2021 Honduras International Observation Mission Report-Back
Global Exchange in Collaboration with the Center for Democracy Studies (CESPAD)

Since the 2009 U.S.-back coup d’etat, Honduras has become known as one of the most violent countries in the world. Human rights defenders, lawyers, environmentalists, journalists, and land defenders are particularly at risk, as are political candidates that decide to participate in electoral activities. 

In 2017 in the lead up to the general elections in November, 17 election candidates were murdered. This violence was telling of what would come later. Following election day in November 2017, credible allegations of electoral fraud sparked widespread protests around the country. In response, the Honduran government led by President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who had run on an illegal second term, cracked down on the population. Military curfews were imposed and U.S.-funded state security forces fired live rounds at protesters, who remained in the streets for months demanding that their vote be respected. In total, over 30 people were killed, dozens injured, and hundreds were detained. 

As a U.S.-based organization, we were alarmed that the United States played a fundamental role in certifying the fraudulent election results and whitewashing the human rights violations committed by state security forces in the same context. No investigation of electoral crimes was conducted and the U.S. State Department certified Honduras on their human rights performance in December 2017, even while security forces were murdering protesters in the streets. 

Given the electoral situation and critical role of the United States in 2017, Global Exchange teamed up with a Honduran civil society organization, the Center for Democracy Studies (CESPAD) to organize an International Electoral Observation Mission (MIOE) to Honduras from November 24 to December 1, 2021. The international mission complemented CESPAD’s national observation teams of over 250 youth from around Honduras. 

The Role of the International Observer Mission

Prior to their arrival to Honduras, CESPAD held virtual training sessions for all international mission participants. Participants were given extensive training on the national context and the observation “instruments” or forms that were to be filled out on November 27, 28 and 29th – the day before, the day of, and the day after election day. In addition, Global Exchange collaborated with CESPAD in the pre-arrival period to organize online participant meet-and-greet sessions, webinars, a press conference, and several news articles in various U.S. media outlets. 

Participants arrived in the capital city, Tegucigalpa on November 23 and 24th. In the days before teams were sent to different locations around the country to begin their election observation duties, mission participants met in Tegucigalpa with the Mexican and US Embassy, the U.N. High Commissioner’s Office on Human Rights, the European Union Election Observation Mission, and representatives from two political parties. In addition, participants met with civil society organizations, including the Guapinol water defenders’ legal team, the Civic Council for Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), and the Committee of the Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH). 

In addition to attending several meetings, international observers were given final instructions and training by CESPAD and then dispatched to six departments – Colón, Choluteca, Intibuca, Lempira, Copan, and Yoro. Many were designated to small communities and cities that had been identified by CESPAD as high-risk sites for conflict, electoral violence, and fraud. 

Importance of the Mission

The mission was essential in helping expand CESPAD’s effectiveness and national impact. From November 27 to 29, observers filled out electoral observation forms and sent this data to the CESPAD team based in Tegucigalpa who then centralized and analyzed it for their own electoral reporting. In addition, when violations of human rights, the electoral law or freedom of expression were noted by observers, CESPAD used this information to publish and disseminate urgent election alerts. These alerts were useful in alerting the national and international community of concerning electoral circumstances, and were also shared with relevant Honduran electoral authorities for further investigation. 

In addition to acting as CESPAD “eyes and ears” around the country, several mission participants assisted with CESPAD’s communication and media strategy. Several journalists, particularly those from Mexico, helped CESPAD in publishing the alerts and photos of the electoral process on their social media and websites. 

Another important aspect of the mission was the role that international participants played in providing physical accompaniment to all Hondurans that went to vote on Election day. In many circumstances, the physical presence of an international observer can help deter many sorts of attacks, make processes more transparent, or simply send a clear message to local, regional and national electoral authorities and political parties, that the world’s eyes are watching the ins and outs of the voting process.  

The Mission’s Success

The mission was highly successful. One of Global Exchange’s communication goals was to center the voices of Hondurans, particularly CESPAD’s Director Gustavo Irías, in the international press.  The attention far exceeded our expectations. Global Exchange and CESPAD’s mission was mentioned in international-based media outlets including Newsweek, NPR, TruthOut, TeleSUR, Univisión, Reuters as well as several Spanish-speaking outlets like La Opinion. 

