Anti-corruption protests swept from Guatemala to Honduras last week, where more than 5,000 protesters took to the streets to demand the resignation of president Juan Orlando Hernández in the wake of accusations that his conservative National Party (PN) had embezzled more than $300 million from the Honduran Social Security Institute (ISSH).
At least $90 million of those funds were allegedly used to support President Hernández’s presidential campaign in 2013, leading critics to the conclusion that they played a key role in his election. Hondurans suffered the consequences of a social security institute starved of resources:
“The collapse of the IHSS public hospitals has had wider implications,” wrote Honduras scholar and University of California, Santa Cruz professor Dana Frank.
“Thousands of Hondurans have died and are still dying without critical care. Local newspapers regularly report the lack of kidney dialysis machines, plates for x-rays of patients who arrive with broken bones, or medical supplies for women who need cesareans to give birth. Doctors and nurses frequently strike because they have not been paid.”
In response to the revelation of various corruption scandals earlier this month, former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in the 2009 coup, called for permanent protests. Last week’s protests momentarily united several factions of Honduras’ complicated political milieu, including the center-left Libre Party, the center-right Anti-Corruption Party and the National Front of Popular Resistance.
The 2009 coup in Honduras was tacitly supported by the U.S., and the post-coup ruling National Party has been the beneficiary of continued U.S. military and security aid via the $600 million Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). Along with the governments of fellow Northern Triangle countries El Salvador and Guatemala, the Hernández administration in Honduras would benefit from the proposed $1 billion in additional funds to support the so-called Alliance for Prosperity, which the White House describes as a plan to promote “prosperity, security and good governance in Central America.”
The new aid proposal for Central America came in response to intense media coverage of child migrants last year, in which nearly 60,000 unaccompanied minors and another 60,000 families fled Northern Triangle countries to the U.S., leading to an immigration backlog and a human rights crisis in U.S. immigration detention centers.
Roots of migration remain unaddressed
Migration from Central America predates 2014 and occurs within a context of rising inequality, few economic opportunities and increasing violent crime. Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world, and more than 60 percent of the population lives in poverty. Police forces are perceived as weak and corrupt, leading military forces to take on policing functions; rampant human rights abuses remain unprosecuted.
“Human rights violations and abuses against human rights defenders, journalists, women and girls, LGBTI people, Indigenous, Afro-descendant and campesino (peasant farmer) communities continued to be a serious concern,” wrote Amnesty International in its most recent country report.
“These violations took place in a context where impunity for human rights violations and abuses was endemic and where levels of organized and common crime were high.”
For critics already skeptical of the idea that increased U.S. aid to security forces accused of rampant human rights violations will address the root causes of migration from Honduras and other Northern Triangle countries and improve governance there, the latest allegations of corruption in Honduras further complicate the picture.
“Hernández’s government has pushed forward in its six-year-long march against human rights, the rule of law and civilian policing,” wrote Frank.
“His administration is now embroiled in an exploding corruption scandal. It’s past time for the U.S. to finally ditch Hernández, and instead speak honestly and forcefully against his militarization, repression of civil liberties and destruction of the constitution.”