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“Deeply alarming corruption”: US bill would sanction the Honduran President

A group of Democratic Senators who are enacting laws that suspend certain US aid. Juan Orlando Hernández (center) speaks at the Presidential Palace in Tegucigalpa on February 16, while National Police Chief Orbin Galo and Chief of the Armed Forces, Tito Livio Moreno, listen. Photo: Orlando Sierra / AFP / Getty Images A group of influential Democratic senators are enacting laws that would sanction the President of Honduras – a suspected drug trafficker and US key ally – and stop selling grants and ammunition to the country’s security forces in the far implicated widespread human rights abuses and criminal activity. The Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act, jointly sponsored by Senators Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders, Patrick Leahy, Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren, Dick Durbin, Sheldon Whitehouse and Chris Van Hollen, would suspend certain U.S. aid to the Central American country until corruption and Human rights violations are no longer systematic and the perpetrators of these crimes are brought to justice. Joe Biden has vowed to tackle the root causes of migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle – Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador – the world’s most violent region outside of an official war zone where most migrants and refugees seek security and economic opportunities USA. This bill makes it clear that fighting migration from Honduras will be impossible if the US continues to support President Juan Orlando Hernández and the security forces. It exposes the violence and abuses committed since the 2009 military-backed coup as a result of widespread collusion between government officials, state and private security forces, organized crime and business leaders. It also catalogs the systematic use of violence against civilians, restrictions on freedom of expression and protest, and targeted attacks such as arbitrary arrests, assassinations, enforced disappearances and fabricated criminal charges against human rights and environmental defenders, political opponents and journalists. Last year alone, at least 34,000 citizens were arrested for violating the curfew and lockdown restrictions, including nurse Kelya Martinez, who was killed in police custody earlier this month. “The United States cannot remain silent in the face of deeply alarming corruption and human rights abuses at the highest levels in the Honduran government,” said Merkley, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “If President Hernández, national officials, and the police and military are not held accountable for these crimes, it will lead to widespread poverty and violence and force more families to flee their communities in search of safety.” This is the first time the Senate has proposed laws that could seriously threaten the post-coup regime that has used drug money, stolen public funds, and fraud to keep power with little consequence to the international community. Hernández, identified as a co-conspirator in three major drug trafficking and corruption cases filed by New York prosecutors, would be investigated under the Kingpin Act to see if he is a designated drug dealer – a criminal status that drug lords like Joaquín enjoy “El Chapo” Guzmán. Hernández has repeatedly denied any link to drug trafficking, including prior knowledge of his younger brother’s cocaine and arms deals, for which he was convicted in New York last year. The bill also describes Hernández’s role in the demise of the rule of law in the country: as a congressman, he supported the 2009 coup and later created the militarized police force involved in extrajudicial killings, oversaw a purification of the judiciary and pushed through unconstitutional reforms to address the Stay in power and protect corrupt officials from prosecution. Hernández, who so far has had close ties with key military and political leaders, would revoke his U.S. visa and freeze assets under the proposed sanctions. The law also prohibits the export of ammunition, such as tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, water cannons, handcuffs, stun guns, tasers and semi-automatic firearms, until security forces can go 12 months without human rights violations. Financial support, including equipment and training, would also be suspended, although exceptions in the national interest would still be possible. The US would also vote against multilateral development bank loans to the security forces. “This legislation is intended to send a clear message to Biden that it will be impossible to tackle the root causes of migration without getting rid of Hernández and disengaging the security forces, who have long had corruption, organized crime and oppression. Said Dana Frank, professor of history at the University of California and author of The Long Honduran Night: Resistance, Terror, and the Post-Coup United States. To lift the restrictions, the Honduran authorities would have to demonstrate that it had used all legal channels to prosecute those who ordered, carried out and covered up high profile crimes, including the murder of indigenous environmentalist Berta Cáceres, the killing of more than 100 campesinos in the country Bajo Aguán and the extrajudicial killing of anti-election fraud protesters and the forced disappearance of Afro-indigenous Garifuna land defenders.

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