Honduras at crossroads in election to finish corrupt rule of President Hernandez


Three years earlier than he was elected Honduras’ president in 2013, Juan Orlando Hernandez impressed U.S. State Division insiders as a captivating, comparatively younger, law-and-order candidate able to stabilizing one of many world’s most violent international locations.

However Hernandez has left the nation in ruins as tens of 1000’s of Hondurans flee for higher lives within the U.S. and elsewhere. The president’s years in energy have been marked by human rights violations, extrajudicial killings, stolen public cash, poverty and complicity in drug trafficking on the highest ranges of presidency. Sunday’s elections are arguably essentially the most consequential in many years to restoring order on this troubled Central American nation.

A street memorial with flowers and pictures of victims of political violence arranged in a circle

Opponents of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez rally at a avenue memorial to victims of political violence throughout an illustration in Tegucigalpa on Nov. 16.

(Orlando Sierra / AFP through Getty Pictures)

“Juan Orlando is leaving us with a damaged nation,” stated Lenín Laínez, a congressman for the opposition Libre social gathering. “A rustic in debt, with severe narco-corruption, with excessive ranges of criminality and one of the vital unequal populations in Latin America.”

The ruling Nationwide Get together’s dependence on drug cash and elite navy items has led Hondurans to name their land a “narco-dictatorship.” This ambiance is a part of a wider pattern of backsliding in democracy throughout the area, from Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua to Nayib Bukele in El Salvador and Alejandro Giammattei in Guatemala. It has spurred mass emigration lately.

Soldiers ride in the back of pickup trucks at a street checkpoint in Tegucigalpa

Honduran troopers distribute election supplies in Tegucigalpa on Tuesday.

(Orlando Sierra / AFP through Getty Pictures)

Honduras has been in disaster since a 2009 military coup that Washington didn’t transfer to cease. That led to the eventual rise of Hernandez, whom U.S. prosecutors accuse of consolidating his energy with cartel cash. The 2 main presidential candidates on the poll embody the contradictions of the violent post-coup period: Nasry Asfura, the ruling right-wing Nationwide Get together candidate, is backed by Hernandez. Xiomara Castro, the spouse of Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, who was ousted within the coup, is a well-liked progressive candidate.

“Twelve years of unlawful authorities hasn’t achieved something for Hondurans,” Castro stated in a Nov. 20 speech. “They’ve solely devoted themselves to their very own companies and swindling off state cash … whereas the individuals reside as victims of distress and insecurity.”

The Nationwide Get together “has left us with a Honduras the place it’s not possible to entry high quality, free healthcare or schooling,” stated Anabel Melgar, a member of the Nationwide Entrance for Youth in Resistance. “They embezzled the well being fund, and 1000’s of individuals have died as a result of, with the cash from the fund stolen, they handed out [poor-quality] tablets.”

A Honduran teen fleeing the violence and corruption in his country sits in a school patio in the Mexican state of Veracruz

A Honduran teen who joined others fleeing the violence and corruption of their nation sits in a college patio within the Mexican state of Veracruz on the way in which to the U.S. border.

(Felix Marquez / Related Press)

One of many logos of Hernandez’s time in workplace — except for doling out advantages and protecting the allegiance of presidency employees — has been the growth of the military into the general public area and creation of paramilitary and elite items implicated in human rights violations.

Land rights activist Yoni Rivas comes from the Aguán Valley, the place a whole bunch have been killed in battles between peasants and palm oil companies, and the place paramilitary teams related to the Honduran military are driving migration overseas. If Asfura wins, Rivas stated, it will likely be “extra corruption, extra criminality, extra persecution and extra of the identical.”

On the nation’s north coast, the Afro-Indigenous Garifuna inhabitants has been engaged in years-long battles with tourism and palm oil firms — lengthy favored by the Nationwide Get together over Indigenous residents — which have sought to take over their coveted beachfront land.

Darwin Centeno, a Garifuna fisherman from Triunfo de la Cruz whose cousin Sneider Centeno was a distinguished Garifuna activist kidnapped by a police-linked dying squad in July 2020, stated the Nationwide Get together’s legacy is one in every of “committing injury towards our neighborhood, disrespecting our ethnic rights.”

