During the presidential elections in Honduras on Sunday, national and international observers were met with intimidation from the winning Partido Nacional. That is according to a variety of reports from CESPAD (Centro de Estudios para la Democracia), a democracy watchdog based in the nation that compiled witness concerns. They also reported manipulation of the voting process by members of the electoral tables (MER, Mesas Electorales Receptoras).
Peaceful voting began early morning on Sunday with enthusiastic participation from citizens, and by noon, CESPAD had not received significant reports of violence. Later in the day, however, they learned of a handful of complaints of conflicts relating to exchanges between members of the MERs and the national and international observers present.
These conflicts, they allege, stemmed from ambivalence and corruption: the late arrival of voting materials, delayed opening of the tables, political propaganda in illegal proximity to the voting centers, officials working without proper photo identification, and cases of aggression towards observers by members of the Partido Nacional.
Elena Toledo, a Honduran pro-democracy advocate not affiliated with CESPAD, believes the allegations are true.
“I was in the [polling area] where we received all the complaints and results, and these actions and worse went on. You have no idea.”
On the other hand, Ana Quintana of the Heritage Foundation was an observer who visited numerous voting centers throughout Tegucigalpa, and she disputes this narrative.
“I personally did not see or hear of the [Partido Nacional], or any party for that matter, repressing observers or voters. Rather, my experience has proven the opposite. . . . The Supreme Electoral Tribunal should be commended for their efforts before, during and after the electoral process.”
Grace Garcia was one of four international observers from CESPAD and from the WLF (World Lutheran Federation) who alleges that she was denied entrance to a voting center located in a United Nations school in Tegucigalpa. Upon arrival, officials told the group to leave, even though they had documentation stating their legal right to attend as observers.
“They told us that we couldn’t be there, and they made us leave so that we would observe from outside of the enclosure. They did not give us one explanation as to why,” said Garcia. Soon after, they were approached by activists who claimed they would “call their gang members” if they did not disappear.
Another observer from CESPAD, Carlos Mutate, experienced similar treatment by activists when he reported electoral fraud at a voting center located in the Clara Barton pre-school in the city of La Ceiba, Atlántida. The observers present believe they saw the placement of 100 pre-marked ballots in a polling collection box and were quick to report what they saw to officials who then seized the urn in question. Mutate claimed the accused, well known members of the Partido Nacional, then approached him and told him to “think twice about being here.”
Among other reports of intimidation from Partido Nacional members, in and around voting centers, observers in other parts of La Ceiba witnessed the late arrival of voting materials, the arbitrary change of location of some of the voting centers, and the failure of members from the electoral tables to properly monitor voters cell phone usage near the ballots.
Regarding the accuracy of these claims, Gina Kawas — a policy liaison and Young Voices Advocate in Honduras — notes that CESPAD’s sponsors include Oxfam, Trócaire, and several European organizations. They support “resistance movements” in the Americas, and she is concerned that they have a predisposition towards defending the LIBRE party.
Graham Brown, of the Dreams of Cities blog and a resident in Honduras, keenly interested in its development, says there’s little to report, “apart from lots of banners and flags.” CESPAD has not crossed his media radar and is unlikely to garner traction.
“Outside of Tegucigalpa, most people I’ve met seem uninterested in the elections, or at least they haven’t talked about it with me.”