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.
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.