Why Are People Protesting in Honduras?

My blog is about travel in Honduras, not about politics in Honduras. However, for the last month, travel to Honduras has been affected by local politics. Due to the uncertainty this creates,  many travelers have canceled their plans to visit Honduras. Some have been caught in road protests, not making it to their destinations and ruining their vacations. Because of this, I feel compelled to explain what is happening and why. I repeat this is NOT a political opinion and you should not take it as such!

A Brief History of Honduras Politics

Honduras has always been an unconditional ally of the United States. During the Cold War, Honduras was only Central American country that was unwavering in its support of the USA. Despite being one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere communism is evil and unwanted to most Hondurans. As such, the people of Honduras always elect a government that is right of center. At the height of the Cold War, Honduras was under military rule. Back then, Honduras allowed the USA to have the run of the country. Infamous characters, such as Oliver North where often seen in Tegucigalpa. The Nicaragua Contra War was staged from Honduras by the USA. There is even a joint air force base in Comayagua that still functions today that everybody calls Palmerola. The official name of the base is Soto Cano Air Force Base.

During the past century, Honduras had two political parties that shared power. The oldest and largest was the Liberal Party of Honduras, which was just left of center. This was the largest political party in Central America! You can recognize them by their red, white and red flag. The National Party of Honduras has a blue flag with a white lone star in the middle. They are right of center. The National Party was always in bed with the military rulers of Honduras when they ran the country.

The Return to Democracy

Honduras returned to a civil led government in the early 1980. A new constitution was drawn up and democratic elections took place in 1982. Since then, there have been elections every 4 years. There were a few other parties registered for elections, such as PINU, UD, and Social Democrats. Yet I must say that together, they did not get more that 2% of the votes in any of the elections. Over the years, the political ideology of both larger parties has gotten closer. Today they are both conservative and right of center.

As a rule, between 1982 and 2006, the Liberal Party of Honduras would win two periods and the National Party would win one. The constitution states that the presidential period is four years long. Presidential reelection is forbidden. In December 2005, Manuel Zelaya Rosales won the presidency. He ran on the ticket of the Liberal Party of Honduras, and his campaign was pretty much based to the right of center.  Yet, once President Zelaya took office, he veered to the left. He made a strategic alliance with the Socialist movement led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. This led to a tense relationship with Honduras’ longtime ally, the USA.

The 2009 Political Crisis in Honduras

Next, Zelaya decided that he would like to stay in as a president for another term. Following the South American solution, he called for a new constitution.  He ran into fierce opposition from all fronts. The Supreme Court, the Congress, the Attorney General and the Supreme Electoral Authority of Honduras.  Despite opposition, Zelaya continued his efforts to hold a plebiscite about writing a new constitution. Sooner than later, the military had to pronounce themselves on the issue. They sided against the president. Zelaya did not desist, and called for a non binding survey to ask the people of Honduras if they wanted a new constitution. The Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant against Zelaya. They handed it over to the military to serve it and arrest him.

Zelaya was arrested and exiled from the country on June 28, 2009. The military did not take over the control of the country. The president of Congress, Roberto Michelleti took office as interim president. Later that year, in November, general elections took place. The National Party won by a landslide! They took the Presidency, Congress and more than three quarters of the Municipalities.

Although Zelaya sneaked back into the country, he ended holed up in the Brazilian embassy for over 3 months. When the new president took office, he received safe passage to leave the country and went to the Dominican Republic.

The Electoral Reforms Allowed New Political Party’s to Register

The political crisis of 2009 led to a series of electoral reforms. This opened the door so that new parties could register themselves in the roster of parties. Several new parties came to be, leading to a reconfiguration of politics in Honduras. No longer would Honduras have a bipartisan political system.

When Zelaya returned to the country, he founded a new party. He called it “Libre” which stands for “Libertad y Refundacion”. Libre became a melting pot of left leaning leaders.  Their only real ideology is that they wanted a new constitution and disliked the USA. Zelaya continued to dream about the power of the presidency, and wanted to get back into power.

For the 2013 election, Libre postulated Zelaya’s wife as the candidate for the presidency. Xiomara Castro de Zelaya got about 35% of the votes in that electoral process. But the candidate of the National Party, Juan Orlando Hernandez won the election.  A big surprise in those elections was the PAC or Anticorruption Party. This party leader is Salvador Nasralla, a political outsider.

The 2017 Political Crisis Unfolds

For the 2017 elections, Nasralla and Zelaya joined forces to try to beat incumbent president Hernandez. Hernandez managed to open the door for reelection, though many feel it is not legal.  Hernandez has a strong following, but many of his followers oppose the idea of presidential reelection. This anti reelection feeling attracted many voters to Salvador Nasralla as an alternative candidate. The result was one of the tightest elections in Honduras’ modern history.

To many people it smells like an electoral fraud took place. The fact that the polling system crashed and was down for several hours when numbers were favorable to Nasralla did not help. The Supreme Electoral Authority declared Hernandez as President Elect. But Nasralla and Zelaya have refused to accept these results.

When the Electoral Authority of Honduras gave numbers that favored Hernandez, Zelaya and Nasralla called for nationwide protests. These took place mostly in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. One of the strategies was to block the highway system in Honduras. Zelaya has much experience in organizing these protests. The result was that it became impossible to travel by land within Honduras. There were roadblocks every few kilometers. Many strategically set next to a bridge over a river. This shut down the transportation system in the country. While most protests were peaceful, there were a few incidents of violence and looting, especially in the big cities.

The Result: People Protesting in Honduras

Today, Honduras has two individuals that claim they won the elections.  Both, President Hernandez and Salvador Nasralla refuse to budge. President Juan Orlando Hernandez has received his credentials from the electoral authority of Honduras. He has also received congratulations from several countries. These include the United States and European Union, as well as other Central American countries.

The supporters of both leaders are unconditionally loyal to them. When asked to protest in the streets they will do so at once.  Since the Zelaya – Nasralla alliance feels they are being robbed of an electoral victory, they have asked their followers to take to the streets.

There appears to be a rift in the Nasralla – Zelaya alliance. If this is indeed the case, any further protests will have much less support from their individual followers. It is possible that there will be more protests as we near the date when the new administration of President Hernandez takes office. This will happen on the 27th of January. Stay tuned to our blog and get up to date information regarding the situation in Honduras.

Now you know why people are protesting in Honduras, you will not feel compelled to cancel your trip to this lovely country. I traveled by land this week between the San Pedro Sula International Airport and La Ceiba. The road was in fine shape and we did not experience any delays. It was certainly a pleasant ride enjoying the country scenery in Honduras.

Perhaps the biggest deal is the following. Why was it correct to oust President Zelaya in 2009 when he sought reelection and today President Hernandez has been reelected? What was wrong 8 years ago is now right? How did that come to be?