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.
On 9 April 1948, the Colombian politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán stepped out of his office with a group of friends to walk to Bogotá’s Hotel Continental for lunch. An assassin confronted him in the street and shot him three times in the face and chest. He died shortly afterwards. His supporters caught the 20-year-old culprit, Juan Roa Sierra, and beat him to death. His body, naked except for a blue and red striped tie, was dumped in front of the Presidential Palace. It remained there for two days. ‘El Bogotazo’, the night of violence sparked by Gaitán’s assassination, left more than 3000 people dead and Bogotá half in ruins.
When the Ministry of Defence sold its armed forces housing in 1996, it already looked a bad deal: 57,000 houses were sold for £30,000 each, well under half the average house price at the time. Overnight, the sale created Britain’s biggest private landlord and gave it a blue chip tenant – the MoD. Yet the company that won the contract, Annington, had just been set up and had no experience of management on such a scale.
Twenty-four people have been killed by police in demonstrations since the presidential election in Honduras three weeks ago. The centre-left Alliance, headed by Salvador Nasralla, appeared to be the clear winner after 57 per cent of votes had been counted, but a suspiciously dramatic late swing towards the incumbent, Juan Orlando Hernández, gave him a lead of 1.5 per cent when the final count was in. Protests against election fraud sprang up nationwide. Some police units initially refused to take part in repressing them, but they were bought out with pay rises and, allegedly, bribes to top police officers.
A week after apparently losing an election in which he was constitutionally barred from standing, the president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, now seems to have carried out a coup (‘autogolpe’ in Spanish) to keep himself in power.
Since the murder of Berta Cáceres in March 2016, several more community activists have been killed in Honduras. And little progress has been made in solving Cáceres’s murder. Eight people have been arrested, but court hearings have been postponed several times because of the prosecutors’ failure to produce evidence, ignoring the judge’s deadlines. Data collected from phones and computers and in police raids has not been presented in court. The government says the judicial process continues, but has admitted that the crime’s ‘masterminds’ remain untouched.
While Donald Trump gives the appearance of wavering over his decision to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Nicaragua has decided to sign it. It was one of only two countries not to sign in Paris last year; the other was Syria. Nicaragua abstained out of principle: the agreement didn’t go far enough. The target – to keep the average global temperature no more than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels – was too high, and in any case unlikely to be met. An unfair burden was being put on developing nations and not enough money was being promised to help them build low carbon economies. I met Nicaragua’s climate change negotiator, Paul Oquist, in June, a few days after Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. I suggested it would be an excellent moment for Nicaragua to change its mind, though claim no credit for the subsequent decision; I can’t have been the only one to think so.
Raise four fingers (the sign for ‘B’), touch your nose with your thumb and dip your hand down to mimic an elephant's trunk. You’ve just said ‘Babar the Elephant’ in Nicaraguan Sign Language – the sign is distinct from the one for ‘elephant’. ISN (its initials in Spanish) was developed by children. Until the 1970s, there were no facilities or learning programmes for deaf children in Nicaragua, but with the Sandinista revolution came a new impetus to provide education for kids with special needs. Four hundred deaf children were identified in Managua, and two schools created for them. Teachers were brought from Europe who tried to teach Spanish using fingerspelling, which the children couldn’t grasp because they’d never learned Spanish. But they all had their own signs that they used at home. And in the classroom, the playground and the school bus they began to share them, eventually turning impromptu communication into a common language.
One year ago, Berta Cáceres was asleep in bed in La Esperanza, Honduras, when gunmen burst into the house and shot her. She died in the arms of Gustavo Castro, a Mexican environmental activist who was injured but pretended to be dead until the murderers had gone. Instead of being treated as a victim, Castro was regarded as a suspect and prevented from leaving the country. Members of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH), which Cáceres led, were also interrogated. Eventually investigators turned their attention to those who had threatened to kill her in the preceding months. Seven arrests were made, but the people who ordered the murder were left untouched. Six weeks ago, Castro filed a petition against the Honduran government for the way it treated him and for its inaction in charging those behind the crime.