The UN and Honduras agreed this week to form a commission to investigate acts of corruption in the Central American country, but this initiative may succumb before it is even born, warned experts and politicians.
UN Secretary General António Guterres and Honduran President Xiomara Castro attended the signing of a “memorandum” in New York on Wednesday for the creation of the International Commission against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (CICIH), which should begin operating in six months.
This commission will be integrated by “international experts who will investigate the high impact public-private corruption networks that have plundered the country”, explained the leftist president in New York.
The agreement was signed by the Honduran Foreign Minister, Enrique Reina, and the UN Undersecretary for Political Affairs, Miroslav Jenca, and stipulates that the CICIH will be “an international, impartial, independent and autonomous mechanism against corruption and impunity in Honduras”.
“We have to work hard for this [the CICIH] to become a reality”, said the representative of the NGO Transparency International in Honduras, Héctor Hernández.
The Commission will be similar to a UN-backed entity that worked as a sort of parallel prosecutor’s office for 12 years in Guatemala to combat organized crime, which was entrenched in the police and other sensitive public entities.
The CICIG began operating in 2007 but was removed from Guatemala in 2019 by then-President Jimmy Morales, who shortly before declared its head, Colombian magistrate Ivan Velasquez, “persona non grata.”
Honduras also had a similar entity created by the OAS created in 2016, the Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity (MACCIH), which only operated for four years until then-President Juan Orlando Hernández and Congress refused to renew the agreement.
They made this decision apparently because dozens of deputies, businessmen and officials were accused of diverting public funds. The trials against them came to an end when the MACCIH left the country.
Deputies who won reelection in the current Congress and relatives of former President Hernández were among the accused.
Former President Porfirio Lobo’s wife, Rosa Elena Bonilla, 55, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for the same corruption crime, in one of the few trials that survived the MACCIH’s departure.
In a separate case in the US justice system, former President Hernández was extradited to New York on charges of conspiring to smuggle 500 tons of cocaine with Mexican and Colombian cartels into the United States between 2004 and 2022. He risks being sentenced to life imprisonment, as his brother Tony was in March 2021.
According to the “memorandum”, in the first phase the UN will send to Honduras experts in the penal system for the adoption of legal reforms and to determine the strengths of the Judiciary and the Prosecutor’s Office.
The representative of Transparencia assured that President Castro is fighting against corruption “because the people are demanding” that she has a greater role in this fight.
“Corruption is structural, there is no culture of efficiency in the public administration” and also in the current government “what prevails is cronyism, nepotism (…), all these are expressions of corruption”, said Hernandez.
For the CICIH to become operational, the approval of two thirds of the 128 deputies of Congress (86 votes) is required, and Hernández believes that it is difficult for President Castro to obtain the support of the opposition, which controls 68 seats against the 60 of the ruling party.
The six benches in Congress “are going to have to generate dialogues, a lot of consensus” to achieve the 86 votes, added Hernández.
The head of the right-wing National Party bench, Thomas Zambrano, said that his 44 deputies will vote against CICIH unless the body also investigates the actions of the government of Xiomara Castro (in power since January 27) and her husband, Manuel Zelaya (2006-2009).
Zelaya was overthrown by a civil-military alliance in 2009 for linking with the 21st Century Socialism of then Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.