Democracy and rights
The democratic institutions are weak in Honduras characterized by corruption and violence. Freedom of the press and freedom of expression is circumvented and the country has become one of the most dangerous in the world for both environmental activists and journalists.
Elections are held regularly but accusations of voting and other irregularities surround not least the last election, 2017. Objections came from opposition parties as well as from foreign election observers. But even though the regional cooperation organization OAS advocated that the election should be made if it was rejected by the authorities.
- Countryaah: Offers a comprehensive list of airports in Honduras, including international airports with city located, size and abbreviation, as well as the biggest airlines.
In addition, a decision in the Supreme Court the year before had made it possible for incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández to stand for re-election, although the Constitution really prohibits it. The court’s decision is politically contentious and the president’s legitimacy remains strongly questioned (see Current Policy).
Furthermore, prosecutors in the United States claim that President Hernández received millions in bribes through his brother Tony Hernández, who was convicted of drug smuggling by a New York court (see below).
The military still has political influence. Many former soldiers hold civilian posts, especially in security operations. The right of assembly and organization is limited and the ordering authority often uses violence against protesters.
Human rights defenders and activists primarily for the environment, land rights and indigenous peoples are subject to threats, abuse and deadly violence. In a case that caused much consternation also in the outside world, a prominent environmental activist and advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples, Berta Cáceres (2016) was murdered in 2016. She had received more than 30 death threats because of her work to stop a dam construction (see Current policy). Over 120 environmental activists are estimated to have been killed since 2010 in Honduras, one of the world’s most dangerous countries for this kind of activism.
Gang violence, impunity and corruption form an explosive mix. Honduras has previously placed an unflattering first place on the list of murders per inhabitant in countries that are not at war. However, the situation has improved – between 2011 and 2017, the number of murders per 100,000 residents was halved. According to the authorities, the positive development is the result of vigorous efforts against drug lords and other criminal gangs. At the same time, there are warnings that the security strategy can trigger new violence and retaliation. In the first two weeks of 2019 alone, 30 people were murdered in eight separate massacres. Since 2010, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has a special representation in Honduras.
In Transparency International’s index of countries after corruption, Honduras is ranked 146 out of 180 (the full list is here). Just as in other indices that measure political and civil rights, Honduras is one of the worst countries in Latin America.
Freedom of expression and media
Media freedom in Honduras is limited, among other things, by a law that prohibits defamation and may compel journalists to reveal their sources. Journalists who awaken the authority of the authorities are subjected to abuse, threats and harassment, and risk that broadcasts or publications are stopped. Following a law change in 2017, journalists can be sentenced to prison under terrorism law if they are considered to have encouraged terrorism or hatred.
The media climate has worsened during the 2000s and after the summer of 2009 (see Modern history), the country is described as one of the most dangerous in the world for journalists. Nearly 80 media workers have been murdered following the coup against then-President Manuel Zelaya. Prior to that, “only” four journalist murders had been committed during the 1990s and before that almost 20 years passed without any murders. According to the National Human Rights Commission Conadeh, only a few of the last decade’s murders have been properly investigated. Violence against journalists has also increased in general.
Abbreviated as HND by Abbreviationfinder, Honduras lands 148 out of 180 on Reporters Without Borders’s list of media freedom in the world – in Latin America, only Cuba is ranked even worse (see full list here). In connection with the 2017 election, countless cases of threats and violence against media representatives were reported.
Journalists often engage in self-censorship, also in order not to conflict with the owners’ interests.
Both journalists and citizen groups have difficulty obtaining information from the authorities. A security law passed in 2014 gives the authorities the right to secretly stamp information relating to security and national defense for up to 25 years. The law includes, among other things, the budget of the military police and information relating to the Supreme Court’s activities.
Judicial system and legal security
The justice system is weakened by corruption and political governance. The inability to deal with rampant violence and crime and to handle reported abuse after the 2009 coup d’état shows problems within the judicial system. Hundreds of journalists, lawyers and human rights activists have since been harassed, threatened and murdered.
Although the situation was serious even in the past, many human rights organizations state that the coup d’état is a breaking point. They also claim that death patrols from the 1980s have resurfaced, financed by businessmen. Authorities are accusing the youth gang and organized crime of the crimes. Few of the crimes are investigated. Both international and national human rights organizations have reported on how police and military themselves participate in harassment or actively hinder criminal investigations.
After revealing that high-ranking police officers ordered the murder of an official who worked against the drug trade and a security adviser, in 2016 a police clearance was initiated, which resulted in 4,000 police officers being fired in one year. At the same time, 2,500 new police officers who had received special training in human rights were hired.
An anti-fraud scandal in the social security system in 2015 (see Current policy) contributed to Honduras’s decision in early 2016 to establish an OAS- supported body to investigate corruption and impunity within the country’s political and legal system, Maacih (see Calendar). Many of those who took part in demonstrations against the government had demanded a body that was also given the power to prosecute, more like a UN-supported effort in Guatemala (see Guatemala-Political system). But Maacih has in any case contributed to the introduction of new legislation in order to prevent illegal campaign contributions in connection with elections. At the same time, there is information that the political elite is opposing Maachih.
In 2017, data also emerged that seemed to be evidence of strong links between the country’s political leadership and business and, on the other, organized crime. The revelations came when a former drug king testified in a US lawsuit against Fabio Lobo, the son of former President Lobo. According to the drug king “Don Leo” – who surrendered to US authorities and reportedly testified in exchange for protection for his family – both Porfirio and Fabio Lobo must have received bribes from the drug cartel Los Cachiros. Fabio Lobo was sentenced in September 2017 to 24 years in prison in the United States for his involvement in drug dealing. Don Leo also accused the president’s brother, Congressman Juan Antonio (Tony) Hernández, of receiving bribes. Tony Hernández was arrested in the US in the fall of 2018 and also charged with drug and weapons offenses. During the trial, prosecutors claimed he received millions of dollars from drug kings, on his brother’s behalf, the president. He was sentenced by the court and runs the risk of a long prison sentence (seeCalendar).
In September 2019, Porfirio Lobo’s wife Rosa Elena Bonilla was also sentenced to 58 years in prison for defrauding public funds that would have gone to poor children, among other things (see Calendar).