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Cliffhanger in Honduras: First Palestinian President or Not?

posted on: Nov 29, 2017

Photo: Salvador Nasralla Salum, first Palestinian President of Honduras?

By Michael Springmann/Arab America Contributing Writer

According to November 27’s Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s overseas broadcasting service, “…TV personality Salvador Nasralla (Salum), had a five-point lead over the incumbent president [Juan Orlando Hernandez] with more than 50 percent of votes counted…”  

DW quoted third-place candidate Luis Zelaya as saying “Nasralla was the country’s new leader…” The news service added that Zelaya had urged Hernandez to accept defeat.  Muddying the waters and lending an air of uncertainty to the contest is that only about 57% of the voted had been counted by late Monday the 27th. Nasralla had polled 45.7% compared with Hernandez’ 40.2%.

Photo Nasralla and wife Iroshka Elvir (former Miss Honduras Universe 2015) vote.

As of mid-afternoon, Tuesday, November 28, the situation remains unchanged.  However, ABC News quotes the Associated Press (AP) as saying that European election observers are worried about the lack of communication on the poll by the Honduran electoral court.  Since Sunday’s vote, the court has issued only one statement, compared with five in 2013. 

Electoral uproar and confusion are not unusual in Honduras (or anywhere south of the Rio Grande). Back in 2009, for example, US President Barack H. Obama had backed a coup d’etat against President Manuel Zelaya.   

But what is astonishing is that Salvador Nasralla is a candidate for president. Campaigning as an outsider, the TV show host, and sportscaster turned politician is the child of Palestinian parents.  Born in the capital Tegucigalpa 64 years ago, Nasralla is the leader of the leftist Alliance of Opposition Against Dictatorship.  His principal opponent, Hernandez, is “a conservative US ally” who had backed the 2009 coup.  

While Palestinians as presidential candidates are rare, Palestinians in Latin America are not.  There are about 500,000 of them in Chile alone, the largest concentration of Palestinians outside the Middle East. Honduras boasts a substantial number of Palestinians in its population. “Although there are no official statistics, historian Jorge Amaya estimates that around 250,000-300,000 of Honduras’ eight million inhabitants are of Arab descent, mainly Palestinian.”   And they’re not the only Arabs.  There are more Lebanese in Brazil than in Lebanon. Perhaps it is the time they make their presence felt, even if it disturbs “the natural order of things”.

Certainly, things in Honduras are in an unnatural state.  Adding to the white-knuckle aspects of the election are comments by informed observers on the county’s internal order.  Former president Manuel Zelaya, who, as we noted, was ousted in a U.S.-backed coup in 2009, said in an interview with Sputnik Sunday [November 26]:

“Children of the coup are ruling Honduras. They have established a repressive, military and authoritarian regime. They violate human rights. They have beggared the country. And the U.S. has been covering up for this dictatorship.”   

Dana Frank, professor of history at the University of Southern California,  noted that same day: “The Honduran elections, especially President Juan Orlando Hernández’s criminal candidacy in violation of the Honduran Constitution, continue to underscore the utter breakdown of the rule of law in Honduras since the 2009 coup — with the blessing of the U.S. government, which continues to celebrate a regime thoroughly marked by corruption and the vicious repression of basic civil liberties. Reports from the Honduran government claiming that the crime rate is down or that the police have been cleaned up should not be believed for a minute.”

What remains to be seen is whether Nasralla’s candidacy is just a flash in the pan, or if it is a sea-change in Honduran politics. Of course, the main determinant is interference by “a  foreign hand” in the democratic vote.  If so, instead of a turnaround in the country, we will again have politics as usual–to the detriment of the Honduran people.