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  December 23, 2017

US Works to Uphold Flawed Honduras Vote

The Trump administration is trying to legitimize the conservative incumbent's position in office by convincing friendly governments to recognize the deeply flawed vote in Honduras, despite growing calls for a new vote, explains Mark Weisbrot
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Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan. He is author of the book Failed: What the "Experts" Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015), co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis (University of Chicago Press, 2000), and has written numerous research papers on economic policy. He writes a column on economic and policy issues that is distributed to over 550 newspapers by the Tribune Content Agency. His opinion pieces have appeared in The Guardian, New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and most major U.S. newspapers, as well as in Brazil's largest newspaper, Folha de Sao Paulo. He appears regularly on national and local television and radio programs. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.


GREGORY WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Gregory Wilpert coming to you from Quito, Ecuador. The conflict over the November 26 presidential election in Honduras continues unabated. More protests are taking place Wednesday through Friday. So far, 22 protesters have been killed in clashes with the police. Last Sunday, the Honduran Electoral Tribunal officially declared the conservative incumbent, Juan Orlando Hernández, to be the official winner with 43 percent of the vote. The margin of victory of 1.4 percent over his closest challenger, the center-left candidate Salvador Nasralla. Earlier this week, the OAS and the opposition called for completely redoing the election.

Joining me to take a closer look at the international dimension of this vote is Mark Weisbrot. Mark is the co-director for the Center for Economic and Policy Research and President of the organization Just Foreign Policy. Thanks for being here today, Mark.

MARK WEISBROT: Thanks, Gregory. Good to be with you.

GREGORY WILPERT: So, one of the biggest reasons really to suspect that there was fraud in the election has to do with the fact that on the night of the vote, with 57 percent of the ballots counted, the Electoral Tribunal said that Salvador Nasralla, the challenger, was ahead by 5 percent of the vote. However, shortly after that, the vote count was suspended. Then when it restarted some 30 hours later, the incumbent, Juan Orlando Hernández was ahead by 1 percent of the vote. Everyone says that such a dramatic turnaround is highly suspicious. Tell us about what the analyses that have taken place so far, and what explanations have been offered about how credible these explanations for this sudden catching up of the incumbent Hernández. How credible are they?

MARK WEISBROT: The government's not giving any explanation. You don't hear anything from anyone. In fact, it's hard to find anybody even saying openly that this vote is for real, that they really won. They're just establishing themselves as the winner. So, originally the government said, “Well, all these votes came in when the vote shifted,” from this lead that you mentioned for the opposition to a huge lead for the government after the shutdown of the vote results. They said it was because they came in late from rural areas, the ones that were coming in later were from rural areas. And that's where Juan Orlando Hernández had support.

But The Economist magazine just looked at the numbers and showed that there was absolutely no correlation between rural areas and this shift in the vote count. So, they didn't say that much after that. Now there's no explanation, and I want to emphasize that as a statistical matter, if they don't have that explanation, it just really can't happen randomly. It's billions to one, at least, against the probability of that happening. So, nobody could believe that. There has to be a geographical explanation, and they don't have one and they're not offering one. And they gave an eight-page response to the OAS report, which questioned this result and they did not even mention any explanation for how this happened.

GREGORY WILPERT: So, just yesterday, the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, despite all these challenges, congratulated President Hernández for his reelection. I think I just now also saw that the Israeli ambassador to Honduras also issued congratulations. Now again, as I said, despite all these challenges to the vote and calling for a new vote. How significant is it to have these governments recognize the result and do you expect other governments to follow suit? And if they do, what would that mean for the election result?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, you can see this has happened many times like the 2006 election in Mexico, or other international events where the United States wants to gather support for its position. This time it's been more transparently obvious than previously, 'cause you had a Reuters report that the US government actually coordinated the Mexican government's recognition. And then the US government said, “Oh we're gonna follow Mexico and also recognize this election.” The Trump administration didn't even mention that the OAS was calling for new elections in their own statement.

So, it's very clear, obviously. Well, we knew this anyway, right? In many ways it's a repeat of the 2009 military coup, only in that case nobody could recognize that, so the United States pretended that it didn't accept the coup until it did. And in this case, it's very obvious the US is organizing its allies to congratulate the government. And the problem you have, of course, is this time the OAS secretary general has put out this statement in an OAS report saying these elections are not credible, calling for new elections. But I think what the strategy of the Trump administration, what they're betting is that Almagro, who's been a very tight ally of the Trump administration on foreign policy in this hemisphere, that Almagro will just let it go.

