Inside the Honduran Elections

On November 24th, Hondurans went to the polls in record numbers to support new viable alternatives to the duopoly of the National Party and the Liberal Party. These two old political parties have enjoyed a century of rule and both are beholden to the US State Department, the ruling elite, and multinational companies all looking to buy up the natural resources and the sovereignty of this Central American country.

Libre, the party of the resistance movement that grew out of the protests following the 2009 coup d’état, had mass popular support. Xiomara Castro Anaya, presidential candidate for Libre, and the wife of ex-President Mel Zalaya who was ousted in the coup, drew much larger crowds at every one of her political events leading up to the elections than any of her opponents at theirs. All the pre-election polls except the ones paid for by the National Party had her clearly in the lead. In the face of this popular support, the regime of Pepe Lobo, defacto President who was elected in fraudulent elections following the coup, and Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH), ex-President of the National Congress and Presidential candidate for the National Party, staged an electoral coup d’état that exhibited massive fraud and voting irregularities.

You would not know how massive these irregularities were if you only relied on the mainstream press. News outlets such as The Washington Post and the AP’s man in Honduras , Alberto Arce, both declared JOH the winner before the counting process was complete and the fraud investigated thus promoting the neo-liberal agenda that has devastated this country. Arce bases his opinion on what he calls the lack of concrete evidence of fraud and puts his full faith and confidence behind the words of Lisa Kubieski, US Ambassador to Honduras, Ulricke Lunacek, the head of the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM), and the Organization of American States (OAS) all of which declared the elections transparent and free of fraud while many were calling for an investigation.

The OAS is notorious for its compliance with US policy toward the subjugation of Latin America and the Caribbean. As Mark Weisbrot points out in the Guardian:

“The OAS has similarly abandoned its duty of neutrality in elections in Haiti: it changed its 2000 report on presidential elections to support US efforts at “regime change”, and in 2011, took the unprecedented step ofreversing an actual election result, without so much as even a recount – again in line with Washington’s electoral choices.”

A State Department Press Statement spins the “results” of the Honduran elections this way:

“The United States commends the people of Honduras for their strong participation in the November 24 elections and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) for its professional counting of the vote. We note that Organization of American States and European Union electoral observation mission reports reflect a transparent process.”

Arce quotes Ambassador Kubiske as stating, “We had 110 observers in almost all Honduras (sic) states, and we have seen a transparent process with all parties represented at the table,” She of course does not mention, nor does Arce even though the evidence was wide spread, that the majority of those at the tables were National Party loyalists who had bought credentials to sit at the tables from the smaller parties, such as UD, PINU, DC, and PAP, all of which each got well under 1% of the vote. Kubiske goes on to note, “that there is a system in place for people to peacefully file complaints or contest the results.” Perhaps she was unaware that the Ministerio Publico in Tegucigalpa, the place where complaints can be filed, had been militarized, its regular employees told to go home and replaced by heavily armed soldiers.

Arce, as with much of his reporting from Honduras, pitches slow-and-down-the-middle propaganda to aid the ruling elite in hitting one out of the park. His words echo the Honduran mainstream press which is owned by the ruling elite. It should be of no surprise that his articles, which are exposed to millions of readers, appear on TIME’s news blog and other mainstream publications owned by the US’ own corporate rulers. To cut him some slack, Arce’s opinions appear to be fueled more by naiveté and a comical obsession with being seen as an “objective” journalist than by any clear cut ideological ax to grind. Perhaps he is just an unwitting conduit of neo-liberal propaganda.

Indeed, he is more balanced in a follow up article that points out many of the voting irregularities and examples of fraud, but the language that he choses belies his objectivity. In describing Xiomara Castro’s denouncement of the fraud and her call for supporters to go to the streets to protest, he states that her words “threaten further political instability for this poor Central American country.” Is he insinuating that if she just shuts up and the protesters went home there would be no further political instability? This completely negates the last four years of having JOH as President of the National Congress and the havoc that has been created by his policies. Again, Arce is either naïve or has almost perfected the cloak of objectivity to hide his true ideological bent.

Arce also reiterates the EU-EOM’s preliminary report, but choses to leave out the dissension amongst the members of the report. On the other hand, Arce comes across as a Chavista compared to the Washington Post’s Editorial Board’s diatribe against the Zalaya’s, The piece in the Post reads like East German Stasi defamatory propaganda from the 1970s, chock full of blatant lies and revisionist history as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) points out.

Regarding the dissension within the EU-EOM, one member of the delegation, Leo Gabriel, an Austrian journalist, denounced their preliminary report in an interview:

“Some of them (other delegates) really believe what the TSE says, but in general there is a deeper political and economic reason. The 2009 coup d’état harmed the image of Honduras around the world, slowing down progress on the Association Agreement signed by the European Union and the Central American region (EU-CA AA). Presenting [an image of] a clean and transparent electoral process helps the European Union to clean up Honduras’s image around the world and set this commercial project into motion.”

Gabriel describes the internal debate that occurred amongst the delegates before the leaders of the EU-EOM made their preliminary report public,

“No one defended the content of the report or the idea that there had been transparency in the process, and that brought us up against the intransigence of the EU-EOM team leaders, who did not want to cede even one millimeter. We argued for a serious discussion of the topic, taking into account what we had witnessed and suggesting changes to the text, but they firmly refused.”

