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Honduran Political Violence and Ongoing Risks

8 Feb 2018

Protests have been ongoing throughout Honduras following the disputed general election on 26 November 2017. Clashes between police and protesters have often turned violent, with at least 38 people having been killed at protests, and approximately 800 people have been detained on dubious legal grounds relating to the unrest.

Key Points

  • Extensive unrest has continued across the country since the re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernandez.
  • Police have used live ammunition against unarmed protesters, with 38 fatalities reported since the presidential election on 26 November 2017.
  • Protests have additionally been motivated by policies enacted by the re-elected president, and ongoing corruption issues.


Civil Unrest/Political: Protests have been ongoing throughout Honduras following the disputed general election on 26 November 2017. Clashes between police and protesters have often turned violent, with at least 38 people having been killed at protests, and approximately 800 people have been detained on dubious legal grounds relating to the unrest.

The most recent protests in Honduras, starting on 03 February, were intended to commemorate protesters previously killed in clashes with security forces, and following the inauguration of President Hernandez on 27 January. Protests were held across the country, with Tegucigalpa acting as the epicentre for the largest demonstrations. Notable events included riot police storming the National Autonomous University and clashing with crowds of students and opposition activists. Beyond the capital, one protester was shot and killed in Cortes on 05 February as police forcibly cleared demonstrators who were obstructing a main road between Choloma and San Pedro Sula.


Contested Presidential Election

Juan Orlando Hernandez’s re-election to the presidency in November 2017 has led to intermittent but persistent unrest around the country but focused primarily on Tegucigalpa. Hernandez’s re-election is technically unconstitutional as a one-term limit is imposed upon the presidency. It was permitted, however, as the legislative branch of government remains dominated by Hernandez’s National Party, and a liberal reading of 2016 Supreme Court ruling was used to justify him standing for re-election.

The integrity of the election itself was also called into question by a wide variety of international observers, including the Organisation of American States (OAS). Reports from voting sites report widespread irregularities within a process which lacked integrity and was of low technical quality, with all recorded issues appearing to benefit the National Party and the re-election of Hernandez. The result, which handed Hernandez victory by a 1.5% per cent margin, was therefore widely called into question by both domestic and international observers. The fact that Salvador Nasralla, the opposition candidate, had a significant lead when 60% of the vote was counted, added to the vigorous assertions of foul play.

Communications Reform

In addition to the contested election result, measures recently implemented by the government have increased the level of unrest throughout the country. A proposed amendment to the nation’s Communications Law would allow state officials the authority to monitor and sensor communications across both traditional and online media. The official justification for the proposed change is to permit effective policing of hate-speech and discrimination. However, active but unofficial efforts to censor terrestrial and print media in order to suppress criticism of the government, suggest that the proposed restrictions are intended to provide the legal authority to impose similar controls online. Effective state monitoring of social media communication would permit potential demonstrations to be broken up, and their leaders detained before the event took place. The detention of 800 protesters without trial since the election supports the conclusion that, provided with additional intelligence gathering capability, there is a high likelihood that such actions would increase in frequency.

The opposition to Hernandez’s government is not limited to street activists. A number of senior civil servants and government legal personnel have highlighted the unconstitutional nature of the government’s intent, however the National Party’s hold on both legislative and executive functions of government has allowed them to operate with relative disregard for the law.

Corruption scandal

Ongoing efforts to counter corruption in Honduras have faced ongoing opposition from key members of government. The Commission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), a program supported by the OAS, was recently moved from the State Prosecutor’s office and merged into the Superior Accounts Tribunal. This action had the effect of removing MACCIH’s ability to indict those it was investigating, resulting in the immediate release of five elected officials from the National Party it had detained on corruption charges. The move appears to have been instigated by an announcement by MACCIH that its primary investigation into 60 individuals had expanded to include 130 individuals across the National Party, non-government organisations, and the civil service. The removal of MACCIH’s ability to prosecute appears to have been motivated by self-defence of interests among Hernandez’s ruling party.

Looking forward

Considering the present divisions within the Honduran population and its political class, it is highly likely that unrest will continue throughout 2018. Intermittent killings and unlawful use of force are likely to continue to motivate demonstrators, and the government’s ongoing corruption issues are unlikely to be resolved without the crisis escalating or an electoral defeat. The latter of these options is unlikely before the constitutionally mandated election in 2021, and even less likely considering the National Party’s existing record of electoral fraud and an additional four years to consolidate their power base.


Civil UnrestModerate

Travellers and expatriates are advised to ensure they have evacuation plans in place in case the situation worsens. Travellers should be aware there is an increased security presence in Honduras, especially in the capital Tegucigalpa. Military personnel have been deployed to maintain order in some areas. It is important to note that troops may escalate to lethal force rapidly if provoked. If travelling within country, it is vital that travellers adhere fully to the instructions of security forces; non-compliance may result in an aggressive response.

All political events or protests should be avoided. It is likely police will use forceful measures against demonstrators, including the use of firearms, given recent events. Political gatherings may initially seem peaceful but can escalate quickly into violence. It would be advisable for travellers to maintain a low profile and monitor local media in order to maintain situational awareness.

Solace Global would advise clients to employ enhanced security measures when visiting Honduras airport meet and greet and a security driver for the length of a visit should be minimum security precaution. Travellers may also wish to employ executive protection. These measures will act to substantially reduce the risk of becoming a victim of crime, and local expertise will assist in avoiding areas prone to unrest. The use of travel tracking and intelligence software is also recommended, in order to permit employers to implement effective duty of care, and to keep travellers appraised of changes in their security environment.