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Allan Nairn: United States Tries—But Fails—to Stop to Stop Hondurans from Protesting Election Fraud

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On Friday, the United States congratulated incumbent Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández on what it said was his re-election. This came one month into a standoff between the Honduras government and the opposition over the disputed vote tally, and days after the government-controlled election commission declared Hernández the winner. Previously, the opposition front, the Alliance Against the Dictatorship, as well as the Organization of American States have called for new elections amid reports of widespread fraud, saying the victory was “impossible” to verify. Last week, opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet officials at the OAS and State Department, but U.S. officials claimed he did not present evidence to back up his allegations of fraud. We speak with Allan Nairn, award-winning investigative journalist who has just returned Saturday from Honduras. His latest story for The Intercept is headlined “U.S. Spent Weeks Pressuring Honduras Opposition to End Protests Against Election Fraud.”

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Honduras, where, on Friday, the United States congratulated the incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández on what it said was his re-election. This came one month into a standoff between the Honduras government and the opposition over the disputed vote tally, and days after the government-controlled election commission declared Hernández the winner. Previously, the opposition front, the Alliance Against the Dictatorship, as well as the Organization of American States have called for new elections, amidst reports of widespread fraud and vote rigging, saying the victory was impossible to verify.

Last week, opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet officials at the Organization of American States, the OAS, and the U.S. State Department. But U.S. officials claimed he did not present evidence to back up his allegations of fraud. But on Friday, Nasralla said his bid for the presidency was a, quote, “lost cause,” after the United States recognized Hernández as winner of the election. He told TV network France 24, quote, “The situation is practically decided. … I no longer have anything to do in politics, but the people, which are 80 percent in my favor, will continue the fight.” This is Nasralla speaking to the media Friday in Honduras’s capital, Tegucigalpa.

SALVADOR NASRALLA: [translated] The United States can recognize, like it recognized the electoral win of Juan Orlando Hernández today via its State Department. But in my opinion, my opponent lost the elections by half a million votes, like I proved scientifically on Monday and Tuesday to the Organization of American States.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as human rights groups have documented at least 17 people have died in demonstrations over the disputed election in Honduras. There are reports the military has assassinated and beaten protesters, including attacking protesters in the hospital, shooting tear gas into people’s homes—including where there are children and pregnant women—and launching a violent crackdown against Afro-indigenous Garifuna protesters.

The U.S. State Department considers Hernández and Honduras an ally in the drug war and immigration. Washington is Honduras’s main aid donor and largest trading partner. Honduras was also one of eight countries to vote with the United States last Thursday at the United Nations against a resolution denouncing President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Well, for more, we’re joined in New York by Allan Nairn, award-winning investigative journalist who just returned Saturday night from Honduras. His latest story for The Intercept is headlined “U.S. Spent Weeks Pressuring Honduras Opposition to End Protests Against Election Fraud.” Allan Nairn has won many of the top honors in journalism.

Allan, you were in Honduras for several weeks covering this election. Talk about what’s happened so far.

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, it’s, in a sense, an intifada of Hondurans against election fraud. But, more deeply, it’s a class uprising against an oligarchy that the U.S. has been backing for decades. The U.S. first used it in the '80s to stage the Contra attack against Nicaragua. Honduras was their base. Now they say it's being used for the drug war. But it’s a de facto U.S. military occupation of Honduras, in a sense, since the U.S. has an actual base there, even though foreign bases are prohibited by the Honduran constitution. But as in, for example, the southern Philippines, where the U.S. also has military operating on the ground, there’s a wink and a nod from the central government. It’s very significant because Central America was devastated by massacres in the ’80s, perhaps 200,000 killed in Guatemala, more than 70,000 in El Salvador, similar numbers in Nicaragua, backed by the U.S., with the help of Israel, and the societies have yet to recover to this day. The gangs, the crime, the drug trade are all direct outgrowths of those attacks on civilians.

