Elections: Honduras, an electoral pressure cooker | International

A Piper plane from Venezuela with 500 kilos of cocaine lands in the area of ​​La Mosquitia, an impenetrable place in the east of the country halfway between Colombia and the coasts of the United States. Quickly, the army appears and begins an exchange of fire and seizes 440 kilos. You don’t have to have a great investigative nose to sit down any night and listen to the drone of drug-laden planes passing by or encountering clandestine tracks in this remote area of ​​the country. The novelty is that on this occasion the seizure is quickly aired in the press and on the news throughout the country. The president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, described ad nauseam in a New York court by two powerful drug traffickers as the man who gave them protection in exchange for envelopes with thousands of dollars, strives in the final stretch of his government to present himself as An effective soldier in the fight against drug trafficking, destroying illegal tracks and deporting drug lords. His legacy, however, goes beyond the New York courts.

This Sunday Honduras goes to the polls to elect a new president in an atmosphere full of tension. The country, of 10 million inhabitants, faces two opposing paths, Nasry Asfura’s ruling party, the current mayor of Tegucigalpa, and Xiomara Castro’s left, at the head of the Libertad y Refundación (Free) party. The polls, banned in the country for weeks, describe the worst scenario for a country on the edge: maximum equality between the two candidates. Third is Yani Rosenthal, from the Liberal Party, who returns to the political arena after serving a three-year sentence in the US for money laundering. This Sunday’s elections represent the high point of a political crisis that began twelve years earlier, after the coup against Manuel Zelaya.

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Supporters of the Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE) attend a political rally in Nacaome, Honduras.
Supporters of the Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE) attend a political rally in Nacaome, Honduras.Jorge Cabrera (Getty Images)

In June 2009, the Honduran military removed Zelaya from power in his pajamas and at night. When he woke up, the president who was flirting with Cuba and Hugo Chávez had a gun to his head and hours later he was on a plane bound for Costa Rica.

The subsequent protests were harshly repressed while and for many months, the OAS, the United States, Mexico, Lula, Hugo Chávez, and the entire planet turned to trying to solve the conflict, but nothing appeased the wrath of La Resistencia, the protest movement of where now his wife Xiomara Castro emerges.

The consolidation of the coup came four months later. Specifically, on October 14 at nine o’clock at night when in the 63rd minute, forward Carlos Pavón rose above the defense of El Salvador and with a header gave the victory to his team by a goal to zero, which gave the pass to the World Cup in South Africa. That night Honduras experienced ecstasy. Thousands of people took to the streets to celebrate the return of their national team to the soccer elite and the provisional president, Roberto Micheletti, placed there by the military and coup businessmen, received the players in the presidential palace and in front of the Virgin of Suyapa and Zelaya was never spoken of again. The coup had succeeded.

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Since then the National Party has controlled power, first with Porfirio Lobo (2010 – 2014) who spends his days dodging justice after his son was sentenced to 24 years in prison in the United States for drug trafficking and his name appeared in the Pandora Papers. Later, Juan Orlando Hernández, also from his party, came to power. When he was about to finish his presidency in 2017, a law was invented that allowed him to be re-elected, prohibited until then in the Constitution, and extended his government for four more years. The re-election, however, was plagued by irregularities after a computer blackout “a la Mexicana” during the recount. When the power came back, Juan Orlando Hernández was winning by a minimal difference in votes that allowed him to retain the presidency until January 2022.

