UPDATED November 30, 7 a.m.
As of Thursday morning, we are still awaiting the final results of Sunday’s presidential election in Honduras. (That's because Honduras is a lot like Florida.) With 89 percent of the votes counted, the conservative incumbent, President Juan Orlando Hernández, holds a razor-thin lead over his liberal challenger, TV star Salvador Nasralla.
But while the Central American nation’s tabulation crawls to its conclusion – Nasralla’s backers suspect government-engineered fraud, since he had a five-percentage point lead with more than half the votes counted – let’s cut to the chase:
No matter who wins, Honduras likely loses – and we can expect undocumented Hondurans to keep coming to the U.S., especially South Florida, by the thousands.
This election, in fact, is a good reason President Trump should keep Temporary Protected Status intact for Hondurans living in the U.S. They shouldn’t be deported back to a Honduras – one of the world’s poorest and most violent countries – run by either candidate.
Most Honduran community leaders here hope President Hernández squeaks by. Like so many Latin American expats in South Florida, they often oppose left-wing politicos back home. They don’t want their patria to become an economic catastrophe like communist Cuba or socialist Venezuela. And that’s what they foresee if Nasralla becomes president.
That’s because Nasralla – who hosts some of Honduras’ highest-rated television talk and game shows – has joined himself at the hip with former President Manuel Zelaya.
Zelaya is the sort of clueless leftist who considers Cuba and Venezuela models. He’s also the sort of populist demagogue who, while president in the late 2000s, liked to thumb his nose at democratic institutions like the judiciary.
If he wins, Nasralla plans to make Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, his vice president. That’s raised concerns that Nasralla, a center-left pol who once headed Pepsi in Honduras, has been mesmerized by a more socialist economic agenda – and a more authoritarian M.O., much like leftist President-for-life Daniel Ortega in next-door Nicaragua.
But after marinating for so many years in the anti-communist politics of South Florida, Honduran diaspora leaders seem blinded to one big thing: Four more years of Hernández could arguably be worse for their country.
And for them, for that matter. Consider that this year the former director of Honduras’ federal health and social security institute was convicted of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from an agency set up to provide healthcare to relatives of Honduran migrants in the U.S. – like the almost 100,000 in Florida.
That larceny was just a small part of a more than $350 million looting of the Honduran healthcare system by members of Hernández’s ruling National Party. They laundered the cash through shell companies – which then donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Hernández’s 2013 presidential campaign.
Hernández denies knowing about the scheme – a claim most Hondurans find laughable. In an interview with me this year, he wouldn’t say why his party keeps rejecting the appointment of a special U.N. anti-corruption prosecutor in Honduras. The kind neighboring Guatemala has – whose investigation forced then President Otto Pérez to resign two years ago in the face of corruption charges. (Pérez is currently in jail awaiting trial.)
But here’s the kicker. Back in 2009, National Party leaders like Hernández accused then President Zelaya of wanting to change Honduras’ constitution to allow presidential reelection. They even used that pretext to toss him from office in a banana republic-style coup. Then, in 2015, they got the Supreme Court to change the constitution to allow…Hernández’s reelection.
And they were sure he’d steamroll to victory last Sunday. Granted, when Hernández took office in 2013, Honduras had the world’s highest national murder rate. It has since fallen appreciably, thanks largely to U.S.-funded police reform. But he and his party grossly underestimated how angry voters are about corruption – and how it deepens Honduras’ wealth inequality, the worst in Latin America – and its human rights abuses.
Nasralla may score an upset because he hitched his campaign to that anti-corruption wrath. Maybe he could make Honduras more transparent. But if he does make a hard left turn in office – and if leftist regimes like Venezuela are any guide – corruption is instead likely to grow.
Just like the number of Honduran migrants fleeing here.