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An Open Letter to the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa on the Crisis in Honduras

December 18, 2017

Heidi B. Fulton
Chargé d’Affaires
United States Embassy
Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Dear Chargé d’Affaires Fulton:

Honduras is in the midst of a profound constitutional and institutional crisis.  We urge you and the United States to take a clear and principled position on the following issues of democracy, human rights, and a path forward out of the spiraling crisis.

1. The Integrity of the Democratic Process

Irregularities before, during, and after the elections have provoked serious allegations of fraud and called into question the integrity and credibility of the current electoral process in Honduras. Over seventy-seven percent of the population lacks confidence in the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE), the country’s supreme electoral authority.[1]  The Preliminary Report of the Misión Observadora Electoral (MOE) of the Organization of American States (OAS) itself expressed uncertainty in the ultimate election results due to the “irregularities, mistakes, and systemic problems plaguing this election.”[2]  Independent observers from the United States also witnessed multiple irregularities.[3]  Clouding the whole process is the fact that the TSE is dominated and controlled by President Juan Orlando Hernández’ National Party, as its members were appointed by the National Party controlled Congress.[4]  The President of the TSE is David Matamoros Batson, the former General Secretary of the National Party.[5]

One of the most egregious irregularities adding gravamen to the allegations of fraud occurred on election night.  After the MOE urged the TSE to release vote tallies as they came in, the TSE announced that with over 57% of the vote in, the opposition candidate, Salvador Nasralla, held a 5% lead over the incumbent President Hernández.  Suddenly the TSE’s server went down, and many of the remaining voting records from the polling stations were hand delivered instead of faxed in as required by law.  When the system was restored and the count resumed, three days later the TSE updated results showing that Hernández had surprisingly closed the gap and taken the lead.  This fact alone strains credibility, let alone when considered in the murky circumstances surrounding it, and merits independent investigation.  The populace responded with massive protests, accusations of fraud, and popular repudiation of the TSE’s role in the process.

Last night the MOE issued its report on compliance with the recommendations made for the verification process, and the OAS General Secretariat concluded that the irregularities and deficiencies in the process, added to the narrow difference in votes “make it impossible to determine with the necessary certainty the winner,” and called for new general elections.[6]

We therefore urge the Embassy to call for a full and independent investigation into the irregularities that occurred before, during, and after the elections; the role and actions of the members of the TSE with respect to those irregularities; and the relationship of the governing National Party of Juan Orlando Hernández to that process.    

We urge the Embassy and the United States to join the General Secretariat of the OAS in calling for new general elections.

2) Respect for Human Rights

In response to popular protests, the government imposed a curfew and suspended constitutional rights.  The government failed to follow the constitutional formalities for taking the action.  The General Secretariat of the OAS subsequently determined that the measure was disproportionate, did not comply with constitutional and international standards, and called on the government to immediately lift the curfew and restore full constitutional guarantees.[7]

The government’s security forces responded by indiscriminately and disproportionately repressing the protests.  Security forces are responsible for as many as 20 deaths, scores of injured, and over 1,500 unlawful detentions of individuals, the majority of them young people, including minors.[8]  Credible testimony and video footage indicate government security forces have shot tear gas and live ammunition indiscriminately at protesters, bystanders, and inside homes.  Detained individuals have been tortured and subjected to inhumane treatment, including submersion in buckets of water, beatings, and threats of forced disappearance.  Among those injured are elderly, pregnant and nursing mothers, and small children.  Security forces have threatened journalists reporting on the incidents, and criminal hands sabotaged the transmission tower of Radio Progreso in Tegucigalpa, putting it out of commission in the capital. Although the government lifted the curfew on December 10, the pattern of repression of ongoing peaceful protests of indignation and repudiation continues unabated, and in fact has worsened in recent days.[9]  Live-stream reporting and social media have documented military police entering homes, beating residents, firing on crowds, and communicated impassioned pleas of individuals on behalf of loved ones who are injured, dead, detained or disappeared.[10]  In no instance has the use of lethal force against protestors been justified under international standards.[11]

We urge the Embassy to condemn the government’s failure to protect and respect the rights to life, personal security, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and due process, and to ask for a full investigation of these human rights violations and punishment of those responsible.

