Honduras erupted in new street protests Monday after President Juan Orlando Hernandez was officially declared the winner of last month’s bitterly contested presidential vote.
Supporters of challenger Salvador Nasralla clashed with soldiers and blocked highways and roads with burning tires. Banks, some schools and many businesses remained closed in the capital of Tegucigalpa and other cities.
The electoral commission’s declaration Sunday that Hernandez had edged out Nasralla by a margin of more than 50,000 votes provoked international criticism, with the leader of the Organization of American States issuing a statement saying it was impossible to declare a winner because of widespread irregularities in the voting process. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said Sunday that the group’s study of the election results concluded that a new vote must be held.
For the Honduran people to win, Almagro said, “the only possible path is a new call for general elections.”
The group’s demand for a new vote was the strongest rejection yet of the Nov. 26 election, whose irregularities have been noted by European Union election monitors and an array of international experts. It moved the country closer to political crisis, with supporters of Hernandez accusing the OAS of overstepping boundaries and provoking violence and supporters of Nasralla calling on protesters to take to the streets.
“A war has been declared on the Honduran people,” said Edmundo Orellana Mercado, a Nasralla supporter and a former attorney general of Honduras, in the newspaper Criterio.
“I think that at this moment dialogue is no longer an option, because nobody can sit down to negotiate with a person who takes power illegally,” he said.
The small Central American nation voted for president on Nov. 26. Hernandez was running for reelection after he had stacked the Supreme Court with supporters who helped him change the Honduran Constitution to allow him to seek another term.
Initial results put Nasralla, a well-known TV host, ahead. Then the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which is in charge of counting votes and is led by Hernandez allies, mysteriously went silent for more than 24 hours. When the tribunal began releasing results again, Nasralla’s lead shrank dramatically, and then Hernandez moved into the lead.
An analysis of the election commissioned by the OAS and conducted by Irfan Nooruddin, a professor at Georgetown University, said the differences in vote patterns before and after the tribunal’s 24-hour silence are “too large to be generated by chance and are not easily explicable, raising doubts as to the veracity of the overall result.”
“I would reject the proposition that the National Party won the election legitimately,” Nooruddin wrote.
Amid the uncertainty, both candidates have declared victory, and the nation of 9 million has been engulfed in protests and violence. Amnesty International says at least 14 people have been killed and dozens injured, mostly by government security forces firing on unarmed demonstrators.
While many in the international community have questioned whether the election was fraudulent, the United States has offered implicit support for Hernandez, who has been a partner in U.S. efforts to reduce the flow of drugs and migrants from Honduras.
On Dec. 7, the Trump administration announced that it was certifying the Honduran government’s compliance with a program to improve human rights and corruption safeguards, freeing up millions of dollars in U.S. aid. Two days later, Heide Fulton, the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Honduras, appeared beside the embattled electoral commission chief who critics say helped Hernandez commit fraud.
Fulton said the United States is “ready to work with whomever is the winner.”
Nasralla traveled Sunday to Washington to meet with Almagro. In a video filmed at the Miami airport and broadcast on his Facebook page, he told supporters not to give up.
“The fight continues,” he said.
Cecilia Sanchez in the Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.