Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

If you’ve been waiting for the right time to support our work—that time is now.

Our mission is simple: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

But without the support of our readers, this model does not work and we simply won’t survive. It’s that simple.
We must meet our Mid-Year Campaign goal but we need you now.

Please, support independent journalism today.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

In this handout picture released by the Guatemalan Presidency, Hondura’s President Porfirio Lobo talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Guatemala City on March 5, 2010. (Photo: Guatemala Presidency/Handout)

The Honduran Coup’s Ugly Aftermath

As Secretary of State in 2009, Hillary Clinton helped a right-wing coup in Honduras remove an elected left-of-center president, setting back the cause of democracy and enabling corrupt and drug-tainted forces to tighten their grip on the poverty-stricken country.

Jonathan Marshall

 by Consortium News

Imelda Marcos will forever be remembered for her hoard of 3,000 pairs of shoes, an ostentatious symbol of the billions of dollars in spoils she amassed as First Lady of the Philippines. Now shoes are again emerging as a symbol of corruption, this time in Honduras, where prosecutors are investigating allegations that a former first lady improperly purchased, or never distributed, 42,100 pairs of shoes for the poor, at a cost to the state of $348,000.

The allegations are just the latest to surface in a wide-ranging corruption investigation that has reenergized grass-roots politics and triggered a nationwide protest movement in Central America’s original “banana republic.”

Every Friday evening for the past three months, thousands of protesters have marched through the streets of Tegucigalpa and smaller cities, carrying torches and signs reading “The corrupt have ripped apart my country” and “Enough is enough.”

The protesters, who call themselves the oposición indignada (the outraged opposition), demand that President Juan Orlando Hernández be held accountable for fraud and graft, which allegedly bled the national health service of more than $200 million to enrich senior officials and finance the 2013 election.

“This is a really historic time in Central America,” said an analyst for the International Crisis Group. “The question is whether this will really turn into a critical juncture in which society, civil organizations, the private sector and political parties can . . . come together in making the best out of this opportunity [to begin] cleaning up our state institutions.”

Although President Hernández has promised to prosecute the guilty, he has so far refused to follow Guatemala’s example and appoint an independent investigative body under United Nations supervision to attack government corruption. Revelations in Guatemala of customs fraud, political bribery and money laundering have prompted similar weekly protest marches in that nation’s capital and the resignation of the vice president.

The Obama administration has expressed sympathy for anti-corruption movements in Central America, but has yet to acknowledge its failure to protect democracy in Honduras against a military coup in 2009, which set the stage for that country’s current crisis.

Bowing to pressure from conservative Republicans in Congress, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to condemn the ouster of leftist President Manuel Zelaya in 2009. By her own admission, she began plotting within days to prevent him from returning to office.

Her recently released emails show that she sought help from a pro-coup lobbyist for Honduran business interests to establish communications with the new military-backed president. She also approved the continuation of U.S. aid to the illegitimate new regime, blocked demands by the Organization of American States for Zelaya’s return, and accepted subsequent presidential elections that were condemned by most international observers as unfair and marred by violent intimidation.

In 2011, President Obama officially welcomed Honduras’s dubious new president to the White House and praised his “strong commitment to democracy.” (His wife is the target of the shoe purchase investigation noted above.)

A year later, two leading human rights organizations reported that more than 100 political killings had occurred since the coup, accompanied by “death threats against activists, lawyers, journalists, trade unionists, and campesinos, as well as attempted killings, torture, sexual violence, arbitrary arrests and detentions.”

The coup represented a disastrous step backward for Honduran society as well as its politics. University of California historian Dana Frank observed that “A vicious drug culture already existed before the coup, along with gangs and corrupt officials. But the thoroughgoing criminality of the coup regime opened the door for it to flourish on an unprecedented scale.

“Drug trafficking is now embedded in the state itself . . .  all the way up to the very top of the government . . . A former congressman and police commissioner in charge of drug investigations declared that one out of every ten members of Congress is a drug trafficker and that he had evidence proving “major national and political figures” were involved in drug trafficking. He was assassinated on December 7 [2011].”

Yet the Obama administration has continued giving tens of millions of dollars in aid to Honduran police and military in the name of fighting drugs.

Such crime and corruption have rendered millions of Hondurans destitute and desperate. Two-thirds of its people now live below the national poverty level and Honduras’s soaring homicide rate leads the world at nearly one per thousand people each year. These conditions, in turn, fueled a horrifying surge in child migration to the United States.

Seeking to reform conditions in Honduras, Zelaya’s wife ran for president in 2013 on a social democratic platform, but the ruling National Party allegedly stopped her campaign with the help of tens of millions of dollars embezzled from the Honduran Social Security Institute, the national health fund.

“It is widely assumed that Hernández owes his electoral victory in part to these stolen funds,” said Frank. (President Hernández denied knowing the source of the ill-gotten funds and said they amounted to a mere $1.5 million. The prosecutor assigned to the case had to flee the country in the face of death threats.)

Hernández also came under fire for staging the removal of Supreme Court justices to ram through a law creating autonomous investor zones, independent of normal governance, and overseen by foreign libertarians such as Grover Norquist and Ronald Reagan’s son Michael.

The good news is that the grassroots protests in Honduras are having some effect on the Hernández government. It accepted an outside mediator, appointed by the Organization of American States, to bring together rival parties, along with members of the oposición indignada, to find common ground on a national program of reform.

On Aug. 14, the mediator heard from 50 civil society organizations which identified corruption and political impunity as the major challenges facing the Honduran state and its democratic aspirations. The OAS mediator, who praised the initial round of dialogue, plans to meet next with representatives of the country’s political parties.

Talk is cheap, to be sure. But the official involvement of the OAS, along with increasing interest in Congress in using U.S. aid to support justice in Honduras, offer hope that the demands of the Honduran people will be heard. It may be too soon to declare a Central American Spring, but that traumatized region at least has reason for hope.

© 2018 Consortium News
Jonathan Marshall

Jonathan Marshall

Jonathan Marshall, an independent journalist and scholar, is author or co-author of five books related to national security or international relations, including, "Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America" (1999).

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.


'We WILL Fight Back': Outrage, Resolve as Protests Erupt Against SCOTUS Abortion Ruling

Demonstrators took to the streets Friday to defiantly denounce the Supreme Court's right-wing supermajority after it rescinded a constitutional right for the first time in U.S. history.

Brett Wilkins ·

80+ US Prosecutors Vow Not to Be Part of Criminalizing Abortion Care

"Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who seek or provide abortion care makes a mockery of justice," says a joint statement signed by 84 elected attorneys. "Prosecutors should not be part of that."

Kenny Stancil ·

Progressives Rebuke Dem Leadership as Clyburn Dismisses Death of Roe as 'Anticlimactic'

"The gap between the Democratic leadership, and younger progressives on the question of 'How Bad Is It?' is just enormous."

Julia Conley ·

In 10 Key US Senate Races, Here's How Top Candidates Responded to Roe Ruling

While Republicans unanimously welcomed the Supreme Court's rollback of half a century of reproductive rights, one Democrat said "it's just wrong that my granddaughter will have fewer freedoms than my grandmother did."

Brett Wilkins ·

Sanders Says End Filibuster to Combat 'Outrageous' Supreme Court Assault on Abortion Rights

"If Republicans can end the filibuster to install right-wing judges to overturn Roe v. Wade, Democrats can and must end the filibuster, codify Roe v. Wade, and make abortion legal and safe," said the Vermont senator.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo