Honduras Faces Uphill Battle Against Endemic Corruption
Eric L. Olson, Associate Director of the Latin American Program, discusses Honduras’ fight against corruption with World Politics Review.
This article was originally published in World Politics Review on Wednesday, September 30, 2015. Click here for original article. This week, the Organization of American States (OAS) announced that it would establish a Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), following protests demanding an anti-corruption body like the one that helped bring down the Guatemalan president. In an email interview, Eric Olson, associate director of the Wilson Center’s Latin America program, discussed Honduras’ fight against corruption. WPR: How big a problem is corruption in Honduras, and in what areas is its impact felt most strongly? Eric Olson: Corruption has been a major concern in Honduras for many decades and affects every aspect of life and governance. According to Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perception Index, Honduras ranks 128 out of 175 countries and is the fifth most corrupt in the Americas. Corruption has a negative impact on the economy as it skews prices and serves as a hidden tax on all transactions. It undermines public security as law enforcement and justice institutions are captured by criminal networks in order to protect, rather than fight, crime. At present, the country is seized by an enormous scandal within the public health-care system that is estimated to have cost as much as $200 million and may have caused the deaths of several Hondurans because of a lack of medicine. WPR: What impact is Guatemala’s recent success fighting corruption likely to have on efforts in Honduras, particularly regarding the possibility of new anti-corruption institutions? Olson: It has given hope to many Hondurans that their country can also take on high-level corruption and win. It has led many Hondurans to call for the creation of an independent United Nations anti-corruption body for Honduras, similar to the one that proved so effective in Guatemala. But such a body requires Honduran politicians to accept an international presence with an independent role in the investigation of corruption, and the capacity to work with national prosecutors to try corruption cases, sometimes against the country’s political and economic elite as we saw in Guatemala. To date, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez has preferred a Honduran solution with a limited advisory role for international specialists. He has resisted an independent U.N. investigation body to look into corruption cases like the health-care scandal. WPR: How big an issue is corruption politically, and what are the prospects for real reforms? Olson: Combating corruption is a top political priority for the vast majority of Hondurans. The debate is over how to successfully defeat corruption when it has so thoroughly weakened the country’s institutions. The president, with the help of the OAS, is forming the Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). This is still in its infancy, so it’s too early to judge whether it will be effective, but it gives an idea of the importance given to the fight against corruption. Corruption is also having a major impact on the country’s electoral system. Campaign-finance rules are very weak and do not even require independent audits for campaign expenditures. So the vulnerability of the electoral system to “dirty money” from criminal groups is extreme. It has even touched President Hernandez, who acknowledged that money from the health care scandal had found its way into his campaign coffers. He has maintained that he was unaware of this and was not involved, but it is emblematic of the serious problems the political system faces and why there is so much public distrust of politicians.
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Latin American Program
The Wilson Center’s prestigious Latin American Program provides non-partisan expertise to a broad community of decision makers in the United States and Latin America on critical policy issues facing the Hemisphere. The Program provides insightful and actionable research for policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists, and public intellectuals in the United States and Latin America. To bridge the gap between scholarship and policy action, it fosters new inquiry, sponsors high-level public and private meetings among multiple stakeholders, and explores policy options to improve outcomes for citizens throughout the Americas. Drawing on the Wilson Center’s strength as the nation’s key non-partisan forum, the Program serves as a trusted source of analysis and a vital point of contact between the worlds of scholarship and action. Read more