Honduras: Repeat of right-wing coup through election fraud

Massive and evident fraud sees right-wing claim victory in Presidential elections

The official results of last week’s 24 November Presidential elections in Honduras, cannot be described as anything other than a new right wing coup, carried out by other means. The Nationalist Party candidate ,Juan Orlando Hernandez, was declared victorious.

The day after the election, Partido Libre (party recently formed and led by Manuel Zelaya, former President overthrown by a coup in 2009) urged the people to take to the streets and defend the electoral victory of the left. “The result is manipulated, they can’t kill our expectations, we will defend our victory” Xiomara Castro declared, presidential candidate for Partido Libre.

Partido Libre was quick to denounce the election officials and summoned a press conference where they rejected the nationalists’ victory and criticised the election officials’ lack of independence. Xiomara Castro gave the election officials 48 hours to solve the situation. “We refuse to accept that the electoral victory will be stolen from the Honduran people”. At the same time, thousands demonstrated outside the office of the election officials, TSE. Partido Libre states that tens of thousands of votes have been manipulated. Zelaya, who is also husband to Xiomara Castro, stated at the same press conference “We have no trust in TSE (Electoral Tribunal), we will collect the votes ourselves and every urn will be control counted and will confirm our victory”.

Fresh memory of 2009 coup

The election was held, with the fresh memory of the military coup in 2009. The coup was carried out because of his implementations of a number of progressive reforms which while falling shorty of a consistently anti-capitalist or socialist programme, were too much for the oligarchy and traditional right wing. He increased the minimum wage by 100%, 400 collectives of farmers won the right to farm the land they had “illegally” occupied, he abolished the private fuel monopoly and made Honduras a member of the ‘Bolivarian’ regional alliance, ALBA. He was oroginally elected as a candidate for the right-wing Liberal party, but started shifting to the left because of the pressure from the masses. This became too much for the elite who staged the coup with the support of the US, which saw its chance to strike a key member of the ALBA block.

The coup gave birth to a fightback and soon the FNRP was formed (National Popular Resistance Front). It gathered tens of thousands of activists all over the country. The demonstrations became the biggest in the country’s history, with over a million participants. The political violence increased rapidly after the military coup: 36 journalists and more than 350 politicians, union activists, farmers and students with direct ties to FNRP and Partido Libre have been murdered. Regular attacks have been made on targets within the indigenous movements, trade unions, womens’ movement and LGBT movement. The targeted murders and attacks on the brings back momories reminiscent of Honduras’ dark history during the 70’s and 80’s military dictatorship.

When Manuel Zelaya, was overthrown in 2009 he joined the FNRP (Popular Resistance Front) which was dedicated to overturning the coup, and later helped to form Partido Libre, which eveolved out of the FNRP. Libre grew from the masses’ resistance to unite movements in struggle and is therefore more of a grass root movement than a party, as such. Local branches have appeared like mushrooms out of the ground.

Clear proof of widespread fraud

When 80% of the votes were counted, the Chairman of the election officials, David Matamoros, declared the conservative Hernandez victorious. The official results was 36 % for Hernandez and 29 % for Xiomara Castro of Partido Libre.

Already before the election, there were few that believed that it would be truly free and democratic. According to the Centre for Democratic studies’ poll, 59 % anticipated that the election would be characterized by fraud and 78 % were unhappy with how the democratic system works.

The election officials that declared Hernandez as the winner, consist of members from the Nationalist Party and the Liberal Party, that have shared the power in Honduras for a hundred years. Both parties supported the coup 2009.

Libre gathered information on election day from local representatives, at the same time as the votes were counted. According to that information, it was a clear victory to Xiomara Castro and Partido Libre by a margin of 5%.

But the Latin American right-wing, especially in Panama and Colombia, together with the USA and EU, quickly accepted the election results. Observers from the EU and the US ambassador were quick to congratulate a “democratic and a transparent election” before the final result was published.

However, they are isolated in this view. Independent observers, both international and national, have agreed with Partido Libre in its analysis of irregularities and frauds. It is considered today that the election was full of massive fraud to guarantee that the right-wing would claim power.

The Honduran human rights organisation, COFADEH, has reported threats and intimidation against their elections observers. Also CESPAD reports threats against their observers, as well as votes being bought and people trying to vote with fake identities. TUCA-CSA, an American trade union organisation was present during the election, and reports on serious evidence of electoral fraud, including votes being bought, manipulated numbers, threats and violence.

