Two campaign paths crossing: Clinton-Kaine’s and Hernández’s
Honduras has entered the
Democratic Party’s electoral campaign
at a time when Juan Orlando Hernández’s
reelection project is moving steadily forward.
The Hillary Clinton-Tim Kaine presidential campaign
in the US is linked to Hernández’ reelection in two ways:
Kaine has “a love” for Honduras that goes way back,
and JOH has US support to keep governing.
Ismael Moreno, SJ
The man who for six months in 2015 was massively rejected by thousands of people shouting “JOH, get out!” has everything properly tied up to be reelected as President of Honduras in the 2017 elections. With his power getting stronger and the upcoming electoral campaign heralding violence, Honduras, an insignificant country in international politics, has entered the Democratic Party’s campaign, which aspires to get Hillary Clinton into the White House.
Tim Kaine and his two loves
Honduras’ name began to appear in national and international media headlines when candidate Clinton announced Tim Kaine as her running mate on July 22,.
Kaine, a Virginia senator and one of those responsible for the US Senate’s international policies, stated that his political commitment would have been inconceivable without his work experience during the 1980s with poor sectors in the remote corner of the Honduran northern coast called El Progreso. “That experience marked me,” said Kaine in several interviews. “There are two loves that give strength to my life: love for my family and love for El Progreso, where I worked with the poor and the Jesuits.” National and international reporters immediately descended on the hot and dusty city of El Progreso seeking statements from the Jesuits.
Two linked campaigns: Clinton and Hernández
On August 13, days after Kaine was selected for the vice presidency, The New York Times published a report by Pulitzer Prize winner Sonia Nazario, sowing the idea that Honduras is no longer the most dangerous country in the world thanks to the policies developed there by the US government. Her chronicle focuses on an area called Rivera Hernández northeast of San Pedro Sula, the most violent sector of the most violent city in the country and the world.
In a book Nazario wrote a couple of years ago about the drama lived by Central American migrants heading to the North, she highlighted the magnificent results of US policies in reducing violence in the turbulent Rivera Hernández area. Her recent Times article starts, “Three years ago, Honduras had the highest homicide rate in the world. The city of San Pedro Sula had the highest homicide rate in the country. And the Rivera Hernández neighborhood, where 194 people were killed or hacked to death in 2013, had the highest homicide rate in the city. Tens of thousands of young Hondurans traveled to the United States to plead for asylum from the drug gangs’ violence.”
“This summer,” she continues, “I returned to Rivera Hernández to find a remarkable reduction in violence, much of it thanks to programs funded by the United States that have helped community leaders tackle crime. By treating violence as if it were a communicable disease and changing the environment in which it propagates, the United States has not only helped to make these places safer, but has also reduced the strain on our own country.”
This article in a newspaper with so much influence in the US shows a clear intention to add weight to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, by highlighting US security policies in our country. In addition, it supports Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández’s campaign, as the reporter constantly refers to Washington’s tight alliance with the Honduran government, dedicated to setting his reelection in the national self-image as the best path to continue a “Better Life,” one of the main themes of his propaganda.
That is how the Clinton-Kaine democratic campaign and Hernández’s reelection campaign are linked, both using the poorest, particularly youth and children, who are victims of violence or in situations of social risk.
“Violence prevention” in neighborhoods and tracts
“We’re going for more changes” is one of Hernández’s slogans. It bears a strong likeness to “We’re going for more victories,” one of the main slogans of Daniel Ortega and his wife in neighboring Nicaragua.
“Honduras is no longer the most violent country in the world. It isn’t in first, or second or third or fifth place,” the President likes to say, referring to the violence that has taken over El Salvador as the conflict between maras (gangs) has intensified. And that achievement, Nazario tells her readers, is fruit of the support from the security policies the US is implementing in our country.
Within the structure of those policies one of the programs is “Violence Prevention,” which is being applied throughout the national territory. Among its components are the so called “model neighborhoods” and “model tracts.” These are places of conflict where people from the US government establish alliances with local governments and authorities from the Ministry of Security and other ministries with the objective of intervening in those places by building parks and recreation areas, improving public infrastructure, health and education installations and putting in police posts with motorized patrol units.
