Tegucigalpa, Honduras – As the sun set and darkness began to fall on the Honduran capital, it was the light of marchers’ torches that illuminated the road.
We came here to cover the protests that have been growing over the past month following a corruption scandal at the country’s social security agency.
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The agency provides one in eight Hondurans with healthcare. But corrupt officials robbed it of hundreds of millions of dollars and companies provided tainted medicine that have been linked to the death of at least 11 women.
Now soldiers have taken over public hospitals. Meanwhile, people end up waiting in line hours every day for their prescriptions to be filled or to see a doctor. Often they go home without their pills or have to buy them at a private pharmacy.
The response from thousands of Hondurans? Basta! Enough! Enough corruption, enough lies, enough politics as usual.
President Juan Orlando Hernandez has admitted that his party received donations from companies linked to the scandal, but he denies any personal involvement.
He’s calling for a dialogue with protesters. But they’ve shown no desire for negotiations and are calling for an international independent commission to investigate corruption.
The marches are the largest social movement to hit Honduras since the 2009 coup that forced President Manuel Zelaya from power. For many, the demonstrations are rooted in that turbulent event.
For the protests came not just in the wake of the scandal but also weeks after the Supreme Court removed a single-term constitutional limit on the presidency.
It was the same constitutional clause that conservatives feared Zelaya wanted to overturn that led to him being arrested in his pajamas and flown out of the country six years ago.
The National party supported the coup on the pretence that they were protecting the country from Zelaya’s perpetual rule. But apparently it backed the court’s decision to gut the constitution now that a conservative member of the party can benefit from re-election.
That brings us to the protests.
Many, fearing Juan Orlando Hernandez’s probable re-election, began drawing attention to the scandal and his party’s role.
Lena Gutierrez, fellow National party member and vice president of the congress, has been charged with fraud and other crimes in the social security case.
Meanwhile, calls for the president’s resignation have grown in frequency and volume.
Leftist economist Nelson Avila says the wave of protests is unprecedented in this small, violent and corrupt country.
“Regardless of the short term impact of these protests,” Avila said.
“In the long run it’s clear this nation can no longer tolerate corrupt politicians – criminals that is – in control.”
As thousands of marchers walked along the capital’s main boulevard, many proclaimed that they weren’t going to take it any more.
With corruption so rooted in Honduras, it will probably take more than marches to clean up politics in a country where it is so prevalent.