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Story Publication logo August 6, 2019

Exclusive: A Pandora’s Box of Corruption in Honduras


Honduran flag. Image by Shutterstock. Honduras, 2019.

An in-depth investigation into the endemic corruption that plagues social welfare programs in...

Graphic by Mauricio Rodríguez Pons / Univision
Graphic by Mauricio Rodríguez Pons / Univision

A vast corruption scheme in Honduras involving the embezzlement of public funds through shell nonprofits and a secretive slush fund controlled by the presidency, is linked to dozens of nonprofits and at least 176 politicians, according to court documents and sources familiar with a wide-ranging investigation by anti-corruption prosecutors.

Official documents and court records reviewed by Univision connect the politicians to a corrupt network of at least 53 nonprofits which received more than $70 million over the last decade, the majority of which evidence suggests was funneled to politicians and campaigns to influence elections and important votes.

The documents indicate that the full scope of the scheme could involve dozens more nonprofits, as many as 360 current and former legislators and perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars in development funds in one of the region’s poorest countries, helping fuel a migrant exodus for the United States.

A pair of nonprofits linked directly to the family of President Juan Orlando Hernández are among those under investigation by anti-corruption prosecutors. The majority of the funds involved in the alleged corruption schemes investigated by Univision were authorized by Hernández’s office, according to correspondence between legislators and the presidency.

The Honduran attorney general’s office has held evidence of the corruption as far back as a decade, according to documents obtained by Univision and several sources familiar with the evidence. Yet only three cases have been prosecuted against two dozen politicians, barely revealing the tip of the iceberg of corruption and arousing widespread public indignation over impunity.

Honduran politicians threatened by the corruption probe have sought to obstruct the investigators by passing laws limiting the scope of prosecutors and reducing the penalties for potential crimes.

The revelations come at a time when discontent is swelling the streets with protests and the future of an international anti-corruption commissionknown as the MACCIH for its Spanish initials, is in doubt after its mandate expires in January.

Meanwhile, the corruption in Honduras is complicating relations with the Trump administration which is seeking greater cooperation from the governments of Central America to take measures to reduce the mass migration heading for the U.S. border. Public corruption is highlighted by many experts as a major factor in pushing migrants north, due to the erosion of proper public services it causes. In March, the Trump administration cut off foreign aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, due to frustration over those countries failure to stop the migrant flow.

President Hernández denied any ties to corruption in a statement to Univision. “The President is at the forefront of the fight against corruption,” according to the statement provided to Unvision by Mishcon de Reya, a London law firm representing the Honduran government. It added that Hernandez was proud of his role in allowing the MACCIH to operate in Honduras, as well as “historic” efforts to clean up the police, and the implementation of an extradition agreement with the United States “which directly challenged the exercise of power by drug traffickers within the National Congress, the Judiciary and the Executive."

‘Pork-barrel’ politics, Honduras-style

Political corruption in Honduras is nothing new, but the latest alleged scheme virtually institutionalized it after the National Congress passed a 2006 law that created a District Development Fund at the disposal of legislators. As more funding sources became available, the scheme expanded its reach, including to a slush fund controlled by Hernández, with a budget whose line item spending details are guarded in secrecy.

“There’s no license to get a kickback from it, there’s no reason anyone should get a penny from any of this,” said former legislator Jose Azcona, as he held open a book pointing to passages in the 2006 law he helped author which was designed to bring much needed assistance to poor, rural communities.

The District Development Fund was created with a $20 million annual budget for infrastructure projects in the legislative constituencies. It was supposed to function like traditional ‘pork barrel’ projects in the United States, designed to keep the constituents of influential legislators happy by financing pet projects in their community, said Azcona, who is now deeply critical of the way the program was corrupted.

But in one of the region’s most corrupt countries, weak institutions and a lack of oversight produced different results. In the best of circumstances, it was a mechanism to influence votes from constituents. In the worst, it was a get-rich-quick scheme, a slush fund for political campaigns or a tool for buying votes in the 128-member Congress with a budget whose line item spending details are guarded in secrecy.