But, first in Guatemala, starting a few years ago, with a popular, middle-class-based anti-corruption movement that helped topple the U.S. backed president, General Pérez Molina, and now in Honduras, with this uprising against what appears to be a stolen election, there’s a revival, and an example, I think, for the U.S. and the world that even people when they are most beaten down, when many of their leaders have been assassinated, when many of their villages have been wiped out, as happened in Guatemala, they can still come back. The U.S. backed this election in Honduras of—attempted re-election of President Hernández, a re-election that is also prohibited in the Honduran constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean he wasn’t supposed to be able to run again.

ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah. But he did anyway. All sorts of evidence of fraud came out. There was a tape where his people were talking about plan B for stuffing ballot boxes. There was a chat message, which I saw, from one of the electoral technicians, saying, “The fraud is now complete.” On election night, the manager of the contractor counting the votes actually briefly put out a message on Facebook saying “Nasralla, the opposition candidate, is the new president of Honduras. His lead is irreversible.” And then they just shut down the vote count and resumed it later, announcing that that lead had evaporated, and Hernández, the U.S. man, was the new winner.

Yet, they had to wait three weeks before they could formally declare that victory, because people took to the streets, hundreds of thousands of Hondurans all over the country—in many cases, some of the poorest people and working people in the streets taking the lead. And even many of the police rebelled. At one point, apparently, about 20 percent to a third of the entire national police force had gathered in bases, refusing, they said, to continue the repression, saying they were going to lay down their arms. In response, the military has promoted the leaders of the most brutal, most loyal units of the military police and those who come out of the U.S.-backed Fusina training course to be the new leaders of the military. They’re killing about one protester per day.

AMY GOODMAN: How many do you estimate have been killed?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, it’s hard to know exactly, have been killed by the military. It’s probably 34 or more at this point. It’s, in a sense, an intifada in the streets. And a lot of the tactics they’re using are also reminiscent of the tactics used by the Israeli military. Earlier, you mentioned the shooting of tear gas into houses, the systematic beating of protesters. But unlike in Israel, where the army is deeply ideological, fully indoctrinated to the project of the government, in Honduras it’s only certain sectors of the army and the police that have that character. I talked to many, many dozens of army and police, and it’s clear that many of them don’t really like being dragged along on a reimposition of the Hernández government.

And if these demonstrations can continue, it’s not clear that this government can hang on, even with Washington’s backing. And this is just a remarkable breakthrough, not just for Central America, but for all of Latin America, but even on a world stage, because it’s another example that the strongest U.S.-backed powers sometimes can be defeated, they sometimes can be rolled back, and that the U.S. grip in the world right now is weakening. And just the stamp of approval from the Pentagon may no longer be enough to hold on.

AMY GOODMAN: Although despite the widespread protests and calls from the opposition party, the Alliance Against the Dictatorship, and the Organization of American States for new elections, and reports of widespread fraud and vote rigging in Honduras’s presidential election, the U.S.-backed incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández declared himself the victor last week.

PRESIDENT JUAN ORLANDO HERNÁNDEZ: [translated] The acceptance of the will of nearly three-and-a-half million Hondurans will bring peace, harmony and progress.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Hernández. The first announcement, Hernández saying that he won, was last Sunday—is that right?—when Nasralla, Salvador Nasralla, of the Alliance Against the Dictatorship, who was ahead in the vote count before they shut it down, had gotten on a plane headed to the United States to meet with officials in the State Department. That’s when Hernández made his announcement.

ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah, as Nasralla was in the air. That’s right. They did it, apparently, to catch him off guard.

AMY GOODMAN: You saw Nasralla as he was getting on his plane?

ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah. He was not expecting the announcement to be made then, especially since, just the day before, Hernández’s own sister had died tragically in a helicopter crash. So the idea was, well, he’s certainly not going to do it today. But he did.

AMY GOODMAN: And she was his close adviser.

ALLAN NAIRN: Yeah, she was his main strategic—

AMY GOODMAN: Hernández’s sister.

