Dario Euraque, a history professor at Trinity and a Honduran citizen, returned to his native country in late November to vote in the quadrennial national election, one in which a reformist third-party candidate was hoping to break the two-party stranglehold that has historically gripped Honduras.
The newcomer, Xiomara Castro of the Liberty and Refoundation Party (Libre), ultimately fell short, capturing about 29 percent of the vote and finishing second in the eight-person race. The winner was Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party, who garnered about 37 percent. He will succeed President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, who was not eligible to run for re-election under Honduran law.
“This was the first election in which a major new party set out to challenge the old existing bipartisan system that has existed in Honduras since the 19th century,” said Euraque, who emphasized that even though he returned to Honduras to witness history in the making, his primary reason for going was “first and foremost to exercise my right to vote.”
Although Castro lost, Libre made important inroads, electing 37 members (out of 128) to the National Congress, and numerous mayors and vice-mayors. Because the National Party won’t have a majority in the Congress, Euraque said Libre will have an opportunity to form alliances with other parties and “rewrite a lot of legislation.”
Besides the National Party, the other bloc that has long dominated Honduran politics is the Liberal Party, whose presidential candidate, Mauricio Villeda, finished third with 20 percent of the vote. The two major parties have traded power for decades in a country that is the second most impoverished in the hemisphere and has one of the highest murder rates in the world.
Honduran elections have historically been marred by fraud. This year’s observers included the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the European Union. Euraque said many of the observers as well as news media representatives stayed in the hotel where he was a guest – the Intercontinental in the capital of Tegucigalpa.
As a result of his proximity to the press and the five books he has written on the history of 20th century Honduras, Euraque was a much sought-after expert. During his brief stay and after his return to the United States, Euraque was interviewed by Radio France International, The Nation, Café CNN Television, the Associated Press, Latin Media Collective Radio, Pacifica Radio, the University of Uruguay Radio and WUSB Radio at the University of Stony Brook in New York.
“Because of my role in the 2009 coup, my scholarship and my role as an academic, I was well known,” Euraque said. “My name was circulated amongst various reporting agencies as someone who was available to be interviewed.”
Euraque received worldwide publicity in 2009 when the June 28 military coup resulted in his firing as the director of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History in Tegucigalpa. On leave from Trinity where he has taught since 1990, Euraque oversaw nine museums and supervised about 150 employees.
Euraque was fired by Myrna Castro, who was appointed minister of culture, arts and sports by the coup-backed regime, for opposing a request by the Honduran army to install its reserve forces in the former presidential palace, which houses the country’s national archives. Euraque, who was director of the archives, publicly protested, noting that Honduras is a signatory of the 1954 Hague Convention that bans the use of “cultural patrimony” for military purposes. His ouster prompted more than 350 archaeologists and historians from the United States, Europe and Latin America to sign a petition seeking his reinstatement.
That did not happen. Euraque ultimately returned to the United States, where he traveled and lectured widely before resuming his teaching responsibilities at Trinity in January 2010.
The November 24 election was the second since the 2009 coup in which Manuel Zelaya was removed from office for calling for a referendum to rewrite the Constitution. Subsequent to the coup, Lobo was elected president. But he failed to curtail the economic and social woes that plague Honduras. In fact, some observers said the problems worsened under his leadership, particularly the gang warfare.
Xiomara Castro, the reform candidate, is married to Zelaya. Although Castro and Libre claimed there were voting irregularities – such as dead people’s votes being counted and vote buying – as well as inconsistencies in connection with as many as 400,000 ballots, the results were allowed to stand. Indeed, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sanctioned the results 17 days after the election, before challenges to its legitimacy had been fully resolved.
But with Libre having captured so many seats in Congress, Euraque believes the reform party “is going to redefine politics in Honduras.” On the morning of November 25, Euraque wrote a memo to officials of Libre describing how he, as a historian, viewed the results of the election. He also penned an eight-point memo that he sent to the candidates who had lost.
Among the major points made by Euraque were:
• Despite the fact that Libre was unable to reverse the results of the election, “not everything is lost; quite to the contrary.”
• Considering that the election was “fraudulent,” Libre won “in the context of the mid- to long-term future…”Short-term decisions and mid- and long-term strategies should not minimize this historical victory and its implications for the political future of Honduras.”
• In looking at “the long and tragic lifespan” of the two traditional political parties, the showing by Libre “represents an enormous achievement that should not be underestimated, risked or lost as a legacy of the November 24 election.”
• Libre should mobilize its supporters and sympathizers while avoiding bloodshed and the loss of life, which would detract from its electoral victories.
• Libre should not risk frightening off independents who could abandon the party, join the opposition or sit on the sidelines.
And finally: “When comparing the origins, evolution, and future of center-left political movements in Latin America, especially in countries like Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, El Salvador and Ecuador, Libre should do so from a long and broad historical perspective. The center-left presidencies in these countries emerged and consolidated after many long years of intense electoral and street struggles. This is the historical Latin American context that should be referenced when popular power, political systems and the possibilities of assuming presidential power in Honduras after the elections of November 24, 2013.”