Radiography of Honduras, a key country in the Northern Triangle that defines its future at the polls

The candidate of the National Party (ruling party) is the current municipal mayor of Tegucigalpa, Nasry “Tito” Asfura, popularly known as “Papi a la Orden”, and is one of the candidates for the presidency of Honduras (Photo: Fernando Calzada)

Nestled in the Northern Triangle of Central America, a region that once had the highest homicide rates on the planet, the Republic of Honduras tries to leave behind years of violence and inequality. Serious socioeconomic difficulties and lack of opportunities, which have plunged more than two-thirds of the population into poverty, led more than a million Hondurans to choose the route of emigration, mainly to the United States. the impact of the pandemic, the situation of the Central American country was aggravated by the onslaught of two tropical hurricanes that hit it at the end of 2020.

On the political level, the elections on November 28 mark a turning point, after eight years of the government of Juan Orlando Hernández, whose figure has polarized Honduran politics. The candidate of the National Party (ruling party) is the current municipal mayor of Tegucigalpa, Nasry “Tito” Asfura, popularly known as “Papi a la Orden”. The other two main candidates, in elections that are defined by a simple majority in a single round, are Xiomara Castro, wife of former President Manuel Zelaya and candidate of the Alliance with the People; and businessman Yani Rosenthal, from the Liberal Party, who returned to the country in 2020 after serving a three-year sentence for money laundering in the US.

AN ECONOMY THAT SEEKS TO FLOAT

The COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of hurricanes Eta and Iota, which hit the country in November 2020, meant a blow to the Honduran economy. The GDP fell by 9% during the last year; while the poverty rate, which was in the order of 70% in 2020, could reach 75% this year. According to the latest report from the Economic Commission of Latin America (ECLAC) on the social panorama of the region, Honduras is the country with the second highest rate of extreme poverty, with 26.1%, only surpassed by Haiti. And, according to World Bank indicators, the size of the Honduran middle class (18%) is among the smallest in the region.

Crisis: In Honduras, the poverty rate, which was in the order of 70% in 2020, could reach 75% this year (Photo: Fernando Calzada)
Crisis: In Honduras, the poverty rate, which was in the order of 70% in 2020, could reach 75% this year (Photo: Fernando Calzada)

The informal economy continues to be the largest generator of employment in the country, supporting 58% of the economically active population. It is a “low-income market, concentrated in small economic units and, especially, in the sectors where the crisis hits the hardest,” says the International Labor Organization (ILO) in a recent report on the impact of COVID -19 in Honduras.

In its report “Business Resilience: Key Factor for Economic Recovery”, published last May, the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) warns that, in the formal sector of the economy, “Honduran companies are extremely vulnerable to a wide range of shocks and stressors, from crime and extortion to extreme weather and climate events ”. To face the recovery stage, the UNAH points out, it is necessary for the authorities to design, in conjunction with the private sector, a “comprehensive rescue plan.” that includes “tax incentives, credit, access to markets, technological innovation and managerial support, in such a way that production and employment levels prior to the COVID-19 crisis can be achieved in a sustainable manner.”

For now, the Central Bank estimates that the Honduran gross domestic product (GDP) will grow between 8% and 9% in 2021 and 4% in 2022. The Honduran Council of Private Enterprise (COHEP) is less optimistic and projects a growth of between 4.2 and 4.5% for this year and between 3.8% and 4% by 2022. What worries the private sector the most? In response to DEF, the head of the COHEP, Juan Carlos Sikaffi, referred to the late start of the vaccination process, which only started in June 2021 and which involved the private sector in an agreement with the Honduran Institute of the Social Security (IHSS). He also urged the authorities to “overcome the delays in the process of rehabilitating basic infrastructure in the Sula Valley, which were affected by hurricanes,” and pointed to the “climate of uncertainty generated by the current electoral period.”

The informal economy continues to be the largest generator of employment in the country, supporting 58 percent of the economically active population (Photo: Fernando Calzada)
The informal economy continues to be the largest generator of employment in the country, supporting 58 percent of the economically active population (Photo: Fernando Calzada)

REDUCING CRIMINAL VIOLENCE

Criminal violence has been another of the great evils that Honduran society has lived with in recent decades. In 2011, the country registered a homicide rate that exceeded 90 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest on the planet. As of 2015, a progressive decline began until reaching, at the country level, 37 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2020. These are still high numbers, but show a clear improvement in the last five years.

