Hon­duras slides into vi­o­lence af­ter tainted elec­tion re­sults

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - Mary Sanchez She writes for the Kansas City Star.

Hon­duras is on the verge of se­ri­ous up­heaval. On Satur­day, its re-elected pres­i­dent, Juan Or­lando Hernán­dez, had his sec­ond inau­gu­ra­tion. But many Hon­durans be­lieve the vote count af­ter the Nov. 26 elec­tion was tam­pered with. More­over, the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion pro­hibits re-elec­tion of the pres­i­dent.

Since the tainted elec­tion, nearly 40 peo­ple have died in po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence. Many pro­test­ers are al­leged to have been shot by the mil­i­tary. Oth­ers have sim­ply “dis­ap­peared.” And even more peo­ple op­posed to the vote count (which took weeks to com­plete) are be­ing de­tained, their heads shaven as they are held in jails.

Of­ten, pro­test­ers are met with mil­i­tary riot squads, tear gas, wa­ter can­nons and even live am­mu­ni­tion.

Op­po­si­tion lead­ers called for a na­tional strike a week ago. And peo­ple young and old have been block­ing ma­jor road­ways. Public dis­con­tent has been build­ing for months.

If you are un­aware of what has been hap­pen­ing, it may be be­cause news cov­er­age in the U.S. me­dia has been dis­mal, de­spite the hor­rific vi­o­lence com­mit­ted by gov­ern­ment forces.

That this con­flict should turn so deadly is hardly a sur­prise. Hon­duras is among the world’s most dan­ger­ous na­tions for en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists, who of­ten wind up dead. It is also on the trade route by which Colom­bian co­caine comes to the U.S. We have strong in­ter­ests in the sta­bil­ity of Hon­duras.

For one thing, Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers are pay­ing the bill. Our mil­i­tary has bases through­out the coun­try, as it is strate­gi­cally sit­u­ated.

In fact, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son signed off on mil­lions of dol­lars in aid to Hon­duras while the bal­lots were still be­ing counted. Tiller­son green­lighted the trans­fer of funds weeks be­fore the elec­tion was cer­ti­fied.

About 10 hours af­ter the polls had closed, the elec­tion com­mis­sion said that Hernandez’s chal­lenger, Sal­vador Nas­ralla, was ahead by 5 per­cent­age points. Then, the tab­u­lat­ing was sus­pended. More than a day later, when re­port­ing on the votes re­sumed, that lead had been re­versed. Hernandez won.

Note also that, amid this tur­bu­lence and vi­o­lence, Hon­durans seek­ing asy­lum in the U.S. are months away from po­ten­tially los­ing their rights to claim tem­po­rary pro­tected sta­tus.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is send­ing mixed sig­nals on Hon­duras’ elec­tion fraud and hu­man rights abuses. In a state­ment is­sued in De­cem­ber, the State De­part­ment noted ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties iden­ti­fied by in­ter­na­tional elec­tion ob­servers, cited the re­sult­ing pop­u­lar protests and called for a “ro­bust na­tional dia­logue” and an ef­fort to “en­act much-needed elec­toral re­forms.” Yet it also con­grat­u­lated Hernandez on his vic­tory.

We’re stand­ing silent while a soon-to-be dic­ta­tor so­lid­i­fies his hold on power. Does Trump plan to send peo­ple into harm’s way now that the gov­ern­ment of Hon­duras is turn­ing live am­mu­ni­tion on its own peo­ple?

The State De­part­ment coun­seled Hon­duras to re­spect the rights of peace­ful pro­test­ers. This is a coun­try in whose af­fairs the United States has long played an in­flu­en­tial and not very con­struc­tive role. If our gov­ern­ment is se­ri­ous about pro­tect­ing the lives and demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions of Hon­duras, we’ll need to use more than airy rhetoric.

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