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HONDURAS
Corruption continues unabated
Inforpress Centroamericana
4/10/2007
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The report highlights dozens of corruption cases while the Transparency law presents many challenges.

Honduras has lost some US$2 million every day to corruption since President Manuel Zelaya Rosales took office in January 2006. There have been more than 20 prominent corruption cases since that time, according to the Social Forum of External Debt in Honduras.

“This scourge does not only wipe out the population’s hopes, but also contributes to the sustained underdevelopment,” said the Federation of Organizations for the Honduran Development, which presented its second report on the state of corruption in the country between 2004 and mid-2006.

Zelaya’s government was rattled by a scandal involving former Health Minister Orison Velásquez, who resigned last July for forgiving a debt of the drug company Hilca without authorization, allowing the company to present bids on medicines.

On March 23, an appeals court annulled a stay of proceedings and revoked Velásquez’s probation, and reestablished his imprisonment.
The federation’s report said that only two judges handle corruption cases that reach the courts: Normandina Ortiz and Mildra Castillo.

“The majority of criminal cases against former government officials and businessmen have been assigned to the same two judges, who have favored those on trial with stays of proceedings,” the report says.

Some prosecutors agree that other judges know that cases involving politicians or some of Honduras’ wealthiest people belong to these two judges.

A predictable pattern
But when another judge is handed a similar case, the day of sentencing he or she fails to show up, and in his or her place, one of the two judges is there to hear the case.

The report cites lawyer Roxana Morales, coordinator of the Tegucigalpa Criminal Court for the country’s Supreme Court as one of those responsible for assigning the cases to these two judges. The study notes that Morales is related to the Supreme Court’s president, Vilma Cecilia Morales.

But the federation also blamed the problem on the press, for “colluding with power groups that attack people who denounce corruption and journalists that support investigations.”

Nevertheless, the report does not name names, even though it asserts that the press itself has become corrupt.

“The press has lost its role to inform and investigate … there are journalists who are allied with power groups linked to corruption because they give them bribes and some sell themselves to the highest bidder,” the report states.

Observers agree that the majority of the acts of corruption committed against the state during the 25 years of constitutional governments have gone unpunished for a lack of adequate investigation and as a result a lack of evidence, but mostly because of a political decision made secretly at the highest level of the state.

Both the development federation and other civil society organizations were confident that the current government would be able to put an end to corruption, but Zelaya’s administration has done little aside from signing the Transparency law.

Counterproductive legislation
The law, approved late last December, that will only take effect in November 2008, was harshly criticized because it actually limits public access to information by putting red tape in place to the declassification of documents. For example, all information related to humanitarian aid is state secret and the amounts and their intended use cannot be released.

“Practically every document can be classified as reserved. Any minister can do so if they consider that access to this information puts the humanitarian aid, national security, or economic stability at risk,” said Salvadoran expert Jaime López, director of the regional network Probidad, which seeks to end corruption.

The law also establishes a 10-year period for the declassification of information, but also a “file purging” every five years.

López says that this allows classified documents to be destroyed before the end of their reserve period and as a result “the public will not have access to them.”

Honduran lawyer Leo Valladares, the country’s former human rights commissioner, says that the law contradicts international agreements that Honduras has signed.

Valladares says that it limits the right to information because the text suggests that it is a government concession, “which is not true. It is a citizen’s right that is guaranteed by the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights and the freedom of expression.”

Close to 100 civil society organizations grouped under the Ethical Alliance against Corruption and for the Integrity sent a 17-point ethics agenda to all three branches of the Honduran government in late March.


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