By Ronald J. Morgan
This November 26, Honduras will hold their third election since the 2009 military coup that overthrew leftist President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya. This time, a coalition of left and moderate forces will attempt to defeat what they see as an illegal attempt at re-election. The newly formed coalition has also warned of the danger of a massive voter fraud.
Ironically, reelection is the issue which lead to Zelaya’s overthrow. (Zelaya was overthrown after attempting to hold a nonbinding plebiscite on calling for a constitutional convention. The military intervened with a coup after the supreme court ordered the plebiscite stopped and Zelaya indicated he was going ahead anyway. The Honduran Right had expressed concern the convention would approve reelection and keep Zelaya in power. 1,2,3,4,5
The Left has accused current President Juan Orlando Hernandez, 48, of manipulating the supreme court into allowing reelection despite the 1982 constitution’s explicit prohibition. The Left also contends that the reelection decision did not allow for a vote by Hondurans on the change and therefore is illegal.
The three-and-a-half years under Hernandez have brought an ever so slight reduction in violence and a bit of an improvement in the economy — principally government finances. The question voters will face is whether the president is slowly leading Honduras out of an extremely serious social crisis or is now starting a dictatorship. So far, Hernandez is running first in the polls with 36% support according to a May 17 CID/GALLUP Poll. There is no second round in Honduran presidential elections.
Three parties have joined to form the Alianza de Opposicion Contra la Dictadura (Alliance of the Opposition against the Dictatorship) with the aim of countering Hernandez. The ticket is being led by Alejandro Nasralla, 64, of the centrist Partido Anticorrupcion (Anti-corruption Party) PAC. Nasralla is a well-known television personality and a political centrist. The Vice Presidential Candidate is Xiomora Castro de Zelaya, 57, of the Left Partido Libertad y Refundación, Libre, (the Freedom and Re-Foundation Party), and wife of former president Zelaya. The third party supporting the coalition is headed by Guillermo Enrique Valle, 47, of the center-left Partido Innovacion y Unidad Social Democratica (Innovation and Social Democratic Unity Party, PINU. 6
The group attempted to include the Liberal Party in the coalition but negotiations broke down when the Liberal Party (LP) wanted to head the ticket. The Conservative Liberal Party Candidate Luis Zelaya, 50, an Ex-rector of Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana, is now running second behind Hernandez in the opinion polls with 18% support.
In addition to defeating the National Party reelection effort, the opposition coalition advocates fighting corruption, and tackling social problems such as poverty and the need for free education and health care. They are also calling for an end to U.S. backed militarization policies, according to a recent report by Telesur. The group also wants to organize a constitutional convention to implement political reforms.
For years, the National and Liberal Parties controlled the Honduran political system. But after the 2009 coup the Left Libre Party and PAC Anti-corruption party began to show increasing power.
In the 2013 presidential election Hernandez of the National Party, NP, took the presidency with 36.89% of the vote, Libre finished second with 28.78%. The Liberal Party, LP, was third with 20.30% and following in fourth position was the Partido Anticorrupcion, PAC, with 13.42%. The Partido Innovation and Democratic Unity Party, PINU, received 0.14% of the vote. Charges of fraud emerged after the election due to polls showing the opposition candidates ahead during much of the campaign. Nevertheless, the United States and the Organization of American States declared the election free and fair. 7
This year, ten political parties are fielding candidates. In addition, 47 independent candidates are also running. Honduras will also elect 128 congressional deputies, 20 Central American Parliament deputies. A total of 298 mayors, 298 vice-mayors and 2092 city councilmen will also be up for election. 8
Honduras remains locked in a political battle between supporters of the former Zelaya administration and the Honduran traditional right-wing. After taking office in 2006, Zelaya pulled away from the right-wing Liberal party in 2007, and supported Hugo Chavez. He joined the Left Petrocaribe and Alba organizations and began adopting a series of reforms, including sharp rises in the minimum wage. Briefly economic growth rose to 6%. Poverty fell by 10%. Zelaya continues to support the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. 9
After the coup, the country teetered on the edge of being a failed state. Economically and politically the country was in shambles. In addition, Honduras slumped further into a violent Narco State situation and deaths soared. Street gangs took control of the streets. The police were riddled with corruption and impunity reigned.
