Voces Latinoamericanas: The Honduran Ambassador to the U.S.

Voces Latinoamericanas: The Honduran Ambassador to the U.S.


Welcome to Voces. Voces is a new
space for dialogue about politics in Latin American. From the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University in Washington DC.
We will talk to policy makers who influence political events in Latin America and the
Caribbean. Welcome! Today we will talk about Honduras and for this, we are pleased to welcome the Ambassador for Honduras to the United States,
Marlon Tábora. Thank you, Mister Ambassador. You are welcome!
Thanks for the opportunity and first of all I want to congratulate you for starting this initiative. I think it’s great to have this space to talk about the
public policies in Latin America and the Caribbean and it’s a great privilege to be able to be with you today. Thank you. Well, obviously we are not going to be able to cover all subjects and important aspects of
Honduras, but let’s start with some current affairs: Honduras has recently been at the forefront of the news due to a migratory phenomenon
that is not new. Without a doubt the migratory flow has been increasing since the 90s from Central America to the USA,
but it has increased in the last years and perhaps to quote some numbers, at present the United Nations estimate that there are between four thousand and nine thousand people in transit from Central America to the
border between Mexico and the USA. It has been documented that they are
women and pregnant women, elderly and even children. The people want
to know and I wanted to ask you Ambassador, what is the Government of Honduras doing to try to help these people who find themselves in this precarious situation? As you mention this is an important issue, first it is important to mention some elements like the ones you just quoted; historically migrate between 75 thousand and 80 thousand people per year to the USA; this figure – although I do not want to minimize it – does not surprise me because it is part of what has has been happening during the past years especially during the last
decade; However, this situation has aggravated in recent years due to the
lack of opportunities that unfortunately still exists in our
countries and also due to the violence that is mostly due to organized and transnational crime and drug trafficking. Unfortunately this situation has led many people to migrate. And in the last weeks especially families that have been disintegrated by the search for these
opportunities have taken the decision of move to the US under the
threat that they were going to build the famous wall and that that was going to be the only opportunity and that has caused the flow to increase, but in general terms, that is what we are talking about. What we are doing? First, I believe that is
important to mention that migration is a human right, which does not mean
that we – and here I want to be very emphatic – as Government don’t want
that our people stay in the country and that is a priority that for us
is fundamental. One of the main reasons why 3 or 4 years ago this migratory flow began especially related to the crisis of the
unaccompanied minors in 2014 was precisely the issues of violence.
Honduras in 2012 was declared as probably the most violent country
in the world and particularly San Pedro Sula had more than 100
homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. Today, the figure is 36. Honduras is probably the country that has made the most progress in reducing the homicide rate. Also, the issue of job generation is still a
pending task. In the short term, to address the
crisis, a mobile consulate in Tijuana was opened to support our people and it has created a return program, obviously this is voluntary. What we are trying to do is to guarantee people
that people can return. From a human perspective it is very hard to see all these families especially the mothers and their children trying to cross the border to try to
look for opportunities, but what is most important is what we are trying to
do in Honduras and this is about trying to look for opportunities to do that. Apart from the
issues regarding national policy to try to address this phenomenon,
tell us a bit about the foreign policies; Is there something going on, is there a coordination from a regional point of view with the
neighboring countries like the USA? Even a few days ago the new Foreign Minister of the new Mexican government has come out with some statements talking about a proposal for a so-called Marshall Plan for Central America.
Tell us what is going on from that point of view. In the year 2014 with the crisis of the unaccompanied migrants, we established what is known as the the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity, an initiative of the countries of the Northern Triangle: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, together with the US, because the US
understood that this is a shared, but differentiated, responsibility and they had originally assigned approximately
750 million dollars to try to support three fundamental pillars. One of
them is the security pillar, the other pillar that of institutions and
the other concerns security. I have to be very honest, I have been very
critical and very vocal in this, we have advanced a lot in security issues
as you mentioned previously, But I feel we have failed in
the issues of prosperity and to a large extent that failure is due to the fact that we
do not consider the difference that exist between our countries, although it is true that immigration affects all our countries, it is for different reasons. We have different
institutional contexts and this an element that is very important that we should take in account. Something worth noting is that the new Government of Mexico has shown a political will that we have not observed
previously. In what aspect? Mexico forms a fundamental role in this
because most of if not to say the totality of migrants cross
through Mexico and there is a lot of violation of human rights in the process and
many times that makes the situation looks even more dramatic.
