This was an article I originally wrote before the elections of 2020 in Honduras. I was totally wrong in my assessment of what would happen and thankfully most of my negativity was proven wrong by many people who did the right thing in the decisive moment. Thanks to all of them. Original article starts below.

This year (2020) Honduras, my country of origin has elections. I'm not sure what to feel about the event or what to think about the candidates, and I don't even know whether it makes sense for me to form an opinion on them given the circumstances. Nevertheless, I wanted to write down some thoughts about it to try to process my feelings in words and expose a bit the situation as I see it from faraway.

What lead us here

Honduras is a nominally democratic country with many problems. Over the course of its recent history, it has topped the world rankings on several terrible metrics, such as homicides per capita and deaths attributable to corruption. While the most notable and published problem is violence, it is only the tip of the iceberg of a systematically dysfunctional state. Poverty is widespread and access to basic needs like healthcare, food, water and shelter is severely lacking. Anybody who knows a bit about the region knows that much. These are also not exclusively  Honduran problems but rather characteristics of the region.

What is not so well known outside the country are the failures of the electoral system, their historical origins and the consequences that this might have for the country in the short term. These elections hold special importance as they will decide the path of some important strategic aspects of the country going forward.

FIrst, there's the special development zones (ZEDEs in Honduras), a controversial pet project of the ruling party. Widely opposed by many parts of the organized civil society, it consists in creating self governing "special administrative zones" where Honduran laws won't apply and the Honduran government won't have authority. This weakens Honduran sovereignty in exchange for a theoretical boost for the economy and development. They say it will allow these areas to become like Singapore or Shenzen and boost development for the whole country through jobs and increased economic output, however the main proponent and creator of the concept retracted from the project due to transparency concerns... so... that sounds legit 😐 no reason to worry right? 😕

Second, there's the question whether Honduras will return to democracy after the (probably, allegedly) stolen and illegal election of 2017. Theoretically the sitting president won't go for the third term but as they said in the lottery commercials of the 80s "hey, you never know...". Rumors are widespread that the current candidate will step down to assign his place to the sitting president so he can continue his work in a third term.

How did it come to this? Where does all this madness come from?

This comes as an effect of a story that started on 2009 with the forced removal via military-judicial coup of the last unequivocally elected president Manuel Zelaya.

Mel Zelaya and the break of democracy

Let's start by clarifying something,  Zelaya's presidency wasn't a fairytale. There were corruption scandals and the proposal for a shady referendum for changing the constitution among other things. It wasn't also a nightmare with real progress being made in several areas, especially around women, indigenous groups and social justice. Most importantly though, it was (in my opinion) the last legitimate presidency until today.

The reasons for Zelaya's removal can be summarized by saying that he made the wrong people angry. Honduran economic elites didn't like his social justice reforms and military top brass didn't like his attempts of making a constitutional referendum which could've allowed him to re-elect himself (re-election was illegal by law). Both didn't like the fact that he was antagonizing the USA and hanging out with Hugo Chavez and the Castro's. So they kicked him out on a plane to Costa Rica. And surprisingly, in the 21st century, after many years without something like that happening in the region, it worked!

The removal worked because the USA didn't react to the coup in the way they normally do for military coups. This might've been because of Zelaya's left leaning politics or his closeness to USA adversarial figures such as Hugo Chavez.

In any case,  Zelaya was out. This event set the stage for the next step, which was the takeover of Honduras by the National Party and specifically by Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH from here and on) and his surrounding people.

Building up to 2021

The years following the coup and the election of the first National Party president were a bit like a blur for some people inside the country.

Honduras started to be accepted again back to the international stage and things seemed to go back to some sort of normality after a brief period of time where we had curfews, repression and frequent protests.

This time was also the time when I left the country to live in Germany with the plan to stay living abroad. My choice to do this wasn't motivated by the situation (even though it definitely pushed me to be faster) instead it was a long drawn plan for many years.

In spite of this decision, all my family and many of my close friends were (and are still) living in Honduras, therefore I couldn't disconnect myself from the things that were happening and damn... were there many terrible things happening.

I'm not going to dwell to deep into all the problems (there are many publications and books if you really wanna dive deep into it) but I'd like to mention some which illustrate the downward spiral that the country has been taking since then.

