Patrick J. Leahy

11/21/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 11/21/2019 11:51

Statement On Honduras

11.21.19

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, I have spoken previously about the alarming rates of corruption, violent crime, and impunity in Honduras. While Honduras is by no means unique in this regard, it is a serious concern given the challenges it poses not only for the people of Honduras but also for the United States.

Every week, my office receives word of another assassination in Honduras of a social leader, environmental activist, indigenous rights activist, journalist, or trade unionist. Rarely does a week go by that we do not hear about threats against these individuals. Rarely does a week go by that we do not receive reports of arbitrary and prolonged imprisonment of critics of government policies or practices. While the murder of Berta Caceres on March 3, 2016, captured the world's attention, that outrageous crime was but one of many targeted killings of Hondurans who have dared to protest against corruption, infrastructure development that threatens their land, water, farms and communities, excessive force by the military and police, and the lack of access to justice.

These types of crimes are nothing new in Honduras, in fact they are shockingly common. But they have noticeably increased in frequency since the conviction in a New York federal court on October 18 of Tony Hernandez, a notorious drug kingpin and the brother of President Juan Orlando Hernandez who was named as an unindicted co-conspirator. It begs credulity that President Hernandez was completely unaware of the actions of his brother, or of the reported use of profits from drug trafficking to finance his political campaign. Honduras, which was already among the most corrupt and dangerous countries in the world for those who have dared to challenge the dominance of a tiny elite who continue to wield unbridled control over the political and economic levers of the country, has become even more corrupt and dangerous.

Ever since President Hernandez successfully orchestrated his re-election to an unprecedented second term, the country has become increasingly polarized. Social and political dissent, when the government's consistent response is to use force - including lethal force - and to misuse the judicial process to silence its critics, fuels instability and violence which are among the key drivers of migration. This is what we are seeing in Honduras, and the United States shares some of the blame as our Embassy and the Department of Defense continue to publicly portray their engagement with the Hernandez Government as business as usual.

There is only one person who has the authority and responsibility to lead Honduras down a better path, a path toward real stability and a culture of lawfulness, and that is President Hernandez. The election of his successor is only two years away. In the time remaining, President Hernandez could use what credibility he has left and take decisive action to begin a process of reconciliation aimed at uniting the Honduran people in pursuit of the common goals of economic opportunity, personal security, and justice. Doing so would require a fundamental change of attitude and approach, including installing people in key positions of government who have unimpeachable integrity and who represent a wide spectrum of Honduran society.

Absent such enlightened leadership, Honduras will likely remain a fractured society, plagued by instability, rampant poverty, violence, and impunity. Honduras' democratic institutions will continue to be corrupted and eroded. And Hondurans will continue to seek a better, safer life outside their country.

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