Honduras – Losing Battle Against Corruption

The OAS-sponsored anti-corruption body, MACCIH, managed to dodge what could have been a fatal bullet last year, when the Congress unexpectedly rejected all five of President Juan Orlando Hernández’s nominees for the attorney-general’s post, and instead reappointed the incumbent, Oscar Chinchilla, who has cooperated closely with MACCIH. However, it is possibly only a temporary victory for defenders of clean government.

MACCIH’s mandate will expire in April 2020, unless extended by the president, who shows no inclination to do so. Anti-corruption activists note that a body such as MACCIH serves a vital purpose in a country like Honduras, providing political cover and a measure of international protection for prosecutors who face many obstacles when pursuing well-connected criminals within the political establishment, including very real threats to their physical safety. With that in mind, good-government advocates have begun a drive to force the president to extend the body’s mandate.

It will be an uphill battle. Powerful figures, including Rolando Argueta, the president of the Supreme Court, are already writing MACCIH’s obituary, even as anti-corruption investigations continue to turn up evidence of high-level graft and misconduct.

As for the president, despite the controversy surrounding his election to a second term in 2017, and the continuing signs of pervasive corruption—including the recent arrest of Hernández’s brother by US authorities on drug-trafficking charges—the results of a Latinobarómetro poll published in late 2018 put his approval rating at 41%, which is low by regional standards, but comparable to his vote share at the November 2017 election. To the extent that Hernández’s popular support is holding up, it appears to be largely the result of progress in reducing deadly violence, the second of Honduras’ twin scourges alongside corruption.

When Hernández took office in 2014, the UN ranked Honduras as one of the deadliest countries in the world not at war, with a homicide rate of 92 killings per 100,000 population. UN estimates for 2018 indicate that the figure has dropped to 40 per 100,000, and the government aims to reduce the number to 32 by the end of 2019. Success on that front would produce a double benefit. In addition to addressing one of the most troublesome deterrents to attracting foreign investment, a further reduction in crime would reduce the impetus for migration to the US, which has been an irritant to bilateral relations under President Donald Trump, who has threatened to slash aid to the Central American countries if steps are not taken to halt the exodus.

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