In the first government after the elections, there was an embezzlement scandal regarding the purchase and administration of medicines and equipment for the Social Security Institute of Honduras.
It involved many top government officials directly appointed by the president. Its effects lead indirectly to the death of at least three thousand people due to poor working conditions, fake medicine and non existing treatments. As the details of the embezzlement were being discovered by prosecutors, the sitting president decided to avoid a fuss around it because elections were going to happen soon and "he wanted to consolidate democracy", and JOH (president of Congress at this time) was running for president in the next period.

Fast forward some years and as JOHs first period was coming to an end, through different questionable actions (such as replacing judges from the supreme court) made re-election legal (remember what happened to Zelaya?).

To add insult to injury, in the elections that followed he was declared winner by the electoral tribunal after repeated system crashes and blackouts. The victory margin was 0,5% over his main adversary which was initially declared a winner as it was statistically impossible for the tendency of his triumph to be overturned, yet, it was. This is how Hernandez stayed in the presidency for 4 more years in spite of months of protests happening afterwards.

As a last example of the state of politicians in Honduras there's the conviction for large scale drug trafficking for Tony Hernandez, ex-congressman of the department of Lempira and brother of Juan Hernandez. In documents related to the conviction there are multiple mentions of the president as co-conspirator.

This summary isn't exhaustive but I think gives a good idea about the current condition of the sitting government. And now elections are coming again.

Why am I writing all this?

The main reason is because unfortunately, I don't believe that we will have fair elections, I don't think there are compelling alternatives to the governing party and I think that the people which could make a difference waste their efforts on infighting and ideological posturing. And all of this together makes me sad and hopeless for the future of my country.

This becomes frustrating, as I know many of the candidates, some personally and some by reference, and I know that if the structures where they exist were solid, they would have a good chance of improving the lives of the people. On the other hand, things are never straightforward in politics and from a distance it's hard to understand whether some positions are sincere or just part of the pageantry and show that politics needs to show itself in our modern times.

As an additional point, Honduras's mainstream media is untrustworthy so there's no transparency there and new challenges like social media bots and disinformation seem tailored made for exploitation by people like the ones in the National Party and Hernandez's government.

Messaging wise it's crazy to see how proposals get boiled down to "let's bring Hernandez out" from the oppositions side and "we are the party of peace and calmness" from the ruling side. The strategy of the existing party to position themselves as the good guys who don't know what's wrong and don't understand why everybody is so angry is frankly disgusting but effective... after all, Honduran people are by nature non-confrontational, therefore it is more attractive than the more violent rhetoric of the opposition.

There are other parts of Honduran politics which are dissapointing (f. ex. the role the catholic and evangelic churches have taken around and in politics in the country among other things, the role of other traditional political parties) but which are in a way just peripheral to the real problem.

I don't know how it will all play out. I believe that sadly the national party will yet again be re-elected by a minority of voters or by fraud as it has happened for the last 12 years because quite frankly, nobody cares anymore, nobody believes in the system (and they shouldn't... it doesn't work and it's rigged) and it seems that nobody can do anything about it.

I hope I'm wrong and the Honduran people and authorities prove me wrong, but for this one, I think I'll not get too invested on the outcome so that the pain of a predictable tragedy can be reduced.

End of original article - comment on the aftermath and current situation below

I was wrong!

So, what really happened was that the opposition decided to get together and fight a common enemy, the people rose up to the occasion and participated massively to oust Hernandez. The margin of victory was so decisive that it was impossible to do fraud and a continued government by the national party would have been socially unsustainable. Eventually we got our first female president + our first president outside of the bipartisan and Juan Orlando Hernandez was sent to the USA to face drug trafficking charges while the reconstruction of democracy in Honduras starts again. Things like the sketchy special economic zones were cancelled and taken down and there seems to be hope for the future again in the country.

Things obviously aren't perfect, there was a kerfuffle at the beginning of the government over who ruled Congress and as usual the opposition together with groups of power work tirelessly to undermine the work and progress of the ruling government.

I wrote this article many months ago mainly as a way of getting some frustrating thoughts out of my mind and thankfully everybody who I expected to disappoint me managed to be the best version of themselves and achieve one of the great and necessary victories for my country.