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HONDURAS
President seeks reelection
George Rodríguez
10/17/2017
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Incumbent president intends to continue in office thanks to a Supreme Court ruling that lifted constitutional ban on presidential reelection.

Eight years after it cost the country a bloody civilian-military coup, presidential reelection is no longer a crime against the Constitution, and incumbent Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández is premiering the newly-legalized option in next month’s vote.

The vote mainly confronts the ruling and rightist National Party (PN) — one of the two historic political organizations, together with its traditional rival, the former ruling and also rightist Liberal Party (PL) — and a new, two-party alliance firmly opposed to Hernández’s reelection bid.

At dawn on June 29, 2009, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya (2006-2009) was violently woken up by army troops storming his house, rushed, in sleepwear, to a waiting military plane, and a few hours later dropped off on the tarmac of Costa Rica’s main international airport, at the start of a forced exile period of almost two years.

Zelaya was thus toppled in what turned out to be a brief albeit bloody coup whose consequences linger, among other components, in the dozens of unpunished political murders that have claimed the lives of journalists and human rights activist as some of the main targets.

The excuse for bringing down Zelaya  — seven months before he was to constitutionally close his 2006-2010 period — was that the violated the Honduran Constitution by wanting to hold a referendum and ask the people whether they would agree to electing members of a Constituent Assembly who would reform the country’s top law and allow for president to be reelected.

The populist leader’s crime was to just think of modifying the Constitution’s “artículos pétreos” (“stone articles”) which banned presidential continuity.

But just seven years later, the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) — which, along with Congress, the PN, the then ruling PL, and the military, backed the coup —, ruled in favor of two unconstitutionality appeals lodged by congressmen close to Hernández against the constitutional ban.

Thus, reelection was no longer a severely punishable crime, and it became what opposition leaders — including Zelaya — saw as a political move to allow Hernández to stay on, and to secure the “cachurecos,” as nationalists are known, their third successive government since 2010.

Hernández is convinced his performance as president, reflected in his administration’s slogan that “Honduras is changing” is a sound basis for his election victory next month.

Along those lines, his new government program is titled “Honduras moves forward with firm steps”, based on seven points described as “seven pillars,” the last of which includes two aims that, at best, are utopian goals in this country’s reality: transparency and accountability.

Lines and pillars
Standing at the center of a stage, in front of a large screen showing images and slogans as he presented the program during an early-morning rally on Oct. 9, at a school in Tegucigalpa — the country’s capital —, Hernández told his cheering audience that he would embark on “an aggressive process to develop four fundamental lines,” besides the contents of his seven-pillar proposal.

He described them as “extending job creation, broadening the benefits of the Better Life platform [a governmental social program], ensuring the people’s coexistence through acceptable security levels, and rounding up the reorganization of the State’s institutions.”

The proposed government program’s seven guiding points are: Innovate to grow, Access to credit, Honduras, a tourism platform, Health and education, Security and defense, Stability in the country, and Transparency and accountability.

Regarding one of the country’s key issues, the “Security and defense” point “proposes a pact for peace and coexistence,” as well as maintaining “actions to combat crime such as maras, drug trafficking and trafficking in persons,” according to the text. It also offers “to conclude the process to transfer dangerous prisoners to secure jails and police cleansing.”

Maras are street gangs which began in the 1980’s mainly in the western US area of Los Angeles, where thousands of undocumented migrants — the majority children and adolescents — mostly from the Central American Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala) arrived, as they fled from the internal wars then ravaging El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, also affecting Honduras and Costa Rica.

Faced by local gangs made up of Mexican and other immigrants, the Northern Triangle newcomers quickly organized in such groups. When massive deportations sent many of them back to their countries of origin, they rooted deeply in these nations, multiplied into tens of thousands of members and became one the security authorities’ worst nightmares, along with drug trafficking.

Prison over-population is another major security issue in Honduras, whose penitentiary system is a major focus of human rights violations, while police cleansing is a goal — difficult, at best — within a force characterized by massive, top-to-bottom corruption which has included officers acting as narco hitmen.

Across the election street, the two-party coalition is set on not allowing Hernández to get away with reelection, since it would mean the continuation of what its members describe as an ongoing dictatorship.

The opposition plan
Less than two months before the nationalists, the Opposition Alliance against the Dictatorship released its much lengthier government program, consisting of 14 main points.

The Alliance’s presidential candidate is popular sports reporter and television host Salvador Nasralla, co-founder, in 2011, of the conservative Anti-Corruption Party (PAC) and its candidate in the 2013 elections.

PAC had initially joined the leftist Freedom and Re-foundation (LIBRE) — co-founded by Zelaya — and the center Innovative Party-Unity-Social Democratic Unity (PINU-SD), but after Nasralla lost its leadership the party withdrew from the coalition.

In its program’s introduction, the Alliance explains “it was born as a collective response to the demand for wellbeing and social change conservative sectors have historically denied the Honduran people.” It also describes itself as a “partial political alliance at the presidential election level to take part in the General Elections on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017.”

In its Government Plan, issued on Aug. 25, the coalition underlines the “impunity of the intellectual and material actors in the coup d’etat,” and describes Hernández’s government as an “authoritarian regime which concentrates power in the incumbent President’s hands.”

It also highlights the “breaking down of the state of law since the coup d’etat,” and the “systematic violation of the Constitution,” as well as the “establishment of a system of institutionalized corruption.”

The Alliance also warns about “the return of militarism above civilian and democratic power.” It also assures that it “has as its purpose a new social pact through referendum and the creation of a new Constitution which will lead us to re-establish democratic order and lay the foundations for a Social State whose supreme aim is common well-being.”

Within its lengthy offer to solve the country’s many problems, in the third of its program’s 14 points — Citizen Safety —, the Alliance states that “Honduras is a militarized and fearful society.”

“Although over the past 15 years the state security policy has centered on zero tolerance, mano dura (hard hand) and militarization, violence is today widespread and affect all levels of life,” and “on Hernández’s initiative, the Military Police was created, and the Armed Forces’ role was deepened regarding security,” it adds.

“However: between 2010 and 1016, 1,183 students have been murdered (…). Since 2010, 1,335 bus drivers have been murdered and more than 40 buses burned because of extortion,” it points out, adding that “more than 174,000 persons have been displaced by violence and more than 76,000 Hondurans have left Honduras to seek asylum since 2009.”

Guaranteeing “a safer Honduras,” the Alliance points out its security strategy “is based on preventing, dissuading and controlling.” In the first case, through education and job creation, in the second, it highlights that, among other actions, “we will fight against impunity, punish criminals,” and regarding control, “we will put together a civil police made up of 25,000 professional officers,” and “with the armed Forces we will armor our borders against incoming weapons, drugs, illicit money and trafficking in people.”

Hernández and Nasralla are the main two of the nine rivals seeking at the Honduran presidency in the ballot when 6.2 million registered voters — of the country’s 8.7 million people — are to elect a president, three vice presidents, 128 legislators, 298 municipal heads, plus 20 Honduran members of the 120-strong Central American Parliament (Parlacen). —Latinamerica Press.


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Salvador Nasralla, presidential candidate for the Opposition Alliance against the Dictatorship. /ALER
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