A dire panorama
Olson warned that regardless of who wins the elections, Honduras faces serious obstacles to overcome – especially with regard to corruption and the weakness of state institutions to fight it.
“It’s an extremely violent country and the question is why. There’s no question that organized crime and drug trafficking is an element in violence in Honduras today,” Olson said. “We immediately think of drug trafficking, because that’s logical. But Honduras also has a problem with trafficking in contraband – used clothing from the United States, pirated goods and hardwoods and precious woods. A woman selling pirated CDs on a street corner might seem innocent enough, but she’s part of an organized crime system.”
Olson added: “We’re not just seeing the dismantling of democratic institutions. We’re seeing the failure of governments in the last three decades – lost opportunities that have failed to construct independent judiciaries, professional law enforcement, civilian institutions that could hold accountable those who have authority for the safety and security of Hondurans. The United States holds responsibility for this as well, but fundamentally, this has been a series of lost opportunities.”
Olson recalled that during his visit to Honduras last June, the country’s newly appointed minister of public security announced that the government had been paying as many as 2,000 ghost police officers – cops who didn’t exist.
“The institutions did not even know who was on their payrolls. Worse than that, they only had 64 police officers in four of the most chronically violent states. Either they didn’t know, or they knew but didn’t care,” he said.
He added that two-thirds of Hondurans recently surveyed expect fraud in Sunday’s elections, and that no legal requirements exist to carry out independent audits of campaign financing.
“So if they said they spent $1 million, no one knows how they got that money. The door is so wide open, the mechanisms of control and accountability are not there. One can just expect that this sort of thing is going on,” Olson said.
As for the elections tribunal, Olson said it is weak, and its members are politically affiliated.
“That does not automatically make them bad, but it calls into question – when push comes to shove – what the outcome might be,” he said.
Humire’s talk focused on dispelling economic myths he said have been promoted by the Zelaya campaign.
One is that more than 400,000 jobs were created during the former president’s term of office. In reality, the agriculture sector employs 39.2 percent of Hondurans yet contributes only 12.8 percent of its gross domestic product.
“They also claimed that public debt dropped under Zelaya’s administration. That’s mostly true, but that’s because of massive spending and social welfare, which further crowded out private capital investment, as depicted by the 18.45 percent lending rate by commercial banks,” he said.
Humire also noted that approximately 670 Honduran doctors remain on strike because the government has not paid their salaries.
Olson said one of the biggest problems with Honduras is that despite the country’s traditional two-party system, nine parties are competing in Sunday’s election. And with no run-off vote, the winner likely will only capture about 32 percent of the total vote.
Said Olson: “While I have a great deal of love for Honduras, I worry that the scenario is potentially dangerous and difficult.”
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