MEXICO CITY — Thousands of leftists marched in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa on Sunday to protest — peacefully but vehemently — the Nov. 24 election of a conservative presidential candidate that they say was marked by fraud.
The protesters, many sporting red baseball caps or waving red banners, were led by Xiomara Castro, the candidate of the left-wing Free Party, and her husband, Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted from the presidency in a 2009 coup.
They appeared beside a casket containing the body of Jose Antonio Ardon, a Free Party activist who was gunned down Saturday, the Telesur TV channel reported. Although officials have not said who was behind the shooting, people in the crowd were already directing their ire at the conservative National Party and its winning candidate, Juan Orlando Hernandez.
“Assassins,” the protesters chanted, according to Agence France-Presse. “Blood of martyrs, seed of liberty!” they continued. “Fraud!”
Hernandez’s victory was confirmed Saturday night by Honduras’ electoral institute, which said that he took 37% of the vote compared with Castro’s 29%. (The rest of the votes were split among candidates from smaller parties.) On Sunday afternoon, the Free Party took to Twitter to reiterate its pledge to formally challenge the results on Monday.
Castro and her husband have demanded a recount, alleging, among other things, that 20% of the pro-Castro ballots were hidden by election officials. International election monitors said that the vote tally was probably accurate. But in Honduras, conservative forces largely control the machinery of government, which gives them the ability to dole out jobs and other perks before election day in exchange for support.
Honduras has been reeling from violence and rising poverty since the ouster of Zelaya, who boosted social spending but raised concerns among some that he was seeking to retain power indefinitely. A report issued last month by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research found that the gap between rich and poor has soared since the coup, making Honduras the country with the worst economic equality in Latin America.
Observers fear that political violence could erupt with a disputed election. But on Sunday, at least, the protests, which were policed by heavily armed security forces, concluded peacefully, according to reports.