ALLAN NAIRN: She was President Hernández’s main strategic adviser. So, they claimed victory. And then, a few days later, the U.S. came out and congratulated him on that victory. Another one to step in very early and congratulate him was Israel. And then, a few days after that, the U.N. General Assembly had the vote on Jerusalem, and Honduras switched its past voting pattern and was one of the few countries to back the U.S. on moving the embassy to Jerusalem, thereby acknowledging U.S. control. And Guatemala then, under President Jimmy Morales, who came to office as the candidate of the old massacre generals who are now facing prosecution—Morales announced that Guatamala was moving its embassy to Jerusalem. It’s part of a worldwide push that the U.S. State Department has made behind the scenes to try to shore up the Trump policy on Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: So, before we talk about Israel and Palestine, which we’ll do in the next segment more fully, to talk about Honduras, talk about the U.S. representative in Honduras. I mean, President Trump has failed to name many ambassadors around the world. But talk about who Heide Fulton is and the role the U.S. has been playing in this election.

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, she’s the chargé d’affaires. She’s acting ambassador. And during—in recent weeks, during the protests, I’ve been talking to Nasralla all along, asking him about his daily interactions with the U.S. And at one point early in December, Fulton and John Creamer, who’s a senior State Department official and a former aide to General John Kelly of the White House, met with Nasralla. And he said that the U.S. officials were urging him to stop the protests. The protests were the one popular source of leverage against the electoral fraud, and the U.S. was trying to shut them down—without success—even though Nasralla made a point of saying he wanted to be a friend of the U.S., he wanted to be an ally of the U.S. He said he wasn’t going to touch the military base, he wasn’t going to touch the multinationals. He even said he would sign every U.S. extradition order without even reading them. Despite all of that, the White House had—where General Kelly is close, personally close, to Hernández—he’s, in a sense, his political mentor—

AMY GOODMAN: And to explain who he is, I mean, Kelly, before he was the chief of staff, he was—

ALLAN NAIRN: He ran the U.S. military for Latin America out of SOUTHCOM—

AMY GOODMAN: And then became—

ALLAN NAIRN: —Southern Command.

AMY GOODMAN: And then became head of DHS, Department of Homeland Security, before becoming Trump’s chief of staff.

ALLAN NAIRN: Right. So, they decided even Nasralla, who was promising all those things to comply with the U.S., was not good enough, was not acceptable to them, because he would represent a voting out of the coup regime. The 2009 coup, which had backing from the Pentagon and from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the time, put in a series of presidents, of whom Hernández is the latest, who back the oligarchy, give the U.S. a blank check to do whatever they want militarily, and who have very little popular support.

You know, Nasralla keeps saying, in a lot of his speeches, “Well, maybe I won 70 percent. Maybe I won 80 percent of the vote.” And that sounds kind of implausible for any politician to be saying that. But I have to say, as I went around Tegucigalpa and its outskirts, which is not considered a stronghold of the opposition, it was very hard to find anyone who had supported Hernández. Even I concentrated on talking to what are usually the most conservative sectors—army, police, small business people. The security force people are not allowed to vote, but if you ask them how their family voted, they say, overwhelmingly, Nasralla.

AMY GOODMAN: And they’re not allowed to vote because?

ALLAN NAIRN: To keep them out of politics. And many countries have that rule. And there really is a great deal of evidence that this was a massive ballot-box-stuffing operation, that almost failed, because, first, they did not—the U.S.-backed Hernández forces did not expect that the vote for Nasralla would be so large, so they basically didn’t stuff enough ballot boxes. They were shocked to find that even with their stuffing, Nasralla was still ahead by five points on election night. So that’s when the computer system was announced to have crashed, and they shut everything down. And they came back apparently having fed additional fake ballots into the system. And only then were they able to get the result they wanted.

But even that wasn’t good enough, because people were on the streets refusing to accept the result. Now the U.S. has come in and ratified it, even though the Organization of American States has said, “You need a new election. This is not legitimate.” But it’s not clear today that even that will be enough, because if people keep returning to the streets, this regime could end up being very shaky.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to our discussion with Allan Nairn, award-winning investigative journalist, won many of the top honors in journalism, just returned Saturday from Honduras. His latest story for The Intercept is headlined “U.S. Spent Weeks Pressuring Honduras Opposition to End Protests Against Election Fraud.” This is Democracy Now! Back with Allan Nairn on Honduras and other issues in this end-of-year discussion in a moment.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Perfect Places” by New Zealand Grammy Award-winning musician Lorde. Lorde canceled her scheduled concert in Tel Aviv amidst activists’ call to join the BDS movement.

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