Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Honduras faced serious institutional crises in 2013. Congress expanded its authority early in the year, further weakening the judiciary after a constitutional crisis in December 2012. With a new, compliant court in place, the legislature passed several controversial laws, including one that empowered it to remove any elected official.
The Honduran government also faced a major fiscal crisis, unable to pay for various expenditures, including the salaries of public-sector employees, due to mounting debt. Rising poverty, inequality, and unemployment further undermined confidence in the government. Honduras retained the highest murder rate in the world in 2013 as drug traffickers, organized criminals, and street gangs preyed upon society, often in collusion with the authorities.
In November 2013, National Party (PN) candidate and head of Congress Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president with a plurality in a disputed vote. His closest challenger, Xiomara Castro, was the wife of former president José Manuel Zelaya, who was deposed in a 2009 coup. Despite allegations of fraud, irregularities, and campaign violence, the elections marked the emergence of several new political parties.
Political Rights: 20 / 40 (+2) [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 7 / 12 (+1)
The president is elected by popular vote for a single four-year term. The leading candidate must only win a plurality, and there is no runoff system. Members of the 128-seat, unicameral National Congress are also elected for four-year terms using proportional representation by department.
General elections held in November 2013 were the first since the controversial 2009 elections, which were overseen by an interim government following the coup that removed Zelaya from office. Hernández of the PN won 36.8 percent of the vote in a field of eight candidates. Castro of the Liberation and Refoundation Party (Libre) won 28.8 percent, followed by Liberal Party (PL) candidate Mauricio Villeda with 20 percent and Salvador Nasralla of the Anti-Corruption Party (PAC) with 14 percent. The remaining four candidates each won less than 1 percent of the vote. In the legislative elections, the PN won 47 seats, Libre won 39, the PL won 26, the PAC won 13, and the Innovation and Unity Party (PINU), Democratic Unification Party (PUD), and Christian Democrats won one seat each.
While the European Union Electoral Observation Mission’s preliminary report stated that the elections were transparent, other observers noted a number of anomalies and irregularities, including the harassment of international observers by immigration officials, vote buying, problems with voter rolls, and potential fraud in the transmission of tally sheets to the country’s electoral body, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). In addition, more than a dozen Libre activists and candidates were murdered during the campaign season, four of them immediately before and after the elections. Castro and the Libre party contested the results and demanded a recount, which the TSE partially conducted; in the end, nearly all complaints were rejected and the TSE certified Hernández’s victory. Libre proceeded to challenge the results in the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court, which had not yet ruled at year’s end.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 9 / 16 (+1)
Honduras endured decades of military rule and intermittent elected governments, with the last military regime giving way to civilian authorities in 1982. However, the military remained powerful in subsequent decades; no president exercised his constitutional authority to veto the military and choose its leaders until 1999.
Under civilian rule, power alternated between the PL and the PN. In the 2005 presidential election, Zelaya of the PL defeated the PN’s Porfirio Lobo. Political polarization increased under Zelaya’s administration amid poor policy performance and faltering public institutions. Zelaya was removed from power and forcibly deported in a coup on June 28, 2009, with the participation of the Supreme Court and the military.
Lobo was elected president in late 2009 despite condemnation from the international community, much of which continued to recognize Zelaya as president. In May 2011, President Lobo signed an agreement that permitted Zelaya to return to Honduras without having to face any criminal charges. The agreement also paved the way for Zelaya’s organization, the National Front for Popular Resistance (FNRP), to register as a political party. In February 2012 the FNRP created Libre.
In 2013, Libre, the PAC, and the Patriotic Alliance Party (ALIANZA) all participated in elections for the first time. The elections were notable for the disruption of the dominance of the PL and the PN, which had ruled Honduras for more than three decades.
C. Functioning of Government: 4 / 12
Corruption remains a serious problem. Army officers have been found guilty of involvement in drug trafficking and other crimes. The police force is highly corrupt, and officers are known to engage in criminal activities ranging from drug trafficking and extortion to extrajudicial killings. In August 2013, four police officers were convicted in the extrajudicial killing of two men. A purge of the police initiated in 2012 had resulted in many suspensions, but few firings or arrests, by the end of 2013.
A 2006 transparency law was marred by claims that it contained amendments designed to protect corrupt politicians. However, the Institute for Access to Public Information has made some efforts to enforce transparency rules and punish entities that fail to respond properly to information requests. Legislation that transparency advocates warned would grant numerous government officials increased power to categorize information as classified was under debate at the end of 2013. In June Attorney General Luís Alberto Rubi and his assistant resigned following allegations of financial misdeeds in his office. Honduras was ranked 140 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Civil Liberties: 31 / 60 (-2)
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 11 / 16
Since the 2009 coup, authorities have systematically violated the constitution’s press freedom guarantees. Numerous radio and television stations reported continued harassment in 2013, including police surveillance, assaults, threats, blocked transmissions, and power outages. Lobo continued his verbal attacks against journalists in 2013. Honduras is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with 29 killed since the 2009 coup, including several known Zelaya supporters.
Three journalists were murdered in 2013. Globo TV reporter Aníbal Barrow was kidnapped and killed in June, followed by cameraman Manuel Murillo in October and reporter Juan Carlos Argeñal Medina in December. Media ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few powerful business interests, and many journalists practice self-censorship, particularly since the coup. Internet use is generally unrestricted, but access was impaired following the coup by multiple politically motivated power outages and cuts in telephone service.
