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IN recent weeks and months, Hondurans have swept onto the streets once again to call for the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH.)
Protests particularly intensified after the New York Federal Court found his brother, Tony Hernandez, guilty on charges of drug trafficking, use of weapons and lying to authorities.
During the court case, shocking new allegations had been made against the Honduran president that he personally took bribes from several Mexican drug traffickers, including US$1 million personally delivered by the infamous Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Earlier protests as testimony unfolded about the charges were met with repression by the police.
The Honduran Liberal Party, whose former leader Manuel Zelaya was forced from presidential office in 2009 by a US-backed military coup, had announced that, “Hernandez cannot continue exercising the Presidency of the Republic. He must immediately leave office. A democratic transition must be initiated so that the country can overcome its crisis.”
On the news of Tony Hernandez’s conviction, fresh protests spread throughout the country blocking major highways. Former progressive presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla called for a transitional government to be installed, headed by him until the winner of the 2021 elections takes office as president.
The claims against JOH were made by assistant US attorney Jason Richman in an opening statement at the trial in New York of his brother Tony, who was alleged to have used his government connections to smuggle US-bound cocaine through Honduras.
In papers filed at court, the prosecutors had also alleged that JOH and other top Honduran politicians and officials “relied on drug proceeds to fund National Party campaigns, and other political operations, to control large swathes of the Honduran government, to bribe officials who helped ensure safe passage for their cocaine.”
The court papers identified JOH as a co-conspirator along with former president Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, who was his mentor and helped him rise to power.
The prosecution also claimed that JOH used a US$1.5 million tranche of drug-trafficking money to fund his campaign to gain the presidency in 2013, employing it to bribe Honduran officials and provide kickbacks to local politicians.
The irony of the US court charges — not lost on the demonstrators — is that JOH was touted as able to stem the flow of illegal drugs in and through Honduras.
But despite all the evidence which implicates the Honduran president (and other high officials of the Honduran government) in state-sponsored drug trafficking, obstruction of justice, severe abuses of power and violence, he has not yet been charged with a crime.
For the time being the president, who began his second term in January 2018 amid serious electoral fraud allegations, may be benefiting from the US’s protective shield. The Trump’s administration has consistently supported the Honduran regime politically and economically.
Millions of US dollars help fund a military and security apparatus that a recent report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned for violating human rights.
Campaigns, particularly in the US and Canada, are calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners from detention, the dropping of all charges related to protesting and a guarantee by the Honduran government that it will respect the constitutional right to protest without facing lethal force.
The campaigns are also urging that the US and Canada end all political and material support for the JOH regime.
In Boris Johnson’s time as Foreign Secretary, it was exposed that the British government is also complicit in the Honduran government’s repression of political protest. Despite the wealth of evidence of the Honduran regime’s use of illegal surveillance and abuse of human rights, Britain has issued export licences for the sale of spyware to Honduras.
No further export licences should be granted for the sale of any equipment to the Honduran government that could be used for internal repression. Nor should the British government help to prop up a regime that uses violence and repression against peaceful protest.
You can sign a petition to the government against Britain selling spyware to Honduras at bit.ly/honduraspetition.
Colin Burgon is the honorary president of Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America.
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