Op-Ed: Have you heard what's happening in Honduras?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017 - 3:54pm

This past week, chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, Richard Spencer has got to go” rang on our campus. Simultaneously, in Honduras, the rallying cry of “Fuera JOH” (out with Juan Orlando Hernández) resonated in the streets, the media and the collective consciousness of a burgeoning movement of mass political resistance. 

Hondurans went to the polls on Nov. 26 to decide who would be the next president, and still, a winner has yet to be officially announced. The main contenders were Juan Orlando Hernández, the National Party incumbent running for a constitutionally-disputed second term, and Salvador Nasralla, a sportscaster turned politician who has created an alliance between anti-corruption and leftist opposition parties.

On the night of the election, both candidates declared their respective victories despite the unprecedented silence of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), which did not release a preliminary vote count until almost 10 hours after the polls had closed. When the TSE finally broke its silence, Nasralla was leading by a margin of 5 percent with 57 percent of the votes counted.

Then, suddenly, there was an electronic malfunction in the vote counting technology. After an eight hour pause, the count resumed, and Hernández, the candidate considered most favorable to U.S. interests, began to bridge the gap and eventually surpassed Nasralla in the count. The TSE finally finished the count Monday, and the results show that Hernández is leading with 42.98 percent of the vote compared to Nasralla’s 41.39, a difference of only 52,347 votes. However, the many irregularities documented in the voting centers, which have prevented the announcement of a winner, raise suspicion of widespread electoral fraud.

With the exception of a few U.S. Congress members who denounced the way the election was handled, our government has not firmly addressed the situation beyond calling on everyone to respect the TSE’s results. The day after the election, I struggled to find American news reports on the situation, and I drew only blank stares on campus when I brought it up. While the market for international news reporting and consumption is competitive, the lack of attention to Latin America is indicative of a larger political project that encourages ignorance of U.S. influence over these countries.

The silence on U.S.-Latin American relations supports the implicit conclusion that the irregularities in the Honduran election are the fault of weak democratic institutions resulting from a culture of corruption. However, this view obscures a long history of U.S. intervention that undermined Latin American democracies at the price of protecting our economic interests (Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua, El Salvador, to name a few). Under the guise of preventing the spread of communism, the U.S. has propped up several Latin American dictators, providing economic support and training of military forces to weed out any leftist tendencies that would block access to multinational corporations.

While many shy away from the term colonialism, throwing in the “neo-” prefix accurately describes the economic and political influence we have covertly, and at times openly, maintained in Latin America. Almost every Latin American country bears the scars of U.S. intervention.

Yet, the covert nature of our actions means any political instability is always blamed on Latin American culture, a form of victim shaming that alleviates any U.S. guilt. As a result, the day following the Honduran election, I was not surprised to find few knew what was going on, and even fewer felt the U.S. had any responsibility to respond.

The most recent coup in Honduras was in 2009. President Manuel Zelaya, who implemented many progressive reforms, was overthrown by the military after proposing a referendum to allow presidents to serve two terms instead of one. While the mere suggestion of adding another term was enough to get Zelaya overthrown, a year into Hernández’s presidency, the Honduran Supreme Court ruled to allow him to attempt reelection. Hernández, elected in 2013, aligns with U.S. economic interests. We have not questioned the legality of his bid for reelection.

After the 2009 coup, we recognized the government of Porfirio Lobo Sosa, even though other Latin American countries refused, and we continued to support him despite the increase in state repression. The support for autocratic leaders in Latin America has always cut across U.S. party lines. Former President Barack Obama supported Lobo Sosa and what he called the “restoration of democratic practices.” Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at that time, denied what had happened was a coup.

While the U.S. media reflects a slight unease with Hernández’s bid for reelection, we have been slow to condemn the fraud. I suspect this has much to do with Nasralla representing a coalition of leftist parties — some labeled as socialist.

Given the allegations of fraud and the mysterious electronic complications in the vote count that preceded the reversal of the electoral trend, Nasralla has refused to recognize the results of the election should Hernández be declared the winner. While the remaining 5 percent of ballots that showed “inconsistencies” were counted by hand, Nasralla’s Alliance Against the Dictatorship coalition is demanding a more comprehensive recount of the votes or a redo of the election. Since the results are bound to be close, the call for a recount is neither unprecedented nor unwarranted.

In light of the TSE’s failure to consider a recount, which seems to confirm corruption, many Hondurans have taken to the streets to protest. In response, the government, still controlled by Hernández, installed a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and ordered the military to shut down public demonstrations. So far, at least 11 people have died and more than 1,000 have been arrested.

Despite the dangers presented by this autocratic crackdown, every day throughout the country Hondurans have participated in marches, blockades and cacerolazos, a form of popular protest in which people bang pots and pans in the street. Many have united behind the figure of Nasralla to combat the corruption threatening their democracy. On Monday, some factions within the police refused to enforce the curfew. The magnitude of popular resistance proves that one cannot fault the nation for lacking “democratic culture.” In response, Hernández has assumed dictatorial-like authority and is desperately trying to hang onto power, drawing on any internal or international support he can muster.

This puts the U.S. public in a familiar position. We can choose to continue the practice of turning a blind eye to the questionable actions of our own government in Latin America. We can continue to tacitly support a dictator because the democratically elected alternative is leftist. We can continue to pretend this election does not concern us. But we must recognize that this means erasing our history just as much as theirs. It empties out the ideal of our national integrity by putting all the blame elsewhere. After all, it's always easier to continue with the status quo.

Or, we can choose to stand in solidarity.

Drawing from our University’s conflict over whether or not to allow white nationalist Richard Spencer speak on campus based on arguments of free speech, or the recent revelations about Michael Flynn and Russia, we can recognize that putting democracy into practice isn't always easy. Our democracy has a lot of problems too, including the mandate we always give our leaders to take neocolonial actions that subvert democracy in Latin America.

We can take a few seconds to Google “Honduras elections,” “Honduras history” and maybe even “History of U.S. intervention in Honduras.” We can bring it up with our friends and in our classes. We can contact our representatives and tell them we’re done being bystanders and we’re ready to recognize our share of the guilt. We can tell them we don't want to recognize the results of the election unless there is a complete recount of all the votes cast because we know democracy is fragile enough without outside influences actively trying to subvert it.

We can learn from the mass political mobilization in Honduras, apply their tactics in our own fights for democracy, use their awakening of political consciousness to spur our own. And when we raise our voices to chant “Richard Spencer has got to go,” we can add our own “Fuera JOH.”

Allison Lang is an LSA senior.