The presidential candidate of the LIBRE Party, Xiomara Castro, in Nacaome, Honduras.
The presidential candidate of the LIBRE Party, Xiomara Castro, in Nacaome, Honduras. Jorge Cabrera (Getty Images)

In these eight years, Honduras has ceased to be the most violent country in the world, going from 85 to 36 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. One of the twelve bloodiest countries on the planet, but far from the figures of a few years ago. Economically, the country stabilized its accounts and grew above 3.5%, one of the highest in the region. However, never as in Honduras has the macroeconomy been so far below the ground. Despite this growth, Honduras has for years been a machine for exporting its young people, half of tomorrow’s voters. Due to violence, hunger or meteorological phenomena, 200 families request asylum in the United States every day. In the reverse direction every month, without a single failure, 4,000 Hondurans arrive deported from the United States, Mexico or Guatemala. A round of emigration-deportation-emigration that did not stop even with the pandemic, although it has served as an escape valve for the country. The pandemic sank the economy by 7.5%, to which must be added an additional 3% as a result of hurricanes Eta and Iota a year ago, while remittances are the only sector that is growing and now account for 25% of GDP from the country. If nothing prevents it, the country will end the year with 700,000 new poor, according to the World Bank.

The collective disenchantment coexists with a cruel neoliberal system where Honduran environmentalists are the most assassinated in the world, gasoline ($ 1.15 per liter) or electricity have European prices, extractivist companies pierce the country and hydroelectric plants controlled by deputies are built who grant themselves the concessions.

At the same time, in the social sphere, the twelve years of conservative government has hardened abortion laws and blocked marriages between people of the same sex while rotting spread between institutions such as the justice, the Army or the Assembly. The former Minister of Justice of Peru, Juan Jiménez Mayor, was commissioned in 2013 by the OAS to launch the Maccih, an anti-corruption commission organized for the first time by the OAS. During the three years he was in office, he opened an investigation against 70 deputies accused of diverting public resources for public works that were never carried out. According to his complaint, two-thirds of Congress were collecting unchecked bonuses, but as their job went higher, it became more uncomfortable. Finally, Hernández ordered his departure from the country with the endorsement of Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS.

A supporter of the National Party.  attends an electoral rally in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
A supporter of the National Party. attends an electoral rally in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.Jorge Cabrera (Getty Images)

According to analyst Víctor Meza, director of the NGO Documentation Center, the mood of the country is tense because both parties have stirred up the phantom fraud and it will be “dangerous for the stability of the country.” The first challenge for the new government will be “to rebuild the institutional fabric. It is a degraded state and partially co-opted by organized crime ”.

The last straw was the acquisition of mobile hospitals to combat Covid. In the midst of the Juan Orlando government pandemic, he announced with great fanfare the purchase of seven state-of-the-art mobile hospitals for which 58 million dollars were paid. The reality is that the hospitals from Turkey were crude shipping containers with broken stretchers, second-hand respirators and old ventilators, which actually cost $ 14 million. Around the same time, neighboring President Nayib Bukele boasted the modern hospital built in downtown San Salvador with 200 state-of-the-art ICU beds.

Juan Orlando Hernández away from home has not done better. The word “narco-state” was heard in a New York court in 2019 and in the trial against his brother Tony for the purchase of thousands of kilos of cocaine, his name – identified as C4 – appears 104 times. A witness even said that he attended a meeting in 2013 in which Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán, the former head of the Sinaloa cartel, gave Tony Hernández a million dollars for his brother’s presidential campaign. The president has come out of all this well, so far, thanks to his good relationship with Donald Trump and his ease of bowing to Washington. “It is plausible what the narcos said in New York, because drug power is too close to power in Honduras. But it must be recognized that Juan Orlando Hernández promoted the extradition of drug traffickers, which was prohibited in the Constitution, and the importance of this must be measured. In Colombia this caused a war and meant going from drug trafficking to terrorism. He has extradited about 15 great bosses and it is possible that it is a revenge. The quality of the tests will be decisive, ”said the former head of Maccih, Juan Jiménez Mayor, in a recent interview with EL PAÍS.

With a popularity rating of 26%, one of the lowest rates on the continent, the feeling, however, is that Hondurans have already condemned their president, long before their case can go to court.

Supporters of the presidential candidate, Xiomara Castro, attend a rally in La Azacualpa, Honduras.
Supporters of the presidential candidate, Xiomara Castro, attend a rally in La Azacualpa, Honduras.ORLANDO SIERRA (AFP)

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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