'All Eyes on U.S.' as Honduran Election Panel Declares Incumbent President Hernández Election Winner
In Honduras, the government-controlled electoral commission on Sunday declared U.S.-backed incumbent President Juan Orlando HernÃ¡ndez as the official winner of the contested November 26 presidential election. The commission made the announcement while opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla was on a plane traveling to the United States to present evidence of election fraud. The opposition party has called for nationwide protests on Monday, while the Organization of American States has called for a new election. We speak with award-winning independent journalist Allan Nairn, and Rodolfo Pastor, the spokesperson for the Alliance Against the Dictatorship. We also speak with Dana Frank, professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with the escalating political crisis in Honduras. On Sunday night, the government-controlled electoral commission declared the U.S.-backed incumbent President Juan Orlando HernÃ¡ndez as the official winner of the contested November 26 presidential election. The commission made the announcement while opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla was on a plane traveling to the United States to present evidence of election fraud to the OASand State Department. The opposition party is now calling for nationwide protests, and the Organization of American States has called for a new election. This is Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga, head of the electoral observer mission of the OAS.
JORGE ”TUTO” QUIROGA: [translated] The electoral observer mission considered that it has observed a process of low electoral quality, and therefore cannot settle the doubts over what has been announced today. The mission regrets, once again, the incidents of violence that have occurred in the elections, in different phases of the electoral process, and calls once again for all actors to stay calm and act responsibly.
AMY GOODMAN: Protests erupted after the November 26 election, when the government-controlled electoral commission stopped tallying votes once the count showed opposition candidate Nasralla ahead. After a few days, the electoral commission then claimed HernÃ¡ndez was ahead. Human rights groups say as many as 22 people have been killed and more than 1,200 detained in the nationwide protests since.
Well, for more, we’re joined in Tegucigalpa by award-winning independent journalist Allan Nairn, as well as by Rodolfo Pastor, the spokesperson for the Alliance Against the Dictatorship, the opposition party represented by Salvador Nasralla. And in Washington, D.C., Dana Frank is with us, professor of history at University of California, Santa Cruz.
Let’s begin with Rodolfo Pastor in Tegucigalpa. Rodolfo Pastor, you’re spokesperson for the opposition party that is led by Salvador Nasralla, who was in a plane, headed to Washington, when the government-controlled electoral commission announced that the incumbent President HernÃ¡ndez has won. What is your response? And what’s happening in the streets right now?
RODOLFO PASTOR: Well, what’s happened since last night—it’s early morning here in Honduras—is, obviously, the announcement by the tribunal, a very unilateral announcement. Only the president of the tribunal was on camera, which is very, very atypical, since it’s a collegiate body and there is three magistrates for the tribunal, and yet it was the president of the tribunal, who is more directly linked to Juan Orlando HernÃ¡ndez, who was to make an announcement, which was also atypical since it was not an official announcement. It was basically him communicating the final results of the count, and yet it was not the tribunal coming out and saying Juan Orlando HernÃ¡ndez had been elected president of Honduras.
What happened since then is, of course, the alliance has rejected this declaration. We do not consider the tribunal, by now, to be a legitimate institution here in Honduras. It has been that way for a while. We have questioned the credibility of the tribunal, the capacity of the tribunal to provide credible results, since before the elections. And, of course, by now, more than three weeks since the elections, we are very concerned that the tribunal has played a very, very important role in manipulating the results. And this is something that the OAS has also come out and spoken about in its report. The alliance has rejected the results and has called for the population to stay on the streets, to keep mobilizing, since this is our way of putting pressure on the regime so that they can actually rectify.
Since the announcement by the tribunal and then the statements made by the OAScalling for a new election, what we’ve heard here in Honduras is, basically, Juan Orlando HernÃ¡ndez moving forward, saying, “Well, I am now the winner.” All the front pages this morning on all the major newspapers call him the new president of Honduras for the next four years. They barely mention the fact that the OAS came out with a very, very strong statement questioning the tribunal, questioning the process and calling for new elections.
