In November of last year, the Honduran election commission announced that Salvador Nasralla, a liberal political-outsider, held a five-point lead in the presidential election after the first 57 percent of the votes were tallied. However, the election commission stopped publicizing the results until the near end. Ultimately, the right-wing incumbent, Juan Orlando Hernandez, was proclaimed the winner in an election that was widely condemned by the international community.
The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, called for a new election. Numerous independent organizations and international observers documented the many signs of election fraud.
In particular, The Economist published a blistering report that, while admitting their conclusions were not definitive proof, comprehensively analyzed the voting data and found several inconsistencies suggesting there was systemic election fraud. In fact, The Economist obtained an un-authenticated tape of election workers from Hernandez’s party teaching fraud techniques.
Nonetheless, Hernandez refused to relinquish power. He even issued a nationwide curfew and ordered the military to suppress thousands, who have organized in protest. (On a bright note, a group of high-level members of the police resisted by not enforcing this form of martial law.)
Honduran security forces suppressed protesters with rubber bullets, tear gas, and live ammunition. As many as 30 people were killed, with dozens more injured by the government’s use of force. Hundreds of protesters were jailed for merely asserting their constitutional right to free speech. That includes 34 protesters charged with terrorism, stemming from a law passed by the Hernandez administration last year that conflates political speech with terrorism. And yet, the people of Honduras continue to protest the process of this election.
The international community, by and large, has condemned what is happening in Honduras, but the U.S. government remains unabashed in its support for Hernandez.
The U.S. Ambassador to Honduras tweeted, “We are pleased Honduras election authorities completed the special scrutiny process in a way that maximizes citizen participation and transparency.” The U.S. State Department also certified the election results, which means that U.S. tax dollars may continue to fund the Honduran “security forces” that are crushing protests.
The Trump administration’s response follows the U.S. government’s long-running, bipartisan support for right-wing dictators in Latin America. Hernandez, a businessman with a master’s degree from the State University of New York, is an economic ally of the U.S. In fact, the Honduran bond market crashed after the early results showed his opponent, Nasralla, in the lead.
Hernandez has followed the IMF model of fiscal austerity and bent over backward to encourage foreign investment. Case in point, he has supported a plan for “Employment and Economic Development Zones” in which foreign investors can establish their own laws and don’t have to answer to Honduran authorities.
There are also militaristic and geopolitical reasons behind the U.S. government’s support of Hernandez. He is a vocal critic of Nicolas Maduro’s administration, who has called for restoring human rights and democracy in Venezuela while ignoring his own atrocious record.
Importantly, Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras was a point of shipping weapons to the anti-communist Contras during the Iran-Contra affair, and it remains a key military base in Central America.
U.S. Continues Cold War
Although the Cold War officially ended, the U.S. government continues to wage aggression in various manners. In a stunning act of hypocrisy, on December 21 (two weeks after the U.S. State Department certified the Honduras election), Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tweeted, “We must lead by example” and punish human rights abuses and corruption. He announced the U.S Treasury Department sanctioned the head of the election commission in Nicaragua.
There is plenty of evidence of corruption within the administration of Daniel Ortega. The former Sandinista revolutionary is now serving in his third term as the president in a political dynasty that has appointed his family members to key government positions. His wife is serving as the Vice President.
However, the U.S. government has a lengthy record of selectively enforcing the principles of human rights and democracy, with socialist/communist regimes receiving the brunt of the force while the crimes of right-wing dictators are swept under the rug.
Numerous members of Maduro’s inner circle in Venezuela were hit with economic sanctions, including the vice president, eight supreme court justices, and several military officials. But the U.S. government remained neutral in 2015 when thousands of Honduran protesters demanded the resignation of Hernandez. Honduran state government officials allege that as much as $300 million was embezzled from the country’s social security fund and $90 million of those funds ended up in Hernandez’s campaign.
The more illuminating issue involves term limits. The U.S. State Department criticized the Nicaraguan government in 2013 when the Supreme Court, which is deeply aligned with Ortega, overturned the law limiting presidents to two terms in office. Presidential term limits are an important measure in preventing political dynasties like the previous one in Nicaragua held by the Somoza family, which was fully supported by the U.S. government.
The Bolivian Supreme Court overruled the constitution last year to allow Bolivian President Evo Morales to run for a fourth term in 2019. The U.S State Department described it as “a step back for democracy.” However, the real reason behind this statement was the fact that it was Morales, a far-left socialist who is allied with Venezuela and Cuba, who was consolidating power.
The U.S government has flipped its stance on this same issue when it served its geopolitical interests. Two years ago, the U.S. embassy openly supported the Honduran Supreme Court overruling the constitution to allow Juan Orlando Hernandez to run for re-election. This was the statement:
The U.S. Government does not oppose President Hernandez or others from presenting themselves for re-election according to Honduran democratic processes. It is up to the Honduran people to determine their political future through their democratic institutions and processes.
What’s particularly disturbing is that Hernandez was directly responsible for changing the constitution in 2012. At that time, he was the head of the Honduran Congress, which illegally removed four Supreme Court justices. They were replaced with conservative party loyalists who later overturned the ban on term limits.