He did something similar when there was the coup in Brazil in 2016, the parliamentary coup. He wrote a very strong letter saying that this was really against the Brazilian constitution, and it was unjustified, the impeachment proceedings, they didn't have a crime and so on. And then he just forgot about it altogether. And I think they're hoping, and there's a good chance that he will just kind of forget about this. He did appoint two people, former presidents Colom of Guatemala and Quiroga from Bolivia, to try and negotiate with both parties in Honduras, with the result of trying to get a new election. But I could easily see him just dropping it.

GREGORY WILPERT: You know, I was actually going to ask about the history, really, of the OAS in this regard because they tended to ignore also the apparent fraud that occurred in Mexico in 2006 and then in Haiti in 2010. So, this seems to be, he's playing a slightly different role here, I have the feeling. How do you explain that? What is going on with Almagro? It sounds like he has two tendencies and, as you said, the pro-US one usually ends up winning but how do you interpret what's going on here?

MARK WEISBROT: Yes. Just one addition to when you said Haiti in 2010. The OAS actually did something nobody's ever done, they overturned the results of the Haitian election. So, that was one of the most outrageous things the OAS has done.

Yeah, I think the OAS right now under Almagro, also because there are right-wing governments that are the most loyal to the United States that you've seen in decades in Argentina and Brazil and Peru, although he's hanging by a thread right now. It's very much answering to the US. If I were to explain why Almagro is on the side of democratic elections in this case, I'd say he probably does feel this way but I think most importantly, he had no choice because the OAS observation mission, the people on the ground could just not accept this. It was just not believable at all, so I think he had to go with that no matter what. I think he probably wanted to as an individual, he's not a right-wing person, he just mostly I think allies with the US because that's where his power is right now. And really, he hates the left governments I think, much more than he cares about Honduras.

GREGORY WILPERT: Turning to the European Union, they also had the election observers there and it seems that they've been taking a back seat of it. That is, they've even expressed support, it seems for the recount effort, saying that the recount which took place, set aside their suspicions about the vote, which it clearly didn't do for the opposition, and not even for the OAS. What do you think is going on here with the European Union?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, the European Union is playing the role that they've done. Sometimes, they go back and forth. It depends who's in charge. But yeah, they're allying themselves with the Trump administration. You gotta remember, the biggest thing here in Honduras, there's a general policy of all US governments and Latin America, and again the Trump administration is not significantly different right now from the Obama administration or the Bush administration on Honduras or Latin America.

So, it's consistent. They want governments that will follow their foreign policy. They don't care as much what they do internally, as just being their allies. And in this case, it's even more important and that's why I think there was never any doubt what the Trump administration was going to do because they have their only military base in Latin America is in Honduras, and that's the fundamental problem here. The Hondurans cannot have democracy from their point of view because if they do, they will, sooner or later they'll kick that base out. They'll vote for a government that'll kick that base out of there.

GREGORY WILPERT: And finally, because of all this violence that has been going on and protests, and the repression against the protests, and I mentioned there were 22 people killed, and there are also these fraud allegations. What is happening in Congress given that this is really something that is attracting a lot of attention? Not perhaps as much as it deserves, especially in the media but it has attracted some attention. What is happening in Congress with this regard?

MARK WEISBROT: Yes, I think that's extremely important 'cause people can do something here. They can write to their members of Congress because a couple dozen people already have signed a letter just in like a day or so, to the administration, and is threatening that Congress could cut off assistance to Honduras, its so-called security assistance at least. There's a lot more they could do as well. And they want, they're supporting the call for new elections. And they're also demanding that the government respect human rights.

I think this is the most important thing. Amnesty International has also put out an urgent action that people can make calls and they can find that on Amnesty International's website. This is very important because Congress, there's a lot of members of Congress. This effort in the House is led by Keith Ellison, but you also have Patrick Leahy in the Senate, you have a lot of other members of Congress, that really see this government very much as a repressive government. After all, the opposition called themselves The Alliance Against the Dictatorship and it really is a dictatorship now, especially since they obviously stole this election. And they're using violence to repress the opposition.

So, I think people can contact their members of Congress and try and get them to sign on to this. That would be one of the most important things, as well as the Amnesty Urgent Action Alert.

GREGORY WILPERT: Okay, great. Well, we're going to continue to follow this, of course. I was joined by Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and President of the organization Just Foreign Policy. Thanks again for being here, Mark.


GREGORY WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network. If you like the news and analysis that we provide, please don't forget to donate to The Real News Network this holiday season.


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