If 18 Lorain County Democratic Party leaders were murdered in the year-and-a-half leading up to the presidential election, federal officials likely would investigate.
Philip Althouse wonders why the U.S. government isn’t taking the same attitude about violence leading up to the disputed Honduran elections.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” said Althouse, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland who works in Elyria.
Althouse spent Nov. 21 through Tuesday as an election observer in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. Althouse was part of a 17-member delegation from the National Lawyers Guild, a human rights organization.
On Nov. 25, Juan Orlando Hernandez of the ruling National Party was declared the winner. On Friday, Xiomara Castro Zelaya, head of the opposition Libre party, demanded a recount, saying the election was stolen. Zelaya is the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted at gunpoint in a 2009 coup.
In a Wednesday news release, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Organization of American States and European Union electoral mission reported a “transparent process” in the election. Psaki said the U.S. supports work to resolve election inconsistencies and urged the Honduran people to respect the rule of law and a peaceful, democratic process.
However, Althouse said the election process was “fragmented and kind of chaotic” and his group found numerous problems. He said military police entered three voting centers the group visited and in one instance wore ski masks.
People were removed from the centers by police in two instances. Althouse said his group interviewed two election workers who said they were held at gunpoint by armed, masked men and that observers from other organizations were threatened by police at a Tegucigalpa hotel.
Althouse said some election workers were questioned by his group. The workers said they were with the National Party, but in some cases wore Libre party badges. Workers from all parties were supposed to take part in the process to ensure fairness, but according to Althouse, the selling of election credentials was widespread.
Althouse said that President Barack Obama’s and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s refusal to strongly condemn the coup signaled to the coup leaders that they could get away with violence. Althouse said the government has “criminalized dissent” since the coup and violence increased as the election neared. “The police are the sword that the government uses to suppress popular dissent,” he said.
At least 18 members of the left-wing Libre party or their relatives were killed between May 2012 and October, according to an October report by Rights Action, a human rights group. The report said Libre suffered more killings than all of the other parties combined, and that the disproportionate amount of killings indicates that they were politically motivated.
Althouse said his group discussed the killings with U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiskie, who he said told the group there was no proof that the killings were political. Althouse said it’s obvious they were.
Last week’s trip to Honduras was the first for him, but Althouse has long been involved with human rights in Latin America. He said he was an election observer in El Salvador in 1999 and 2004 and attended the trial of former Guatemalan Gen. Efrain Rios Montt earlier this year. Montt was accused of overseeing genocide during the Guatemalan civil war in the 1980s and 1990s, in which 250,000 people reportedly were killed.
Althouse, 59, a Cleveland resident who has worked in Elyria since 2007, said his interest in human rights began as a student at the University of Wisconsin in the 1970s. He has worked with refugees fleeing repression by dictatorships in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, and has protested U.S. support for those governments.
Given past U.S. support for dictatorships, Althouse said the U.S. has a debt to pay to the people of countries like Honduras. The country was used as a staging ground for the contras, U.S.-backed mercenaries reportedly involved in mass killings in Nicaragua in the 1980s.
“I make a point to tell people when I travel to Central America that the U.S. citizens they deal with aren’t necessarily the decision-makers,” said Althouse, who also speaks Spanish. “So they don’t identify all Americans with our government officials.”
Althouse said he is working with the guild on a report on the election results, which is due in January, but he said he expects it will be disregarded by the State Department. Nonetheless, Althouse said Honduras is a major trading partner with the U.S., and Americans need to be informed about what’s happening there. “It’s really important,” he said.