Tiempo reported today that the newly passed US budget bill includes money for, and suggests the implementation of, a Comision Internacional Contra la Impunidad y la Corupción en Honduras (CICIH), something the indignados have been calling for since they began marching in May of this year.
Tiempo did not get it quite right. The bill does contain authorization of funding for a CICIH, should Honduras implement it, but does not suggest or mandate that Honduras do so nor does it set a cap on support for one, if implemented. It provides that if Honduras or El Salvador establishes an International Commission against corruption and impunity, funds from the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) can be used to support them if the House Appropriations Committee agrees after consultation.
Which is not to say that the bill has no policy implications for Honduras, and for US relations with it. House Bill 2029, which passed and was signed by President Obama, establishes the appropriations for the State Department, including the authorization language regarding the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle of Central America.
In reaction to concerns about continuing migration from these countries, Congress bars the disbursement of 25% of the approved funds to the Northern Triangle countries unless the Secretary of State can certify that these governments are informing their population of the dangers of traveling to the southwestern border of the United States; are combating human trafficking and smuggling; have improved their border security; and are cooperating with the US government and governments in the region to facilitate the return, repatriation, and reintegration of those that do not qualify for refugee status under International law.
A further 50% of the funds for the Alliance are embargoed until and unless the Secretary of Sate can certify that each government meets twelve other criteria. In the case of Honduras, we think the State Department has its work cut out for it.
First the Secretary of State must certify in writing that each government is taking effective steps to
“establish an autonomous public accountability entity to provide oversight of the Plan”. Honduras does not currently have such an entity that we can identify.
Next the Secretary of State must certify that each government is combating corruption “including investigating and prosecuting government officials credibly alleged to be corrupt.”
In Honduras, there are far more identified cases of corruption than the Public Prosecutor’s office has chosen to prosecute, and it has not prosecuted the most flagrant cases involving high status individuals in the National Party (the current ruling party in Honduras).
The Secretary of State is also charged to certify that these governments, including Honduras, has taken steps to “implement reforms, policies, and programs to improve transparency and strengthen public institutions, including increasing the capacity and independence of the judiciary and the Office of the Attorney General”.
Honduras has recently been signatory to an agreement with Transparency International and the Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ) to promote and encourage transparency in the Honduran government.
There’s a conflict between what Honduras agreed to do with Transparency International, and what it is doing with the Ley de Secretos Oficiales, which allows the Honduran government to arbitrarily and unilaterally make anything it wants unavailable to the public for up to 25 years, an action taken despite strong opposition from groups like the ASJ and its own government transparency watchdog, the Instituto de Acceso a la Información Publica. In June of 2015 the Instituto de Acceso a la Información Publica issued a resolution ordering the Honduran Congress to reform the law to follow Article 72 of the constitution and other laws related to human rights and other agreements Honduras has entered into regarding transparency. To date, the Honduran Congress has refused to amend the law.
Honduras has taken baby steps towards training the judiciary and the office of the Public Prosecutor to better be able to do their jobs. While there’s been a large financial investment in training, there is little to show for it. The Honduran government has agreed to implement the OAS sponsored MACCIH, but it largely shaped this program into yet another advisory group that will propose changes to the judiciary and Public Prosecutor’s office. The current President and Congress have ignored at least four sets of recommendations for changes to the judiciary since the 2009 coup and we don’t see any reason to expect the outcome this time will be different.
The Secretary must further certify that civil society organizations and local communities are consulted during the design of projects, and participate in the implementation of them. The lack of such consultation has been a constant concern for indigenous and rural communities faced with mining, hydroelectric, and other government approved projects.
Another certification required by the bill is that the Honduran government is taking effective steps to “counter the activities of criminal gangs, drug traffickers, and organized crime.”
Here the government of Honduras has a mixed record. On the one hand, it has somewhat improved the national homicide rate, bringing it down to about 60 homicides per 100,00 population this year. It has made numerous arrests of gang members and members of organized crime, but has successfully prosecuted none of them to date. All high level members of organized crime in Honduras have been extradited to the United States for trial on charges here. Extortion is rampant, kidnapping for ransom is on the rise, and mass murder, in which four or more people are killed in a single incident, is on the rise. Drug use within Honduras is increasing as well.
Another certification deals with the government taking effective steps to “investigate and prosecute in the civilian justice system members of military and police forces who are credibly alleged to have violated human rights, and ensure that the military and police are cooperating in such cases”.
In theory this is already true under the Ley del Ministerio Publico of 1993. However, the Public Prosecutor’s office has to choose to prosecute the case, and has a miserable success record in court.
The Secretary of State will have to certify that the Northern Triangle governments are taking effective steps to “cooperate with commissions against impunity, as appropriate, and with regional human rights entities.” In Guatemala, the Public Prosecutor’s office was slow to accept the help and guidance of its Comisión Internacional Contra la Corrupcion y la Impunidad (CICIG). Honduras and El Salvador currently don’t have such International commissions. Although there is sentiment in both places to establish them, that sentiment is just not in either current government.
Honduras recently boycotted a series of InterAmerican Human Rights hearings on judicial independence and the corruption of government institutions (see the videos of the hearings from October 22, 2015 on the linked page). Its absence was notable, and noted by the court. It has, to date, ignored the finding of the InterAmerican Court that Honduras violated due process in dismissing three justices and a magistrate in 2010 for having opposed the 2009 coup. In October, the court ordered two of the judges and the magistrate reinstated or paid lost wages. The Honduran government has done nothing to date, not even acknowledge the finding. Ignoring and boycotting are not evidence of cooperation with regional human rights organizations.
The Secretary of State must also certify that the government will “support programs to reduce poverty, create jobs, and promote equitable economic growth in areas contributing to large numbers of migrants.”
The Honduran Congress is barely moving here. Historically National Party governments, like the current one, have increased, rather than decreased poverty in Honduras. This is visible both in the percentage of the population living in poverty, and in the GINI index recorded each year for Honduras. We’ve written about this trend before (here and here).
The Secretary of State will have to certify that the Honduran government is taking effective steps to “create a professional, accountable civilian police force and curtail the role of the military in internal policing”.
One could not certify that for Honduras today. Not only is there no viable mechanism for removing corrupt, crime-linked police officers (everything done to date has been inconsequential), and no will to do so, but the current government is expressly in favor of militarizing the police and abolishing the civilian police force by progressively defunding it in favor of increased funding to the militarized police force it is building up from scratch. Honduras is therefore unlikely to take steps under its current government to comply with this condition of funding.
The Secretary of State will have to certify that the government of Honduras is taking effective steps to “protect the rights of political opposition parties, journalists, trade unionists, human rights defenders, and other civil society activists to operate without interference”.
In the Honduras of today, reporters, trade unionists, human rights defenders, and members of the opposition party all regularly receive death threats via text messages. Many of those threatened either quit, or get killed. The Honduran police don’t have the staff to pursue something as high tech as tracing a text message source. The Honduran military intelligence group probably could do this, since they effectively have a tap on all Internet and telephone connections in the country, but haven’t done anything about it. Opposition parties in Congress are shut out of the public debate of bills by the leadership.
The Secretary of State must certify that the governments of these countries, including Honduras, are taking steps to “increase government revenues, including by implementing tax reforms and strengthening customs agencies”.
Finally, the Secretary must certify the government of Honduras is taking effective steps to “resolve commercial disputes, including the confiscation of real property, between United States entities and such government.”
Given the situation on the ground, it should be difficult for the Secretary of State to certify the Honduras of today is taking effective steps to meet these criteria. Unless it makes changes, Honduras might not have access to the funding it thinks it is going to receive under this program.