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Honduras Revisits Ghosts of 2017: Unraveling a Web of Execution and Corruption

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Geeta Pillai
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Honduras Revisits Ghosts of 2017: Unraveling a Web of Execution and Corruption

In Honduras, the specters of those slain by police forces during demonstrations against former President Juan Orlando Hernández's contentious re-election in November 2017 are resurfacing. The re-election, widely disputed and deemed illicit and fraudulent by international observers, incited protests that led to the death of at least 34 individuals, predominantly at the hands of state agents.

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A Glance at the Past

The Forensic Medicine Department, under the leadership of Julissa Villanueva, conducted 27 autopsies. However, the Attorney General's office, then headed by Óscar Chinchilla, initiated merely eight investigative files, which were soon forgotten. Villanueva, currently the Deputy Minister of Security under President Xiomara Castro, confirms the killings were executed by law enforcement during the protests.

Unveiling the Truth

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An international investigation into drug trafficking at that time implicated Hernández's brother and high-ranking military and police officials. However, this information was not publicly disclosed then. Today, a Honduran congressional commission has presented 10 investigation files to the new Attorney General's office to determine if Chinchilla and his deputy, Daniel Sibrián, were complicit in covering up these assassinations and other corruption cases unearthed by the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) from 2016 to 2021. Post his term, Chinchilla sought refuge in Nicaragua, a country known to provide shelter to Central American politicians accused of corruption.

Justice in Progress

Recently, interim Attorney General Johel Zelaya, appointed by a legislative commission, has initiated investigations into Hernández's circle, including Chinchilla and Sibrián, and has revisited high-profile cases such as the 2017 protest killings and other corruption files. Rocío Tábora, the former Finance Minister under Hernández's administration, was apprehended on corruption charges linked to the purchase of mobile hospitals amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, Zelaya has commenced a purge of officials loyal to Chinchilla in the Attorney General's office, including Ricardo Castro, former head of the Technical Criminal Investigation Agency (ATIC), accused of covering up executions, tolerating sexual abuse, and permitting the existence of a death squad within the MP.

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