The Plunder Continues
A fraudulent election one year ago gave Juan Orlando Hernández a second term as president of Honduras. The protests that followed were violently repressed. By the year's end, 126 demonstrations had been held, leaving 30 people dead, 232 injured and more than 1000 in jail. But on 22 December 2017 the US government congratulated Hernández on his success, referring with no apparent irony to ‘the close election result’ and ignoring a call by the Organisation of American States for a new ballot.
One of the worst stains on Hernández’s first term in office was the murder of Berta Cáceres in March 2016. Cáceres was a leading activist of the indigenous Lenca community and campaigner against dams and mining projects. After a ham-fisted murder investigation, seven men have been found guilty of killing her, but there's little prospect of those who commissioned the crime being punished.
Since the military coup in 2009, private companies have been exploiting the country’s natural resources with no regard to the needs of local communities, relying on a corrupt and complicit state to suppress any protest. In Azacualpa, for example, the Canadian firm Aura Minerals is expanding a vast open-cast goldmine, cutting down a forest and destroying a 200 year-old cemetery. By May this year, when villagers were granted a court order to stop them, they had exhumed 350 bodies. They ignored the order and the plunder continues.
Until recently, Honduras’s two biggest cities ranked among the five most dangerous in the world. But official statistics suddenly showed that murder levels fell by half in 2017. Few people believe the figures, as the violence by gangs and the police is unremitting. Last month in San Pedro Sula police sprayed bullets at a family car taking a youngster to hospital, wounding three children. The only official explanation was that a gang confrontation was happening in the area.
In her new book, The Long Honduran Night, Dana Frank asks whether Honduras should now be called a ‘failed state’. She argues that it shouldn’t, as it works perfectly for those who control it: landowners, drug traffickers, oligarchs and transnational corporations, the US-funded military and corrupt public officials. The Trump administration has seen Hernández as an ally in their project of restoring US influence in Latin America, promoting transnational capitalism and widening the reach of the US military.
But Hernández has earned Trump’s displeasure for failing to stop the migrant caravan, mainly of Hondurans, that has now arrived at the US border. Trump threatened to punish Hernández by cancelling all aid, even though the pressures on people to migrate are a result of the policies the US has encouraged Honduras to pursue. Hernández seemed nonplussed, closing a border post to migrants days after they’d left, and persecuting anyone still in Honduras who could be blamed for the exodus. Desperate to regain his credentials with Washington, he even told Mike Pence that Venezuela had financed the caravan.
It may be that Washington has decided Hernández no longer serves US interests. His brother Tony, a notorious drug-trafficker who operated with impunity for 14 years, was unexpectedly arrested in Miami at the end of November. If President Hernández is deposed, he won’t be the first Central American leader whose crimes are initially overlooked by the US, but provide a ready excuse for disposing of him when he ceases to be useful and becomes an embarrassment.