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  December 1, 2017

Honduras Election: One of the Worst Elections in Recent Memory

Evidence is mounting that the Honduran presidential election is being stolen so that the conservative incumbent, President Juan Orlando Hernandez, remains in office. According to CEPR's Mark Weisbrot, the lack of credible elections in Honduras is a direct result of the 2009 military coup, which was aided by the US government, that put the National Party in power.
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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: It's The Real News Network. I'm Gregory Wilpert coming to you from Quito, Ecuador. The vote count for the presidential election in central American country of Honduras is sparking a lot of tension and protest. The day following the vote, which took place last Sunday, the electoral authority announced that the opposition challenger from the center left alliance of parties Salvador Nasralla was ahead by five percentage points. Since then, however, the vote has continued and now the conservative incumbent, President Orlando Hernandez, is ahead by a mere 0.8%. Nasralla and his supporters are accusing the President Hernandez of committing fraud. Meanwhile, protesters and police clash for a second day in the capital city Tegucigalpa.

Joining me, to analyze the most recent developments in Honduras is Mark Weisbrot. Mark is the co-director of the center for economic and policy research, and is the author of "Failed: What the Experts Got Wrong About the Global Economy". He joins us from Washington, D.C. today. Thanks for being here again, Mark.

MARK WEISBROT: Thanks, Gregory. Thanks for having me here.

GREGORY WILPERT: So, just how credible would you say are these charges that are flying around right now that are being leveled against President Hernandez and the electoral authority?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, it's pretty bad. I mean, this is the worst I've seen for many, many years because as you mentioned, the opposition was ahead with 50% of the vote counted, they were ahead by five points earlier this week and then they stopped reporting totals for 30 hours, even though it seems clear that they had all the votes, all the voting sheets with the vote totals in their possession. Without any reason, they still haven't given any reason, they stopped reporting anything for 30 hours, and then as soon as they started reporting again, there was drastic change in the totals. So, the votes that came in after that were a huge lead, like 57 to 35. As soon as they started counting the votes again the opposition, the incumbent Juan Orlando Hernandez was ahead by a margin of 47 to 35.

So, there was a giant shift. There's no explanation for that. If these votes were just coming in randomly, it would be impossible to have such a sudden change, almost statistically impossible to have such a sudden change.

Now, there's an argument from the government that the rural areas might have been coming in later, and that those were more in favor of the government but that doesn't appear to be true. We've been analyzing the data and a lot of the change came within the same municipalities and it doesn't seem to be based on a rural/urban or any other demographic divide that you can point to. And again, it was so sudden. And so then lead narrowed very quickly and then disappeared and now it's actually a 1.5% advantage, percentage points for the government with only 5.7 percentage points remaining to be counted. So, it's almost impossible now for the opposition to win, according to the official vote count.

Everybody has, so many people have issued statements and observers demanding transparency, questioning what's going on. You had the European Union, even the Organization of American States, which has very often taken just the US side in this and we can to which side the US government is on. And then members of Congress, including even the Republican chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House, as well as the ranking Democrat and of course a number of other Democrats, especially progressive Democrats have all issued statements that the government actually release the information that they've been withholding and have a fair vote count. So, the result is very much in question. I think most people who are not supporters of the ruling party are just not going to believe the results.

GREGORY WILPERT: So, Honduras has had a lot of trouble in terms of its electoral politics elections in general, ever since the 2009 coup against President Manuel Zelaya. Can you give us a brief rundown of what that record has been about? I mean, there were elections in 2008, after they overthrew Zelaya, and last time they were in 2013, and now what's the track record been since the coup?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, yeah, the background is very important because this government, the National Party, is a product of the 2009 military coup and of course, that was something that Hillary Clinton wrote in her 2014 book, "Hard Choices," she wrote that she actually worked to prevent the democratically elected president Mel Zelaya from coming back and then my colleague Jake Johnson has done enormous investigative research with thousands of pages of FOA documents and you can read that. But he showed that the US military officials were meeting with the actual leaders of the coup the night before the coup, and then other US officials appeared to help after the coup. And of course the US government did a lot to help legitimize the coup and make sure that the democratically elected president wouldn't return.

