Hondurans will vote in the first general election on Sunday since the US Attorney General’s Office presented detailed evidence of intimate links between drug smugglers and the Honduran state.
The country’s last three presidents, as well as local mayors, lawmakers, police and military commanders, have been linked to drug trafficking in what US attorneys call a drug state.
A brother of the current President, Juan Orlando Hernández, is serving a life sentence in the United States for trafficking in human beings, while Hernández himself was accused of trying “shove the drugs straight into the gringos’ noses“.
Sunday’s election is viewed by many as a referendum on the corruption that allegedly allowed drug traffickers to infiltrate the government to the top.
“We have been discredited as a land of corrupt politicians, drug dealers and thieves – and that’s true,” said Cristóbal Ferrera, 70, after a day of chewing gum, mints and loose cigarettes in Tegucigalpa Central Park. “For my children, for my grandchildren and for my country, let these corrupt people go now, we don’t want to suffer any more,” said Ferrera.
Hernández, named as unindicted co-conspirators in the case of his brother and two others, could soon do just that. Previously protected by the US Department of Justice’s policy of not indicting incumbent presidents, it is widely believed that he could face indictments by US attorneys the day after he left office in January.
Hernández has vehemently denied all allegations and has recently spent considerable time and resources trying to whitewash his name, including publishing a book about his political career that he said sets the record.
Whether or not he will be extradited to the US to face the indictment could be decided after the election results.
The next Congress will have the opportunity to reshape a troubled judicial system by electing a new Supreme Court, Attorney General, and state auditors, all of whom will serve for terms beyond a single election cycle.
“It’s not just about the presidency, it’s about who will control Congress and what links they have with corruption and drug trafficking,” said Eric Olson, a Central America expert with the Seattle International Foundation.
Nasry Asfura, 63, mayor of the capital Tegucigalpa and presidential candidate of the Conservative National Party, is seen by many as a hand-picked successor to Hernández – and a potential protector. Asfura has tried very hard to overcome this perception and often says that he is “nobody’s errand boy”.
But a refusal to bring up the subject of the possible extradition of Hernández at the pressures of the media did not help, nor did a card full of politicians accused of drug trafficking and corruption seeking re-election.
Asfura is in a close race with leading opposition candidate Xiomara Castro, 62, whose husband Manuel “Mel” Zelaya was president from 2006 to 2009 when he was overthrown in a military-backed coup. Like Hernández, Zelaya is accused of taking millions in bribes from drug traffickers, which he denies.
Castro was never personally charged with corruption, while Asfura was accused of embezzling approximately $ 1 million in a case brought before a judge.
Hernández’s two terms as president have been plagued by scandals, not least because he ignored a constitutional ban on re-election with a dubious court ruling and then won a second term in 2017 overshadowed by allegations of fraud. Combined with the corruption and drug trafficking allegations, Hernández has become the worst in Honduran politics in the eyes of many.
“Just hearing his name makes you feel like the ground is collapsing,” said Ferrera, who hopes Castro will bring about change and restore Honduras’ reputation.
“What we want is for other countries to say that we have improved.”