There are good reasons to believe that fraud took place in Honduras’ presidential election. The Economist did a statistical analysis of the election results and found “reasons to worry” about the integrity of the vote—although they were not conclusive. A report from the Organization of American States Observation Mission points out “irregularities, mistakes, and systemic problems plaguing this election [that] make it difficult… to be certain about the outcome.”
At the heart of the controversy is how the results of the presidential election shifted dramatically after a blackout in the release of information that lasted nearly 38 hours. A first report released by the Electoral Tribunal (TSE) on Monday 27 November at 1:30 am (ten hours after polls closed and after both leading contenders had declared themselves the winners) showed opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla leading incumbent president Juan Orlando Hernández 45.17% versus 40.21%, with 57.18% of tally sheets from polling stations counted.
Then came the blackout, during which officials from Hernandez’s National Party argued that the results would be reversed once the release of information resumed. Their claim was that the tally sheets initially reported came from polling stations in urban areas, whereas the National Party strongholds are in rural areas. Indeed, when the TSE began releasing information again on Tuesday afternoon, Nasralla’s five point lead steadily declined and then disappeared. With almost all votes counted, Hernández is now ahead by 1.6 points.
Other irregularities documented by the OAS include missing tally sheets, opened and incomplete containers with electoral material from polling stations, and undisclosed criteria for processing the ballots that arrived at the TSE collection center.
What now? The opposition is demanding a full Florida-style recount. This would prolong the uncertainty about who won the election, but given the extent of irregularities, it seems a fair request. However, some officials from Nasralla’s camp also claim that the election has been irretrievably tainted. Nasralla himself proposed a run-off vote with Hernández, but the constitution does not allow for such possibility. The real danger is that the opposition will reject anything short of a repeat of the election, even if there is a transparent recount. A repeat of the election, expensive as it is, would also create an ominous precedent for contesting close election results in the future.
It is also fair to say that Nasralla’s camp is not likely to concede defeat under any circumstances. His left-wing coalition—conspicuously named the "Opposition Alliance against the Dictatorship"—was going to cry foul if Nasralla was defeated, regardless of the margin. He also reneged on a signed pledge to respect the result emanating from the TSE and threatened to continue the chaos brought about by his supporters “until the country comes to an end.” Instead of being a responsible actor during the crisis, Nasralla is increasingly giving the impression that he does not want an institutional solution to it. For example, Nasralla has yet to file a formal challenge to the election, despite the fact that a legal deadline was extended until Friday in order to give his Alliance more time to do so. He has not presented evidence of manipulated tally sheets either.
There are no easy ways out of this quagmire and it is likely that one side will end up feeling cheated. Still, a solution needs to be worked out: The TSE should facilitate the verification of all the 18,103 tally sheets and, if anomalies arise, allow for a recount of those where there are discrepancies. This process should be closely monitored by observers from the Organization of American States and the European Union. It is their task to serve as ultimate arbiters and certify whether the conditions have been met for a transparent verification and recount process.
A post-election institutional arrangement could be part of the solution: Since Honduras’ Constitutional Court struck down the prohibition on presidential reelection, the Congress should establish non-consecutive reelection (such as in Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay). In addition, a run-off should be introduced for presidential elections. Finally, the appointment of the TSE justices should be taken away from Congress and given to the Supreme Court in order to guarantee their impartiality.
One persistent American complaint about the Mexican government’s opposition to immigration laws like Arizona’s SB-1070 is that Mexico’s immigration policy is far more restrictive than that of the United States or anything proposed in Arizona. In 2010, Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) articulately pointed out the Mexican government’s blatant hypocrisy. Brutal Mexican immigration laws were not only bad policy for Mexico but exposed an absurd level of hypocrisy.
After Representative Poe’s comments, the Mexican government passed a Migratory Act in 2011 that went into effect on November 1, 2012. This law replaced the General Law of Population that created the oppressive Mexican immigration laws Rep. Poe and others rightly critiqued. The Migratory Act made a number of significant changes:
- Guarantees the equal treatment of migrants and Mexican nationals under Mexican law, entitling them to due process,
- Establishes “family unity and the best interests of children and adolescents as the principal criteria for the admission and stay of foreigners for temporary or permanent Mexican residency, alongside labor and humanitarian causes,”
- Establishes offices for protection of migrants’ human rights and the investigation of crimes purportedly committed against migrants, including those committed by immigration officials,
- Simplifies entrance and residence requirements,
- Establishes a point system for those who apply for residence,
- Creates a 3 day regional visitors visa for people from neighboring countries,
- Streamlines the visa application process.
