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Friday, March 7, 2014
- Last Friday marked two years since the inauguration of Porfirio Lobo as president of Honduras, amidst accusations of corruption, an unprecedented crime wave, and his lowest approval rating yet.
A poll conducted by two Jesuit research centres revealed that halfway through Lobo’s term, Hondurans give his right-wing government a rating of 4.6 points out of 10, down from the 5.11 rating of a year ago.
“This is the lowest rating for the president’s administration, with respondents indicating as his sole achievement the 10,000-lempira subsidies (some 526 dollars) granted every three months to the poor,” Father Ismael Moreno, Jesuit provincial superior for Honduras, told IPS.
“In everything else, Porfirio Lobo scores an overwhelming failing grade,” he said, commenting on the results of the survey conducted jointly by Honduras’ Reflection, Research and Communication Team (Eric) and the El Salvador-based “José Simeón Cañas” Central American University (UCA).
Such widespread disapproval “would appear to be connected with the belief that Lobo has done nothing to respond to popular demands and has achieved little in his administration,” he said, noting that the 1,540 respondents agreed that Lobo’s greatest failure is his inability to curb rising violence and insecurity.
Results from the survey were only just released but are based on polls conducted over the second half of November in 16 of 18 departments (or provinces) Honduras is divided into.
Increasing criminality is just one of the many problems affecting the country. High unemployment and widespread corruption are also major concerns.
On Jan. 24, Lobo admitted that he would not be able to make good on his election promise of creating 100,000 new jobs. “At most we’ll be able to generate some 10,000 jobs,” the president said.
Lobo’s admission came during the presentation of his second annual report before Congress, at the formal inauguration of the 2012 legislative session.
In his address, Lobo highlighted Honduras’s return to the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the reopening of credit lines by multilateral financial institutions as leading achievements of his administration.
He also credited his administration for the establishment of a unity government, giving participation to every political group in the country, and a drop in the social unrest that followed the civilian- military coup d’état that deposed democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya, in June 2009.
After the coup, Honduras was isolated by the international community and, in particular, by most countries of the Americas.
The country was immediately cast out of the OAS and only readmitted two years later following an agreement brokered by Colombia and Venezuela, which included Zelaya’s return from exile and the recognition of the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) – the broad popular movement that emerged to protest the coup, among other conditions.
President Lobo admitted that he has failed to meet a promise that was instrumental in his securing 56.6 percent of the votes and winning the November 2009 election. In his electoral campaign he had vowed to make Honduras a safe country.
But two years on, not only has criminal activity not fallen, it has soared to all-time highs, and the police entrusted with combating it is mired in corruption scandals, fuelling the already reigning impunity.
Of the respondents polled by Eric and UCA, 67 percent say the police have ties to organised crime, and 72 percent say they do not feel safe with the current police force.
The military troops that have been called in patrol the streets are somewhat better perceived, with 46 percent of respondents saying they trust them.
Historian and analyst Marvin Barahona said to IPS that the Lobo administration inherited a multifaceted crisis, and in some aspects “such as security, he’s made no effort to improve the situation”.
Another aspect of this crisis is corruption, Barahona said. He recalled how government officials have been implicated in rigged electric power and basic grain import contracts, procurement contracts awarded without tender, and other irregularities.
As a result, Honduras is one of the countries of Latin America with the highest level of perceived corruption, according to international transparency indexes.
“Underlying it all is impunity, and a rift between the government and its citizens caused by the lack of solutions to (the country’s) problems,” Barahona said.
The survey also reveals increasing disillusionment with political leaders and government institutions, as Lobo “has failed to inspire even a minimum of trust,” he added.
Lobo has arrived at the halfway mark of his term “with hardly any room for manoeuvring and his administration’s image will be even more tarnished in May when primary campaigns for the candidates of next year’s general election begin,” the historian and analyst said.
In Honduras, presidents traditionally have two years to actually govern. During the third year, pre-election campaigns wear down the administration, as most contenders are executive branch officers and acting legislators who hope to continue in the government in the following term.
Hondurans will go to the polls this November to elect the presidential candidates who will vie for the presidency a year later, when both president and national legislators and local government authorities will be elected.
For over a century, power in Honduras has been shared by the Liberal Party, now in the opposition, and the National Party, currently in power. Both parties are considered right-wing.
Although Zelaya was elected president of Honduras in 2005 running as the Liberal Party candidate, after coming back to Honduras in May 2011 he chose to leave the party and build a new political left-wing party, called Libertad y Refundación or Libre (Freedom and Refoundation – Free), which is currently applying to register with electoral authorities.
The Eric-UCA survey reveals a 2.8 percent voter preference for the new Libre party, with the majority of electors saying they intend to vote for one of the traditional parties, although voter support for both parties combined is under 60 percent.
Honduras has five political parties, which will be joined by three new ones in the next elections. Two of these new parties are left-wing and the third party is a right-wing group formed by retired military officers.
For sociologist Eugenio Sosa, this pre-election atmosphere “will speed up Lobo’s steady descent, as he will only be able to improve his image slightly if he takes firm actions to root out police corruption and address insecurity.”
“Otherwise, he will be the most unpopular president in recent years,” he said.