Honduras - Corruption
From at least in or about 2004, up to and including in or about 2016, multiple drug-trafficking organizations in Honduras and elsewhere worked together, and with support from certain prominent public and private individuals, including Honduran politicians and law enforcement officials, to receive multi-ton loads of cocaine sent to Honduras from, among other places, Colombia via air and maritime routes, and to transport the drugs westward in Honduras toward the border with Guatemala and eventually to the United States. For protection from official interference, and in order to facilitate the safe passage through Honduras of multi-hundred-kilogram loads of cocaine, drug traffickers paid bribes to public officials, including certain mayors and members of the National Congress of Honduras.
Hondurans on took to the streets on 18 October 2019 to demand the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) after a New York Federal Court found his brother, Tony Hernandez, guilty on charges of drug trafficking, use of weapons and lying to authorities. "We call on all our militancy to total, organized and permanent nationwide mobilization by performing peaceful but firm and forceful protests," said former president Manuel Zelaya, who is the Freedom and Refoundation Party (Libre) coordinator. Besides asking the United States to suspend all aid to the Hernandez administration, Zelaya asked to give the Honduran people a "democratic government" and fair laws.
In connection with these activities, Tony Hernandez participated in the importation of almost 200,000 kilograms of cocaine into the United States. During the trial of Tony Hernandez, the U.S. jury heard testimony from drug traffickers who claimed that politician JOH used their money to finance his campaigns on at least two occasions.
Tony Hernandez is a former member of the National Congress of Honduras, the brother of the current President of Honduras, and a large-scale drug trafficker who worked with other drug traffickers in, among other places, Colombia, Honduras, and Mexico, to import cocaine into the United States. From at least in or about 2004, up to and including in or about 2018, Tony Hernandez helped process, receive, transport, and distribute multi-ton loads of cocaine that arrived in Honduras via planes, helicopters, and go-fast vessels. Tony Hernandez controlled cocaine laboratories in Honduras and Colombia, at which some of his cocaine was stamped with the symbol “TH,” i.e., “Tony Hernández.” Tony Hernandez also coordinated and, at times, participated in providing heavily armed security for cocaine shipments transported within Honduras, including by members of the Honduran National Police and drug traffickers armed with machineguns and other weapons. Tony Hernandez also used members of the Honduran National Police to coordinate the drug-related murder of Franklin Arita in 2011, and he used drug-trafficking associates to murder a drug worker known as “Chino” in 2013.
Tony Hernandez made millions of dollars through his cocaine trafficking, and he funneled millions of dollars of drug proceeds to National Party campaigns to impact Honduran presidential elections in 2009, 2013, and 2017. Between 2010 and at least 2013, one of Tony Hernandez’s principal co-conspirators was former Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, a/k/a “Chapo.” During that period, Tony Hernandez helped Guzmán Loera with numerous large cocaine shipments and delivered a $1 million bribe from Guzmán Loera to Tony Hernandez’s brother in connection with the 2013 national elections in Honduras.
A prominent drug trafficker testified that Tony Hernández bribed the current Minister of Security, Julian Pacheco Tinoco, who oversees the police. Another testified that he paid bribes to make sure that an alleged death squad member, Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, was placed in a high position under presidents Lobo and Hernández at Hernández’s behest and described a murder Bonilla committed at their request. Bonilla became National Director of the Police, and yet despite evidence that he was a documented death squad leader, the U.S. Embassy worked closely with Bonilla throughout his term.
The Honduran government stepped up its efforts in 2015 to reduce endemic public sector corruption in the wake of anticorruption protests. In late spring and early summer 2015, generally peaceful protests around the country – some as large as 25,000 people – called for action against corruption and impunity and urged the government of Honduras to agree to the installation of a UN commission modeled on the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). In response, President Hernandez offered an alternate plan that Honduras and the OAS have adapted and expanded into the Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). President Hernandez signed the MACCIH agreement with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro in Washington in January 2016, and the MACCIH arrived in Honduras in April to begin establishing its operations.
Yet corruption continues to play a role in many business dealings in Honduras. U.S. businesses and citizens have found corruption in the public sector and the judiciary to be a significant constraint to successful investment in Honduras. Corruption is pervasive in government procurement, issuance of government permits, real estate transactions (particularly land title transfers), performance requirements, and the regulatory system. The telecommunications and energy sectors have proven particularly problematic.
More than 80 members of Honduras’ police force have been working for one of Latin America’s most notorious criminal gangs, local media reported 27 September 2016. An internal investigation claims that 81 Honduran police, including a number of police commissioners, were part of the criminal enterprise of the Mara Salvatrucha – commonly known of MS-13 – and worked for one of the organization’s leaders, David Elias Campbell Licona. MS-13 has operations spread across the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras with historical roots in Los Angeles. The street gang organization has been known for robberies, kidnappings, extortion as well as human and drug trafficking.
