain here at least temporarily, free from the threat of deportation, given that returning home could be a death sentence. That status was extended until July for Hondurans, but it has been revoked for other Latin American nationals.
The Trump administration is sending mixed signals on Honduras’ election fraud and human rights abuses. In a statement issued in December, the State Department noted irregularities identified by international election observers, cited the resulting popular protests and called for a “robust national dialogue” and an effort to “enact much-needed electoral reforms.” Yet it also congratulated Hernandez on his victory.
We’re standing silent while a soon-to-be dictator solidifies his hold on power. Does Trump plan to send people into harm’s way now that the government of Honduras is turning live ammunition on its own people?
The State Department counseled Honduras to respect the rights of peaceful protesters. This is a country in whose affairs the United States has long played an influential and not very constructive role. If our government is serious about protecting the lives and democratic institutions of Honduras, we’ll need to use more than airy rhetoric.