On top of everything else, old political intolerance remained and remains a serious threat to the lives of all social activists seeking to change or to stop government sponsored activities. The Nongovernmental Organization Global Witness said in a Jan. 17, 2017 report that “More than 120 people have died since 2010, according to Global Witness research. The victims were ordinary people who took a stand against dams, mines, logging or agriculture on their land – murdered by state forces, security guards or hired assassins. Countless others have been threatened, attacked or imprisoned.”10
In March, 2016, Berta Cáceres’, a well known award winning environmental activist, was killed and became an emblematic case of anti-environmentalism murder. She was protesting the building of the Agua Zarca hydrolectric dam She had documented 30 murders related to the dam protests and had been put under government security after having received numerous death threats. The Guardian, in an article Feb. 28, 2017, said the murder was being linked to military intelligence specialists. The company building the dam, DESA corporation, had ties to military intelligence and other government ties, the Guardian said. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16
Dissatisfaction has been expressed with the government investigation. Resistance by powerful economic elites to outside investigations became evident in July when the Honduran Business Organization (Consejo Hondureño de la Empresa Privada (Cohep) called a press conference to condemn investigation efforts by the recently formed Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras, known as MACCIH-OAS. MACCIH, which is headed by Peruvian Juan Jimenez Mayor. Jimenez announced that the organization would investigate illegal contracting activities by the DESA organization.16a
Insecurity in Honduran cities pushed out-migration to the United States to emergency levels. Starting in 2014, unaccompanied children began pouring out of the country with the aim of crossing the U.S.- Mexico border. In four years, 41,000 unaccompanied children were arrested. This emergency lead U.S: President Barack Obama (2009-2017) to order a re-working of U.S. Central America policy.
Hondurans living in the United States have become a major support for the Honduran economy. Remittances by immigrants totaled $3.9 billion in 2016. A recent Congressional Research Service report said that 588,000 Hondurans live in the United States and 67% are thought to be illegal aliens. 17
Since the overthrow and the 2014 out-migration crisis, Honduras has fallen back into conservative political reset and under policies developed by the United States and the International Monetary Fund. This Made in USA approach includes heavy militarization and radical economic austerity polices.
The effort, which is similar to Plan Colombia, has had some small success. Violent murders, which put Honduras on top as the most violent country in the world in 2011 with a rate of 86 murders per 100,000 population, have dropped to a still high 59.1 per 100,000. Honduras is now ranked the third most violent country after El Salvador and Venezuela. Impunity remains a problem as only 4% of homicides are successfully resolved. In 2014, Honduras began authorizing extradition to the United States for the first time and Narcos began to be arrested and sent to the United States for trial. A dozen major drug traffickers have been extradited. 18, 19,20
Major Honduran drug trafficking organizations have been broken up. But, overall, drug trafficking remains very strong as a result of use of the country as a transit zone. The country transports three to four metric tons of cocaine a month, according to the 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. The report mentions that new narco organizations also have begun to form in response to the old groups which have been broken up. This year, Honduras was criticized for failure in maritime sea smuggling interdiction. But drug plane flights are down 30%. 21
Criminal activities by the Salvatrucha, M.S. gang and the 18th Street gang, known as Maras, also are continuing. Some analysts have predicted an attempt by the Maras to form an international drug cartel but, so far, this has not occurred according to the drug report. A U.S. backed neighborhood program to assist and train youth to resist gang involvement has been recognized as improving conditions in some neighborhoods.
The United States assistance programs have focussed on retraining of the police and of formation of elite vetted units. Under Hernandez a purge of alleged corrupt police is occurring. So far, 3,900 police have been fired. The United States also is financing a planned doubling of the size of the police force from the current 14,000 force to 27,000 by 2022.
In 2016, the United States approved $98.3 million in bilateral assistance to Honduras up from $41.8 million in the crisis year of 2014. The money is distributed as part of the the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America and Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). Another $95.3 million is earmarked for 2017. Further assistance to Honduras is being provided through the joint Central American-nation- created Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle. Under the plan, which is being financed by the InterAmerican Development Bank and other lending sources, Honduras was granted $965 million in 2016. Most of this money will just be arriving in 2017.
The publication Insight Crime has rated this effort under Hernandez. In their article “Grading Honduras President’s Performance” the U.S. backed effort is given mixed reviews. The publication gave Hernandez a B for breaking up drug trafficking organizations. The combatting of gangs with Mano Duro policies was given a c+ and considered less than effective. Institutional Reform and Police Purging was judged “incomplete”. Formation of an Ant-impunity Commission (The Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras, MACCIH) was judged lacking sufficient power to do its job. 22, 23
While Hernandez is credited with making gains in the effort to bring the Narco-gang violence under control the overall situation is still considered a less than win situation given concerns about embedded corruption and impunity among the most powerful Honduran elites. Use of Military police squads has also been sharply criticized as fomenting violence, according to recent complaints by members of the U.S. congress who are concerned about human rights violations.
Narcos on trial in the United States may provide some election season revelations that could severely rock the Hernandez administration. Insight on Crime reports that testimony by Cachiros Cartel member Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga implicates members of the Honduras elite in drug trafficking and bribery activities.
