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Honduras Presidential Elections in Dispute as Activists Defy Violence to Back Ousted Leader’s Wife

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Both candidates are claiming victory in Honduras’ disputed presidential election. The race has pitted Xiomara Castro, wife of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, against right-wing candidate Juan Orlando Hernández. According to election officials, with more than half of precincts reporting, Hernández has won 34 percent of the vote, while Castro has 29 percent. Castro’s husband, Manuel Zelaya, was ousted in a U.S.-backed coup in 2009. The campaign has been marred by violent attacks in a country with the highest homicide rate in the world. At least 18 members of Castro’s LIBRE party were murdered in the run-up to the election, more than all other parties combined. We go to Honduras to speak with Adrienne Pine, an assistant professor of anthropology of American University, and Edwin Espinal, a community organizer who has survived harassment and torture by police. “This election, I think, for most Hondurans, represents the possible overturning of the coup, finally,” Pine says. “People, in Xiomara Castro, have seen a leader … It is impossible to overstate the amount of hope, excitement, and organization people have been engaged in leading up to these elections.” We also hear from Zelaya and leading Honduran human rights activist Berta Cáceres, who has been in hiding for two months.

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StoryJul 30, 2009EXCLUSIVE: Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya Speaks from Nicaraguan Border on Who’s Behind the Coup, His Attempts to Return Home, the Role of the United States and More
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Honduran folk singer and activist Karla Lara, the national anthem of Honduras. It was released in the aftermath of the 2009 coup in Honduras that saw the ouster of Mel Zelaya. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Honduras, where both candidates are claiming victory in the country’s disputed presidential election.

The race has pitted Xiomara Castro, the wife of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, against right-wing candidate Juan Orlando Hernández. According to election officials, with more than half the precincts reporting, Hernández has won 34 percent of the vote, Castro 29 percent. Castro’s husband, Manuel Zelaya, was ousted in that 2009 coup. She is running on the platform of a new party called LIBRE, of Free.

The campaign has been marred by violent attacks in a country with the highest per capita homicide rate in the world. At least five people were killed near a polling station in the eastern part of the country before voting began Sunday. According to the group Rights Action, at least 18 members of the LIBRE party were murdered in the run-up to the election, more than all other political parties combined. On Sunday, Castro said results proved she was the winner.

XIOMARA CASTRO: [translated] Right now, the data that we have received, according to the exit polls we’ve received from the entire country and also the count of information in ballots that we’ve received today, we can clearly tell you that I am the president of Honduras.

AMY GOODMAN: The final election results are expected later today, but Castro’s supporters are alleging widespread electoral fraud. Nearly 30,000 police and army officers were deployed to oversee polling. Azadeh Shahshahani, president of the National Lawyers Guild, was one of about 800 international observers monitoring the vote.

AZADEH SHAHSHAHANI: Despite all of the documentation that has happened with the human rights violations that are happening here on a daily basis and, you know, leftists getting murdered, that the U.S. military—the U.S. government continues to support the military here. I mean, on the way here from Atlanta, we saw scores of military people from Honduras who had just got training, received training at the School of Americas in Fort Benning, and they were just coming back to Honduras. And, you know, there is impunity for murder, for all kinds of human rights violations, and it is truly unfortunate that the Leahy law is not being implemented in the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: Adrienne Pine is assistant professor of anthropology at American University, currently in Honduras where she’s conducting research on a Fulbright scholarship. She is author of Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras.

And we’re joined by Edwin Espinal, a community organizer and resistance movement activist in Honduras. He has been subjected to repeated harassment and torture at the hands of police. Espinal’s partner, Wendy Díaz, was killed of—died as a result of tear-gas inhalation outside the Brazilian embassy in the violent ouster of a resistance member following the return of President Zelaya to Honduras in 2009.

Adrienne Pine, let’s begin with you. The results are not fully in yet. At around 53, 54 percent of the count, what the—what Honduras is saying, the authorities are saying, is that the right-wing candidate, Hernández, has beaten Xiomara Castro. Your response?

