Juan Orlando Hernandez, the candidate for the conservative Partido Nacional (National Party), was confirmed as the new president of Honduras on Thursday. Hernandez won 36.9 percent of the vote, with opposition candidate Xiomara Castro of the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party—Libre) coming in second with 28.8 percent of the votes, according to the Honduran electoral tribunal (TSE.) Castro, whose husband Manuel Zelaya was ousted as president during a 2009 coup, has rejected the results claiming there was fraud.
Libre emerged after the ousting of ex-president Zelaya as a left leaning alternative to the National Party. Libre has staged sit-ins and protests outside the offices of the TSE, which has refused to examine 3,604 tallies presented as evidence of fraud, says ex-president Zelaya. According to Libre’s legal representative, the TSE has also refused audits and inspections despite the fact that the voter registry included people who were dead or abroad. The party plans to ask the Supreme Court to demand a review of the election results, while Hernandez denies fraud and says his victory is legitimate.
The new president faces great challenges, as Honduras boasts rising inequality, widespread corruption and the world’s highest homicide rate. The most recent election was also affected by violence, as two Libre party leaders were assassinated on November 24 and a TV Journalist who openly opposed the 2009 coup was shot to death on December 10. Honduras remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist.
Likely top stories this week: Xiomara Castro leads her supporters in protest against last Sunday’s election results; Juan Manuel Santos visits the United States; petroleum exploitation moves ahead in Ecuador; Mexicans protest as President Peña Nieto completes his first year in office; a fire engulfs the Latin America Memorial in São Paulo.
Honduran Election Result Sparks Demonstrations: Thousands of Hondurans marched in Tegucigalpa on Sunday after the country’s electoral authority declared Juan Orlando Hernández the winner of last Sunday's presidential elections. Challenger Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, who is demanding a vote-by-vote recount at all Honduran polling places and an investigation of the elections by the attorney general, called on her supporters to march peacefully to protest the results. Salvador Nasralla, another candidate, is also challenging the results. On Sunday evening, Honduras’ election tribunal said it would be willing to let LIBRE (Liberty and Refoundation party—Liberdad y Refundación) review the electoral record but declined to say whether it would consider a full recount.
Santos Visits the United States: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos arrived in the United States on Sunday for a three-day visit that will include a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama. Santos will also make an appearance at the University of Miami on Monday before traveling to Washington D.C. for visits with Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, and a meeting at the OAS, among other activities. The purpose of Santos' trip is to encourage additional U.S. investment in Colombia and to discuss Colombia's peace negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC).
Correa Announces Petroleum Exploitation in Ecuadorian Amazon: Despite major protests by Indigenous and environmental groups, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced Saturday that Ecuador would permit the exploitation of 13 petroleum blocks in the Ecuadorian Amazon near the border with Peru and on the edge of Yasuni National Park. Correa said that Chilean Ambassador Juan Carlos Lira and a businessman were injured in the protests last Tuesday. Ecuadorian Minister for Non-Renewable Natural Resources Pedro Merizalde said that the first three blocks up for action could hold as much as 1.5 billion barrels. So far, Spain's Repsol YPF, Chile's ENAP, Belarus’ Belorusneft, and China's Andes Petroleum have presented offers for four of the petroleum blocks.
Protests as Peña Nieto Completes First Year of Presidency: Thousands of Mexicans protested in the streets of Mexico City on Sunday as Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto celebrated the completion of his first year as president. Protesting teachers, union workers, and self-declared anarchists marched in opposition to Peña Nieto's recent education, tax and energy reforms. According to a poll released Sunday by Reforma newspaper, 48 percent of respondents disapproved of the president's job performance—up from 30 percent in April.
Fire Latest Accident to Hit São Paulo: Less than a week after a construction crane collapsed at São Paulo's Itaquerão stadium and killed two workers, the city's iconic Latin America Memorial—a landmark building which hosts an art gallery, an auditorium and other facilities— was engulfed by a fire on Saturday. The memorial and cultural center was built in 1989 by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who died last year at age 104. It is still unclear how the fire started, but it appears no members of the public have been injured in the blaze. Meanwhile, construction workers returned to Itaquerão stadium on Monday to address the damages caused by last week’s accident.