AMY GOODMAN: Allan Nairn, you’ve been covering the events in Tegucigalpa through this election. Can you talk about Nasralla , where he was when this announcement was made? You saw him getting on the plane in Tegucigalpa?
ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah, I spoke to him as he was boarding. And he didn’t—he clearly didn’t expect this. He was on the way to Washington to plead his case. One thing that shocked many people here was that President HernÃ¡ndez made this announcement not only while Nasralla was on the plane, but one day after HernÃ¡ndez’s own sister was killed in a helicopter crash. But he seized the moment to spring his proclamation of victory.
The declaration by the secretary-general of the OAS, Luis Almagro, was remarkable, because the OAS is historically a policy tool of the United States, and he is clearly bucking the will of the United States, which has been backing HernÃ¡ndez throughout this process. HernÃ¡ndez is close to General Kelly in the White House. I think this took some courage on the secretary-general’s part, because during the recent weeks I’ve been talking to some former Latin American heads of state who have been—who have made it clear that the OAS has been hesitant about going against the U.S. on this.
But now the secretary-general has issued a very strong statement, making it clear that the computers—the computer system of the electoral commission was penetrated. It was an invitation to fraud. And the OAS report didn’t even address what seems to be the dominant emerging evidence, which is that much of the fraud was done by simple ballot box stuffing on the local level by the ruling party. And as I previously mentioned on an earlier show, on the 30th of November one of the technicians inside the electoral system sent out a private message, in which he stated, ”El fraude ya se hizo,” “The fraud has now been done.”
This OAS stance by the secretary-general put some pressure on the Honduran government, which has bitterly attacked him now, saying he’s inciting violence. But, more importantly, it may make it difficult for the White House, which will have a hard time explaining, in any rational way, why it would now back HernÃ¡ndez as the OAS is calling for new elections.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the role of Heidi Fulton, the chargÃ© d’affaires, who, as in many countries around the world, President Trump has not appointed ambassadors, and so she plays that role? The significance of Nasralla being on a plane to the U.S., what he was planning to do at the State Department and the OAS? And her role in Honduras right now, as she is deeply involved with speaking with both sides?
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, just a few days earlier, she had appeared alongside the head of the electoral tribunal, a de facto endorsement to the partial, not clean recount they were doing. And she was widely denounced for that. It’s clear that behind the scenes she’s been working on behalf of HernÃ¡ndez.
And the U.S. has not denounced the killings by the security forces. Last night, I went out on the streets as people were taking to the streets, burning tires. And the dominant force I ran into were the military police, which is the most repressive and notorious element of the armed forces. They’re the ones most closely and personally linked to President HernÃ¡ndez. They were carrying live ammunition. They told me they had orders to open fire on demonstrators if they gave them any trouble. And although the Pentagon has been claiming in recent years that the U.S. has not been training the military police, a number of those I ran into said they had gotten their training from Fort Benning.
It’s partially necessary for them to use this extremely repressive force now, because two weeks ago the police rebelled and said they would no longer carry out repression. And other elements of the army I’ve been talking to have been saying—you know, rank-and-file troops have been saying that they are reluctant also. I’ve never actually seen, in any other country, a security force that was less ideologically strong and less committed to their own leadership. When you ask them who their families voted for back in the countryside where they come from, very few of them say HernÃ¡ndez. Most of them say their families voted for Nasralla, at least among those I’ve talked to. And they seem—many of them seem to identify more as poor working people, where they come from, as opposed to being members of the institution. And I think the HernÃ¡ndez government and also [inaudible] have to see this. And if the popular resistance is large and persistent enough, this government may have some difficulty holding on, even with U.S. backing.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Dana Frank, a professor at University California, Santa Cruz, you’ve been closely following everything here. You say this election is being stolen.
