While governments around the hemisphere (including Cuba and the United States) support the return of Honduras’ ousted president, José Manuel Zelaya, we have an opportunity to focus on a country rarely mentioned in the news.
In the 1980s, the United States was deeply involved in Honduran military and political affairs — the Reagan administration saw the country as the frontline in fighting a supposed communist march through Central America that would end up at the Texas border.
While the United States mounted counterinsurgencies against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and looked the other way when death squads marauded in El Salvador, Honduras was an American base camp.
There are those who mistakenly claim that the United States — billions of dollars spent, tens of thousands of deaths later — somehow helped “win” the Central American wars. In fact, the nations settled their differences themselves after the United States backed off.
The United States backed far off in fact, and Honduras was left poor as ever — one of the poorest of the poor in Latin America. A majority of the country’s seven million people live on far less than $100 a month; illiteracy, hunger and disease are endemic. A report by the World Bank in 2006 said that despite economic growth, a majority of Hondurans received no benefit.
My then-colleague at the Washington Post, Marcela Sanchez, reported two years ago that corruption was a major factor:
According to a U.S.-funded public opinion poll, the percentage of Hondurans who believe the government is combating corruption declined from 40 percent in 2004 to 26.6 percent in 2006.
Juan Ferrera, coordinator for Honduras’ National Anti-Corruption Council, said in an interview from Tegucigalpa that corruption is creating such public disenchantment that Hondurans may even “put aside democratic options.”
In a cauldron like that, are elections enough? A Honduran friend of mine said this week that left-wing or right-wing, it hasn’t seemed to matter. “They kind of just keep themselves in power and steal some more!”
– Peter Eisner