Honduras vows to fight corruption after ending anti-graft body’s mandate

By Gustavo Palencia

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said on Sunday he was committed to battling corruption after his government ended the mandate of an anti-graft mission in the country backed by the Organization of American States (OAS).

Writing on Twitter the day the mandate lapsed for the body known as the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), Hernandez said: “We confirm our steadfast desire to continue our fight against corruption and for transparency.”

The president, who critics accuse of undermining the rule of law in Honduras, added that his country would continue seeking support from international partners including the OAS, the United Nations, the European Union and others.

Lawmakers allied with Hernandez voted last year against retaining the MACCIH, which was formed in 2016.

Around 800 people took to the streets of the capital Tegucigalpa later on Sunday to demand Hernandez’s ouster and chanting: “We want the MACCIH.”

One of the demonstrators on the march, 36-year-old Antonio Tejada, said without the anti-graft mission, politicians would be free to do what they wanted with public funds.

“The MACCIH wouldn’t prevent them, but they would be more careful because they knew they were being watched,” he said.

On Friday, the foreign ministry said Honduras had failed to agree on a renewal of the MACCIH’s mandate, noting there was concern in sectors of society that it had overreached its remit.

In response, the OAS said the Honduran government had not matched the MACCIH’s commitment to tackling corruption.

The record of Hernandez, an ally of the United States, has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months.

Last year, a U.S. jury found his brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez, guilty of conspiring to import cocaine, illicit weapons possession and lying to U.S. authorities.

During the trial, witnesses alleged that Juan Orlando Hernandez pledged to protect his brother from extradition and called for bribes to secure power for himself and the ruling National Party. Hernandez denied the allegations.

Hernandez won a second term as president two years ago after an election the OAS said was marred by irregularities.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)