In Depth: Honduras



<See below Suffragio’s preview of Honduras’s November 2013 presidential and parliamentary elections, followed by a real-time listing of all coverage of Honduran politics.>

TEGUCIGALPA — Honduras, with over eight million residents, is the second-most populous country in Central America, and its November 24 general election is arguably the most important of four upcoming Central American elections (alongside El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panamá) between November 2013 and May 2014. honduras flag icon

Hondurans will elect a new president and all 128 members of the Congreso Nacional (National Congress).  Under the Honduran constitution, the president is limited to a single four-year term, so the incumbent, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, is ineligible for reelection.

The presidential election is a one-round, plurality vote.  The two-party system that has featured in Honduran politics in the 20th century and, especially, since the return of regular elections in 1981, has meant that the winner typically achieves over 50% of the vote, though the current three-way race means that no one is likely to win with an absolute majority this time around.

The same dynamic applies with the National Congress because there’s a strong chance that no single party will emerge with an absolute majority.  A certain number of deputies are elected from each of the 18 departments of Honduras on an open-list proportional representation basis — for example, the department of Francisco Morazán, which includes Tegucigalpa, the capital, and surrounding areas, will elect 23 deputies.


Since 1981, the conservative Partido Nacional (PN, National Party) has won three elections, including Lobo Sosa’s victory in the most recent November 2009 election. The centrist Partido Liberal (PL, Liberal Party) has won five elections, including Manuel Zelaya’s victory in the November 2005 election.  This month’s presidential election is the second since the Honduran armed forces ousted Zelaya from power in June 2009 — Zelaya had pulled the country increasingly to the left, and when he was deposed, he was attempting to revise the constitution to provide for presidential reelection.


Juan Orlando Hernández (pictured above), who’s currently the president of the National Congress, is the candidate of the National Party.  He’s running on a platform of greater security through the development of a military police, designed to be shielded from the corrosive corruption that’s captured much of the Honduran police and the Honduran military as the country has become an increasingly popular transit point for drug traffickers.  That, in turn, has given Honduras the distinction of the world’s highest homicide rate (just over 90 per 100,000 annually).  Critics worry, however, that the military police will commit human rights abuses, especially in light of the various politically motivated murders in the past four years that have targeted not only leftist opponents of the 2009 coup, but also LGBT activists and journalists.


His major opponent is Xiomara Castro de Zelaya (pictured above), the wife of the former president.  Both Zelayas left the Liberal Party to help form the Partido Libertad y Refundación (LIBRE, Party of Liberty and Refoundation), the first truly leftist party in Honduran political history, which emerged out of the grassroots opposition to the 2009 coup.  Since that time, LIBRE has attracted much of what used to be the left wing of the Liberal Party as well as a grab-bag of various human rights activists, including top labor, LGBT, women’s rights, indigenous and Afro-Honduran interests.  Critics argue that Xiomara’s campaign amounts to a second term for her husband.  While Xiomara’s platform is in many ways an extension of the Zelaya agenda from between 2005 and 2009, including a controversial renewed attempt to amend the Honduran constitution, she has also emphasized a community-based approach to policing, and greater spending to boost the economic fortunes of small farmers and businesses.


Mauricio Villeda (pictured above), the candidate of the Liberal Party, by most polling surveys, is stuck in third place.  An attorney from the conservative wing of the Liberal Party, Villeda has a reputation as an honest politician, if somewhat uninspiring.  His father, Ramón Villeda Morales, served as Honduras’s president from 1957 to 1963, effecting a broadly social democratic agenda that improved public education, social welfare and public health.  The residual strength of the Liberal Party, however, and Villeda’s moderation (as between Castro de Zelaya and Hernández) means that undecided voters may turn to Villeda in the final months of the campaign.

A fourth candidate, sports announcer Salvador Nasralla, is running under the newly formed, right-wing Partido Anticorrupción (Anti-Corruption Party) and while polls showed Nasralla in the top tier of presidential candidates earlier this year, Nasralla’s support has largely dropped as more voters appear to back Hernández.


Given that Zelaya tried to move Honduras closer to leftist regimes like Venezuela and Ecuador, thereby distancing it from a longtime alliance with the United States, the result will have significant consequences for US policy in Central America.  The United States holds a strategic air force base (Soto Cano) in Honduras and, throughout the past four years, the United States has massively increased military aid for Honduras’s anti-trafficking efforts, despite the country’s less-than-stellar human rights record.  Moreover, the June 2009 coup marked one of the first major foreign policy crises for US president Barack Obama (pictured above with Lobo Sosa) — while the United States denounced the coup and the interim government of Roberto Micheletti, US policymakers ultimately recognized the interim regime’s elections that brought Lobo Sosa to power.  No one doubts that US policymakers in 2009 weren’t incredibly upset to see the end of the Zelaya regime, and no one doubts that US policymakers would find a Zelaya resurgence in 2013 to be incredibly productive for US-Honduran relations.

