Thursday, November 22, 2012

Elections in Honduras

Sunday, November 18, Honduras held primary elections in which the major parties choose their presidential, mayoral, and congressional candidates for next November’s election.

The two major parties have several candidates for the presidency, while there is already only one presidential candidate for the major opposition party, LIBRE, which was founded by parts of the Resistance to the 2009 coup.

The last few days have been quiet since Honduras forbids active campaigning for five days before the election. But that doesn’t mean that the propaganda doesn’t continue – though in other forms.  For example, earlier this week a newspaper revealed that several hundred identity cards were found in the office of a major supporter of the National Party candidate, Juan Orlando. The id cars are either a way to prevent opponents to vote or to use them to vote for one’s own candidate.

I have heard of this tactic several years ago and recently a priest who works in the south of the department of Lempira told me that it’s happening there again.

But that is probably the most blatant form of corruption.

There are more subtle ways that candidates seek to ingratiate them with the electorate. They may not “buy” the votes with money, but those with connections may use them to give people tin roofing and bags of cement or use their role as elected officials to provide needed services (e.g., leveling roads) right before the elections. There is a report that one candidate is giving out medicine as a part of his campaign; the medicine is part of the medicine that the government apportions to hospitals and health clinics! Yesterday I saw soccer teams from various villages wearing shirts with Juan Orlando’s name; his supporters had obviously given them to the team.

On Sunday I saw busses and pick-ups adorned with posters of the candidates and the parties’ flags.  People were out to vote and the politicians were helping them get to the polls.

Bus supporters of National Party candidate Juan Orlando
Yet many people have very little confidence in either of the two major parties because of their corruption and their continuing internecine quarreling. Some are placing their hopes in LIBRE or in some independent candidates.

The role of LIBRE will be very important because both the National Party and the Liberal Party candidates supported the 2009 coup.

But the problem is not merely the party in power.

The problem is the system that keeps the economic and political elite in power and keeps the impoverished majority disempowered.

There are some candidates from LIBRE and even from some of the traditional parties who do seek the common good and have worked for the poorest. I’ve met a few in this region.

But I think what is needed is continuing work for the empowerment of the people, the work that I’ve seen in Cáritas and ERIC-SJ (a Jesuit-supported program in EL Progeso). People are learning how to stand up for their rights, how to work together and form civil organizations that will not only have their own projects but will demand that government entities respond to the needs of the poor. They are using some of the structures that are already present – the transparency committees, for example, that are watchdogs in the municipalities.

It’s a long hard process, but I place my hopes not in elections, but in the good will and the work to transform politics and life here so that people may live decent lives.

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