Honduras will choose a new president on November 28.
The current Honduran government headed by President Juan Orlando Hernández does have excellent relations with the United States, despite fraud and violence marking his second-term electoral victory in 2017, an illegal second term but for an improvised constitutional amendment, testimony in a U.S. court naming him as “a key player in Honduras’ drug-trafficking industry” and, lastly, his designation by U.S. prosecutors as a “co-conspirator” in the trial convicting his brother Tony on drug-trafficking charges.
Some 200 U. S. companies operate in Honduras. The United States accounted for 53% of Honduras’s $7.8 billion export total in 2019. U.S goods, led by petroleum products, made up 42.2 % of Honduran imports.
Honduras’s Economic Development and Employment Zones (ZEDE) reflect planners’ exuberant imagination. They envision privately owned and operated “autonomous cities and special investment districts” attracting foreign investment and welcoming tourist and real estate ventures, industrial parks, commercial and financial services, and mining and forestry activities.
Banks and corporations active in the ZEDEs will appoint administrative officers, mostly from abroad and many from the United States. They, not Honduras’s government, will devise regulations and arrangements for taxation, courts, policing, education and healthcare for residents.
The first ZEDEs are taking shape now. Meanwhile.
Honduras’s poverty rate is 70%, up from 59.3% in 2019. Of formally employed workers, 70% work intermittently; 82.6% of Honduran workers participate in the informal sector. A severe drought over five years has decimated staple crops. Nearly half a million Hondurans, many of them small farmers, are struggling to put food on the table. The UN humanitarian affairs agency OCHA reports that as of February 2021, “The severity of acute food insecurity in Honduras has reached unprecedented levels.” The Covid-19 pandemic led to more than 50,000 businesses closing and almost half a million Hondurans losing their jobs. Some 30,000small businesses disappeared in 2020 owing to floods caused by hurricanes. Violence at the hands of criminal gangs, narcotraffickers, and the police is pervasive and usually goes unpunished. Honduras was Latin America’s third most violent country in 2019 and a year later it registered the region’s third highest murder rate.
For the sake of survival, many Hondurans follow the path of family and friends: they leave. Among Central American countries, Honduras, followed by Guatemala and Mexico, registered the highest rate of emigration to wherever between 1990 and 2020. The rate increases were: 530%, 293%, and 154%, respectively. Between 2012 and 2019, family groups arriving from Honduras and apprehended at the U.S. border skyrocketed from 513 in 2012 to 188,368 in 2019.
Department of Homeland Security figures show that between 2015 and 2018 the yearly average number of Hondurans apprehended at the border was 63,741. Recently the number has increased - 268,992 Honduran refugees.
Defense spending for 2019 grew by 5.3 %; troop numbers almost doubled. For Hernández, according to one commentator, “militarism has been his right arm for continuing at the head of the executive branch.” The military forces, like the police, are corrupt, traffic illicit drugs, and are “detrimental” to human rights.
According to Amnesty International, “The government of Hernández has adopted a policy of repression against those who protest in the streets. The use of military forces to control demonstrations across the country has had a deeply concerning toll on human rights.”
The U.S. A. has provided training, supplies, and funding for Honduras’s police and military. Soto Cano, a large U.S. air base in eastern Honduras, periodically receives from 500 to 1500 troops who undertake short-term missions throughout the region, supposedly for humanitarian or drug-war purposes.