Corruption in Honduras: Can MACCIH Make a Dent?

Inter-American Dialogue / Irene Estefanía González

On July 31, the Inter-American Dialogue partnered with the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University (CLALS) to host an event titled “Corruption in Honduras: Can MACCIH Make a Dent?” This discussion, moderated by Adriana Beltrán, Director for Citizen Security at the Washington Office on Latin America, featured speakers Ana María Calderón, Coordinator of MACCIH’s Division of Prevention and Combatting of Corruption; Chuck Call, Associate Professor of International Peace and Conflict Resolution at American University; and Luis Santos, head of the Special Attorney’s Unit Against Impunity and Corruption (UFECIC). On the heels of an CLALS report assessing the first two years of MACCIH’s performance, the conversation analyzed how effective the mission has been in its fight against corruption.

Call began by summarizing the findings of his two-year report on MACCIH’s progress. He emphasized the hybrid nature of MACCIH and its Guatemalan counterpart, CICIG, as joint efforts of international and domestic actors. According to Call, one of MACCIH’s greatest accomplishments in the first two years of its existence has been its ability to investigate individuals at the highest levels of government and improve the public image of the state. Yet, Call expressed concern over state resistance to MACCIH, which occurs because “when you start to target power, power responds.” Though the most visible obstacles to MACCIH have stemmed from the legislature, he also pointed to efforts by the executive and judiciary to hinder MACCIH’s work. Looking ahead, he called for the appointment of an attorney general who will support the fight against corruption, continued international support, and increased civil society involvement.

Beltrán then invited Calderón to speak on the inner workings of MACCIH; specifically, the nature of the relationship between MACCIH and UFECIC, the Honduran Special Attorney’s Unit Against Impunity and Corruption. Calderón described the structure of MACCIH, which is composed of four divisions: prevention and combatting of corruption, criminal justice system reform, political and electoral reform, and public security. She explained that investigations are carried out by joint teams with prosecutors and analysts from UFECIC and MACCIH. However, Calderón insisted that UFECIC leads the entire investigative process while MACCIH provides support, mainly by strengthening institutions and providing the insight of international actors with experience in similar anti-corruption efforts in other countries.  Unlike Guatemala’s CICIG, Calderon characterized MACCIH as an entity charged only with “the task of accompanying” UFECIC.

To offer the perspective of UFECIC, Beltran turned to Santos, who spoke on the progress made in specific anti-corruption cases. Santos explained that cases are selected jointly by MACCIH and the Attorney General with investigations focused on uncovering networks of corruption.  He described the four cases that have entered criminal proceedings: the “network of congressmen” case, the investigation into former first lady Rosa Elena de Lobo, the “impunity pact,” and the Pandora case. Santos spoke out against the “impunity pact,” which limited MACCIH’s jurisdiction over congressional wrongdoing and stalled proceedings for many cases pending the completion of an investigation expected to take three years.  He also called for increased protection for those involved in anti-corruption efforts, saying that in Honduras, “working on corruption means risking one’s life.”

The event concluded with a Q&A in which audience members asked about the existence of special tribunals for high-profile cases, the ways in which the United States could support MACCIH and UFECIC’s anti-corruption efforts, and investigations into the health sector. On the first topic, Santos indicated that Honduras does not have special tribunals for politically-sensitive corruption cases like Guatemala does. He noted that three of the four cases discussed earlier in the event had gone to the Supreme Court—particularly problematic in a country where magistrates are appointed by congress members. Regarding U.S. involvement, Call praised the embassy for providing significant assistance—both diplomatic and financial—while indicating that these efforts should continue and expand. Finally, Calderón explained that there are currently investigations into corruption in the health sector, though it is still unknown when they will reach criminal proceedings.

Watch the full recording of this event here