Protests snaking through city streets, nighttime curfews, a raucous political battle over a president’s re-election: Honduras has been seized by a crisis since a disputed vote last month. The country has lived through a version of this turmoil before. Eight years ago, a leftist president was ousted by a coup in a fight over what his opponents said was a plan to overturn the constitutional ban on a second presidential term. The resistance movement that sprang up to support him has endured, and the discord that split Honduran society then still defines today’s divisions. Both in 2009 and now, the return of stability in Honduras is important to the United States, which seeks a president there who can be counted on to support American policies to stem the flow of drugs and migrants from reaching the Texas border. The question is whether the United States is willing to overlook a possibly fraudulent election to ensure that outcome.
President Juan Orlando Hernández, a conservative hoping to win a second term, has been a willing partner on the concerns that matter most to the United States. And as he increased control over every branch of the government since his election in 2013, no objections were raised from the Obama or Trump administrations — not even when his handpicked Supreme Court justices found a circuitous way to lift the prohibition on running for re-election.
How well the White House navigates a resolution of the contested election may not only affect Honduran democracy but also could resound across the region, where elections are scheduled over the next year in seven countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia.
“Will the United States remain consistent in defending the electoral process, regardless of whether the country in question is friend or foe,” wrote Juan Gonzalez, an adviser to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Central America, in an email, “or equivocate when the process breaks down in a country that cooperates with the United States?”