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How Corruption Fuels Human Rights Abuses & Forced Migration: The Case of Honduras

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Date: Mar 26, 2020

Author: Lisa Haugaard

The Observatorio de Política Criminal Anticorrupción in Honduras published a report detailing the macroeconomic impact of corruption in the country. In 2014, the lump sum of economic damage attributed to corruption came out to approximately 38 billion lempiras, constituting 10% of the nation’s GDP. By 2018, that amount skyrocketed to almost 65 billion lempiras, totaling 12.5% of Honduras’s GDP.

Infographic by: Antonio Saadipour

Corrupt officials robbed over $300 million from the Honduran healthcare system, the Instituto  Hondureño de Seguridad Social, funded from workers’ paychecks and taxes. With cuts in medicine and staff, it is estimated that this massive corruption, uncovered in 2014, caused 2,800 patients to lose their lives. Some of the robbed funds ended up in President Juan Orlando Hernández’s campaign coffers.

A district project fund for Honduran legislators became a slush fund for political campaigns and vote-buying, channeling taxpayer money to fake nonprofits, including two run by President Hernandez’s family.  The “Pandora’s Box” cases, uncovered with the help of the anti-corruption agency MACCIH, drained funding intended to build roads, schools, and other projects in poor rural areas.

Honduras is one of the world’s most dangerous places to be an environmental activist or human rights defender. Frontline Defenders rated Honduras third in the world in murders of human rights activists in 2019 and Global Witness named Honduras the deadliest country in the world for environmental activism in 2017.  More than 100 small farmers have been killed since 2009 in land disputes in Bajo Aguán, where large-scale palm plantations encroach on land farmed by poor farmers and cooperatives. Activists protesting environmentally damaging projects, like Guapinol community members organizing against a mine polluting their water, are in jail.  International financing backs many of the controversial projects.

Goldman prize-winning indigenous and environmental activist Berta Cáceres was murdered in March 2016.  Those allegedly involved in her murder include employees of the dam company that she and her community were opposing and current and former security officials.  Four years after her death, while material authors of her killing have been convicted, those who directed it remain free.

The November 2017 elections in which President Hernández was declared reelected were seen as fraudulent by much of the Honduran public, yet the OAS’s call for new elections was ignored.  In the massive protests that followed, at least 23 people were killed, the vast majority allegedly by security forces. Over 60 people were wounded.  Two years later, not a single security force member has been convicted for these crimes.

A New York jury convicted Tony Hernández, the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, of drug trafficking on October 2019.  In the course of the trial, New York prosecutors labeled President Hernández “a co-conspirator,” presented evidence that he had received drug cartel money for his presidential campaign, revealed a web of drug connections to army and police officials, and denounced “state-sponsored drug trafficking.”

The Honduran government shut down the OAS anti-corruption mechanism MACCIH in January 2020, despite international consensus that it must continue.

Yet the United States continues to call Honduras “a reliable ally,” provide assistance to the military and police, and has negotiated a “safe third country” agreement so that Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, and other asylum seekers can be deported to this dangerous country rather than await the outcome of their asylum cases in the United States.