DANA FRANK: Oh, well, I think we have to say there’s certainly evidence of fraud and a great concern about who controlled those tally sheets, who controlled the computers. I certainly would support what the OAS is saying, which is, we don’t have evidence of a clear election here that could be certified. And there’s a long history of electoral fraud in Honduras going into this. Let’s remember that. And Juan Orlando himself has a long history of subverting the rule of law, overthrowing the Supreme Court. Let’s remember, his election itself is illegal. It’s a criminal act in violation of the constitution, which says you should be—it’s an immediate criminal act to even advocate re-election. So, going into that, let’s remember that.
So, I think that we have to listen to what the opposition is saying, listen to what the OAS is saying, and say we need—they need a new election. There’s way too much water under the bridge in terms of that electoral commission. And it’s the foxes are guarding the chicken coop here and the chicken—the votes from the chickens. And so, I think we really have to listen to what the opposition was saying. And remember that the Honduran people have very few ways of expressing themselves at this point. People say, “Well, why are they going into the streets?” It’s not like they can petition Congress. Juan Orlando HernÃ¡ndez controls all the reins of power—the Supreme Court, the attorney general, the military, most of the police. We don’t really know, as Mr. Nairn was saying, what the position of the military and the police are going to be. This one unit, 400 of the COBRAS, did rebel.
So, you know, I think, just supporting what he was saying, we have to pay attention to what the United States is going to do here. They have such a long history of giving a green light to Juan Orlando’s criminal re-election, of being silent about the repression since the elections, and, outrageously, certifying, two days after the election, as it was already clear that there were major problems with the election—certifying the human rights conditions on aid to Honduras had been met. I mean, that was astonishing. And also on December 10th, which is International Human Rights Day, Heidi Fulton, the acting ambassador, chose to use that to praise the Juan Orlando HernÃ¡ndez’s government for its advances on human rights. So, they’re sending clear signals about who they care about and support, and who they don’t care about and support, and this lack of respect for basic human rights in Honduras. So, all eyes are on the United States right now. Will it respect the OAS? And, you know, there were some suggestions that it was—that the OAS was going to certify this election. And when it hasn’t, I think, what is the United States going to do? The EU has actually come out, last night, supporting the electoral commission, very embarrassingly, and pretty much repeating exactly what the Honduran government said. And the EU has a long history, like the United States, of supporting Juan Orlando’s government.
You know, the other place to look here is the U.S. Congress, which there have been very, very strong voices about the appearance of major fraud. There have been very strong voices condemning the repression, and especially Congresswoman Schakowsky, Congressmember Keith Ellison. There are already 68 members of Congress that have said cut police and military aid. Going into the elections, you know, Senator Leahy, Senator Reed, Senator Merkley and many others in the Senate have expressed concern about potential fraud. They’ve expressed concern about the state security forces. So, we also really want to pay attention to this congressional voice pushing back against the State Department. Remember that Congress controls the purse strings, and U.S. money is funding these state security forces. U.S. money is, you know, of the State Department—it’s the U.S. State Department that has been continuingly celebrating Juan Orlando’s dictatorship as if he was, as John Kelly put it, a great guy and a good friend. I mean, Kelly said that as recently as May, and that’s Trump’s chief of staff.
AMY GOODMAN: Rodolfo Pastor, in Tegucigalpa, you are the opposition spokesperson, the Alliance Against the Dictatorship. Can you explain what Nasralla is doing in Washington and what you’re calling for to happen now in the streets? And explain how broad your coalition is.
RODOLFO PASTOR: Well, the coalition is very broad. What evidently happened here is we realized—different political parties and social movements, we realized that we were dealing with a dictatorship, that this was no longer a normal political process where we were just competing for political power through elections. This man who has come to power during the last eight years, as a result of the 2009 coup, when he became president of Congress first and started packing the courts and different state institutions, has garnered, has concentrated so much power under his executive office that we are no longer dealing with a normal president here in Honduras. And so, we started coming together, throughout the last four years, when he, as president, has been increasingly abusive, authoritarian and repressive.
