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HONDURAS: Prosecutors on Hunger Strike against Corruption

Thelma Mejía

TEGUCIGALPA, May 6 2008 (IPS) - Prosecutors in Honduras are on hunger strike to demand the dismissal of the attorney general and his deputy, for failure to investigate cases of corruption. Tension mounted when the president of Congress warned of possible intentions to break with the “constitutional order.”

The 30-day fast on a liquid diet undertaken by 25 prosecutors has not yet been lifted in spite of 10 days of negotiations.

The president of the Honduran Congress, Roberto Micheletti, accused the demonstrators Sunday of “attempting to ride roughshod over the constitutional order,” and said “we shall defend the rule of law.”

“Democracy is based on the respect for rights, but also the fulfilment of our duties. We have consented to enter into dialogue with the prosecutors involved in the protest, we have showed them we want to comply with their petitions, but they cannot ask us to violate the constitution and the laws,” Micheletti, of the governing Liberal Party (PL), said in a statement that was broadcast by TV and radio stations.

The demand that Attorney General Leónidas Rosa of the opposition National Party (PN), and his deputy Omar Cerna of the PL, be removed from office is unconstitutional, in Micheletti’s view.

Rosa and Cerna are accused of administrative negligence for stalling investigations into alleged acts of corruption for years. Implicated in the cases are important figures in the political and business world, linked to the PL and the PN, the two parties that have ruled Honduras for decades under a basically bipartisan political system.


The prosecutors are demanding justice in the same cases that brought about the resignation of then Attorney General Ovidio Navarro and his deputy Yuri Melara in 2005. Congress replaced them with Rosa and Cerna, in a vain attempt to shore up the deteriorated image of the Attorney-General’s Office.

The prosecutors on hunger strike say that the new officials were irregularly appointed – although they did not impugn the nominations at the time, as provided by law – and today they allege lack of due diligence in following up prosecutions for corruption.

They are demanding the dismissal or suspension of Raso and Cerna and an audit of the cases that have been stalled.

Micheletti, who headed the negotiations with the hunger strikers, accompanied by members of three of the five parties represented in parliament, said he was in favour of the audit of the case files, and of creating a “special commission of notables” to work alongside a technical committee of legal experts to review all cases involving alleged corruption.

“But we cannot remove authorities from their posts because that would violate the constitution and the internal regulations of the Attorney General’s Office,” Micheletti said. In March 2009, according to law, parliament must appoint new Attorney General’s Office authorities, a new Supreme Court, new magistrates for the Court of Auditors, and others. At the same time, the country will embark on the process of electing a new government.

The hunger strikers, who are camping in a tent in front of Congress, are supported by members of the public, representatives of social and indigenous groups, and Catholic and Protestant church leaders, like the superior of the Jesuit order in Honduras, Ismael Moreno.

Jari Dixon, one of the prosecutors, called for the congressional steering committee presided by Micheletti, and Congress itself, to be dissolved, because “this Congress does not want to serve the people and its needs, and conspires with the powers-that-be and covers up their acts of corruption.”

“The constitution says we have the right to rise up in insurrection,” he said.

The president of the Honduran Association of Prosecutors (AFH), Víctor Fernández, who is among the protesters, called for support for the protest actions being organised this week by the National Coordinating Unit for Popular Resistance (CNRP), an umbrella group for social and workers’ organisations.

The “dignity tent” the hunger strikers are living in is visited daily by ordinary citizens, many of whom sign a book to register their protest against corruption. Two weeks ago, President Manuel Zelaya went there to express his support for their cause, and even called for the resignation of Deputy Attorney General Cerna, a member of his own party.

Zelaya’s statement was backed up by PL party president Patricia Rodas, which gave rise to doubts about the authenticity of the hunger strikers’ protest, to the extent that analysts, members of Congress and opposition leaders warned that the president may be seeking to perpetuate himself in power, an allegation he robustly denies.

In Honduras, presidents may not stand for re-election. Analyst Olban Valladares told IPS that Zelaya made a serious mistake when he called for the deputy attorney general’s resignation, “because he showed lack of respect for the justice system and the rule of law, and lent himself to the games played by groups who want to discredit the country’s institutions.”

“If there are signs that Zelaya wants to stay in power, he had better leave the country,” Valladares said.

Archbishop of Tegucigalpa Óscar Andrés Rodríguez said that “when the legal structures are destabilised, false leaders or a ‘caudillo’ (strongman) can arise out of the resulting anarchy.”

The talks between the prosecutors and Congress have been marked by acts of religious fanaticism, statements discrediting individuals and institutions, suspicions that the movement and its negotiating team are being infiltrated, and even attacks on the press for failing to report “objectively.”

Evangelical sects carried out a symbolic exorcism of the press, burning piles of newspapers. Roadblocks have been mounted at the home of the attorney general and at congressional parking lots to prevent members of Congress from leaving.

Attorney General Rosas told IPS that “we are willing to grant everything the hunger strikers ask, within the limits of the law. We are open to the audit, we have conceded everything they want, but they won’t budge. This raises suspicions that someone is determined to break with the constitutional order.”

National Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman) Ramón Custodio told IPS that the rule of law cannot be overthrown, and warned that “those who stand to gain the most from a state of anarchy are the ‘parallel powers’ linked to drug trafficking, that want Honduras to become a narco-state. I have been saying this for days,” he said.

 
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