Likely top stories this week: Brazil will reduce lending by 20 percent next year; Argentina wins a stay on its $1.33 billion payment; Tropical Storm Sonia Hits Mexico; Honduras’ police chief denies abuses; Brazilian delegation opposes Uruguayan marijuana legalization.
Brazil to Reduce Lending Due to Budget Deficit: Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega said Friday that Brazilian development bank BNDES will reduce lending by 20 percent next year, down to about 150 billion reais ($66.6 billion) from this year's estimated 190 billion reais. The announcement came after an Oct. 31 report showed Brazil’s budget deficit widened to 3.3 percent of gross domestic product, the most since November 2009. Some experts speculate that Brazil's credit rating could be cut.
U.S. Court Upholds Stay on Argentine Debt Payment: The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Argentina on Friday by denying a motion that would have forced the country to start paying $1.33 billion to holdout bondholders. Friday’s decision will permit Argentina to make a second appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court before it is forced to pay the $1.33 billion to NML Capital Ltd and other holdout bondholders who did not accept a debt swap in 2005 and 2010.
Tropical Storm Sonia Hits Mexican Coast: Tropical Storm Sonia hit Mexico's Pacific Coast on Monday morning near the city of El Dorado in Sinaloa. By the time the storm made landfall, it was downgraded to a tropical depression and winds had decreased to about 35 mph. Though the storm is weakening, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said it could still cause floods and landslides in the region. Mexican authorities issued storm warnings from Mazatlan north to Altata on Sunday, and the government of Sinaloa state canceled classes on Monday in five municipalities.
Honduran General Denies Role in Police Abuses: In an interview, Honduran general and police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla denied knowledge or involvement in a wave of police abuses this year in which at least seven detainees have gone missing or been killed in police custody. He also said that he was not involved in setting up death squads starting in 1998, as reported by the police department's internal affairs section in 2002.
Brazilian Delegation Concerned About Uruguayan Marijuana: Brazilian political leaders from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul will travel to neighboring Uruguay this Tuesday to oppose Uruguayan legislation that will legalize marijuana sale and consumption in the country. The Brazilian delegation will testify before the Uruguayan Senate's health committee in an attempt to prevent the country from moving ahead with legalization.
Honduras will hold its presidential elections on November 24, and voters—for the first time in this Central American country’s history—might elect a female and openly socialist president, signaling the nation’s growing frustration with its male-dominated conservative leadership.
Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, representing the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party—LIBRE), was slated as the frontrunner in several preliminary polls conducted in September that monitored intended votes in the upcoming election. She earned 29 percent of votes in a CID-Gallup survey, followed by Juan Orlando Hernández of the National Party in second place with 27 percent; and she earned 22.8 percent of votes in an Encuestadora Paradigma study, followed by Hernández with 21.9 percent, according to the Huffington Post.
The political novice has captured the attention of Hondurans around the world with calls for the establishment of a constituent assembly and nationalization programs aimed at redistributing the country’s highly concentrated wealth. She is the wife of former President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, who was forcibly removed from office in a 2009 coup d’état after being accused of violating the constitution by scheduling a referendum on proposed constitutional reforms.
The military coup, which was orchestrated by members of both the Partido Nacional (National Party) and the Partido Liberal (Liberal Party)—the two dominant political parties in the country—was followed by the interim de facto rule of Partido Liberal member Roberto Micheletti and the subsequent election of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, who belongs to the Partido Nacional.
Honduras has been plagued for decades by economic inequality, violent crime and the political persecution of journalists who criticize the government, but these problems have intensified since 2009.
In the last round of regional conference qualifiers last night, Chile, Ecuador and Honduras punched their tickets to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Chile and Ecuador join Colombia and Argentina as the representatives from the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (South American Football Confederation—CONMEBOL), while Honduras, which will play in its second consecutive World Cup, joins the United States and Costa Rica from the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).
In CONCACAF, the qualifying match that created the most late drama was the United States’ 3-2 comeback win over Panama in Panama City. As the game went into stoppage time, Panama led 2-1. If the result had stood, Panama would have claimed the fourth spot on the CONCACAF qualification table, requiring a home-and-away playoff series with New Zealand to book their first-ever ticket to the World Cup. But two stoppage-time goals by the U.S. ended Panama’s World Cup hopes and landed Mexico in the fourth CONCACAF spot, despite their 2-1 loss to Costa Rica. Mexico will play New Zealand twice next month to decide who will travel to Brazil.
