Ten years of a coup d’état: “I, Juan Orlando Hernández…”
The coup d’état in Honduras 10 years ago has consolidated.
And no one has gained as much political and economic power
in the period since June 28, 2009, as Juan Orlando Hernández,
now the dictator of a country whose institutions are in tatters.
His meteoric career can’t be understood without the coup.
By not changing the dynamics that made the coup possible,
Honduras may again erupt against the regime he leads
…or maybe only once he has been indicted and extradited.
Ismael Moreno, SJ
Ten years after the 2009 coup d’état that shook Honduras’ institutional life and that of its entire population and reverberated throughout the continent as the 21st century’s first successful coup, the country remains stricken. Within three years after the coup, Honduras had hit the highest murder rate in its history and the highest of any non-war country. It is also considered a major drug route to the US and in April last year Reuters reported that “The second seizure of a coca plantation in Honduras within a year shows drug gangs are seeking to cut costs and turn the small Central American state into a producer rather than a transit hub for US-bound cocaine.”
“Whitewashing” the coup
Officially the coup has been transcended and the country has advanced to “a new democratic scenario,” which simply means having governments that come to power via elections. And yes, three elections have been held in these ten years with candidates of political parties that accepted the regulations established by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) as well as its ratification that the authorities were legitimately elected by means of the ballot.
In November 2009, five months after the coup, National Party candidate Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa was elected by what coup apologists described as the “best turnout in national electoral history.” Independent national and international observers, however, say the turnout was actually sparse. Those elections took place under a state of siege, amid protests against both the coup and the elections themselves, with severe police and army repression.
In impoverished communities and municipalities, such as in parts of the department of Lempira bordering with El Salvador, National
Party activists allegedly paid hundreds of decided abstainers 1,000 to 2,000 lempiras to vote for Lobo (exchange rate figures are not available for 2009 but a year later US$1 = 18.9 lempiras). Activists from several parties reportedly divvied up ballots among themselves to deposit at the polling stations they controlled to inflate their numbers. For these and other reasons the President-elect was popularly known as “Pepe Inflado.” The augmented results gave the government legitimacy for the first step in “whitewashing” the coup in international public opinion.
The Cartagena Accord
During its four years in office, the Lobo government worked to continue white-washing the constitutional rupture. This boon to the business elite and party bureaucracy responsible for the coup reached its apex with the signing of the Cartagena Accord in May 2011 between Lobo and the deposed President Manuel Zelaya. Its agreements were mediated and witnessed by then-Presidents Hugo Chávez and Juan Manuel Santos, respectively of Venezuela and Colombia.
The agreements guaranteed the lifting of Honduras’s suspension from the Organization of American States (OAS) due to the coup; Zelaya’s safe return to the country; the creation of a Ministry of Justice and Human Rights; and the possibility of convening a Constituent Assembly. Both Zelaya and Lobo agreed to resolve the crisis created by the coup in the electoral arena. Zelaya recognized Lobo’s government as legitimate and it in turn recognized the legitimacy of the grassroots resistance to the coup, specifically allowing the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) to recreate itself as a political party and participate in elections on equal terms with other parties. It would later form a coalition and become the Liberty and Refoundation political party (LIBRE).
While the international community was satisfied with the agreements, those who broke with constitutional order were not prosecuted. In fact by signing the agreements, they became the very ones in charge of the political “stability” project and the subsequent 2013 electoral process.
The Truth Commission
is only a museum piece
In July 2011, just two months after signing the Cartagena Accord, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), created in May 2010,,100 days into the Lobo administration, presented a report titled “Para que los hechos no se repitan: Hallazgos y recomendaciones” (So That the Events Will Not Be Repeated: Findings and Recommendations).”