The alliances aren’t only with local governments, but also with other sectors of civil society, foundations and churches. At a national level the program has established a good cooperation relationship with the Association for a More Just Society (ASJ), an agency through which the US promotes other programs related to investigations, human rights, citizen participation and the promotion of democracy.
With an evangelical church
The “Violence Promotion” program seems to have a specific line linked to some evangelical churches to spread religious messages that influence the population.
Whoever travels around Honduras with sharp eyes will observe many walls in the different cities with religious messages written upon them. Some are direct Bible texts, others are quotes that refer to biblical texts but put into more attractive wording. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of messages painted everywhere. They have the same format, the same style, the same letter size, the same colors and all are credited to the evangelical church “Nuevo Renacer” (New Rebirth), which suggests that this church has a noticeable capacity to do massive publicity.... or maybe we’re dealing with an “itinerant church” that is carrying out this US strategy.
Firewalls” for migrants
Reporter Nazario knows perfectly well that the US is involved right to the core of Honduran politics and is the main support Hernández’s government counts on. She also knows that Washington stopped relying on its traditional allies in Honduras, including the Hernandez government, which is treated with distrust, but continues to support them for lack of better alternatives.
For security reasons, Honduras has become a territory in emergency for the US. Given the intense pressure that the huge phenomenon of unaccompanied immigrant children put on the US, its security policies already being developed with force in our country took on an emergency overlay.
The human avalanche heading North is considered a “humanitarian crisis” and requires security policies, which are now being implemented both inside Honduras and along the route traveled by the migrants. Creating political, legal, social, police, military and psychological “firewalls” to stop the massive exodus of Hondurans and Central Americans to the United States is one of Washington’s objectives. It has added other strategies to the retention concept, among them the capture and extradition of Honduran chiefs of organized crime and drug trafficking, the prevention of violence in the country’s neighborhoods and districts and support for new generations of politicians who will hopefully replace the old traditional allies, so tainted by corruption and links with crime.
The fear is the same
How true is this “pacification” of Rivera Hernández that Nazario writes about? Its inhabitants question it. They still walk through its streets, work in the same place and sleep in their same houses with a fear identical to that of three years ago. They know the same information about macabre deaths as three years ago. And they feel the same threats from both the gangs and the police as three years ago.
In at least one of the photos illustrating Nazario’s book children appear whose parents were killed in the neighborhood. The government has still not accounted for their deaths, which leaves their murderers in absolute impunity. There is founded suspicion that those crimes were committed by persons or groups directly linked to police authorities. Show pictures of those children of those parents as proof of the “pacification” is ethically wrong.
lliance for prosperity?
Nazario’s book is electoral propaganda for Hillary Clinton, who in 2009, when she was secretary of state, didn’t condemn the coup against President Manuel Zelaya. To the contrary, she gave those who participated in it advantages over the delegation representing the ousted government in the dialogue that took place during that dramatic period.
The apologetic nature of the book also coincides with the implementation of the Alliance for Prosperity, approved by the US government for Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. This project has brought about criticism and questioning in both Central America and the United States. Within the US electoral circumstances, the plan fits in with the Democratic Party’s interest in showing its commitment to a pro-immigrants policy, so as to distance itself from Republican candidate Donald Trump’s xenophobia.
But, is the Alliance for Prosperity really a pro-immigrant project? The discourse accompanying it insists that to stop immigration it’s necessary to promote transformation processes in the countries of origin, reducing violence with education programs and creating jobs, calculating that this will not only stop immigration, but will also lead the societies of the Northern Triangle to support the United States’ intervening presence in the region.
The Alliance has allocated US$750 million for the three Central American countries, a ridiculous amount when compared to the remittances Honduran immigrants sent back home to Honduras in 2015: almost US$3 billion. Contrasting the two figures uncovers the fallacy of a project publicized as enormous support to the development of Honduras, when we all know that the work of Honduras’ poorest is the real “alliance for prosperity” for their families. What our country needs, among other things, are programs that ensure that the millions of dollars from remittances don’t end up increasing the bank accounts of the country’s minority of business elites.
