For days after the National Party (NP) was declared the winner of widely disputed elections on November 24, thousands of people protested on the streets of the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa.
The student movement in particular declared that they were not going to be intimidated by widespread political persecution in the country.
The main challenger to the right-wing NP in the presidential elections was Xiomara Castro of Freedom and Refoundation (Libre). In her words: “Libre is a progressive, peaceful, democratic revolutionary, left-wing party, which openly opposes violence and the failed exploiting neoliberal model that has impoverished our people.”
After the US-backed military coup in June 2009, which ousted Castro’s husband Manuel Zelaya, Libre emerged as the political wing of the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP) that opposed the coup.
The coup left Honduras in a political, economic and social crisis. The NP seized power through fraudulent elections in November 2009 that most of the international community ― except the US ― rejected as illegitimate.
The NP’s subsequent control of key government institutions, such as the supreme court, the military and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), has further undermined democracy.
Grassroots monitoring groups recorded various violations during the elections. They reported contradictory and widely disputed voting results. Data provided by Libre and gathered by monitors at the polls found that, with a quarter of the votes counted, Castro was winning with 32% of votes. The NP had 25%.
However, when the official results were released, Castro received 28.8%, behind the NP’s 36.8%.
Widespread irregularities were reported, including people not receiving their identity cards in time to vote; dead people appearing on the electoral roll and living people showing up as dead; and incorrect details on identity cards. Other complaints include reports of vote-buying in exchange for a payment to the poor.
Leo Gabriel, a delegate from the official EU observer mission, backed up these claims and subsequently denounced the EU’s preliminary report. He said there was a lack of transparency in the electoral process and a hidden alliance between the NP and smaller partiesto buy and sell votes.
Libre and the new Anti-Corruption Party (PAC, which won 15.5%) denounced the election as a fraud. Libre says that about 20% of the polling station results processed by the TSE were inconsistent with the results at the actual voting locations.
They demanded a recount, which the NP refused.
In an address to protesters, Castro said: ‘The challenge, the struggle for freedom and justice in Honduras is just starting. In this new phase, we will continue with the organisation and political education of the people, building a pluralistic and democratic, open, modern party.
“Hegemony in Honduras is no longer defined by only two political parties. I invite all opposition MPs to join me. In opposition we must learn to govern from below.”
One of the most alarming aspects of the past four years has been the deterioration of human rights. Along with many other Libre members, Castro received a growing number of death threats in the weeks leading up to the elections.
The evening before the vote, two leaders of a rural farmers’ group, who were also Libre members, were murdered after leaving poll monitoring training.
A week later, high-profile Libre activist Jose Antonio Ardon was kidnapped and later found dead. And on December 7, journalist Juan Carlos Argenal Medina, a Libre supporter, was murdered in his home.
At least 20 people associated with Libre were killed in pre-election violence. No fewer than 30 journalists have been killed since 2009.
Honduras is a strategic ally of the US and home to one of the largest US military bases in the hemisphere. This connection has been reinforced under the NP government. The US now trains several Honduran military and special police forces.
US military expenditure for Honduras has gone up every year since 2009. The US spent US$25 million last year to make its barracks at the Soto Cano air base permanent, and $89 million to keep 600 US troops based there.
As with previous election frauds against progressive parties in Latin America, the US response has been decisive. Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated Juan Orlando Hernandez on December 11 and lauded the election’s record turnout.
Kerry commended a process that he characterised as “generally transparent, peaceful, and reflect[ing] the will of the Honduran people”.
The political opposition does have a chance to change the power balance in Honduras, but international attention and denunciation of the continued human rights abuses and oppression by the NP and its allies are vital.
“There is a lot of anger,” says women’s collective Codemuh. “People feel helpless and refuse to accept the election results, but we will keep fighting this oppressive capitalist system that increasingly plunges us into misery.”