Opposition Wins Honduras Presidential Race, But Problems Lie Ahead

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Honduras’ incumbent President Hernandez has not conceded the election and President-elect Salvador Nasralla faces many obstacles implementing a left-of-center and anti-corruption agenda, as his supporters would like. Prof. Adrienne Pine of American University explains

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Story Transcript

GREGORY WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Gregory Wilpert joining you from Quito, Ecuador. The Central American country of Honduras held elections last Sunday, and Salvador Nasralla, the candidate from the coalition of leftist and center-left parties, is the officially declared winner. He obtained 45% of the vote, and his nearest challenger, incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez, obtained 40%.

The result was a bit of a surprise because the vote took place in conditions that were unfavorable to Nasralla. President Hernandez had a clear advantage because he controls the country’s Electoral Commission and is accused of tolerating regular human rights violations against activists. Sunday night, before any official results were released, Hernandez also was so confident that he declared himself to be the winner before the official results were released. Here’s what he had to say.

JUAN ORLANDO HERNANDEZ (translator): A huge number of exit polls being processed in real time as the ballots come in, and we have the count is more than clear, and resounding, that we won this election. That is what the polls say, and that is what the results we are seeing from the count are saying.

GREGORY WILPERT: Joining me to analyze the results is Professor Adrienne Pine. Adrienne is an associate professor of Anthropology at American University in Washington D.C., who has studied and written about Honduras for over two decades. She joins us today from Oakland, California. Thanks for being here today, Adrienne.

ADRIENNE PINE: Thanks for having me.

GREGORY WILPERT: First, tell us a little bit about who is Salvador Nasralla, the declared winner in Honduras’s presidential election.

ADRIENNE PINE: Just to clarify, the current President Juan Orlando Hernandez has not to my knowledge yet ceded the election, so this isn’t over yet. Salvador Nasralla is an interesting character, to say the least. Although he is running on the opposition platform, he was not a figure within the resistance movement, per se. He instead was a sportscaster for much of his career and came to prominence as a political figure following the coup but really focusing not so much on the coup but instead on corruption, which was a different tack than many people within the resistance movement took, which was looking at more systemic issues of structural violence, oligarchy, US imperialism, militarization, etc.

Salvador Nasralla formed a party called the PAC, which is the Partido Anticorrupcion or the Anti-Corruption Party, which had a surprisingly good result for a party that had just formed in the 2013 elections, and gained a number of seats in Congress. Following that, there was a lot of internal dissension within the ranks of the newly formed party, and he ended up actually getting pushed out of that party, running a presidential campaign in the primaries and then ultimately forming a union with the Libre Party, which is the party that itself came out of the resistance movement to the coup in 2009, and that the former president who was ousted in that coup, Manuel Zelaya, is affiliated with. He’s the chair of that party, of the Libre Party. He formed an alliance with Libre and actually became the candidate for that alliance, which also brought in some disaffected people from the Nationalist Party as well as people from other small parties in Honduras. It’s called the Alliance for Opposition Against the Continuing Rule, so against the dictatorship of Juan Orlando Hernandez, the current president.

Salvador Nasralla has really made his career as a showman. What can I say about him? He has spoken a lot about corruption. He’s very much from the television sphere. He’s heavily botoxed. He’s very much somebody who you always feel like he’s putting on a show, but his message against corruption really obviously struck a chord with a lot of Hondurans, a lot of middle-class Hondurans in particular.

Following the revelations of the major theft of the Honduran Institute for Social Security in 2015, when it was discovered that this healthcare system which provides healthcare to a large number of Hondurans and that is government-run was actually gutted by the National Party in order to fund their campaigns and also enrich personal friends of Juan Orlando Hernandez, the former president, there were marches that really overwhelmed the National Party. That was in 2015. There were marches of people who called Indignados, or the Outraged, who took to the streets in the tens of thousands. Salvador Nasralla, because of his anti-corruption focus, really affiliated himself with that cause as well.

