CESPAD Report: The Decisive Role of the United States in the Official Results of the November Elections

Written by: Gustavo Irías Sauceda, Executive Director CESPAD, December 10th. With Support from: The Center for Studies for Democracy (CESPAD) & the World Lutheran Foundation

Original Spanish version: http://cespad.org.hn/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Analisis-2-final.pdf

 Photo by: Cesar Fuentes

Photo by: Cesar Fuentes

Until the afternoon of December 7th the balance of power widely favored the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship, in the struggle to ensure a democratic outcome for the electoral and political crisis triggered by the fraud[1] of November 26-27.

The observer missions from the Organization of American States (OAS), and the European Union (UE), at least until December 7th, went from mere observers to guarantors in the efforts towards transparent results. The missions exercised a veto over the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) by preventing them from making an official declaration about which candidate won the elections. This is due to the fact that these observer missions had detected inconsistencies and “systemic” irregularities before, during and after the elections, concluding that it was impossible to determine which candidate won the elections.

The two international missions provided a number of recommendations which request the following[2] points:

  • A comparison of the 1,006 vote tally sheets (actas) that were submitted to special scrutiny with the original copies of the vote tally sheets.
  • A verification of the 5,174 records that were not transmitted on election night and conducting a recount of vote tally sheets that show inconsistencies.
  • A revision of voting participation in the departments of Lempira, Intibucá and La Paz including 100% of the Polling Stations (MERs) from each of the departments.

In the afternoon of December 5th a surprising statement from the Official Secretary of the OAS indicated that “if existing irregularities prove to be of such an extent”, the Mission “reserves the right to make any additional recommendations it deems pertinent, on any aspect therefore, without ruling out the possibility of recommending a new call for elections with guarantees that they correct all the identified weaknesses that led to the serious irregularities detected”[3] (italics are ours).

In a report published by CESPAD on December 5th, it is stated that at the moment, the US Embassy supported the recommendations made by the Electoral Observer Missions “on the measures to increase the transparency of the process” (Official Statement from the US Embassy in Honduras, December 4th of 2017).

There was also a statement in a press conference from former presidential candidate Luis Zelaya, acknowledging the electoral triumph of Salvador Nasralla[4]; thus taking from the National Party, a permanent ally during the last eight years of government.


What Happened in the Morning and Afternoon of Thursday, December 7th?

Aside from the highly publicized mobilization from the National Party supporting Presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hernández[5], many pieces were moved on that day towards reversing the uncomfortable balance of power for the current power holders. It is also possible that, within the Opposition Alliance, it was difficult to come to a consensus on next steps in order to take advantage of an extraordinarily favorable moment that the party was going through and settle on initiatives that bring about a democratic solution to the crisis.

What appears certain is that on Thursday, December 7th, the Coordinator of the EU Observer Mission Marisa Matías, disappeared from the post-electoral scene along with Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga, the OAS Mission Coordinator. In the place of these missions, without being an electoral observer, U.S. Embassy Charge d’Affaires, Heide Fulton took the center stage, assuming a role of quasi-governor in a country that has been traditionally deemed as her country’s “backyard”. This clear media exposure hadn’t happened since the 1980s counterinsurgency war in Central America, a period when US officials never concealed that they make the fundamental decisions in the country.

What is it that happened? It’s not so complex: The OAS subordinated its mission to the interests of regional hegemonic powers; the European Union exited the process accepting the hegemony of the United States of America in this area of the world. By doing this, the Honduran electoral process was left under the geopolitical interests of the US government and not a sovereign decision, of people casting their ballots.

In an unexpected press conference, David Matamoros, President of the TSE, at the side of the US Charge d’Affaires, announced that that TSE had chosen to scrutinize “4,753 vote tally sheets and review the votes from the departments of La Paz, Intibucá and Lempira” under the observation of the OAS, delegates from civil society and the US Embassy, “in order to grant certainty to the country and support the new Honduran president.”[6] This happened without the agreement of the main contending political parties and the TSE worked around a protocol that “would increase the transparency of the process” defining, among other points, the way to approach inconsistencies, the comparison of records and signatures and the use of voter signature booklets.

