A new dawn for Honduras
Op-ed by Karen Mejía
Karen Mejía is a Honduran human rights defender who dedicates her life to protecting the rights of women in Honduras. She shares with us a look at the recent elections in Honduras on November 27, 2017, and the need for human rights defenders in building a stable and inclusive democracy in the country.
On November 26, the people of Honduras were called for a new democratic process after the 2009 coup and the illegal establishment of an eight-year National Party government, an eminently conservative, militaristic and undemocratic government, disrespectful of the most fundamental human rights. Almost 70% of Hondurans live in extreme poverty, two of our main cities are among the most violent in the world, and we have at the top of the international organization lists as one of the countries with more social inequality, insecurity, disrespect for women’s rights, LGBT persons and Honduran people in general.
These elections were atypical because, for the very first time in our fragile democracy, a president sought reelection through the use of the national budget for electoral propaganda, keeping the opposition silenced, censoring the press, criminalizing the protests and the national and international human rights defenders, with control from the National Congress, the Supreme Electoral Court, the Supreme Court of Justice, the General Attorney’s office and other key authorities.
From early in the morning, Honduran citizens went peacefully to the voting booths and voted with hope, expressing their joy with chants and waving their white and blue Honduran flags. Strategies were organised to guarantee that persons who could not be mobilised to voting centres would be able to do so with neighbours and friends, from house to house. This time, the voting booths were defended up to the last moment, during the counting and the transportation, with permanent presence in spite of the hostile climate propitiated by the army. Media activists in the social networks had a key role in destroying the media siege imposed by the current government and its corporate machinery that controls the most powerful mass media outlets. Community radio also played a fundamental role in keeping people informed.
In the history of democratic elections, the voting centres had never been closed at 16:00. Authorities promised that the first official results would be ready at 20:00, the Supreme Electoral Court kept silence and deactivated the results reports in their official page. There were hours of uncertainty, amidst a latent climate of militarisation in the main cities, the current president Juan Orlando Hernández declared himself as virtual winner at 18:21, and ordered the Supreme Electoral Court to ratify his results.
At 2:00, the plenary session of magistrates of the Supreme Electoral Court admitted that the winner was Salvador Nasralla, leader of the Alliance against the Dictatorship. People kept celebrating on the streets the fall of the dictatorship, of a drug-trafficking state. Today begins a new battle for the Honduran people to defend their sovereignty expressed in the booths, demanding that this trend BE kept BY the Supreme Electoral Court. The international community is required to be vigilant in order to guarantee the transparency and that the current president assumes his defeat because, in spite of the official reports, he has declared himself winner.
Thus begins the long way towards dismantling the mafias. We, as human rights defenders, must be organised more than ever before in order to make up for the victims of the pernicious current government, to plead that the new government abolish the current laws criminalising social protests, to liberate our national territory in order to build a real agrarian reform, and, in addition, to prompt investigation and judgment of those involved in documented corruption cases. It is also a duty to bring to justice the murderers of human rights defenders, journalists, attorneys, and activists. Our presence is needed likewise in order to create legal regulations that benefit children, women, indigenous and black people, and LGBTI persons with the highest international standards.
Juan, a Honduran journalist has affirmed, “President Juan Orlando prefers creating chaos and confusion in the country rather than going away“. This reflects the reality through that we are living; a president that stands defeated in the democratic elections who refuses to step down and leave the country´s power. The Supreme Electoral Court has untied the chaos, having declared that it will release final results on Thursday, November 30th, an unprecedented date for the country’s history that is 5 days after the elections. This irresponsibility puts at risk the legitimacy, transparency and democratic stability. The tension and anger is palpable on the people who came to the capital, to defend their right to choose. There’s also a scary feeling of chaos and violence that could come untied at any time, from the opposing party followers. Losing the elections for the current regime is not an option since it could lose numerous dirty business practices, benefits and even their own freedom.
Honduran people feel the embrace of solidarity from our exiled brothers and sisters, of Latin-American and European social organisations that accompany us with words, thought and actions. For the first time in many years, we are happy to be listened to because we didn’t keep quiet and we defended our ideals, because no bullet can destroy our wish for a better life, for happiness and freedom. Despite the violence and lies, with humility and peace we have given a great lesson to the democracy of nations that must tremble when an informed and conscious people assert their will.
Democracy is a living thing that is not to be defended only during election time, but through the watchfulness of authorities, through permanent debate, through critical voices and the building of a government for the people. It is an ineluctable duty to keep constructing democracy from the communities, from the poor and the excluded ones, in order to guarantee a good government.
My commitment and that of many human rights defenders is inspired by our fellow companions we have lost in the fight. It is our present duty to keep accompanying the fights, in spite of the adversity. The way ahead is hard, but accompanying the hope of our people makes our journey more beautiful.