Ben Raderstorf / Inter-American Dialogue

On December 19, the Inter-American Dialogue hosted a discussion about the crisis in Honduras following the presidential elections. The debate featured Carlos Dada, founder of El Faro, Lisa Kubiske, former US Ambassador to Honduras, and Juan Gonzalez, associate vice president at the Cohen Group. The discussion was moderated by Dialogue President, Michael Shifter. The panel explored the context of the Honduran democratic crisis starting in 2009, the current situation on the ground, the lack of international or US response, and what may happen next. 

Carlos Dada began by describing the current situation in Honduras. Dada suggested that the confrontation between an enraged population and security forces is a social crisis that was provoked by an ongoing political crisis dating back to 2009. Although the country has made significant efforts towards improving the rule of law since then, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) is marred by allegations of fraud and corruption. Dada noted that incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández’s overwhelming control over many institutions and the irregularities that occurred on the day of election further decreased the population’s trust in a system that lacks an impartial arbiter. Dada then pointed to the international response focusing on OAS and EU electoral missions’ statements relaying clear flaws in the electoral process. However important this response was in confirming weaknesses in the electoral system, Dada stressed that Honduras is awaiting a statement from the US. The history between the two countries, including significant US funding for nation-building projects, and challenger Salvador Nasralla’s recent visit to Washington, suggest that a US response is key. 

Next, Lisa Kubiske outlined the US role leading up to the 2013 elections in Honduras. Knowing that the 2009 coup remained an open wound, Kubiske and her team worked to mobilize the G16 and the Honduran government early with the intent of improving the electoral system. The US embassy partnered with the UNDP to fund voter registration drives and neutral observers among other projects, and Kubiske met individually with all presidential candidates to plead the case for a calm and fair election. The former ambassador stressed that although Hernández’s interests were aligned with US interests at the time, the US had no swaying influence on the election. Kubiske drew parallels between the 2013 election and the recent election noting some issues in the electoral process such as the role of the political parties at the polling locations, the selling of votes, and shortage of US funding for election preparation. Kubiske then concluded suggesting that there can be no resolution if the current turmoil and violence continues. 

Finally, Juan Gonzalez discussed difficulties moving forward and possibilities for a US response to the crisis. Gonzalez claimed that the breakdown of these elections first occurred based on the legality of Hernández’s reelection, followed by inconsistencies in the process. The role of former president Mel Zelaya within the opposition and his interest in disrupting the system behind the scenes have also made the situation increasingly dangerous. Gonzalez then shifted to discuss the US position and stated that the  administration’s decision to support the TSE  without mentioning the irregularities was dangerous for US credibility. However, Gonzalez believes that the US can pressure both parties to come together with the help of the OAS and the international community. Moving forward, it appears that Hernandez will be will continue as president for a second term. The US should then continue to support Honduras as it revises the process and design of its elections in the coming years.

Overall, the experts agreed that Hernández will most likely remain in power and that, for effective change to be implemented in the long-term, eroded institutions must be rebuilt to achieve sound electoral reform. 

Watch the full recording here