It opened by describing what happened on June 28, 2009, as a “coup d’état against the Executive,” thus distancing itself from the hitherto official version of an “institutional crisis” that evolved in to a “presidential succession.” And this wasn’t even the main surprise in the report. Its analysis of the events disclosed participation in the coup by political actors, state officials, military, police and a certain sector of the business elite. The analysis was very professional and showed a notable level of objectivity. The final version, with its positively surprising 84 recommendations and 4 suggestions, was presented to President Lobo by the work’s coordinator, Guatemalan Eduardo Stein, in May 2011.
Had they been implemented, these recommendations would have reversed the dynamic that had triggered the coup. Two years after presenting the report, however, the follow-up commission, coordinated by the historian Rolando Sierra, acknowledged that only 13 of the recommendations were being taken into account. In the first place, the report languished from a lack of political will by those who had always held the Honduran State captive and had benefitted from the coup. To a lesser—but no less important—extent, it suffered from a decision by the leaders of the political opposition and human rights defenders to ignore it.
Through that paralyzing arrogance that dominates human beings when they have some power, however small it may be, they didn’t acknowledge or give the CVR report credibility. Much less did they demand compliance with its recommendations, never varying from their first description of it as “a tool for whitewashing the coup.” Instead, both the opposition in the FNRP coalition and those in the group of human rights defenders formed their own Truth Commission. With support and financing from different international organizations, mostly European, they pledged to prepare a report about what had really happened during and after the coup to refute the CVR report and pinpoint the coup-mongers’ role in the murders and human rights violation that had ensued.
The only thing known about the alternative Truth Commission is that dozens of consultants contracted for a report that was never properly structured went through the offices of the human rights organizations. If the CVR report made recommendations that no official structure took into account, the Truth Commission’s report said nothing serious about the events themselves. It displayed much less professionalism than the CVR report and once presented disappeared as if by magic. Today, a decade after the coup, the CVR report, for its part, is a museum piece, its many unimplemented recommendations and suggestions “so that the events will not be repeated” forgotten.
A “normalized” country
The coup was whitewashed not only by the Cartagena accords, but also by the relegating of the CVR report to oblivion and by the International community’s endorsement of the country’s “normalizing.”
Between 2011 and 2013, as Honduras returned to that touted normality, the dispute among drug cartels worsened as they competed to infiltrate state structures and forged alliances with youth gang leaders for territorial control of small-scale drug dealing. This increased violence and crime to the point where Honduras became the world’s most violent country, reaching a chilling 90 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants during those years.
The big winner:
Juan Orlando Hernández
While Pepe Lobo was in the presidency worrying about recuperating state credibility in response to pressures from the international community, those in the National Congress were surreptitiously pulling the strings that would subsequently provide continuity to the constitutional rupture generated by the coup. All strings led to Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado, the Congress president at the time.
Nobody gained as much political and economic power from the coup d’état as Juan Orlando Hernández, known popularly as JOH, who first dabbled in politics as a young man during the presidency of Rafael Leonardo Callejas (1990-1994). JOH graduated first as a cadet from the North Military High School and then as a lawyer and was soon seen among the National Party’s most powerful men. During the 1990s, he set the stage to become the figure he now is, the most powerful politician in Honduras’ recent history.
After brief sorties to Spain and the United States for graduate studies, JOH gained from Callejas malicious experience in handling the country’s resources to benefit himself, his family and his close associates. In 1998 he finally rose from being secretary to powerful people in the National Party to taking the top position in the National Congress, which he held until 2002.
JOH never stopped his political climbing, first in his party and from there in the country, until reaching the presidency of the Republic. He headed his party’s parliamentary bench from 2005 to 2009 and was its general secretary from 2006 to 2010, holding both these decision-making posts at the time of the coup and actively participating in bringing it about. As a National Party leader, JOH became heir apparent to President Lobo Sosa, who saw to it that he became the party’s candidate for the next presidential election.
JOH’s meteoric career can’t be fully understood without the coup. Ambitious and pragmatic, he knew how to step over the institutional rubble demagogically to get to where he wanted to be, becoming a perfect example of populism.
Populism works iwell n a country with such a low level of schooling: everybody hopes a “savior” will emerge, making promises that generate expectations. In such a violent and unequal country, it’s easy to go from populism to “order and command” authoritarianism and from there to dictatorship. Ten years were all JOH needed to become the dictator of a country with its institutions in tatters.
JOH personally directed his meticulous construction of a dictatorial structure, including the design of his circles of power based on trust and flattery.
He formed those circles primarily of intellectually mediocre professional men and women able to respond to his wishes and defend his interests. The group he has surrounded himself with during these years could be defined as “politically obedient and non-deliberative.” And also adulating. Once having left the rural department of Lempira, JOH didn’t want to go back without being surrounded by such a fawning group willing to do his bidding.
JOH takes the presidency in 2013
Once JOH had ensured homage and obedience in all state structures, he moved to designing the repressive structures that would protect him from any opposition he didn’t control. While chairing the National Congress he was able to push through laws creating two powerful armed bodies: the Intelligence Troops and Special Security Response Groups (TIGRES) and the Public Order Military Police (PMOP). The role of the former is to protect businesses while the latter directly responds to presidential orders regarding social “threats.”
With JOH heading the legislature, it wasn’t initially very noticeable that state power was being moved from the executive to the legislative branch but over time it became quite apparent. By 2012 the real power in Honduras was already in JOH’s hands and President Lobo had no choice but to rubber stamp what he decided in Congress. Once JOH had been selected as the National Party’s presidential candidate, he took charge of progressively transferring the larger decision-making instruments back from Congress to the presidency. By his inauguration in November 2013 the transfer was complete.
The process led by JOH strengthened one of the coup’s outcomes: the concentration of decision-making in close partnership between the political bureaucracy allied to the National Party’s extreme right wing and a very limited sector of the national and transnational—mostly US—business elite.
This is how the country’s “development” model was radicalized, based on the extractive industry in what were initially called Special Development Regions (REDs). They were finally legalized as Development and Economic Employment Zones (ZEDEs), not without first expelling four of the five justices from the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber who had declared the REDs, also known as “model cities,” unconstitutional.
This happened in 2012, when JOH still led the National Congress, but was already acting as the country’s supreme ruler, well above President Lobo. JOH forced the legislators to agree that, once elected, the four new justices would choose Oscar Chinchilla as attorney general. A member of JOH’s “politically obedient and non-deliberative” circle, Chinchilla was the “fifth” justice in the Constitutional Chamber, the one who had not declared the Model Cities unconstitutional.
Anticipating conditions for when he would take over the presidency, JOH made
tArticle 287 of the Constitution, which created the National Defense and Security Council (CNDS), into an instrument serving the President’s security.
Then, based on a special law established by decree, the CNDS became an agency involving the three branches of government plus the attorney general and the ministers of security and defense, all subordinate to the President of the Republic. This is now Honduras’ superpower. JOH makes all fundamental decisions about citizens’ life and rights within this agency, passing over the independence of the branches of government laid out in the Constitution.
I, the supreme leader
The crucial moment came when JOH was sworn in as President on January 27, 2014, in a context involving serious questioning of the electoral results. LIBRE called them fraudulent, claiming victory for its own candidate Manuel Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro. Also questioning the results was sports commentator, TV presenter and beauty contest promoter Salvador Nasralla who, having decided to enter politics, founded the Anti-Corruption Party (PAC) and launched himself as its presidential candidate.
Nasralla had entered politics in 2013. From the start, hundreds of thousands of young people from the urban university sector and those who had known him for decades as an experienced sports commentator backed his campaign. According to Nasralla, he had more votes than either JOH or Castro.
No claim or protest changed the Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s decision. Posturing like a monarch, JOH raised his voice and took the oath of office: “By the hand of God, I, Juan Orlando Hernández, am President of Honduras.” On hearing and seeing him many people had the gut feeling that this one was here to stay.
Among loyalties and
million dollar bribes
One of JOH’s first decisions was to send the National Congress a bill granting the PMOP constitutional status. He was sure of its passage as the Congress was presided over by Mauricio Oliva, another member of his “politically obedient and non-deliberative” circle of professionals.