The National Police’s Strategic System for the Collection, Collation, Analysis and Storage of Information named 38 high ranking officers, eight of who are still thought to be on active duty. A number had already been dismissed from their positions through a departmental purge that was part of a police reform commission set up in April 2016. Of the 43 low-ranking officers named in the report, seven were also dismissed by the police reform commission, while the rest remain on active duty. The commission aims to rid the force of police officers involved in corruption and human rights abuses. By October 2016 the commission had dismissed more than 600 officers.
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but authorities did not implement the law effectively. Government institutions were subject to corruption and political influence, and some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The government took steps to address corruption at high levels in government agencies, including arresting and charging members of congress; judges; prosecutors; current and former senior officials, including presidential staffers from previous administrations; mayors and other local authorities; and police officers.
Since the 2014 indictment of the entire board of directors of the Social Security Institute, prosecutors filed charges against 54 persons, including former government officials and business and labor leaders; many were charged in multiple cases. As of September, 37 individuals had been arrested and two convicted of bribery and money laundering, including prominent businessman Jose Bertetty. In June the government brought charges against public officials at the Ministry of Health and employees of the private company Astropharma, including the vice president of the National Congress, Lena Gutierrez, and three members of her family. As of November 30, the case was in the preliminary-hearing stage.
A widespread public perception remained that the government’s anticorruption institutions did not take sufficient steps to contain corruption and were unwilling or lacked the professional capacity and resources to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those involved in high-level corruption. In November the Association for a More Just Society, Transparency International’s domestic partner, released its first reports on education and security following Transparency International’s 2014 agreement with the government designed to promote and encourage transparency. The association found significant failings in the Ministries of Education and Security regarding compliance with required procedures, including in procurement and human resource management. C-Libre reported that in the first nine months of the year, more than 30 threats were made against individuals who reported public corruption, including 18 threats against journalists and social communicators.
The Corruption Prosecutor’s Office in the Public Ministry continued to make slow progress in prosecuting cases involving public officials implicated in acts of corruption and abuse of power. Between March and June 2014, the office presented 16 cases totaling 61 indictments. In the same period, 13 individuals the office presented were convicted, including three cases filed after March 2014. Through July 2015 courts of first instance (Juzgados de Letras) had issued verdicts in 86 cases, including 51 new cases received during 2015. As of the end of August, trial courts had received 45 new cases linked to corruption, recorded 13 convictions, and granted four acquittals. The Corruption Prosecutor’s Office more than doubled its staff by adding 55 prosecutors in June 2015.
Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, but compliance with the laws was mixed. The law mandates the Supreme Financial Tribunal (TSC) to monitor and verify disclosures. The TSC published its reports on its website and published the names of public officials who did not comply with disclosure laws. A special nominating board that recommends candidates for the Supreme Court asked the candidates to submit financial disclosures.
The law provides for public access to government information for citizens, and the government generally implemented it effectively. In 2014 the National Congress passed a controversial law giving the National Security and Defense Council the authority to classify information that puts national security and defense at risk. NGOs and some members of congress criticized both the breadth of the law and the manner in which the congress approved it.
All institutions receiving public funding are required to disclose their expenditures and to present an annual report for the prior year’s activities to the National Congress 40 days after the end of the fiscal year. The IAIP operated a website through which citizens could request information from government agencies. The IAIP is responsible for verifying that government institutions comply with transparency rules and practices for access to public information. Although the IAIP reported in June that nearly one-third of government agencies were deficient in providing legally required reports and information, the majority met minimum transparency standards. In September the government launched a municipal portal for transparency designed so that each municipality can use it to disclose public information. If a government agency denies a request for public information, a party can submit a claim to the IAIP, which has the authority to grant a resolution, including sanctioning noncompliance with fines. In the first nine months of the year, the IAIP received 14 complaints (down from 51 the previous year); it resolved one of them and as of October was investigating 13.
By December 2016 Honduran Vice President Ricardo Alvarez was under investigation for allegations of corruption in the management of a bus rapid transit system in Tegucigalpa, known as Trans 450. The project was inaugurated in January 2014, although it wasn't yet finished. The same month, Alvarez left the post he had held for 8 years as the city´s Mayor, and was inaugurated as the country's Vice President. When he left the Mayor's office, the transportation project was abandoned. The Criminal Investigation Agency announced that it had begun an investigation into corruption in Trans 450.
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