Honduras president: graft-linked companies helped fund my campaign
That’s how Reuters titled their story, datelined Tegucigalpa today.
Which would be an incredible step forward in taking responsibility for the corruption scandal that has led to torchlit protests uniting supporters of two of the opposition parties in Honduras.
Unfortunately, the story appears to be slightly less than the headline promises. The basic points it reports are easy to summarize:
Facing a wave of protests calling for his resignation, Honduran President Juan Hernandez said on Wednesday that his 2013 presidential campaign took money from companies linked to one of the worst corruption scandals in the country’s history.
But he said he and his National Party were unaware of where the money came from and hoped that an investigation would find and punish those responsible for breaking any laws.
Hernandez said the probe found 3 million lempiras (about $148,000) in campaign financing was tied to those companies, without giving more details.
That would be considerably less funding channeled to the campaign than the $90 million that sources other than the PN have reported went to the party’s coffers.
And while Hernández begrudgingly admitted some funds came to his campaign from the companies set up to loot the IHSS, he insisted he personally had nothing to do with it:
Hernandez told reporters that “me, myself, Juan Orlando, I have nothing to do” with the scandal.
Needless to say, leaders of the protests against JOH were not placated. Salvador Nasralla of the Partido Anti-Corrupción underlined that corruption is corruption, saying:
“It’s like saying that a thief who steals a little is less guilty than one who steals a lot”.
The Honduran press, meanwhile, took quite a different tack in its coverage, leaving a much more ambiguous impression about what the president has or has not admitted.
El Heraldo‘s article was headlined “JOH: Partido Nacional should return funds to the IHSS“, but the statement attributed to Hernández is conditional:
Hernández insisted that if it were proven that businesses connected to the embezzlement at IHSS issued checks in favor of the Partido Nacional, the funds should be returned…
That “if” disappeared in the Reuters story. But it, and similar hedged language, is all over Honduran reporting.
JOH, while seeming to call for his party to admit guilt, actually used the opportunity to undermine one of his political rivals, ex-mayor of Tegucigalpa Ricardo Alvarez, stating
“I am not the president of the party, but this was my suggestion more than eight months ago; I said that once the Fiscalía and the Judicial branch demonstrate that those resources came from something unseemly, the Partido Nacional is under an obligation to return those resources.
The head of the Partido Nacional who, this passage implies, did not take JOH’s good advice, while unnamed in this article is Alvarez, who would have been likely to be the strongest candidate for president from the PN, before the Supreme Court decision allowing re-election.
In reporting by La Prensa, Hernández is quoted as explicitly saying “some of the checks were in the period when Ricardo Alvarez was president of the Party”, continuing
“I don’t know right now if he has given his statement or not, but everyone has to give a statement, everyone has to give his version and afterward, the court has to make its
It is no accident that El Heraldo ended its article with Hernández’ response to a question about re-election:
In regard to my electoral participation, it seems to me that I should leave space for all political actors, but if they are in agreement, I have no problem in participating.
El Tiempo, reporting the response almost word for word as El Heraldo, added “Nonetheless, [Hernández] said that he had not spoken of re-election”.
So– no admission of guilt at all, contrary to what Reuters reported, is found in the Honduran coverage. La Prensa de Honduras actually headlined its story “I have nothing to do with the corruption of the Seguro”: Juan Orlando Hernández.
Curiously absent from the Reuters story is what Hernández had to say about those protesting about the scandal. In Tiempo he is quoted as saying
“Why have the people come out? just like me, I was angered when I realized the depth of the problem, of the avarice of the human being who could act at the moment of being an administrator”…”I am certain that the majority of the people, like all of us, are angry about what has happened and many people legitimately come out and march, but also there are people who come out and march because they do not want other cases to be known …”
So in JOH’s view, he is on the side of the just protesters, while some others are nefariously participating in protests to prevent the disclosure of their own corruption, or for other, undisclosed, purposes, as El Heraldo quotes him saying
“It could be that some would like to use this movement for other purposes…”
And in case the innuendo is lost on readers, Proceso Digital ran its story under the headline Marchas tienen un componente legítimo pero tambíen intereses oscuros: Presidente Hernández. Where other Honduran media stopped quoting JOH’s comments on the protests after he expressed his support for the “legitimate” outrage (in which he included himself), in Proceso Digital the statement took a more disturbing turn:
“but there is another group that is asking that I should not be in the government ever since I took office, the people that were against extradition, it is all one sequence, these are different sentiments, these are people that want to stop the fight against organized crime.
For JOH, protests against generalized “corruption” are fine, because he has nothing to do with it. But when the call is for him to step down– well, that’s quite another thing: you must be on the side of organized crime.
Reuters reported the part of Hernández statements that speaks to the over-arching narrative being constructed about corruption and protest in Central America, in which Guatemala and Honduras are merged. But each country has its own issues, and what gets left out from original coverage is where we find the traces of real politics.
It may be reassuring to suggest that the president of Honduras has admitted his party did something wrong, and has directed it be corrected. But that doesn’t seem to actually be what has happened; holding himself above the fray, Juan Orlando Hernández minimized the depth of corruption, and managed to use the opportunity to continue to undermine political rivals within and outside his own party.