Global Exchange played a critical role in providing the international guidance and support for CESPAD that acted as the central operating organization in Honduras. This mission was the first of it’s kind for CESPAD and teaming up with Global Exchange helped to transfer our organization’s knowledge of international delegations to a Honduran organization. We expect this knowledge to be of particular value for CESPAD’s future international collaborations and projects. 

While our observers were on the ground on Election day, CESPAD published seven election alerts based on data collected by our teams. This data will serve as a guiding base for observation teams in future Honduran electoral processes. 

It is hard to attribute the overwhelming voting turn-out, the successful election of LIBRE party candidate, Xiomara Castro, the first woman President elected in Honduras, and the weakening of the U.S.-backed narco-dictatorship, to the presence of our mission in the country. However, over several years, Global Exchange, like many other US-based solidarity organizations have remained steadfast in their support for the Honduran social movement, human rights groups and civil society organizations who have fought to bring an end to the U.S.-backed dictatorship. We believe that our role has been critical – prior and during the electoral process – in both holding the US government accountable for its actions in Honduras, but also accompanying the Honduran people as they seek to transform their country and future. 

What’s Next: Post Mission Follow-Up

There is no doubt that the newly elected Honduran government will face significant challenges moving forward. Honduras is one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere and continues to suffer from 12 years of a corrupt, narco-regime that caused thousands of Hondurans to flee to the U.S.-Mexico border. Despite the weakening of the regime through it’s electoral loss, many remnants of the government still remain. 

Global Exchange and international mission participants will remain engaged in Honduras through delegations, news monitoring, participation in urgent actions, and international solidarity coalitions. Global Exchange is committed to continue our work monitoring the role of the U.S. in Honduras. This will include setting up strategic meetings for the new Honduran government with U.S. solidarity organizations. We will also continue our engagement with U.S. Congressional representatives about Honduras and remain vigilant about human rights concerns and U.S. aid to the Honduran police and military. We believe our role is to create space for Hondurans to build the country of their choosing and we will continue our support for Honduran civil society organizations as they seek to rebuild their communities once Xiomara Castro takes power on January 27, 2022.

We are devastated by the news that 54 migrants lost their lives and more than 105 were seriously injured last night when the trailer in which they were traveling overturned in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico. This tragedy is a direct consequence of the anti-immigrant policies – put in place by Trump and continued by Biden – that put already at-risk populations (families and individuals fleeing violence, persecution, and poverty) at even greater risk.

The Biden administration has failed in its promise to reverse the worst of Trump’s draconian, anti-immigration policies – not only by continuing, but also expanding Title 42 and the Remain in Mexico Program to deny entry and due process to those seeking safety and refuge in the United States. 

We know these policies violate the human rights of migrants and refugees and put these already vulnerable populations at grave risk of further persecution and violence. 

Governments must end these deadly policies and focus their efforts on protecting the life and rights of everyone, but particularly of vulnerable populations that seek refuge from violence and poverty.

Global Exchange is continuing our work to advocate for an end to Title 42, the Remain in Mexico Program and all “Safe Third Country” agreements. (Watch my recent interview with Marc Lamont Hill on UpFront.)

But today, right now, we are asking you to help us protect those who face the gravest risks as these policies continue. Please make a gift to our Migrant and Refugee Relief Fund; 100% of the funds raised will go to frontline shelters and legal aid organizations across Mexico working to protect and support migrants and refugees.

We have been able to send critical support to shelters that provide humanitarian assistance to the migrant population in Mexico. With your contribution, we can continue to support these vulnerable populations who face increasing hardships and dangers that threaten their lives.

Thank you for supporting the Migrant and Refugee Relief Fund.

Never another night like last night.

