Leahy Statement In Support of Democracy in Honduras

Mr. President, on Monday the head of the Honduras Supreme Electoral Tribunal declared Juan Orlando Hernandez the next President of Honduras.  Shortly thereafter, the Secretariat of the Organization of American States, one of the principal international observers, announced that it could not certify the election as free and fair and called for a new election. Yesterday, after his top advisors rebuked the OAS for infringing on Honduras’ sovereignty, President Hernandez, stating that “the Honduran people have spoken,” declared himself President-elect.

On December 5, I spoke at length about the Honduran election, and I have made several statements since then.  I will not repeat what I, and many others, have already said about the troubling process orchestrated by President Hernandez and his associates over the past several years to lay the groundwork for his reelection for an unprecedented second presidential term.  Nor about the many irregularities that have caused masses of people to take to the streets in protest since the vote on November 26.  As of today, at least 12 protesters, and perhaps as many as 20, have been killed and many more injured, mostly from military police firing live ammunition.  I was disappointed that in his speech yesterday President Hernandez made no mention of those tragic deaths. 

As we await the Trump Administration’s decision on whether to support the OAS’s call for a new election or accept President Hernandez’ claim to a second term, I want to make three points.

First, if this flawed election had been held in a country not led by a president whose consolidation of power and reliance on the military and police have had the strong backing of the White House and the State Department, it is doubtful that it would be accepted as free and fair.  Instead, the White House – which has been willing to excuse the Hernandez government’s corruption scandals and crackdown on the press and civil society – would likely be calling for a recount or, if the integrity of the ballots could not be assured, a new election.

Second, the OAS deserves the thanks of people throughout this hemisphere for the role it has played as an impartial observer and for standing up for a free and fair election in Honduras at a time when democratic processes, freedom of expression and association, and independent judiciaries are threatened not only in Honduras but in many parts of Latin America.  Next year, presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled in many countries in Central and South America, and the OAS – which has been a strong defender of democracy and human rights in Venezuela – has a vital role to play in seeking to ensure that those elections meet international standards of fairness and transparency.  It is therefore particularly important and reassuring that the OAS Secretariat has insisted on such standards in Honduras by calling for a new election, and it is just as important that the United States stands with the OAS at this time.

Third, it is ultimately for the people of Honduras to decide what kind of a government they want, and whether to accept the result declared by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which has little credibility outside of President Hernandez’ National Party.  It is clear that the country is sharply divided politically, socially, and economically.  Absent an electoral process that is widely accepted as free and fair, that divisiveness will imperil the progress that is urgently needed in combating poverty, violence, organized crime, corruption, and impunity that pose immense challenges for the future.    

But the international community, and particularly the people of this hemisphere, also has a stake in this election and in Honduras’ future.  In the past decade alone, the United States has provided many hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Honduras, much of which I supported.  But that aid has not achieved the results that the Honduran people and we wanted, and the reason for that, I believe, is primarily because successive Honduran governments were not serious about addressing many of the key problems I have mentioned.  Yet the aid kept flowing.  Unfortunately, I am not convinced that the current government is sufficiently serious about this, either.

Honduras today desperately needs a freely and fairly elected leader who can unite the country.  Unfortunately, this election lacked the conditions of fairness and transparency necessary to produce that result.  If a new election is held under such conditions it is entirely possible that President Hernandez may win.  Or he may not.  But for him, or any candidate, to obtain the mandate required to unite the country and make a credible case that his government is a deserving partner of the United States, it will need to be by rejecting the serious flaws of this election and demonstrating to all the people of Honduras and this hemisphere what real democracy looks like.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that today’s Bloomberg View editorial calling for a new democratic election in Honduras be printed in the Record.


The U.S. Should Back New Elections in Honduras

Latin America needs to start its big election year on the right foot.


The Editors


‎December‎ ‎20‎, ‎2017‎ ‎7‎:‎00‎ ‎AM

There is only one way out of Honduras's deepening political crisis, and that is a new presidential election. It's a solution the U.S., with its long history in Latin America, should help bring about -- although it would help if it had an ambassador there.

The certification this week of incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s contested victory in last month's election has brought Hondurans into the streets, continuing a wave of violent demonstrations that have claimed at least 24 lives. It comes after a deeply flawed ballot-counting process that included long delays, after which Hernandez's early deficit mysteriously disappeared. (The final tally put him ahead by about 1.5 percent.) The vote was denounced by numerous observers -- including the Organization of American States, which has called for new elections.

Yet the U.S., which has no ambassador in Tegucigalpa or an assistant secretary of State for the hemisphere, has been only mildly critical. When Hernandez's victory was certified, it urged opposing political parties to "raise any concerns they may have." And just after the disputed election, the State Department renewed aid to Honduras -- a move widely interpreted as tacit support for Hernandez.

Hernandez has won friends in Washington with his willingness to crack down on crime and illegal migration to the U.S., and his investor-friendly policies. At the same time, his administration has been responsible for ugly human rights abuses and been implicated in several high-profile corruption scandals. Moreover, he has extended his tenure only by packing Honduras’s Supreme Court to lift the country's one-term limit for presidents. The head of the court responsible for certifying election results is one of Hernandez's close allies.

Even before last month's flawed vote, Honduras was notable for the lack of popular confidence in its electoral mechanisms. And if it's stability that Washington seeks, these disputed results don't promise to achieve it. Protracted unrest will only make fighting drugs and illegal migration harder.

The contrast between the OAS and the U.S. could also hurt U.S. influence and credibility. The U.S. has rightly supported the OAS in its efforts to hold Venezuela accountable for its electoral crimes. If it fails to do the same in Honduras, it risks setting a dangerous double standard. This would be especially damaging in a year when nearly two out of three Latin Americans are scheduled to go to the polls.

As the administration's just-released National Security Strategy says, "Stable, friendly, and prosperous states in the Western Hemisphere enhance our security and benefit our economy." The best way to ensure that Honduras becomes one is to support free, transparent and fair elections.

Editors: James Gibney, Michael Newman.

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