[Congressional Record Volume 163, Number 198 (Tuesday, December 5, 2017)]
From the Congressional Record Online through GPO
Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I want to alert all Senators to the
situation in Honduras. Those of us who care about Central America have
watched the election for Honduras's next President with increasing
alarm. It has been more than a week since November 26, when the people
of Honduras cast their votes. Since then, repeated delays and
suspicious behavior, which suggests either incompetence or fraud, by
the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, TSE, that has been tallying the
ballots, have incited large public demonstrations.
Late last week, the government of President Juan Orlando Hernandez
suspended constitutional rights and imposed a 10-day, 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
curfew. Several protesters, including a 19-year-old girl, have
reportedly been shot and killed by Honduran troops, and hundreds more
have been arrested. Salvador Nasralla, the main opposition candidate,
called for a new election and reportedly urged the Honduran police and
military to disobey orders of their commanders to fire on
Even before the Honduran people went to the polls, the prospects for
a free, fair, and peaceful election faced many challenges. The most
obvious point of contention is that President Hernandez is seeking a
second term, since until recently the Honduran Constitution had been
interpreted to strictly limit Presidents to a single 4-year term.
Ironically, in 2009 former President Manuel Zelaya was forced from
power by a coalition of military officers, businessowners, and
conservative politicians, including Hernandez, after they accused
Zelaya of using a popular referendum on a proposed constitutional
convention to extend his own rule.
Zelaya's ouster was initially labeled a coup by the U.S. State
Department, but it was not long before the United States accepted the
result and resumed sending economic and military aid to the government
of President Porfirio Lobo. During the next 3 years, the influx of
illicit drugs and the incidence of violence, including assassinations
of journalists and other civil society leaders, increased dramatically,
and Honduras became among the most violent countries in the world.
After Hernandez became president of the National Congress, he and his
National Party replaced the Supreme Court with justices intended to
support their political agenda. In 2013, Hernandez was declared
President of Honduras after an election fraught with reports of vote
buying and threats and assassinations of political opponents.
Two years later, the same Supreme Court ruled that he could run for a
second term, paving the way for last week's election. Just 8 years
after former President Zelaya was pushed out for allegedly proposing
that the Honduran people vote on the question of a second term,
President Hernandez had consolidated his control by replacing the
justices of the Supreme Court, appointing the TSE, maintaining a
majority in the Congress, and using the state media to drown out his
critics. It was widely predicted that he would coast to victory.
President Hernandez's government, in addition to becoming
increasingly autocratic, has been dogged by accusations of pervasive
For these reasons and because of the opaque and bizarre conduct of
the TSE during the vote tallying process, it is perhaps not surprising
that the situation has deteriorated to the point of becoming a national
crisis of confidence in the integrity of Honduras's democracy.
Contrary to past practice, the TSE did not issue early results until
the day after the polls closed. At that time, it announced that, with
57 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Nasralla, a former TV sports
journalist, was leading by 5 percentage points. This indicated the
possibility of an historic upset, and while based on past practice the
final count was expected the next day, the process of tallying the
votes dragged on behind closed doors with no further announcements.
While Nasralla and his supporters celebrated and the third-placed
candidate, Luis Zelaya of the Liberal party, conceded, President
Hernandez and his allies in the press insisted that he would come out
on top once the rural votes were counted.
The TSE also said the rural vote count was delayed, and on Wednesday,
after a long silence, the TSE indicated that Nasralla's lead had
started to shrink, but the press reported that no technical reason was
apparent to explain the delay as the results from all polling stations
were reportedly transmitted electronically as soon as the polls closed.
As time dragged on, suspicions of fraud escalated among Nasralla's
supporters, and last Wednesday afternoon, the TSE said its computer
system had inexplicably ceased functioning for 5 hours. Then on
Wednesday night, the TSE reported that President Hernandez was ahead by
several thousand votes, which triggered protests by Nasralla's
supporters, some of them reportedly throwing rocks and lighting fires
in the streets, who were met by troops firing tear gas and live
According to press reports, the opposition is questioning ballots
from 5,300 polling places and has called for a recount of ballots from
three rural departments. Yesterday morning, after only a partial
recount, the TSE announced its final tally in favor of President
Hernandez by just 1.49 percent, a gap of 52,333 votes.
The process has been so lacking in transparency, so fraught with
irregularities and inexplicable delays, and coupled with reports of
excessive force by the Honduran police and military against peaceful
protesters, it is increasingly obvious that the TSE's announcement made
a bad situation worse. There is too much suspicion of fraud and too
On Saturday, I asked the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa three simple but
important questions about the delays, the TSE's tally of the votes, and
the reports of shootings of protesters. It is late Tuesday afternoon,
and I have yet to receive answers. This lack of responsiveness in such
a time of crisis is troubling, and I hope it is not a new standard.
Yesterday evening, the OAS issued a statement that “the tight margin
of the results, and the irregularities, errors and systemic problems
that have surrounded this election do not allow the Mission to hold
certainty about the results.” There were also reports that large
numbers of Honduran police officers, many of whom have longstanding
grievances, are refusing orders to use force against the protesters.
Earlier today, I was informed that there may
be at least 15 fatalities and many people injured from gunshot wounds.
There are reports that the police and military fired many shots,
sometimes in the air and other times at the crowds.
The importance of this election, which will determine who leads
Honduras for the next 4 years, cannot be overstated. This is especially
so because of the way it came about in the first place. There was
already resentment toward President Hernandez for the double standard
of participating in the coup against Zelaya and then orchestrating his
own path to reelection. As one Honduran was quoted saying, they “are
reliving the entire crisis from the coup of 2009, and the majority of
people don't really like that because it brings back some ugly
President Hernandez and Mr. Nasralla offer significantly different
approaches to tackling the country's problems. Given the debacle of the
past week and the growing popular outcry, it is apparent that
establishing the credibility of the electoral process and the integrity
of Honduras's democracy requires either recounting the contested
ballots from each of the 5,300 polling places in the presence of
representatives of the political parties, representatives of civil
society, and international observers or holding a new election.
In the meantime, it is the responsibility of the Honduran Government,
particularly the police and the military, to respect and defend the
right of the Honduran people to freely and peacefully express their
Honduras faces a defining moment in its modern history. How the
government resolves this crisis will determine the path of the country
for the foreseeable future. It will also determine the extent of
validity and support the next government receives from the United
States because only a credible election, accepted widely by the
Honduran people as free and fair, coupled with a demonstrable
commitment to transparency, to freedom of expression and association,
and to the rule of law, will justify that validity and support.