Monday, November 25, 2013

Two Self-Proclaimed Winners in Honduran Elections

While only about half of the ballots have been counted, this has not stopped the two leading candidates in Honduras’ presidential race from declaring victory.

LIBRE candidate Xiomara Castro was the first to do so, telling her followers before the initial vote count had even been released: “According to exit polls, I am the president of Honduras.” When the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) released preliminary results showing her trailing behind Juan Orlando Hernandez (the TSE’s latest numbers show 34.26 percent for him and 28.73 percent for Castro), the National Party candidate followed suit, declaring himself the winner.

Hernandez also claimed that he had been congratulated by various heads of state in the region. He began his victory speech by apologizing for being late to take the podium, saying he had just gotten off the phone with President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia. The Honduran ambassador to the U.S. also told reporters that Hernandez had been commended for the win by Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli.

The TSE, meanwhile, has stressed that these are only preliminary results, and no candidate has been declared winner yet. TSE President David Matamoros also told reporters that yesterday saw a record turnout, with 61 percent of eligible voters participating.

More conclusive results are expected to be released today. Considering that both candidates have already declared victory, it seems unlikely that either will be particularly quick to concede.
Political jockeying aside, the elections themselves ran relatively smoothly. The AP reports that both U.S. Ambassador Lisa Kubiske and Ulrike Lunacek, head of the European Union observer mission, endorsed the transparency of the voting process. Enrique Correa, head of the OAS observer mission, also praised the vote, telling The Washington Post that there were no signs of fraud.

There were some reports of violence and other irregularities, however. In the southeastern Mosquitia region, five people were gunned down after a fight broke out outside of a voting center in the town of Ibans. La Prensa reports that locals say the election process was suspended following the incident. The Roundtable for Analysis of Human Rights Violations (Mesa de Análisis sobre Violacion a Derechos Humanos), a coalition of human rights, labor and campesino groups, counted at least 63 reports of irregularities, including allegations that armed men intimidated voters in some rural communities.

Today’s New York Times offers a dramatic take on the significance of the elections for Honduran democracy, reporting that “[r]egardless of the final result, it was clear that Honduran politics was entering a new, potentially messy period, when multiple parties would have to negotiate to get laws passed and new voices representing the country’s marginalized poor would get a hearing.”

News Briefs
  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement last Monday, in which he touted a new approach to relations with other countries in the hemisphere and an end to the Monroe Doctrine, has provoked a wave of commentary. Writing for the Global Post, Dudley Althaus notes that Kerry’s remarks, and Vice President Joe Biden’s subsequent endorsement of them, were seen by many analysts as out of touch with the current reality. Joy Olsen, director of the Washington Office on Latin America, criticized the speech for ignoring key issues for regional governments, including drug policy reform, immigration reform and citizen security. In column published last week in The Guardian, Federico Finchelstein and Pablo Piccato echo this argument, claiming it is “no surprise” that the lack of meaningful content in the speech has failed to spark celebrations in the hemisphere.  
  • On Saturday, the Venezuelan opposition organized its largest nationwide protests since the aftermath of the April election in which President Nicolas Maduro beat our Henrique Capriles by a slim 1.5 percent margin. The AP reports that turnout was low (only 5,000 people participated in the Caracas march), reflecting a general disheartenment among the opposition, which has been slowed by internal power struggles and a lack of media access. Prior to the march Capriles announced that his campaign coordinator, Alejandro Silva, had been detained by military intelligence authorities earlier that day. El Universal reported on Saturday that Capriles said Silva was released after 14 hours, which the opposition leader called a “kidnapping” designed to intimidate him.
  • IPS profiles the struggle of indigenous groups in Venezuela’s southern state of Amazonas to get the government to recognize their claims to their traditional land, and cease mining exploration in the area. While the country’s 1999 constitution calls for the demarcation of indigenous territories to be carried out by an Environment Ministry commission, none of the 40 collective property titles granted so far are in Amazonas.
  • Ingrid Betancourt, the French-Colombian ex-senator who was famously kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2002, has authorized the Green Party to include her name in an initial poll ahead of the March primary elections for its president candidate, El Tiempo reports.  To participate in the primary, she will have to receive over 10 percent support in the poll.
  • In its latest issue, The Economist offers a largely positive appraisal of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration thus far, noting that he has successfully managed to get most of his desired reforms through Congress. However, the magazine notes that implementing and enforcing them will be a new challenge altogether, and asserts that the president’s political clout will be seriously tested by the pending vote on reform to the energy sector.
  • Reuters has an analysis of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s plans for the last few weeks of 2013, which according to one administration official amount to “putting the house in order” before the start of next year’s election campaign. This involves preparations for the World Cup, as well as warming up to an increasingly hostile business community ahead of a rocky financial climate in 2014.  
  • Following a military operation in which 10 alleged National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels were killed in the province of Arauca, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called on guerrilla groups in the country to “accelerate” negotiations. While the government is said to be in discussion with the ELN about a peace process with the smaller rebel army, it still has not officially begun dialogue with them like it has with the FARC.  
  • The U.S. government has expressed concern about a bill backed by Nicaragua’s Sandinista majority which would formalize a Supreme Court decision ending presidential term limits in the country. In a statement, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. was “concerned that steps that concentrate power and undermine checks and balances will be harmful to democracy.”
  • The Miami Herald has a two-part series (Part I and Part II) on the consequences of the prohibition of abortions in Haiti, where pregnant women and girls are increasingly seeking illegal and unsafe abortion procedures, and human rights groups are stepping up demands to end the ban. Fortunately, cultural and religious taboos surrounding the use of birth control are changing, and public and private health institutions are now required to provide free contraceptives following a decree by President Michel Martelly.
  • A judge ruled last week that Chiquita’s bid to stop the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission from releasing documents on the company’s payments to AUC paramilitaries in Colombia was unfounded. The multinational corporation’s legal team argued that the documents, sought by the National Security Archive via a FOIA request, would threaten the impartiality of an ongoing case in Florida. Chiquita plans to appeal the ruling, Bloomberg reports.
  • Following United States Attorney General Eric Holder’s critique of the mass incarceration crisis in the U.S. on Thursday, drug policy reform advocates have praised the speech. Drug Policy Alliance Ethan Nadelmann announced via press release that “its historic significance cannot be denied,” and expressed hope that the administration’s shift in rhetoric “truly translates into new policies.”