After Harry Dunn was killed by a car that emerged from a US base in Northamptonshire on 27 August 2019, the driver, Anne Sacoolas, claimed diplomatic immunity and within three weeks was whisked out of the country on a US military aircraft, with the British police only being informed after she’d left. Sacoolas eventually appeared by video at the Old Bailey last month, but is unlikely to serve the suspended sentence she received. The US government refused an extradition request to return her to the UK to face trial, even though her diplomatic immunity arose from a legal ‘anomaly’ that has now been closed.
Some time in the 17th century, a vessel carrying enslaved people from the west coast of Africa ran aground near the Caribbean island of St Vincent, close enough to shore that the survivors swam to land, disposed of their captors and settled alongside the Indigenous Carib-Arawak people, who already offered a safe haven to runaway slaves from other islands. The Afro-Indigenous culture that resulted came to be known as ‘Garifuna’ (meaning ‘Black Carib’). Their language derives from that of the Arawak, a people whose pre-Colombian origin is in the Orinoco River basin in Venezuela.
Until 27 January, Juan Orlando Hernández was president of Honduras; he’s now on his way to a high-security prison in New York, awaiting trial. On the day JOH handed power to Xiomara Castro, charges were filed against him that would lead to an extradition request from the US embassy in Tegucigalpa. He was arrested on 15 February and lost his appeal to the country’s supreme court on 28 March. A Drug Enforcement Agency plane came to pick him up today.
In Honduras, Biden’s problems stem from the period when he was vice-president and the mildly reforming President Zelaya was ousted in a military coup. Neoliberal government was restored, but the corruption and drug-trafficking created a narcostate, led since 2014 by Trump’s confidant Juan Orlando Hernández. When Hondurans voted to end JOH’s mandate in 2017, the US ensured that a rigged result kept him in power. JOH is finally standing down as Hondurans go the polls again on Sunday.
Honduras is a failed state and, unless US policy towards it changes radically, many thousands more will head north. Since the military coup in 2009 there have been three corrupt elections. The last, in 2017, which saw Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) re-elected when he had clearly lost, led to even more repression. Persecution of human rights defenders is unceasing, even after international condemnation of the murder of Berta Cáceres five years ago. Seven were killed in 2020, and four young leaders from Garifuna communities, abducted in a single night seven months ago, are still missing. Curfews during the Covid-19 pandemic appear to have worsened the day-to-day violence: eleven corpses were found in the street in one week in January; bodies are being chopped up and left them wrapped in plastic. Perhaps the most emotive case occurred earlier this month: a doctor and student nurse, who had been working with Covid patients, were arrested for breaching the 9 p.m. curfew. The doctor was freed, but the nurse died in police custody. Protests erupted. Five people were arrested, tortured by the police and forced to confess to crimes they didn’t commit.
Central America’s ‘Mosquito Coast’, the home of the Miskito people, stretches between Honduras and Nicaragua. The border is at a point that juts out into the Caribbean: Columbus called it Cabo Gracias a Dios for the shelter it provided on his last voyage. As the storm that became Hurricane Eta formed above the seas of Venezuela on 30 October, it headed west towards the cape 2000 kilometres away, following the track of Hurricane Edith in 1971, Mitch in 1998 (which killed seven thousand people in Honduras and three thousand in Nicaragua), Felix in 2007, Ida in 2009 and many other lesser cyclones.
Under the 1961 Vienna Convention, foreign embassies are ‘inviolable’: the host country’s officials have a ‘special duty’ to protect them and can’t enter without permission. When the Venezuelan embassy in Washington DC was besieged last summer, the National Lawyers Guild said that the US government had flouted the convention by condoning the attacks and protecting those who were carrying them out.
Donald Trump said last year that migrant caravans, mainly of Hondurans, were coming to the US from ‘shithole countries’. But now he says that the president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, is doing a ‘fantastic job’. Trump and JOH recently reached an agreement declaring Honduras to be a ‘safe place’ for asylum seekers trying to reach the US. JOH also promised to help the US tackle transnational criminal organisations. He’s well placed to do this. Last November, his brother Tony was arrested in Miami and accused of drug trafficking and possessing illegal weapons. At his trial in New York, which concluded last week, the jury found Tony Hernández guilty. He faces at least 30 years in prison for bringing 200,000 kilos of cocaine into the US between 2004 and 2018, in packets often stamped with his own initials.
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.
Nicaragua had a record 1.8 million tourists last year. It’s a beautiful country, and in 2017 it officially became the safest in Central America. But after three days of political violence last month, one of the few certainties in 2018 is that it will lose both records. More than 40 people died in the protests, ostensibly over government social security reforms.