On the contrary, the TSE’s unilateral position was imposed at a moment where it was most discredited. This was made possible through the open political support from the US Embassy, which enabled the TSE to proceed by performing the final scrutiny of the votes and to declare a winning candidate within the shortest possible time frame. This happened with full support from civil society organizations and NGOs working under US policies implemented in the country.

To complete the panorama, while the recounting was happening, former President Manuel Zelaya Rosales issued a letter where he published a “recommendation” made by the OAS and the US government to candidate Salvador Nasralla that urged him to “disengage completely from former President Zelaya because he’s a Chávez supporter promoting Democratic Socialism” (December 9th, 2017). This last points provides a complete image of how during the last days and hours, specifically in the electoral scenario, the US government mobilized actors, repositioned others and attempted to divide the Opposition Alliance by resetting the balance of power in favor of their geopolitical interests.

The Position of the US Government Before and After the Electoral Process

Publicly, the US government has been silent, a situation that has caught the attention of well-known analysts of the region’s right. Such is the case of Andrés Oppenheimer, who affirmed that “President Trump has done the right thing to strongly denounce the authoritarianism of presidents” from the left in Latin America, “but he should do the same with Honduras’ right-wing president.” Oppenheimer has also regretted the delay from the United States in issuing a statement regarding the “generalized irregularities of the November 26th elections in Honduras”. Concluding that “by ignoring a right-wing autocrat, the United States loses moral authority to denounce autocrats from the left”.[7]

Despite its silence about the elections, the US Department of State just two days after November 26, in the middle of the electoral crisis, certified that the Honduran government “has been fighting corruption and supporting human rights, clearing the path so that Honduras can receive millions of dollars in aid from the United States.”[8] The serious violations of human rights during the protests against the electoral fraud between November 30th and December 5th have not modified this certification, constituting a clear message of support from the US Department of State to the Juan Orlando Hernandez’s government.

Regarding these human rights violations, Amnesty International prepared an in situ report establishing that “the Honduran government is deploying dangerous and illegal tactics to silence any dissenting voices in the aftermath of one of the country’s worst political crisis in a decade including preventing lawyers and human rights activists from visiting detained demonstrators.” It emphasized that “Evidence shows that there is no space for people in Honduras to express their opinions. When they do, they come face to face with the full force of the government’s repressive apparatus”[9]. According to COFADEH,[10] the protests against the fraud have left 14 people assassinated, 844 detentions, among other human rights violations as of December 5th.

Recounting and Final Results of the Electoral Process

On the day before the final recount by the TSE, the US Charge D’Affaires made “a strong call to the political class” to accept the result from TSE and announced that “they are ready to work with the elected candidate”[11].

This reaffirmed the role of the US government as the great elector of this electoral process.

The final recount of the 4,753 vote tally sheets was concluded without novelties, with the same results transmitted on previous days by TSE, reducing the observations of inconsistencies and serious irregularities noted in the moment by electoral observation missions. The result generated from the small recount was the following: 50.11% in favor of Juan Orlando Hernández against 31.54% for Salvador Nasralla.[12] This result was added to the remaining vote tally that were not recounted and resulted in the following: Juan Orlando Hernández (42.98%) and Salvador Nasralla (41.38%), exactly the same result from days before, which was considered irregular and lacking transparency and credibility by national and international actors.

Before the final declaration, the TSE has to resolve the Liberal Party’s legal appeals (impugnaciones) that requests the total annulment of the presidential election results. The TSE also has to resolve the appeal of the Opposition Alliance that demands to annul the count and result of the process, and requests a total recount of all vote tally sheets at the presidential level. However, the issue is not that simple for the TSE. Because in addition, Salvador Nasralla has presented a criminal complaint against David Matamoros for abuse of authority, violation of the duties of a public official, and abuse of authority. If the law is applied, this complaint leaves Matamoros unqualified to resolve the appeals and should be removed from his position. This legal reality has constituted a new battle field of a contested balance of power.

The remaining outcome of this process is widely negative, with an electoral system nationally delegitimized and in the eyes of the international community. As a result, it has caused a deterioration of electoral democracy with a setback of over 30 years in transparency, credibility and peaceful presidential succession. On the other hand, its pertinent that we ask ourselves: In the 21st century, are we returning to a sad and shameful period when foreign powers impose who governs this country?[13]

 Where Are We Going?

