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Inside Resistance and Scandal in Honduras

By Zoë Gorman

Published July 16, 2015

Protests have erupted in Honduras since the Supreme Court’s verdict that changed the constitutional one five-year presidential term limit thereby paving the way for President Juan Orlando Hernández to stay in power indefinitely. The Court’s decision comes six years after a military coup ousted former President Manuel Zelaya for proposing a referendum to discuss the idea of extending the one term restriction to two. President Hernández is also mired in a scandal over his National Party’s expenditure of 90 million dollars from the country’s social security fund to finance the presidential campaign in 2013. Hernández admits his campaign received funds from phantom companies linked to the scandal, and has begun replacing funds, but denied personal knowledge. Fernanda Lopez, rapporteur of the opposition movement Indignados Honduras, responds to questions from CMPI about protests against Hernández’s presidency and Honduras’ future.



Fernanda Lopez Aguilar

What are the goals of your movement?

We are Indignados Honduras.

Our first goal is to bring light and provide a channel for people who want to air their grievances about the impunity that has long prevailed in the country. Most people recognize that [our two political parties] represent the same traditional ruling class. They are both the same party – kind of two sides of the same coin.

Our group isn’t associated with any of the political parties that have emerged. Our group is simply civil society expressing itself for the first time. We want basic access to our human rights and resources — water, public health, the right to live in a household, basic foods, a right to uphold treaties that we have with the world and with the UN and have those be upheld by the government, to respect the UN Declaration of Human Rights and to not become a totalitarian state, and to remove the corrupt leaders from our country, even if they are the traditional rulers.


How far has executive overreach gone?

[Hernández] controls everything. He controls Congress, the Supreme Court, the public ministry, and the DAs office and human rights organizations. He will proudly say in front of anyone that he is the head hauncho, and nobody should think about touching him. Since he controls the Supreme Court, he’s made political impeachment impossible. He removed four Supreme Court magistrates who disagreed with his plan for charter cities…[they] are currently litigating against the Honduran government from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

[The president] was elected through dark money, stolen from the social penchant fund. This puts us in a really strange position of government illegitimacy because he won through electoral fraud. He’s been asked to resign by hundreds of thousands. He refuses to do so.


What do you propose for the future of the Honduran government?

[Hernández] will probably be out of power within two months. We’re more concerned about what’s going to happen afterwards. The youth have no experience; you can only get a job as a politician if you play the cliental politics with traditional rulers.

We would like a coalition of young and old leaders — a semi-conservative coalition, some young people, some old, maybe supervised by an international organization or another country — otherwise there will be complete deinstitutionalization that would be worse than anything.

Different organizations are trying to create political platforms to
wards building a nation, should this country end up without a Supreme Court, a Congress, and an Executive branch.

It’s really extreme. It’s like we’re realizing we’re a failed state and we’re trying to figure out what happens afterwards. Are we going to have what it takes to survive as a country?


What have been the actions of Indignados Honduras so far?

There’s been a lot of spontaneous protesting. The biggest protest yet we mobilized around the presidential house. Right now, we have our own in front of the presidential house on a hunger strike, and just last night, the human rights situation is so bad that the presidential house, which had become militarized, ordered that the military close the barrier in such a way as to fence in the two men engaged in the strike, and then the doctors trying to get in were forbidden access.

On July 16th, President Hernández ordered military and police forces to destroy the hunger strike of our 22 protestors. Brutality against persons who are in a very dangerous medical state given their prolonged hunger strike is criminal.

Two men go on a hunger strike outside of the presidential house to protest government impunity.

What is public opinion like?

The current president is a highly ambitious person, extremely driven. He has no moral scruples.

He has accomplished basically the impossible: He has managed to get everyone in Honduras to hate him, and that’s hard because it’s very variegated… Zelaya was looking for a two term movements, but here people are talking about a 50-year dictatorship. People are really scared. They call him the spoiled child…He sent his nieces and nephews to Taiwan or the US because his presidency illicits enough hatred that he didn’t want his family to be around. Even his hometown of Lempira is protesting his presidency. He ordered six helicopters to go to his town to protect his family, and he only travels through Tegucigalpa by helicopter. There are three operating at any given time mainly to deflect attention about where he is. He fears very much for his life and that he will get shot down.


What is level of corruption in Honduras lately?

The Vice President of Congress, {Lena Gutierrez} [removed in earlier this month] was selling pills made from flower to the social security fund. Patients were taking them for ovarian cancer, which caused them to die. Eleven people died of negligent homicide; deaths that the president is holding one person accountable for, but there were 3000 deaths, and we strongly believe that [the administration] needs to face public impeachment if not outright resignation. It doesn’t stop at the social security fund, there’s also corruption in the highway construction agency, USAID money, everything. The public prosecutor, who was almost fired last week because of the protests, has come out and said pretty much all of our institutions are corrupt.


Hundreds of thousands march in Tegucigalpa against government impunity.


What has the response from the Honduran government towards opposition movements been like?