In CONMEBOL, Chile’s 2-1 victory over Ecuador sent both countries through to Brazil. Uruguay defeated Argentina 3-2 in Montevideo to secure that conference’s fifth playoff spot, and it will play Jordan twice in November in order to qualify for the World Cup. The group stage of the World Cup begins on June 12 in Morumbi Stadium in São Paulo.
A new CID Gallup poll on the Honduran presidential election in November released on Tuesday shows Xiomara Castro—the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya—has a slight lead. The poll estimates that Castro, representing the leftist Partido Libertad y Refundacion (Liberty and Refoundation Party—LIBRE) would receive 29 percent of votes, followed closely by conservative candidate Juan Orlando Hernández of the Partido Nacional de Honduras (National Party of Honduras) at 27 percent.
The election has focused primarily on citizen security and organized crime, issues of tremendous importance to a country which currently reports the world’s highest homicide rate. Castro’s party—a leftist coalition of unions, Indigenous and agrarian groups founded by Zelaya upon his return from a post-coup exile in 2011—has advocated community policing as a means to combat crime. In contrast, Hernández has proposed the creation of a “militarized police force” that would facilitate collaboration between police and military personnel.
Marco Cáceres, a Honduran political analyst, notes that the number of registered voters has increased considerably during each election cycle in the last decade—with the highest increase taking place between 2009 and 2013—but this has not translated into an equal bump in voter turnout. This election cycle may see a higher rate of voter participation due to the creation of new parties and frustration with the continued political and security crisis. According to Cáceres, the winning candidate is unlikely to receive more than 50 percent of the vote, threatening his or her presidential legitimacy and the country’s hopes for political stability.
At least ten people—including women and children—were killed in a shootout between rival drug gangs in northeastern Honduras on Tuesday. The total death toll in the rural La Mosquita region on Honduras’ Atlantic coast could be as high as 16 according to local authorities, adding to the over 3,000 homicides reported in the first six months of 2013.
Honduras has the highest per capita homicide rate in the world, with 86 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011. Part of Central America’s Northern Triangle region, the country has seen an increase in violence tied to drug trafficking—specifically cocaine smuggled from South America to the United States. Along with increased narcotrafficking, a combination of high crime rates—which increased substantially since the 2009 coup that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya—along with an underfunded and overworked police force have contributed to the country’s violence.
But the violence also correlates with very low levels of social inclusion. The recently released 2013 AQ Social Inclusion Index found Honduras to have the second lowest level of social inclusion among the 16 Western Hemisphere countries ranked in the Index. At the same time, its homicide rate was worse than any other country ranked. Poverty levels are high and access to formal jobs is limited, but the Index concluded that “Hondurans feel more personally empowered than many in the region.”
Top stories this week are likely to include: Colombian civil society holds forum on political participation; Venezuela’s election audit begins on May 6; the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a lower court’s immigration ruling; Honduran police officials resign in the midst of a police crisis; and Brazil’s Maracanã stadium reopens after three years.
Colombian Civil Society Weighs in on Peace Negotiations: Hundreds of civil society groups convened in Bogotá on Sunday for a week-long forum on political participation in Colombia to discuss ways of integrating former FARC guerrillas into Colombian politics. The forum, organized by the UN and Universidad Nacional de Colombia, is the second to take place at the behest of the Colombian government and FARC negotiators after a forum on agrarian reform in December. Participants will send their suggestions to the peace negotiators in Havana on May 20. Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who has been highly critical of the peace negotiations, said that his political movement would not participate in the forum this week.
Venezuelan Vote Audit to Begin on May 6: Venezuela's Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) announced that an audit of ballots from the April 14 presidential election will begin on May 6 and last until June 4, but said that it was “unfeasible” to conduct a full recount of the vote. Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who lost the election by less than 2 percentage points to rival Nicolás Maduro, called the audit a "joke" and has alleged dozens of cases of voter fraud and voter coercion during the elections. He said on Sunday that he would use “all the available instances” to fight Maduro’s victory.