We are in the middle of a political and electoral crisis; it’s a fact that final election results, still not made official by TSE, will not be accepted by the Opposition Alliance and even the Liberal Party.

Social objection goes on in the streets and its very likely that when the TSE announces the final winner, civil protest will intensify along different territories, similarly to what was seen on November 30th and December 1st.

Furthermore, the active presence of the National Party’s social base must be highlighted, as well as the economic groups in support of Juan Orlando Hernández’ regime, the corporate media, the Military Police and the Armed Forces.

Prospectively, what is unfolding is the continuation of the political-electoral conflict, now expressed between the population challenging the regime that arose from fraud and efforts to reaffirm and legitimize the continuation of the current government.

This is a political crisis, in the same context of the 2009 political crisis, while the problems that the elite had no will in resolving, with new difficulties generated by the current context. There are common elements throughout: the deterioration of state institutionality and the exhaustion of their democratic content, as well as human rights violations in all varying dimensions. An element adding greater complexity to this crisis is the US intervention in favor of one of the contending forces.

We inevitably move towards greater social and political polarization in a society where, as part of the same democratic crisis, spaces for dialogue and the construction of mutual agreements for democratic governance, are worn out. The country is advancing toward “Africanization”, not only because of its similar levels of poverty and exclusion, but also the high levels of intolerance, authoritarianism and policies of state militarization which make it harder to democratically manage conflicts.

The political crisis has been blown open and is still developing. In this moment, it is too complex to project its duration and outcome without an in-depth analysis that incorporates new and constant developments. Of course, the duration and outcome will depend on the social support base of the regime and the opposition; the policy of alliances (national and international) of each of the forces; and how the legitimacy and illegitimacy of the regimen is constructed. But regardless of its ups and downs and pauses, we face a long-term political crisis that sustains itself in a space where democratic structural deficits limit complex resolutions.

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[1] Even though the reports of international observer electoral missions (OAS and EU) never mentioned the word “fraud” their statements in terms of inconsistency and systemic irregularities, as their impossibility to determine who was the winning candidate, point toward the typology of a fraudulent process.

[2] OAS, preliminary report of the Electoral Observer Mission in Honduras. December 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwUFL6Ad1Xc

[3] http://www.oas.org/es/centro_noticias/comunicado_prensa.asp?sCodigo=C-090/17

[4] http://www.elheraldo.hn/eleccioneshonduras2017/1130045-508/luis-zelaya-acepta-derrota-del-partido-liberal-y-felicita-a-salvador-nasralla

[5] http://www.latribuna.hn/2017/12/07/juan-orlando-hernandez-la-voluntad-del-pueblo-hondureno-no-se-juega/

[6] http://confidencialhn.com/2017/12/07/honduras-autoridad-electoral-escrutara-cuatro-mil-753-actas-ee-uu-avala-medida/

[7] http://www.elnuevoherald.com/opinion-es/opin-col-blogs/andres-oppenheimer-es/article188812744.html

[8] http://www.elpais.hn/2017/12/05/ee-uu-certifica-honduras-defensor-derechos-medio-crisis-electoral/

[9] https://www.amnesty.org/es/latest/news/2017/12/honduras-government-deploys-dangerous-and-illegal-tactics-to-silence-population/

[10] 10 COFADEH. Honduras crisis política post electoral y su impacto en los derechos humanos. 2017.

[11] http://www.latribuna.hn/2017/12/10/eeuu-llama-los-politicos-una-determinacion-imparcial-pacifica-elecciones/

[12] http://www.latribuna.hn/2017/12/10/tse-presenta-informe-oficial-escrutinio-especial/

[13] Some examples: In 1911 president Miguel Dávila is deposed, substituted by Francisco Bertrand, resulting from Conferences with Tacoma, with direct intervention from the US Department of State https://histounahblog.wordpress.com/7-4-iii-unidad-honduras-historia-politica-del-siglo-xx-grupo-6-sec-17-03/ Successive invasions by the US to defend the interests of banana plantations keeping or deposing presidents of the republic were made in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 y 1925 (www.laizquierdadiario.com/La-invasion-de-los-marines-a-Honduras)