On November 28, the citizens of Honduras will vote for a new President, as well as all 128 representatives to their National Congress, 20 deputies to the Central American Parliament and many other local officials. These elections come 12 years after a military coup ousted the democratically elected president in Honduras.
With less than a week remaining before the country goes to vote, concerns are growing about the potential for fraud, restrictions on free speech and assembly, and potential violence.
 Watch our recent webinar, and hear from members of the International Election Observation Mission, a delegation of over 250 Hondurans and 40 international observers coordinated by the Honduran organization CESPAD and Global Exchange. You will hear from:

Carla Garcia is the International Relations Coordinator at OFRANEH, the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras. OFRANEH works to support the Garifuna community in the protection of their territories, and in its fight for social, economic, and cultural rights.

Karen Spring has lived and worked in Honduras since the 2009 coup. Formerly the Honduras-based Coordinator for the Honduras Solidarity Network (HSN), Karen is now doing a one-year collaboration with US and Canada-based organization, Rights Action. She’s the host of the Honduras Now podcast (hondurasnow.org, Twitter: @HondurasNow) and blogs at: aquiabajo.com.

This conversation will be moderated by Marco Castillo, Co-Executive Director.


Originally published in Newsweek: https://www.newsweek.com/plea-democracy-honduras-opinion-1651876

November 23, 2021

Every day more than 200 Honduran families cross the southern border of the United States seeking asylum—more than any other nationality. Fleeing oppression, violence and climate-related disasters, even young, university-educated Hondurans do not see a future for themselves in their home country.

We live under the guise of democracy, but there is no separation of powers. Widespread corruption permeates the governing elite, as evidenced most recently by the sentencing of President Juan Orlando Hernández’s brother earlier this year. President Hernández himself has been identified in U.S. courts as a co-conspirator in a drug conspiracy case. Democratic institutions intended to investigate public officials linked to organized crime have been largely disabled.

Scores of human rights violations have occurred, including assassinations of political candidates, journalists, lawyers and judges. Honduras has been called “the deadliest place to be an environmentalist,” exemplified by the high-profile murder of Goldman Environmental Prize winner, Berta Cáceres in 2015 for organizing Indigenous communities to fight against displacement.

The impacts of the pandemic and two back-to-back hurricanes in 2020 have devastated an already dire economic situation. According to the World Bank, almost half of Honduras’ population lives on less than $5.50 per day, making Honduras the second poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean.

All of this can change soon, however, in the country’s upcoming election. With a new president and many other officials on the ballot, Nov. 28 is our greatest hope to escape the current authoritarian regime and restore democracy.

Yet, there is concern about recent fear tactics intended to intimidate voters. More than 30 people were murdered this year alone for political reasons, including four political leaders.

Thousands of Hondurans and dozens of international observers are gearing up to monitor this election. But we can’t do it alone. We need the U.S. Department of State to join us in making sure that human rights are not violated, and in speaking out forcefully against any acts of censorship or repression.

Recently, 29 members of Congress sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging “robust State Department monitoring and public criticism of authoritarian practices to maximize the chance of an inclusive and transparent electoral process” in Honduras. Clearly, the outcome of this election is in the interest of the United States.

After the 2017 election in Honduras, the U.S. State Department looked away when Hernández was declared the winner, despite fraud and a call for a re-do by the Organization of American States. For months, the Honduran military and police shot at protesters, killing dozens of people and detaining more than 1,300 to stop dissent. We urge the U.S. government not to make this mistake again.

Our country has been in crisis ever since the 2009 coup, which overthrew the democratically-elected government of Manuel Zelaya Rosales. The co-mingling of oligarchs and drug traffickers with state actors has deepened. Human security has deteriorated, and critical problems like drought, gang violence and extreme poverty have gone unaddressed. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported that journalists face targeted killings, arbitrary detentions, the destruction of equipment and other obstacles that have impeded their ability to operate independently.

Despite the difficult situation in Honduras, I am optimistic. For the first time there is broad opposition to the current regime. We even have the support of some in the private sector who are fed up and want to create more opportunities for economic growth. This unprecedented level of organizing and unity in Honduras echoes the momentum that eventually led to the downfall of the brutal Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.

Honduras is a country that is largely marginalized and forgotten. This upcoming election is a chance to change that, and start a new chapter. It could solve many of the essential problems we face. A free, fair and peaceful electoral process represents an important opportunity for Honduran citizens to reestablish the rule of law.

