Monday, June 1, 2015

Protests, Claims of Conspiracy Against Juan Orlando Hernández

Juan Orlando Hernández, elected President of Honduras in November 2013 with about 37% of the popular vote, has ruled as if he had an electoral mandate.

For the last couple of weeks, however, things have been a little rougher in JOH's Honduras. Rough enough that English language media have taken notice.  

The International Business Times covered the story with a headline "Juan Orlando Hernandez Resignation Scandal", summarizing the issues concisely:
Hondurans demanded the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez Wednesday during demonstrations across the violence plagued capital city of Tegucigalpa. Protesters outside the National Congress questioned Hernandez's involvement in a social security scam involving some of the nation's most influential businesspeople and politicians...
The Honduran Institute of Social Security funding scam allegedly involved officials transferring large sums of money from the nation's federal coffers to the ruling National Party during the 2013 presidential elections.

The Tico Times adds that the Partido Nacional is accused

of having accepted approximately $90 million from IHSS to finance Hernández’s campaign in 2013, a cut of more than $300 million in diverted funds from the IHSS.

The investigation of corruption at the IHSS is ongoing. What has been alleged, citing the Consejo Nacional Anticorrupción, is that funds were paid to false-front businesses that provided no services. Some of these businesses then wrote checks to the central committee of the Partido Nacional, which used the proceeds to fund the presidential campaign, according to Salvador Nasralla, leader of the Partido Anti-Corrupción.

The allegation that a large part of the money diverted financed Hernández' presidential campaign has fueled demands that he step down.

Which leads to the strangest part of this story: the pushback, which has tried to recast this all as plotting to undermine the president, even to carry out a military coup.

As the IHSS scandal was unfolding Marvin Ponce, a former member of the Honduran Congress, and current advisor to the president, claimed that there was a "conspiracy" to spread rumors about JOH involving the US government:
I am glimpsing a dangerous thing. There is a high profile TV company in the country that has had meetings in the Department of State and with the Department of Justice. They have initiated a very strong campaign against the president. What we are seeing is that there is a campaign through two routes, David Romero [a prominent Honduran broadcaster] with accusations, and on the other side a strong strategy by other powerful sectors of the country to force him to yield and to avoid his seeking re-election."

Ponce's claims of US involvement are, to be charitable, questionable. They would require us to credit that preventing presidential re-election (recently authorized by the Honduran Supreme Court) is more important to US foreign policy than supporting a government doing precisely what the US calls for in security, immigration, and economic policy.

But even these claims do not hold a candle to other rumors about supposed plotting against JOH.

These came from Hugo Maldonado, the current head of Honduras' Human Rights Commission, who claimed that political opponents of the Honduran president were conspiring to remove him in a coup d'etat.

The ex-head of the Honduran Armed Forces, Romeo Vasquez Velasquez-- who actually was responsible for the execution of the 2009 Honduran coup-- denied the charge vigorously, and colorfully:
He shouldn't go making things up, unless my wife and I alone are going to carry out a coup d'Etat. I'm not in the Armed Forces-- who am I supposed to commit a coup with?

That wasn't the only reporting that waded into dubious waters.

The Honduran paper La Tribuna published an article-- really more like a political speech by a very enthusiastic supporter of the Partido Nacional-- on May 14. In between boasting about the strength of the PN and of JOH, it sketches out a supposed plot fueled by methamphetamine use, backdated to March, in which political advisors to José Manuel Zelaya supposedly outlined a campaign to undermine Hernández, amazingly, through public protests in May about corruption.

The conspiracy allegedly involved David Romero, and Salvador Nasralla of the Partido Anti-Corrupción as well, thus tidily blackening the reputations of all three.

The one thing in this lurid story that has some truth to it is that both PAC and LIBRE are calling for JOH to resign due to the IHSS scandal.

Meanwhile, the Tico Times estimated 5000 people took part in the latest march in Tegucigalpa, a night-time torchlit rally that was supported by both LIBRE and the Partido Anti-Corrupción.

Investigations of the IHSS continue; and for his part, JOH is trying to stay above the fray, while his party launches counter-accusations, smearing opponents and suing Salvador Nasralla for "defamation".

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