Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández launched a new investigative body on Tuesday in an effort to reduce violent crime and impunity in the world’s most violent country. The Agencia Técnica de Investigación Criminal (Technical Criminal Investigation Agency—ATIC) is a new branch of the Public Ministry of Honduras charged with “investigating serious crimes with strong social impact.”
Creation of the new, 60 million lempiras ($2.8 million) investigative branch was approved in January 2014 by the National Congress as part of reforms to the Law of the Public Ministry. ATIC graduated the first 97 agents specialized in criminal investigations on Monday, and hopes to have 250 agents by the end of 2015. The investigative unit will operate from two of the largest cities, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.
ATIC is a hybrid technical-military police force whose primary task is investigations and prosecutions, not arrests. “[We told the agents,] your main weapon is not a rifle or pistol but your mind and knowledge,” said Attorney General Óscar Fernando Chinchilla.
The ATIC agents—39 women and 58 men—underwent three months of intensive instruction in law, criminology, forensic sciences, and investigative techniques, as well as physical and tactical training. The investigative body is divided into four units: crimes against life and sexual liberty, organized crime, public administration, and a technical-scientific department.
According to the Alliance for Peace and Justice in Honduras, 96 percent of homicide cases between 2010 and 2013 remained unsolved.
When an outsider looks at Honduras, it’s hard not to see the worst: poverty, institutional corruption and violence run rampant. When a country grabs international headlines for its president being ousted by the military after attempting to extend his own term, or for having by far the highest murder rate in the world, or for being the country of origin for thousands of unaccompanied minors turning up at the U.S. border, it doesn’t inspire confidence in potential outside investors.
And this is the crux of the Honduran dilemma: investment, industry, and jobs—the very things necessary to put the country back on the right track—remain elusive in an environment of political uncertainty and social unrest.
Enter the Zonas de Empleo y Desarrollo Económico (Zones for Economic Development and Employment—ZEDEs)—autonomous zones run by private entities that will provide their own judges, police and public services. Proponents of the idea say that it’s a bold move that could transform Honduras and, eventually, struggling nations throughout the world.
There were 600 fewer homicides in Honduras as compared to the same period last year, President Juan Orlando Hernández announced on Monday. In the first semester of 2014, there were 2,893 murders in the small Central American country, which is home to 8.2 million inhabitants.
Honduras averaged about 19 murders a day in 2013, but President Hernández remained hopeful that the drop in the rate would become a pattern for the embattled country. He blamed the complexities of organized crime and security issues for the elevated number of homicides, and emphasized that patterns and trends will not become apparent to the general populace for several years, as was the case in Colombia and Guatemala. An International Crisis Group report released in June identified the 2009 coup d’état that deposed former President Manuela Zelaya as a primary cause in the increase in drug-related crime in the country.
The high rates of violence contributed to Honduras’ low score in the 2014 Social Inclusion Index where it ranked sixteenth out of 17 countries, behind El Salvador and Paraguay. Social exclusion and the lack of citizen security have been highlighted as two of the primary drivers in the unaccompanied minor crisis at the border.
June 28 is an important day for members of both the LGBTQ community and the Honduran working class. The first is the anniversary of the 1969 “Stonewall Riots” in New York City by the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). And the second is the anniversary of the 2009 military-led coup d'état that ousted populist Honduran President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales from office and led to protests by the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (National Popular Resistance Front—FNRP).
Zelaya, who came into office as a member of the center-right Partido Liberal (Liberal Party) in 2006 but moved closer to the Left throughout his tenure, was arrested by the military and forcibly exiled to Costa Rica on June 28, 2009 after proposing a referendum that would enable voters to approve a constitutional assembly.
Though these events may appear unrelated—apart from their shared anniversary—they have produced one common result: a greater awareness of human rights violations and the mobilization of grassroots protest movements.
And while LGBTQ groups in the United States have made a number of legislative gains since 1969, Honduran activists—and LGBTQ activists in particular—have just begun their fight for political, social and economic justice.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) released a report on Wednesday detailing the increase in drug-related violence on the Guatemala-Honduras border and calling for immediate action on the part of both national governments to combat the situation.
The large network of narco-trafficking gangs in the region have been competing over increasingly disputed drug routes that move substances through Central America, up to Mexico and eventually to the United States. According to the ICG report, since the 2009 coup d’état that unseated former President Manuel Zelaya, Honduras has become a primary entrance point for such drugs trafficked through Guatemala by smaller outfits with ties to Mexican cartels like the Zetas.
The report outlines eight recommendations of steps the Guatemalan and Honduran governments can take to improve the current situation, including implementing a long-term violence prevention strategy and working with countries that have pursued similar strategies like Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. The report also advises both governments to send health workers, educators, community organizers and other members of civil society to develop the border area and provide opportunities for the local population that has been impacted by violence.
