Honduras’s president, Juan Orlando Hernández, has announced the launch of a new international anti-corruption body to tackle criminal networks within the country’s political and judicial systems, in an attempt to appease anger over impunity and graft.
The Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Maccih) will have powers to independently investigate politicians, judges and members of the security forces. Organised crime’s infiltration of weak and corrupt state institutions has helped make Honduras one of the poorest and most violent countries in the region.
Maccih will be led by the former Peruvian prime minister Juan Jiménez and is backed by the Organisation of American States (OAS), with an initial mandate of four years.
The move comes after a wave of public fury last summer when Hernández was forced to admit that his 2013 election campaign had benefited from $300m stolen from the country’s social security institute. By some estimates the fraud left thousands dead as a result of medical shortages and the health service in ruins.
The scandal triggered a wave of protests as students, middle-class families, civil society groups and the political opposition united to demand an end to endemic corruption and impunity, and the resignation of the president.
The protests were buoyed by a parallel uprising in neighbouring Guatemala where the discovery by an independent UN-backed anti-corruption institution (Cicig) of a vast corruption network in the country’s customs system brought down the president and vice-president.
The Honduran social movement morphed into the Indignados – the Outraged – who have been demanding a similar UN-backed institution capable and willing to tackle corrupt officials at the highest level.
In an attempt to placate tensions, Hernández initially proposed Maccih with a narrow mandate to make recommendations on how to root out corruption – an exercise attempted several times in the past, according to Eric Olson, associate director of the Latin American program at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
But amid pressure from campaigners at home and the US Congress – which was debating a $750m aid package for Central America known as the Alliance for Prosperity – Orlando was forced to concede greater powers to Maccih.
The beefed-up body will have unfettered access to official documents and archives, and powers to investigate any corruption case. It will develop an observatory with civil society to monitor progress of the judicial system.
Olson said: “While Maccih still isn’t perfect, it has a tremendous opportunity to make an impact in Honduras like Cicig in Guatemala. It’s incumbent on its jurists to go wherever the evidence leads them, even if it takes them to the highest levels of the Honduras government.”
Despite the improvements, many doubts remain.
“It’s largely for show, isn’t designed to be as powerful as Cicig, and many are dubious about the OAS, which was feckless in the aftermath of the 2009 coup,” said Christine Wade, associate professor of political science and international studies at Washington College.
It remains unclear how Maccih will work with the attorney general’s office, which itself has made important strides in dismantling corrupt criminal networks involving the country’s powerful political and business elites.
Steven Dudley, co-director of InSight Crime, said: “There are many, many signs that the [Honduran] attorney general’s office is doing its job better all the time. This is the time to support that office, not undermine it with outside entities.”
It took several years and three leaders before Cicig claimed the victories that gave it the kudos and respect it now commands.
But it seems unlikely that Honduras will be so patient.
Ariel Varela, spokesman for the Indignados, told the Guardian: “If Maccih is good enough, then six months is enough time to provide strong signals that it is here investigating corruption at the highest level and not just another international bureaucratic institution helping the government calm social tensions. If it doesn’t, we’ll be ready to mobilise on the streets and force the OAS out.”
Source: The Guardian