Other legal changes to Mexican laws in 2008 reduced the punishment for illegal entry from up to ten years in prison to a maximum fine of 5000 pesos. The Mexican government also introduced temporary visas, valid for up to a year, for agricultural laborers from Guatemala and Belize working in Mexico’s southern states. In 2010, undocumented migrants were guaranteed the right to report human rights violations and receive medical treatment without prosecution.
Mexican Immigration Laws, Central American Free-Movement Zones, and the Increase in Central American Immigration
One unintended consequence of Mexico’s more liberalized immigration laws, partly in response to legitimate American criticism, is that now the migration of people from Central America to the United States through Mexico is much cheaper than it used to be. The biggest hurdle for Central American migrants used to be the militarized Southern Mexican border and the abuse by corrupt police, which the Migratory Act of 2011 mitigates.
Mexico isn’t the only country that changed its immigration and border control policies in recent years. In June 2006, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua signed the Central America-4 (CA-4) Border Control Agreement that created a common passport and obliterated border controls and movement restrictions between those four nations. The removal of political barriers to movement has decreased the costs of migrating northward toward the United States.
Liberalized Mexican and Central American immigration laws and border controls likely play a role in lowering the cost of migrating to the United States. Ironically, American complaints that partly spurred Mexican immigration policy changes are likely a contributing factor of the recent increase in Central American migration.
Yesterday, Juan Carlos Hidalgo pointed out that Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos became the latest world leader to recognize the need to rethink the prohibitionist policies that allow powerful drug traffickers to flourish. Santos called for a new approach to “take away the violent profit that comes with drug trafficking” and that governments around the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, need to debate legalizing select drugs, such as cocaine.
From Colombia to Mexico, the drug war rages on. Despite two decades of U.S.-aided efforts to eradicate drug-related violence in Colombia, the problem persists. Indeed, the trickle-down effects from Mexico southward now threaten to engulf Guatemala. Costa Rica, Honduras, and El Salvador are all experiencing alarming homicide rates at least partially related to drug trafficking. To address these spikes in violence and stem the flow of drugs, the United States has spent billions of dollars in Mexico and throughout Latin America. Sadly, there is little evidence that this policy has been successful, and the evidence mounts that it has been an outright failure.
A new policy is needed to stem the violence and consequences of the Mexican drug cartels pervasive power. In a new study released today, Ted Galen Carpenter, senior fellow, argues that the only lasting, effective strategy for dealing with Mexico's drug violence is to defund the Mexican drug cartels. "The United States could substantially defund these cartels," says Carpenter, "through the full legalization (including manufacture and sale) of currently illegal drugs."
The new study, “Undermining Mexico’s Dangerous Drug Cartels,” is available here.
New Wikileaks cables have surfaced on the role of U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens in the aftermath of the constitutional removal of Manuel Zelaya from power and the subsequent presidential election in that country. Written by Llorens himself, the cables show a disturbing pattern of interference and bullying from the U.S. diplomat in Honduras’s internal affairs.
The cables describe several meetings that Llorens had with Honduras’ president Porfirio Lobo after the general election of November 2009. In all instances, Lobo visited Llorens in his office or residence, not the other way around. During the meetings, they discussed the conformation of Lobo’s cabinet, as well as the circumstances under which Roberto Micheletti—who replaced Zelaya as president of Honduras—would leave power. Llorens insisted that Micheletti, whom he refers to as the “de facto regime leader,” had to depart “well before inauguration day,” even though he was the constitutional president of Honduras at the time. On a cable dated January 5, 2010, Llorens recalls telling then president elect Lobo that “if Micheletti continued to thumb his nose at the United States… there would be repercussions.” He specifically threatened to refuse U.S. visas to Micheletti and his supporters ever again.
