Corruption, Migration and Upcoming Elections in Honduras

COVID-19 Reports on Latin America and the Caribbean: No. 52

Honduras is only slightly bigger than Guatemala in terms of land mass (at 112,090 sq km) but holds only half of its population with 9.2 million.  90% of the country identifies as mestizo, 7% indigenous, 2% black, and 1% white.  58.4% of the population lives in urban areas making Honduras only slightly more urban than Guatemala (51.8%) but significantly less urban than El Salvador (73.4%).  At $55.8 billion, Honduras’s GDP is close to El Salvador’s, but its GNI per capita is around 60% of the other two countries,’ at $5308.  It has the best balance of trade, exporting 76% ($8.675 billion) of the ($11.32 Billion) it imports.  Its literacy rate is nearly as high as El Salvador’s, at 87.2%, and it has the least amount of its population living below the poverty line (16.5%).  Honduras receives the largest amount (21.52%) of its income from remittances, 3.8% in Direct Foreign Investment, and 3% in foreign development aid.  The climate is also not as harsh as that in other two countries, as the lowlands are subtropical and the mountains are temperate.  Its favorable income and poverty indicators suggest that the main motivation for Hondurans to emigrate is violence rather than a desire for better economic opportunity.

The negative effects of COVID-19 on global consumer spending have affected Honduras by decreasing export earnings.  For example, Honduran coffee exports fell 18% in January compared with December, owing to decreased world demand due to virus-related lockdowns.  An initiative led by president Juan Orlando Hernández has had some success in stimulating recovery in the agro-food sector, through various programs overseen by the Secretaría de Agricultura y Ganadería (SAG).  First, the Bono de Solidaridad Productiva supports producers with seeds, fertilizer, plants and trees, successfully providing food security to over 118,000 families (many of them indigenous) in 17 “departments” of the country.  Second, the Bono Cafetalero has granted 300 million lempiras (approximately US$12 million) to 92,000 coffee producers in 220 municipalities, brought tons of fertilizer and a million biosecurity packages to growers in 15 departments, and donated solar dryers and biosecurity kits to thousands of producers. This program has also provided training to coffee producers in soil analysis, fertilization, disease treatment, weed control, forestation, the establishment of nurseries, and biosecurity measures. Third, Inversión Estratégica de Honduras (Invest-H) has developed new irrigation systems, especially in areas plagued by desertification, such as in the Corredor Seco, providing 1785 enterprises with approximately 400 hectares of water supply to enable year-round production of high-value crops such as chiles, tomatoes, plátanos, and basic grains.  This project also develops hydrological techniques capturing runoff water to adapt to climate change.  A final project focuses on identifying and vaccinating cattle.

Honduras’s record on healthcare during the virus has been mixed.  Honduras has been singled out as one of the Latin American countries in which health workers are extremely vulnerable in their positions as essential, front-line workers combating COVID-19.  Interviews carried out by Amnesty International with various categories of Honduran health-care workers, including nurses, doctor, housekeepers and cleaners, point to precarious labor conditions throughout this sector – threatening such workers’ “physical and mental health, as well as [secure and] fair wages and other labor protections.” Cleaners are particularly vulnerable.  Dr. Samuel Santos, Vice President of the Medical College of Honduras, has provided some graphic anecdotes illustrating the “repressive and exploitative conditions many health workers” face.  In describing the situation facing “the cleaners that work at [his] public hospital in San Pedro Sula, Honduras,” he explains that “[w]e are moved to pity to see them[, most of whom are women,] picking up the rubbish with their bare hands … still [working] as if they weren’t in the pandemic.”  These conditions directly contradict WHO guidelines, which indicate that “cleaners entering the rooms of COVID-19 patients should have a medical mask, protective gown, heavy duty gloves, eye protection, and boots.”  And yet, such workers are afraid of speaking out to avoid “harassment, stigmatization, and attacks” including “[d]enial of transport, community-based shaming, physical attacks, and even death threats.”  Honduras has also put inadequate requirements in place (and failed to enforce those that have been initiated) to maintain social distancing, such as enacting altered schedules, traffic restrictions, curfews or epidemiological surveillance. 

Corruption has also played a role in the Honduran government’s mismanagement of healthcare responses to the virus. For example, the National Anti-Corruption Council (CNA) investigated why a mobile hospital in Tegucigalpa which was purchased in March and arrived in Honduras in July 2020 did not begin operating until January 29, 2021, and failed to meet proper standards for ICU COVID-19 patient care — including inadequate spacing between beds, evacuation of bodies, and air filtration.

As in El Salvador, pending elections have given rise to fears of COVID-related fraud and lack of safety posed by social gathering to vote.  The National Electoral Council (CNE) has also continued to state that despite the requests of some legislators, they are not legally authorized to postpone the elections in spite of “the increase in the contagions of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in the country” and destruction left by Hurricanes Eta and Iota. In Honduras especially, attempts at migration continue even in the midst of COVID, increasing the rise of virus transmission throughout the Northern Triangle and Mexico.  In addition to the threat posed by COVID-infected immigrants passing through the region on foot, airport closures have been impossible in the region because of migration. 

Migration has also “foil[ed] attempts to map and track the spread of the virus”.  Pandemic-induced school closures and complete suspension of classes have also given youth an extra motivation to attempt migration to the United States.  Approximately 350,000 Honduran students have been left with no educational opportunities and combined with their parents’ loss of any opportunity to earn money, health and sanitation risks, and further devastation by Hurricanes Eta and Iota have pushed some 200 unaccompanied children to join a caravan of almost 4000 people that left the country in January 2021. When they reached Guatemala, however, they were sent home.

By Sarah Buck Kachaluba

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