By 2010, civil society organizations had detected glaring irregularities in the management of the fund. Roads, schools and other projects that were designated funds by legislators were never completed.

Soon after, Congress – then led by Hernández – modified the fund’s rules, allowing for more discretion by the legislators regarding the projects they chose to fund.

As a result, money shifted from supporting infrastructure projects to smaller, local initiatives, such as fumigation, workshops, school supplies and food parcels – projects that leave no trace once executed or consumed and are thus more difficult to verify. Nonprofits started popping up out of nowhere to immediately receive government funds, according to the documents obtained by Univision, including public contracts awarded to the nonprofits. The nonprofits were set up by what investigators have dubbed “collectors,” who administered multiple entities amassing large networks, according to documents and persons familiar with their operations.

As payment for their services, the collectors would receive a percentage of the funds, according to the three indictments brought against politicians so far by the MACCIH.

One such network uncovered by Univision consists of 24 nonprofits that received at least $23 million in public funds and are linked by a trio of collectors.

At the center is a man named Geovanny Castellanos, who was indicted for his role in the embezzlement of funds through two of those nonprofits. But the scope of his network was far greater, according to court documents and witness testimony. Castellanos and his co-conspirators would purchase defunct nonprofits, found new ones or work with political activists to manage others, the documents show. Castellanos has pleaded not guilty and is vigorously contesting the charges in court.

Wider corruption network

Univision was able to establish ties between Castellanos and at least 22 of the 24 nonprofits, according to Suspicious Activity Reports from the Financial Intelligence Unit of the state-run National Banking and Insurance Commission.

While not all the activities of the non-profits were suspect, those involved with the allegedly corrupt scheme received funding for projects that often had little or nothing to do with their stated missions. Organizations dedicated to youth development provided fumigation services. Another, whose mission is to provide wheelchairs to the disabled also received funds to build coffins for the poor.

Univision attempted to visit the offices of many of these organizations only to find no trace of the nonprofit. Others were housed in small offices that were the headquarters of numerous organizations. In one, a man who admitted to administering at least six nonprofits together with his wife denied any wrongdoing and said that their intentions were charitable. Operating multiple nonprofits enabled them to execute more projects, he explained.

“The money goes from the treasury to an NGO to do a project or lend a community service,” said Luiz Marrey, ex head of the MACCIH, referring to cases involved in the Castellanos network. “The NGO deposits it in the accounts of legislators or other persons for their personal use. Sometimes this is for political activity, other times it’s pocketed." he added.

Indictments involving the two nonprofits show that 80 to 90 percent of the funds they received were later deposited in the personal accounts of 15 legislators or members of their family and then used to pay off loans, credit cards and other personal expenses.

‘Suspicious Activity’

Univision’s investigation discovered that the activities of the network of 24 nonprofits generated at least 16 Suspicious Activity Reports by the banking commission, due to the appearance of money-laundering, including six during the 2013 campaign. On top of the 15 legislators who were indicted (all of whom have pleaded not guilty), congressional and court records show that at least 34 additional legislators requested government funding for these suspect nonprofits.

Augusto Cruz, a former legislator from a minority party, designated funds to at least seven of the nonprofits, according to court documents. National Party legislator Gladis López has links to at least four, the documents show. Both López and Cruz were indicted last year for corruption related to this network in which they also allegedly pocketed money without executing the declared projects. López and Cruz have pleaded not guilty.

López was recently named to a U.S. State Department list of 20 Honduran officials “credibly alleged to have committed or facilitated corruption.”

López did not respond to a request for an interview. Cruz declined to comment.

One of the cheques implicating Gladis Lopez. Image by Univision.
One of the cheques implicating Gladis Lopez. Image by Univision.

Numerous similar networks were also identified by Univision. In some cases, the legislator was also the collector, cutting out the middleman. Renan Inestroza, a member of the leadership of Congress, also runs a network of at least three nonprofits that has received nearly $6 million in public funds since he entered Congress in 2010, including funding requests from at least 15 legislators, according to congressional records.