And we realized that the only way to confront this guy on an election, that he pretty much controls, was by coming together and building this broad coalition, which brings very odd partners to the party. It’s—well, of course, I am a member of LIBRE, and this is a party that was born from the resistance to the coup back in 2009, and it’s a left-of-center party, basically. And the coalition also brings together PINU, which is a small social democrat party, that has been in Congress for a long time but has not played a major role in Honduran politics, and, of course, PAC, led by Mr. Nasralla, which was also a party that is born from the coup, but as a right-of-center party based on an anti-corruption narrative. It’s a party that, by the way, months before the coalition officially came together as the alliance, was dismantled by the tribunal, led by Mr. Matamoros and under Juan Orlando’s direct instruction.
So, we come together, and we start getting social movements from around Honduras coming to us and also saying, “Hey, listen, we want to be part of this, and we need to organize against this, because we know. We know we are going into an electoral process that we have stated, both nationally and internationally, did not meet any basic conditions for it to be free or fair.” And we went into this game knowing that they control the field, that we were clearly against—going against the odds here. But we also knew that the rejection of the Honduran population, as a whole, against—of Juan Orlando, against Juan Orlando, is huge, is huge. And there was absolutely no way that if these elections were in any way clean or transparent, that Juan Orlando was going to be the winner. And that’s currently the position.
And it’s also—it might seem contradictory, but we are not exactly celebrating the fact that the OAS has come out and asked for a new process to be organized, because we won these past elections. We clearly did so, even against a massive fraud and the control that Juan Orlando has of the institutions that organize the elections. The Honduran people came out massively and voted against Juan Orlando and for the alliance. And this is something that we want to make very clear. We need to respect this. We need to respect the fact that the popular will was very clearly expressed, and that since the elections, and since it became so evident that there had been fraud going on before, during and after the elections, there has been significant repression by state police and army forces. And as a result, we have victims of this repression. We have 22 people who have been killed, many others who have been injured.
And as both Dana and the journalist pointed out, you know, this is a critical moment for us, and we are not willing to just accept that Juan Orlando should, by some miracle, agree that we are to hold new elections—in which, of course, he would lose, if they were organized by an objective, impartial tribunal. So, we are very concerned with, number one, the reaction that Juan Orlando might have against what happened last night—of course, he seems to be plowing forward and, you know, basically ignoring what the OAS has said—and, number two, yes, what will the U.S. say about this. Now, Mr. Nasralla is visiting Washington in order to meet with Secretary-General Almagro. He is also to meet with officials at the State Department and—
AMY GOODMAN: Secretary-general of the OAS.
RODOLFO PASTOR: That’s right. That’s right. And what we are—this happened before the announcement was made. We did expect the announcement to be made. We expected it to be made today, Monday, and not Sunday night. And yet it did not come as a surprise to us. And we have been getting ready for this announcement to be made by the tribunal. And we do consider that the OAS report does give—it gives us a certain boost. And I speak on behalf of the Honduran population that has been out in the streets for three weeks now, because we understand that there is a voice of hope out there and that the international community is still paying attention to us.
We were obviously very upset with the position that the European Union representative here came out and stated last night, like Professor Frank stated. And yet, this is not—we must make it clear, this is not the official position of the electoral observation mission that they have here. And I understand that, right now, as we speak, we have Marisa Matias, the president of the commission, speaking from Brussels about this. And I think that they will come out strongly stating that the electoral process was plagued by fraud.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to continue to cover this again tomorrow on Democracy Now! as events unfold, with the opposition leader, who many believe won the election, the Electoral College—the electoral commission shutting down the vote for a period, when it was announced Salvador Nasralla was 5 percentage points ahead. He is in Washington now. Rodolfo Pastor, spokesperson for the opposition party, Alliance Against the Dictatorship; Allan Nairn, in the streets of Tegucigalpa, independent journalist; and Dana Frank, professor at University of California, Santa Cruz, thanks so much for being with us.
When we come back, did Republican lawmakers include a last-minute provision in the tax plan to personally enrich Tennessee Senator Corker in order to secure his support for the tax bill? Stay with us.