ADRIENNE PINE: Well, there’s—yes, that’s the official story that we’re hearing from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, Amy, but it contrasts with the numbers that are coming out of the polling places themselves, which show an overwhelming lead for the candidate Xiomara Castro. So, there is a real concern on the streets, there’s real concern over the social networks, and we’re expecting that there will probably—that these results have not been accepted by the LIBRE party, and we’re expecting people will probably be going out on the streets to protest them today.

AMY GOODMAN: And if you, Edwin Espinal, could talk about the significance of this election, why it matters so much to you, and what happened to your partner?

EDWIN ESPINAL: Hi, good morning. Yeah, my partner was killed by the tear gas on September 23rd, after President Mel Zelaya come back to the country to the Brazilian embassy. She was exposed to tear gas for a long period of time. And then a couple of days after we were evicted from the Brazilian embassy, she passed away in a public hospital, because of the excessive tear gas in her respiratory system. And, yeah, and the thing is that the doctors at the hospital, they were trying to cover her, the reason she died. And then she told me that she died by the flu disease and not from tear gas. They were trying to hide the real reason that she passed away.

And this electoral process is very important to me and my family, because with the social movements and the community organizers, we’ve been targeted by the militaries and police and the government. But just like the [inaudible] are organizing people in our communities to—you know, to improve our communities and educate people in our communities about the political situation in our country.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Edwin Espinal, community organizer, and Adrienne Pine of American University, who lives in Honduras. We’re speaking to them in Tegucigalpa, this day after the election. I want to turn to a leading Honduran human rights activist, Berta Cáceres, talking about the significance of Xiomara Castro’s new LIBRE party. Berta is a leader of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras. She has been in hiding for the past two months.

BERTA CÁCERES: [translated] The population today, those who have been in resistance who are from the LIBRE party, are challenging the repressive apparatus, with the absence of the construction of real power from the communities, but now these people are voting enthusiastically for the LIBRE party, that we hope will be distinct from the other political parties. This scenario is playing out in all the regions of Honduras—in Zacate Grande, Garifuna communities, campesino sectors, women, feminists, artists, journalists and indigenous communities. We all know how these people have been hard hit, especially the journalists, LGBTQ community and indigenous communities. This is all part of what they’ve done to create a climate of fear. Here, there’s a policy of the state to instill terror and political persecution. This is to punish the Honduran people so that people don’t opt for the other way and look for changes to the political economic situation and the militarization.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Honduran human rights activist Berta Cáceres, who actually has been in hiding for the last two months, leader of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras. Adrienne, would you put this election in context? I mean, Democracy Now! in 2009 extensively covered the ouster, the coup against President Zelaya. Then he returned to the country—and we were on that plane when he flew from Nicaragua to Honduras—but could not run again. His wife, as we were on that plane—interviewed Xiomara Castro. She, right back then, when they were returning, was already planning to run for president. Talk about the significance of this election in that trajectory since 2009 and then who the opponent she is running against, Mr. Hernández, is, and the significance of his possible election.

ADRIENNE PINE: Sure. This election, for most—I think most Hondurans, is—it represents the possible overturning of the coup, finally, because the elections that took place in 2009 were fraudulent. They were militarized. They were not recognized for two years, in fact, by most of the international community. And they were boycotted by everyone who had opposed the coup, both candidates and voters. And there’s been, as Berta Cáceres mentioned, intense repression against all sorts of activists, including Edwin, in that time, and that stems from the impunity that comes out of the coup.

So, people, in Xiomara Castro, have seen a leader, a leader who is not just the wife of Manuel Zelaya, but really has come into her own as a leader, and there has been—it’s impossible to overstate the amount of hope and excitement and mobilization that people have been engaging in leading up to these elections. And yesterday, the feeling on the ground was one of exuberance. You could see that the turnout was higher than ever before in Honduran elections. And people were turning out for the LIBRE party.