Among those involved the, publication said, are the late Honduran tycoon Mauricio Facussé, the brother of the current President Hernandez, Antonio Hernández, and former President Porfirio Lobo Sosa (210-2014) and his son Fabio. Fabio, who pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking in 2016, has attempted to implicate the brother of former President Zelaya, Carlos Zelaya Rosales, in the use of a military base for drug trafficking. Carlos Zelaya has denied the charges.
The Cachiros investigation also lead to prosecution of members of the Jaime Rosenthal family, a powerful business magnate, Jaime, 79, is being held under house arrest in Honduras. The family bank, Continental, had its assets frozen in 2015, on charges of drug trafficker money laundering. So far, only the daughter, Yani Rosenthal, has pleaded guilty. She will be sentenced in the United States in October.
Former president Rafael Leonardo Callejas Romero (1990-1994) has pleaded guilty to corruption charges involved in the FIFA soccer scandal. He will be sentenced in New York in December.
The Honduran Plan Colombia brought with it a neoliberal adjustment program which was also an aspect of reforms enacted in Colombia under President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010). In 2014, The International Monetary Fund granted Honduras a $189 million credit in return for IMF designed austerity reforms. The program cut central government spending and froze transfers to local governments. Private participation was allowed in the telecommunications and electrical sectors. The government reformed the tax administration and began prosecuting tax cheats. Private-Public partnerships were enacted to make government infrastructure projects easier to finance. 24, 25, 26, 27
The reworking of the public sector reduced the government’s deficit from an out of control 7.6% of GDP to 1.4% of GDP. International Reserves have improved and are at $4.76 billion. Inflation is running at 3.6 %. The project has brought positive reviews from international Credit Rating agencies like Moodys which has improved the Honduras overall credit rating. The government has been so emboldened by the three-year results that it has approved legislation imposing further spending constraints on the government. 28.
Under the 2016 Fiscal Responsibility Law the government has committed itself to reduce government expenditures to an eventual 1% of GDP. While the government finances were in need of emergency help in 2013, the IMF program has been questioned as to its ability to reduce crushing poverty. Poverty has dropped slightly from 74.3% in 2013 to 66% in 2016. Growth rates above the current modest 3.6% to 4% level are needed to bring this poverty down. Expenditures on health and education may need boosting. There is a need for more rural assistance programs as well. The poor are also being hurt by a 2013 rise in the sales tax from 12% to 15%.
Current improvements in the economy are also related to the drop in oil prices which has reduced Honduran fuel costs and helped the trade balance. U.S. and other international assistance has also been supplementing Honduran government costs. Large remittances from abroad are also helping the economy. Since the passage of the Dominican Republic, Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2006, the Honduran in-bond manufacturing (maquiladoras) sector has grown and total U.S. foreign investment increased to just over $1 billion.
President Donald Trump may affect both immigrant remittances and the level of foreign assistance. Free trade could also be affected by shifting winds at the White House. Trump announced in Miami that his Central American policies will be focussed mostly on enhancing security. He has proposed a 30% cut in assistance to Honduras in 2018.
The Trump anti-illegal alien and gang member crackdown may also affect remittances. He has also advocated ending a temporary stay program, known as TPS, which grants a stay on deportation when there are economic disasters in a country. This program has allowed 57, 000 Hondurans to stay in the United States as refugees. An increase in deportees and the return of TPS holders could further exacerbate unstable conditions in Honduras. 29, 30
The U.S. Congress, also, is showing a desire to review the Honduran assistance program. Pressure is forming to enact cuts in aid do to the failure by Honduras to adequately prosecute numerous attacks on social activists. A certifying of Honduras, Sept. 16 2016, on human rights compliance by the State Department has been criticized as faulty and insulting to congressional intent.
A recent Inspector General’s Report also criticized the DEA for misleading congress about civilian deaths in a 2012 drug operation. In addition to DEA operations some 500 U.S. Troops are based in Honduras as Task Force Bravo. They carry out anti-drug operations and development and humanitarian missions. Security assistance is also being provided by Israel and Colombia. 31
A sign-on letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by 78 members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives called for the State Department to more closely monitor Honduran human rights compliance.
“We are concerned that U.S. assistance has been provided to the Honduran government despite recurring threats and assassinations of human rights defenders and environmental activists, and contrary to the requirements in section 7045(a) of division K of Public Law 114-113, including that civil society be able to “operate without interference”. We support continued U.S. engagement in Honduras to achieve common goals. However, it is essential to ensure effective scrutiny of Honduras’ compliance with human rights conditions on U.S. assistance.” the letter said.
