A Despicable Regime

(CN) — Ever since the military coup in Honduras in 2009, supported by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, Honduras has become a narco-state, riddled with gangs, and hundreds of thousands of Hondurans have fled the country seeking safety.

Honduras is surely the least understood Central American country to U.S. citizens, who probably do not remember the Salvadoran and Guatemalan death squads, our undeclared wars against Nicaragua and Panama — and know Costa Rica as a charming place to retire, which is so because it does not have a standing army.

Corruption and drug trafficking characterize Honduran politics to the very top, including the families of the country’s current and preceding presidents.

The former First Lady of Honduras, Rosa Elena Bonilla, wife of ex-president Porfírio Lobo, was sentenced in September 2019 to 58 years in prison for fraud and misappropriation of government money.

Former President Porfírio Lobo (2010-2014) has denied charges that he dealt with narco gangs, but his son pleaded guilty in 2016 to drug conspiracy charges in New York City and was sentenced to 24 years in federal prison.

Three members of the family of Jaime Rosenthal, a former vice president of Honduras, pleaded guilty to laundering drug money in the United States in 2015 and served prison time, according to InSight Crime, an investigative journalism platform on organized crime in Latin America.

Juan Antonio Hernandez, the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, was convicted in New York on Oct. 18, 2019, of trafficking 440,000 pounds of cocaine. He faces life in prison.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez, commonly referred to as JOH, who was an unindicted co-conspirator in his brother’s case. President Hernandez has faced continuing demands that he step down after admitting he accepted drug money for his 2013 and 2017 campaigns for president. He is accused of using drug money to fund his wildly unpopular regime, enriching a small handful of elites while the rest of the country falls into the hands and the guns of the gangs.

A staunch right-winger, JOH has imposed neoliberal economic policies and brutal austerity measures that have significantly boosted poverty and caused inequality to skyrocket. Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, second only to Haiti. Its median income of $1,650 (U.S.) is far below the median income of the rest of Central America. The unemployment rate is nearly 50%, and 60% of the population live in poverty, according to the CIA.

In 2016, under pressure from an enraged public, JOH agreed to accept an investigation by an international body, the Organization of American States.

The Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras — Misión de Apoyo Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras — or MACCIH, began work in 2016.

According to the Washington Office on Latin America, at least 115 people today are being investigated by the Mission, among them more than 70 officials from President Hernández’s government.

The MACCIH was such a threat to the corrupt elites that JOH has ordered its workers to leave the country when their mandate expired on Jan. 19.

Efforts to punish corruption in Central America have been all but halted as Guatemala joined Honduras in canceling agreements to permit international bodies to investigate government corruption.

Honduras, like Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, is under pressure from the Trump administration to force refugees away from the U.S. border.

The four countries have agreed to the U.S. demand that they permit the United States to send asylum-seekers back to Central America to request asylum.

Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on exports from every country in the world, and to tax the remittance money sent from friends and family in the United States sent a shock to the region as money transfers to Central America are a lifeline to millions of families unable to survive without it.

All three Northern Triangle countries caved in to Trump’s demands. What did they get in return? Aid and assistance that had been canceled was restored and a few thousand visas were made available for temporary agricultural workers.

But it was the removal of the corruption probes that mattered most to the elites of Honduras.

The U.S. State Department claims that it wants the international probes to continue, but the

goal of the elites in Honduras is to avoid prison and the seizure of their ill-gotten gains. With investigations into their conduct terminated, things are looking up for them. And Trump can campaign on his record of virtually ending political asylum for Latin Americans in the United States.

Whether more than a handful of Honduras’s 9.3 million citizens profit from any of this is highly doubtful — and surely not a real concern for the powers in the capital, Tegucigalpa, or in Washington.

(Courthouse News correspondent Miguel Patricio is based in El Salvador. CNS editor Robert Kahn is the author of “Other People’s Blood: U.S. Immigration Prisons in the Reagan Decade,” Westview Press/HarperCollins.”)

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