On November 28 presidential elections will be held in Honduras. The electoral campaign is taking place in a critical moment in the Central American country. The candidate of the ruling National Party Nasry Asfura and the leader of the leftist LIBRE (the Liberty and Refoundation Party), Xiomara Castro, will likely compete head to head for the presidency. These elections will see a contest between two competing models of the country, with the ever present threat of fraud.
Honduras is going through a structural crisis that worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic. A report released by the National University of Honduras stated that 73% of the population is under the poverty line, 52% of the population is in extreme poverty, 72% of the population in the informal economy, and the numbers of those migrating out of the country has skyrocketed. These deep social and economic problems are at the fore in the upcoming elections. The country is also afflicted by a political and institutional crisis which started with the coup d’état against Manuel Zelaya in 2009, orchestrated by the United States and carried out by the Armed Forces, and continues till today.
12 years after the coup, the wounds are still open
In this regard, we spoke with Gilberto Ríos, activist and candidate for LIBRE congressman, who said that “the coup d’état of 2009 was the end of the progressive cycle that had begun in Latin America with the arrival of Hugo Chávez to the government of Venezuela. Then began a process of reversal of the political scenarios for the left in the continent. In Honduras the coup continued to be perpetuated through the electoral frauds that followed in 2013 and 2017.”
After the rupture of the constitutional order and the removal of Zelaya, a process of struggle opened up between the sectors of Honduran power and popular organizations and movements. The three governments that followed from Roberto Micheletti (2009-2010), Porfirio Lobo Sosa (2010-2014) and Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) (2014-present) sought to impose an extractivist and multinational neoliberal model based on authoritarianism and repression. A key element of this plan involved strengthening the presidential figure by creating institutional structures that weaken the Congress and the Judiciary. This includes passing laws such as the Wiretapping Law (2011) to exercise control over civil society, and reinforcing the repressive apparatus such as the creation of the National Interagency Security Force (FUSINA) and the Military Police for Public Order (PMOP), the latter was integrated by officers who were trained by the US Southern Command.
A privatization program promoted by the International Monetary Fund was carried out in key sectors such as energy, water, social security, mining, health and education. This went hand in hand with the dispossession of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities of their lands and concessions to foreign companies – linked to a few wealthy Honduran families – for the development of hydroelectric and mining projects.
At the same time, a network of corruption and illegal business linked to drug trafficking was growing, so much so that the JOH government is called a narco-state, with evidence showing how they have used illicit capital linked to drug trafficking to assert their power and finance political campaigns, about this Ríos points out: “Juan Orlando Hernández has a brother imprisoned in the United States and now sentenced to life imprisonment for being part of the drug cartels,” he added that “huge masses of illicit capital generated by drug trafficking move around. This structure was installed in the region directly from the White House, the State Department, the CIA and the Southern Command.”
The repressive and authoritarian policy of the regime installed with the coup unleashed a spiral of violence that has taken on a structural dimension. Human rights violations, repression and disappearances have become a constant in Honduras. This has been condemned by organizations such as the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), and the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH). Two events highlight the link between the repressive apparatus and the economic sectors and judicial impunity: one is the murder of the environmentalist and defender of the rights of the Lenca people, Berta Cáceres, on May 2, 2016, who was killed by hitmen linked to former military personnel, families belonging to the Honduran oligarchy, and executives of the company Desarrollos Energéticos Sociedad Anónima (DESA). The second case is the kidnapping and forced disappearances of five members of the Garífuna community on July 18, 2020, to which police agents are linked.
Resistance, Unity and Victory?
The processes of unity of social and popular organizations have been fundamental to resist after the coup d’état. Since 2009 with the mobilizations in Tegucigalpa; the protests against corruption in 2015; the mobilizations against fraud in 2017; the struggle of teachers and doctors against the privatization of education and health in 2018; as well as the resistance of Indigenous and Afro-descendant populations in defense of their territories and against the advance of foreign companies, account for the diversity of the movements that unite the Honduran popular movements. One of the expressions of unity was the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP) which in 2011 became the Liberty and Refoundation Party or LIBRE -led by Manuel Zelaya- which brought together former members of the Liberal Party, citizens’ groups against corruption, and leftist sectors.
On June 16 of this year, the National Movement against ZEDE and for National Sovereignty was constituted, being another of the articulations from popular organizations and movements, in this case, to fight against the Special Economic Development Zones (ZEDE). The ZEDE model was created by the JOH government to attract investment and generate employment, and consists of allowing private companies, often foreign, to have a free hand to manage labor and land. This model of private cities or zones freed from state regulations is, as Ríos points out, “the neoliberal model for investing the fictitious capital of drug trafficking and corruption and having labor under practically slave-like conditions, without any kind of rights.”
This project condenses the competing forces in the political chessboard of Honduras. On the one hand, the National Party allied to the oligarchy and transnational capital groups and, on the other hand, a group of social and popular organizations that have been resisting the implementation of this model. Of the presidential candidates with the possibility of winning, only the pro-government Nasry Asfura has positioned himself in favor, while Xiomara Castro of LIBRE and Yani Rosenthal of the Liberal Party have positioned themselves against.
There are 14 candidates for the presidency. But the polls indicate that the dispute will be between Nasry Asfura and Xiomara Castro, further behind is Yani Rosenthal. In the last few days the political map has shifted because another of the candidates, and well positioned in the polls, Salvador Nasralla, withdrew his candidacy and entered into an alliance with Xiomara Castro. This leaves the LIBRE leader well positioned to put an end to 12 years of neoliberal and oligarchic government.
The threat of fraud and electoral irregularities which characterize previous elections set off alarms about the outcome of the results. In this respect, Ríos pointed out: “our problem is not to win against the right wing, but to win against fraud.” “The electoral reform approved in May of this year means that the National Party can no longer adulterate the electoral rolls, that there is a new national registry of persons and that we have a presence in the National Electoral Council,” he indicated.
In case Xiomara Castro is victorious on November 28 and the process of change truncated with the coup against Zelaya is returned to the path of change, Ríos affirms “we will return to the platforms and spaces of Latin American and Caribbean integration together with the progressive and leftist governments of the continent, in addition, we will prioritize the geopolitical relationship with China.”
Among the first measures of a LIBRE government would be the elimination of the ZEDE, as well as rescuing national companies that were privatized as is the case of the State Energy Company, eliminating the hourly employment law, and restoring labor rights that were taken away and advancing against corruption through an audit of the State. “It is fundamental to change the oligarchic character of the Honduran State towards a popular State,” stated Ríos.
The region of Central America is marred by multiple crises but social and popular organizations have continued to resist the predatory effect of neoliberalism. The elections in Honduras are central both because of its geostrategic and political location, as well as because of the wounds that were opened in 2009 and the winds of change that may come from there.
Mauricio Ferolla is a member of the Latin America and the Caribbean Observatory led by the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research.
First published in Spanish in ARGMedios