Mon, Nov 25, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Socialist party lines up in right-dominated Honduras elections

By Nina Lakhani  /  The Guardian, TEGUCIGALPA

However, the man to watch is the National Party’s neoliberal candidate, Juan Orlando Hernandez, who has proved himself to be politically adept in the role of president of the national congress since 2010, when his party won controversial and violent elections that were boycotted by many.

After the coup, Honduras — already struggling with extreme levels of violence — descended into a vortex of criminality: By 2011, it had become the most violent country in the world outside of a warzone, with 91.6 murders per 100,000 people in 2011, a 59 percent increase in three years, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

International drug cartels — which hugely expanded during the post-coup chaos — street gangs, corrupt private and state security forces working with organized criminals and private businesses have all played a role in the violence, making security the top issue for many voters.

Orlando Hernandez’s campaign promise of a “soldier on every corner” is supported by many ordinary people: The military is undoubtedly more trusted by most Hondurans than the civil police, whose leader, Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, has been accused of leading death squads.

However, according to Amnesty International and local human rights groups, the military carried out abuses with impunity in the aftermath of the coup. Karen Spring, of the NGO Rights Action, said: “Honduras has been a dream for multinational corporations since the coup as the illegitimate government hammered through laws to favor international investors in tourism, mining, dams and model cities, while communities trying to protect their land have been criminalized and militarized.”

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Americas with 60 percent of its 8 million people living in poverty. In the two years after the coup, Honduras saw the most rapid rise in inequality in Latin America, research by the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research revealed this month.

Rights Action has documented the murders of at least 18 Libre candidates and activists since May last year, more than those of all other parties combined. At least 67 lawyers and 30 journalists have been killed since 2009.

In Tegucigalpa, National Party billboards and fancy flags dominate the streets. The newspapers, many of which promoted the coup, overwhelmingly support Orlando Hernandez while often criticizing Libre as a party backed by foreign agitators.

Reynerio Adalid Fuentes, a taxi driver, is among the million or so independent voters who are likely to decide the outcome.

“Honduras needs security and continuity in order to attract foreign companies and develop, that’s why I am voting for the National Party,” he said. “I want our police and army on the streets to deal with the delinquency.”

None of the candidates looks likely to win a large majority. Hondurans might end up electing their first female, left-leaning president, but without a majority in congress she may face a powerful National-Liberal alliance intent on preserving the “status quo.”

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