Militarization is a reality. Today, Sunday, passing the turn off to Gracias on the western highway, not only were there police and troops but there was a machine gun on top of the cabin of a pick up with a soldier in the back. This is a place where there are often Transit Police check points (seat belts, non-functioning lights, etc.) But recently it has also been "manned" by the military and police (not just transit police).So wrote a commentator on another of our blog posts.
Honduran elections have been militarized by definition since 1998. Article 272 of the Constitution spells it out:
to guarantee the free exercise of suffrage, [the Armed Forces] store, transport, and watch over the electoral materials and security of the process.To that end, the President puts them at the control of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) one month before the election until the election is called and a winner declared.
So, we come to this year's elections. This time things are different. On June 28, the Armed Forces actively intervened in the constitutional government, and as their statements after the coup d'etat showed, they did so based in part by assuming they had a special active role in protecting the Constitution, and that this extended to deciding what kinds of political perspectives they would allow.
Since then, the Armed Forces has been deeply involved in suppression of civil rights in the country, changing forever the way those members of the public who have been threatened will see them.
Now Colonel Roger Alexis Turcios, who is in charge of the logistics and planning for the election, was asked if anything made this time different than in the past. He replied, "The security measures that we are taking this time are stronger and more strict". In the name of security, the military have expanded their role in this election.
12,000 police and 11,000 soldiers are assigned to guard 15,269 polling places. As part of the extended security measures for this election, the military were authorized to call up, arm, and equip an additional 5,000 reservists. "There are 11 military regions and each has a commander responsible for security in his region, and has his orders and plans," said General Bartolome Funez Castellon.
Because of their fear of an election boycott, the TSE has trained the 530 public prosecutors, as well as military and police officers, in what constitutes electoral crimes. General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez said, "we know that there are people that are inducing the public to not go and vote, for which they are committing an electoral crime, contrary to what they should do which is to urge lots of people to get out and vote ('vayan masivamente a votar') because we have chosen the democratic system which is the best in the world."
Vasquez Velasquez also said "We are doing sweeps at a national level, of reconnaissance, and also intelligence work, to detect if there are any problems in any areas and treat them with viable solutions."
Over the weekend, the police and military set up checkpoints around the country, where all vehicles including public transportation were stopped, and everyone's papers checked.
Friday the de facto government ordered a nationwide disarmament, so today these checkpoints started frisking everyone and confiscating any weapons found, even if the bearer has a licence to carry the weapon.
Foreigners are being asked to justify their reason for being in the country.
When people come to vote, they're going to pass a line of police about 300 feet (100 meters) from the polling place. Each polling place will be surrounded by a group of soldiers placed 150 feet away. There will be additional guards protecting election materials that will be stored nearby.
Inside the polling place will be "custodios", people designated as responsible for the management and provisioning of election supplies. Each of these will be a soldier who will authorize the release of more ballots, or indelible ink, from the nearby stores.
Now, this takes place against a background of threats against those who wish not to participate in this election, despite the fact that the constitutional call for obligatory voting has never been enforced by individual prosecution. As early as August, this was already emerging as a troubling theme linked to support for an enhanced role for the military in elections.
It takes place against a background of letters sent to municipal mayors throughout the country, directing them to send in lists of those identified as members of the resistance, on the theory that being a member of the resistance implies an intention to engage in some form of anti-electoral violence (as opposed to advocacy for electoral boycotts, which do not meet the definitions of anti-electoral offenses as specified in the electoral law).
And above all: it takes place against the background of the military coup d'etat and military repression since then.
This is the reality of the "free and transparent" elections that are promised for November 29.