News / Americas

New Honduras President Takes Helm, Criticizes US Drug Policy

Honduras' President Juan Orlando Hernandez, left, and his wife Ana Rosalinda wave after his swearing in ceremony as new president in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Jan. 27, 2014.
Honduras' President Juan Orlando Hernandez, left, and his wife Ana Rosalinda wave after his swearing in ceremony as new president in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Jan. 27, 2014.
Reuters
— Honduras' new president, former Congress head Juan Hernandez, took office on Monday, calling U.S. drug policy a "double standard" and urging U.S. President Barack Obama to recognize the joint effort required to end the region's drug scourge.

Hernandez, of the ruling National Party, won against the wife of ousted former leftist leader Manuel Zelaya in November's disputed presidential election on a pledge to use the military to clean up the blood-soaked country.

Decades of gang warfare, weak institutions and endemic corruption have provided fertile ground for cartels to expand their operations in Honduras, using the country as a pit-stop for United States-bound cocaine.

But in his comments, delivered after being sworn in as president, Hernandez said the United States had not kept up its side of the bargain in the war on drugs, noting that Central America was suffering as a result of U.S. drug consumption.

"It strikes us as a double standard that while our people die and bleed, and we're forced to fight the gangs with our own scarce resources, in North America drugs are just a public health issue," Hernandez said. "For Honduras and the rest of our Central American brothers it's a case of life and death."

"We ask the government of Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress to recognize this shared responsibility ... and that we truly work together to solve this problem, which is also their problem," Hernandez added.

His candid comments were striking given Honduras' strong ties with the United States, and appeared to tap into a growing vein of discontent across the region at the U.S.-led 40-year war on drugs.

Frustrated by ceaseless bloodshed and a perception that the United States has not done enough to curb its own drug consumption, many leaders in the region, such as Guatemalan President Otto Perez, are now speaking openly about the possibility of legalizing drugs.

 According to the United Nations, in 2012 Honduras, the United States' top ally in Central America, had a murder rate of 85.5 per 100,000 people - the world's highest. The sight of dismembered bodies and corpses hanging from bridges is increasingly common across the country.

Hernandez, a graduate of Honduras' army academy, has vowed a no-nonsense response to the drug scourge - a worry for those who fear rights abuses. He advocates using a newly formed militarized police force alongside the army to combat the gangs and plans to extradite criminals to the United States.

A law passed earlier this month gives Honduras the power to shoot down planes believed to be carrying drugs. Nearly 90 percent of the cocaine from South America heading for the United States moves through the country.

"If we can stop the planes carrying drugs passing through our territories, then we will make a big advance in the fight against drug traffickers, who cause so much violence and death in our country," said former Security Minister Oscar Alvarez, who is part of Hernandez' transition team.

But putting a stop to the increasingly violent spiral of drug crime is just one of the challenges facing Hernandez, who must also tackle Honduras' shaky economy.  Despite being the region's top coffee producer, Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Americas, afflicted by rampant unemployment, a feeble tax take and a yawning fiscal deficit that, at 7.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), ended 2013 at its highest level in nearly 20 years.

The deficit has already lea to strikes across the country from unpaid public sector workers, while hospitals often go without drugs for routine operations. A lack of money for police investigations exacerbates widespread impunity.

In a recent legislative blitz, lawmakers signed off on a 2014 budget that seeks to nearly halve the deficit to 4.7 percent of GDP by the end of this year, a tax reform that aims to generate up to $800 million a year and a breakup of the loss-making state electricity company.  

During the campaign, Hernandez vowed not to devalue the Lempira currency, which trades at around 20 to the dollar, despite the fact a devaluation is widely seen as a pre-condition for a new, much-needed International Monetary Fund (IMF) credit deal.

He also said he would sign a new deal with the IMF within six months of taking office.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Planning Post-2015 Development

UNDP official calls for investing in people
More

Magnitude 6.3 Quake hits Mexico, No Major Damages, Injuries

Earthquake hit southwest of Juan Rodriguez, in eastern Mexican state of Veracruz at a depth of 95 km (60 miles), the US Geological Survey says
More

California Governor on 3-day Trade Trip to Mexico

With immigration facilities bursting at the seams, Jerry Brown says child migration is on the agenda during his trade visit
More

UN Sanctions Operator of N. Korean Ship Caught Smuggling Arms

North Korean ship Chong Chon Gang was detained a year ago carrying arms, including two MiG-21 jet fighters, under thousands of tons of sugar
More

Argentina Seeks to Avoid 2nd Debt Default in 13 Years

Argentina says it will make another effort to reach a deal with a group of US creditors
More

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surge

Inaccurate claims suggest US will give amnesty to young migrants
More