Report on Honduras’ Current Human Rights Issues, Corruption and Violence

By: CRLN staff member, Marisa Leon Gomez

2015 has been a year of discouraging occurrences for the small Central American country of Honduras. Among the many hardships for the country’s eight million people, are major human rights violations, corruption by the current government, impunity, large scale violence and a severe economic crisis. The president Juan Orlando Hernandez refuses to accept a United Nations Commission Against Impunity to be called CICIH, similar to the CICIG in Guatemala which catalyzed the resignation of former Guatemalan president, Otto Perez Molina.  Honduras is affected by corruption within government, elite families and private businesses. A business magnate family in the country was accused of money laundering and drug trafficking by the United States government, resulting in the closing of well-known businesses that left 11,000 people unemployed. Additionally, former Honduran president Rafael Leonardo Callejas who had been accused, tried and pardoned in seven cases of corruption during his term in the early 1990s, and who aspires to a second term of presidency for 2018, has been accused of corruption within the international soccer league FIFA. Honduras and its people are constantly being exploited by its own government, elite families and transnational corporations, which in the vast majority of cases, are backed up by the United States and other countries in the Global North. 

Human Rights Violations

Human rights violations continue to mount in Honduras.  Reporters without Borders states that Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America for journalists, alongside Mexico and Colombia, following a huge rise in human rights violations after the 2009 coup d’état . This year CRLN’s Luncheon theme centered on the suppression of Guatemalan Indigenous communities’ rights to free speech and freedom of the press. Likewise in Honduras, Afro-indigenous populations (Garifunas) face harassment and closure of their radio stations by the government. These community radio stations have already been subject to arson, burglary and attacks. Additionally, Garifuna leaders who defend ancestral lands against transnational corporations, such as Canadian tourism companies, are subject to attacks, displacement and even murder.  Additionally, LGBT communities, campesinos, environmental activists, women, indigenous populations, and the opposition are constantly subject to human rights violations. However, one victory in the human rights arena this year in Honduras, is the freeing of political prisoner Chabelo Morales, a campesino from the Aguan Valley, imprisoned nearly seven years for a crime he did not commit. Chabelo's case is indicative of the larger process of land privatization and criminalization of campesino communities, a process that continues to wreak havoc on the poorest communities throughout Honduras. Diverse social justice organizations, national and international, fought for his release since October 2008.

Corruption and impunity

Corruption and impunity have been major topics not only in Honduras, but overall in Central America. The most sought-after corrupt leader for indictment by Hondurans is the president himself, Juan Orlando Hernandez. As Dana Frank states, He “has helped depose a democratically elected president in a military coup, ousted part of the country’s Supreme Court and facilitated the illegal appointment of Honduras’ sitting attorney general. He's jettisoned the Honduran constitution through militarized policing, helped abolish presidential term limits and he even pushed through Congress a law that says that the Honduran constitution doesn't apply in new, privately-run model cities.” To add an icing to the cake, the president’s political party is involved in the corruption scandal in which at least $330 million were embezzled through the Social Security Fund, which provides public healthcare and retirement funds.  An unknown portion of those $330 million went towards funding Hernandez’s political campaign in 2013 and this allegedly helped him win the presidency. The president claims to not know that his National Party had received those funds for his campaign and that he was unaware of the money being stolen from the Social Security by government officials who were close to him or appointed to the positions by himself. This led to a massive social movement in Honduras called los Indignados (the outraged) who marched through the streets in peaceful demonstrations with torches. The movement initially was united in its goal: to stop corruption, impunity and achieve the resignation of Hernandez. However, long-running political and social divisions afflicting the country eventually splintered this movement as well.  In the meantime, Hernandez refuses to let in the country a United Nations Commission against Impunity (CICIH), and has opted instead for a commission proposed by the Organization of American States (OAS) that would be integrated by its own government officials and partner institutions in line with the government.  The proposed OAS commission does not fulfill the Honduran citizens’ desires and falls short of the United Nations Commission in Guatemala (CICIG) which successfully led to the resignation and imprisonment of that country’s president and vice-president.

Violence/ economic crisis

Rampant levels of violence and an economic crisis affect everyone in the country. Honduras had the highest murder in the world in 2012 with 90.4 per 100,000 citizens. This year’s numbers of individual murders have decreased but other forms of catastrophes afflict the country. The number of mass murders, in which three or more persons are killed at the same time, have increased. So far in 2015, 95 mass murders have been recorded in the country. Drug traffickers, gangs, and other forms of organized crime have taken advantage of Honduras’ political and judicial systems, whose weakness were aggravated after the recent coup.

These criminals create havoc in Honduras’ poorest neighborhoods through extortion fees on businesses, known as impuesto de guerra, and are now forcing young children to collect the money.  The extortions also force thousands of businesses to close every year, leaving thousands of more people unemployed, and even result in the killing of business or homeowners who are not able to pay such amounts. President Hernandez’s response to violence, has been a force known as military police which operates with military tactics on the streets and against civil society. This has resulted in human right abuses and other crimes on normal citizens. The police are known as a highly corrupt force and citizens fear of contacting police authorities to report crimes due to the high impunity and police’s affiliation with gangs and drug traffickers. Simultaneously, an economic crisis afflicts the whole nation with high levels of unemployment and poverty. Widespread violence and lack of opportunities prompted thousands of unaccompanied minors to immigrate to the United States in 2014. Ironically, President Obama responded to the crisis by providing millions of dollars in aid to a corrupt Honduran government that embezzles money from social funds and puts military in the streets.

Working for change

The people of Honduras hope to overcome this grim situation.  Hondurans continue to demand a CICIH with U.N. and international intervention, in order to achieve results similar to Guatemala. Indigenous communities, campesinos, labor unions, human rights defenders, students, and the middle class left an important lesson of unity through their concerted civic effort.  Without this unity in the Guatemalan streets, the CICIG might have not had the results it did. Hondurans must unite against oppression, corruption, environmental degradations to their land, violence and human right abuses.

International solidarity is essential.  The U.S. government must stop financing the system in place. This month 54 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter to U.S Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to support the installment of a U.N. and international backed commission against impunity and corruption.  Local and international organizations can play an important role in obverting a national collapse, and building hope together with the Honduran people who struggle to build a nation in which they can live in peace and true dignity.

What can you do?  The Honduras Solidarity Network will host an educational webinar on January 16th. Join us!