Find below all of Suffragio‘s coverage of the Honduran election:

Hernández takes office with agenda already largely in place
January 27, 2014

Huffington Post: Honduran LGBT activists fear ongoing threat upon Hernández inauguration
January 24, 2014

Results of the Honduran parliamentary election — a gridlocked National Congress
December 14, 2013

How the Obama administration is failing Honduras — and Central America
December 6, 2013

A photo-op that Xiomara Castro couldn’t have pulled off
December 4, 2013

Americas Quarterly: Hernández edges toward Honduran presidency with no mandate, no majority and no money
November 26, 2013

LIVE BLOG — Honduras election results coming in: both Juan Orlando, Xiomara declare victory
November 24, 2013

McClatchy: ‘Whatever it takes’ — a look at the militarization of Honduras’s police force
November 22, 2013

An interview with Germán Leitzelar, Honduran congressman and former labor minister
November 22, 2013

An interview with Rasel Tomé, LIBRE party founder and congressional candidate
November 22, 2013

An interview with Dr. Leo Valladares, former Honduran human rights commissioner
November 22, 2013

Will the Honduran general election be conducted fairly?
November 21, 2013

LIBRE, Nasralla could leave no party with majority in Honduran Congress
November 20, 2013

Five reasons why Mauricio Villeda could still win the Honduran presidency
November 19, 2013

The New Republic: Why gun control legislation is a non-starter in Honduras
November 19, 2013

Photo essay: campaign season in Honduras
November 6, 2013

Juan Orlando versus Xiomara: an analysis of the Honduran election
November 5, 2013

Personal reflections on Roatán, the Bay Islands and the Garífuna
November 4, 2013

So what’s the big deal about Honduras’s election?
November 3, 2013

Toncontín blues: Of airports and infrastructure in Honduras
November 3, 2013

Chart of the day: Central American GDP per capita
October 29, 2013

Aftermath: Veteran’s Day/Remembrance Day on the eve of the 100th anniversary of WWI


It’s Veteran’s Day here in the United States, it’s Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom, and accordingly, that means it’s also Armistice Day marking the end of hostilities between Germany and the Allied forces during World War I — it’s a day for remembering the sacrifices of soldiers in eras past as well as the ugly sacrifices that all war necessarily entails.poppyUK

Carl von Clausewitz wrote in his classic tract On War that politics is war by other means, and one of the motivating elements of Suffragio comes from understanding how different countries use politics (in both democratic and non-democratic states) to solve policy problems and how a country’s unique culture, economics, language and history all play a role in understanding how countries solve problems.  What’s remarkable about the world today isn’t that so many of its countries are still engaged in bloody wars, but that so many regions and countries now use politics, and not war, to solve their differences.

Next July marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Austro-Hungarian archduke Franz Ferdinand, the singular event that set into motion a series of domino effects that launched Europe, and then much of the rest of the world, into the ‘war to end all wars.’  Siegfried Sassoon (pictured above), a British soldier who served on the Western Front in World War I and survived the slaughter to live to age 81, became the most well-known of several WWI-era poets who came to profound disillusion over the war.

As such, I can’t think of a more appropriate way to mark the day than with his poem, ‘Aftermath.’

Have you forgotten yet?…
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same–and War’s a bloody game…
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz–
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench–
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads–those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.

Another election — and another delay — in the growing Maldivian constitutional crisis


After all of the drama of the past two months, a re-run of the Maldivian presidential election essentially returned the same result as the original September 7 election.maldives

Just as in September, the winner of the November 9 election was Mohammed Nasheed, who won the first free presidential election in Maldivian history in 2008, but who was also subsequently pushed out of power in February 2012 by the country’s police and armed forces following massive protests over rising prices.  Nasheed won 46.93% of the vote, a slight increase over the 45.45% he won in the first round, but not enough to achieve the absolute majority that would avoid a runoff with the second-place candidate.

That would be Abdulla Yameen, who is the brother-in-law of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who served as the president of the Maldives between 1978 and 2008, and who still wields significant influence throughout the country and throughout various Maldivian institutions.  Yameen won 29.72% in the weekend vote, an increase over the 25.32% he won in September.

As in September, Gasin Ibrahim, a businessman and former finance minister in the Gayoom era, finished in third place.

But a complaint from Ibrahim over the first election caused the Maldivian supreme court to annul the results of the September election and cancel the planned runoff, despite general approval from global election monitors that the vote was largely conducted on a free and fair basis.

Scheduled originally for October and postponed until November 9, Nasheed (pictured above) and his supporters hoped that in a re-run he could win over 50% of the vote, thereby definitively returning him to the presidency.

But that didn’t happen, and the Maldivian supreme court has now postponed the runoff once again, despite the fact that it was supposed to be held on Sunday.

