Museums turned to piles of ash, incinerated by angry protesters and rioters. Police personnel were sent to suppress the revolts with tear gas and guns. The nation of Honduras cancelled schools and work, in light of the most recent Presidential Election.
The 2017 Presidential Election in Honduras was controversial on many counts. Juan Orlando Hernández, the president for the 2013-2017 term, ran for a second term. The Honduran constitution, however, does not allow a president to run for a second term, and the only way he was able to run was because of a questionable Supreme Court ruling. Honduras is historically a two-party system. Salvador Nasralla, a well-known sportscaster in the country, led a split of the left party in the 2013 election. In 2017, both left parties united to form the “Alianza” or “Alliance” against the right National party headed by Hernández.
Katerina Parsons, Director of Communication at the Association for a More Just Society, works closely with Honduran officials to prevent the spread of corruption in the government.
“The way I explain it to people from the U.S. is that it’s as if Hillary, Bernie, Trump and I don’t know, Cruz or somebody like that were all running at the same time for four different parties,” Parsons said.
“We have seen other examples like in Nicaragua where some presidents have decided to stay longer, and longer and longer. That’s why we all are afraid of that happening because when that happens, it’s really hard for international organizations to get involved in that and the country has to survive on their own,” Wilfredo Abudeye, a Honduran Walton student, said. “It’s about war, civil war.”
Hernández was a controversial candidate because of multiple discrepancies during his first term. “He did some really good things but he also was involved in several illegal things,” Abudeye said. “He was accused of stealing money from government’s Social Security, an organization that gives out medication to Honduran people. His party embezzled money from this organization, causing many people to not receive their medication. This resulted in many deaths. Sometime later when the facts and evidence were presented, they admitted to embezzling, but he claimed that it was his party and he didn’t know where that money was coming from,” Abudeye said.
Nov. 26, 2017 was election night. The polls closed at 4 p.m., with the result of the election traditionally announced at 9 p.m.
“It was 9 p.m., 10 p.m., 11 p.m. and people were getting really anxious…because there was no answer from the TSE,” Abudeye said. The TSE, Tribunal Supremo Electoral, is the Honduran equivalent of the Electoral College. Both Nasralla and Hernández announced they had won before the votes were counted, causing tension and confusion within the country.
“The more time prolonged the more doubt came from the TSE because they were wondering, OK, are you actually plotting something or are you counting?” Abudeye said. In fact, the final outcome was not announced until four days later on Nov. 30, when Hernández was pronounced the winner.
“The current president, in a very shady vote-counting process, is reelected by himself, and by the electoral college that he himself appointed,” Jose Salinas, another Honduran Walton student, said. “It leaves you hopeless. It leaves you somehow fearful.”
“The Supreme Court ruled that his rights as an individual were more important than the constitution of the country,” Salinas said. Hernández appointed all five of the current Supreme Court justices during his first term. The justices in power before Hernández had opposed a law allowing a portion of Honduran land to be sold to international corporations. These corporations would have autonomy and control over that area. “In an overnight ruling, in a meeting of congress, they decided they were going to kick those five judges out,” Salinas said. Hernández then appointed his own judges to pass the law. “These same judges, this same Supreme Court, is the one that approves his reelection,” Salinas said,
There were protests from the left led by Nasralla, demanding a recount of the votes. While peaceful protests were happening, many other people took advantage of the situation and caused riots and violence to loot and steal, according to Abudeye. Others were incited by different political parties into violence.
“My mom was super scared, and like for a day nobody went to work because it was just so crazy out on the street,” Abudeye said. Likewise, Maria Guevara, another Honduran Walton student, was afraid for her family in Honduras.
“Everyday [my mom] had to go through the protests to go to her work,” Guevara explained. Her mother works for a beauty salon and a hotel, and those businesses cannot close due to the declining number of patrons and decreased income.
“My brother lost his job in December of last year because he was working for a project of international investors, and they just decided they didn’t want to spend more money in Honduras because of all their problems so they went to Costa Rica instead,” Guevara said. “There’s a lot of people losing their jobs right now.”
During this time of protest and riots, many people lost faith in the Alliance, blaming them for the majority of the violence taking place. The Alliance blamed the National party for corruption and crime in the government.
“It was very hard to differentiate, are you protesting, is that protest aligning with a political party you’re supporting, and are you gonna protest to talk about changes or to talk about the recounting or are you just doing that because you just want to do crime?” Abudeye said. The police and the military were sent by the government to suppress the rioting and protests, causing many deaths and injuries to rioters and peaceful protestor alike.
“The police is not working for the people but instead they are working for the government, and they are not protecting us anymore and they are protecting the government,” Guevara said.
The Honduran government has struggled to regulate corruption since its inception.
“Honduras has been in the news because of the elections, but the issues are not specific to the elections,” Parsons said. “We’re seeing results of government weakness that is going back for decades, and I think that manifests itself very visibly and publicly, but it’s about a lot more than the elections.” Indeed, in Jan. 2018, the government passed an impunity law making it nearly impossible for national or international entities to investigate cases of public corruption.
“So essentially, they said, if you’re going to investigate how members of congress used public money, you have to send it first through this other government institution that takes four, five, six, seven years to investigate,” Parsons said. This new law allows the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government to operate virtually without check on how they spend government money.
“We’re in the face of a regime that imposed itself in power, the people did not elect Juan Orlando Hernández,” Salinas said. “And now if there was any government official wanting to run an investigation to make sure things have been done legally in the government, they can no longer do that.”
“It’s this idea of impunity,” Parsons said. “We did this study a couple years ago that found that 96 percent of murders do not result in a conviction. Only 20 percent of murders were ever investigated, and of that only six percent or four percent resulted in a conviction.” Parson cited varied reasons for this 96 percent chance of getting away with murder.
“You have corruption. You have people taking bribes not to investigate a case. You have people in the pockets of drug traffickers, but you also just have a very undertrained and overworked system,” Parsons said.
With this epidemic of governmental corruption and unregulated violence, Salinas said the last presidential election left the people of Honduras with little hope.
“It’s really frightening for you to have an opinion against something and not being able to express it or to be able to do anything about it, to make changes because you feel that you are incapable of doing anything,” Abudeye said.