So traditionally the Mexican government has allowed people to pass through or to remain there but they have not looked for an integrated solution to see what the problem is The new President of Mexico who
who just took office last week signed with the presidents of the Northern Triangle an agreement through the which the governments think about looking for instruments of development especially in the southern parts of Mexico to prevent people from to emigrate to here. To this day this is only a plan The new Mexican government is just starting, let’s see how it evolves and surely we will have the opportunity in the future to assess what has been the impact. With regard to the economic issue, I know
the government of Honduras undertook a series of economic reforms, some of
them are basically a continuation of what had been done under the previous Government of President Lobo, but there other reforms that started in 2014.
In your opinion what are the reforms most relevant and how have they been
implemented in the country taking into account that you still see levels of
poverty that exceed 60 percent of the population as well as still very high rates of inequality? As you know
and rightly mentioned, towards the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014
a series of important economic reforms were implemented.
However, it is important to differentiate: that first stage was very focused on the
recovery of macroeconomic stability in the country. There can be no prosperity in a country that generates instability and generates uncertainty. Back then
the fiscal deficit was almost 8%, the deficit in the current account was almost
10% of the Gross Domestic Product The country went through a situation that was quite complicated. One had to put in order the public finances. Thanks to
God one could do that process in a way that was rapid in order to serve as a base and to be able to implement another series of policies The reform of the social security systems was undertaken which is one of the fundamental elements
why people migrate It is not just the lack of economic opportunity but also the provision of basic services such as health
and education that are fundamental to generate hope in people.
So that first cycle of reform was very focused on that part.
And I think that it is key to to continue with this process.
I recognize that there is still a lot work to be done, although it is true that there are important progress in the macroeconomic part, the generation
of opportunities is still a very challenging But we also have to be very clear: the opportunities will be generated by the private sector.
We firmly believe that the role of the government is to create conditions for the private sector to advance Obviously having passed through a
fiscal reform as important as the one at the end of 2013,
this has certain implications in the economy and we were very clear in that
moment about this. Perhaps here it was prioritized the balancing of fiscal accounting at the expense of a focus on social policies
to be able to obtain a poverty reduction that is achieved in the
short term, as I said, we keep seeing levels of poverty that have not been reduced and high levels of inequality that as you know,
can start to undermine social cohesion. No doubt I think this is the most important challenge and here it is important to mention that as part of the
fiscal reform, it was assigned an increase of 3% in sales tax
precisely to finance the social programs. These social programs have been working and here I think it’s time to make an evaluation if the use of these resources was effective resources which amount to about 1% of the GDP and see if they have generated the desired impact. Probably in some aspects the answer is no. And this will lead us as Government and society to rethink the use of those resources precisely to be
more effective. Another of the issues you also mention are the high rates of crime and violence You already mentioned in 2003 the
government stated officially that one of the reasons for the forced mobilization of its citizens is due to the level of violence that occurs that exists in the country and you mentioned some improvements
that are obviously documented tell us a little
what were the policies and programs that the government implemented
It is also worth mentioning an increase in the budget for the armed forces
etc, tell us a bit, what was the government’s strategy for
realizing these achievements? I would like to mention three elements in
particular, one is the decided commitment of the current President of the Republic in
the fight against drug trafficking insofar as there was a
direct confrontation and there was a extradition agreement
with the USA in order to reduce the impact of drug trafficking and the levels of
violence amongst the population, I think it’s Without a doubt, a very
important that happened due to strengthening the armed forcesm especially all
actions that were focused on the fight against drug trafficking and
organized transnational crime the second element and that
I find it very relevant from the point of view of public policy is the
professionalization and the purging of the national police.