How is this rebound explained? In 2011, the approval of the Population Security Law was the starting point for the frontal combat of crime and violence. The regulation included the creation of a special tax on financial transactions, known as the “security tax,” which was implemented through a trust administered by a commission in which the Government, the private sector and civil society are represented. The reform of the security forces, based on the enactment in 2012 of the Police Clearance Law and the creation in 2013 of the Military Police for Public Order and the National Anti-Extortion Force, sought to provide the State with the tools to confront organized crime. In 2014, the National Inter-Institutional Security Force (FUSINA) was formed and in 2018 it was the turn of the National Anti-Maras and Gangs Force (FNAMP).

At the level of the fight against drugs, the panorama also changed dramatically. Until a few years ago, the country was considered a privileged platform for the passage of drugs destined for the United States. The groups linked to drug trafficking used the territory and the air and maritime space of the country for their illicit activities. The situation changed drastically: the government of Juan Orlando Hernández claims that it has reduced the cocaine traffic to the United States by 83%. Citing figures from the Washington authorities themselves, the president assures that In 2013, 87% of the cocaine that transited through Central America passed through Honduras on its way to the US market., while in 2020 only 4% did so through Honduran soil.

In 2018, the anti-gang and gang force was founded, one of the keys to the decline in murders registered in 2020 (Photo: Fernando Calzada)
In 2018, the anti-gang and gang force was founded, one of the keys to the decline in murders registered in 2020 (Photo: Fernando Calzada)

MIGRATIONS, CARAVANS AND REMITTANCES

A separate chapter is the migratory movements that have Honduras in the forefront. Starting in the convulsed 1980s, with a neighborhood involved in civil wars that also affected Honduras – where the Nicaraguan “contras” who opposed the Sandinista revolution in that country found refuge – the migration route to the United States. The United States has been the preferred option for those seeking to start a new life outside the country’s borders. Economic difficulties in the 1990s and the devastating passage of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 accelerated this trend. Furthermore, as a recent study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) points out, “The geographical position of Honduras facilitates the transit of migratory flows from other countries, so that it is not only a country of emigration, but also a transit country for irregular transnational migration flows.”

In the context of great social contrasts that characterize Honduras, it is key to understand the importance of the contribution that these migrants make with their remittances. In 2020 they totaled 5736 million dollars and it is estimated that for this year they will be 8000 million. That is equivalent to about 20% of the Honduran GDP. The impact on family income is key, since, as the IOM points out, “Remittances favor an increase in the consumption of goods and services necessary to satisfy basic needs, which in turn influences the reduction of poverty and extreme poverty or, in the worst case, prevents an increase in the proportion of the population living in poverty ”.

A particularly sensitive issue is that of unaccompanied minors who are part of the caravans seeking to reach the United States. While the IOM asked the Honduran government to take note of the magnitude of the problem and propose solutions, the Joe Biden government turned the page on the harsh immigration policy of his predecessor Donald Trump. In that sense, the expansion of the eligibility criteria of the Central American Minors Program (CAM) now allows a parent or legal custodian with regularized immigration status in the United States to request that the minor legally enter the country to reside with him. Although it does not completely solve the problem, it is a gesture of goodwill from Washington to help alleviate this drama experienced by thousands of children and adolescents in the countries of the Northern Triangle.

In terms of drugs, the panorama fell drastically.  The Hernández government claims the 83 percent reduction in cocaine trafficking to the United States (Photo: Fernando Calzada)
In terms of drugs, the panorama fell drastically. The Hernández government claims the 83 percent reduction in cocaine trafficking to the United States (Photo: Fernando Calzada)

For now, 5.3 million Hondurans are summoned to the polls on November 28 to elect their new government, the new composition of Congress, 298 mayors and members of the municipal corporations throughout the country. The Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union (EU) will be present with electoral observation missions.

* This article is adapted from the cover note of issue 140 of DEF

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Reference-www.infobae.com

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