During the Heritage Foundation’s recent event Insecurity in Honduras and the
Upcoming Elections: What’s at Stake for Central America, panelists Ambassador Roger Noriega of Vision Americas, Eric Olson of the Woodrow Wilson Center, and Joseph Humire of the Center for a Secure Free Society laid out their
concerns about the upcoming electoral processes in Honduras and El Salvador.
Ambassador Noriega pointed to a “new strain” of Latin American populism that seeks the “dismantling of the democratic institutions that it took the greater part of the 20th century to consolidate in Central America.” He added that unlike in the past, “this is no longer an ideological phenomenon, because the political project is merely a façade for the ambitions of power-hungry politicians who seek to profit from corruption.”
According to Ambassador Noriega, by undermining rule of law in their countries, these corrupt leaders are able to “extend their grip on power, guarantee impunity for their corruption, and establish a permissive environment for their criminal allies.” Ambassador Noriega highlighted the concerning nature of this phenomenon in the context of the drug trade’s penetration of Central American.
Ambassador Noriega noted that the presidential candidate for the LIBRE party, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, “has no experience in politics and is widely seen as an instrument of her husband’s political ambitions.” Mrs. Castro de Zelaya is currently basing her campaign on the promotion of a National Constituent Assembly, which “implies dissolving Congress, the Supreme Court and other institutions, as well as the current Constitution in order to set up an assembly of constituents that rewrite the country’s laws from scratch – a president of the Assembly is also designated, and this could likely be Zelaya himself.”
Ambassador Noriega also mentioned “growing concerns about the possibility that Manuel Zelaya’s party could try to promote destabilizing and violent activities on Election Day in an attempt to keep voters at home and delegitimize the electoral process.”
He added: “I can confirm that three separate DEA agents of various ranks, active duty and retired, as well as several U.S. foreign services have informed me of Zelaya’s continued complicity in drug trafficking.”
Noriega concluded on Honduras by saying that “It is of immense importance that the international community, international observers and those who support democracy throughout the region, pay close watch to the country in the upcoming weeks.”
Eric Olson from the Woodrow Wilson Center added “by U.S. estimates as much as 87% of the drug flights and boats that bring drugs from South America stop in Honduras.” And that “maybe as much as 80% of all of the cocaine leaving South America transits through Honduras at some point. It’s a major link in the trafficking chain that goes from South America into the U.S.”
Joseph Humire from the Center for a Secure Free Society highlighted that the only candidate in Honduras that is receiving substantial “international resources and regional support” is Xiomara Castro de Zelaya from the LIBRE party. As an example, he discussed former Brazilian President Lula Da Silva’s recent endorsement of Castro de Zelaya that ran as a TV ad in Honduras, and which many criticized as a violation of Honduran electoral law. Humire also referenced the international left’s emphasis on the Honduran election reflected in the actions of the Foro de Sao Paolo and its recent signing of the ‘Declaration of Tegucigalpa’. In Humire’s opinion, “Honduras is at a crossroads politically and geographically.” The country’s position makes it a vital link in the Venezuelan regime’s drug business as well as in the international left’s political agenda.
On El Salvador, Ambassador Noriega discussed the role of the Venezuelan regime in financing the FMLN’s activities through ALBA Petroleos, an entity created by Hugo Chávez to reward allies with oil on preferential terms. He also said that a victory from the current FMLN presidential candidate, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, would mean a stark shift to the left in El Salvador.
Referencing former president Antonio Saca’s candidacy, Ambassador Noriega remarked, “many believe his current campaign is motivated by a desire to avoid prosecution for alleged past misdeeds.” And that “much like Arnoldo Alemán did in Nicaragua, Saca has apparently reached an agreement with the FMLN in order to help them divide the right’s vote in exchange for protection from criminal prosecution.” Ambassador Noriega went on to say “one thing is very clear, as long as he plays this selfish spoiler role…Tony Saca is no friend of the United States today.”
Ambassador Noriega also spoke of the recent legal accusations against twenty-one ARENA members, calling it a bald act of political persecution, given that there is no solid legal basis for these accusations and that all of these individuals belong to former president Francisco Flores’ cabinet (who is currently managing the FMLN campaign).
In Ambassador Noriega’s opinion, Honduras and El Salvador need “presidents who are committed to strengthening the rule of law, and the material, political and moral support of a friendly United States” in order to resist the narco/criminal threat that looms over Central America.