Lima Charlie Business | Central & South America
Protests over a disputed election in Honduras began to ramp up on Monday, as Honduran police said they would ignore orders to crack down on protestors in the streets. The police mutiny began when the elite Comando de Operaciones Especiales (COES)(“special operations command” or “COBRA”), issued a statement stating that the Honduran people “are sovereign and thus we owe them … to not confront them and repress their rights.”
According to local media, immediately after the COBRA announcement, dozens of police units joined them in solidarity at the National Police headquarters. The National Police made the decision official the next day, with another statement saying it “ratifies its commitment before Honduran society and firmly maintains [its stance] of not repressing the Honduran people.”
#Breaking: police announce they are returning to their posts as of right now. Say they will not repress the people and their demands remain the same for political situation to be resolved. Singing Honduras anthem now. #HondurasVoto2017 pic.twitter.com/WEtYhWDW5o
— Heather Gies (@HeatherGies) December 5, 2017
Comando de Operaciones Especiales (Cobras) se declara en brazos caídos y no saldrán a reprimir a hondureños. pic.twitter.com/8iIi4I9gwC
— Diario La Hora (@lahoragt) December 4, 2017
This development bodes ill for the incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández, a leader who has received substantial investment from the United States since 2014.
In an attempt to bring peace to Latin America’s Northern Triangle – the so-called “most violent region of the world” – and to prevent unaccompanied minors from immigrating to the United States, the Obama Administration and Congress had allocated more than $1 billion towards the region in 2014, and made a five-year commitment of additional U.S. foreign assistance and diplomatic attention. President Donald Trump has continued this support into his administration as well, allocating over $600 million in his 2017 budget.
The economic support between the United States and Honduras is part of a larger plan for the entire Northern Triangle region, which is comprised of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Hernández has vowed for years to decrease gang violence in the region, and that effort has brought the murder rate down by 30%, according to the government in Tegucigalpa.
The economy has also grown since Hernández took office, and one of his greatest contributions as president has been an economic cooperation plan for the Northern Triangle, called the Alliance for Prosperity.
Because of broken diplomatic efforts with El Salvador and Guatemala, the U.S. has been depending on Honduras for years to open the door for American business. Despite the heavy violence, Latin America is still a market close to the U.S., with cheap land and labor, and the potential to be very lucrative for industries such as tourism, agribusiness, textiles and manufacturing.
In 2016, about $14 million in U.S. aid was specifically allocated to counter-narcotic efforts in Honduras. The elite police units of Honduras involved in criminal investigation, special operations, organized crime, and special security are all trained by different U.S. agencies, including the FBI, SWAT, and Army Green Berets. The U.S. also supplies funding, equipment, and intelligence analysis to Honduran counter-narcotic agencies. The U.S. also funds specialized task forces to investigate crimes against journalists, activists, and homicides regarding old land disputes. Many Honduran security agencies would be unable to operate without U.S. funding, and Honduran citizens still express a significant lack of trust in their security forces to operate independently.
Honduras has hosted a U.S. troop presence since 1983, which has routinely participated in disaster relief efforts, medical and humanitarian assistance, and counter-narcotic operations. None of this involvement has come without controversy though. The U.S. made no effort to stop the coup in Honduras in 2009, and even supports the results of last month’s election, which many in the country believe to be fraudulent.
As for the recent street protests, the demonstrations that police are refusing to repress are largely in favor of the Opposition Alliance party candidate Salvador Nasralla. Nasralla has been critical of the entire Hernández Administration, and its close relationship with the United States. “I need to see what benefit there is for Honduras from having a base like Palmerola,” Nasralla said, in an interview with Reuters, implying that he might shutter U.S. military facilities in the country. “Palmerola” refers to Soto Cano Air Base, where 500 U.S. troops are currently stationed.
The success of U.S. investments in Honduras currently rests on the shoulders of its institutions, which are seriously imperiled. The current crisis in the country, following the election, suggests that public confidence in the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) is deteriorating. The first signs of trouble occurred during the actual day of voting, when the TSE announced that polls would close earlier in the day than in any other election in Honduran history.
In initial reports after polls closed, the TSE gave a commanding 5 point lead to Hernández’s challenger, Salvador Nasralla, and the TSE magistrate Ramiro Lobo even told the public that Nasralla’s victory was “irreversible.” The TSE was scheduled to publish preliminary results two days after the election, around 7pm, but the body suspended the process for nearly seven hours.
By the next day, Hernández had a lead over Nasralla.
Both candidates have now declared victory, and the opposition is unwilling to back down, alleging that the ruling party rigged the TSE’s vote counting procedure. Following street protests sparked by the opposition, the TSE has agreed to recount the votes.
[Title Image: Orlando Sierra/Agence France-Presse]
Lima Charlie News, with Diego Lynch & Ashley Bogden
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