US embassy cable - 03TEGUCIGALPA532

ANTI-CORRUPTION IN HONDURAS--IS RICARDO MADURO WILLING TO FOLLOW THROUGH WITH MORE THAN JUST RHETORIC?

Identifier: 03TEGUCIGALPA532
Wikileaks: View 03TEGUCIGALPA532 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Tegucigalpa
Created: 2003-02-26 19:31:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PREL KJUS PGOV SNAR ECON PHUM KCRM OVIP HO
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 TEGUCIGALPA 000532 
 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR WHA DAS FISK, WHA/CEN, AND WHA/EPSC 
STATE FOR INL/RM, EB, AND CA 
STATE PASS AID FOR LAC/CEN 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/26/2013 
TAGS: PREL, KJUS, PGOV, SNAR, ECON, PHUM, KCRM, OVIP, HO 
SUBJECT: ANTI-CORRUPTION IN HONDURAS--IS RICARDO MADURO 
WILLING TO FOLLOW THROUGH WITH MORE THAN JUST RHETORIC? 
 
 
Classified By: Ambassador Larry Palmer, Reasons 1.5(b) and (d) 
 
1. (C) SUMMARY:  As President Ricardo Maduro enters the 
second year of his single four-year term in office, the 
looming question in his professed effort to transform 
Honduras, economy, judicial system and political environment 
is whether or not he is prepared to seek concrete results in 
his battle against the country's endemic corruption.  While 
the President's will appears strong and the Supreme Court has 
taken some important initial steps to clean up corruption in 
the courts, it remains to be seen if Maduro and his 
government, including the Court and the Congress, are 
prepared to press for action against major economic and 
political figures involved in corrupt practices.  Cardinal 
Oscar Rodriguez, the Chairman of the National Anti-Corruption 
Commission, gave a strong, but qualified, endorsement of 
President Maduro's efforts thus far.  But the newly formed 
anti-corruption entity, the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas 
(TSC), is off to a slow start and lacks the necessary 
prosecutorial zeal needed in an effective anti-corruption 
entity.  WHA DAS Dan Fisk directly explored this question 
during his February 5-8 visit in meetings with President 
Maduro, the President of the Supreme Court, the Ministers of 
Foreign Relations and Public Security, Cardinal Rodriguez, 
and the TSC.  END SUMMARY. 
 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
President Maduro Renews His Pledge to Fight Corruption 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
 
2. (C) In a meeting with Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) 
Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) Dan Fisk originally 
scheduled for one hour but extended to two hours, President 
Maduro spent much of the first hour outlining his 
government's efforts to combat corruption.  He highlighted 
the following achievements in his anti-corruption campaign: 
the selection of an independent Supreme Court; creation of a 
transparency commission for the energy contract solicitation; 
establishment of a task force to capture white collar 
criminals, such as the fugitive bankers involved in 
fraudulent banking practices; the first ever removal of 
congressional immunity from a deputy (in a rape case); and 
adoption of the national budget by Congress in an open and 
transparent process.  DAS Fisk told Maduro that the U.S. sees 
forward progress being made and that the President had a good 
agenda.  However, he reiterated the importance of holding 
people and institutions accountable. Fisk said that for all 
he has seen and hears from other sectors of Honduran civil 
society, many average Hondurans still did not feel that there 
was real change taking place and that Maduro needed more 
concrete results against individuals involved in corrupt 
activities. 
 
3. (C) Maduro responded that his government is taking a clear 
direction against corruption that should be clear to all.  He 
said that he was acting against vested interests, even though 
they wanted to be able to manipulate the system.  He also 
offered that he was pushing for the review of pending 
corruption cases and for establishing a higher level of 
transparency in these prosecutions.  He cited as another 
example his effort to decentralize authority for government 
programs to the municipalities and the people who are most 
responsible for delivering services so that the public can 
hold them more directly accountable for their actions.  He 
called attention to the poor performance of the Attorney 
General (AG) in prosecuting corruption cases.  He explained 
that the AG is an independent appointee from the Liberal 
Party with a seven-year term of office, which does not expire 
until next year.  Maduro said that the AG was not in sync 
with the rest of his government team. 
 
