The head of an international anti-corruption body in Honduras has resigned in protest of what he described as insufficient support from the mission’s parent institution, the Organization of American States (OAS). The move raises concerns about the future of efforts to combat corruption and impunity in the Central American country.
Juan Jiménez Mayor, the head of the Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Misión de Apoyo contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras – MACCIH), announced his resignation in an open letter shared on Twitter on February 15.
Jiménez’s resignation comes one day after OAS Secretary General Luís Almagro sent an open letter to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández criticizing the MACCIH for “being incapable” of showing sufficient results in its almost two years of existence, in spite of OAS support.
In response, MACCIH head Jiménez expressed “regret over the lack of communication” between himself and Almagro, and wrote that Almagro failed to attend a planned meeting with him during a visit last month to OAS headquarters in Washington, DC.
In the letter, Jiménez highlights security concerns, limited resources and the OAS’ general attitude of indifference toward the MACCIH among the reasons for his resignation.
Jiménez also pointed to obstacles created by the Honduran government. Last month, Congress passed a law that effectively shields officials from corruption investigations. Jiménez has called the move an “impunity pact” meant to interfere with the MACCIH’s probe into a systematic embezzlement scheme allegedly involving 60 members of congress.
In addition, Jiménez highlighted the fact that anti-corruption legislation suggested by the mission has not moved forward, and recent penal code reforms have actually led to lighter sentences for corruption.
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Almagro accepted Jiménez’s resignation in an open letter published on February 16. In his response, Almagro wrote that “the reasons given [in Jiménez’s statement] are seriously lacking in truth.”
Almagro blamed Jiménez for missing their scheduled meeting last month and claimed progress has already been made to address several listed concerns, such as bringing in international police officers to improve security for staff.
Almagro also strongly criticized Jiménez’s leadership, saying an OAS investigator had been sent to Honduras to look into “administrative irregularities, bad practices and malfunctions within the MACCIH.”
Resignations were also tendered by Julio César Arbizu, a Peruvian lawyer and MACCIH prosecutor, and Daniel Urrutia, a Chilean judge who recently joined the MACCIH.
Arbizu hinted in a tweet that, like Jiménez, his resignation is linked to disappointment with the OAS’ lack of support for the anti-graft body. Arbizu also goes a step further, seeming to suggest potential corruption within the OAS itself.
“When you undertake an anti-corruption crusade and you are attacked by the corrupt, it is understandable. When you’re being attacked by the one who is supposed to back you up, it’s because [the rumors must be true]. And, sooner rather than later, it will be clear. Honduras did not deserve this,” Arbizu said.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández said in a statement that “the Honduran government reaffirms its commitment to the fight against corruption and impunity and its intention to continue strengthening its justice system.”
Hernández also said that the MACCIH’s international supporters will be invited “to discuss the best way to overcome the situation that the mission is going through.”
Ana María Calderón Boy, a Peruvian lawyer with a background in counternarcotics and anti-corruption cases, will serve as interim head of MACCIH while a new commissioner is chosen.
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The recent resignations of Jiménez and other MACCIH officials appear to be aimed at drawing attention to shortfalls in support from the OAS and pushback from Honduran elites that are hampering the MACCIH’s progress.
Several experts contacted by InSight Crime said that Jiménez’s decision to resign, and his reasons for doing so, are unsurprising. From the start, they said, the MACCIH was given a weak mandate and few resources.
Mike Allison, a Central America expert at the University of Scranton, told InSight Crime that when the MACCIH was created in 2016, it was likely a “symbolic act to satisfy a domestic constituency that was calling for an international body like CICIG,” the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisón Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala).
But, unlike the CICIG, Allison said, the OAS-supported MACCIH “wasn’t given the tools, the resources or the backing of the more legitimate United Nations.”
According to Christine Wade, a Central America expert and political science professor at Washington College, the MACCIH was actually “designed to be somewhat ineffective” and “was never likely to produce the kind of results that CICIG was able to produce in Guatemala” because of limited support from the OAS and strong resistance from the Hernández administration.
Eric Olson, the director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Latin American program, agreed, telling InSight Crime that “the Honduran government has felt uncomfortable about MACCIH from the start” and intentionally went to the OAS because they “thought they could ensure a weak mechanism.”
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In spite of the MACCIH’s built-in weaknesses, all three experts said that under Jiménez’s leadership the anti-corruption body has nonetheless made significant early progress.
As InSight Crime recently reported, the MACCIH has begun pursuing high-profile cases targeting a powerful former president and corrupt members of congress. The MACCIH has also recently begun to gain more support from Honduran civil society, which initially questioned the mission’s ability to make progress because of its weak mandate.
However, as Olson told InSight Crime, OAS chief Almagro “appears to have pulled the rug out from under his own mission” by sending a “clear signal” to Jiménez that Honduras’ anti-graft efforts are not a priority for the multilateral organization.
The experts agreed that the future of anti-graft efforts in Honduras will depend on a range of factors, including the selection of Jiménez’s replacement.
The process for selecting Jiménez’s successor “has to be open, transparent and clear,” Olson said, adding that “this can’t be a closed door, backroom political negotiation with the government.”
But, Olson said, “no matter who is appointed, there will be ongoing attempts by those alleged to have been involved in corruption to undermine, to obstruct and to make more difficult” the process of rooting out corruption in Honduras.
Wade pointed out that action by civil society will also likely play a key role, as it did during a similar situation in Guatemala last year.
“We’re seeing some really tremendous momentum within Honduras, from the opposition and civil society, in the hopes that they can create enough mobilization to pressure the government to make changes,” she said.
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