The other candidate, Juan Orlando Hernández, who is with the National Party, which is the same party that the current president is from, Porfirio Lobo Sosa. His main platform has been one of militarization. He has promised to have a soldier on every corner in order to combat the crime situation, which is quite dire in Honduras, but it has reached the levels of—the extreme levels where Honduras is now the most dangerous country in the world, only since the coup itself. And that’s a direct result of the impunity that comes from the coup. So, very radically different models of governance being proposed by the two major candidates, one of which has to do with greater democratization and the other which has to do with greater militarization.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2011, after almost two years in exile, when former President Zelaya and his family were greeted by tens of thousands of supporters as they flew in from Nicaragua to Tegucigalpa, I had a chance to ask the former first lady, now the presidential candidate, Xiomara Castro, about her likely candidacy back then.

AMY GOODMAN: President Zelaya cannot run for president again, is that right?


AMY GOODMAN: But, Mrs. Zelaya, Mrs. Castro de Zelaya, you could, is that right?

XIOMARA CASTRO DE ZELAYA: [translated] The law does not prevent me from doing that. I do not have any obstacle in order to participate in the process. It is an electoral process. But at this moment—

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you could run for president?

XIOMARA CASTRO DE ZELAYA: [translated] No, what I’m saying is that I do not have any obstacles. The law does not stop me from doing it.

AMY GOODMAN: So you could run for president, if you chose?

XIOMARA CASTRO DE ZELAYA: [translated] Yes, the law does not stop me. That is very clear. The law does stop it. The law does stop Mel from doing that, because the process of the same law establishes that only one president can be president for four years.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re saying that President Zelaya did not serve out his full term. Is there any kind of allowance that is made for that? Same thing happened to President Aristide in Haiti.

XIOMARA CASTRO DE ZELAYA: [translated] No, there is no established procedure to make that happen.

AMY GOODMAN: To see that journey back when the Zelayas returned, Manuel Zelaya and Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, returned to Honduras, you can go to our website at I wanted to turn, though, now to international observer Baltasar Garzón, the Spanish judge, who was in Honduras saying how important it is to remember the chaos surrounding Zelaya’s ouster.

BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] Precisely because of what happened four years ago, this process is so important to assure that democracy is consolidated in Honduras and, above all, the credibility of the political representation.

AMY GOODMAN: Adrienne Pine, your response? That’s the famous Spanish judge who held Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator, to account, calling for his arrest in—when he was in Britain. The significance of what he has just said, Adrienne Pine?

ADRIENNE PINE: Well, the international election observers here have played a crucial role and—in ensuring that there is an eye on Honduras. I wouldn’t say ensuring the legitimacy of the process, because I believe that the process is—right now is—there is fraud that is in the works. But international observers, in fact, have been subject to harassment and intimidation by police here in Honduras in the two days leading up to the elections. Masked police entered a hotel of several international observers and demanded to see all their documents and have been basically intimidating them. These are migration police. And so, I think that their presence is really important because it’s showing the world how the Honduran security forces treat Hondurans on a daily basis, and the fact that, you know, this—there have not been free and fair conditions for this election, and it’s really important that they’re here to document that.

AMY GOODMAN: Edwin Espinal, what is at stake today in this election? And what will it mean to you if Hernández is declared the winner or Castro?

EDWIN ESPINAL: It would be a complete disaster for me, my family and all Honduran families, because we already been on his—on his system for four years, and the violence, the poverty, the misery has just increased in this country. And we cannot, you know, just wait until another four years being in this country with—you know, with—as Juan Orlando as a president. We are—me, my family and Honduran people, in general—we are so scared that the situation will just get worse in this country.

And, well, I hope the international community keep their eyes on this country and help us to put pressure on the government and at least to be transparent with Honduran people, because we have—we witnessed yesterday that the electoral process was not transparent at all. And we are really sad because—because we had hope, on the candidacy of Xiomara Castro, that she will bring big changes for our country and the reality in our society to make big changes that could change our—the way we live our lives. We don’t want to live in our neighborhoods with the violence, with kids on the streets begging for food or stealing from people. We don’t want to live in this system anymore. We want changes. And I hope the international community keep their eyes and pressure this government, at least so they can respect Honduran people’s will.