GREGORY WILPERT: As is mentioned, Nasralla is an ally of former President Manuel Zelaya who was ousted in the US-supported coup in 2009. What do you think this will mean for Honduras to now have someone who is of the same or supposed to be, presumably of a similar political tendency as Manuel Zelaya who was overthrown back then? Will the country’s elites and the US allow him to govern? What do you think?

ADRIENNE PINE: No, the country’s elites and the US will not allow him to govern from the left, but Salvador Nasralla himself does not come from the left in any case. He won thanks to the really massive and impressive grassroots organization campaign that was carried out by Libre, by this political party that grew out of the resistance movement to the coup, but it’s not really the same thing as it. That’s not really his base. It’s Manuel Zelaya’s base.

There are a couple reasons why he won’t be allowed to rule in the way that the resistance movement would want him to, even if he does successfully ascend to the presidency, which as I mentioned is still not completely sure to happen at this stage: one of those is that the Congress is looking right now with the results that are in that the National Party will still control at least 60% of the seats in Congress, which would mean that because of the consolidation of power that has happened over the past two presidencies since the coup, it will be very difficult for Salvador Nasralla to get anything meaningful in terms of structural changes, institutional changes done.

Then the other thing is that his agenda has never been structural. It’s been a corruption agenda, which is the kind of rhetoric where you talk about bad apples. If we can weed out the bad police in the system, then we’ll have a good police force overall, whereas there are other people within the resistance movement and within Libre who would argue that actually it’s at this stage impossible to reform institutions like the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, like the Justice Branch without completely upending them, and redefining them and rewriting the constitution.

GREGORY WILPERT: Ever since the 2009 coup against Zelaya, the country has gone through a very difficult time in terms of violent crime and also repression against environmental and political activists. Give us a brief overview of the human rights situation in Honduras since 2009, leading to the present.

ADRIENNE PINE: The situation, as you know, has been dire. That really stems from the impunity that has existed in Honduras since the coup. In large part this is thanks to the support that the coup received from the Clinton State Department, which promised, which really guaranteed that the perpetrators of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial assassinations, torture, unlawful detention would really see no consequences.

That has continued over the past eight years and grown tremendously in terms of what it represents for the insecurity of Honduran human rights defenders and land rights defenders under the reign of Juan Orlando Hernandez. He introduced the military police while a candidate for president, while he was the president of the National Congress and he has effectively militarized the entire country in order to push through a neoliberal agenda of privatization, and also is deeply tied into what is effectively a narco-state. The security situation has been dire.

The promise of a potential Nasralla presidency for many Hondurans, from what I’ve been hearing from the people I’ve been talking to since yesterday on the ground, and what I’ve been seeing in tweets is even though people aren’t necessarily in love with Salvador Nasralla, they feel like this is their first chance to celebrate a victory in almost nine years, and then the possibility that the human rights situation will ease up.

GREGORY WILPERT: Finally, you mentioned the role of the United States in supporting the coup but what has it been more recently, especially now in this election and leading up to the election? What has the US been doing with regard to Honduras?

ADRIENNE PINE: The US … It depends on what we mean by the US, because there’s been a lot of dissension. In Congress, for example, there have been a large number of Senators and Congress members who have expressed outrage at, for example, the trial, the ongoing investigation into Berta Caceres’ murder, which is clearly hiding and protecting the intellectual authors of that crime, who are probably very high up in the military and in the government. They’ve been denouncing ongoing human rights abuses, but at the same time the Juan Orlando Hernandez administration has been a close friend to the US presidency and State Department and the continued aid that is being given to his military and police forces that are operating active death squads is a testament to that. I think Donald Trump has spoken highly of Juan Orlando Hernandez but he also enjoyed a good relationship with Obama, despite his atrocious human rights record.

GREGORY WILPERT: Okay. We’ll definitely keep an eye on the developments there and we’ll probably come back to you once we get a clearer idea as to how these elections are turning out. I was speaking to Adrienne Pine, associate professor of Anthropology at American University in Washington D.C. Thanks again, Adrienne, for having joined me today.

ADRIENNE PINE: Sure. Thank you.

GREGORY WILPERT: Thank you for joining The Real News Network.