It is important that the United States serve as a neutral, credible and impartial observer, while supporting an outcome in Honduras that is genuinely democratic. We need the international community to support a transparent, authentic, clear and peaceful election and an end to 12 years of crisis.

Hondurans want to stay in the country that they love. Right now, migration is not a choice for many, but a means of survival. This election could improve our quality of life, allow everyone to feel safer, have our voices be heard and stop the mass exodus.

We are ready to usher in a new era.

Gustavo Irías is executive director of the Center for Democracy Studies (CESPAD) in Honduras.

On November 28, the citizens of Honduras will vote for a new President, as well as all 128 representatives to their National Congress, 20 deputies to the Central American Parliament and many other local officials. These elections come 12 years after a military coup ousted the democratically elected president in Honduras. 

They should represent an opportunity for a democratic clean sweep. “But it won’t be simple or easy,” says Gustavo Irias, the Honduran democracy advocate who founded CESPAD (the Center for the Study of Democracy).

With less than three weeks remaining before the country goes to vote, concerns are growing about the potential for fraud, restrictions on free speech and assembly, and potential violence. 

To fight against electoral fraud, CESPAD is mobilizing Honduran youth and civic organizations to observe the upcoming elections and asked Global Exchange to help them organize an alliance of “independent international observers” to join Hondurans working to restore democracy and the rule of law in Honduras. 

We invite you to join us next Friday, Nov 19th, at 5:00pm PST/ 8:00pm EST to meet members of the International Election Observation Mission, a delegation of over 250 Hondurans and 40 international observers coordinated by the Honduran organization CESPAD and Global Exchange.  You will hear from:

Carla Garcia is the International Relations Coordinator at OFRANEH, the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras. OFRANEH  works to support the Garifuna community in the protection of their territories, and in its fight for social, economic, and cultural rights. 

Karen Spring Karen Spring has lived and worked in Honduras since the 2009 coup. Formerly the Honduras-based Coordinator for the Honduras Solidarity Network (HSN), Karen is now doing a one-year collaboration with US and Canada-based organization, Rights Action. She’s the host of the Honduras Now podcast (hondurasnow.org, Twitter: @HondurasNow) and blogs at: aquiabajo.com. 

Laura Carlsen, Director, (U.S.-Mexican) holds a B.A. in Social Thought and Institutions and a Masters in Latin American Studies, both from Stanford University. She has published hundreds of articles and chapters on social, economic and political aspects of Mexico.

This conversation will be moderated by Marco Castillo, Co-Executive Director and co-organizer of the upcoming International Election Observation Mission at Global Exchange.

Join us on Nov. 19 at 5:00pm PST/ 8:00pm EST to learn more about the situation on the ground in Honduras, the upcoming observation mission and ways you can get involved to ensure the U.S. supports a truly transparent, inclusive, and credible electoral process and democratic outcome for Honduras.

By: René Estrada,

As part of the Electoral Observation project, the Center for Democracy Studies (CESPAD) worked with a team of three journalists from Mexico and the United States that visited the country to cover the Honduran social context in the lead up to the general elections that will be held on November 28, 2021.

The journalists were not unaware of the social and economic crisis that this Central American country lives as a result of the years of administration by governments tainted by corruption; the unconstitutional reelection of current President Juan Orlando Hernandez that created as a result, a social convulsion that is without precedent from the end of 2017 to the start of 2018, likewise, the growing consequences of the pandemic and more recently, the effects of hurricanes Eta and Iota.

Face to Face with the People

The center of Tegucigalpa, the area located around the Los Dolores market place, the Central Park and other unique, important areas like the famous “pedestrian walkway” (calle peatonal) were areas where the journalists spoke with people about the situation they live in Honduras. They also asked people what they expect from the results of the general elections that are right around the corner.

In the Honduran capital, they also conducted interviews with representatives of organized civil society groups and the National Electoral Council (CNE by its Spanish acronym), which is in charge with overseeing the electoral process.

(Photo caption: Interview with civil society groups. Photo: Manuel Ortiz)

Up Close With Social-Territorial Struggles

With prior understanding of the social-territorial struggles occurring in some regions of the country, the group of journalists gathered their belongings and travelled north to the Lower Agúan region and the municipality of Tocoa in the department of Colón.

