November 29, 2013 · 0 Comments
Above: Police watch as supporters of the Libertad y Refundacion Party (LIBRE) presidential candidate Xiomara Castro protest in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on November 25, 2013 (Credit: AFP, Orlando Sierra)
By Brigitte Gynther:
While thousands gathered at the gates of Fort Benning for the November Vigil, updates from Honduras were read from the stage. A delegation of School of Americas Watch (SOAW) activists was on the ground in Honduras, to observe the presidential elections, which took place on November 24, 2013.
And while the New York Times and other mainstream media outlets alternatively ignored the elections or took as gospel the US Ambassador's misrepresentation of the process, another truth was transpiring on the ground, as observed by SOA Watch Organizer Brigitte Gynther and the SOAW special delegation to Honduras.
The SOA Watch delegation to Honduras observed numerous irregularities and problems during the elections and vote counting process that cause us not to trust the electoral results released by Honduras' Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). In addition to what we directly observed, the control of the TSE by the ruling parties provided opportunity for significant manipulation of the results and fraud after the polls closed and information was transmitted to the TSE. Two new parties, LIBRE and PAC refuse to recognize the TSE's results and both report significant discrepancy between the results they received from the voting stations and the results reported by the TSE.
The TSE has reported that the ruling party's candidate, Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party, is leading LIBRE's Xiomara Castro. The National Party is currently in control of the government and LIBRE is a new political party created out of resistance to the 2009 military coup that removed President Zelaya and unleashed widespread repression across the country. The Anti-Corruption Party (PAC), whose presidential candidate is Salvador Nasralla, has also challenged the TSE's results. LIBRE and PAC are calling for the TSE to release results voting table by voting table so that they can be verified.
Listed below are a few examples of the irregularities and problems that our small delegation observed. The Honduras Solidarity Network also has a preliminary report on the elections here.
In El Paraiso, a woman who was signing her name in the voter rolls as part of the voting process, reported that her uncle's name and photo was listed near hers with a signature indicating he had voted. He has been dead since 1998. She found him again on the voter list posted outside the polls and pointed him out to one of our observers as shown in the picture posted below:
At one of the tables in Danli, after the votes were counted the sum of the votes for the different parties did not match the number of votes cast. The vote counting was repeated, and again the sum of votes tallied for the different parties did not match the total number of votes indicating that there was a problem in how the votes were being tallied as they were called out. It is notable that one person was tallying the votes and much of the time nobody else was watching how this person was marking the votes. According to an international observer who was keeping an independent tally as the votes were called out, when the total was announced, LIBRE was short 7 votes and the National Party had an extra 7 votes.
At the largest voting station in Tegucigalpa, the 35 voting tables were placed haphazardly, not at all in numerical order with some rooms holding two tables. This made it difficult to find one's room, causing at least one person to conclude that the voting table he had searched the school for didn't exist. During the counting of the votes, people started screaming in the corridors, others were playing soccer in the center, and there was so much noise it was extremely hard to concentrate. Only two people from each table were allowed to enter the scanner room, despite the fact that the rule book said each party could have a representative to watch the vote transmission. TSE officials in the scanner room did not check the identities of those bringing vote reports (actas) and with tons of people entering and exiting the school and the table members not wearing credentials, anybody could have brought a vote report to the scanner room for transmisson.
At one voting table, table members twice caught the person recording the votes marking votes for LIBRE in the PAC column. When this person finished recording the presidential votes, the sum of the votes for each candidate did not match the total number of votes cast. In other voting tables, the Congressional counting, involving 208 candidates, and the Mayor vote counting, was being done simultanously, making it nearly imposible for party representatives to watch if the votes in each race were being correctly recorded. At the same time, still other table members were signing ballots even though the polls were closed.
At another voting table, the table representative for the PINU party was openly speaking out in favor of the National Party, saying if Juan Orlando didn't win she would leave the country, and visibly coordinating with National Party representatives. Another table member explained that PINU sells their table credentials to the National Party, and that the woman with the PINU credentials was really with the National Party, stacking the table in favor the National Party. The PINU representative smiled and said “shhh.” The selling of table credentials by small parties to the dominant parties to give them disproportionate representation during the counting process is widespread.
At another voting location in Tegucigalpa, there were no LIBRE representatives at the scanner where vote results were being sent to the TSE and the National Party was reported to be controlling the scanner.
At yet another voting center in Tegucigalpa, observers received reports that a man with a pistol was entering rooms and rumors were being circulated that Juan Orlando of the National Party had contracted the gangs and if LIBRE won the vote count at that center the gangs would be sent in to the voting center to create a disaster.
Another issue is the financial incentives used by the National Party to get people to vote for them. For instance, just outside a large voting center in Danli, the National Party was distributing its “La Cachureca” discount card, shown in the photo at right. This card provides people who register with the National Party discounts for cell phone use, medical care, and other needs. The International Federation for Human Rights reported on how the La Cachureca card is used to shift votes to the National Party. We also have received reports of a government program that is supposed to provide aid to people in poverty being manipulated by the National Party, which is currently in power. One woman denounced that she had received one of these checks before the election that was dated the Tuesday after the election; she was told that there would only be funds to cash it if the National Party won.
We are extremely concerned about statements by the US State Department that observers found the process to be "generally transparent." There are reports by numerous international observers of dead people able to vote, vote buying, and problems with vote counting, not to mention that the TSE has selectively tallied the vote reports while leaving many votes uncounted. The above examples is just part of what our delegation saw; delegations across the country reported fraud, including vote buying, which is described in the Honduras Solidarity Network preliminary report. The State Department's statement goes on to encourage Hondurans to "resolve election disputes peacefully through established legal processes" but fails to mention the fact that the ruling parties control the highly politicized Honduran justice system. Just a few months ago, the National party's presidential candidate, in his role as president of the Congress, led an extremely irregular process to name a new Attorney General in the middle of the night, stacking the Justice Department in his favor just prior to the elections. Prior to that, he also led Congress in the firing of 4 Supreme Court justices who had gone against his interests, and replaced them with 4 new Supreme Court justices.
Given the consolidation of power by the ruling parties in Honduras since the 2009 coup and the extreme militarization and climate of human rights abuses – including the murders of two LIBRE party activists returning from electoral training the night before the elections – we call on the international community to be vigilant to the unfolding situation in Honduras.