Presidential re-elections in Central America tend to prolong administrative reforms which conceal aspirations for absolute power. Three months ago, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández declared his candidacy for re-election, provoking a constitutional crisis similar in some aspects to the one that produced the coup d’etat on June 28, 2009. The illegality of this re-election reflects the political hypocrisy of the national elite and the Supreme Court who once campaigned this electoral reform as a political way for ex-president Manuel Zelaya to continue pursuing his Socialist reforms.
The current Honduran president has not been overthrown, but is clearly announcing his intention to consolidate electoral power.
Honduras is suffering from a re-election dilemma as the current Honduran president is now advocating for the same electoral measure he denounced when he was the president of the National Assembly and when the coup d’etat took place. When Manuel Zelaya began conversations about running for a second presidential term, he proposed presenting a referendum that would ask voting constituencies if they would vote to enact a constitutional assembly that would be dedicated towards revising and reforming the 1982 Constitution. This sparked outrage among the country’s wealthy and military elite because Zelaya’s social programs and intentions to keep power away from conservative opposition threatened their interests and order. However, when Juan Manuel Hernández declared his re-election bid, the same forces of the national elite welcomed what will most likely allow them to continue profiting off of national disparities; where over 60% of the population lives below the poverty line and indigenous representation in government is unsurprisingly low.
The difference between Zelaya and Hernández’s re-election proposals is that the latter first gained control of the Supreme Court, Public Ministry, Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and the Institute of Information Access during his presidency, allowing him to threaten the checks and balances of the Honduran government. The Constitutional Court of the Supreme Court approved Juan Orlando Hernández’s enlistment as a presidential candidate in the upcoming election without the consent of a citizen majority. This division is validated by the clear conflicting context detailed in this WikiLeak Diplomatic Dispatch. In this confidential message, the Embassy in Tegucigalpa advised Washington that Manuel Zelaya had not broken the law because he had not forcibly extended his presidential term and did not formally resign. The Honduran military had no authority to remove Zelaya from the country and the same armed forces are now remaining loyal to the current Honduran president.
The Honduran Constitution of 1982 states that the President “may be removed only on the basis of death, resignation or incapacitation,” not by the means of a conspired plot. The fact that the Supreme Court is the only legislative authority that may decide if a Honduran head of state is “incapacitated” is alarming, considering their allegiance to Juan Orlando Hernández. The right for this judicial process to take place within a constitutional court was repressed by the intent of the Honduran elite to ensure the country’s neoliberalism pathway would not be disturbed. Manuel Zelaya was overthrown and exiled to Costa Rica in his pajamas while Juan Orlando Hernández’s re-election aspirations were welcomed by the National Party supporters unable to understand how repressive this man has to potential to become.
The determination to serve a second presidential term is not in the interest of all Honduran peoples, contrary to the president’s proclaimed assumptions. A little less than two months ago, Juan Orlando Hernández broke the silence surrounding this electoral candidacy dilemma by claiming it represents the country’s judicial values and that Honduran citizens have the power to decide the country’s fate. Unfortunately, his statements obscured the reality of a government persecuting and repressing opposition to his governance. Berta Cáceres, a Lenca indigenous environmental activist who coordinated the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations in Honduras, was assassinated on March 2nd, 2016 and no governmental sympathy was expressed by the administration she frequently denounced. The assassination of this indigenous leader reflects not only the murderous form of repression environmental activists encounter when opposing land privatization, but also the life-threatening hostility common citizens may encounter if they begin to mobilize against a president approved by the country’s armed forces.
In his article “Despotism Threatens Honduras,” Joaquín Mejía, Honduran human rights expert, argues that Juan Orlando Hernández’s authoritarian pursuits threaten the functionality and the essence of democracy. He adds that what is concerning is not necessarily his re-election bid, but that only more than four million people have the faculty and right to approve it. More than just electoral reforms, what is required is for the civil society disapproving of this constitutional modification to organize and unify the grievances they have the democratic right to express in the absence of governmental abuse. Honduras is in dire need of a transparent democratic model of governance; one that is responsive to citizen’s concerns and prioritizes the consent of the constituency that validates presidential legitimacy.
Although the presidential election is not until 2018, electoral campaigns will begin mobilizing in a couple of months and what remains in question is what electoral force will contest Juan Orlando Hernández. The leftist opposition is composed of political parties such as the Social and Democratic Innovation Party, Anti-Corruption Party, and Liberty and Refoundation Party, the last being coordinated by the overthrown president’s wife. They have unified their denunciation of the National Party’s desire to maintain power. Honduran citizens will continue to mobilize and the international community must be prepared to support and legitimize their opposition against the president who has refused to allow the creation of an independent anti-corruption commission.
Re-election aspirations instigated the very constitutional crisis that resulted in the coup d’etat that left Honduran democracy in ruins more than seven years ago. And today, Juan Orlando Hernández’s thirst for governmental control is instigating a growing national resistance that will challenge the dictatorial intentions of these constitutional reforms.
Juan Orlando Hernández just might become another president identified within the poetic verses of Jacobo Cárcamo’s poem “Tirania en Honduras”.
*I apologize for not being able to find the photographer who photographed this picture.