Project reports submitted to the Secretary of Finance bear the signatures of supposed beneficiaries that differ so wildly that they appear to have been forged or recycled, according to documents obtained by Univision. This was a common tactic, as evidenced by names, fingerprints and signatures appearing in various documents that do not match.

Receipts submitted included items such as soccer balls and uniforms supposedly purchased for the nonprofits from Inestroza’s private construction company. Inestroza declined a request for an interview.

Family ties

In 2013 – when Hernández first ran for president of the republic – spending from the District Development Fund peaked, displaying clear political tendencies. Whereas in other years the majority of funds were disbursed in December, that year nearly all of the funds were spent in the months leading up to the November election, including more than $2 million transferred to municipalities in Hernández’s home department with mayors from his party.

“The president of Congress is the one who decides, the one who manages the fund,” said Marvin Ponce, a former legislator for the minority Democratic Unification party who served from 2006 to 2014.

At the time, even members of Hernandez’s own party publicly questioned his management of the fund. In an interview with the local newspaper La Prensa, National Party politician Fernando Andurray said that Hernandez had “his own minimarket with an enormous budget in the National Congress with the District Development Fund."

“The accounts in question were administered by bureaucratic bodies and institutional structures, they were not under the personal ‘control’ of the President,” said President Hernandez in reply to a series of questions about the alleged corruption in Honduras. 

According to records from the Secretary of Finance, eight of the top ten recipients that year were nonprofits that were either the subject of Suspicious Activity Reports or linked by Univision to networks suspected of corruption. The remaining two organizations are linked to the ruling National Party, including FUNDEIH (Fundación para el Desarrollo Integral de Honduras), which is closely tied to President Hernandez's family and administration.

FUNDEIH was incorporated in 2005 by Hernandez’s wife, Ana Garcia Carias. A document obtained by Univision that dates from 2016 shows that Ebal Diaz, minister of the presidency and right-hand man to President Hernandez, served on the organization’s board along with a nephew of the President, Marco Hernandez, and other persons who work in the Office of the Presidency.

Despite numerous public accusations of corruption and conflicts of interest that have dogged FUNDEIH in the local Honduran media since 2006, a representative of the organization, Marjorie Antunez, denied any knowledge of the allegations as well as any wrongdoing.

All the state funds received by FUNDEIH were invested in social projects benefiting 400,000 homes, Antunez said in a statement to Univision. “The beneficiaries of the projects have all been persons of low income,” she said, emphasizing that the projects were fully transparent and subject to routine government audits. "We have no knowledge that FUNDEIH is being investigated for acts of corruption and there is no justification for it," she added.

After winning the election, Hernández transferred control of the fund to the executive branch. At the same time, many of the nonprofits involved with the scheme in Congress found new, deeper sources of funding, including the president’s signature social welfare program called Vida Mejor, or Better Life, and a contingency fund commonly referred to as the ‘449’ program for its budget line number.

Funding for FUNDEIH -- which is under official investigation -- skyrocketed after Hernández became president, receiving over $91 million in public funds from Vida Mejor, according to records from the Secretary of Social Development and Inclusion.

“The President is very proud that his social welfare vision helped to inspire the work of the FUNDEIMH and FUNDEIH, both of which have enormously benefited the people of Honduras,” President Hernández said in his statement to Univision. 

The largest portion of the funding received by FUNDEIH was for the distribution of wood-burning eco stoves. In a video narrated by President Hernandez about these projects, he speaks about the work he and his wife have done with FUNDEIH since 2006.

FUNDEIMH is another nonprofit linked to President Hernandez’s family. The organization was subject to a raid in January 2018 by anti-corruption prosecutors and is under official investigation.

FUNDEIMH insists its records are completely in order. “Nearly two years have passed since that event, however we have not seen any follow up action since,” a representative for FUNDEIMH, Mario Cardenas, told Univision. “No account has been frozen. No legal impediment has been put in place to stop us from continuing to operate,” he added.

According to its critics, Vida Mejor is a highly politicized state development program that focuses on providing citizens with conditional cash transfers and other goods and services such as cement floors, tin roofs and bags of food. The programs are often used to project a politician’s image or influence the conscience of voters.

