Honduras election turmoil erupts in protests at embassy

A musician plays an accordion marching during an Anti-government protest in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on Friday.
A musician plays an accordion marching during an Anti-government protest in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on Friday. AP

Thousands of protesters marched on the U.S. Embassy in Honduras on two separate occasions over the weekend, calling for U.S. support amidst a deepening political crisis sweeping their country. Protesters claim current President Juan Orlando Hernández stole the Nov. 26 presidential election from the Opposition Alliance candidate, Salvador Nasralla, who ran on a popular anti-corruption platform.

This weekend, protesters also linked their struggle to U.S. border security and immigration concerns, saying the spike in U.S.-bound migration since 2014 can be blamed on violence and impunity perpetuated by the Hernández administration and his National Party.

“Before the reason for migration was uniting families and looking for better paid work. Now violence, extortion, cartels and impunity are forcing people to leave Honduras,” said Darlan Alvarado, coordinator for the Honduras chapter of Doctors of the World, which helps treat immigrants’ medical needs. Hernández’s presidency has seen widespread human rights abuses, as well as a corruption scandal involving skimming money from the social security system.

Many protesters against a second term for Hernández tweeted @theRealDonaldTrump over the weekend using the hashtag #IDontWantToLeaveMyCountry to connect their struggle to immigration.

“It’s not ideal to leave my country. But many young people are pushed out by violence and lack of opportunity,” engineering student Oscar Alvarado told the Miami Herald about his tweet. He said he would rather stay and fight for a future than migrate. To him, a Nasralla presidency means change. His cousin, Moises Torres, said however he plans to leave Honduras.

“There are no opportunities to grow here,” said Torres.

U.S.-bound migration spiked dramatically in the first six months of the Hernández presidency in 2014 and has continued to rise, according to the Pew Research Center. While the initial 2014 spike likely resulted from policies of former President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, also from the National Party, there is evidence to suggest everyday violence and impunity worsened under Hernández

In particular, critics reference Hernández’s expansion of military presence in civilian areas. Both as president of Congress, and then as president, Hernández was responsible for crafting the legal framework and then implementing the formation of the military police, an elite, heavily armed public security force widely accused of human rights violations. The Documentation Center of Honduras (CEDOH) used public records to demonstrate systemic abuses by military police against the LGBTQ community, activists, NGO workers and journalists among others. Hernández maintains the forces make Honduras safer and are part of a broader security plan.

Since the National Party took control following the 2009 military coup that ousted democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya, Honduras has become increasingly violent. Immigration, both legal and illegal, to the United States skyrocketed.

Iroshka Elvir, wife of opposition candidate Nasralla, stood among protesters outside of the U.S. Embassy on Friday night, despite being pregnant and near her due date. She told the Miami Herald the conditions in Honduras are particularly bad for women, who often make the dangerous trip to the U.S. for lack of other options.

“It’s important to help these women here so that they can help their families in Honduras, not in the United States,” Elvir told the Miami Herald. She said corruption by the current administration means less support for women and families. “No one should have to leave their country to be able to feed their families.”

Despite an early lead,” Nasralla is now behind Hernández by a fraction of a percent two weeks after the election. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal, controlled by the National Party, has yet to announce a winner. Both candidates have declared victory.

The election itself was riddled with irregularities. After four of his handpicked supreme court justices overturned the presidential term limit in 2015, Hernández declared he would run for a second term as president, which was previously illegal under the Honduran law. At the polls, international observers documented everything from vote buying to armed forces apparently intimidating voters. Nasralla has claimed the fraud was electronic, and vote counts changed by hand.

A partial recount is occurring, but protesters are demanding a full recount or a second round of elections in the face of what they believe has been blatant fraud.

The U.S. Embassy, which has made only vague statements on the election but has traditionally supported Hernández, became a target due to the power it holds over the Central American nation. Nasralla spoke with the Miami Herald as he marched with protesters toward the embassy on Sunday.

“This ends when the United States, the Organization of American States, and the European Union understand that Honduras doesn’t want drug traffickers in charge of our country,” Nasralla said, referencing a high-level drug smuggling investigation in the United States that may implicate Hernández. “Honduras wants freedom.”

Sunday’s march was festive and peaceful. The police presence was lighter than at last weekend’s marches, in which protesters and police clashed across the country and a 19-year-old was killed.