In person, members of the Misquita and Tolupán indigenous communities and small farmers from the Lower Aguán narrated their situation that, in principle, they confront as a result of abandonment by the central government. Worse yet, these groups spoke about the difficult situations that they face due to the attacks they suffer by large land-owners and extractive companies investors that illegally possess their lands and territories.

The Lower Aguán, just like the area where the villages of San Pedro and Guapinol are located, are important locations to visit in order to understand the situation that other communities in the country live, and like others, they face large extractive companies that receive support from Honduran state security forces and local municipal authorities that have criminalized individuals that defend public and natural resources.

(Photo: Manuel Ortiz visiting rural Honduras)

The group of journalists left Honduras with a commitment to let others know about the hard and difficult reality that many communities live. They categorized the Honduran mainstream media’s limited coverage of these conflicts as “extremely unusual” and because of this, will write via their own platforms about these struggles. This was one of the objectives of their trip.

Despite their short visit, the journalists experienced important interactions with different actors that are part of the national context. They will be the major focus of the website http://peninsula360press.com, a US media outlet. These stories will also be published in CESPAD’s social media accounts.

Original Spanish article.

November 3, 2021

Honduran elections for President, Congress and all elected offices in the country are less than a month away on November 28th. The Honduras Solidarity Network is  deeply concerned about the atmosphere in which elections are taking place. We are sounding the alarm on the potential for yet another deeply undemocratic and violent election.

 It is urgent that our eyes are on Honduras and on what the US and Canadian governments are doing. In the past, both of these governments have played a role in white-washing violence and fraud during Honduran elections, trivializing the serious human rights violations observed and in keeping a narco-dictatorship in power.

The Honduras Solidarity Network is joining with human rights and solidarity organizations internationally and with Honduran organizations to closely watch the elections. We will be sharing reports from on-the-ground election and human rights observers and helping to provide analysis of the situation.

Since the US supported coup d’etat in 2009, there have been three elections (2009, 2013, 2017), each one problematic given the coup regime. In 2017 the election was replete with overwhelming fraud, widely recognized and denounced. The regime then overcame the citizens’ resistance with massive militarization and violence against protestors and the general population and with US political support. At least 30 people were killed by security forces or related clandestine squads  in the immediate post-election period.

Although there is talk against corruption, the US government has yet to show signs of opposing electoral fraud and violence by the narco-state in Honduras and we have to be worried that the State Department will once again try to legitimize another illegitimate government via flawed elections.

The 2021 election year has already been notable for escalating intimidation and many cases of violence against candidates including murders, particularly those from the opposition. As in 2017, the political opposition has formed an alliance of LIBRE (Liberation and Refoundation) a party that arose in opposition to the 2009 coup, 2017’s alliance presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla’s Party (Partido Salvador Honduras) and PINU a small independent party.  On October 8th, Neery Fernando Reyes, a LIBRE Party candidate for mayor in a town in southern Honduras was assassinated by gunmen after many threats. On October 31, unidentified person(s) opened fire on a LIBRE rally in northern Honduras, seriously wounding a young man.  The ruling ultra conservative National Party and the other traditional party, the Liberal Party are using extreme propaganda and fake news to incite more violence, for example, accusing the opposition of being in favor of forced abortion because it supports legalizing reproductive rights. This electoral intimidation is one more layer of violence on top of the on-going threats, forced disappearances, arrests and assassinations of grassroots indigenous, Black and campesino activists, environmental defenders, and journalists.

In addition to human rights violations, for months now the Honduran ruling party  has been putting measures in place that could  facilitate fraud and make the exercise of free speech and democratic choice more difficult if not impossible. These include not completing and rolling back reforms of the electoral system that were supposed to broaden participation by other electoral parties in the government apparatus that runs the elections, thus ensuring the ruling party keeps its control of the election system. A new penal code harshly criminalizes protest.  A system of new national identity cards that was supposed to help reconcile the voter lists and make fraudulent voting more difficult is only half finished, making it possible that millions of Hondurans will not be able to vote at all because they won’t have identity cards.

