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Juan Orlando Hernández – the man who should resign

Latin America

Current Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández (centre). Honduras Ministry of External Relations under a Creative Commons Licence

Job: President of Honduras
Reputation: Youthful oligarch specializing in deniability.

President Juan Orlando Hernández is a man who is keeping Honduras in the dark ages. The Central American country remains an old-school relic of the worst days of torture and assassination from the 1970s and 1980s that most of Latin America now happily see as a museum piece. It’s still all here – the disappearances, the military brutality, the torture, the assault on workers defending their rights, corruption that is the rule rather than the exception, and desperate oligarchs willing to do anything to defend their privileges.

Hernández was catapulted to power in a 2009 military coup against the duly elected government of Manuel Zelaya following his rather surprising turn to the Bolivarian Left. Hernández now has a fig leaf of respectability following his 2013 election victory, when he edged out Xiomara Castro (Zelaya’s wife) by playing the fear card. He championed the militarizing of Honduran society with a famous promise to put ‘a soldier on every corner’. During the campaign, several activists and candidates from Castro’s Libre party were assassinated.

Instead of fighting crime there is ample evidence that the military under Hernández have become the criminals. Back in the bad old 1980s, Hondurans who dared speak out were regularly ‘disappeared’ (over 180 between 1980 and 1988) by the special military Battalion 3-16 (with training links to the infamous US School of the Americas). Since then, this kind of political murder had virtually disappeared from Honduras. But now it’s back.

Today, under Hernández’s rule, the leaders (including the notorious Billy Joya) of Battalion 3-16 are coming back as propagandists for state terror and ‘security’ advisers to Los Tigres, a special unit implicated in post-coup repression. Since the coup, victims of disappearance have included dozens of LGBT advocates, over 100 land-rights activists, more than 30 journalists, labour activists and at least 20 opposition candidates and organizers.

Despite the country’s many problems, Hernández must enjoy being in power – otherwise why would he have had his hand-picked Supreme Court overturn the law strictly limiting the President to one 4-year term? That this was exactly the move that Hernández and his friends used as an excuse to stage a coup against the ‘undemocratic’ Zelaya back in 2009 was not lost on protesters crowding the streets of the capital Tegucigalpa. How do you spell hypocrisy?

While Hernández plays his constitutional fiddle, Honduras remains the poorest and most unequal country in Latin America. It is understandable that, with a personal stake in coffee plantations, the media and the hotel industry, inequality is not a major concern for him. But since the 2009 coup, Hondurans have shown a growing taste for justice that is leading the country’s oligarchy to opt for ever more autocratic methods to shore up their ill-gotten wealth.

The recent murder of peasants, opposed to turning their holdings into palm plantations to create ‘green’ energy and various mining projects, are designed to show there can be no standing in the way of corporate progress. The campaign of repression by Hernández’s government includes shutting down the indigenous Garifuna radio stations that dot the Honduran coast and have been used to rally environmental opposition to mines, dams and hydro projects.

But no-one should say that the corporate sector is unwilling to pay for services rendered. A recent scandal over illegal campaign finance forced Hernández to admit that his National Party had taken such contributions from corporate donors. Of course, he knew nothing about it. Then there was the social security scandal where National Party worthies were accused of cashing in on $330 million stolen from the country’s threadbare Social Security Institute – but those poor old folks would probably just have frittered it away anyhow. The prosecutor in the case was forced to flee the country because of death threats. One key witness took 14 bullets for his trouble. Hernández denies all knowledge.

Sadly, it seems the governments of El Norte (in Washington and Ottawa) are more comfortable with old-style authoritarian and oligarchic Latin American political culture than the messy populism fuelled by demands for social justice that is taking hold in places like Caracas and La Paz. The smiley and youthful Hernández is simply more pliant on what really matters: the ‘investor rights’ of the mining industry and a staunch opposition to the leftward swing of the continent. But times are turning tense for El Presidente as the scandals continue to deepen and by early July tens of thousands were braving the streets of Tegucigalpa risking repressive violence to demand his resignation.

Sense of humour: Hernández is known as cipote malcriado (the spoiled kid). Sadly, he doesn’t get the joke.

Low cunning: Hernández trumpets his brave battle against narco gangs while refusing to clean up corruption in his own security forces.

Sources: Telesur, the Guardian, www.upsidedownworld.org, Al Jazeera, Wikipedia, Center for Economic and Policy Research, BBC, www.huffingtonpost.com.


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