Honduras: People resist sham presidential self-inauguration

Photo: A protest against Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez on national women's day in Tegucigalpa, on January 26. Photo: Warwick Fry

In the days leading up to the January 27 “self-inauguration” of fraudulent Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez, three early morning news bombshells only added fuel to the raging fire of public outrage and indignation in the Central American nation.

Opposition to Hernandez (or JOH, as he is commonly known) has been mounting since he stole the November 26 national elections in which he sought re-election, despite the constitution allowing only single terms.

Since then the country has been rocked by more than two months of protest, with the death toll from police and military repression at more than 40 people and rising.

The first bombshell was the passing of legislation on January 18 that takes away the power of the Public Prosecutor to prosecute politicians found guilty of corruption by the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras.

This power has now been transferred to a tribunal appointed by JOH and his cronies, with judges given up to three years to deal with cases and the right to dish out discretionary penalties.

The second was the January 24 election of Congress’ interim Junta directorate and president, in which complete control was handed over to JOH’s National Party.

The final bombshell was the controversy surrounding the appointment of the new head of police, Jose David Aguilar Moran. A week after his appointment, Associated Press published an article based on leaked documents on January 26 that showed Aguilar had enabled a consignment of 700 kilograms of cocaine to pass through the country three years ago.

Aguilar was head of police intelligence at the time and was later handpicked by the United States to “purge” the Honduran police of corrupt officers.

The police are currently launching an internal investigation – not into Aguilar, but into the source of the leaks.

Two months of protest

Computers tallying the votes cast that day inexplicably crashed on November 26. At the time of the crash – with almost 60% of the votes counted – opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla from the Alliance of Opposition against the Dictatorship held a five point lead.

It was a lead that observers said was “irreversible”.

However, when the computers came back online (with the backup drives mysteriously “wiped”), his lead had disappeared. In its place were figures that OAS observers said were “statistically impossible”.

With the entire country militarised almost from the moment the computers went down, the people rose up in outrage; an outrage that continues to this day.

Roads were blocked, only to be reopened by police and military and then blockaded again by protesters.

Attempting to get into Honduras, I had to take local buses and walk across the border from El Salvador when long distance international bus services were cancelled. Hundreds of container trailers were waiting on the Salvadoran side of the Panamerican highway. Ten kilometres down the road, I could see scores more stopped behind a barricade of burning tyres and a few dozen young demonstrators.

Over the following weeks, homes were invaded, political prisoners taken, protesters shot and wooden crosses with the names of victims of police and military violence placed against the walls of the US Embassy.

The most impressive protest – perhaps because I had never quite experienced something like it – was the motorcade on the night of January 26.

More than a thousand, perhaps several thousand vehicles – it was impossible to see where the river of headlights ended – drove through the capital, Tegucigalpa, passing through every suburb as thousands upon thousands came out to line the streets and chant “Fuera JOH!” (JOH must go!).

Starting at 7pm that night, the motorcade traversed the city until 1am, when a line of military police attempted to stop it. Confrontation was avoided when Nasralla (who refuses to recognise the legitimacy of the JOH government) called for protests to restart at 6 am that morning – self-inauguration day.


The national stadium was half filled for the self-inauguration with an audience of impoverished Hondurans lured there by the promise of free food, transport and some pocket money. When the free food ran out, fights broke out.

Most international dignitaries either refused to attend or made excuses for why they could not make it.

Protesters were kept at bay by thousands of police and military. So much tear gas was deployed that it was rumoured that extra supplies had been flown in from Guatemala and Mexico.

By 4 pm, all that was left was the aftermath of the events that day, with tear gas shells strewn across the streets, JOH’s speech looped on commercial TV and some residual protest in the Central Park.

While I was talking with an elderly bystander, a group of young demonstrators came running up a side street, the sound of tear gas canisters exploding behind them.

They took pause to wash off the tear gas. One tore off a tear-gassed T-shirt mask to change it for a fresh one.

The elderly gentleman ignored all of this as he spoke to me about his desire for democracy and the long list of abuses by the JOH government. “Major violence provokes minor violence,” he said, unaware that as he spoke behind him a youthful demonstrator was in the act of hurling a rock at the police line we had just passed.

I have not yet met a single person in Honduras who wants JOH as President. Only US support props up his regime, whose origins lie in the coup that overthrew president Manuel Zelaya in 2009.

Hondurans from all sectors of society are chanting “JOH must go!”  His election is viewed as a continuation of the 2009 coup.

The struggle against dictatorship that began back then continues today.

The Honduran people are in it for the long haul.

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