Honduras: Huge march marks coup anniversary amid political crisis

Tens of thousands of Hondurans took to the streets in torch-lit marches on June 26 for the fifth week straight of Friday night protests.

Marchers demanded the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez and an independent investigation into the multi-million dollar corruption scandal embroiling the government.

Huge marches took place simultaneously in the capital city of Tegucigalpa and business capital San Pedro Sula. In Tegucigalpa, the march moved from a working class neighbourhood past a commercial area to the presidential palace. About 25,000 protesters shouted slogans demanding Hernandez to “get out”.

Opposition groups also rallied in other cities.

This round of marches came just two days before the sixth anniversary of the June 28, 2009, coup that ousted democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya. The right-wing coup against Zelaya's mildly reforming government sparked a national popular resistance movement that later gave rise to the opposition Liberty and Refoundation (LIBRE) party.

The marches followed a government announcement that Hernandez would start a dialogue process and measures to “combat corruption and impunity”. But Honduras' “indignant opposition” has expressed their complete distrust in the government to execute a fair and adequate investigation.

With slogans insisting, “An honest public doesn’t hold dialogue with the corrupt”, opposition forces are calling for an independent probe.

The weekly anti-corruption marches were spurred by the huge US$200 million embezzlement scandal in the country's Social Security Institute. The scandal has implicated Hernandez and his National Party.

Hernandez has admitted to accepting funds from corrupt sources for his 2013 presidential campaign, in which he narrowly defeated LIBRE party candidate Xiomara Castro amid widespread claims of electoral fraud and political violence.

But Hernandez has claimed he did not know where the money was coming from. He has also admitted to accepting only $145,000, a fraction of the alleged US$90 million he is accused of funnelling into his campaign.

On June 29, he ordered the arrest of the vice president of Congress Lena Gutierrez and 15 other people over charges of defrauding the country's health care system. Gutierrez was involved in a large corruption scheme that includes the irregular sale of medicines, according to the top court's president Jorge Rivera. The arrest warrant was issued to prevent those involved from leaving the country.

Those implicated are being charged with misuse of documents and fraud in the sale of medicines to the Honduran Institute of Social Security and the Ministry of Health. Prosecutors in Honduras said the company AstroPharma, owned by Gutierrez's family, sold to the government drugs of questionable quality and with inflated prices.

There have been ongoing calls from popular movements to establish an independent United Nations accountability body to investigate government corruption. The proposed anti-impunity body, referred to as CICIH, would be modelled on a similar body in Guatemala. A UN body is leading an independent probe into the huge corruption scandal gripping the neighbouring Central American country.

On June 29, the UN and Organization of American States announced they would accept an invitation from Hernandez to help implement the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption.

Ahead of the June 26 march, a group of youths started a hunger strike against corruption to reinforce calls for the establishment of the CICIH.

The six years since the military coup have featured a grave human rights situation. Human rights abuses include government-sponsored repression and criminalisation of journalists, indigenous people, human rights defenders, campesinos, political opposition and popular resistance activists.

The situation in Honduras has been widely described as nothing short of a deep institutional political crisis.

[Compiled from TeleSUR English.]

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