But that first move also provided his first setback. From then on he made sure subsequent bills could not be effectively boycotted through a combination of personal friendships, party loyalties, threats, blackmail and million dollar bribes, taking a leaf from what poet Roberto Sosa described as “consumed under that feeling of tenderness that money produces.” It got JOH the Model Cities and the election of the national human rights commissioner, the attorney general, the prosecutor general and the Supreme Court justices.
Direct and implicated witnesses say that the movement of money to buy the vote of each representative for the February 2016 election of Supreme Court justices began at US$122,500 and went up to almost $500,000, after JOH had already assured the lawyer Rolando Argueta, his close drinking buddy, as Court president.
The social security crisis and
the downfall of Los Cachiros
The first grassroots opposition protest demonstrations surfaced shortly after Congress’ refusal to grant the PMOP’s constitutional status. They were initially about the looting of the Honduran Social Security Institute (IHSS).
There were already reports of overspending in the Social Security coffers, led by Mario Zelaya, towards the end of Pepe Lobo’s administration. With JOH now in the presidecy it wasn’t just overspending that was uncovered, but full-scale theft. It became known at the same time US President Barack Obama was interested in dismantling the Honduran drug-trafficking cartel “Los Cachiros.”
In late 2014, both the Social Security looting and the activities of Los Cachiros appeared to be linked to National Party leaders. At some point a photo was even published of JOH seated with Ricardo Álvarez, when both were pre-candidates for the presidency, very amicably “smoking the peace pipe” in one of Los Cachiros’ estates in the department of Colón.
By early 2015 both cases had moved forward. It was determined that at least US$350 million had been stolen from Social Security. And the brothers Javier and Devis Rivera Maradiaga, both Los Cachiros drug lords, had decided to turn themselves in to the US government leaving behind a trail of blood and countless accusations. Their surrender was followed by the capture of the Valle Valle brothers and many other drug lords, who were extradited to the United States. In those same months US justice accused prominent members of the wealthy Rosenthal family of using the Continental Bank, which they owned, to launder Los Cachiros money. InSight Crime reported that Honduran authorities seized US$500-800 million in possessions of los Cachiros and that in a New York trial of President Lobo Sosa’s firstborn son Fabio two years later, Devis Rivera Maradiaga testified that Lobo government officials, including the President himself, had accepted bribes in exchange for police and radar information and the assigning of military personnel to provide security for their drug operations.
The house is clean on the outside
The US government strategy was to regain control of the drug trafficking routes and clean Honduran territory of the outlaws who had acquired so much power they operated with the open complicity of the Police and Army, and financed the electoral campaigns of mayors, legislators and even Presidents. The strategy included a number of elements beyond cracking down on traffickers and their accomplices. Law enforcement agencies were formed in our country, directly trained and led by US government units; a systematic violence prevention campaign was developed; pilot programs to support successful
legal practices in high-risk areas were implemented and a process to purge the National Police was initiated.
The purging was led by the then-rector of the National University of Honduras, Julieta Castellanos, incensed after the murder of her son and his friend in an October 2011 police operation. The incident revealed that similar crimes were not isolated events but formed part of the modus operandi of police structures, led by officers linked to organized crime and dedicated to criminal activities.
The torchlight marches
and Out with JOH!
In April and May 2015, the scandal resulting from the pillaging of Social Security funds was fueling more and more social protest. What began as groups of dozens of young people unconnected to political groups, caught on until thousands upon thousands of angry people, torches in hand, demanded prosecution and prison for the Social Security thieves.
At these demonstrations, which spread to include the main cities of the country, the shout of “Out with JOH!” soon turned into a slogan embraced by all his opponents, some organized into parties and others not. The slogan was reiterated in the stadium by crowds gathered for a soccer match or a musical concert and was reinforced when analysts and researchers confirmed that a significant percentage of looted Social Security funds had gone to finance JOH’s electoral campaign in 2012 and 2013.