Unfortunately, Lobo played well his role of subordinate leader of an otherwise independent nation. In a telling example, Llorens recalls how the president-elect asked him for suggestions on whom to appoint as Security Minister. Later, Llorens basically vetoed the appointment of Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, then head of the armed forces, as the new Defense Minister. Previously, Vásquez had been on Lobo’s “short list” of candidates for that position, but Llorens warned him of the “serious image problem” that his appointment would have since Vásquez was the head of the armed forces when Zelaya was removed from power.
In another cable dated February 16, 2010, Llorens describes another meeting in his residence where he pressed Lobo—already sworn in as president—“on the continued presence and participation in Lobo’s government of the regime [meaning, Micheletti’s previous administration] Minister of Defense Lionel Sevilla and Chief of Defense Romeo Vásquez Velásquez.” Llorens warned Lobo that “the clock was ticking” for the Honduran president to “make the needed personnel changes.” Llorens wanted any civilian or military figure from the Micheletti administration connected to the ousting of Manuel Zelaya out of the new government. It is later described how “Lobo appreciated the Ambassador’s straight forward and honest advice.” As to who should replace Vásquez as head of the armed forces, Llorens “discouraged” Lobo from appointing a general related to the ousting of Zelaya, and “suggested” the name of a different officer for that position. Llorens then told Lobo to make the changes in the armed forces “sooner rather than later.”
These revelations have created a great deal of controversy in Honduras. Columnist Juan Ramón Martínez of the Honduran daily La Tribuna wrote [in Spanish] about his country’s embarrassment after learning of President Lobo’s genuflecting attitude towards the U.S. Ambassador. Martínez says that “according to the reports sent by Llorens, the country’s sovereignty doesn’t lie on the people… but on the Ambassador of the United Sates, who has turned the president elected by the Honduran people into a personal employee…”
Martinez is right. Hugo Llorens doesn’t act as a U.S. Ambassador, but as a U.S. proconsul in Honduras.
One of the big losers from yesterday’s successful election in Honduras has been Brazil’s president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who demonstrated that under his presidency, Brazil is not ready to play a positive leadership role in the hemisphere.
Not only did Lula seem to be complicit in smuggling deposed Honduran president Manuel Zelaya into the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa—an irresponsible move that risked the possibility of major confrontations and bloodshed in that country—but he stubbornly refuses to recognize yesterday’s election as legitimate.
Lula’s grandstanding has nothing to do with a supposed commitment to democracy, of course. After all he continues to lavish praise on the Castro brothers’ dictatorship in Cuba, has said that Hugo Chávez is the best president Venezuela has had “in one hundred years” and was one of the first world leaders in congratulating Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s blatant rigged election in Iran. Indeed, the same week he announced his refusal to recognize the elections in Honduras, he gave Ahmadinejad a warm welcoming in Brasilia.
Some had hoped that due to its size and recent assertiveness in world affairs, Brazil could play a constructive role in Latin American affairs. It’s quite clear that this won’t happen under Lula’s watch.
Instead, Lula continues to be much more responsible on domestic matters—supporting market democracy in Brazil—and reckless in foreign affairs. Or, as Cuban writer Carlos Alberto Montaner says, a sort of Dr. Jekyll y Mr. Hyde.
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Senator Jim DeMint from South Carolina recently traveled to Honduras and found—no surprise—a peaceful country and broad support for the ouster of President Zelaya among members of civil society, the supreme court, political parties and others. In an op-ed in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, DeMint describes his trip in light of Washington’s continuing support of Zelaya and its condemnation of what it calls a “coup.” U.S. policy is mystifying since the ousted president’s removal from office was a rare example in Latin America of an institutional defense of democracy as envisioned by the constitution and interpreted by the Supreme Court that ruled that the president be removed. (For independent opinions on the case, see here and here.)
However, the Senator reports a legal analysis at the State Department prepared by its top lawyer that apparently has informed Washington’s policy but that has not been made public nor even released to DeMint despite his repeated requests. In the interest of democracy and transparency, the State Department should immediately release its legal report. Maybe then we (which includes much of the hemisphere) will be less mystified about what is driving Washington policy toward Honduras. Or at least we’ll have a better insight on the administration’s understanding of democracy.