The second attempt by the Organization of American States (OAS) mission to reform Honduran laws and improve the fight against crime and corruption in state institutions has come up against opposition from long-standing powers. As was the case with the mission’s first proposal, these interests could once again be successful in minimizing any potential change to the status quo.
The bill was presented by the Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Misión de Apoyo contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras – MACCIH) and developed in collaboration with representatives from the political class and civil society, among others. It aims to improve regulation, control and transparency surrounding the origin and destination of funds used in political campaigns.
To achieve this, the MACCIH sought to eliminate banking secrecy, ban donations from companies with state contracts, define limits for monetary contributions and suspend state advertising during electoral campaigns.
One of the main tools proposed by the reform is a Financing, Transparency, and Auditing Unit, which would be in charge of supervising the regulation of electoral campaigns and laying out penalties for those who violate the conditions. These could range from fines to terminating the candidacy of individuals, and even parties, in elections.
Before the law was passed, MACCIH spokesperson Juan Jiménez Mayor stated: “This will be a powerful law, and it will allow for the uncovering of dark alliances between dirty money looking to enter politics and, of course, political sectors. We’re working on this law, we will lay out the consensuses that already exist in the country through three initiatives that are already in Congress, and soon we will produce results.”
The MACCIH began its operations in April this year with the aim of supporting judges and prosecutors in their fight against corruption and impunity in Honduras, after state institutions demonstrated that they did not have the sufficient capacity or political will to deal with emblematic corruption and organized crime cases.
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These include the embezzlement of millions of dollars from the Honduran Social Security Institute (Instituto Hondureño de Seguridad Social – IHSS), drug trafficking cases with elite connections, corruption and hired assassin networks within national police ranks, and the systematic assassination of social leaders, among them the recent murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres.
Honduran authorities began investigating corruption allegations within IHSS at the end of 2013. They revealed that the scheme involved the creation of over 10 ghost companies that allegedly delivered checks and wired monthly instalments to the National Party’s central committee. (See below)
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The IHSS’s embezzlement operations have been estimated to be worth around $330 million, of which at least $90 million were allegedly funneled to the incumbent National Party and used in the campaign of current President Juan Orlando Hernández.
Hernández has embarked on a political campaign set on ensuring legal reforms that will clear the path to his re-election. For similar maneuvers, in 2009 the Honduran army ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya.
In June 2015, Hernández publicly admitted that companies linked to corruption cases in the IHSS had contributed to his 2013 presidential campaign. His statements unleashed a wave of national indignation, sparking country-wide protests, and a number of political factions demanded his resignation. This increased the pressure for the MACCIH to be created.
The campaign finance law was passed amid reports that Honduran and US intelligence agents are investigating 35 people in Honduras — among them eight mayors and two judges. Over the past few years, Honduran security forces have arrested more than a dozen mayors — some from the ruling party — and investigated over 30 for crimes ranging from corruption to drug trafficking and networks of hired assassins.
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Tackling the corruption which has come to characterize Honduran politics is one of MACCIH’s main challenges. It will take both legal reforms and oversight to ensure the transparent financing of political parties and elected officials, which will amount to a difficult task.
Congress and other institutions have repeatedly delayed or modified the MACCIH’s propositions since its recent creation, a pattern which would indicate that the government is either unwilling or unable to implement the proposed policies.
The international body’s first initiative was an attempt to modify the penal code in relation to corrupt officials. It aimed for the creation of mechanisms which would facilitate citizen reports of officials engaged in corrupt acts and ensure that the judge selected to try the case would be independent and non-biased.
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But in June 2016, the judicial branch decided upon a different selection process for the judges, whereby a judge from the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court would preside over a commission composed of two other Supreme Court judges and the MACCIH. The potential judges for anticorruption cases would be nominated by the commission’s president, and the international body would only have one vote. This significantly diminished the international mission’s capacity to weigh on the selection of anticorruption judges.
The systematic blocking of the mission’s proposals has once again exposed the inability of Honduran institutions to confront internal corruption.
Something similar happened with the recently approved Clean Politics Law. Many hoped a draft would be ready by July 2016, but it wasn’t approved until September and will go into effect by the time of the primary elections in March 2017. The bill suffered serious modifications after it was decided that the Transparency Unit that was created would be headed by three commissioners, and not one as the MACCIH had planned.
And just as with the selection process of MACCIH’s first initiative regarding the anticorruption judges, the selection of these three commissioners will be strongly influenced by the very actors that the law aims to oversee.
Amidst these delays, the MACCIH warned about a lack of political will in support of the law, and asked the country’s main businesspeople to cease bribing, protecting and financing candidates. The international body went so far as to threaten to leave the country should the legal reforms not be adopted.
The modifications made to the law, and the continuous and deliberate delays in its approval, illustrate the most recent effort by the country’s elites to affect the capacity of the international mission.
Likewise, the systematic blocking of the mission’s proposals has once again exposed the inability of Honduran institutions to confront internal corruption, and serves as the most recent example of the powerful political and criminal interests that all too often operate with impunity in the country.