Honduran prosecutors go hungry in corruption protest
For 38 days from April 7, the large square outside the congress building in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa became a campsite and the scene of constant protests as supporters backed eight public prosecutors on hunger strike against corruption.
According to international watchdog Transparency International, Honduras is level with countries such as Liberia and Burundi in terms of corruption - which costs the country US$894 million annually. A coalition of humanitarian organisations, trade unions, church groups and human rights organisations supported the strike as part of the fight for democracy and the rights of the poor. They also called for an independent press to replace the government-owned media, which is subject to manipulation and censorship.
The prosecutors had been threatened with the sack by the Attorney General because of an investigation they were carrying out into 16 corruption cases involving high-ranking politicians and businessmen. The main demands of the hunger strikers were the dismissal of the Attorney General and his deputy, as well the creation of a commission to investigate and tackle corruption in general.
The well-known Honduran singer Karla Lara and other artists were among the 50 people who joined the strike for shorter periods. “Corruption destroys our country. This strike is a historic opportunity to fight corruption and make a change,” Lara said. “It’s tough. My children call me up and ask me why I’m not coming home, why it’s taking so long… However each one of the hunger strikers is willing to give their all, so that the situation in Honduras changes regarding impunity about corruption, because we feel that, if we win the struggle, it will create a legal precedent that will stop corruption in the way these cases are taken to court.”
The head of the Catholic and Protestant churches also declared their support. Evelio Reyes, leader of the Evangelical church Vida Abundante, said: “This struggle is not just social and political, it is religious too. If we believe in God, we must oppose any injustice and help weak and the oppressed.”
The hunger strike ended on May 15, and was described by the prosecutors as the first phase of “peaceful and civic resistance struggle”. They issued a statement emphasising the involvement of thousands of people who “have individually made theirs the fight that we have started - the social organisations, the popular and indigenous organisations, the Evangelical and Catholic churches and NGOs that have generously opened themselves to the call of dignity and justice for all Honduras”.
Despite commitments to investigate and suspend the Attorney General and his deputy, they vowed to continue their struggle “until Honduras is free from the corrupt political class and all those who protect and bless them”.
'We risk our lives for justice'
Juan Carlos Griffin Raminez sits in a white plastic chair at the edge of the square. He was one of the first prosecutors to go on hunger strike. On the 34th day, he can talk only for a few minutes before he has to rest. His body is worn out by lack of food. “We started the hunger strike because our constitution states that all are equal before the law. But in the current state, this doesn’t hold true for people without of wealth or power,” he says.
He explains there is a doctor on 24-hour watch and that four prosecutors have already been admitted to hospital. “We risk our lives for justice,” he says, gazing at his seven-year-old son, sitting quietly beside him. “I continue the strike for the children. We must win our demands if we want them to grow up in a fair and just society.”