Honduras: Observing a Stolen Election?

By Linda Eastwood, former coordinator of the Colombia Accompaniment Program

Election credentialsWould I join a group heading to Honduras as accredited “accompaniers” for the November 24, 2013 elections? With this request from the Chicago Religions Leadership Network for Latin America (CRLN), I found myself – along with 2012 Colombia accompanier Vimary Couvertier-Cruz – representing PPF as part of the largest group of election observers in Honduras: 166 of us, gathered up by the Honduras Solidarity Network.  We were in for a Colombia “déjà vu.” As we flew into San Pedro Sula near the north coast, we saw spread before us palm-oil plantations like those that have caused so much displacement in Colombia. Our sub-group headed up (and up, and up…) to the capital, Tegucigalpa.

We were soon hearing stories of land grabs by often violent dispossession of campesinos (small farmers,) including indigenous groups with group-title to the land. The perpetrators were military and paramilitary groups working in favor of Honduran elites (around a dozen powerful families) with the complicity of both multinational corporations and northern governments. (For an excellent portrait of the land-grab problem in Honduras, see Tanya Kerssen’s (recent, short and inexpensive) book Grabbing Power: The New Struggles for Land, Food and Democracy in Northern Honduras. Oakland, CA: Food First Books, 2013.) We heard, from those struggling for campesino rights, that any legislative moves toward land-reform and land-titling had been either abused or overturned. We heard of large mining projects, and even plans for privately run “charter cities.” And everywhere we saw militarization, justified by a “War on Drugs” that seemed rather to be a war on all but the most powerful. Most of this should sound familiar to anyone who has followed the situation in Colombia, although Honduras’ murder rate (at around 90 per 100,000 people per year the highest in the world) actually manages to be considerably higher than Colombia’s (at 31.4)

All of this makes it particularly surprising that the grass-roots resistance movements have, so far, held firmly to non-violence, despite the violence applied to them. There is no equivalent of Colombia’s FARC or ELN guerrillas, although the government and security forces do (just as in Colombia) frequently refer to the grass-roots opposition, and to all human-rights defenders, as “communists” or “terrorists.” The 2009 military coup which ousted reform-minded president Manuel (Mel) Zelaya brought mass demonstrations and a unification of resistance movements (hardly the outcome the coup-leaders wanted!) but still the approach (whatever the security forces’ response) was non-violent. The united resistance movements formed a political party, LIBRE (Liberty and Refoundation,) led by Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, wife of the president ousted in the 2009 coup. This was controversial, not least because many were worried that the country’s political process could not be fair. Sadly, the November 24 elections seem to have proved them correct.

My own election-day experience, at two polling stations at village schools in the mountains above Tegucigalpa, was generally peaceful, with a steady stream of village people clearly enthusiastic about voting, and election judges who seemed to be doing their best to get the process right. The only problem: a complete “no-show” from the TSE (Supreme Election Tribunal) officials who were supposed to both oversee the process and electronically transmit the polling results to the TSE. And who was instructed to take over? The army, manually carrying the ballots and tally sheets back to the TSE (which is itself headed by one of the generals responsible for the 2009 coup.) Fishy, to say the least.

Lining up to voteThe wider experience of our group of TSE-accredited “accompaniers” was even less positive. On the Friday before the elections, the northern part of our delegation was harassed, and their training disrupted, by immigration officials, all armed and some masked. (Similar intimidation of a Canadian group took place in Tegucigalpa on Saturday, the day before the elections.) Intimidation of LIBRE party activists was more brutal, as it had been (18 killed, 15 other attack victims) for the 18 months leading up to the elections. Two of our Chicago group, Matt Ginsburg-Jaeckle and Eric Torres Alvarez (videographer) spent election day accompanying the coffin and family of Maria Amparo Pineda Eduarte, one of two LIBRE activists ambushed and assassinated by masked gunmen on the eve of the election as they returned home from TSE-led electoral-worker training. Their entire community was too traumatized, and scared, to go to the polls. Other members of our group observed various irregularities such as vote buying, of preventing election judges reaching their polling places, and of wrong vote tabulation. Other groups of election observers, such as the National Lawyers guild, made similar reports, and LIBRE has pulled together far more detail of electoral fraud. As of December 5, LIBRE’s demand of a complete recount has been met with TSE agreement to review the tally sheets (hardly adequate if the tallies don’t reflect the original ballots!) and few people expect that the TSE will in any way allow the National Party’s announced 8-point lead to be eroded.

U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske almost immediately congratulated the Honduran people on a peaceful and transparent election. Where had she been, we wondered? Would you be willing to “accompany” a fair process without leaving your home? Then go to the SoA-Watch page to sign a call on the U.S. State department to stop legitimizing fraudulent elections in Honduras. That’s what the Honduran people want. As one LIBRE member told our group, forcefully, “We needed your help as observers, but now go home to the U.S. and work for us there. The struggle here is ours.”

ACTION REQUESTS: 

  • Sign a call on the U.S. State department to stop legitimizing fraudulent elections in Honduras.
  • Add your name to an Amnesty call to protect Honduras human-rights defenders, especially those from COFADEH (Committee of the Relatives of Detained and Disappeared in Honduras) who were a key part of our training and support.