3) Supporting a Path Forward

The pre-electoral process was distorted by what many view as the illegal postulation of Juan Orlando Hernández for re-election, in violation of the Honduran Constitution.  While president of the National Congress, Hernández had significant influence in the appointments of the majority of the sitting justices on the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court sided with National Party representatives in their challenge to the constitutional prohibition on reelection, effectively amending the Constitution without the necessary plebiscite of the people.[12]  The Supreme Court’s interpretation of international human rights law to strike down the constitutional prohibition against reelection is a coarse distortion of that body of law without legal precedent.[13]  The MOE noted that the way the Supreme Court habilitated reelection through judicial ruling was both irregular and a bad practice in the context of American States.[14]

The current crisis mirrors, extends and deepens the constitutional and institutional crisis provoked by the 2009 coup d’état.  Hernández has imposed unprecedented control of state institutions and the three branches of government.  In many ways, the vote was a referendum on Hernández’ attempt to remain in power, in spite of the inherent advantage he had arising out of his authority and control of the electoral machinery.  We are witnessing a mounting, popular, insurrectional protest movement against the governing electoral authority in defense of the popular vote.  While this movement is notably restrained and non-violent, the violent, disproportionate response of the military and police against their own people continues to escalate the conflict.

On December 17 the TSE declared Hernández the winner of the elections. Shortly thereafter, the MOE issued its report on compliance with the stages recommended for the verification process, and the General Secretary of the OAS issued his statement calling for new elections. The General Secretary reiterated the findings of the MOE:

Deliberate human intrusions in the computer system, intentional elimination of digital traces, the impossibility of knowing the number of opportunities in which the system was violated, pouches of votes open or lacking votes, the extreme statistical improbability with respect to participation levels within the same department, recently printed ballots and additional irregularities, added to the narrow difference of votes between the two most voted candidates, make it impossible to determine with the necessary certainty the winner.[15]

If the United States is silent, or endorses the results of the discredited TSE, the crisis will deepen and Honduras will become more ungovernable and vulnerable to authoritarian rule, jeopardizing both democracy and human rights.

We therefore urge the Embassy and the United States to support the organization of new elections under the Inter-American Democratic Charter by the Organization of American States, coupled with a vigorous defense of and demand for respect of human rights.  This will provide a way for all sectors of Honduran society to reach a new consensus and social pact, with authentic, free, fair, and transparent elections, in a climate of respect for human rights, to move Honduras beyond the current constitutional and institutional crisis.      

