While the world has been focused on ant-government protests in Iran, deadly demonstrations are also raging much closer to South Florida – in Honduras.
More than 30 people have been killed during unrest there since the presidential election in late November – which many are calling fraudulent. Incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández was declared the winner, but serious irregularities have caused his opponents to call for a month of uprising to prevent him from being sworn in on Jan. 27.
Univision.com correspondent David Adams has covered Central America for three decades and he's been watching Honduras’ election controversy closely. WLRN’s Tim Padgett spoke with Adams about the likelihood of fraud – and why it matters to the rest of the hemisphere.
PADGETT: Your exhaustive Univision.com article points out that after more than half the votes were counted in the Honduran election, the challenger, Salvador Nasralla, had a pretty ample lead of five percentage points over President Hernandez. And that's when the trouble started.
ADAMS: Well, that's right. The vote count effectively stopped, and that naturally aroused suspicions. But what we learned is that there weren't any more votes to count. Ballots for about 35 percent of the country – the rural ballots – actually had to be trucked in, and those didn't arrive until Monday late afternoon, the day after the election.
And then the vote count stopped again on Wednesday. The company that was in charge of processing the votes told us the server uploading the results had to be taken down because it got overloaded.
But the big concern was that those remaining rural votes suddenly started showing a sharp trend in Hernández’s favor, which a lot of observers thought was not really all that plausible.
Right. It is possible that the votes from rural areas did trend towards the conservative president. But the Organization of American States’ technical analysis showed, curiously, that the trend was uniform across all the areas from where the late results were being counted, -- and they found that extremely statistically unlikely.
So if fraud did help Hernández eventually overtake Nasralla, does evidence point to tampering with the vote-counting software system or tampering with the remaining votes that were being counted by that system – or both?
Both. The officials say it was all done correctly and transparently; and we spoke to the president of the company who handled all of the vote processing, and he said nothing amiss happened at all.
But other analysts found a strange alteration to some of the tally sheets. The watermarks had disappeared; some of the security data had disappeared, and in fact it looked like they'd done a cut-and-paste job. And it's quite well known that the president of the electoral tribunal, David Matamoros, is an ally of the president. And there was no member of the opposition alliance on the electoral tribunal.
The Organization of American States, essentially the U.N. of the Western Hemisphere, has refused to endorse Hernández’s victory. Why?
The Organization of American States simply found there were too many anomalies, too many irregularities and deficiencies – what they called a low-quality election – for there to be any credibility in it. And therefore the secretary general of the OAS concluded the best option is to have a redo of the election.
At the same time, here in the U.S. the Trump administration has endorsed the official result.
Well in fact, Colombia was the first; Mexico followed, and then Spain and Canada. Hernández has established a close relationship with the United States. He's a key figure in U.S. regional immigration strategy, to stem the flow of migration – and also in the war on drugs, Honduras being an important trampoline for drugs coming from South America.
Latin American voting seemd to have become cleaner and more transparent in this century. Do you think the Organization of American States is worried that letting this election stand could encourage a return to the fraudulent elections of the region's past?
I think so. And everybody is acutely aware of the fact that there are a series of very important elections that take place this year – in particular Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil. So it's extremely concerning that if something does go wrong, the people involved will just be able to dismiss the observers.