The issue of term limits in Honduras has tremendous historical significance. It was the justification for the ouster of the former President Manuel Zelaya. He steered Honduras to the left and he sided with socialist leaders, such as Maduro, much to the chagrin of the country’s economic elite.
A small group of the country’s oligarchs gained the political capital in 2009 to organize a military coup when Zelaya asked for a public ballot to approve a new constitution. Even though any potential constitutional changes would have gone into effect after leaving office, Zelaya’s opponents labeled this as an attempt to stay in office and branded him as a future dictator.
Zelaya was forcibly escorted out of the country by the military in a private jet owned by one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen, Miguel Facussé. Meanwhile, the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti wasted no time in showing its true colors. Billy Joya was chosen as head of security. He was a leader in Battalion 3-16, a former right-wing, CIA-supported, Honduran paramilitary death squad from the 1990s that terrorized suspected “communist sympathizers.”
There was a strong international outcry against this coup and thousands of Hondurans organized in the streets to protest this abuse of power. But the military and police aggressively protected the new regime and as many as 20 people were killed while exercising their right to free speech.
President Barack Obama’s administration tepidly opposed the coup in public, but the State Department led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton privately established back channels with the coup’s orchestrators. That included Miguel Facussé, the uncle of former Honduran President Carlos Roberto Flores Facussé.
Clinton callously called the coup a “moot point” when an election was held months after the coup.
It would be difficult to describe the election that was supervised by this de facto regime as “free and fair.” It was boycotted by opposition groups. Furthermore, multiple international organizations, including Amnesty International and the Center for Economic and Policy Research, cited instances of voter intimidation and government censorship. (This history, among other reasons, is why 73 percent of Hondurans, who were polled in early 2017, had little to no confidence in the electoral process.)
Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo of the conservative National Party, which supported the coup, was ushered into power via the 2009 election. However, the result was only formally recognized by the U.S. and four other countries. What followed was very predictable: increased violence, rampant corruption, and human rights abuses.
Journalists faced threats directly from sources within the government. Honduras is now arguably the most dangerous country in the world for reporters. Fifty-nine journalists were killed in this small country since the coup of 2009 and 91 percent of those murders remained unsolved.
Despite the atrocious records of Lobo and Hernandez, the Obama administration steadily increased foreign aid payments to the Honduran government. There was a slight decrease to $40 million in 2010, which was $4 million less than the year of the coup. However, the amount rocketed to $128 million by Obama’s last year in office. It was increased to $150 million during Trump’s first year in office.
The Drug War’s Role
Foreign aid is a vague term. Most people assume this is entirely economic assistance, but a large portion of this funding benefits the military industrial-complex. The U.S. Department of Defense provides “security” and “counternarcotics” programs for various countries in Latin America.
America’s war on drugs is directly responsible for much of the violence in Honduras. The U.S. government is financially supporting a Honduran government that is deeply intertwined with the criminal underworld as well via “counternarcotics” funding.
WikiLeaks revealed that the U.S. government was aware that one of the main orchestrators of the coup, Miguel Facussé, was also suspected of drug trafficking. One diplomatic cable from 2004 stated that his private property was a stopover point for a 1,000-kilo shipment from Colombia.
Miguel Facussé’s name resurfaced during the recent trial of Fabio Lobo, the son of former President Pepe Lobo. Fabio Lobo eventually pleaded guilty to conspiring to send thousands of kilos of cocaine to the U.S. That came after testimony from Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, the leader of one of top drug trafficking organizations in Honduras, Los Cachiros.
There are numerous other links between this government and organized crime. However, U.S. tax dollars continue to empower this corrupt regime that has well-publicized police death squads.
Some like to suggest that these extrajudicial murders are limited to extremely violent gangsters. But whenever the state sanctions such actions, it’s clear that all enemies of the state can be executed with impunity.
Numerous human rights organizers in Honduras have been murdered under suspicious circumstances. The environmental activist, Berta Cáceres, was executed in 2016 in her home for her efforts to stop a hydroelectric project. According to an anonymous source for The Guardian, a U.S.-trained, Honduran Special Forces unit was responsible for the death of Cáceres. In fact, two police officers were arrested afterward for attempting to impede this investigation.
Nonetheless, U.S. officials remain unwilling to levy economic sanctions on high-level members of the Honduran government because that’s a penalty typically reserved for corrupt left-wing governments.
Not everyone on Capitol Hill has ignored this issue. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) introduced the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act. That proposal would block foreign aid to Honduras until it drastically improves its human rights record. However, this bill was written in 2016 and it has not gained much political traction.
On the other hand, the firmly anti-communist Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (NICA) last April. That bill would pressure the President to block loans to Nicaragua until it demonstrates an improved record of human rights and democracy. The NICA Act was passed in the House last October and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced the companion bill (S.B. 2265) last month.
When Congress makes a statement by cherry-picking this one country, which has a far better human rights record than Honduras, it is clearly a matter of waging a Neo-Cold War.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct a factual error about Zelaya’s public ballot for a new constitution.