Cc: Rex W. Tillerson, Secretary of State

Francisco Palmieri, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs

Respectfully Yours,

Joseph Berra JD University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Suyapa Portillo Villeda PhD Pitzer College
Shannon Speed PhD University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Juanita Darling PhD San Francisco State University
Alicia Estrada PhD California State University, Northridge
Kency Cornejo PhD University of New Mexico
Giovanni Batz PhD Miami University
Alicia Maria Siu MS/MD University of California Davis
Diana Rubi Other Monmouth College
Yomaira Figueroa Vasquez PhD Michigan State University
Dante Alencastre Other Columbia university
Judith Morel PhD UPNFM
Carolyn Fornoff PhD Lycoming College
Lisa Kowalchuk PhD University of Guelph
Jocelyn Olcott PhD Duke University
Elizabeth Crespo PhD Universidad de Puerto Rico
Marc Becker PhD Truman State University
M.Brinton Lykes PhD Boston College, Center for Human Rights & International Justice
Judith Sierra Rivera PhD The Pennsylvania State University
Daniel Cerdas Sandí PhD Universidad de Costa Rica
Lizzette Rodriguez PhD University of Puerto Rico
Jillian Baez PhD College of Staten Island-CUNY
Joanne Rappaport PhD Georgetown University
Emilio del Valle Escalante PhD Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Margaret Cerullo Other Hampshire College
Margaret Power PhD Illinois Tech
Nicholas Copeland PhD Virginia Tech
Richard Stahler-Sholk PhD Eastern Michigan University
Ethel Garcia Buchard PhD Universidad costa rica
Lidia Possas PhD UNESP Brasil
Carlota McAllister PhD York University
Margarita Estrada Iguiniz PhD CIESAS-Ciudad de México
Amador Roman MS/MD New York City College of Technoloy/CUNY
Aaron Pollack PhD CIESAS-Sureste
Zoya Kocur PhD Independent Scholar
Jennifer Casolo PhD Universidad Rafael Landivar
Cristina Serna PhD Colgate University
Manuela Picq PhD Amherst College
Hiroshi Motomura JD University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Lena LAVINAS PhD Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
Rosalva Aida Hernandez Castillo PhD CIESAS Mexico
Thomas Ward PhD Loyola University Maryland
Federico Subervi PhD Kent State University (retired)
Jo-Marie Burt PhD George Mason University
Leisy Abrego PhD University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Pamela Voekel PhD Dartmouth College
Carmen Gregorio Gil PhD Universidad de Granada
Marcia Ochoa PhD University of California, Santa Cruz
Bernardita Llanos PhD Brooklyn College, CUNY
Martha Matsuoka PhD Occidental College
David Hernandez Palmar Other CLACPI
Brinda Sarathy PhD Pitzer College
Valeria Grinberg PhD Bowling Green State University
Reena Goldthree PhD Princeton University
Beatriz Padilla PhD Instituto Universitario de Lisboa
Duane Oldfield PhD Knox College
Peter Wade PhD University of Manchester
Elizabeth Velasquez PhD University of Texas at Austin
Dr. Brent Metz PhD University of Kansas
Liv Sovik PhD Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
Carlota McAllister PhD York University
Ethan Johnson PhD Portland State
Miguel Tinker Salas PhD Pomona College
Alcira Forero Pena PhD CUNY
Lillian Horin Other Harvard University
Jan Rus PhD Centro de Estudios Superiores de México y Centroamérica, Chiapas,
Sheila R. Tully PhD San Francisco State university
Jose Rubio-Zepeda MS/MD University of Texas at Austin
Kevin Coleman PhD University of Toronto
Rahsaan Mahadeo ABD University of Minnesota
Josephine Herman Other Harvard Law School
Mary O’Connor PhD University of California, Santa Barbara
Guadalupe Bacio PhD Pomona College
Teresa Valdes Other Observatorio de Género y Equidad
Ethel Jorge PhD Pitzer College
Gerardo Otero PhD Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada
Rachel Sieder PhD CIESAS, Mexico
Carme Valdivia ABD University of California, Davis
Steven Osuna PhD California State University, Long Beach
Maryellen Garcia PhD University of Texas at San Antonio
Diana Sierra Becerra PhD Smith College
Jacqueline Diaz Other University of California, Merced
Deborah Berman Santana PhD Mills College
Susanne Jonas PhD University of California, Santa Cruz (r)
Ursula Roldán PhD Rafael Landivar
Ana Maurine Lara PhD University of Oregon
Luis Mejia PhD none
John L. Hammond PhD Hunter College and Graduate Center CUNY
William Martinez PhD University of California, San Francisco
Jan Flora PhD Iowa State University (emeritus)
Cornelia Flora PhD Iowa State University/Kansas State University
Katherine Hoyt PhD Alliance for Global Justice
Gilda Ochoa PhD Pomona College
Fernando Galeana MS/MD Cornell University
Lety Elvir PhD UNAH
Ester Hernandez PhD California State University, Los Angeles
Freya Schiwy PhD University of California, Riverside
Karen Musalo JD U.C. Hastings
Emilie Bergmann PhD Universidad de California, Berkeley
Christopher Loperena PhD University of San Francisco
Adriana Johnson PhD University of California, Irvine
Carole Browner PhD UCLA
Kate Kedley PhD Rowan University
Francesca Ochoa Other CSULA
Roselyn Costantino PhD PSU
Concepcion Martinez PhD Universidad Autónoma de Baja California
Marjorie Madden PhD Rowan University
Adriana Piatti-Crocker PhD University of Illinois at Springfield
Betania Santos MS/MD California state university, Los Angeles
Margarita CHaves PhD Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia
David Chilin PhD University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Shannon Gleeson PhD Cornell University
Robert Andolina PhD Seattle University
Liset Ramirez Other Scripps College
Cecilia Menjivar PhD University of Kansas
Paul Almeida PhD University of California, Merced
Rosa-Linda Fregoso PhD University of California
Yesenia Martínez MS/MD UNAH
Marjorie Zatz PhD University of California, Merced
Stephanie Fetta PhD Syracuse University
Ellen Walsh PhD Governors State University
Kendra McSweeney PhD The Ohio State University
Jonathan Fox PhD American University
Hugo Ceron PhD Lehigh University
Alicia Miklos PhD Texas Tech University
Roberto Briceño Jiménea MS/MD Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras
Alberto Martín Alvarez PhD Instituto Mora
Mirna Patricia Medina Lainez Other Universidad pedagogica FM
Kimberly Gauderman PhD University of New Mexico
Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle PhD El Colegio de Mexico
John Soluri PhD Carnegie Mellon University
Raymond Craib PhD Cornell University
Guadalupe Escobar PhD New York University
Millie Thayer PhD University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Catherine Benamou PhD University of California -Irvine
Carol Ready PhD Boston University
Sandra C. Alvarez PhD Chapman University
Laura Nussbaum-Barberena PhD Roosevelt University
Victoria Banales PhD Cabrillo College
Alvaro Huerta PhD California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Emily Rosser PhD University of Windsor
Alba Solis Other Massachusetts College of Art and Design
Alfonso Gonzales PhD University of California, Riverside
Ben Manski JD University of California, Santa Barbara
Chris Zepeda-Millan PhD University of California, Berkeley
Meredith F. Coleman-Tobias PhD Emory University
Andrew Winters MPH MS/MD City Univesity of New York
Nora Hamilton PhD University of Southern California
Anthony Jerry PhD University of California Riverside
Adalberto Santana PhD UNAM
James Brennan PhD University of California, Riverside
Lilian Davila PhD University of California Merced
Albert Ponce PhD Diablo Valley College
Alina Mendez PhD University of California San Diego
William Ramirez Other New York University
Sayra Pinto PhD, MFA PhD Wild Acres Leadership Initiative
Rebecca Galemba PhD University if Denver
Andrew Turner PhD Yale
Jennifer Carcamo Other University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Piya Chatterjee PhD Scripps College
Ruben Rumbaut PhD University of California, Irvine
Martha Gonzalez PhD Scripps College
Ainhoa Montoya PhD University of London
Jennifer Goett PhD Michigan State University
Juan Agulló PhD UNILA (Brazil)
Angus McNelly PhD Queen Mary University of London
Jose Zapata Calderon PhD Pitzer College (emeritus)
Martha Zapata Galindo Other Lateinamerika-Institut, Freie Universitaet Berlin
Norman Whitten PhD University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Beth Lyon JD Cornell Law School
Johanna Quinn PhD Montclair State University
Diego Sánchez-Ancochea PhD University of Oxford
Beatriz Cruz-Sotomayor PhD Universidad del Turabo
Josslyn Luckett ABD University of Pennsylvania
Norma Rodriguez PhD Pitzer College
David Baluarte JD Washington & Lee University
Enrique C. Ochoa PhD California State University, Los Angeles
Charles R Hale PhD University of Texas at Austin
Krystal Strong PhD University of Pennsylvania
Eric Vazquez PhD Dickinson College
Banales MS/MD University of Michigan
Yolanda McDonald PhD Vanderbilt University
Susan R. Gzesh JD University of Chicago, Pozen Center for Human Rights
Beth Wassell Other Rowan University
Linda Bosniak JD Rutgers University
Lucia Di Bartolo Other Pitzer College
Lily Welty Tamai PhD University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Rachel Bowen PhD The Ohio State University
Lynn Holland PhD University of Denver
Maureen A. Sweeney JD University of Maryland Carey School of Law
Marilyn Alvarado Other CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Víctor H. Acuña PhD Universidad de Costa Rica
Joseph L Wiltberger PhD California State University, Northridge
Katherine Borland PhD The Ohio State University
C. Mathews (Matt) Samson PhD Davidson College
Rosenbaum JD Golden Gate University School of Law
Erica Schommer JD St. Mary’s University
Patricia Harms PhD Brandon University
Miguel Alonzo Macias MS/MD Dpto. de Sociología / UNAH
Cynthia Garcia Coll PhD Albizu University
Harry E. Vanden PhD University of South Florida
Jessica Cabot JD University of Connecticut
Roberta Villalon PhD St. John’s University
Yvette Aparicio PhD Grinnell College
Francisco J. Rivera Juaristi Other Santa Clara University School of Law
Monica Frölander-Ulf PhD University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown (retired)
Rachel O’Toole PhD University of California, Irvine
Alison Lee PhD Universidad de las Américas Puebla
Chris Tilly PhD University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Olga Diaz Other Cabrillo College
Karen Tejada PhD University of Hartford
Alessandro Fornazzari PhD UC Riverside
Aurelia Lorena Murga PhD The University of Texas at El Paso
Oriel Maria Siu PhD Chapman University
Simon Granovsky-Larsen PhD University of Regina
Brian Klopotek PhD Eugene, Oregon
Valarie Liveoak Other Friends Peace Teams
Caitlin E. Fouratt PhD California State University, Long Beach
Sheryl Kern-Jones PhD Cabrillo College
Oscar Erazo MS/MD UNAH Honduras
Yanna Yannakakis PhD Emory University
Taylor Britt Other Harvard Law School
Sarah Cayer Other Harvard Law School
Jeremy Ravinsky Other Harvard University
Maria Josefina Saldana-Portillo PhD NYU
Alyxandra Darensbourg JD Harvard Law School
Amalia Cabezas PhD University of California
Christopher Chase-Dunn PhD University of California-Riverside
Sarah Hamilton PhD University of Denver
Sophia Gehlhausen Anderson MS/MD University of Illinois Springfield
Edwin H. Elias PhD University of Puget Sound
Tanya Golash-Boza PhD University of California, Merced
Kelsey Fraser JD Harvard Law School
Sonia Ticas PhD Linfield College
Kathleen McAfee PhD San Francisco State University
Susan Fitzpatrick Behrens PhD California State University, Northridge
Arely Zimmerman PhD Mills College
Vivian Andrea Martínez Díaz PhD Universidad de los Andes
Courtney Desiree Morris PhD Pennsylvania State University
Freya Rojo Other California State University Northridge
Gerardo Munarriz PhD University of British Columbia
Alexandre Da Costa PhD University of Alberta, Canada
Ayoung Kim JD Harvard Law School
Matthew Byrne Other University of Puget Sound
Patricia Zavella PhD University of California, Santa Cruz
Jean Jackson PhD Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Christian Martinez-Neira PhD Universidad de Los Lagos, Chile
Cristina Cielo PhD FLACSO sede Ecuador
Monica Maher PhD Friends Peace Teams