Is this pacification?
Other information that doesn’t appear in Nazario’s book is that education in the schools in Rivera Hernández is being imparted by police tkat many people from there identify as responsible for the killing and disappearances of their youth. A lot of people in the area and other parts of Honduras know about the links between the police and criminal networks. How can one speak of “pacification” if education is put in the hands of those in charge of the “social clean-ups” that cause so much horror in this neighborhood?
Signs of “social clean-ups”—unpunished killings of young people who, without proof, are assumed criminals—continue in the popular neighborhoods and residential tracts of the main cities around the country. We also know that 58% of the funds going to Honduras through the Alliance for Prosperity will be used for security programs, among them “pacification” by the military and police along with the indoctrination of children and teens. It will “pacify” through force and fear.
Tim Kaine within the empire’s machinery
Let’s talk a little about Tim Kaine, Democratic candidate to the vice presidency of the United States. He is, indeed, a friend of the Jesuits and when he speaks about his experiences in Honduras in 1980 and 1981, collaborating with the social work of the Jesuits in El Progreso, he shows frankness and honesty.
In February, 2015, Kaine again visited El Progreso. He acted quite spontaneously when he met with the Jesuits and expressed his conviction that investment in education for poor youth with no opportunities is essential for the holistic development of every society. During Kaine’s visit he again demonstrated that he is a good and morally responsible person. However, within the institutional machinery, which supports the power of the US empire, his personal goodness is diluted.
That was confirmed when he visited us in 2015. The visit was set up the previous November between the senator and a Jesuit priest who visited him in his office in Washington. Some weeks before, his office sent the agenda the senator would follow, in which an encounter with the Jesuits and their social work was highlighted as Kaine’s expressed desire. Just a few days later, however, the agenda was redefined by another office, linked to the State Department and the US Embassy in Honduras. The priorities in this new agenda were formal meetings with authorities, thus imposing the interests of the world’s most powerful government over Tim Kaine’s personal plans and desires.
That’s why Kaine couldn’t get out of having to kindly greet the Honduran President in Tegucigalpa and cordially receive him in Washington, even though he knows very well that JOH used Honduras’ Social Security funds to finance his political campaign, a real crime in a country with such a precarious health system, and also knows about the ties of police and military officers and government officials close to JOH with organized crime.
We would have liked to hear him....
As a senator, Tim Kaine has done a lot of good work in his country and has lived his political career with proven honesty. And when he makes reference to the years he lived in Honduras during his younger years, he always refers to the lessons in humanism he received here from the poor.
We would have liked to hear him on some occasion refer to the negative role the US government played in our country during those dark years of the 1980s, when the Reagan administration, in the name of the national security doctrine, turned our land into a platform from which to wage war against the Nicaraguan revolution and the guerrillas in El Salvador and Guatemala.
We have also never heard him refer to the disappearance of his fellow countryman in September 1983, the US priest Guadalupe Carney, victim of a combined operation between Honduran and US military. Nor has he accompanied Carney’s family, also fellow compatriots, who for many years have made efforts, so far unsuccessfully, to get information from the US government on the whereabouts of his remains.
What will Kaine do as Vice President?
What will Tim Kaine’s behavior be like if he becomes the Vice President of the United States? With all we know about the senator and the country he represents, we can speculate that he will seek to do good things to benefit the poorest populations of Honduras, Central America and, in general, the planet’s impoverished countries. He will probably have influence in increasing the budgets of organizations like AID, focused on programs in education, humanitarian aid, local development and benefits for small and micro producers and businesses.
Certainly, he will support initiatives aimed at benefiting thousands of Latino immigrants in US territory and will propose laws that dignify that population, so discriminated against because of their origin and “illegal” status. He will also watch over the expansion of public freedoms and social rights for all those who make up US society.