Lunacek quickly denounced Gabriel by way of circular reasoning by stating that Gabriel’s statements, “in no way reflect the preliminary conclusions of the mission, as reflected in the preliminary statement.” Which is Gabriel’s point exactly since he was denouncing the statement. Lunacek further castigated Gabriel for speaking at all since “the code of conduct” for the EU-EOM states that only Lunacek and the deputy chief of the mission are authorized to speak about it. The need for this code helps to back up Gabriel’s assertion that there is a “deeper political and economic reason” for the reports conclusions.

The irregularities that occurred on Election Day were numerous. Many of them echoed the old machine politics of Chicago where the slogan of the day was “Vote early and vote often,” and whole cemeteries were registered to vote. In Honduras they added the twist of claiming that a voter who showed up to vote was dead and thus could not. As with the internal elections last year, National Party offices were discovered to have boxes full of ID’s needed to vote. Now, just as then, the reports in the press went uninvestigated by the District Attorney who was appointed by the JOH controlled National Congress.

Vote buying occurred out in the open in numerous places. In the town of Quimistan, Santa Barbara, Marta Concepción (also known as Chonita), the National Party candidate for deputy who was up for reelection in the National Congress, was seen unashamedly giving out 100 Lempira bills to those crowded around her in front of the gate which led to the voting tables at Escuela Francisco Borogan. When she saw an international observer from the US’ Honduran Solidarity Network (HSN), who was dumbstruck by the blatancy of her actions, Chonita stated, “They’re so poor and hungry. I have too big a heart.” She later tried to buy the observer a Coke, which was refused. At that point Chonita tried to avoid, and an assistant attempted to put his hand in front of the camera of the observer. More than a dozen people told the observer that Chonita has been the Diputado for thirty years and that this was her tradition. She had even, in the past, gone to the voting tables during the counting of the ballots and given money to the judges behind the table to ensure that the vote went her way. Before Election Day, she used her political power to have 80 members of a campesino community jailed stating, “keep them in jail, they’re 80 votes that aren’t for me.” In this same community on the night before the elections two campesinos who were active Libre organizers were killed coming home from the training required to sit at the election tables. Chonita is also in favor of building a Super Max prison in Santa Barbara with funds from the US. She won reelection.

Further evidence of vote buying occurred in the form of people taking photos with their cell phones of their ballots to prove how they voted so that they could receive their payment. Several members of the HSN delegation at several sites around the country observed this as the camera’s flash went off in the voting booth. The TSE judges at the tables did nothing to annul the votes even though it is a clear violation to have cell phones while voting.

The greatest source of the fraud occurred in the transcribing of the tallies and the transmission of the votes. It was up to the judges at the tables to check each other as the transcription occurred. These are the same judges that were heavily biased toward the National Party who bought the credentials of the smaller parties. HSN delegates have gone to the website of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE in its Spanish acronym) to look up the individual tables that they monitored and have found many discrepancies in the TSE numbers and the numbers that the delegates recorded at the polling sites. There are also a high number of nullified ballots especially at tables where Juan Orlando allegedly won. Often ballots are nullified if there is more than one mark on a ballot. So, if someone marked a ballot for Libre someone else could later add a mark under another candidate thus nullifying the vote.

But perhaps a bigger source of fraud, according to Jose Morales, an expert in design and maintenance of automated information systems, occurred through the software for data transmission and vote counting, which was contracted by the TSE through a company called Soluciones Mapas (Map Solutions), which was the same company who designed the TREP used in the 2012 Honduran primaries where the fraud was so bad that it took well over 3 months before many candidates knew who had won their races. Map Solutions, which is not registered in the Chamber of Commerce, based its experience as a specialist on only one program that it had designed before the general elections. Which program was that? The TREP, which caused headaches for Ricardo Alvarez, candidate for President in the primaries who then accepted a deal with JOH to back off from investigating the fraud and became his running mate in the General Elections.

The design for the current program for the transmission of data does not have an authentication mechanism that can identify, through the MAC address, which computer or computers are feeding the system, so that, if you have the password, a connection can be made from anywhere and any computer. Data can be transferred without the system identifying from where it was sent. The system runs in book (beta) mode, which means it is in test mode, meaning that the system was not finished. Mr. Morales, stated these points as an expert via telephone on the program Foro 13 on the Hondured channel in Honduras on November 26, 2013. To help illustrate the actuality of this, according to the Honduran Culture and Politics Blogspot:

“LIBRE says it has Actas sent to them by the TSE with scan dates of the early morning hours of the election day, bearing data that looks like the test data used to validate the system in earlier runs.  LIBRE also says they have copies of Actas that don’t match the Acta image in the TSE central computing database, with different signatures and vote tallys.”

One fact remains clear, there were massive irregularities, voting buying and attempts by government officials and mainstream media to push the results of a JOH victory onto the world before substantial time had passed to investigate the complaints of both the Libre party and the Anti-corruption party. Those who have access to power and wide distribution of news abused the democratic process. It will be up to the people that had victory stolen from them to find an alternative means to have their voices heard and to have power redistributed.

Greg McCain is a Human Rights Defender living in Honduras. He was a member of the coordinating team for the Alliance for Global Justice/ Task Force on the Americas delegation as part of the Honduran Solidarity Networks Election Monitoring Delegation which received training and credentials from the TSE to be International Observers.