A few weeks ago, the U.S. women’s soccer team captured news headlines after being airlifted out of Honduras by the U.S. military since the country closed its borders on March 15 to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. There are currently 702 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Honduras, the majority of them concentrated in the country’s industrial heartland. Unlike the U.S., the poor nation has implemented a full-scale curfew and essentially shut down its economy. In fact, a person that goes out for any reason other than for food, gasoline or medical supplies can be arrested by the national police. The Honduran government resorted to these extreme measures because the country’s health care system cannot handle a coronavirus outbreak. Recent data suggests that the country’s cases have reached a peak, which has prompted Honduran officials to extend the national curfew last week. Although the Honduran government has been able to control the pandemic through extreme measures, it is not prepared to deal with the economic and political impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Honduras has caught the attention of Americans in recent years for its most famous export: unaccompanied minors. In the impoverished Central American nation of 9 million people, more than 40% of its citizens live in extreme poverty. Thousands of unaccompanied minors migrate to the U.S. each year to escape poverty and violence while thousands are already working in the U.S. to help support their families in Honduras. In fact, remittances make up about 20% of Honduras’ GDP, which means that an economic recession in the U.S. that affects Honduran immigrants will translate into an economic fallout in Honduras that represents a large part of its economy. A similar situation occurred after the 2009 coup d’etat when the U.S. suspended $30 million in aid, the E.U. suspended $90 million in aid and other countries imposed sanctions on the de facto government. The Honduran economy went into recession and most families survived on remittances from relatives abroad in Spain and the U.S. However, in a world where Spain and the U.S. are facing some of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19 and reduced economic activity, the prospects of Honduran immigrants in these countries sustaining 20% of Honduras’ GDP are almost nonexistent. Nonetheless, President Trump announced that he will send ventilators and support Honduras with testing. The International Monetary Fund has also disbursed $143 million in loans to the Honduran government to fight the pandemic.
Honduras faces internal political problems that will magnify the economic impact of the pandemic. Since the election of the unpopular Juan Orlando Hernandez, the state has been cracking down on gang violence, journalists, and activists such as Berta Caceres. In 2013, the state embezzled more than $120 million from its social security system to fund political campaigns, including the current President’s campaign. In the past few weeks, armed soldiers have delivered food to some 3.2 million Hondurans under lockdown because gangs have been vying with the state for control of areas in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. Moreover, Honduras is holding its general elections in 2021, which is a somber prospect in a country where the past two elections resulted in political instability, violence and the militarization of the state. If political instability ensues from the upcoming 2021 elections, any hope for economic recovery will be postponed.
The U.S. and other international organizations must work closely with the Honduran government to make sure that it will use international aid and its own economic plans to keep the Honduran economy afloat. More important, the international community must keep a close eye on President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s use of executive power, as some observers are worried he is creating an executive framework to stay in power in 2021. Coupled together, these actions will help an unprepared Honduras stay politically and economically stable as COVID-19 continues to shake the world’s political and economic institutions.
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Michael Hernandez is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.