Most observers believe the US Embassy didn’t support the torchlight demonstrations but wasn’t displeased with them, as they served to pressure JOH to collaborate with the Washington strategy against Honduran drug trafficking. This was the context that encouraged JOH to lay the groundwork of his presidential reelection plan, which he had been working on even back when he presided over the National Congress.
extinguished the torches
In the second half of 2015 JOH set out to capitalize on the torchlight marches’ anger. In order to do so, he gave the green light to capturing and prosecuting Social Security executives, starting with the director, Mario Zelaya. He also promised to continue to prosecute “whoever it may be.”
Faced with the indignant public’s demand to establish a UN-supported international anti-corruption agency in Honduras, replicating the experience of the International Commission Against Corruption and Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), JOH got a “dialogue” to set it in motion and an invitation was sent to the OAS—not the UN—to head the Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH).
With the dialogue, the trials and the MACCIH, JOH obtained recognition from the US embassy. With the dialogue that ended the 2015 crisis, and the capture and extradition of some drug traffickers who were his close friends, JOH convinced his party, the allied sector of the business elite, and the pro-government sector of civil society to back his reelection bid.
Once the MACCIH was approved and formed in early 2016, the torches were extinguished. The US embassy, along with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), has since put pressure on the MACCIH to fulfill its function of helping investigations that would force the Public Ministry to issue fiscal requirements against officials accused of corruption. At the same time, the JOH government took credit before the diplomatic corps accredited in Honduras for creating the Ministry for Human Rights—actually created by Pepe Lobo and suppressed by JOH when he took over the presidency—and the Special Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. With all this, everything was ready for JOH’s reelection by the first half of 2016.
JOH legally ensures his reelection
In April 2015, in order to legally pave the way for reelection, JOH got the Supreme Court’s whole Constitutional Chamber to rule “inapplicable” Article 239 of the Constitution, which establishes that “a citizen who has held the title of head of the Executive Branch cannot be elected President of the Republic or Presidential Designee.” The same article establishes that those who violate this provision, or propose to amend it, will be dismissed from their posts and disqualified from exercising any public office for ten years.
The Court’s decision ruled in favor of two requests, one presented by 16 National Party representatives and the other by former President Callejas, JOH’s mentor. At the same time, lawyer and legislator Oswaldo Ramos presented a motion in the National Congress to establish every citizen’s human right to aspire to reelection.
The opposition collaborated
with the reelection
With these legal tools on his side, JOH officially launched his presidential candidacy for a second term in late 2016. The opposition parties continued organizing their structures to compete with JOH, even knowing they were participating in a process that would inevitably lead to a fraudulent election.
An opposition alliance under the leadership of Manuel Zelaya was formed to face JOH. It consisted of LIBRE, Nasralla’s PAC and the Innovation and Social-Democratic Unity Party (PINU-SD).
With rumors that Zelaya would propose Nasralla as the alliance’s presidential candidate, JOH instructed the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to invalidate Nasralla’s membership in the PAC, a maneuver intended to reduce the strength of an alliance that, given Nasralla’s popular candidacy, would demand more effort from JOH to ensure victory and put him at-risk vis-à-vis the international community.
JOH succeeded in getting the TSE to register him as e candidate and left Nasralla without a party. But Zelaya ratified Nasralla as the candidate for the opposition alliance.
The Liberal Party, the National Party’s traditional rival in Honduras’ historic bipartisanship, ceased to be an option, leaving JOH only opposing Nasralla. Everyone warned that JOH was running with the certainty that nobody, under any circumstances, would prevent his reelection.