However the Nationwide Get together is expert at mobilizing voters, which might cease the progressive Castro from turning into the nation’s first lady president along with her guarantees to wipe away the previous methods of energy. Her husband had been accused of taking bribes whereas he was president — a cost he denied.

Castro proposes loosening Honduras’ notoriously strict abortion laws and has steered convening a Nationwide Meeting to rewrite the constitution to be extra inclusive. She is continuously portrayed in commercials — in addition to on ominous purple billboards all through the nation — as a Computer virus for communism, very like her husband was depicted by opponents within the late 2000s.

Regardless of the marketing campaign towards her, Castro, a candidate for the center-left Libre social gathering, holds a slim lead over Asfura in opinion polls.

The closeness of the race has heightened fears of postelection violence. It wouldn’t be the primary time. In 2017, the favored opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla appeared on observe to victory, however irregularities within the voting system indicated potential fraud, sparking months of protest and lethal state repression. Hernandez was finally declared the winner.

“There’s an unlimited chance of fraud,” stated Jessenia Molina, a journalist and human rights defender from the city of Tocoa. “I don’t doubt it one bit.”

“You need to be prepared for that chance,” stated Tania Iden, a Garifuna lady.

Asfura, recognized to supporters as Papi a la orden (Daddy at your service), has targeted on job creation and persevering with Hernandez’s safety insurance policies. However Asfura is tainted by his years within the Nationwide Get together: He confronted an investigation over the embezzlement of $1 million of public funds. Critics worry, nevertheless, that the Nationwide Get together’s suspect marketing campaign techniques could tip the election in an impoverished nation battered by pure disasters.

Many have accused the Nationwide Get together of trying to purchase preelection loyalty: “They’ve turned faculties into supply facilities for presents [stoves, beds, bikes, fridges, money] by way of Nationwide Get together activists referred to as Guias de Familia,” stated Melgar of her residence division, Intibucá. “They inform these individuals to vote for the Nationwide Get together in change for these presents.”

A central query hanging over the elections is whether or not Hernandez, who will depart workplace in January, will be a part of the record of Honduran politicians extradited to the U.S. on drug trafficking fees. Throughout the trial of his brother, Tony Hernandez, who was sentenced to life in prison this 12 months on weapons and drug trafficking fees, U.S. prosecutors alleged the president supplied to dispatch troops to defend a trafficker’s cocaine lab. The president, witnesses alleged, stated he would “shove coke up the noses of the gringos.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres greet Honduras' President Juan Orlando Hernandez

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, and United Nations Secretary Common Antonio Guterres, proper, greet Honduras’ President Juan Orlando Hernandez throughout arrivals on the COP26 U.N. Local weather Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Monday, Nov. 1, 2021. The U.N. local weather summit in Glasgow gathers leaders from world wide, in Scotland’s largest metropolis, to put out their imaginative and prescient for addressing the widespread problem of worldwide warming.

(Alastair Grant / Related Press)

A White Home aide not too long ago told the New Yorker that, upon being briefed on President Hernandez’s report, Vice President Kamala Harris sought to “go get him now,” however was cautioned by advisors about concentrating on a head of state. It’s unclear if that hesitancy will change after the election, although some efforts have been made by the Biden administration to reveal corruption: This summer time, the U.S. launched a listing that named 55 alleged corrupt officers all through the area, together with former President Porfirio Lobo and his spouse. Many Hondurans famous that Hernandez was not on the record.

Honduras has been a detailed U.S. ally for many years. However during the last 12 months, as rumors of potential extradition by the Drug Enforcement Administration have grown, Hernandez sought to domesticate various alliances. In April he gave a speech by which he steered strengthening relations with China, and in late October he held an unexpected meeting with the autocrat Ortega in neighboring Nicaragua. Some Hondurans imagine the president will search refuge in an employment and financial improvement zone, recognized by the acronym ZEDE, a controversial undertaking for autonomous company enclaves in Honduras the place an opaque new authorized system might make him immune from extradition.

Many right here worry entrenched networks of corrupt actors, together with these supporting Asfura, will make it virtually not possible for change: “If Xiomara wins, it’s going to be extraordinarily sophisticated for her. The corrupt energy buildings on this nation received’t let her take away their advantages,” stated Molina. “There’s a complete group that may wage warfare towards her.”

Olson is a particular correspondent.

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