The Jan. 27 inauguration of Juan Orlando Hernández as the Honduran president for a second term ends a months-long electoral process marked by widespread allegations of fraud and severe violence against pro-democracy protesters. The Canadian government’s validation of such questionable results is profoundly disturbing and represents a setback to the cause of democracy and human rights in the region.
The morning after Honduras’ Nov. 26 presidential elections, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal published preliminary results. Based on the counting of close to 60 per cent of the votes, opposition alliance candidate Salvador Nasralla held a five-point lead over incumbent Hernández of the hard-right National party. The TSE then went totally silent for 36 hours, leading many Hondurans to fear election irregularities in the counting process.
Hernandez imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew and ordered police and military forces to squash anti-fraud demonstrations taking place throughout the country. When the tribunal finally resumed its reporting of vote tallies, Nasralla’s lead had vanished and Hernández had a small lead.
In the three weeks that followed, before the TSE officially proclaimed on Dec. 17 that Hernández had won, more than 30 anti-fraud demonstrators were killed in the streets. In additional to the death toll, dozens were wounded and over 800 arbitrarily detained, according to reports from the Honduran human rights group COFADEH.
Honduran rights organizations have also sounded the alarm about the reactivation of death squads, forced disappearances, and the torture of protesters who were arrested and charged with serious crimes including "terrorism" for participating in non-violent demonstrations.
Given the irregularities it found during its electoral observation mission, the Organization of American States called for new elections. However, the Canadian government ignored the violence and the reports of international observers, and quietly followed its U.S. counterpart, expressing Canada’s support for Juan Orlando Hernández by way of a Tweet delivered just days before Christmas.
Since a 2009 coup d’état, Honduras has become one of the most violent countries in the world, with high rates of murder, insecurity and impunity. Elections held after the 2009 coup — all won by the National Party that helped orchestrate the coup — were also endorsed by the Canadian government of the day despite documentation by Honduran and international observers of violence and irregularities in the electoral process.
The Harper government took advantage of the democratic rupture and deteriorating conditions in Honduras to advance economic interests — for example by facilitating a redraft of the Honduran mining code to benefit Canadian extractive transnationals, and by becoming the first country to sign a free trade agreement with the post-coup regime in Honduras.
In the week leading up to the inauguration of Hernández, repression against pro-democracy activists has again escalated. A broad coalition of Honduran civil society organizations demands an end to the repression, a national dialogue that includes all sectors, and the removal of the de facto President.
Above and beyond partisan politics, a majority of the Honduran population is outraged by the bold-faced stealing of the election they have witnessed — further entrenching instability for years to come.
By recognizing Juan Orlando Hernández as the Honduran president, the Liberal government has rewarded human rights violations and placed the interests of a handful of Canadian corporations over the most fundamental rights of the Honduran population and stability in the region.