Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

32998Honduras: Juan Orlando Hernández’s first 100 days

Expand Messages
  • Cort Greene
    May 11, 2014

      Honduras: Juan Orlando Hernández’s first 100 days

      johPoverty, crime and corruption are still the main problems for the Central American country

      [Translation of an article from Opera Mundi of São Paulo, Brazil, for May 7, 2014. See original here and related articles herehere and here.]

      by Giorgio Trucchi

      This May 7, the administration of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández celebrates its first 100 days. And it is time to take stock. JOH received the presidential sash after the TSE (Tribunal Supremo Electoral) confirmed him officially as winner of the elections of November 24 of last year, with almost eight percentage points more than Xiomara Castro, wife of former President Manuel Zelaya and candidate for the Libre Party (Libertad y Refundación), the electoral arm of the popular resistance movement against the 2009 coup d’état that removed Zelaya from office.

      Concerning the official results and the immediate international recognition, Xiomara Castro termed the win by the ruling party candidate a “monstrous fraud,” challenging the impartiality of the electoral authorities, denouncing a series of irregularities in the vote count and in the transmission of vote tallies and refusing to recognize the results and the legitimacy of JOH as the new president of Honduras.

      Beyond that, this new progressive political force has managed to end more than a century of two-party rule by the Partido Liberal and the Partido Nacional, positioning itself as the second political force in the country and the main opposition party, electing 37 of the 128 deputies in the National Congress, as well as 31 prefects and vice-prefects, and four representatives to Parlacen (Parlamento Centroamericano). The former president was named head of the Libre Party caucus in Congress.

      Meanwhile, the FNRP (Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular) has once again reactivated its territorial structure, beginning an intense effort of internal reorganization of the social and popular sector, with the aim of becoming a “real mass movement with influence in the social and political reality of Honduras,” Xiomara said.

      When they took office in the new Congress, members of the Liberal and Nacional parties formed a common front, guaranteeing majority support for the executive branch and blocking any discussion or approval of bills or decrees offered by the opposition.

      ((Honduran feminists protest the high rates of murders of women -- Opera Mundi photo))

      ((Honduran feminists protest the high rates of murders of women — Opera Mundi photo))

      “It is more than evident that there is a conspiracy. The country continues to be mired in poverty, crime and corruption – everything is still in complete inertia. We are denied the floor in Congress and our bills are shelved. It seems that JOH is still in charge here and that he never left his position as president of Congress,” former attorney general and current Libre Party deputy, Jari Dixon, toldOpera Mundi.

      Examples of this are, among others, the shelving of the bill to repeal the “fiscal package,” controversial because of its high social cost, which was approved by members of the Nacional and Liberal Parties, and of the agrarian reform and the anti-corruption bills. The latter would establish strong controls to prevent state funds from being meddled with and requires every official to submit a rigorous accounting.

      “We are attempting with this bill to group the existing criminal laws together, to increase penalties, to create new punishment provisions and to provide an effective and tough instrument against this crime. Unfortunately, it is being boycotted and the traditional parties do not want to hear us talk about anti-corruption measures because we are meddling with their interests,” added Dixon, who wrote the bill.

      The Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International for 2013 lists Honduras as the most corrupt country in Central America and among the most corrupt in the world. Among the 177 countries evaluated, Honduras occupies position 140. This represents a regression of seven positions since 2012.

      One hundred days

      In the campaign period, the principal questions for JOH, who was elected president with the smallest backing (36.8%) in more than three decades of constitutional government, involved fighting crime and citizen insecurity, as well as the creation of jobs, reducing the level of poverty and balancing public finance.

      Interviewed by national media, Minister of Public Safety Arturo Corrales analyzed the first months of the administration and asserted that the results are satisfactory and that the country is still on the right path. He emphasized that the launching of the “Vida Mejor” programs, which are meant to aid 800,000 families in extreme poverty, creating thousands of micro-enterprises, distributing ecological stoves, upgrading homes and distributing “bolsas solidarias” of food.


      With the slogan “I am going to do what it takes to bring peace back to the country,” the now Honduran president promised the people to solve the serious problem of insecurity, which makes Honduras one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

      According to the Obervatorio de la Violencia of the UNAH (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras), last year the country saw a slight decrease in the murder rate, from 85.5 for every 100,000 inhabitants in 2012 to 83 in 2013.