4. (C) DAS Fisk also raised with the President his discussion 
with the President of the Supreme Court about Congress' 
effort to pass an amendment on constitutional interpretation. 
 Maduro said he was well aware of the effort in Congress and 
flagged another effort there to adopt a new constitutional 
method for the removal of constitutionally-designated 
officers, such as members of the Supreme Court, the AG, the 
TSC, and the Human Rights Commissioner.  Maduro expressed 
 
SIPDIS 
concern that such power would allow Congress to remove 
independent justices who did not follow the political 
parties' interests.  He added that this proposed change would 
also undermine the court's effort on corruption and judicial 
reform. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
Supreme Court Is Bright Spot on Anti-Corruption Horizon 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
 
5. (SBU) Supreme Court President Vilma Morales underscored to 
WHA DAS Fisk her firm commitment to improving the 
administration of justice in Honduras and her willingness to 
establish the Supreme Court as a co-equal branch of power 
with the Executive and Congress during her term.  She said 
that the new nominating process put in place to select the 
current court and the seven-year term had been the most 
important judicial reform measure enacted and had set the 
stage for her efforts to further judicial reform by granting 
this court far more political independence than any court 
that had proceeded it.  She acknowledged that judicial reform 
was a process and that these changes would take time to 
consolidate.  However, Morales said it would only be through 
a strengthened and independent judiciary that Honduras would 
be able to begin attacking corruption.  She told Fisk that 
she was removing corrupt judges and improving the selection 
process for new judges. 
 
6. (SBU) However, Morales warned Fisk that powerful political 
interests remained opposed to the Court's efforts.  She 
explained that the Congress was attempting to amend the 
Honduran constitution to give itself the power to interpret 
the constitutionality of its laws.  She said the Court was 
preparing a legal decision in a test case over the 
constitutionality of the proposed amendment.  Interestingly, 
the Attorney General had filed a brief supporting the 
Congress' position.  Morales told Fisk she thought the Court 
would prevail but that it would be difficult and complicate 
the Court's relationship with the Congress. 
 
7. (SBU) DAS Fisk encouraged her to continue her efforts to 
attack judicial corruption.  Morales said she is working to 
strengthen the courts and thanked Fisk for U.S. and other 
international assistance.  She highlighted assistance for 
judicial training for judges and the effort to improve the 
performance of public defenders, a critical need in Honduras 
where the cost of an effective legal defense far exceeds what 
the great majority of the population can afford. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
Cardinal Endorses Maduro Efforts but Notes Shortcomings 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
 
8. (C) DAS Fisk thanked Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez for his 
leadership of anti-corruption efforts in Honduras and asked 
him for his assessment of the problem.  The Cardinal said 
that Maduro's statements in early January against the 
fugitive bankers were a significant step.  He added that it 
was a good sign that Maduro is committed to fighting back 
against the corruption that had created the bank failures. 
The Cardinal noted that Honduras was still struggling to 
improve its democracy and that corruption was a critical 
area.   Ambassador asked how the U.S. could help ensure 
follow up on the bankers' cases.  The Cardinal recognized 
that there were leading Nationalist Party figures in the bank 
failures who were not being pursued, and added that the legal 
system needed to go after them.  He too laid blame on the 
Attorney General, stating that the AG has not done much in 
any of these cases. 
 
9. (C) DAS Fisk replied that the Supreme Court was an 
optimistic point but that it appeared that the political and 
economic structures in the country were still resisting its 
independence.  He told the Cardinal that a broader societal 
effort against corruption was needed.  The Cardinal agreed 
that the Supreme Court was an important start.  However, he 
claimed that his main concern now was the Congress.  He said 
there needed to be an effort to reform the Congress: there 
was a "dark side" there that defends only its own interests. 
He relayed an anecdote of the direct involvement of a 
prominent Liberal Party deputy in extorting a USD 3 million 
commission for his son's law firm from a major health care 
development project. 
 
10. (C) In response to a question about the goals of the 
National Anti-Corruption Commission he chairs, the Cardinal 
explained that he wants to get the Commission more involved 
in social auditing.  He also shared that his life had been 
threatened for his work on corruption.  Ambassador offered 
the full support of the U.S. for the Cardinal's efforts.  The 
Cardinal said that U.S. visa revocations were an important 
tool and had an important impact on people.  The Ambassador 
responded that the Embassy would continue canceling visas. 
He also said the Embassy was prepared to pursue people who 
were involved in intimidation as well. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
Stressing Anti-Corruption to Foreign/Security Ministers 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
 
11. (C) DAS Fisk also stressed the importance of 
anti-corruption activities to Minister of Foreign Relations 
Guillermo Perez-Cadalso Arias and Minister of Public Security 
Oscar Alvarez.  He told them it was essential that the GOH 
step up its campaign against corruption and produce some 
tangible results.  FM Perez-Cadalso, a justice on the 
previous Supreme Court, noted that the current court was not 
tainted by a politicized selection process as previous courts 
had been and assured Fisk the Maduro government would push 
the Court for success in this area.  Ambassador added that 
the support of the Maduro administration was critical.  He 
said that it takes courage to move the judicial system 
forward.  DAS Fisk and Ambassador gave assurances of complete 
U.S. support for these efforts.  FM Perez-Cadalso also 
focused on the need to view the judicial system as a whole. 
He said that judges cannot do it alone; prosecutors, police 
and the penal system were also critical parts.  He admitted 
that coordination among these entities did not work as well 
as it should.  DAS Fisk urged the GOH to work with the U.S. 
on anti-corruption and called attention to Millennium 
Challenge Account (MCA) criteria, which would weigh 
government's performance in this area.  He said fighting 
corruption was fundamental to U.S. policy objectives in 
Honduras. 
 
