Honduras: the Failings of Neoliberalism

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Robando is Spanish for stealing. “Juan Robando” is the not-at-all-affectionate moniker given to the President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH). January 27th marks the end of the first year of his presidency. His theft of the elections of November 2013 ensured the continuance of Honduras’ neoliberal trajectory. A trajectory previously boosted by the Agricultural Modernization Law of 1992. This law jettisoned any agrarian reforms attempted beforehand. Neoliberalism took a further leap in 2009. That’s when the ruling elite instigated the coup d’état which ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Thirteen oligarchic families led the coup with the assistance of the US State Department, at the time headed by Hilary Clinton. The Honduran Military kidnapped Zelaya using the private plane of Miguel Facussé Barjum, President of the Dinant Corporation and the richest man in Honduras. They refueled at the US’s Palmerola Military Base before whisking the deposed President to Panama.

Even though Zelaya’s administration ratified and supported CAFTA-DR in 2006 (“free” trade agreements being the neo-liberals’ favorite bludgeoning tool for maintaining the wealth of the ruling elite) he was seen as an impediment to the neoliberal agenda. This was due in part to his making several pragmatic economic decisions. For example, he raised the minimum wage and entered into agreements with peasant farmers to help them obtain land titles (which enraged Facussé). Mostly, though, it was because he was friendly to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and worked for Honduras’ entry into ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America).

The sham election of 2013 was simply an extension of the coup. Overwhelming evidence showed that JOH and his National Party (NP) stole the elections. His party engaged in various means of vote tampering, outright threats, and murders of opposition candidates and supporters. Nevertheless, his presidency was legitimized.

JOH’s campaign promised a “mano duro,” or iron fist approach, to ending the crime that ranks Honduras as the murder capital of the world. His plan to put Military Police (MP) on every street corner across the country has thus far been implemented in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula and incrementally elsewhere. But, homicides continue unabated along with the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators. Despite JOH’s and the US State Dept.’s attempts to fudge the numbers, the World Health Organization reports that homicides have increased in the past year to 103.9/100,000 people. In addition, the MP have been involved in numerous cases of intimidation, brutality, kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder.

Regardless, JOH continues his crusade to amend the Constitution so that it institutionalizes the Military Police as a security force bound by his dictates. This has been met with opposition in Congress and thus far has failed to receive the necessary votes. Even the easily bribed diputados (members of Congress) of the Liberal Party must have had flashbacks to the days when too much power given to the Military resulted in dictators ordering death squads and the disappearances of those who opposed the government. Of course, both of those occur today, but under the guise of it being street gangs or narco-traffickers and thus justifying a need for giving the Military Police more power and increased aid from the US. The NP is now proposing a secret ballot so it can manipulate the outcome of a congressional vote.

JOH has further promised greater collaboration with the US military in ending the narcotrafficking that has spread to every department in the country. A number of narco rings have seen their leaders arrested and extradited to the US, some purported to have contributed to JOH and other National Party candidates in the election. Nevertheless, others have expanded their markets once JOH and the US DEA have removed their competition. The lack of transparency in the extradition process underscores the ties between organized crime and the government. Indeed, The National Congress moved to have new extradition legislation voted on in a secret committee session that excluded opposition parties from taking part in the strategizing of the new law.

Since the beginning of his presidency there has been increasing talk of amending the constitution so that JOH can be reelected. This was the very issue that the coup instigators used to justify their kidnapping of Zelaya, accusing him of conspiring to install himself as “President for life.” The difference being that JOH wants his NP controlled Congress to amend the Constitution without public input. Zelaya wanted a National Referendum so that the voice of the people could be heard on this and other constitutional matters. It is actually unconstitutional for the Congress to even discuss a change to the reelection law. The JOH controlled judiciary branch is maneuvering to get that changed. Advisors inside JOH’s administration are saying that reelection of the President is already a done deal. Justice in Honduras is not blind since it is able to look the other way when palms are being greased.

The Honduran justice system is maintained with funding from USAID as an inefficient, opaque, and dysfunctional system to protect the ruling elite from being prosecuted. It is also kept as is to criminalize those who seek justice such as the peasant farmers who struggle for legal access to land. 4000 campesinos have judicial proceedings against them, an increase of almost 1000 just in 2014. They must sign in at a courthouse every 15 days or risk arrest and this could go on indefinitely. Judges at the municipal level and in the Supreme Court, as well as Public Defenders and Prosecutors in the Public Ministry are at the service of the ruling elite either through influence peddling or threats made against their lives. Miguel Facussé Barjum has succeeded in using the justice system to his own benefit, both in his literally getting away with murder and in his swindles of national and international banks as well as other corporations.

Greg McCain has been monitoring and reporting human rights violations in Honduras since 2012 spending the majority of his time in the Aguán region. To follow his work please visit: Human Rights Observation Honduras

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