Fighting corruption and impunity in Honduras

Fighting corruption and impunity in Honduras

The Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras has been tasked with rooting out graft within the country’s social security administration and police. Questions are already being asked about its ability to carry out this task, and whether too much is being expected of it.

On 19 January, President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras, signed into being the Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) after a summer of protests against corruption scandals throughout Central America.

A scandal involving the country’s public health administration and evidence pointing to stolen funds being used in President Hernandez’s 2013 election campaign caused nationwide protests in the summer of 2015. At the same time in neighbouring Guatemala, protesters were taking to the street demanding the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina after the UN-backed Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) uncovered evidence of a huge customs-fraud scheme within the highest levels of government.

A combination of popular grassroots mobilization as well as pressure from the United States has forced the Honduran government into giving its support to the creation of the MACCIH.

What is the MACCIH?

The Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras is an anti-impunity body backed by the Organization of American States (OAS).  Its primary aim will be to support the Honduran judicial system, “in the prevention and fight against corruption and impunity in the country”.

The MACCIH will supposedly have the power to investigate judges, politicians, and members of the security forces. It will be led by the former Peruvian Prime Minister, Juan Jimenez, and has an initial mandate of four years and a budget of US$32 million from the OAS.

The MACCIH has inevitably already faced comparisons with the CICIG in Guatemala. It is important to note, however, that the MACCIH will have substantially less powers. In an interview with Global Risk Insights, Adriana Beltrán of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) stated that, “the MACCIH is not as robust as the CICIG”. She added that the CICIG has the, “capacity to carry out independent investigation as well as participate as private prosecutor in the judicial processes”.

By contrast, the MACCIH will operate under the current prosecutor and Supreme Court, as opposed to independently of them, like the CICIG in Guatemala, and thus concerns have been raised about a possible lack of independence for the body.

Why is it needed?

Corruption and impunity are rife in Honduras. In the summer of 2015, a corruption scandal was uncovered within the country’s social security institute. US$200 million was allegedly stolen from the institute, with US$150,000 ending up in Hernandez’s 2013 presidential campaign.

Furthermore, the state of Honduras’ police force is in dire need of reform. Honduran journalists have uncovered evidence of systematic police brutality and corruption. Hardline aggressive policing strategies promoted by Central American governments, known as “Mano Dura” have exacerbated crime and led to an increasing militarization of society, specifically the police forces, which has resulted in increased abuse.

What challenges will MACCIH face?

The governing establishment in Honduras will be all too aware of the astounding impact CICIG has had on neighbouring Guatemala. The vice president and president are behind bars. The CICIG was able to help bring to court the previously untouchable former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, and the impunity rate is down, with organized criminal structures being targeted.

It is important to remember that the MACCIH will only be as effective as the judges elected to Honduras’ Judiciary. The CICIG was fortunate in that it operated alongside an extremely competent attorney general’s office, with Claudia Paz y Paz in particular, standing out as a fearless prosecutor who sought to tackle corruption and impunity head on. Her efforts landed her a Nobel Peace prize nomination in 2012, and ultimately led to her exile from the country.

Therefore, the onus is on Honduras’ elected lawmakers to elect competent and independent judges who can go about their work with the support and protection offered by the MACCIH. As Adriana Beltrán explained, success “will be dependent on the level and degree of independence of the MACCIH and how the mandate is implemented”.

Fifteen new judges should have been elected to the Supreme Court on the 25 January, however at the time of writing, the National Congress has failed to do so. Concerns have already been raised by the American Bar Association (ABA) that some of the judges being considered do not meet international standards.

Furthermore, if one is comparing the MACCIH with the CICIG, it is worth noting that the latter was established in 2007, and it took several years of effort before there were results to show for its work. The four-year mandate will likely have to be renewed if the MACCIH is to enjoy success as will the funding apportioned to it.

Ultimately, the biggest challenge for the MACCIH could be the demand for immediate results and having to operate in the shadow of its more illustrious neighbour, the CICIG, and its enormous success in dismantling power structures of corruption at the highest levels. Large sectors of the Honduran populace expect immediate results in the light of “La Linea” scandal and the countries’ elite will be only too happy to help dismantle the MACCIH if the people demand it.  Adriana Beltran warned that there would be, “people that don’t want to see themselves being put in front of a judge”.

What to expect

The first six months of the MACCIH’s existence will give a greater insight into how the body will operate.  It is certain, however, that the mission will come under intense scrutiny. Adriana Beltrán explained that civil society is, “demanding serious investigations that try to get at the heart of the endemic levels of corruption and impunity in the country. So they’re going to be watching and monitoring the work of the MACCIH”.

Since the announcement of the MACCIH, there has been speculation as to whether similar bodies could be set up in El Salvador and even Mexico where both countries face problems of institutionalized corruption. On 25 January, the United Nations announced the creation of a US-financed anti-corruption programme in El Salvador.

If there is strong leadership and support, internationally backed supervisory bodies may succeed in stemming the chronic violence, criminality and corruption, which have become so entrenched in Central America. The success of these missions could then eventually help develop a framework for other countries to adopt in the future.

Categories: Latin America, Politics

About Author

Oliver Sheldon

Oliver has extensive experience working with NGOs in Central America and has worked for a newspaper in South America. He achieved a BSc in Government from the London School of Economics and is currently studying for an MSc in Security Studies at UCL with a specific focus on security in Latin America.