12. (C) In his meeting with Minister of Public Security Oscar 
Alvarez, Fisk urged Alvarez to take action against corrupt 
police, to send a strong signal about impunity by arresting 
fugitive policeman Juan Carlos "Tiger" Bonilla, and to act 
carefully against whistle-blowers, such as ex-Chief of Police 
Internal Affairs Maria Luisa Borjas.  He also encouraged 
Alvarez to address the problem of extra-judicial killings of 
youth and trafficking in persons.  Alvarez pledged his full 
cooperation in the war on corruption and to improve the 
capabilities of the internal affairs unit.  He acknowledged 
that the police force was a weak institution and that current 
law severely hamstrung his efforts to remove corrupt and 
under-performing officers.  He assured Fisk that the GOH was 
investigating extra-judicial killings and that the police 
were becoming more involved in law enforcement operations 
against alien smugglers and traffickers of people. 
 
--------------------------------------------- - 
New Anti-corruption Entity Off to a Slow Start 
--------------------------------------------- - 
 
13. (SBU) The meeting with the new three-member Tribunal 
Superior de Cuentas (TSC - Superior Accounting Tribunal) 
proved disappointing.  DAS Fisk probed the TSC members for 
their views on how the TSC can operate more effectively 
against corruption, after acknowledging the difficult job 
they face starting up a newly created institution.  He 
pointed out that the TSC would be on the front line of the 
effort against corruption and urged them to more effectively 
align resources to anti-corruption priorities. 
Unfortunately, he found the panel had neither a broad 
anti-corruption vision nor a strong desire to lead a head-on 
charge against government corruption.  TSC President Renan 
Sagustume explained that the group has been in office less 
than a month and is in the process of consolidating the 
operations of three previously independent government 
institutions.  His technical presentation focused almost 
entirely on the bureaucratic challenges facing the TSC -- 
hiring new staff, deciding on who to keep from the old staff, 
locating the existing files (many of which are lost) and 
defining the necessary ethics standards that they will apply 
in their work.  He asked for U.S. assistance in developing 
mechanisms for sharing information about bank accounts in the 
U.S., for technical training for the staff in investigating 
corrupt practices, and for help in developing a better 
auditing function in the organization. 
 
14. (SBU) Fellow TSC commissioner, Fernando Montes, was 
uninspiring in his explanation of the process needed to 
review government officials' financial disclosure forms, 
unconsciously revealing more of a preoccupation with the 
electronic storage of the forms rather than any interest in 
actually reviewing the forms for accuracy or making them 
publicly available.  He stated without any hesitation that he 
was more interested in securing the forms' information from 
potential kidnappers or other criminal elements than in using 
them as a transparency tool to hold public officials 
accountable for their actions in office.  Montes did point 
out that the TSC will establish a "follow through" unit to 
follow cases referred to the Attorney General's office and 
Solicitor General's office for prosecution.  He noted that 
they had already referred 25 pre-existing cases but that the 
AG had only taken action on one case thus far. 
 
15. (SBU) Only former Liberal Party Congressman Ricardo Galo 
Marenco, who resigned from Congress to take this post, made 
any mention of leading the fight against corruption in the 
country, assuring DAS Fisk that the TSC would fully apply 
Honduran law and act firmly against corruption so that 
Honduras has credibility in its effort against this problem. 
Notwithstanding this professed commitment, his tone and 
language echoed the hollow promises to stop corruption which 
one hears all too often in the National Congress. 
 
16. (C) COMMENT:  Media coverage of DAS Fisk's visit squarely 
placed the corruption issue back on the public agenda and 
made it obvious to all that this issue remains a top policy 
priority for the U.S.  President Maduro was taken aback by 
Fisk's comments that the Honduran people want to see more 
concrete results. Obviously he feels that he has made more 
progress on this issue than any previous government and was 
surprised that many are questioning his results.  Maduro did 
present a persuasive case that anti-corruption remains a top 
priority for his administration; but privately we have heard 
that he is already backing away from aggressively pursuing 
bankers involved in the bank failures.  He has couched his 
reticence in terms of not wanting to undermine the stability 
of and public confidence in the financial sector.  The lack 
of any prosecutorial zeal at the TSC was also disappointing. 
However, the unmistakable message delivered by DAS Fisk's 
visit is that the U.S. wants to see some big fish caught in 
the GOH's anti-corruption net, even if it does have major 
holes in it. 
Palmer 

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