President Hernández emphatically rejected any criticism of its programs. “The Vida Mejor program operates using the technical criteria of the World Bank, a funder of the program, for targeting local areas of extreme poverty and does so without a political bias,” he told Univision. The program had been “a great success and the vast majority of allocated funds have been spent properly and efficiently, producing important social benefits,” he stated. “However, in the event that any instances of corruption are found, they must be rooted out. It is the President's highest priority to promote the continuous improvement of the program’s effectiveness, coverage, and transparency."

In 2014, the budget for the 449-program increased four-fold to roughly $400 million annually. Essentially a petty cash fund administered by the president, court records and documents obtained by Univision show that within the 449 fund is a ‘social assistance program’ that operates with the same modus operandi as Congress’s District Development Fund, with money often being funneled to legislators or political campaigns instead of financing development projects.

The rise of the MACCIH

In 2015, details of a massive corruption scandal involving hundreds of millions of dollars embezzled from the national health system came to light, tens of thousands of Hondurans took to the streets, spawning a protest movement called the ‘March of Torches’ that became the largest the country had seen since the wake of a 2009 coup.

Hernández – then in the second year of his first term as president – was forced to admit that a portion of the funds embezzled had made their way into his campaign coffers. Given the president’s as well as his party’s links to the scandal – and a historic lack of independence from the justice system – protesters demanded the creation of an international anti-corruption commission.

Acutely aware of the threat yet desperate to palliate protests, Hernández entered into negotiations instead with the Organization of American States (OAS). What emerged was an anti-corruption commission known as the MACCIH for its Spanish initials, similar - but smaller and with less authority - to Guatemala’s United Nations-backed CICIG, an anti-impunity commission which indicted and jailed former President Otto Pérez Molina.

On January 19, 2016 the agreement was signed, giving the MACCIH a four-year mandate.

The MACCIH was created by the OAS to look into allegations of political corruption in Honduras. Image by MACCIH/Twitter.
The MACCIH was created by the OAS to look into allegations of political corruption in Honduras. Image by MACCIH/Twitter.

For the better part of the next two years the MACCIH set about laying the foundation for is work, establishing an anti-corruption court and an elite prosecutorial unit to combat impunity, called the UFECIC for its Spanish initials, that would partner with the commission. It also promoted electoral and criminal reforms, such as the passage of a plea bargain law, considered a crucial legal tool to build cases.

“The Honduran congress repeatedly delayed and weakened the MACCIH’s proposed reforms ... hindering the mission’s anti-corruption efforts,” the U.S. Congressional Research Service wrote in a report published June 4.

When in December 2017 the MACCIH announced its first indictment – accusing five outgoing legislators of embezzling money from the congressional development fund through a shell nonprofit – few understood the ramifications. But inside the halls of government, the full threat was immediately recognized, setting off alarm bells that echoed from Congress to the presidential palace.

A month after the indictment, a law was reformed to shield legislators from prosecution regarding the mismanagement of the congressional development fund, effectively killing the case against the five legislators. Then- MACCIH head Juan Jiménez Mayor, a former prosecutor and prime minister of Peru, deemed the reform the “Impunity Pact” and gave the first indication of the breadth of the corruption, announcing that as many as 60 legislators could be implicated in the scheme, including the president of Congress, Mauricio Oliva. Oliva denied any involvement.

Soon after Jiménez resigned over what he described as a lack of support from Honduran authorities, as well as clashes with OAS leadership.

But the MACCIH continued its work under a new boss, Luiz Antonio Marrey, a former Brazilian state prosecutor in São Paulo who resigned in June after a year on the job.

Pandora’s box

In June last year, the MACCIH presented its largest case to date, fittingly called ‘Pandora,’ after a notorious jar in Greek mythology with evil contents. In this case, a pair of nonprofits were allegedly used to embezzle roughly $12 million from the District Development Fund and the Secretary of Agriculture and Livestock, according to the indictment. The majority of the money ended up financing campaigns of the two traditionally dominant political parties.

Once again, Hernández faced the embarrassment of his 2013 presidential campaign having received illicit funding. But it could have been much worse.

