Image Source: American University - Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS)
June 2020
REGION: Western Hemisphere

Fleeting Success: The Legacy of Honduras’ International Anti-Corruption Mission,” by Charles Call, reflects upon the level of progress made by the Mission in Support of the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH).[1] Call reports that MACCIH, which ended in January 2020, has a mixed legacy. MACCIH was able to successfully target corrupt elites, but successful indictments often faced deflections and reversals. While the impact of MACCIH has been limited in the months since the program expired, the program yields valuable information for future international anti-corruption missions. Notably, Call’s refection on MACCIH reveals the importance of internal and external communication and stability within such an effort, as well as the limitations of voluntary international missions.

MACCIH was created in January 2016 when the government of President Juan Orlando Hernández signed an agreement with the Organization of American States (OAS) to create an international anti-corruption mission. Hernández proposed the Mission after months of street protests seeking his dismissal over a major corruption scandal, as well as a rise in homicide rates.[2] MACCIH was designed as a hybrid institution, combining the authority and on-the-ground presence of an international mission of prosecutors and judges with national institutions and capacities. The hybrid structure of MACCIH built upon the structure of the earlier UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG),[3] which investigated a large-scale corruption scheme, leading to the resignation and arrest of Guatemala’s vice president and the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina, who was later also indicted and jailed. While MACCIH built upon lessons from CICIG, it is important to note that hybrid programs are uncommon, especially in the field of the rule of law and criminal justice.

During its four-year span, MACCIH’s expert investigators worked in integrated teams with local investigators and prosecutors to indict 133 individuals, including former First Lady Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo; senior government officials; prominent businessmen; labor union representatives; and over two dozen current and former legislators.

Call argues that international efforts to strengthen the rule of law under MACCIH enjoyed only fleeting success. President Hernández, implicated in a cocaine drug trafficking case in the United States and under pressure from his own political party, refused to extend the investigative mission after four years. Furthermore, the National Congress of Honduras quickly passed a law that significantly lessened the power of MACCIH and the Attorney-General’s office to investigate its members after five members of Congress were indicted in 2017 and MACCIH hinted that additional legislators might later be indicted. With the help of numerous judges appointed in a highly politicized system, corrupt officials found additional ways to undercut charges filed, the trial process, and the sentences handed down for the many ex-officials, officials, and other political and economic elites charged in MACCIH’s investigations. Since the conclusion of MACCIH, Honduran courts overturned the guilty verdict of a former first lady.

Considering its mixed legacy, MACCIH provides valuable lessons for future hybrid international rule of law programs. One lesson can be drawn from the first months of MACCIH, where the program faced significant logistical challenges and had limited reach. It took months for MACCIH to be fully staffed. In October of 2016, MACCIH had filled only 19 of 70 staff positions, limiting its capacity. Civil society organizations expressed that they were unhappy with the limited results in the first months of the Mission, which Call stresses exemplifies the importance of being open with civil society organizations about the expected amount of time it takes to have an international effort like MACCIH in full operation.

Another lesson to be drawn from MACCIH arises out of the legislation passed once MACCIH began to indict legislators and other officials. Public officials responded to indictments by amending the Budget Law that retroactively stipulated legislators would not be subject to criminal investigations until administrative audits led by the High Court of Auditors (TSC) had first been exhausted. The TSC audits may take up to three years to complete. The law further established that all documents related to the audit would be seized by the TSC and remain in its custody, impeding investigation by MACCIH and the Attorney-General’s office. This law, which is planned to be broadened under the new Penal Code in 2020, ensured that it would be years before accused legislators could be held accountable for acts of corruption.

Beyond struggles with the Honduran government, MACCIH also had internal conflicts between its head officials, leading to numerous resignations and a leadership change in February 2018. Personnel instability within MACCIH produced months of inefficiency, but after the leadership change and the Honduran supreme court declared MACCIH constitutional in mid-2018, the program became more productive. Between mid-2018 and mid-2019, the mission brought a series of high-profile cases to trial with greater success, including the indictment of former First Lady Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo, several senior government officials, prominent businessmen, labor union representatives, and former legislators.

[1] See the JUSTRAC summary “When Corruption Is the Operating System: The Case of Honduras” for more information on corruption issues in Honduras.

[2] More information about the impact of criminal activity and the increase in Honduran homicide rates can be found in the JUSTRAC white paper “Enduring Prosperity and the Rule of Law for the Northern Triangle.”

[3] See the JUSTRAC+ summary “Last Chance for Justice: Dangerous Setbacks for Human Rights and the Fight Against Impunity in Guatemala” for more information on the CICIG.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

Fleeting Success: The Legacy of Honduras’ International Anti-Corruption Mission

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