Here the support of multilateral organizations has been
fundamental but also from other friendly countries Here the support from Mexico, from Colombia from other countries in the Central American region
being able to allow for information exchange has been
fundamental and I think that that’s an element that has been key to being able to
achieve this goal; and the third is the allocation of resources through
the famous security tax rate that allowed to have more financial resources;
so that is a tax on financial transactions to be able
finance security issues, however it is a pending task to tackle the issues of
transparency, that is to say, how are these resources used which for our countries is still a task in which we must continue advancing Ambassador, at the same time that those achievements were made in terms of containing
crime rates, there were important questions raised and not only questions but also strong criticism in Honduras regarding the violation of human rights and
liberties; including the High Commissioner of the United Nations has alerted to some
serious accusations in this regard and in the middle of this
perhaps Honduras did forget to strengthen or forge certain
institutions so that they can adjudicate and hold accountable
those who violate human rights and freedoms, whether they come
from the armed forces or organized crime? Here, Luis, an important issue – and here I can speak for myself- one of
my biggest contributions or interests related to
assuming this position as Ambassador was precisely the creation of the Ministry
of Human Rights. For different reasons at the end of the year 2013 the
previous Ministry basically disappeared and there was a period where the institutional issue remained neglected and here there probably presented themselves some of these events. When we arrived at the Embassy we saw this as a priority, we talked with the President of the Republic and at the start of this new
Government a new Secretary of State for Human Right, additional to
strengthening the Public Prosecutor for Human Rights that has been an important issue,
there have been very emblematic cases of violations of human rights in
Honduras but this happens again because of the institutional issue, we need to continue to
strengthen the institutionality that not only relate to those actions
of the executive but also what are the powers of the judiciary and the public prosecutor everything related to investigation; one of our priorities has been for example to increase gradually and to the extent possible the budget of the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic because we consider critical especially the area of investigation to ensure that the
society has the right above all to pursue justice and to know what it is that has happened especially in some cases. Now that you mention the issue of
institutions Let’s remember in 2016, Honduras went to the Organization of American States to ask for support and a commission to support the fight
against corruption and impunity was created; a couple of months ago an
evaluation that was undertaken by the American University was released and the preliminary results are mediocre but the evaluation mentions a
series of aspects that note that it has been very difficult to
apply the mandate of the commission; as you said there is a debt to the issue of
the institutions but it also requires political will to undertake these changes; why do you think it has been so difficult to implement the mandate of the commission that was requested by the very Government of Honduras and that amongst other things had to investigate and prosecute several emblematic cases
of corruption and cases that went unpunished? Yes, here Luis, I apologize for digressing a little but I think it’s important to make a caveat On a personal level I am one of those who believes that the most important thing is the strengthening our institutions in the country
and I think that no foreign entity however competent it may be, can substitute the legitimacy that our own institutions have.
However, in a context where probably
the legitimacy of some institutions is precarious or in doubt, the external technical support is important and that’s what happened with the support mission of the fight against corruption and impunity in Honduras.
For various reasons and political pressure and because the context provoked it, and also due to the comparison with what was happening in a neighboring country Political pressure on the part of the executive? No, the general pressure of the political environment on the political class to be able to advance in the
fight against corruption, because the society saw that there were no concrete results even though the state’s resources were spent Do you think that such pressure was because there were
members of the Honduran political system involved in these cases ?
Without a doubt, I think that the cases that have emerged show that in one way or another; but I think all this should be the responsibility of the Honduran people.
I am convinced that the problems of the Honduran people should be resolved by Honduran people and I think there should be a very clear line
regarding the role of these missions and that’s why the mission in the particular case of Honduras is considered as a “support” mission, that has, as you well mentioned, several elements as part
of its mandate, such as to strengthen the whole area of
investigation, to prepare technical assistance, to prepare Honduran investigators so they can do their work, create institutionality so that
there is institutional independence from political pressure so they can
do their job It surprised me to hear of one of the
proposals by the government to create these special economic development zones that are basically spaces with certain tax incentives But this is basically creating a model of parallel tributary and legal systems with the goal of attracting investment but
perhaps this is to the detriment of efforts to strengthen national institutions that serve the citizens? Again, a very personal opinion, I keep insisting to strengthen and create national institutions and I will always be a believer in this. However in the case of the special economic zones for development and job creation, this is one mechanism like you just mentioned, precisely to attract a certain type of investment under certain
type of conditions and not necessarily to create a parallel institutional system, and I think that’s important to differentiate because the problem is when
we want to create substitutes because then what we would do is create the whole country as a special zone, so I think this has a particular purpose that has worked in different countries like in Hong Kong or in Singapore
but again we return to the subject institutionality: I think that the most
important thing to be able to guarantee in the medium and in the long term the
prosperity of a society in general is to have strong institutions.