A review of court documents presents a clear pattern in which his sister, Hilda Hernández, who was a close confidante and co-chair of the campaign, signed contracts with providers who were later, even in the same day, paid with checks written out from the implicated nonprofits. Others involved in the scheme testified that they received instructions from Hilda Hernández on how to spend the money, including a woman who made previously unrevealed wire transfers with the illicit funds to foreign campaign advisers, such as $45,000 to a political strategist.

Hilda Hernández died in a helicopter crash in December 2017. Officials with knowledge of the case told Univision that if she had survived the crash she would have been among those indicted for corruption.

The man who administered the two nonprofits at the center of the case, a lawyer named Fernando Suárez, was arrested and is now cooperating with prosecutors. He testified in court in December that he worked at the direction of Hilda Hernández as part of a scheme to embezzle funds that extends far beyond the indictment.

“Fernando was a confidant of Hilda,” said Omar Menjívar, the attorney representing Suárez. “The money that came out of these foundations was given to Fernando and then he would bring it to Hilda.”

For his own protection, Suárez is being held in isolation in a special jail cell by agents from an elite criminal investigations unit, known as ATIC.

To support the accusations, Suárez delivered thousands of documents – including checks, receipts, bank statements and more – related to a network of nonprofits that, according to him, were used to embezzle funds, primarily from Congress’s District Development Fund, the 449 program and Vida Mejor.

“The decisions were made by the engineer Hilda Hernández with the knowledge of the president of the republic Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado,” said Suárez in a December court proceeding during which he outlined the accusations.

In the statement provided to Univision, President Hernández said that “… as far as he was aware, she was never involved in any form of illegal conduct, and only ever wanted the best for the people of Honduras.”

Univision identified another 14 nonprofits – on top of the two named officially in the Pandora case – in a network that revolved around Suárez and Hilda Hernández that received an additional $17 million.

Among those implicated in Pandora was Dalia Palma, who worked as a legal adviser to Congress in charge of overseeing the District Development Fund under the supervision of legislator Ricardo Diaz, according to a declaration she made to prosecutors during the investigation. Sources who spoke with Univision on condition of anonymity alleged that Palma has fled the country due to death threats.

In 2010, Diaz and fellow legislator Jose Leon solicited funds from the District Development Fund on behalf of the nonprofit Fundacion Dibattista, which according to the Pandora indictment was a money laundering front. From 2011 to 2013, Diaz and Leon joined other legislators -- including vice-president of Congress Antonio Rivera and former chief justice of the Supreme Court Oswaldo Ramos -- in soliciting funds on behalf of nonprofits that, according to documents and sources familiar with the case, were administered by Palma.

The charging document filed by the MACCIH in the Pandroa case, June 2018. Image by Univision.
The charging document filed by the MACCIH in the Pandroa case, June 2018. Image by Univision.

Diaz, Leon, Rivera, Ramos and Gutierrez did not respond to requests for an interview. Gutierrez appears on the State Department’s list of officials “credibly alleged to have committed or facilitated corruption” and is currently undergoing trial related to a corruption scheme involving the public health system. Gutierrez has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The rest of the nonprofits in the network were identified by Suárez as part of his collaboration with prosecutors, or Univision was able to link them to his associates or family.

In addition to the persons indicted in the Pandora case, at least 28 legislators designated funds to this network, including the president’s brother, Tony Hernández, who, according to Suárez, led a group of legislators who embezzled funds.

Tony Hernández was arrested at Miami airport by the DEA in late November and is facing drug trafficking charges in New York. Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

President Hernández was implicated by U.S. prosecutors in the case against his brother, for allegedly attempting “to leverage drug trafficking to maintain and enhance" his political power," according to a document filed in New York federal court on Friday. President Hernández denied the accusation and attributed it to his government's efforts to end to the impunity of traffickers who now want revenge.

The Pandora case is emblematic of the failure by the attorney general’s office to prosecute criminal investigations involving politicians prior to the arrival of the MACCIH. Documents obtained by Univision show that in 2013 the two nonprofits at the center of the Pandora scandal were flagged for activity characteristic of money laundering. A pair of Suspicious Activity Reports detailed how funds from the nonprofits were transferred to political parties, Suárez and others.

