President-Elect Aims To Deploy Honduran Army To Fight Crime

The crime, poverty and unemployment rates have increased in Honduras under outgoing President Porfirio Lobo of the conservative National Party. But voters have chosen to keep the party in power by electing Juan Orlando-Hernandez. Linda Wertheimer talks to Tracy Wilkinson, the Mexico bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, about the election.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

We'll look now at the tiny country of Honduras, which just held presidential elections on Sunday. It's among the most troubled spots in the Americas, plagued by poverty and one of the highest murder rates in the world. And the politics have long been dominated by elites in cahoots with the military. A losing candidate still disputes the results. But it looks like the election went to a right-wing candidate who promises to deploy the army in the fight against crime.

We go now to Tracy Wilkinson, a correspondent with The Los Angeles Times, who's in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. Tracy, thank you for joining us.

TRACY WILKINSON: Good morning. Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: What can you tell us about the president-elect?

WILKINSON: His name is Juan Orlando Hernandez. He is a candidate for the ruling National Party. He pretty much had all the cards in his hands, because he was able to use the machinery of the state and the government to bolster his campaign. It looks like he has won, probably with a little over a third of the vote.

WERTHEIMER: What appeal does he have?

WILKINSON: Hondurans are very afraid. The crime rate here is out of control. You know, I think I just randomly, on Election Day, spoke to maybe a dozen people, all had stories of having personally been assaulted or having relatives murdered. And so I've talked to people who actually said we want the military in the streets. You know, we want the military defending us.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think people are actually hoping that something like this might work?

WILKINSON: I think people are desperate, and so they see that that could help. On the other hand, every institution, essentially, in Honduras is weak and corrupt. And so it's very difficult to find the way to fight his battle. It's going to be a much longer process of trying to recreate institutions in a country where that's not been a priority. You know, Honduras has long been a country where a small handful of elite families run the place pretty much as their own plantation. Frankly, I don't see any great reform coming from him. What may happen, however - and this is important in this election. Because there were, for the first time, a real opposition force, there will be a more diverse congress. And so there will be voices that can still fight for change in that way.

WERTHEIMER: Tracy, has the U.S. been involved there in recent years, on issues like the ones you mentioned - the drug trafficking, for example?

WILKINSON: The U.S. in the form of the DEA and other agencies, the military, the U.S. Army, they've all been very involved with Honduran police and military forces in terms of trying to fight drug trafficking. This has also been quite controversial, because they are working with a police force that is very corrupt.

The DEA has actually been drawn into several deadly incidents in which they and the Hondurans they were working have killed Hondurans who may or may not have been drug traffickers. The United States has been pouring millions of dollars into Honduras to fight drug trafficking. That aid has been periodically suspended because of the accusations of human rights abuses by the police and other forces here. And I think that many people in Congress have asked the administration to rethink U.S. policy here, and just how closely they work with the Hondurans.

WERTHEIMER: That is Los Angeles Times correspondent Tracy Wilkinson, reporting from Tegucigalpa. Tracy, thank you.

WILKINSON: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

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