With conviction of president’s brother, protest in Honduras reaches boiling point
A demonstrators bangs on a pot near burning barricades, during a protest demanding the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, late Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. The protests come after Tony Hernandez, the brother of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, was convicted in a massive drug conspiracy, that prosecutors of the New York federal court say was protected by the Central American country's government. | Elmer Martinez / AP

Since the re-election of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández of the right-wing National Party in 2017, mass protests have been ongoing in the streets of Honduran cities. That election was considered fraudulent by many, but now a court decision in the United States has added to the anger against Hernández, a close ally of the Trump administration.

On Oct. 18, a U.S. federal court in New York found the president’s brother, Tony Hernández, guilty of major drug trafficking charges. And although Juan Orlando Hernández had previously stated that his brother alone was responsible for whatever he had done, the evidence presented against Tony also implicates Juan Orlando and his predecessor, former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo.

A major witness in the Trial, gangster Devis Rivera Madriaga, testified that he had bribed both Presidents Hernández and Lobo to allow the Cachiros drug cartel a free hand to run drugs through Honduras on their way to sale in the United States. Furthermore, evidence was given that President Hernández’s first election campaign, in 2013, had received support in the form of drug money.

The rise of Lobo and the Hernández brothers to power in Honduras was the result of the 2009 military coup d’etat which overthrew left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya. At that time, the United States had maneuvered to prevent Zelaya from returning to power, and this resulted in the election of Lobo in November 2009, in circumstances in which the security forces were repressing the opposition, part of which boycotted the vote.

The Hernández regime has been exceptionally violent. The police have been militarized, protests have been repressed, and there have been murders of grassroots opposition figures, including the well-known indigenous environmental defender Berta Cáceres, who was shot to death in March 2016, clearly  because of her activism in opposition to an environmentally destructive dam project.

Poor Honduran rural and urban people have borne the brunt of the repression, as rapacious big business interests have worked with the security forces to repress their efforts to defend their livelihoods. For example, in Lower Aguan, there have been numerous deaths of farmers resisting encroachments of landowners who want to expand the cultivation of African palm for the international biofuels market. On the Caribbean coast, the Afro-Indigenous Garífuna population is under great pressure from powerful interests that want to push it out to make room for lucrative tourist operations. Labor, women’s, youth, and LGBTQ activists face violent repression.

So it was no surprise that on Friday, Oct. 18, after the conviction of Tony Hernández and in the context of the revelations about his brother the president, Hondurans hit the streets in more demonstrations.  Ex-President Zelaya, who now leads the LIBRE left-wing political party, joined demonstrators in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. On Monday, Oct. 21, more demonstrations took place in the capital and elsewhere, with barricades and burning tires in the streets. They were violently repressed by security forces. Clouds of tear gas fired by the police filled the campus of the Francisco Morazán Pedagogical University, near the site of one of the major protests in the capital.

The long series of demonstrations and clashes with the security forces have resulted in deaths and injuries, and numerous Hondurans are in jail for their active opposition to the corrupt Hernández regime. Although right now the central demand of the demonstrators and a broad sector of the opposition is that Juan Orlando Hernández resign or be removed from the presidency, long struggles are also ahead to repair the damage done to this extremely poor nation of 9.3 million people since the 2009 coup.

Up until recently, the Trump administration has staunchly supported the sleazy and violent regime in Tegucigalpa. That the government of Juan Orlando Hernández was fraudulently elected, corrupt, and undemocratic did not faze Mr. Trump and his minions, any more than the narcotics involvements did. However, earlier this year, aid to Honduras was cut back as part of Trump’s hysterical anti-immigrant frenzy. Trump and his people don’t mind that the Hernández government robs and represses workers and poor farmers; it only bothers them that when the victims of this violence try to escape it, they come to the United States.

Ironically, for several years, many people in Congress have been trying to put a stop to U.S. financial support for repression in Honduras. Currently, there is a bill in Congress that aims at this: the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, H.R. 1945. The chief sponsor is Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., and it has 73 co-sponsors to date, all Democrats. It would end almost all U.S. financial support for the Honduran security forces. But for this legislation to advance, people concerned about the Honduras situation will have to get cracking to ask their Congressional representatives to add their names to it.

Human rights organizations have been energetically pushing for pressure to support the Honduran people at this crucial moment. The Honduras Solidarity Network, with the support for the Alliance for Global Justice and others, points out that there are numerous people in Honduras already imprisoned or facing jail for their courageous protests against the illegal government of Juan Orlando Hernández. These organizations are asking that the U.S. public exert pressure immediately to force Honduran authorities to release all political prisoners.


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.