But it wasn’t until the following year when a person linked to one of the organizations filed a complaint that an investigation was opened. A prosecutor then diligently worked the case only to see it repeatedly shelved.

When a few details of the case leaked to the press in 2014, Suárez's lawyer, Menjívar, recommended that he turn himself in. “If I do that those people will kill me,” said Suárez to Menjívar at the time. “Besides, the minister [Hilda] will control it.”

The prosecutor on several occasions presented the accusation to the chief prosecutor and each time she was told the investigation was “incomplete,” sources familiar with the case told Univision. “Eventually, she understood that there was no will [to proceed],” said Menjívar.

Charges were eventually filed, but only after the MACCIH took over the case.

Numerous Suspicious Activity Reports reviewed by Univision show that the same scenario was repeated on numerous occasions. The attorney general’s office had information regarding countless politicians’ links to potential money laundering through dozens of nonprofits dating as far back as a decade or more, but only when the MACCIH arrived was that information used to genuinely advance criminal investigations.

“Before the arrival of the MACCIH the attorney general’s office wasn’t advancing criminal investigations of which they had information. Once the MACCIH received it, in little time it was able to build a case and bring it to trial,” said Jaime Arellano, executive director of the Justice Studies Center of the Americas (CEJA) which recently conducted a study that found major deficiencies in the Honduran justice system, including a top-heavy bureaucracy that often slowed or halted prosecutions for spurious reasons.

“It is only because the President took the initiative in creating MACCIH that these cases of corruption came to light in the first place,” President Hernandez told Univision in his statement, adding that, at his direction, the government launched an anti-corruption initiative that included tighter controls and auditing of public funds by non-governmental organizations.

Votes for sale

According to multiple legislators, these schemes were used not only to fund political campaigns and line the pockets of politicians, but also to buy votes in Congress when a consensus was otherwise out of reach.

“I saw how other parties asked for [hundreds of thousands of dollars] in order to change the attorney general or the court,” said former legislator Ponce. “When they removed some judges, several legislators were asking for money for their votes.”

Votes to remove four judges from the Constitutional Court and replace the attorney general a year early were among the most controversial during Hernández’s tenure as president of Congress. That would prove vital once Hernández was elected president in 2013.

Although the Honduran constitution explicitly prohibits presidential reelection, “Hernández was able to run for a second term as a result of a 2015 supreme court ruling issued by justices whose appointments Hernández had orchestrated as the head of congress in 2012,” according to the Congressional Research Service report.

In 2014, two new minority parties achieved a greater share of the seats in Congress than had ever happened before, breaking the hold of the two traditionally dominant parties and making it all the more difficult to round up enough votes to pass a law or even elect the body’s president.

“The election of the president of the National Congress was negotiated based on who was going to be given [money] from the [District Development Fund],” said Anibal Calix, a former legislator from the minority Anti-Corruption Party who served from 2014 to 2018.

Representatives from opposition minority parties told Univision of subsequent attempts at manipulation by Oliva, the newly anointed president of Congress, and other members of the congressional leadership.

“[Oliva] would say, ‘This is like a courtship, we are going to see if you behave yourselves,” said Fatima Mena, a legislator from 2014 to 2018 for the Anti-Corruption Party.

On numerous occasions Oliva and others from the leadership would dangle the congressional development fund over their heads.

“If they wanted to arrive at a consensus, they mentioned the fund but that there would have to be an agreement with the president to access that,” said Mena.

Oliva did not respond to a request for comment.

Other times the offers were more explicit, such as when a controversial vote came up that would have enshrined the military police in the constitution. Calix recalled that a member of the congressional leadership offered him roughly $100,000 from the development fund to vote in favor of the military police. “In the end it was a bribe,” said Calix.