Various sectors called on the opposition alliance to withdraw from a contest in which it would not only fail, but would legitimate the election’s fraudulence and unconstitutionality. But the alliance argued that to withdraw would be to hand JOH victory on a plate. Furthermore, it thought that JOH was so discredited at that point, and Nasralla’s popularity was so high, that there would be no way to hide the votes. In addition, the alliance announced a vote defense system that would supposedly prevent any fraudulent maneuver. What it didn’t take into account was that for many Honduran politicians elections are always an economic investment…
Reelected by fraud
This was the setting in which the elections were held on the last Sunday of November, 2017… and the expected happened. The TSE declared JOH the winner ignoring the vote count, the denunciations, the OAS report, the civic demonstrations and the rejection of most of society,Amid fierce repression, with dozens of deaths, hundreds arrested and an environment of terror, JOH took office for a second term on January 27, 2018, without any foreign head of state attending the ceremony. He immediately put in motion his idea of a “pacification” policy, involving real and direct repression of the opposition and an economic policy comprising full support for investment in the extractive industry and expansion of the privatization of public assets.
Washington’s five conditions
JOH’s second term has come at a very high political cost, especially for his own fragile international recognition. Basically, he has stayed in government because the US government decided to recognize him.
According to reliable sources, the State Department put five conditions to its recognition of JOH’s reelection:
1. Respect human rights and their defenders, investigating and prosecuting those responsible for human rights violations and crimes committed in the crisis created by the election results.
2. Support the fight against corruption led by MACCIH and the Special Fiscal Unit for the Fight against Corruption and Impunity (UFECIC).
3. Support the US government in its fight against drug trafficking.
4. Set in motion a process leading to the elimination the Public Order Military Police, as it is considered that therein resides factors that strengthen presidential authoritarianism and threaten the human rights of citizens, especially those who protest.
5. Call the various sectors in society to a national dialogue in order to achieve legitimacy and tackle the conflicts arising from the political crisis caused by the reelection.
Yet another dialogue
JOH has adhered to the formality of responding to the five conditions, but shown no interest in the success of the actions undertaken, seeking only to stay on good terms with his northern partner so as to consolidate his position and continue advancing his personal state control project.
Of the five conditions, the dialogue was the most publicized, as he had done already in 2015. On this occasion it was on the initiative of the resident UN representative and the sponsorship of various sectors of society, especially the Catholic Church hierarchy. They called it a “political dialogue” and representatives of the opposition political parties, with the exception of LIBRE, participated in it.
Its ample publicity notwithstanding, the dialogue produced no specific results because the recommendations were passed to the National Assembly, where they were merely filed away. Nonetheless, the dialogue 2.0 achieved enough distraction to convince the diplomatic corps that JOH he was really interested in resolving the crisis that had arisen after the controversial electoral results that kept him in government.
Almagro and JOH:
An impunity pact
So far MACCIH and the UFECIC have focused on cases related to officials from Pepe Lobo’s government, including his wife, without touching anyone who has anything directly to do with the JOH administration. Lobo himself now accuses his former protégée of having betrayed him and insists they prosecute large-scale corruption cases of officials in the two JOH administrations. He is reportedly basing his demands on documented reports that include the JOH family clan: his wife, mother-in-law and many close collaborators.
The decision to concern themselves only with corrupt officials from the Lobo administration suggests a tacit but effective agreement between JOH and l Luis Almagro, the OAS Secretary General, presumably based on Almagro’s interest in protecting the work of people close to him who were hired for MACCIH. In return, Almagro wouldn’t question the legitimacy of elections which, at the time, he himself had directly questioned. Nor would corruption cases more directly linked to JOH be touched.
The resignation-dismissal of Juan Jiménez Mayor, MACCIH’s first spokesperson, was reportedly the result of charges he made public about corruption behind the OAS hiring of MACCIH staff. Others say Jiménez left his post because he had begun to open files on corruption cases linked to JOH’s wife. Whatever the truth of those suspicions, UFECIC has not opened the most notorious corruption cases made public concerning the JOH administration, and current MACCIH spokespeople have never brought them up.
brother Tony blow the game?
If JOH’s first setback came in 2014 when the legislators refused to back his attempt to grant the Public Order Military Police constitutional status, an even greater and almost devastating one beset him in November 2018, with the surrender-capture of his brother Tony Hernández by US justice authorities, accused of being one of the biggest drug traffickers in Central America in the last 10 years.