Freedom of religion is generally respected. Academic freedom is also usually honored, but scholars have faced pressure to support the privatization of the national university.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 6 / 12
Constitutional guarantees of freedoms of assembly and association have not been consistently upheld. In addition to the violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations in 2009, police were accused of using excessive force during confrontations with striking and demonstrating teachers in August 2010 and March 2011. The 2006 Citizen Participation Law protects the role of civil society groups and individuals in the democratic process. However, human rights defenders and political activists continued to face significant threats following the 2009 coup, including harassment, surveillance, and detentions, as well as the murder of a number of coup opponents.
Labor unions are well organized and can strike, but labor actions often result in clashes with security forces. In March 2012, the American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, charging that Honduras had violated provisions of the Central American Free Trade Agreement by competing unfairly and violating workers’ rights.
F. Rule of Law: 5 / 16 (-2)
Congress and business elites exert excessive influence over the Supreme Court and its decisions. In December 2012, Congress violated the constitution by voting to remove four of the five justices in the Supreme Court’s constitutional chamber after it ruled several laws unconstitutional, one regarding so-called “model” cities and another related to procedures in the ongoing attempt to purge the National Police. An appeal by the fired magistrates was denied in February 2013, and in January 2013 Congress passed the laws that had been struck down, as well as legislation aimed to assert Congress’s supremacy by allowing it to remove any elected official. It also passed laws restricting the ability of judges in the Supreme Court’s constitutional chamber to participate in deliberations of the full court should they fail to reach a unanimous decision, and removed the right of citizens to challenge the constitutionality of laws.
Approximately 80 percent of crimes committed in Honduras are never reported, according to the government, and only 3.8 percent of reported crimes are investigated by police. The vast majority of inmates are awaiting trial. Prison conditions are harsh, the facilities are notoriously overcrowded, and the state routinely permits prisoners to be in charge of disciplining other prisoners. In February 2012, a prison fire in Comayagua killed an estimated 360 inmates, nearly 60 percent of whom had not been charged or convicted of any crime. There is an official human rights ombudsman, but critics claim that the office’s work is politicized. The ombudsman not only supported and justified the 2009 coup, but also publicly declared his opposition to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up to examine the coup and rights abuses in its aftermath. As many as 74 lawyers have been murdered since the coup. In September 2012, Manuel Eduardo Diaz Mazariegos, human rights prosecutor in Choluteca, was murdered near his office.
Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world in 2013. At the close of the year, the National University reported a homicide rate of 83 per 100,000 inhabitants. Most murders are attributed to organized crime, including transnational youth gangs and Mexican drug-trafficking syndicates. The government has made membership in a gang punishable by up to 12 years in prison, and uses the military to help maintain order. However, police officers and vigilantes have committed extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and illegal searches. Hundreds of juveniles have reportedly been killed in “social cleansing” campaigns. Police corruption has been a major impediment to fighting crime and maintaining citizen security.
In May 2012, President Lobo appointed Juan Carlos Bonilla, who was alleged to have participated in death-squad activities, as police chief; he was dismissed in December 2013 in advance of the change of presidential administrations. The government increasingly relied on the military to fight crime in 2013, creating two new military police units. In June, Congress authorized merging the position of Minister of Defense with Secretary of Security.
The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community faces discrimination, harassment, and physical threats. At least 89 LGBT activists and individuals have been murdered since the 2009 coup. In February 2011, a special unit was established in the attorney general’s office to investigate crimes against the LGBT community. The police force also established a new Sexual Diversity Unit. However, a prominent LGBT activist was beaten by police and arrested in a bar raid in January 2013. In September the offices of the nongovernmental group LGBT Rainbow Association were robbed.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 9 / 16
The conflict over fertile land in the Bajo Aguán region in northern Honduras persisted in 2013 as peasants, landowners’ private security forces, and state forces clashed. More than 50 people, most of them landless peasants, have died in the conflict since 2009. In September 2012, prominent human rights attorney Antonio Trejo Cabrera was murdered shortly before he was to testify before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C., regarding abuses committed by the landowners in the region. A report released in February 2013 implicated military death squads in some of the killings.
Indigenous and Afro-Honduran residents have faced various abuses by property developers and their allies in recent years, including corrupt titling processes and acts of violence. In 2013 the government transferred approximately 1.6 million acres of land on the Caribbean coast and Nicaraguan border to Miskito communities to help protect forests from ranchers and developers, though some questioned the timing of the government’s transfer. The clearing of land for clandestine airstrips used in the drug trade has accelerated deforestation and increased pressure on indigenous groups in remote areas of the country.
Violence against women is a serious problem, and the murder rate for female victims has risen dramatically in recent years. These murders, like most homicides in Honduras, go unpunished. Women remain vulnerable to exploitation by employers, particularly in the low-wage maquiladora (assembly plant) export sector. Child labor is a problem in rural areas and in the informal economy, and school dropout rates are high. Honduras is both a source and transit country for human trafficking. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking. A May 2012 antitrafficking law established new penalties for forced labor and prostitution of adults. Honduras was placed on the Tier 2 Watch List in the U.S. Department of State’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, which found that it had not increased its efforts to battle human trafficking since the previous report.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year