Celebrate the Facts!
Honduras, a Central American nation about the size as the state of Pennsylvania, has been a client state of the United States for many years. The country served as a base for United States operations designed to counter socialist revolution in Nicaragua during the 1980s and continues to host a permanent United States military presence. The relationship is changing with the advent of the new Biden Administration’s emphasis on reforming Trump Administration policies and the governance of Honduras may soon undergo substantial changes.
Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and has suffered from extremely unequal income distribution as well as significant underemployment. Honduras has depended on the export of low-value commodities such as bananas, coffee, and ores resulting in limited import income.
The United States has dictated the policy of Honduras' security issues for decades. Honduras served as a base for United States operations designed to meddle in Nicaraguan politics during the 1980s; detailed in a previous investigation. The United States has maintained a permanent military presence since at a location known as Joint Task Force-Bravo (JTF-Bravo) operating from a Honduran military installation, Soto Cano Air Base, located in central Honduras. While the formal representations for the base include humanitarian missions, the clear purpose is to maintain a permanent United States military presence in the region.
Human rights organizations regularly denounce alleged abuses by Honduran security forces acting in their official capacities or on behalf of private interests or criminal organizations. The case of Berta Caceres, a prominent indigenous and environmental activist is a good illustration. Unknown assassins murdered Caceres in March 2016 apparently because of her efforts to prevent the construction of a hydroelectric project that would have displaced an indigenous community.
Quasi-governmental groups have carried out numerous similar attacks against journalists and other human rights defenders, including leaders of Afro-descendent, indigenous, land rights, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender), and unions. The extent to which Honduran security forces have been involved is unproven and that seems logical given the repression of the media and corruption of the government. The Honduran government has also brought criminal charges, such as defamation and unlawful occupation, against journalists and activists.
President Juan Orlando Hernández of the conservative National Party garnered a second four-year term in January 2018 in an election marred by allegations of election fraud. According to the Organization of American States (OAS), the 2017 elections that granted Hernandez his second term (after he led an end to constitutional term limits) — were ‘characterized by irregularities and deficiencies.’ A package of electoral reforms begun in 2019 have not been fully ratified into law, meaning upcoming elections will take place under the same legislation that allowed 2017’s alleged fraud to take place. Beyond that, a series of corruption scandals that have implicated members of his family, administration, and party, have generated speculation about whether the president has participated in criminal activities, have further eroded Hernández’s public standing.
The United States Justice Department has accused Juan Orlando Hernández of drug trafficking but has not charged him yet. Federal prosecutors have described the evidence against him in several federal indictments including one against his brother, Tony Hernandez, who at one time was a Honduran congressperson. A federal court convicted Tony Hernandez in 2019 of cocaine trafficking and alleged he had delivered a $1 million bribe from a cocaine cartel leader to his brother Juan Orlando Hernández in 2013. Juan Orlando Hernández denies all alleged ties to drug trafficking of course, but the United States can charge him and he could face extradition, although this seems improbable if he remains in office.
Instability in Honduras, including a 2009 coup and outflows of migrant workers and asylum seekers, led Trump Administration policymakers to focus greater attention on conditions in the country out of a pragmatic concern for the implications for the United States. The Trump Administration played down allegations against Hernandez in trade for cooperation on immigration.
President Joe Biden’s plan for the region ‘puts combating corruption at the heart of U.S. policy in Central America.’ Other policy promises include ‘revoking visas to the United States and freezing assets of corrupt individuals’ from the region will compel the Administration to either come to terms with Department of Justice evidence or feign ignorance. The same goes for the recently passed Engel List legislation, which will require the Biden Administration to publish a list of corrupt and undemocratic actors from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who will be denied entry to the United States.’
The upcoming reckoning of political invective versus realpolitik will be a bellwether of future Biden Administration policy. Unfortunately for the Biden Administration the choice is clear cut. International scrutiny of the Hernandez government is a necessary step forward to future development of the Honduran economy and welfare of the people. Will Joe Biden have the courage to do the right thing?
The following site presents basic facts about Honduras https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/static/10cc8852fa33afc2b4c26c9edef0f416/HO-summary.pdf. The IMF presents current economic trends at https://www.imf.org/en/Countries/HND. The United States Congress provided a thorough report published at https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/RL/RL34027. The Washington Post presents a summary of the drug trafficking associations at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/honduras-president-narcotrafficking-hernandez/2021/02/11/1fa96044-5f8c-11eb-ac8f-4ae05557196e_story.html.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.