Another delegation from the Canadian organisation, Common Frontiers, exposed that their electoral observers were threatened and harassed and testifies to threats being made against activists of Partido Libre.

These concerns are shared by the national union of lawyers, NLG, whose chairman, Azadeh Shahshahani, goes even further and expresses concern over the electoral process and that the fact that the US government characterises the process as transparent.

The well known Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzon, who witnessed the count, tells the story of fraud with numerous methods employed. “People bought ID voting cards, there were attempts to buy voters outside polling stations and other fraud” he tells AFP.

Other reports point out that there are also issues involving the digital transfer of electoral protocols: the numbers from the polling stations don’t coincide with electoral officials’ presentation, but also, that all votes were not counted.

This is an electoral fraud organised by the same powers which were behind the coup in 2009 and have controlled the country with military force. The same powers are behind the murders on 22 of Partido Libre’s leaders during the election campaign and on the election day itself. The election has been everything but democratic.

Before the election day, masked military police surrounded Partido Libre’ s headquarters for several hours when several observers were present.The 30,000 soldiers positioned on the streets on the election day weren’t there to secure the election, but to secure the success for the right-wing.

Anger and a will to fight

The tense calm that struck Honduras on 24 November has now been replaced with anger and a will to fight. Even before Partido Libre called for demonstrations, spontaneous protests were already being organized. On Tuesday the 26 November thousands of students went out on the streets to fight. Peaceful demonstrations outside the Autonomous University in the capital, Tegucigalpa, were met with batons and teargas. Several were injured and arrested.

The students showed their support for Partido Libre and directed their discontent against “the obvious electoral fraud”. The demonstrations started outside the university and hundreds of students blocked the streets.

Shortly afterwards, the police arrived, attacked the students and forced them back onto the campus, where they were surrounded and battered. They answered the police batons and teargas with stones. According to the students, this is only the first of many protests they have planned.

After the election day, the murders of Libre’s members and leaders have continued. On Thursday 28 November, two members were murdered in Tegucigalpa. Party offices have been targets for bombings. Partido Libre has answered by calling for mass protests. On Friday, the protest march was turned into a massive funeral procession. In the front was Jose Antonio Ardon’s coffin. Xiomara Castro took the lead in the march, walking next to the coffin and declared “We condemn the cowardly murder of our colleague, Jose Antonio Ardón” and “We do not negotiate with anyone, we will defend our will”.

Well known human rights activist, Bertha Caceres, says that what is happening in Honduras is state terrorism directed at whole population to scare them into silence.

New demonstrations have been called against the rigged elections. Libre activists and supporters should feel neither discouraged nor defeated, but need to prepare themselves for the upcoming class struggles.

Partido Libre and the way forward

Partido Libre’s social composition has its base in the working class and the poor and is starting to win over a layer of the middle class. Libre has kept its broad popular base which was won in the resistance of FNRP, and the party has a strong base in the trade unions and social movements. However, it also includes many members of the Liberal Party, such as Zelaya himself. Libre’s leadership and program is despite its talk of socialism is not prepared to fundamentally challenge and completely break with the capitalist system.There is a greaty contradiction between Libre’s mass base in the class struggle and the political character of its leaders and programme. Despite this contradiction, it is correct for revolutionary marxists to participate in this movement, but with the perspective of charting the road to the taking the power for the working class.

If Partido Libre is not accepted as the winning party in the election, they should call for a revolutionary constitutuent assembly where representatives are chosen by workers and farmers’ committees, in the working places, in the villages and neighbourhoods, in schools and universities. Those representatives should be subject to recall and be under the direct control by the committees that elect them.

The tasks of a constitutent assembly should be to take over the big land estates and share it out among the landless, take over the key factories and industries and put these under the democratic control of the working class, as part of a plan of the economy to serve the needs of the masses. Only such socialist policies can guarantee a lasting victory, wiping out the power of the oligarchs and imperialists responsible for the decades of misery in Honduras and throughout the continent. While Zelaya and Castro have to moved to the left in rhetorical terms, even calling for democratic socialism in speeches, this has not been concretised in a concrete socialist programme: in reality the programme of Castro in the elections was one of progressive reforms which leave the capitalist system intact.

Popularising and fighting for a real revolutionary socialist programme for the movement, the main lines of which are outlined above, is the key task for revolutionary socialists in Honduras and throughout Latin America today.

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December 2013