Honduran Election Update: Questions and Complexity

Frankie Pondolph
April 9, 2018

By: Carly Kadlec, Green Coffee Buyer, Equal Exchange

In mid-December 2017, I wrote a post for this blog to share an update on the November 2017 presidential election in Honduras. My colleague Beth Ann Caspersen and I had planned on visiting our partners at Café Orgánico Marcala S.A. (COMSA) but decided to postpone our trip due to political unrest and uncertainty immediately following the presidential election (see original post here for more background). I was able to reschedule my trip to COMSA in February 2018 and wanted to share an update on the political situation in Honduras. Next week, I will post an excerpt from an interview with COMSA member Betty Perez Zelaya with her perspective on the elections, the impact on COMSA and its members, and a broader look at what COMSA is trying to do in Honduras.

In mid-December after the electoral commission certified the election and recognized incumbent president Juan Orlando Hernandez as the winner, the protesters and citizens in opposition to the commission’s decision were left with little legal recourse.  Hernandez was inaugurated in late January. While there were resurgent protests ahead of the inauguration, overall the number of active protests across the country has diminished since the tense days of early to mid-December. In conversation with friends and colleagues based in Honduras, there is a widespread sense that despite massive mobilizations in the early days after Hernandez was announced the winner, he was inaugurated and so there’s not much to do now but  move ahead with daily life and figure out small acts of resistance. Pockets of protest remain, however, in and around El Progreso near Honduras’s largest city, San Pedro Sula.

The commission’s decision to certify the election for Hernandez elicited largely negative reactions from members of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union due to the irregularities observed before, during, and after the election by both national and international election observers. The general consensus from EU and OAS observers was that the commission certified the election too quickly and did not resolve outstanding questions about the integrity of the vote counting process. In fact, on December 17, 2017, the secretary general of the OAS issued a statement calling for a new election. The incumbent Honduran president and his allies swiftly denounced this statement from the OAS and flatly refused.   

The US Embassy in Honduras (still without an ambassador) issued a statement congratulating Hernandez on his victory just a few days after the electoral commission certified the election results in Hernandez’s favor. The US has maintained a small military base known as Palmerola in Honduras since the early 1980s near the city of Comayagua. Back in June 2009, the Obama administration called the soft-coup that ousted then-president Manuel Zelaya an illegal action, and  agreed with the OAS that the military and Honduran congress had acted illegally in removing Zelaya. However, by October-November 2009, the State Department (under the leadership of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) chose to split with the OAS and voiced their support of elections held by those ushered into power post-coup. This background is meant to illuminate the last decade of politics in Honduras and the weakening or destabilization of democratic institutions in the country and the complicit role the US has played in all of this (others argue that the US’s role is more than complicit).

I share this update with the hope of bringing news of the political situation in Honduras to a wider public as international news organizations rarely put Honduras in the spotlight. Next week, in conversation with Betty Perez Zelaya of COMSA, we will address her perspective on the election results as well as the impact that the political unrest has had on the members of COMSA.