At the same time, Kaine will remain prudently silent on the White House’s military policies and will maintain close relationships with the Southern Command, especially with their projects for Mexico and Central America, though making sure human rights are respected. He’ll maintain good relations with the governments of Latin America, especially those in Central America, supporting bilateral aid policies that promote social and economic development and medium, small and micro businesses, emphasizing that the aid from the US include mechanisms for auditing and transparency in the use of the resources. Surely he’ll be firm in fighting corruption and strengthening the justice institutions to eradicate impunity and will have as his priorities respect for human rights, the rule of law and electoral processes legitimized by transparency and international observation.
And, even though he will be interested in seeing new generations of politicians arise that are true public servers, transparent in the use of public resources, he’ill maintain the best of relations with the political and business elite of the Latin American region, especially those of Central America and Mexico. Honduras won’t be an exception in that world of “best relations” even though Kaine will do his best to benefit the impoverished Honduran sectors the Jesuits have worked with and who contributed so much to molding his social commitment.
A “legitimate” and “legal” reelection
Will this indeed be Tim Kaine’s behavior? Whatever happens, there’s no doubt that Honduras, a country impoverished by policies always defined from the outside without considering the great majority, and frequently are against them, is now on the Democratic Party’s agenda during a time when Juan Orlando Hernández’ reelection is gaining strength.
In March 2017 the political party candidates that will run in the November 2017 general elections will be revealed and the “success” of the “pacification” that the US government is implementing will be one of the assets of Hernández’s reelection campaign. Knowing that is why he’s making such contradictory but effective moves.
In Geneva, he pledged to withdraw the Army from the streets, where he himself had sent them to “guarantee citizen’s security.” He boosted the questioning of the upper-level police chiefs to open the way for the Purging Commission, created in the heat of his interests, to weaken the police institution and send hundreds of police into unemployment. At the end of August, however, he created two new battalions of Military Police for Public Order, better known as the Military Police at the President’s Order.
Hernández made all these moves while couching his reelection in legality. In his task of controlling all the national institutions and twisting the laws to make it legitimate, he is inspired by Daniel Ortega, who has expertly done the same in Nicaragua. Through him, Hernández sees that if one gets ahold of all the country’s strings, one not only achieves one reelection after another, but also a family regime.
Juan Orlando Hernández’s team boycotted the initiative of the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber, arguing that a plebiscite should be held so people could decide whether they wanted reelection or not. Then in August, the President wilily got the Court to put an end to the debate with the statement: “The issue of reelection is adjudicated.”
Reelection is a trigger for violence
The President’s reelection has already turned into an issue of instability and confrontation. The polarization, threats, violence and accumulated aggressiveness within Honduran society from the last decades will all converge in the upcoming campaigns. We foresee a violent and dangerous campaign, in which reelection will trigger many conflicts.
The social networks are already anticipating it. At the end of August, as a result of the launching of Xiomara Castro, Mel Zelaya’s wife, as a potential candidate for the LIBRE party, the death threats against this party’s leaders spread like wildfire in Twitter and Facebook, where faces of real people brandishing heavy weapons, also real, appeared. There were also threats through phone calls and messages. What will happen when the campaigns actually start?
These anticipating days, already violent, indicate that the electoral race will be a war between Honduras’ extreme right sector led by the President and an opposition with nothing more than a fragile backbone held together only by shared rejection of his reelection. With such an extremist project as that of the reelection sector, one would expect the different opposing social sectors to be strongly united in a common project. But they aren’t. Not even within the LIBRE party are there any solidly articulated lines, much less between LIBRE and other opposition parties.
Coming from other struggles
It’s to be expected that in the absence of any well-structured opposition party, organizational and mobilizing awareness will emerge within different non-party sectors engaged in territorial and other specific struggles and that they will put together a national effort against JOH’s authoritarian project. Because an effort centered only around traditional electoral proselytism inevitably results in legitimizing the presidential reelection.
Bringing these efforts together against neoliberal extremism—expressed in extractivism, the privatization of common and public goods, and public-private alliances imposed by multinational corporations—is the only way to face this electoral situation in better conditions, hopefully leading to medium-term visions and the profound changes Honduras so desperately needs.
Ismael Moreno, sj, is the envío correspondent in Honduras.