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Monday, February 25, 2013

Honduras-U.S. Relations

Peter J. Meyer
Analyst in Latin American Affairs

Honduras, a Central American nation of 7.9 million people, has had close ties with the United States over many years. The country served as a base for U.S. operations in Central America during the 1980s, and it continues to host a U.S. military presence and cooperate on anti-drug efforts today. Trade and investment linkages are also long-standing, and have grown stronger in recent years through the implementation of the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). Migration is another central concern in bilateral relations; over 731,000 Hispanics of Honduran origin live in the United States, two-thirds of whom are foreign born. Although the U.S.-Honduras relationship was somewhat strained as a result of the 2009 political crisis in Honduras, close cooperation quickly resumed in 2010. Since then, broad U.S. policy goals in Honduras have included a strengthened democracy with an effective justice system that protects human rights and enforces the rule of law, and the promotion of sustainable economic growth with a more open economy and improved living conditions. 

Political Situation 

Porfirio Lobo was inaugurated president of Honduras in January 2010, assuming power after seven months of domestic political crisis and international isolation that had resulted from the June 2009 ouster of President Manuel Zelaya. While the strength of Lobo’s conservative National Party in the legislature has enabled his administration to pass much of its policy agenda, Lobo has had limited success in resolving the many challenges facing Honduras. His efforts to lead the country out of political crisis, for example, have helped Honduras secure international recognition but have done little to rebuild confidence in the country’s political system. An ongoing constitutional crisis triggered by the National Congress’ December 2012 removal of four Supreme Court justices demonstrates the extent to which democratic institutions remain fragile. Lobo is relatively unpopular as he enters the final year of his term, with 70% of Hondurans disapproving of his performance in office. 

Security and Human Rights 

The poor security and human rights situation in Honduras has continued to deteriorate under President Lobo. Honduras has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, and common crime remains widespread. Moreover, human rights abuses—which increased significantly in the aftermath of Zelaya’s ouster—have persisted. A number of inter-related factors have likely contributed to this situation, including the increasing presence of organized crime, weak government institutions, and widespread corruption. Although the Honduran government has adopted a number of policy reforms designed to address these challenges, conditions have yet to improve. 

Economic Conditions 

Lobo also inherited a weak economy with high levels of poverty and inequality. Honduras suffered an economic contraction of 2.1% in 2009 as a result of the combined impact of the global financial crisis and domestic political crisis. Although the economy has partially recovered, with estimated growth of 3.8% in 2012, the Honduran government continues to face serious fiscal challenges. The central government’s deficit has been growing since 2011, and it has struggled to finance the budget. Public employees and contractors have gone unpaid, and basic government services have been interrupted. Honduras also continues to face significant social disparities, with over two-thirds of the population living in poverty. 

Congressional Action 

Members of the 111
th and 112th Congresses expressed considerable interest in Honduras, focusing in particular on the state of the country’s democratic institutions in the aftermath of the 2009 political crisis as well as the significant security and human rights challenges that have plagued the country in recent years. These issues are likely to remain on the agenda for the 113th Congress.

This report examines current conditions in Honduras as well as issues in U.S-Honduras relations.

Date of Report: February 5, 2013
Number of Pages: 37
Order Number: RL34027
Price: $29.95

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