And there was yesterday an electoral process, was Honduran people show to the international community what was their choice. And we choose to change the government, but they’re using the fraud to stay in power. I hope the international community and we, as Hondurans, take actions to take to the actual government out of power.

AMY GOODMAN: Edwin, I wanted to go to ousted President Manuel Zelaya, the husband of the current presidential candidate, Xiomara Castro. This is former President Zelaya talking about these election results.

MANUEL ZELAYA: [translated] The results handed down by the electoral court are not a faithful reflection of what has happened in the polls. The facts show that Xiomara won with a 3.5 percent margin. And yet, when the court speaks, it has placed us at seven points below. So results handed down by the court are totally contradictory to what took place. And there is an important point I want to underscore: 20 percent of the registries of votes that they collected have have been hidden from the vote count under the pretext that they are inconsistent. If an election takes place with more than 3 percent margin of error—and here the margin is 20 percent—the election would be nullified, from whatever point of view, in any country, anywhere in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: That was former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya speaking to Andrés Conteris for Democracy Now! Adrienne Pine, the significance of this and also the fact that you had a whole range of international observers? Among them was the former head of the Republican National Party in California. And I wanted to turn to that clip, as well, the former Republican head of the California Republican Party, Ron Nehring.

RON NEHRING: Strong democratic governments in Central America are very, very important. This is a critical election for Honduras. Honduras faces very, very significant challenges. There are issues in the United States which transcend borders, that the United States and Central America impact one another in areas including not only the economy, but human trafficking, drug trafficking, violence, corruption, other unintended consequences of the drug trade and so on. So, this is a very, very important election for Honduras, and we want to make sure that whoever wins tonight, regardless of who that person is, is the winner of a legitimately held election.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Ron Nehring, former head of the California Republican Party, one of some 800 international observers monitoring the Honduran elections. Adrienne Pine, if you could respond both to Ron Nehring as well as former president, the ousted president, Zelaya?

ADRIENNE PINE: Well, I would certainly agree with Ron Nehring that what we all hope is that the will of the Honduran people is respected in this election. And in terms of what Mel Zelaya said, I share his concern about the accuracy of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal vote count. And I think a couple important points are to be made here, that, first of all, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal was illegally appointed in the first place by Micheletti, who was the dictator following the coup, just prior to the coup, in that they were elected officials, and they’re not, by the Honduran Constitution, allowed to be appointed to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. So, they were appointed to carry out the coup. They then were the main body that legitimated and carried out fraud in the 2009 election, and they have now been very clearly acting on the side of the National Party and also of the religious leaders of the country, who were the strongest backers of the coup. So, this is a very biased institution.

Another point I that think is frightening is that the U.S. ambassador to Honduras last night made a call to respect the numbers that were coming out from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and they’re not even final numbers yet, but basically put her hat in on their side. And we’re really worried about the U.S. making declarations this early, when there still aren’t numbers that anybody is agreeing on or trusts from any side yet. I mean, there isn’t a final count. And so, the process has not been transparent. There were irregularities throughout. There were murders, as have been mentioned earlier, intimidation of voters, vote buying. But I think the most fraud has happened by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which has both carried out and itself is a product of the 2009 coup.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us, Adrienne Pine of American University, living in Honduras, currently there conducting research on a Fulbright scholarship, among her books, Working Hard, Drinking Hard, and Edwin Espinal, a community activist who is in Honduras right now, of course, lives there, has been subjected to repeated [harassment], and his partner, Wendy Díaz, was—died as a result of tear-gas inhalation during the time of the return of President Zelaya to the country, when so many came out to greet him. Special thanks to Andalusia Knoll and Andrés Conteris. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

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