“Tackling criminal violence requires sustained, concerted efforts to promote local development and guarantee rule of law,” said Mary Speck, project director for the ICG’s Mexico and Central American project.
Juan Orlando Hernandez, the candidate for the conservative Partido Nacional (National Party), was confirmed as the new president of Honduras on Thursday. Hernandez won 36.9 percent of the vote, with opposition candidate Xiomara Castro of the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party—Libre) coming in second with 28.8 percent of the votes, according to the Honduran electoral tribunal (TSE.) Castro, whose husband Manuel Zelaya was ousted as president during a 2009 coup, has rejected the results claiming there was fraud.
Libre emerged after the ousting of ex-president Zelaya as a left leaning alternative to the National Party. Libre has staged sit-ins and protests outside the offices of the TSE, which has refused to examine 3,604 tallies presented as evidence of fraud, says ex-president Zelaya. According to Libre’s legal representative, the TSE has also refused audits and inspections despite the fact that the voter registry included people who were dead or abroad. The party plans to ask the Supreme Court to demand a review of the election results, while Hernandez denies fraud and says his victory is legitimate.
The new president faces great challenges, as Honduras boasts rising inequality, widespread corruption and the world’s highest homicide rate. The most recent election was also affected by violence, as two Libre party leaders were assassinated on November 24 and a TV Journalist who openly opposed the 2009 coup was shot to death on December 10. Honduras remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist.
Likely top stories this week: Xiomara Castro leads her supporters in protest against last Sunday’s election results; Juan Manuel Santos visits the United States; petroleum exploitation moves ahead in Ecuador; Mexicans protest as President Peña Nieto completes his first year in office; a fire engulfs the Latin America Memorial in São Paulo.
Honduran Election Result Sparks Demonstrations: Thousands of Hondurans marched in Tegucigalpa on Sunday after the country’s electoral authority declared Juan Orlando Hernández the winner of last Sunday's presidential elections. Challenger Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, who is demanding a vote-by-vote recount at all Honduran polling places and an investigation of the elections by the attorney general, called on her supporters to march peacefully to protest the results. Salvador Nasralla, another candidate, is also challenging the results. On Sunday evening, Honduras’ election tribunal said it would be willing to let LIBRE (Liberty and Refoundation party—Liberdad y Refundación) review the electoral record but declined to say whether it would consider a full recount.
Santos Visits the United States: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos arrived in the United States on Sunday for a three-day visit that will include a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama. Santos will also make an appearance at the University of Miami on Monday before traveling to Washington D.C. for visits with Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, and a meeting at the OAS, among other activities. The purpose of Santos' trip is to encourage additional U.S. investment in Colombia and to discuss Colombia's peace negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC).
Correa Announces Petroleum Exploitation in Ecuadorian Amazon: Despite major protests by Indigenous and environmental groups, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced Saturday that Ecuador would permit the exploitation of 13 petroleum blocks in the Ecuadorian Amazon near the border with Peru and on the edge of Yasuni National Park. Correa said that Chilean Ambassador Juan Carlos Lira and a businessman were injured in the protests last Tuesday. Ecuadorian Minister for Non-Renewable Natural Resources Pedro Merizalde said that the first three blocks up for action could hold as much as 1.5 billion barrels. So far, Spain's Repsol YPF, Chile's ENAP, Belarus’ Belorusneft, and China's Andes Petroleum have presented offers for four of the petroleum blocks.
Protests as Peña Nieto Completes First Year of Presidency: Thousands of Mexicans protested in the streets of Mexico City on Sunday as Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto celebrated the completion of his first year as president. Protesting teachers, union workers, and self-declared anarchists marched in opposition to Peña Nieto's recent education, tax and energy reforms. According to a poll released Sunday by Reforma newspaper, 48 percent of respondents disapproved of the president's job performance—up from 30 percent in April.
Fire Latest Accident to Hit São Paulo: Less than a week after a construction crane collapsed at São Paulo's Itaquerão stadium and killed two workers, the city's iconic Latin America Memorial—a landmark building which hosts an art gallery, an auditorium and other facilities— was engulfed by a fire on Saturday. The memorial and cultural center was built in 1989 by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who died last year at age 104. It is still unclear how the fire started, but it appears no members of the public have been injured in the blaze. Meanwhile, construction workers returned to Itaquerão stadium on Monday to address the damages caused by last week’s accident.
