Is a “CICIH” the answer to Honduras’ Crisis?

By Fulton Armstrong and Eric Hershberg

Photo Credit: US Embassy Guatemala / Flickr / Creative Commons

Photo Credit: US Embassy Guatemala / Flickr / Creative Commons

The success of the Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (CICIG) in driving anti-corruption efforts there – culminating in the resignation of President Pérez Molina – has stoked debate in neighboring Honduras on the wisdom of creating a “CICIH” with the same mission to root out the rot that permeates state institutions and perpetuates the misery of the citizenry.  President Juan Orlando Hernandez has stated categorically that no such entity is needed in Honduras given advances in the country’s own institutions and his own putative commitment to good governance.  Some civil society organizations are at least implicitly concurring by taking part in accountability initiatives involving collaboration with the government.  Other voices from civil society are objecting vociferously, however.  Most notable among them are the indignados, a largely youth-based movement that insists that the President himself and virtually the entire institutional system in Honduras is so rotten that only an international body can be trusted to root out endemic corruption.  The argument rages on, with the indignados staging regular demonstrations and the government – occupied simultaneously with promoting its credibility at home and abroad and maneuvering to secure authorization for presidential re-election – holding fast to its opposition to any such international role.  The debate will continue for the foreseeable future.  We sketch below our understanding of the competing arguments.

Arguments in favor of a CICIH:

By nearly all accounts, corruption has rendered the public and private sectors chronically ineffective – from the President (who admitted that millions from Social Security made it into his campaign coffers and who engaged in nepotism), through the government ministries and even the judicial bureaucracies (where political pressure, intimidation, and bribery are rampant), and companies large and small (for whom payoffs are merely an added budget item).  The country has topped the charts in non-war homicides, including targeted killings, and other violence for several years, further discouraging investigations and prosecutions.  The flood of narcotics and cash through Honduras has thrown fuel onto the flames.  Only an independent, UN-endorsed entity like a CICIH – with its unique ability to train, protect, and motivate judicial personnel, issue indictments, and put powerful people in jail, and shame local government into taking action – can help the country climb out of this deep hole, this argument goes.

Arguments against:

Steven Dudley of InSight Crime notes that the call for a CICIH comes at a time that the Attorney General’s office is showing some signs of life.  Its anti-corruption efforts have led to the indictment and arrest of the former head of the Social Security Institute on charges of embezzlement and illegally financing political parties (although some charges were dropped).  Combating crime, cheaper homemade solutions are showing results in Honduras in terms of training and cases resolved.  Organizations like the Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ) are doing groundbreaking work to keep homicide levels down in some of the worst neighborhoods at a fraction of the cost of a CICIH.  Expense is another important factor.  In Guatemala the CICIG costs between $12 million and $15 million annually, which even that country, far wealthier than Honduras, cannot afford.  CICIG has provided valuable assistance and training to Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office, but its foreign investigators, who move around in armored vehicles with armed bodyguards, leech massive resources that might otherwise go to fortify local prosecutors’ offices.  Moreover, according to this argument, the investigators don’t need foreign prosecutors to tell them what they’re doing wrong.

Skeptics further contend that international donors and pro-reform Hondurans arguably will not get the quick fix and public relations victory they want from a CICIH.  It took over a decade for CICIG to set up in Guatemala and nearly eight years to get the right mix of cases.  Its greatest strategic goal – fortifying Guatemala’s justice system – remains a work in progress.  The Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office has not yet executed a complicated, forensic investigation leading to a high-level prosecution.  Honduras’s greater reliance on foreign assistance, according to this argument, suggests a CICIH would actually enable its dependency, rather than break it.

The weakness and rot within Honduran institutions and the venality of national leadership strongly suggest that neither approach – a foreign-backed entity like CICIH or a home-grown solution – could quickly reverse the tsunami of corruption and violence that the isthmus’s poorest country has been experiencing since the 2009 coup.  Ideally, the best of Honduras’s own efforts could be buttressed by a Honduran version of the CICIG model, but the knack of the country’s leaders for overwhelming even the best of intentions, as they did the “Truth Commission” charged with determining accountability for the coup and rights abuses carried out in its aftermath, argues for extreme caution in forming expectations.  The debate therefore may boil down to the moral argument of whether the international community, witnessing Honduras’s descent into utter lawlessness and destitution, can stand idly by or should at least offer its help in what form it can, such as a CICIH.  Even if a CICIH is not a panacea, it at least would send a powerful message to Honduran elites that the world is watching.

September 15, 2015

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2 Comments

  1. Gabriela Blen

     /  September 28, 2015

    Outrage

    The people of Honduras have been hit the hardest over the past few years because of growing corruption that has corroded state structures, allowed 96 percent of crime to go unpunished, and multiplied public debt exponentially. The cost of basic foodstuffs has increased, as have unemployment and the mass migration of our fellow citizens to the United States. Our people face 20 homicides per day, the devaluation of our currency, extortion, unbearable insecurity, growth in organized crime, and an authoritarian government that—in addition to violating the Constitution of Honduras to stay in power—wastes taxpayer money on publicity stunts, puts the military police to their personal use, and pursues a populist agenda. The list of abuses goes on and on.

    Honduran society has been pushed to the point of collapse—coopted state institutions, an ineffective justice system, a rickety democracy, and a practically useless Honduran healthcare system. But it doesn’t stop there. We were outraged by the looting of the Honduran Institute of Social Security (IHSS), where $7 billion lempiras (US$300 million) were systematically extracted by shell companies that later made “good-faith donations” to the Partido Nacional (National Party of Honduras) for its presidential campaign—a campaign so violent that it resulted in more than 3,000 deaths.

    Throughout the country, for the past 20 weeks we have carried out uninterrupted protests (Movilizaciones de las Antorchas), in which almost 300,000 people have participated in Tegucigalpa alone and more than two million nationally. Yet there has not been a single firm conviction despite proof of the looting of the IHSS and the entire healthcare system. The president flatly refuses to establish an independent body with the power to investigate, with its own prosecutor, and to strengthen the justice system as was done with Guatemala’s International Commission against Impunity (CICIG). He insists that all be under his personal control. We, as the Movimiento Social Oposición Indignada (the Indignant Opposition), will continue to call the Honduran public to protest peacefully until a Honduran International Commission against Impunity (CICIH) is established and until crimes, such as the looting of the IHSS, are punished.

    Gabriela Blen
    Movimiento Social Oposición Indignada
    Tegucigalpa M.D.C.
    September 24, 2015

    Reply
  2. LadyVII

     /  December 21, 2015

    I always appreciate when a foreigner talks about a country. I come from the country I lived in Honduras my entire life. The corruption has always been there and the coup was much needed or we would have another Venezuela in our hands. Unable to get rid of a money hungry politicians that only seek to fill their pockets. Yes, CICIH might not fix everything put at least is the beginning of something for the people regain faith on society.

    Reply

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