By Congresswoman Norma J. Torres
First and foremost, to the people of Honduras: Congratulations on the monumental success of holding a free, fair, and peaceful election. We know from experience – across the globe and here in America – that this cannot be taken for granted. For that accomplishment alone, you should be proud.
President-elect Xiomara Castro has promised to reverse the course of a country plagued by corruption under the leadership of alleged narco-trafficker Juan Orlando Hernandez. Castro’s pledge to “pull Honduras out of the abyss we have been buried in” by the previous administration clearly resonated with Hondurans, who have suffered for years under a president whose only commitment was to himself.
Under Hernandez’s government, Hondurans have been faced with powerful people who practice murder, rape, and torture freely and with impunity. It is estimated that one woman is murdered every 16 hours. Rape is widespread, and 95% of cases of violence against women are never even investigated. While government officials, including the brother of the President, have grown wealthy off drug trafficking, more than 66% of families live in poverty, struggling to feed their children.
As a result of his failure, last year, 32% of all unaccompanied minors – more than 39,000 children – who came to the United States were from Honduras. In total, more than 700,000 Hondurans have left their country to try to migrate to the United States since Hernandez took office. Immigrants desperate for a better life face a dangerous, perilous path to our southern border and many lose their lives along the way.
I know first-hand the consequences of corrupt government on its citizens. I was sent to the United States from Guatemala by my parents amid civil war. I was robbed of a future in the country of my birth because it wasn’t safe for me to stay there. I want Central American children to be able to live promising and prosperous lives in their home countries, and for parents not to have to feel they need to make a dangerous journey to another country just to survive.
That damage done to Honduras by the Hernandez Administration is widespread, institutional, and can’t be fixed overnight. Under his tenure, the roots of corruption ran deep and strong, creating a system run by dangerous criminals.
President-elect Castro’s election signals an expanse of new opportunities and is reason for renewed hope and optimism. I urge the electorate to maintain your resolve but remain peaceful while voicing your concerns.
But it’s important to remember that the same challenges remain. President-elect Castro is only one person, and impactful change will require a whole-of-government commitment. She will need the support of elected officials at all levels – mayors, governors, Attorneys General – to overhaul and repair a system that has been crumbling for years by passing responsible legislation that is responsive to the people and holds elected leaders accountable. These leaders must understand that the government’s primary responsibility is to protect its citizens – not corrupt actors.
I just wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice urging them to immediately indict and extradite former President Hernandez to be tried on drug-trafficking charges. Hernandez was identified as a co-conspirator in his brother’s case here in the United States, and the DOJ said that President Hernandez “played a leadership role in a violent, state-sponsored drug trafficking conspiracy.” Now we must seek justice for all the people – Americans, Hondurans, and others – who were harmed because of his administration.
I have spent my time in Congress working to improve conditions in the region. Last year I successfully fought for more than $45 million in foreign assistance funding to combat corruption in Central America, and $30 million for programs to protect women and children. We can enshrine these protections into law through the bipartisan Central America Women and Children Protection Act – legislation I introduced. It’s also crucial we have comprehensive oversight of our aid to Central America, guaranteeing our resources reach the people they are meant to help. We can do so by conditioning foreign assistance on adherence to rule of law and anti-corruption standards. I will continue to demand accountability and transparency to ensure hard-earned taxpayer dollars are being used for their intended purposes.
We must ensure that when the U.S. government has credible information about public officials committing narco-trafficking and other crimes, we make that information public and sanction those individuals. I’ll continue fighting to ensure that the United States helps strengthen the democracies of Central America, holds people accountable when they break the law, and we are committed to working with leaders in the region that are dedicated to spending these limited resources protecting the vulnerable families from the most dangerous elements.
Transparency, accountability, and freedom are basic values in any democracy – and this is an exciting opportunity for the new administration to embrace those values and help Honduras rebuild. I extend a heartfelt congratulations to President-elect Castro. The United States is here as a partner for as long as you remain committed to delivering on your campaign promises and working for the people of Honduras.