And so, this is a continuation of the same government and they've used a lot of repression to stay in power. The most famous case being the assassination of the internationally acclaimed environmental activist Berta Caceres who now we see in that murder, there's now more evidence which has been recently reported more recently, that the government is implicated in that, as well as over a hundred murders of environmental activists. So, this is a repressive government, it's a notoriously corrupt government. The Security minister is implicated in ties to drug traffickers and this is the person who is the main US liaison to the so called war on drugs.

And of course, the most ironic thing is the current president, Hernandez, who is going to be announced the winner of this sometime according to the government, tonight. He was able to run for election only after stacking the Supreme Court to say that he could run because it does violate the Constitutional prohibition on reelection.

And I only mention this because this was actually the excuse that the Right and of course Republicans in the United States who more openly supported the coup than Hillary Clinton did, they said it was because President Zelaya was going to try and change the Constitution so he could run another term which actually wasn't true. He did want a referendum on a new Constitution but he wasn't actually doing that. He couldn't do that. But the point is that this is how he's even hanging onto power.

So, the whole thing is quite a classic example, one of the main motivators, is this is the last remaining US military base outside the United States in this hemisphere is in Honduras, and General Kelly, Trump's Chief of Staff, was actually the head of Southern command before this and he stated publicly that Juan Orlando Hernandez is a great guy and a good friend and they want to keep him there. And that was a major motivating factor for the coup amongst people. I think most people agree with that who have looked at this closely. And I think that this is a huge part of this story right now.

GREGORY WILPERT: Yeah, I was actually going to ask you about that in a little bit, if you could say a little bit more about that. What is the Trump Administration's role in all of this and what is it exactly that they're afraid of? Are they thinking that a government that's less friendly would remove a military base from Honduras, is that what it's all about? Is that what you're saying?

MARK WEISBROT: Yeah. Well, first of all, Zelaya did want to have a referendum on a new Constitution because the Constitution is a product of the prior military dictatorship from the 1980s and so it's a very undemocratic Constitution, so there's a lot of reasons to have a new Constitution. And of course, if there was a new Constitution, I think given the trend in Latin America in the 21st Century, it's quite possible there would be a prohibition on foreign military bases as there was in Ecuador and Bolivia. So, that's part of it, and of course there's a general policy here among the foreign policy established to keep any government out of power that's not going to do what the US wants them to do in terms of their foreign policy in the region.

Now this candidate, Salvador Nasralla, this is a coalition, a center left coalition and he indicated his willingness to cooperate with the US, so he didn't run on an anti-US platform or anything like that but they just don't want to take any chances. You know, the other part of the coalition is more left and more importantly, to the extent that you have democracy there, you do reduce the chances that US military bases would be permitted.

GREGORY WILPERT: Finally, I just want to turn briefly to the issue of how news coverage has been of what's happening in Honduras at the moment. I know that in a surprising report last week, the Economist had a tape recording that was leaked to them where the electoral authorities were coaching voting center workers on how to commit fraud. And I'm a little bit surprised that it hasn't come out a bit more. I mean, the Economist mentioned it in two of its articles, which is kind of surprising considering that it's a conservative magazine but this whole issue of fraud, how do you think that's being treated right now? Is it being treated fairly?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, actually, most of the media is questioning this process and The Economist report was kind of important, it was a government official, so it was just one case, it doesn't necessarily indicate a widespread conspiracy but it was a government official doing exactly what you said, saying that you can change the numbers, you can scratch the barcodes so they won't scan, and the pro Juan Orlando actas or tally sheets will be scanned first and that will make this change in the reporting.

So, there's definitely evidence of these shady things going on. The press has reported and has been questioning of the process. Now the question is, what are they going to do when the government announces the results and the Trump administration presumably supports it. I mean, the Obama administration effectively supported the coup after that happened, so it's just hard to imagine the Trump administration doing something very different than that. And is it going to be a big story, are they gonna try and make anybody care about it or are they just gonna go along with it? That's the question going forward.

GREGORY WILPERT: Well, we'll definitely continue to keep an eye on this development. I was speaking to Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Thanks for having joined us today, Mark.

MARK WEISBROT: Thank you, Greg.

GREGORY WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network. If you like our news and analysis, please don't forget to support us by donating to The Real News this holiday season.


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