Honduras: US, Britain must stop propping up illegitimate regime

Opposition supporters portest election fraud in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in December.

United States President Donald Trump regularly professes deep concern for democracy and human rights in Latin America, but the US’s attitude to Honduras highlights the hypocrisy of US policy in practice. 

Despite multiple allegations of fraud in the 2017 Honduran presidential election, Trump recognised National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández, a conservative US ally, as the election winner. In doing so, he ignored electoral observers’ findings and calls for a new election by the Organisation of American States (OAS), members of US Congress and the opposition Honduran Alliance Against Dictatorship party.

While other recent presidential elections have been shot through with fraud and state violence, the 2017 election exhibited such blatant fraud that not a single foreign dignitary attended Hernández’s inauguration.

Trump’s action even flagrantly contradicted stated US policy on Honduras, which the State Department sets out as “focused on strengthening democratic governance, including the promotion of human rights and the rule of law”.  

Hernández originally came to power after a military coup deposed the progressive democratic government of former president Manuel Zelaya in 2009.

The coup was widely condemned by governments across Latin America, the European Union, the OAS and other regional blocs.

In contrast, then-US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to label the political crisis a military coup.

I was among those who raised concerns in the British parliament, including with regards to the US stance which gave oxygen to the burgeoning dictatorship at the time.

The subsequent elections following the coup have included a media blackout and political repression against the left-wing opposition Libre party candidates, including targeted assassinations of anti-coup leaders ahead of the polls. No international institutions monitored the elections, and there were widespread calls of electoral fraud.

Following that election, Hernández’s government brutally cracked down on legitimate protest, using the police, the military and, allegedly, death squads. His government has also been accused of links with organised crime, including drug trafficking gangs.

The murder in 2016 of internationally-renowned environmental leader Berta Cáceres and a number of other environmental activists illustrated the extent of human rights violations in Honduras, in which political dissent is criminalised and repressed.

It also illustrated internationally how the imposition of severe neoliberalism in post-coup Honduras was not only directly leading to more poverty and inequality, but also necessarily accompanied by severe repression against any resistance.

Discontent with the government grew in the wake of Caceres' assassination. Revelations of widespread government corruption and embezzlement schemes led to thousands of Hondurans taking to the streets calling for the resignation of the president. Former president Zelaya called for permanent protests to force Hernández out of office.

Following a controversial ruling by the Honduran Supreme Court that changed the constitution to eliminate term limits and allowed for re-election, Hernández was permitted to run again in the 2017 presidential election.

Hernández won the election in highly suspicious circumstances. The country's electoral tribunal, which is allied with the president, has been accused of manipulating the vote to reverse a mid-count lead for opposition challenger Salvador Nasralla and ensure a narrow victory for the incumbent president.

Supporters of the Honduran Alliance Against Dictatorship party have been protesting on the streets against alleged fraud in the presidential elections since the result was declared.

The street demonstrations have been met with a mobilisation of thousands of police, SWAT teams, soldiers and military police. At least 40 people have been killed and more than 2000 detained. Nasralla has denounced the authorities for detaining several young opposition leaders.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recently published a shocking report on the deaths of 23 Honduran political activists in these protests. The report condemns the 23 murders, at least 16 of which it affirms resulted from state security forces shooting directly into crowds.

But human rights organisations such as the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras, say the government is responsible for upwards of 35 deaths and the arrests of at least 1350 people, many still in jail.

Today, 26 political prisoners who protested about the rigging of the presidential elections are known to be incarcerated in high-security jails – but not a single person has been investigated or charged for any of the extrajudicial assassinations carried out since the November elections.

Trump is not bothered by these blatant abuses of democratic norms and human rights. The US’s preoccupation in Latin America is not with compliant states that bend to and serve US political, economic and military interests.

Instead, it is focused on imposing punitive sanctions aimed at “regime change” against countries such as Nicaragua and Venezuela, which do not follow the US lead in their domestic, regional or international agendas.

A similar criticism could be raised of the British government, which has recently been exposed for selling spyware to Honduras’ repressive and reactionary regime.

Now is the time to call out this hypocrisy and call on both the US and Britain to stop propping up Honduras’ illegitimate government.

[Colin Burgon was a British Labour MP for Elmet 1997-2010 and is the honorary president of Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America. Reprinted from WriteYou.co.uk.]

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