Notes.

[1] Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación e Comunicación (ERIC), Sondeo de Opinión Pública, séptima edición.  “Percepciones sobre la situación hondureña en el año 2016”, El Progreso, enero de 2017.

[2] Preliminary Report of the OAS Electoral Observer Mission in Honduras (Preliminary Report), p. 12 (emphasis added).  Available at:  http://www.oas.org/documents/eng/press/preliminary-report-eom-honduras-2017-4dec-.pdf

[3] Suyapa Portillo, Javier Lopez-Casertano, and Cristian Padilla Romero. “Honduras holds democracy hostage,” NACLA, 12/12/2017, at:  https://nacla.org/news/2017/12/13/honduras-holds-democracy-hostage

[4] Preliminary Report, pp.6-7.

[5] In 2015 Hernández named Matamoros Batson’s 26-year-old daughter, Maria Andrea Matamoros Castillo, Vice-Minister of Foreign Relations, creating a conflict of interest for Matamoros Batson as President of the TSE, from which he has refused to recuse himself, further clouding that institution’s independence and credibility.

[6] Statement by the OAS General Secretariat on the Elections in Honduras, December 17, 2017 (Statement by OAS General Secretary Luis Almagro).  Available at: http://www.oas.org/en/media_center/press_release.asp?sCodigo=E-092/17

[7] Declaration of the OAS General Secretariat regarding the Presidential Elections in Honduras (OAS Declaration), December 6, 2017. Available at: http://www.oas.org/en/media_center/press_release.asp?sCodigo=E-090/17

[8] COFADEH, “Honduras Crisis Política Post Electoral y Su Impacto en los Derechos Humanos.”  Available at:  https://www.alainet.org/es/articulo/189698.  COFADEH updated their report on December 17, 2017 giving the most recent toll of deaths and arbitrary detentions.

[9] See Radio Progreso/Comunicaciones/Noticias for coverage of the protests and government repression:  http://radioprogresohn.net/index.php/comunicaciones/noticias

[10] Radio Progreso live-stream is available at: http://radioprogresohn.net/ and https://www.facebook.com/RadioProgresoPaginaOficial/videos/1504716082915638/

[11] See U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, Adopted by General Assembly resolution 34/169 of 17 December 1979, articles 2 and 3 (regarding duty to respect and protect human rights; standards for use of force); U.N. Human Rights Council, Resolution 22/10 of 9 April 2013 (A/HRC/RES/22/10) (calling on States to “promote a safe and enabling environment for individuals and groups to exercise their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, of expression and of association, …in conformity with their international human rights obligations and commitments”).

[12] Joaquín A. Mejía R.   “Aspectos centrales sobre la ilegalidad e ilegitimidad de la candidatura reeleccionista de Juan Orlando Hernández”, Revista Envío, Año 15, No. 51, febrero de 2017, 12-19.

[13] See Human Rights Watch, “Honduras:  Guarantee Credibility of Elections, Protect Free Expression.” December 11, 2017 (calling the interpretation “far-fetched… since the [American Convention on Human Rights] clause was designed …to prevent abusive governments from arbitrarily barring opposition candidates, not to impede constitutional term limits designed to prevent the rise of autocrats”).  Available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/11/honduras-guarantee-credibility-elections-protect-free-expression

[14] Preliminary Report, p.6.

[15] Statement by OAS Secretary Luis Almagro.

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