And we have seen that. On the issue of corruption, and I’m speaking here about the informal institutions, these
codes with which societies are forged, what efforts has the
government made to promote and cultivate a cultural change in the society to
get to that point of penalizing the acts of corruption from a moral standpoint that at the end of the day would allow us to have better
long-term results? I think that probably the
moral penalty is what is mostly impactful at this moment in the fight against corruption and I will mention some elements
in which Honduras has made progress and I think they are relevant. The first one has to do with
the campaign financing law for campaigns and political parties and
it seems that that is one of the most
important aspects of the fight against corruption.
And we again go back to the issue of institutions. There is no point in having a good law if
we do not have a mechanism and the institutions that guarantee their enforcement. The issue is not only to establish the law, where in the particular case of Honduras we have made progress but also how it is implemented. And
obviously, it is the same political class that is very reluctant to promote these kind of changes especially in our countries where the political class has been in power for a very long time in various positions and they got used to things being a certain way. I’m not saying that what is not prohibited by law could probably be allowed and it does not necessarily happen that way but the fact of generating the
complementary institutions is fundamental. For example, independence
of the supreme electoral tribunal, that is, not only is the establishment of the law required that promotes and that basically
defines the mechanism through which political campaigns and parties are financed, if there is not one institution responsible for ensuring
that it is properly complied with and that requires strong institution independent institutions, and by
independent I mean not only from the financial standpoint, but
also from the political standpoint. That’s a fundamental issue. The second issue is a task that is pending and if we compare ourselves with more developed countries where it works, concerns the theme of
effective collaboration However, unfortunately that has been
used in other countries to judicialize the politics and neither
we can come to use these instruments as political instruments. I think that the consciousness of the citizen has been influenced in important ways. The issue of social networks for example has a very important impact in the fight against corruption and many other elements.
However, we can not leave everything to the informality, to this kind of thing or to
public denunciations. We must have institutions, for example in Honduras we proceeded with the creation of special courts to pursue issues of corruption and prevent it from contaminating others much more specialized ones, that have
another type of training. But we go back again to the point about institutions: Institutions, budget, human capital. And this is a process that takes time. Let’s look a little bit to the long term You well know that the exercise of power
puts very strong incentives on politicians to encapsulate us with a very short-term perspective and dedicate ourselves to put out fires that are happening in
the present moment; with that in mind I wanted to ask you about the vision you have
of the country towards the future in two aspects First, in terms of the risks we face regarding climate change. Undoubtedly Honduras like the rest of the countries of the world, is especially vulnerable to these issues. It has very strong droughts that already
begin to materialize, floods, natural disasters, drastic changes in
the agricultural cycle of a country that is very dependent on farming and in the middle of being in this diatribe that is the political discourse and that is the bread and butter of every day in Latin America, how can we,
Ambassador, place this issue permanently in the political agenda that transcends the discourses that transcends the
discrepancies and that maybe is treated as an issue of national relevance?
Without a doubt, the topic of climate change in Honduras should be one of the three most important priorities in the country and unfortunately it is not.
For President Hernandez I know he has been convinced and has done work because he has suffered but we go back to the point, it
becomes a government policy because of a person who is very interested in the issue, but not in a state policy and I think we should already
advance to that. Honduras has been categorized in the
past years by Germanwatch that is an entity specialized in the issue of climate
vulnerability as the most vulnerable country in the world especially
to natural disasters, for example, especially to hurricanes and
excess of rain, but also to the subject of droughts and we don’t talk about it
but one of the main reasons why many people migrate is the subject of
the drought because many of the people are engaged as you well mentioned in subsistence agriculture not having water etc. it complicates things We have during the last two governments worked hard on the issue of water conservation, but not
from the societal point of view but precisely because it affects
directly the survival of many people
especially the most vulnerable those who have to survive and who
in the end when not having water and nothing to harvest decide to emigrate.