The government has called the opposition an organized crime organization…Most Honduras actually became more indignant — people saw it as slander.

The people go out and march with our torches, so the president ordered that the torches be confiscated from the main stores responsible for selling them. Now people have decided to make their own torches, gathering bamboo from where they can…Political persecution is
happening. Two members of the university union were killed this weekend, and their murders are not being investigated. Prominent business leaders are being sent to jail so that the president can maintain he is taking care of all the impunity.


What security efforts has the government launched in response to protests?

Protestors look up at government drones circling the rallies.

During the mobilizations, there has been supervision by the government of the protests through drones. I didn’t even know our government had the money to buy drones. There have been about 250 protests at this point, and they’ve all had drones filming people. Most people just start looking up into the cameras and shouting, “Leave!” and saying, “You stole so much from us that you even took away our fear.”

The police threw tear gas into a group of maybe a dozen protestors who were not acting violently when marching to public ministry to ask for the minister and the DAs to resign unless willing to bring charges against high-ranking officials involved in corrupt scandals such as the public health fund fiasco, or worse, the construction, field exploration, mining and energy industries.


Are there counter protests?

Nationalistas Contra La Impunidad. National party members fighting impunity. But a recent report said people, called “Obligatos,” are getting paid 50 lempidas [$2.25] to attend protests. They’ve been doing this thing that is really frustrating and counter productive — having parallel demonstrations to deflect attention from the actual opposition. Counter-protests have been led by cars, which as created a whole lot of traffic jams.


Honduras is ranked in the Freedom House red zone in terms of press freedom. Is freedom of the press under attack and how has this changed in light of recent events?

I don’t think there’s been a single member of the press who has not denounced some level of political censorship. It took a toll when the social security pension problem was announced publicly. I went on TV about three weeks ago, and the news anchor was asked to resign almost one week after I appeared on the show…Renato was asked to come back to the show and to not discuss politics…. Two radio and TV frequencies which are still working and which still deliver the news often get shut down. The government tapes the live broadcast and then allows it five minutes later.

One journalist here has already been taken to the courtroom for a period of about a week, on charges that he was going to be arraigned for in January of next year. [The judiciary] accelerated the case just so they could have him occupied and off the air for approximately a week to intimidate him. Two unmarked cars tried to kill a journalist in his house. He believes it was Hernández’s men.


What about citizen reporting and the international media?

We’re not going to get the international press to come here. We can’t. It’s too scary for them. Most of the news is coming out because people are just really outraged. They stop thinking. So they’ve been sending in iPhone messages or videos about what’s been going on in the protests even though we all know that our phones are being tapped.

Social media has played a really large role. People in different towns are reporting about those who suddenly getting rich. Citizen investigators are uncovering people involved in a pyramid scheme involving the government to create phantom enterprises. The individuals lent their
names, just so the government could funnel money from Social Security fund to the enterprises and then write checks to the national party.

Hondurans line the streets, protesting with bamboo torches.

What has been the response from the international community in general? Is aid being sent to Honduras?

I am disappointed that President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden allowed Hernández to stay in Washington, D.C. [in June] and that they’re continuing to press for more aid to get sent to Honduras because they know better than anyone that he is not going to give them money to Hondurans or to hunger causes. He’s going to steal that money. Congress rejected the proposal to send us $400 million. It recently approved an aid package in the order of 2 million USD.

The European Union unfortunately donated 30 million euros during that same week when President Hernández was doing a world tour to see if he still had international recognition. He received that money from Brussels. Hondurans were angry. The question is if Honduras is going to remain the US’s backyard; the US isn’t responding. The EU might see if it’s their turn to invest in this country and turn it into their own backyard.


What do you wish the international community would do instead of feeding corrupt regimes through financial contributions?

One of our main purposes is to get an international commission against impunity semi-equivalent to the one in Guatemala, which was brought about as a result of the Supreme Court announcing impunity with the Guatemalan Congress, and the UN swooping in. Here we’ve got this gridlock because the Supreme Court and Congress are not going to say anything. We’re pleading to allow for the installation of a commission.

We really wish we had more support from the US, not monetary support, but support in the way of creating an international commission against impunity that they could certify. I am happy to learn that the US Congress and Department of State have approved, or at least gestured toward, measures to install a CICIH, and Secretary Shannon has affirmed that the President would do well to take advantage of the opportunity to create [one]. The commissioners that Honduran people have elected could go through a training process to make sure that they are not hammered by political insecurity or threats to their person. We wish they could have that from the U.S. or the UN.


How do you plan to use the Internet and new media to move this effort forward?

We plan to use the web and social media as a way to bypass the politicized, printed press. The old generation is the only one that reads newspapers. We have, as a movement, understood that we cannot take the old newspapers at face value. So we intend to divulge information about protests and, more importantly, about government malfeasance through social media. We also want to use non-mainstream social media, like Wickr, to communicate with one another because we understand that the government is monitoring us without cause.


Photographs courtesy of Indignados Honduras.

CMPI has contacted the Permanent Mission of Honduras to the UN for comment. Stay tuned.

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