The most controversial -- and consequential -- vote of the term was the 2015 election of members of the Supreme Court, which is decided by Congress. Legislators who spoke with Univision on condition of anonymity reported receiving or having knowledge of offers from members of congressional leadership, as high as $500,000. In the end, Hernández’s party garnered enough votes to elect its preferred candidates, consolidating his power across the judicial branch.

President Hernandez denied any involvement in bribery in his statement to Univision, adding that he was “committed to rooting out all corruption in the political system.”

An uncertain future

The MACCIH’s mandate runs out in six months and experts say that if it leaves the justice system could revert to its old tendencies. Meanwhile, the three MACCIH indictments continue to make their way through the courts. This week, anti-corruption prosecutors requested the seizure of $1.7 million in assets from the proceeds of alleged corruption in the Pandora indictment, including property belonging to the Hilda Hernandez’s husband who is one of the 38 people indicted in the case. 

“The fact that those cases had such difficulty before MACCIH arrived and then achieved much more significant progress afterwards supports the thesis that it wasn’t the technical ability but rather the political conditions to take those cases forward that MACCIH facilitated,” said Chuck Call, a professor at American University who has studied the MACCIH.

“The Honduran congress repeatedly delayed and weakened the MACCIH’s proposed reforms ... hindering the mission’s anti-corruption efforts,” the U.S. Congressional Research Service wrote in its June 4 report.

In January 2018 the Honduran congress passed a law that effectively blocked an investigation into legislators’ mismanagement of public funds, though it was later overturned.

It has also resisted a plea bargain law that would allow prosecutors to offer reduced sentences in exchange for collaboration from witnesses willing to identify the masterminds of corruption schemes.

A new criminal code, which is to go into effect in November 2019, will reportedly reduce criminal penalties for embezzlement, fraud, illicit enrichment, and drug trafficking, potentially allowing some corrupt officials to avoid serving any time in prison.

As the debate rages on about the future of the MACCIH, torch march protests are once again filling the streets, growing in strength with each ensuing week. A recent national strike by teachers’ and doctors’ unions that paralyzed the country for nearly a week laid bare the government’s weakness amid plummeting approval ratings, as well as increasingly dark clouds surrounding Hernandez, his family and his administration.

The toe-dragging regarding the passage of a plea bargain law in Honduras as well as attempts to legislate impunity, demonstrate that Honduras is no readier to walk on its own now than it was four years ago, particularly with so many accusations surrounding those in power, government critics say.

“Many analysts assert that Honduran public prosecutors would struggle to continue their anti-corruption efforts without the MACCIH or another source of international assistance and political support,” the Congressional Research Service concluded.

If the MACCIH dissolves, it will leave behind nearly two dozen open investigations as well as a number of ongoing trials. The UFECIC and the anti-corruption court circuit will lose the political cover that has thus far allowed them to operate with unprecedented independence.

"The Honduran justice system requires a democratic regeneration and that has not yet happened,” said Arellano at CEJA. “There is a long journey ahead and the presence of the MACCIH would help that happen,” he added.

The reasons for which many politicians would like to see the MACCIH disappear are clear. A roadmap appeared before them when Guatemala attempted to expel the CICIG and ultimately decided not to renew its mandate without suffering a major backlash from the international community.

“I think part of the Honduran political class has been very happy with the non-renewal of the CICIG because this has given an example of what can be done,” said Marrey.

The U.S. State Department was silent as the situation unfolded in Guatemala. But a recent press release calling for the renewal of the MACCIH’s mandate indicates a tougher strategy will be employed in Honduras. Following a recent visit from Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Kimberly Breier, Hernández sent the plea bargain law to Congress.

“It is crucial that MACCIH continue its important work to strengthen Honduran institutions and civil society and root out corruption that severely undermines security, prosperity, human rights, and democratic governance,” the State Department told Univision in an emailed statement.

Despite much criticism of the commission due to a lack of convictions, more than 61 percent of Hondurans would like the MACCIH to remain.

“[The MACCIH] must stay until we are able to bring the corrupt to justice ourselves,” said Allan Alvarez, 41, at a recent torch march protest in San Pedro Sula. “At the moment, the conditions don’t exist, and we don’t have the persons capable, to send the corrupt to jail.”







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