U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Decision to Block Portions of Alabama Immigration Law: The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal by the state of Alabama to enact portions of the state’s controversial immigration law that was blocked by a federal appeals court last year. The Supreme Court’s decision allows last year’s ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stand, meaning that Alabama cannot prosecute people who harbor or transport undocumented immigrants, but will still allow police to check people’s immigration papers if they are stopped by law enforcement. Justice Antonin Scalia was the only Supreme Court justice to dissent from the high court’s decision not to take the case.
Honduran Police Officials Resign: Following a strike of almost 2,000 police officers in Honduras this week, President Porfirio Lobo accepted the resignations of police officials Eduardo Villanueva and Mario Chinchilla, who led the country’s Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (Office of Investigation and Evaluation of Police Officers—DIECP). DICEP, the investigative body in charge of purging the Honduran police force of corruption, has been crippled by a lack of funds and by unrest among underpaid officers making only about $150 a month. Honduras’ Consejo Nacional de Seguridad Interior (National Internal Security Council—CONASIN) will convene Monday to propose candidates to take over the posts of Villanueva and Chinchilla.
Maracanã Reopens: Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracanã stadium reopened on Saturday after three years of renovations intended to prepare the stadium for Brazil’s upcoming international sporting events. Maracanã will host the 2014 World Cup final and the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics. However, media attending Saturday’s exhibition match reported that several parts of the stadium are still incomplete, even though the project was delayed by four months. Maracanã is the fourth of twelve World Cup stadiums to open. The stadium will be officially inaugurated on June 2 in a match between Brazil and England.
The Honduran Congress voted Wednesday to dismiss four Supreme Court Justices accused of blocking police reforms sought by Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, escalating a standoff between the country’s judicial, legislative and executive branches.
On Tuesday, Congress voted to approve the president’s reforms, which would require police applicants to submit to polygraph tests and toxicology exams and provide their financial and psychological records before joining Honduras’ police force. The reforms are intended to purge the Honduran police of corrupt officers, and along with other measures, would be put to a public referendum before they become law.
Congress passed the reforms on Tuesday despite the fact that they had already been blocked by the courts. In late November, four justices on the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the police reform measure was unconstitutional in a 4-1 vote. Since the decision was not unanimous, the full court must ratify the constitutional chamber’s ruling, but it has not yet done so.
In comments on Saturday, Lobo accused the dissenting judges of being “against police clean-up efforts” and said they were acting “in collusion to subvert the institutions” with Honduras’ business elite.
A legislative commission that investigated the judges’ ruling determined that they had broken established rules in the decision, and, on Wednesday just a day after approving the stalled reforms, Congress voted 97-31 to expel the four dissenting justices and name their replacements. As the voting stretched into the early morning Wednesday, police and soldiers surrounded the legislative building.
Later on, Honduran Attorney General Luis Rubí fiercely criticized the dismissal of the four judges and said that he, in turn, would look into whether the legislators could be prosecuted for violating the constitution and for violating the separation of powers.
The judges themselves released a statement on Wednesday that called their dismissal “illegitimate, illegal and unjust.” It is not yet clear whether they will make way for the four new judges that Congress chose to replace them.
In what is perhaps a dream come true for political science researchers, Honduras has agreed to let investors build three private cities inside its territory. In about six months the investors—business consortium NKG and the South Korean government—will supposedly begin to construct the first of three private city-states complete with their own police, government, legal parameters, and tax systems. The cities will be empowered to sign international agreements on trade and investment and set their own immigration policy. Honduran president Porfirio Lobo has given his full backing to the plan and the government signed the memorandum of agreement approving the project earlier this month. Envisioned to be like other city-states such as Hong Kong and Singapore, the idea is a clear example of a neo-liberal experiment.
Honduran Congress President Juan Hernandez said that NKG will invest $15 million to begin building basic infrastructure for the first model city and South Korea has given Honduras $4 million to conduct a feasibility study. The first city will be built in Puerto Castilla on the Caribbean coast and that the other two would be built in the Sula Valley and an area in southern Honduras. Hernandez added that the project in Puerto Castilla would create 5,000 jobs over the next six months and up to 200,000 jobs in the future.
These investments will provide a boost for the economy and give Honduras a much needed facelift for investors. The project’s aim is also to strengthen Honduras’ weak government and withering infrastructure.