U.S. favors incumbent in Honduras

  • Elisabeth Malkin
  • The New York Times
8:00 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017 Politics
Fernando Antonio/AP
In this Dec. 5, 2017 file photo, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez speaks during a news conference in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The Honduran government is accusing Hernandez's political rivals of ordering "gangs" to block streets and other acts of violence amid protests over the disputed Nov. 26 election. The government said late Friday, Dec. 15, that "the gangs tried today to harm Hondurans, seizing roads with the desire to create chaos and a state of terror."

The United States appears to have thrown its weight behind President Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras, who was declared the winner of last month’s disputed election, ignoring a call from the Organization of American States for a repeat of the voting. 

Both Hernández and his opponent, Salvador Nasralla, held fast to their positions on Tuesday. The president, who is seeking a second term, took on the tone of a generous winner in a televised address in which he offered his “undying gratitude” to those who had voted for him and called for “national understanding.” 

Nasralla amplified the OAS recommendations for a new election during a two-day trip to Washington. Speaking to reporters, he urged other countries not to recognize Hernández as the winner and to suspend aid to the Honduran government until a new vote is negotiated. 

“In the exercise of democracy, a candidate cannot ignore the OAS,” he said. 

Although Washington has yet to recognize Hernández as the winner, the State Department said in a statement on Monday that “the United States notes that Honduras’ Supreme Electoral Tribunal has declared incumbent president Juan Orlando Hernández the winner” of the election. In its statement, the State Department called on the opposition to file its complaints with the electoral authorities. 

The Honduran electoral commission, which is controlled by allies of Hernández, said Sunday that Hernández had won the election by a margin of about 50,000 votes. But an electoral observer mission from the OAS said that the vote count showed so many irregularities, including a statistically improbable swing toward Hernández as the final third of the ballots were counted, that the result could not be verified. 

Secretary-General Luis Almagro of the OAS then called for Honduras to hold a new election. 

Several lawmakers in the United States have supported Almagro’s position. “Given the OAS’ leadership role in the hemisphere, I support their call for a new general election,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said Tuesday in a statement. 

Congress has little leverage to change the administration’s foreign policy on Honduras, but it can withhold aid or State Department appointments. 

Almagro has been a strong proponent of democratic elections, condemning efforts by leftist leaders in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia to remain in power indefinitely by imposing conditions that weaken their opposition.

Fernando Antonio/AP
Police stand amid tear gas as they clash with supporters of opposition presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. President Juan Orlando Hernandez has been declared the winner of Honduras' disputed election, but that isn't quelling unrest from weeks of uncertainty as his main challenger calls for more protests Monday and vows to take his claims of fraud to the OAS.