By then, the environment was one of growing instability and widespread condemnation of the JOH government’s authoritarian, capricious and arbitrary practices. Moreover, Washington was looking into the government’s responsibility for the massive migration phenomenon, with caravans of Honduran migrants heading towards the US. In that context, the impact of Tony’s capture was so great it seemed it could trigger to either the resignation or the overthrow of the enfeebled JOH government.
Although nothing appears to affect JOH, the capture of his drug-trafficking brother now hangs over his head like the sword of Damocles. The statements his brother has to make to US justice keep JOH in check. Any impetuous move and that sword will fall, skewering his political career for all time.
The obscured death of sister Hilda
Amidst the civic clamor against the November 2017 electoral fraud, JOH received another enormous setback to his successful political career with the death of his sister the following month.
Hilda Hernández was the most trusted collaborator in his administration: she pulled all the strings in the Presidential House, dealt with the media and designed a communication strategy, was responsible for all the social welfare programs in the Ministry of Social Inclusion; and handled other key tasks, more clandestine than public.
The reasons for her death were carefully kept obscure, resulting in many unanswered questions. JOH’s credibility was so low at the time that Hilda’s death became embedded in suspicion. The most unlikely versions circulated, from the official one about a helicopter accident, to one claiming the accident had been simulated to make her disappear from public life and thus evade US justice. Some even suggested she had been murdered, as payback between drug cartels. The real reason for her death remained hidden. The photos of the damaged helicopter were discovered to belong to another accident at another time in another place. One year after her death there hasn’t even been a death notice, much less any religious ceremony.
Out with JOH…
now or in 2021?
Just as in May 2011, two years after the coup d’état, when the Cartagena Accord led to a pact between the conflicting parties to resolve the crisis through elections in November 2013, certain political opponents, led by LIBRE, now seem to want to replicate that process to resolve the 2017 electoral fraud crisis through elections in November 2021.
This sector of the opposition is clear that the country is under a dictatorship and that JOH leads a criminal structure. But it also understands that this dictatorship must be weakened if it is to end in a resounding defeat in the 2021 elections. They say they need a presence in the electoral process and control of the electoral agencies to achieve this. And that in turn requires LIBRE coming to some understanding with the National Party, or at least with some of its sectors. LIBRE is still proposing Out with JOH! …just not quite yet.
Opposing this idea is another political and social sector that argues the impossibility of negotiating with a fraudulent and criminal dictatorship without entering into complicity. They further argue that becoming involved in an electoral process conducted by those who are adroit at coups, fraud and all kinds of trickiness, as is the National Party, only helps legitimize the continuation of the dictatorship. They see no value to insisting on the same rationale that led the opposition to participate in an electoral process that resulted in electoral fraud and the illegal imposition of the 2017 reelection. This opposition proposes Out with JOH, NOW! Finding a mid-point between these two tendencies is proving very hard.
Conditional on Washington
One characteristic showing that we’re still under the ethos of the coup is that the most important decisions for and about the country are made outside of it, without it and frequently against its interests. And most of them are made by the US government.
Ten years after the coup, the Honduran government and society in general have remained in the hands of decisions taken in Washington. It’s symptomatic that in recent years, even with the consolidation of authoritarianism and the curtailing of citizens’ rights, everyone in the political and business sphere are forever waiting for the twitter of Heide Fulton, deputy chief of mission in the US embassy in Tegucigalpa as of September 2016 and chargé d’affaires as of June 2017 when Ambassador James D. Nealon finished his three year term and was not replaced by the Trump administration.
