‘Our Central American spring’: protesters demand an end to decades of corruption

Source: The Guardian Unlimited

Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández has vowed to root out corruption ‘no matter who falls’ while in Guatemala the promise of new elections has not sated: ‘Without reform, it will just be about choosing the next group of thieves’

As the sky dims over the Honduran capital, the streets are ablaze with the flames of thousands of torches, each one carried by a citizen outraged by the entrenched corruption and impunity in this Central American country.

Though the light from the bamboo torches gives the protest a festive air, the message the protesters are sending is serious. One handmade sign reads “The corrupt have ripped apart my country.” Another says: “Enough is enough.”

It is a scene that has been repeated every Friday evening for nearly three months, since the government party was linked to a fraud and graft scheme that nearly bled the national health service dry.

The route taken by hundreds of peaceful protesters on a recent Friday was particularly symbolic. It started at the Honduran Social Security Institute (IHSS) whose former director and other officials allegedly siphoned off some $200m through shell companies to pay for luxury lifestyles complete with mansions in Miami, sports cars and lavish parties with highly paid prostitutes.

From the IHSS, the marchers wound through the streets of Tegucigalpa until they reached the supreme court building, where the journalist who exposed the connection between the fraud and political party is on trial for defamation.

President Juan Orlando Hernández himself has not been implicated in the scandal. Nonetheless protesters are calling for the resignation of Hernández, who most Hondurans call by his initials (pronounced hoh).

“Down with JOH!” has become the favourite chant of spontaneous social uprisings inspired in part by similar protests in neighbouring Guatemala, whose government and political class are embroiled in a separate corruption scandal.

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