Congress balks at $50M aid package to Honduras
WASHINGTON — The State Department appears headed for a showdown with Congress over the department’s decision to approve more than $50 million in aid for Honduras despite the Central American nation’s poor human rights record.
The money is part of a $750 million aid package for Central America’s socalled Northern Triangle — Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — allocated under an Obama administration initiative.
Tens of thousands of families from the region have moved up through Mexico and sought asylum in the United States in recent years. The White House has said the financial package is necessary to reduce the crime and poverty spurring the migrants.
For Honduras to receive its portion of about $55 million, however, it had to prove to U.S. officials that it was meeting several conditions, including improvements in human rights, law enforcement and justice. The other countries also had to meet those conditions.
Honduras’ record on those issues is abysmal, according to human rights organizations, diplomats, free-press activists and judicial experts.
One notable abuse is the still unresolved shooting death early this year of Honduras’ most prominent environmentalist activist, Berta Caceres, with state security personnel suspected of involvement. The Honduran government has resisted offers of help from outside investigators.
Early this month, another prominent Honduran lands-rights activist and an associate were assassinated, and Caceres’ organization says it is receiving death threats. Amnesty International declared Honduras a perilous “nogo zone” for many activists.
But the State Department certified on Sept. 30 that Honduras had taken “effective steps” in meeting human rights criteria.
Members of Congress, especially those who wrote the conditions that Honduras was required to fulfill, did not agree.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said the State Department certification “makes a mockery” of the law, and he vowed to block the aid money.
“Over the past 25 years, the United States has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Honduras, with little to show for it,” Leahy said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. “The conditions in our law are intended to prevent a repeat of past failures, when official corruption and impunity were ignored or excused, and to hold the government accountable. Virtuous rhetoric and half-steps are not enough.”
State Department spokesman John Kirby defended the decision to approve aid to Honduras.
“We are deeply concerned about the continued problems in Honduras from crime, corruption and impunity … and we always review our programs as a result of it,” Kirby said Friday. “As we stand here today, we are comfortable in the certification that we made.”
Indigenous people and activists march in Honduras last week against the fatal shooting of a rural leader who championed rights for the country’s poor in a struggle over land.