The Honduran Solidarity Network calls on people to have your “Eyes on Honduras”  during this election period and to demand that the US and Canadian governments NOT cover-up electoral fraud and violence.

Follow the Honduras Solidarity Network on Facebook and Twitter . We will be sharing info from observers on the ground in Honduras including Karen Spring (Honduras Now Podcast ), Global Exchange, Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective, and more. Please share the information and any urgent action calls widely and look for updates.

Please help us send emergency funds to migrant shelters in desperate need of support to continue serving Haitian and Central American refugees in Mexico.  

For the past two weeks, thousands of Haitian refugees have arrived in Mexico City seeking to conclude their asylum process, start a new life or to rest before continuing their route north. Local shelters have reported they are at capacity and are on the verge of collapse; running out of food, beds and medical equipment.

This is the most recent episode in the tragic story that migration in the region has become, starting with the anti-immigrant fascist Trump regime, and sadly continued by the Biden administration.

Haitian migrant families seeking asylum in Mexico and the U.S. are left without support and without knowing what will happen to them. The majority will be deported back to Haiti or to the country where they first entered, others will have to wait indefinitely at an entry point and only a few of them will be allowed into the U.S.

Global Exchange has raised $40,000 to support shelters in Mexico that are supporting Haitian refugees. We hope to match these initial funds.

Can you help?

We identified and interviewed a group of established and respected migrant shelters and legal aid organizations to receive the funds. These trusted frontline organizations will use the funds to buy food, medical supplies, mattresses, pay for bills and continue advocacy efforts.

Casa Tochan (our home, in nahuatl language) is a nonprofit organization run by civil society with the mission of providing shelter, support and services for migrants and refugees in Mexico City. They have been on the frontline of supporting and accompanying families from Haiti in the past weeks who arrived in large numbers to Mexico City seeking refugee status, or looking to get to the U.S. border. They were overwhelmed with requests for support, and ran out of beds, food and medical supplies.

CAFEMIN (acronym for House for Sheltering, Education and Empowerment Migrant and Refugee Women) is a nonprofit organization based in Mexico City led by a group of catholic nuns dedicated to supporting immigrant and refugee women. These past weeks they have been overwhelmed by the amount of women and children from Haiti showing up in Mexico City and need our support.

Voces Mesoamericanas is a nonprofit organization based in San Cristobal de las Casas, leading emergency actions to support Haitians and people migrating from Central America in Chiapas.

Al Otro Lado provides holistic legal and humanitarian support to underserved refugees, deportees, and other migrants in the U.S. and Tijuana through a multidisciplinary, client-centered, harm reduction-based practice.

These and other organizations need much more support to be able to shelter the growing numbers of migrants knocking at their doors. Please donate to our Migrant & Refugee Emergency Fund and help us send support.

Thank you for your support.

Statement by Global Exchange Executive Council

Washington, DC.- On September 14, four U.S. Senators asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to suspend weapons exports to the Mexican Navy and police until export controls prevent the arming of human rights abusers, and because of the lack of transparency about end users of U.S.-exported weapons.

“This action is an important step toward making visible the serious legal, coordination and registration gaps in the exporting and licensing process to police and military units in Mexico,” said John Lindsay- Poland, project coordinator of Global Exchange’s Stop US Arms to Mexico project. “These gaps in weapons export controls put Mexican society at serious risk and reduce the chances of achieving peace there.”

The disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero in 2014, the murder of 16 migrants in Camargo, Tamaulipas in 2021, forced disappearances carried out by Mexican naval troops, and other atrocities documented by Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights have proven that the units responsible for these tragedies continue to receive firearms, despite their involvement in these events.

The appeal by Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Dick Durbin of Illinois, follows a letter sent to the State Department in March, after the Camargo massacre, where 19 people, mostly indigenous immigrants from Guatemala, were killed and burned by elements of the Tamaulipas Special Operations Groups (GOPES), a state police unit that has received training and weapons from the United States.

Global Exchange joins the Senators’ demand to halt firearms exports to Mexico until firearms transactions are subject to the highest standards of controls.

Copy of the letter here.