In addition, 24 Democratic members of congress have introduced the H.R. 1299, the “Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act.” The act calls for a cut off of Honduran U..S. assistance and multilateral lending assistance until the government successfully investigates a number of human rights crimes. 32
1. The Impending Battle on Presidential Reelection in Honduras http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marco-caceres/the-impending-battle-on-p_b_5722830.html
1a. Opposición se une para frenar reelección presidencial en Honduras https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_Xua-Hm1lI
1b. Honduras: Supreme Court Approves Presidential Re-election https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wlw44PJCTzI
2. Honduras legalizes reelection – issue at heart of 2009 coup ://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/Latin-America-Monitor/2015/0428/Honduras-legalizes-reelection-issue-at-heart-of-2009-coup
6. ‘The Right Wing Is Finished’: Honduran Activist on Elections http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/The-Right-Wing-Is-Finished-Honduran-Activist-on-Elections-20170524-0041.html
7. Report from Honduras: How the Election Was Stolen http://nacla.org/blog/2013/12/9/report-honduras-how-election-was-stolenThe
8. Honduras: Diez partidos y 46 candidaturas listas para las elecciones generales http://tiempo.hn/elecciones-generales-en-honduras-4/
9. Accomplishments of President Manuel Zelaya https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manuel_Zelaya
9a. New York drug case opens window on dark period for Honduras Published March 31, 2017 http://www.foxnews.com/us/2017/03/31/new-york-drug-case-opens-window-on-dark-period-for-honduras.html
9b. Ex President Rafael Callejas Conocera su Sentencia en Diciembre nota: http://www.laprensa.hn/honduras/1080086-410/expresidente-rafael_callejas-sentencia-eua-corrupcion-fifa-corte_nueva_york-
Copyright © http://www.laprensa.hn http://www.laprensa.hn/honduras/1080086-410/expresidente-rafael_callejas-sentencia-eua-corrupcion-fifa-corte_nueva_york-
10. HONDURAS: THE DEADLIEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD FOR ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISM https://www.globalwitness.org/en-gb/campaigns/environmental-activists/honduras-deadliest-country-world-environmental-activism/
11. The Intercept, Drugs Dams and Power//theintercept.com/2016/03/11/drugs-dams-and-power-the-murder-of-honduran-activist-berta-caceres/.
12. Rep. Johnson reintroduces the “Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act”March 2, 2017 Press Release https://hankjohnson.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/rep-johnson-reintroduces-berta-caceres-human-rights-honduras-act
13. H.R.1299 – Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1299/text
16. Honduras: justice on the tightrope https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/05/honduras-justicia-en-la-cuerda-floja/
16a. DESA y Agua Zarca piden disculpa pública de la MACCIH por presunciones http://tiempo.hn/desa-agua-zarca-piden-disculpa-publica-la-maccih-presunciones/
17. Remittances https://tradingeconomics.com/honduras/remittances
18. Congressional Research Report Honduras https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL34027.pdf
19. U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central
America: Policy Issues for Congress: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R44812.pdf
20. Homicide Rates in 2016 http://www.insightcrime.org/news-analysis/insight-crime-2016-homicide-round-up
24. IMF Staff Concludes Visit to Honduras June 1, 2017 https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2017/06/01/pr17203-imf-staff-concludes-visit-to-honduras
24a. Honduras 2017 General Budget Leaves Out The Necessities Of The Poorest https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WOCLJkiBGM
25. Honduras as Seen by the IMF – November 2016 The institution highlights the restoration of macroeconomic stability, reduction of the fiscal deficit and the rate at which credit to the private sector is increasing. http://www.centralamericadata.com/en/article/home/Honduras_as_Seen_by_the_IMF__November_2016
26. Analysis of the Honduras 2017 budget. Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales http://icefi.org/publicaciones/honduras-analisis-y-recomendaciones-al-proyecto-de-presupuesto-publico-2017
27. Honduras: IMF Austerity, Macroeconomic Policy, and Foreign Investment ://cepr.net/publications/reports/honduras-imf-austerity-macroeconomic-policy-and-foreign-investment
27a. Honduras as Seen by the IMF – November 2016 The institution highlights the restoration of macroeconomic stability, reduction of the fiscal deficit and the rate at which credit to the private sector is increasing. http://www.centralamericadata.com/en/article/home/Honduras_as_Seen_by_the_IMF__November_2016
28. Moody’s upgrades Honduras’ ratings to B2 from B3; positive outlook remains https://www.moodys.com/research/Moodys-upgrades-Honduras-ratings-to-B2-from-B3-positive-outlook–PR_349459
29. Return of US military-led foreign policy https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/13/central-america-us-foreign-policy-deportations-aid
30. Inside Trump’s Disastrous ‘Secret’ Drug War Plans for Central America http://www.thedailybeast.com/inside-trumps-disastrous-secret-drug-war-plans-for-central-america
31. DEA and Deadly Honduras Shootings http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/dea-misled-congress-deadly-shootings-honduras-drug-operations-n764256
33.Why Congress should support the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Acthttps://vimeo.com/206184044