The problem with that delay is that a new president is supposed to be inaugurated today — the term of Mohammed Waheed, Nasheed’s former vice president, who assumed the presidency in February 2012, ends today, November 11.  That means that the Maldives will wake up tomorrow in something of a constitutional crisis — with no president, an uncertain and tentative November 16 runoff, and no fixed date for the next presidential inauguration.

That, in turn, could lead to more judicial delay or even a military intervention, both of which would be bad news for Nasheed and for Maldivian democracy, because forces loyal to Gayoom still essentially control the military and the judiciary.

There’s a chance that the runoff will be held later this week, Nasheed and/or Yameen win a clear victory, and the Maldives marks a clean transfer of power to the eventual victor.  But everything about the troubled path to Saturday’s presidential vote indicates that the path back to Maldivian democracy and the rule of law won’t be quite so easy.

El Salvador’s experience in dollarization


On the way back home from Honduras, my plane landed briefly in El Salvador at San Salvador’s airport.el salvador

Not wanting to pass up a brief opportunity to try my first Salvadoran pupusa in El Salvador*, I started looking for a cash machine to withdraw some local currency.  Within seconds, however, I remembered that El Salvador switched from the colón to the US dollar 12 years ago, so of course there was no need, and I began thinking a little more about why El Salvador adopted the US dollar and whether it has seen any benefits from doing so in the past decade or so.

That decision was among the most important of the administration of Francisco Flores, El Salvador’s president between 1999 and 2004, and a member of the conservative Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA, National Republican Alliance).  Flores became one of the top US allies in the region at a time when Hugo Chávez was cementing his control on power in Venezuela.  Not only did he stand firmly with US president George W. Bush over regional affairs, he even deployed Salvadoran troops to Iraq in support of the US invasion.

Dollarization was controversial even at the time, but the policy goal was that it would reduce El Salvador’s interest rates and facilitate trade — this was in the era before the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which came into effect in 2009 among the United States, the Dominican Republic and four Central American countries.**

But the broader economic benefits haven’t materialized as fully as Flores might have hoped a decade ago — El Salvador’s GDP growth rates have lagged behind even some of its poorer Central American peers in the past 12 years:

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The entire Central American economy is tied heavily to the US economy due to massive trade and remittances from family members living and working in the United State.  That’s especially true for El Salvador, because many Salvadorans migrated during the brutal civil war during the 1980s (in the Washington, DC metro region, for example, Salvadorans represent the largest Latino nationality group, outpacing even Mexicans).  With around 6.3 million people, El Salvador has over three-fourths of the population of Honduras, but less than one-fifth of the area of Honduras.***

But it’s been essentially the sick man of Central America for some time, routinely underperforming Honduras, which is struggling under the weight of political polarization, trafficking-related violence and massive corruption.  El Salvador faces those problems as well, but it’s generally believed that those problems are at least slightly less drastic in El Salvador.

What’s clear is that while dollarization may (or may not) have worked for Panamá and Ecuador, the benefits have either been too small for El Salvador to realize or, worse — and more likely, dollarization has actively hampered the Salvadoran economy.

Salvadoran central bank president Carlos Acevedo earlier this year admitted that dollarization was ‘a sack of unfulfilled promises’:

Bank President Acevedo made his most recent statements (reported by Active Transparency) following the release of a government study on dollarization, which reached some rather negative conclusions. The report found that many key economic indicators, including exports and GDP fell, while inflation and interest rates rose. Dollarization has failed to shield the economy from downturns and instead made El Salvador more susceptible to instabilities in the U.S. economy, as witnessed during the 2009 recession. The Economista published an article yesterday reaching very much the same conclusions.

In his statements this month, Acevedo said dollarization was “badly designed, improvised and lacking consultation,” and that El Salvador’s fiscal performance with dollarization was the worst in sixty years. He also said the performance was so poor that even proponents of dollarization could not ignore its negative impacts.

Prices in San Salvador’s airport do seem to be higher than prices in Tegucigalpa’s airport, though perhaps the better comparison is to the swankier airport in San Pedro Sula.  But there’s definitely a sense among Salvadorans that consumer prices rose after 2001, though the reasons for that phenomenon remain an open question, even among economists.

Another IMF report from 2011, however, indicated that dollarization had reduced interest rates between 4% and 5%, thereby contributing to savings and boosting GDP by 0.25% to 0.5% annually.

It’s tempting to argue that El Salvador is suffering from the same fate as the eurozone — i.e., that El Salvador and the United States do not comprise an optimal currency zone), Salvadorans are ‘stuck’ with US monetary policy, which may not be appropriate for the Salvadoran economy, and there’s obviously no mechanism for fiscal transfers from the US federal government to the Salvadoran government.   Continue reading El Salvador’s experience in dollarization