Whether it be the migrant caravans, MACCIH’s activities, the fight against corruption and drug trafficking, the election of the heads of different state bodies, the approval of legal mechanisms such as the Effective Collaboration or the validity or not of the New Criminal Code, all wait for Fulton’s twitter in order to act accordingly. Fulton’s own three years are now up and it is not clear who will head the Embassy as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has successfully blocked Trump nominee Francisco Palmieri, who served as acting assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs from January 2017 to October 2018, and earlier served| in Honduras as a junior officer, so knows the country. Rubio is reportedly pushing for a more hardline approach to US policy in Latin America, preferring political appointees over career diplomats.
A February 6, 2019, article for Foreign Policy quoted a Democratic congressional aide as saying that “It appears that Latin America policy has largely been delegated to Sen. Rubio. We don’t have an administration, or a President, that cares a whole lot about Latin America, other than building a wall between us. Sen. Rubio is one of their key defenders in Congress, and they are happy to do what he wants.”
The coup has consolidated
The coup’s effectiveness can be measured by Honduras’ incapacity for autonomy today .This loss of autonomy indicates that the further we move in time from June 28, 2009, the more this coup is consolidated.
The coup is also extant in the radicalizing of the investment model controlled by the oligarchic elite’s alliance, the corrupt political bureaucracy and the transnationals. In these 10 years this model has led our country to become extremely polarized. There is now an insurmountable gap between the vast majority of the population and the business elite that benefits from state legislation and is concentrating capital. The former have been losing job opportunities and social benefits and have seen their natural assets—the
water in their rivers, their minerals, their beaches and mountains and their general habitat—taken away from them by the state policy of giving concessions to investors, without respecting national laws or international conventions.
This enormous gap of inequalities has converted the model and the institutionality established by the coup into architects of violence and instability in Honduras. Over these 10 years, this institutional violence has been expressed in the murders of human rights defenders and a crime wave that had its most dramatic moment on March 2, 2016, with the murder of Berta Cáceres, recognized worldwide as a fighter for social, environmental and indigenous rights.
A model that, according to economists, has led in 10 years to unemployment for 6 of every 10 persons of working age and caused close to a million people to flee the country is a violent model. A model with a public health system lacking basic medical equipment, where patients have to buy not only their medicines but also everything needed for a surgery is a violent model. A model with a fiscal policy based on indirect taxes where the poor and the major entrepreneurs pay the same, is also violent.
In these 10 years the national budget has reflected the priorities of those who administer the State: increasing resources for security and defense to the detriment of educational and health needs. The prioritizing of security rates ensures that many millions of lempiras are used at JOH’s discretion. This is the violent model that has been consolidated in these 10 years of the coup.
Weaker institutionality facilitates greater concentration of power in the hands of JOH and his circle of unconditional supporters. A big businessman, critical of JOH’s administration, made this appraisal: “Institutionally speaking, we were worse 5 years ago than 10 years ago, and today we are much worse than we were 5 years ago.”
In recent months a new social and political crisis has been triggered in Honduras over defense of the right to education and health and against the privatization of these social services.
The protests and the resulting crisis transcended both demands. With the decision to suppress all expressions of discontent and social protest that arise daily and increasingly throughout the country and among different social sectors, JOH’s strategy is to sow fear and quell the protests through mental and physical exhaustion.
In addition to street attacks, the JOH regime has increased the strategy of criminalizing those who protest and launching publicity campaigns to discredit human rights’ defenders, seeking to create a climate of stigmatization and hatred against them.
The volcano is active
All this and much more means that the coup isn’t a thing of the past; it’s a consolidated, active and still developing process. Its dynamic continues in a neoliberal model that needs a strong
and dictatorial hand to guarantee its beneficiaries quick and easy profits.
At the end of these t10 ears, the State’s prioritizing of security based on armaments and repression makes the security of those it claims to protect more precarious because it increases unrest and protest in wide sectors of society who are seeing their rights increasingly less respected.
By not changing the dynamics of what began 10years ago, rejection of the coup will continue to be active, like simmering magma in an active volcano. And it will again explode against the regime, whether it is still under the leadership of Juan Orlando Hernández, or after he has already been prosecuted and extradited.
Ismael Moreno, sj, is a correspondent for envío in Honduras.