      These figures differ from those of the Honduan police: 75.1 per 100,000 inhabitants. But regardless of this discrepancy, Honduras is once again the country with the highest level of homicides in the world, that is, with more than 7,000 violent deaths per year, almost 12 times the world average (6.9 homicides) and eight times what the WHO uses to define an epidemic.

      In the first three months of his administration, JOH tried to put his promises into practice. He launched the TIGRES force (Tropa de Inteligencia y Grupos de Respuesta Especial de Seguridad), trained by the Escuela Jungla of Colombia and the United States Special Forces. With the aim of strengthening the frontal assault on international organized crime, he founded FUSINA (Fuerza Nacional de Seguridad Interinstitucional) to oversee the work of the different legal and public safety agencies, and initiated “Operación Morazán,” a large joint effort by the PMOP (Policía Militar de Orden Público) and TIGRES.

      Tigres 2Similarly, he announced the formation of the Fuerza Interagencial, made up of the police, the armed forces, the TIGRES and the PMOP; he imposed a blocking of mobile phone calls in the 24 penitentiaries in the country; he changed the police command structure almost in its entirety; he promoted the “voluntary retirement” of close to 40 police officials; and he implemented the Ley de Protección de Espacios Aéreos, by which the Honduran air force is authorized to force down planes suspected of trafficking drugs in the national territory.

      Corrales asserts that Honduras is better as a result of these measures because “a reduction in kidnappings and extortion” has been achieved, with a reduction in the homicide rate, beginning with the dissolution of “dangerous organized crime groups” and the confiscation of “large shipments of drugs.”

      The former director of internal affairs for the National Police, María Luisa Borjas, in turn, warns of the growing militarization of the country and the deepening of violence. “We have a large media campaign orchestrated by the government with the support of the principal communications media. The truth is that the number of summary executions and mass killings has increased, with the direct participation of members of state security forces and the acquiescence of the government,” Borjas told Opera Mundi.

      The main victims are the young. In a recent report by the Casa Alianza, an international organization for the protection and defense of the rights of children, adolescents and young people, it was reported that during the first three months of the year, 270 youths under the age of 23 died in violent circumstances, an average of 90 deaths a month.

      The UNAH Observatorio Nacional de la Violencia reports that in the first three months of the year there were 19 mass killings, in which 68 citizens lost their lives, most of them under the age of 30. “Our youths have been marginalized, they do not have access to their basic rights, and now they are being criminalized, persecuted and murdered. That is what is really happening in Honduras,” Borjas emphasized.

      Police investigation

      According to María Luisa Borjas, not only was there no real purge of the police, but “instead of being behind bars for committing illegal acts,” some officials who had hidden evidence “were retired with honors and rewarded financially with sums in the millions.”

      Borjas declared that fears she had during the electoral campaign are being realized in Honduras. “Public security is being completely militarized, and the military are already controlling several institutions that should be led by civilians,” she concluded.




      Tue, 05/06/2014 - 11:04 — AP

      I was killing time downtown, slowly making my way to the restaurant where I was going to meet some friends. As I walked I overheard a man say to another man "acaban de matar a un hombre por ahí" [a man was just killed over there], nodding his head in the direction I was walking. It didn't affect me much; I took it in like any other piece of information about my surroundings—weather, road conditions, etc. I resumed my internal dialogue where I'd left off.

      But a block or so later I saw the crowd. I asked the group of women on the corner of the main street and an alley what had happened. "Mataron a ese señor en el parqueo. Sólo venía a sacar su carro y le dispararon en la frente" [They killed that man in the parking lot. He had just come to get his car out and they shot him in the forehead]. I looked across the alley, and there he was. A middle-aged, portly man lay on his side, face toward the large crowd that had gathered across the street. His high-belted shorts accentuated his large belly and thighs, and I felt sorry for him. The indignity of his appearance in death in particular seemed so cruel. A friend laughed at me later when I described (in detail) the dead man's appearance, saying that I'd better make sure to dress for murder if that mattered to me. He also added that "los ejecutados de Honduras carecen de dignidad," comparing Honduran victims of extrajudicial assassinations to Salvadoran revolutionaries, who die for something. "Aquí en Honduras, como dice mi abuela, la vida es prestada."