Some may look at at the US but others migrate to the city. We know that
there is also internal migration of people moving from rural areas to
urban area and that complicates the urban areas because they are not designed for this. Probably at another occasion we could talk about smart cities design for this type of situations But that is something that is happening.
How do we put this in the political agenda? because you know well as an economist
there will be no fiscal policy that will be able to address all the demand
generated by these natural disasters How do we say to the political class and
also to citizens, to society that this is a subject that transcends
the daily news cycle and discourse? The first is to recognize that we live in a
situation of that nature and I think that there is still a large part of the political class that does not understand it or sees it as an opportunity to be able to be
populist, to be able to do politics, unfortunately. And this happens by having a public policy or in this case a state policy that clearly defines the risks of climate change
as a priority especially in a country like Honduras that was
clearly categorized. This is no longer an issue of diagnosis but an issue that has to be internalized. In the short term it happens by recognizing that we are a highly vulnerable country and allocating resources for
prevention and this is part of a culture or is like the subject of the
insurance: nobody likes to pay the insurance because they think it will never happen to
but when an event happens to you the whole world says: it was worth having paid the insurance. Because many times they are resources that are reallocated
permanently and that nobody sees but that what is really happening is prevention. And then there is a series of policies to prevent climate change, use of resources use of the water basins.
I think that here we as a country we have been moving forward because we are very vulnerable but still, for example the issue of transforming the
energy matrix of the countries is a very important element, but at what cost? Honduras is living today with the issue of having transformed its energy matrix to have about 50 to 60 per cent now of renewable energy but the problem is the cost So today the problem from the point of view of governability is the cost of energy but nobody associates it with its benefit,
because in that price is implicit in one way or another, everything that contributes to prevent a further deterioration of the climate. So there is also a process of education and communication that
I think is a pending task at least at the level of Honduras We just saw the results of the last Latinobarometer survey that show that Latin American societies begin to
have a certain disenchantment with the democratic system. Obviously Honduras is not exempt from that. This together with a reality that the majority of the population in Honduras is less than 18 years, many would say that it has a
demographic dividend but this also causes challenges . With these two issues in mind, what is your vision, how do you see your country in the long term? I personally think that and I will continue thinking that with all its imperfections, democracy is for our societies the best system of government.
What we need to do is strengthen the democratic system and again that goes through strengthening the institutions, when the institutions are not credible and here I’m going to use something that at the time
when I was in charge of the cabinet they criticized me a lot for, and I insisted a lot on the issue of credibility and trust. I think that’s important because what society has lost is the credibility in the system, through the events of last November for example,
the corruption issues, the issues of insecurity, the lack of medicines in the
in hospitals, the fact that in the competitions about education we do not even appear or when we participate we don’t have the verifications; we have to think, is that exactly what we want as a society and surely the
answer is “no”. And that’s why the institutional strengthening issue
is essential to ensure that democracy functions. Not only do
I refer to the institutions of the executive as many times one relates
institutionality to executive power. I’m talking about that the mechanisms of
election of the congress of the Republic work, that they work at the level of local governments as well,
also the issue of the power of the judiciary At the end, all the institutions that promote
democracy, in this case the electoral court, we need the political parties because the political parties are also going through a crisis. Part of what is the problem of democracy
and in Honduras it is no exception has to do with the problem of the political parties. Without a doubt having a large part of the population so young generates a challenge from the social point of view because they demand precisely things that probably
the political class is not willing to give and that is probably, in my opinion,
exactly towards where we should be heading: the issue of policy reform, the issue of reforms in the social policies is fundamental to guarantee
the sustainability of the democratic system in the country, probably with
a different vision, there are some that can criticize the economic model, that
is debatable, I think it’s part of what society at the end will have to go on
defining, the same is true for the social system but in the end the fact of ensuring that
in the particular case of Honduras each four years society can go and choose who is going to govern or not and have that freedom is important and prevent some of the problems that unfortunately happened in the last elections in Honduras. Mr. Ambassador, many thanks for being with us today for this first episode.
Thank you again for the privilege to come back to this school and great to be able to talk to you about these issues. Thanks all of you for being with us today
and we look forward to having you with us for the next episodes In this new space for dialogue and discussion about Latin American Politics from the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University See you next time!

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