Likely top stories this week: Brazil will reduce lending by 20 percent next year; Argentina wins a stay on its $1.33 billion payment; Tropical Storm Sonia Hits Mexico; Honduras’ police chief denies abuses; Brazilian delegation opposes Uruguayan marijuana legalization.
Brazil to Reduce Lending Due to Budget Deficit: Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega said Friday that Brazilian development bank BNDES will reduce lending by 20 percent next year, down to about 150 billion reais ($66.6 billion) from this year's estimated 190 billion reais. The announcement came after an Oct. 31 report showed Brazil’s budget deficit widened to 3.3 percent of gross domestic product, the most since November 2009. Some experts speculate that Brazil's credit rating could be cut.
U.S. Court Upholds Stay on Argentine Debt Payment: The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Argentina on Friday by denying a motion that would have forced the country to start paying $1.33 billion to holdout bondholders. Friday’s decision will permit Argentina to make a second appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court before it is forced to pay the $1.33 billion to NML Capital Ltd and other holdout bondholders who did not accept a debt swap in 2005 and 2010.
Tropical Storm Sonia Hits Mexican Coast: Tropical Storm Sonia hit Mexico's Pacific Coast on Monday morning near the city of El Dorado in Sinaloa. By the time the storm made landfall, it was downgraded to a tropical depression and winds had decreased to about 35 mph. Though the storm is weakening, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said it could still cause floods and landslides in the region. Mexican authorities issued storm warnings from Mazatlan north to Altata on Sunday, and the government of Sinaloa state canceled classes on Monday in five municipalities.
Honduran General Denies Role in Police Abuses: In an interview, Honduran general and police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla denied knowledge or involvement in a wave of police abuses this year in which at least seven detainees have gone missing or been killed in police custody. He also said that he was not involved in setting up death squads starting in 1998, as reported by the police department's internal affairs section in 2002.
Brazilian Delegation Concerned About Uruguayan Marijuana: Brazilian political leaders from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul will travel to neighboring Uruguay this Tuesday to oppose Uruguayan legislation that will legalize marijuana sale and consumption in the country. The Brazilian delegation will testify before the Uruguayan Senate's health committee in an attempt to prevent the country from moving ahead with legalization.
Honduras will hold its presidential elections on November 24, and voters—for the first time in this Central American country’s history—might elect a female and openly socialist president, signaling the nation’s growing frustration with its male-dominated conservative leadership.
Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, representing the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party—LIBRE), was slated as the frontrunner in several preliminary polls conducted in September that monitored intended votes in the upcoming election. She earned 29 percent of votes in a CID-Gallup survey, followed by Juan Orlando Hernández of the National Party in second place with 27 percent; and she earned 22.8 percent of votes in an Encuestadora Paradigma study, followed by Hernández with 21.9 percent, according to the Huffington Post.
The political novice has captured the attention of Hondurans around the world with calls for the establishment of a constituent assembly and nationalization programs aimed at redistributing the country’s highly concentrated wealth. She is the wife of former President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, who was forcibly removed from office in a 2009 coup d’état after being accused of violating the constitution by scheduling a referendum on proposed constitutional reforms.
The military coup, which was orchestrated by members of both the Partido Nacional (National Party) and the Partido Liberal (Liberal Party)—the two dominant political parties in the country—was followed by the interim de facto rule of Partido Liberal member Roberto Micheletti and the subsequent election of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, who belongs to the Partido Nacional.
Honduras has been plagued for decades by economic inequality, violent crime and the political persecution of journalists who criticize the government, but these problems have intensified since 2009.
In the last round of regional conference qualifiers last night, Chile, Ecuador and Honduras punched their tickets to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Chile and Ecuador join Colombia and Argentina as the representatives from the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (South American Football Confederation—CONMEBOL), while Honduras, which will play in its second consecutive World Cup, joins the United States and Costa Rica from the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).
In CONCACAF, the qualifying match that created the most late drama was the United States’ 3-2 comeback win over Panama in Panama City. As the game went into stoppage time, Panama led 2-1. If the result had stood, Panama would have claimed the fourth spot on the CONCACAF qualification table, requiring a home-and-away playoff series with New Zealand to book their first-ever ticket to the World Cup. But two stoppage-time goals by the U.S. ended Panama’s World Cup hopes and landed Mexico in the fourth CONCACAF spot, despite their 2-1 loss to Costa Rica. Mexico will play New Zealand twice next month to decide who will travel to Brazil.
In CONMEBOL, Chile’s 2-1 victory over Ecuador sent both countries through to Brazil. Uruguay defeated Argentina 3-2 in Montevideo to secure that conference’s fifth playoff spot, and it will play Jordan twice in November in order to qualify for the World Cup. The group stage of the World Cup begins on June 12 in Morumbi Stadium in São Paulo.