Anti-corruption efforts in Honduras have been dealt a significant blow by the decision of the the country’s government not to renew the mandate of the “Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras” body, known as MACCIH, this Sunday.
MACCIH, was established in January 2016 under the Organisation of American States (OAS) in response to an enormous embezzlement scandal involving the misappropriation of over $260 million from the Honduran Institute of Social Security. It involved a number of high-ranking officials, business people and public employees.
In announcing the decision, President Juan Orlando Hernández commented on Twitter, “We continue our steadfast desire to continue our fight against corruption and for transparency.”
The establishment of an anti-corruption body was demanded by the Honduran people through a popular protest movement in response to the revelations of the embezzlement scandal. Under pressure from the movement, Hernández accepted the creation of an anti-corruption body which became MACCIH.
Since its establishment, MACCIH has played a key role in the fight against corruption in Honduras. It helped pass into law the “Clean Politics Law,” which mandated that all electoral candidates report the source of their donations and established a limit on campaign contributions.
It also went after high profile targets including politicians and high-ranking officials. In one of its most well known cases, MACCIH contributed to the investigation of ex-First Lady, Rosa Elena Bonilla, who was convicted in 2019 on 11 counts of corruption and sentenced to 58 years in prison.
However, MACCIH’s success in investigating and exposing corruption in Honduras also made it a target, particularly of the political class and the President’s own party, who have constantly attacked it for overstepping its mandate and accusing it of “multiple violations of rights, guarantees and constitutional principles.”
In December 2019, the National Congress voted 71 to 57 to implore the President not to renew the body’s mandate.
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There has been a significant response to the decision in Honduras with protests in the nation’s capital, Tegucigalpa. Protester Antonio Tejada, told Reuters, “The MACCIH wouldn’t prevent them, but they would be more careful because they knew they were being watched.”
A broad section of Honduran society has also criticised the decision with business leader, Pedro Barquero, stating, “The root of all problems in Honduras is corruption and impunity. Because of the corruption there is no healthcare, no education, no security, and no opportunities for the Honduran people.”
The President of the Medical College of Honduras and key leader in ongoing protests demanding the resignation of Hernández, Suyapa Figueroa, said, “If the MACCIH goes, we will be in a state of helplessness even worse than what we already are.”
Honduras has become increasingly authoritarian under the rule of President Hernández, who changed the constitution to be able to run for a second term in 2017. In 2019, his brother Antonio “Tony” Hernández, a former federal senator, was convicted in the U.S. of drug trafficking in a case that named the President himself as a co-conspirator.
Hernández has been widely criticised for his response to nation-wide protests and strikes against government attempts to privatise the health and education sectors that have left at least 30 people dead. Nevertheless, Hernández continues to enjoy strong support from the Trump Administration.