      I asked the woman in the group on the street corner who had answered my first question "¿Y fue robo?" [was it a robbery?]

      "No, sólo lo ejecutaron y se fueron." [no, they just shot him and left]

      The woman added that he'd been in Hospital Viera around the corner, retrieving some test results. He still has them in his hands, she said. And indeed, a piece of paper had fallen from his hands and was partially covering his face.

      I was at a loss. And so, replicating the kind of symbolic violence I criticize, I took out my camera. And no one seemed to mind that I took pictures of the body; that's normal here. It was only when I crossed the street and took a couple pictures of the crowd (which of course was more interesting to me—why do we gawk? What do we ask of death?) that I realized what a stupid mistake I was making. A man gave me a hostile look.

      I was putting them in danger. I was putting myself in danger. I felt a rare feeling (for me) of acute and specific fear. I put my camera away and stayed put, feeling that it would make me look even more suspicious to take pictures and run off. I stared with the rest of the crowd at the man, lying there. The tiny stream of blood that snaked down the hill from his forehead was already drying up. A police officer paced back and forth in the parking lot.

      A couple young men with a sort of rock n roll look to them were walking down the main street. They looked at the crowd as I was leaving. I heard them wondering aloud to each other what was going on. The paused at the far corner, and as I walked by I told them a man had been killed. "Oh!" one of them exclaimed, "let's keep walking." The other said "The situation of violence here in this country..."

      Inside the restaurant I told a friend what had happened. She was grading exams. "Oh that's what it was," she said. They must have just killed him a half hour ago when I walked by." A debate ensued with a colleague of hers about the motivation of gawkers. Is it just morbid fascination? Is it a sense of one's own mortality? A search for information in the belief that somehow knowing death can protect us from it?

      Another friend came in announcing excitedly "Hay un muerto ahí, hay un muerto ahí." I thought of Mark Pedelty's description of the cry "¡Un muerto! ¡Un muerto!" among the foreign press corps during El Salvador's civil war. And this death was noteworthy because death still is here, statistics and all. But I looked all over the news this morning and couldn't find a mention of it, even though it happened in broad daylight in the middle of the city. That's part of the difference with the statistics. Before, when I was writing my book, and the insanely high murder rate was half what it is now, there was still room for strategic exaggeration for the purposes of fearmongering to legitimate extreme measures of neoliberal control. Now, there isn't room in the newspapers for all the killings, and their continued increase is an embarrassment to the JOH government, whose only real campaign promise was to bring crime rates down by cracking down on criminals. I have heard many, many friends, colleagues and students speculate in the past few months that there's actually a campaign to hide the violence—or at least pick and choose which of all the murders should be represented. Some maintain the theory that the climate of total impunity has allowed serial killers to prosper, citing certain signatures.

      A third friend came in late. He said he'd been parking in the parking lot. I gasped. "But they just killed a man there." "Oh," he said, "So that's what happened. Yes, they were cleaning up the blood when I left."

      One of my friends at the restaurant last night said he thought the current wave of killings, especially killings of small children, had to do with EL Negro Lobo, the drug trafficker recently arrested and being processed for extradition to the U.S. By killing all the children (one email I received a couple hours ago cites a figure of 15 kids murdered in the past 24 hours around the country in similarly brutal attacks- there was also the massacre in the El Carmen juvenile detention center in the north a couple days ago)—the theory goes—El Negro Lobo sends a message to the Juan Orlando that he will make the country ungovernable if he extradites him. It's not that far-fetched, given the control narcos have in this country. Whether or not that theory is true, El Negro Lobo has been campaigning on other fronts as well. These professionally-produced 40-page booklets arguing against extradition, signed by El Negro Lobo's lawyer Raul Rolando Suazo Barillas, were being passed around at the Mayday march:

      "Legal kidnapping," the title reads. The comparison to Matta Ballesteros is ever-present, but the fervor that existed in favor of Honduran sovereignty in '88, which inspired students to protest against Matta's extradition and attack the U.S. embassy, seems lacking.

      So what is one left to do, having embodied a state of such impunity? Today, all I can come up with, thinking of the indignity suffered by a man who was too dead to care about his unfashionable high-waisted shorts, is to dress to be killed.