Report: State certifies Honduran democracy in wake of contested election

Report: State certifies Honduran democracy in wake of contested election
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Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonOvernight Defense: Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital | Mattis, Tillerson reportedly opposed move | Pentagon admits 2,000 US troops are in Syria | Trump calls on Saudis to 'immediately' lift Yemen blockade Trump has yet to name ambassadors to key nations in Mideast Mattis, Tillerson warned Trump of security concerns in Israel embassy move MORE certified Honduras for fighting corruption and protecting the opposition's political rights two days after a controversial election that's led to accusations of fraud and government oppression, reported Reuters

The State Department regularly certifies Central American countries so they can receive aid from the United States under an Obama-era program.

An official document showed Tillerson renewed Honduras's certification on Nov. 28, following a presidential election held Nov. 26 that still hasn't presented a clear winner.

President Juan Orlando Hernández, widely perceived as an ally of Washington, has claimed victory over his main opponent, Salvador Nasralla.

But Nasralla and his allies, including former President Manuel Zelaya — ousted in a coup in 2009 — have claimed widespread fraud and taken to the streets in protest.

The opposition claims the government is delaying official election results to fraudulently erase a 5-point lead Nasralla held a week before the election, certifying a 1.5-point victory for Hernández.

Despite the questions about the election and the Hernández administration's response to subsequent protests, Tillerson cleared the way for Honduras to receive its share of $644 million assigned to Central America under the Obama-era aid program.

The program was designed to help countries in the region fight corruption, impunity and crime at home, thus preventing potential migration to the United States. 

The government has fiercely denied any wrongdoing in the certifying of election results, pointing to the nearly 16,000 foreign observers who supervised the election.

But Eric Hershberg, director of the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University, and Fulton Armstrong, a research fellow at the center, wrote Monday that international observers have stopped short of endorsing the election.

"International reaction has been mixed and generally muted," they wrote. "The EU’s [European Union] observers have held firm on demanding a full vote count and expressing, diplomatically, skepticism about TSE’s [the electoral authority in Honduras] handling of it."

White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE in March, as secretary of Homeland Security, touted collaboration with Hernandez. Kelly is widely considered one of the top experts on Central American security issues and has promoted improved law enforcement in the region as a method of stemming illegal immigration.

Hernández, who came into office in 2014 with a tough-on-crime image, has relied on the military to help combat gang violence in Honduras.