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A Short History Of Corruption In Honduras (4/17/2016)

A Short History Of Corruption In Honduras (4/17/2016)

Open Spaces, April 1, 2017 --- Callejas was made President of the National Soccer Federation of Honduras, FENAFUTH (Federación Nacional Autónoma de Fútbol de Honduras) in 2002, during the Nacionalista presidency of Ricardo Maduro. According to Honduran sports magazine Diez, Callejas was appointed to the position with the expectation that he would "restructure" the organization.

Norma Regina de Callejas, wife of ex-President of Honduras cum-disgraced FIFA official Rafael Leonardo Callejas, is a common face in Honduras' most popular publications regarding the lifestyles of the country's bon-vivants, tellingly named "Estilo" and "Cromos". More than one (fortunate) Honduran will boast that Mrs. Callejas was at one point included in a list cataloguing the world's most elegant first ladies. It was the early nineties, a kind of belle époque for the nascent billionaires of Latin America.

Right around that time, the disastrous effects of neoliberal policies were becoming very visible. In 1992, the conservative Callejas government (1990-1994, Nacionalista Party) enacted the Ley para la Modernización y Desarollo del Sector Agrícola (Agricultural Sector Development and Modernization Act)., a website for the International Farmers' Movement (Movimiento Campesino Internacional), credits the law for sinking 2 million Honduran farmers into poverty and leaving another 2 million in "total indigence"[1].

And what did the law actually do? According to Viacampesina, it enabled large agricultural corporations to "take over" the best lands in the country to expand their respective plantations of export crops. In an article from 2014, the conservative local Honduran newspaper, "El Heraldo", warned that any attempts to tweak Callejas' Ley de Modernizacion would "destroy the productive units" within the Honduran agricultural sector [2]. Which units would be destroyed (the huge corporate ones or the family-owned ones), the article does not specify.

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The Honduran style magazine "Estilo" does not make any comment about Callejas' wealth in the article it ran in 2013 about the couple's Silver Wedding Anniversary – the story's photograph shows the happy couple standing at what appears to the edge of a balcony in their home overlooking the tree-less mountains that surround the Honduran capital city, Tegucigalpa [3]. Mrs. Callejas' earrings are stunning.

Perhaps "Estilo", like many people among the Honduran public today, didn't know that in 2004, a corruption charge against Mrs. Callejas' husband that was mysteriously dropped by the Honduran Attorney General's Office. Perhaps the magazines also did not know that the man who was the Honduran Attorney General in 2004, Ovidio Navarro, had at one point worked as Mr. Callejas' personal solicitor. Interestingly, "Estilo" magazine belongs to the same media conglomerate that owns El Heraldo, the newspaper the decried the disastrous effects that would befall Honduras if it modified Callejas' Agricultural Modernization Law [4]. We can take some comfort in knowing that the American Embassy in Tegucigalpa did know about the Attorney General's shenanigans at the time, and in Ambassador Larry Palmer's 2004 note to an unknown recipient about the issue, he seems disappointed in the Honduran authorities [5].

Callejas was made President of the National Soccer Federation of Honduras, FENAFUTH (Federación Nacional Autónoma de Fútbol de Honduras) in 2002, during the Nacionalista presidency of Ricardo Maduro. According to Honduran sports magazine "Diez", Callejas was appointed to the position with the expectation that he would "restructure" the organization [6]. Reviewing his tenure at FENAFUTH when he left the position in 2015, "Diez" magazine (which belongs to the same conglomerate that owns "El Heraldo" and "Estilo") referred to Callejas as the "most successful FENAFUTH president in the organization's history" [6]. In 2009, while Callejas was still FENAFUTH president, Honduras was rocked by the coup d'état that removed the democratically elected leftist President Manuel Zelaya and flew him out of the country before daybreak on June 28. Zelaya was from the other major Honduran party, the Liberal Party. The country came to a standstill for several days afterward. A nightly curfew was imposed in much of the country from the night of the ouster (Sunday night, June 28) till Tuesday morning (June 30) [7].

In the department of El Paraíso, which has a large indigenous population, the curfew lasted all 24 hours of the day [7]. On July 1st, the Honduran Congress issued an order which suspended the constitutional rights of freedom of transit, freedom of association and the guarantee of due process within 24 hours of arrest [8]. Throughout July, several individuals including a former union leader, an activist in the Campesino movement, and an LGBT leader were murdered [9]. Fortunately for Honduran soccer fans, 5 soccer matches of well-known local Honduran teams that are part of FENAFUTH's purview were successfully held on July 18th [10], less than a month after the coup. Callejas was, after all, dubbed the "most successful FENAFUTH president".

On March 28 of this year, in a Federal US courtroom in Brooklyn [11], Callejas pleaded guilty to a corruption case against him involving FIFA, the international organization that governs soccer around the world. He acknowledged having received for selling the TV rights to various of the Honduran national soccer team's matches during his 13-year tenure as FENAFUTH president.

According to the New York Times, Callejas distributed much of the bribes to other figures within FENAFUTH to ensure his re-election as President of the Soccer Federation [11]. Five days later, on April 2, FENAFUTH held the "classic" soccer match between Honduras' two most famous soccer teams, Olimpia and Motagua in the capital city [12]. This was 25 days after the highly publicized murder of Berta Cáceres, an environmental activist who was fighting a dam project that was approved to go forward on indigenous land by another Nacionalista government. It was also 13 days after the murder of another Honduran environmental activist and indigenous leader, Nelson García.

It certainly could be by sheer coincidence that soccer matches appear to happen relatively quickly in Honduras after major national events. Or there could be a reason that FENAFUTH officials (some of whom apparently accepted bribes to allow Callejas to keep his position) want the Honduran public to move on from the story that a former President who was previously accused (and cleared) of corruption pleaded guilty to corruption in an American court, and away from the stories of the murdered activists. Just like there might also be a reason that whomever directed FENAFUTH in 2009 (ahem, Callejas) had an interest in shifting the national dialogue away from the coup and towards soccer.

Callejas pleaded guilty to the FIFA case without major ado, without a high-profile defense team to challenge the charges of corruption that land him in prison for 40 years. At 72, it's doubtful he has that long to live. Going quietly might buy him leniency, and also let him avoid stirring up the dust about the 2004 dropped corruption case, the revocation of his visa by the US in 2006 due to corruption charges [13], and the little-known fact that after serving as President, he became a member of the Central American Parliamentary Body (PARLACEN, Parlamento Centroamericano), which is regarded by some as a refuge for ex-politicians seeking protection from national investigations because membership confers political immunity in all of Central America [14]. Candidates for induction into the PARLACEN are determined by ruling political parties and induction itself involves a mysterious formula few people know [15] and which is apparently not available on the organization's website. That he is taking this beating quietly is probably something for which many of his friends are grateful. Because who knows what could happen if Hondurans start demanding answers to these questions of their current Nacionalista government.


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