MEXICO CITY — Caritas Honduras has called for transparency in the distribution of COVID-19 assistance, which, according to a crescendo of accusations, has been used for political purposes in the impoverished country rife with corruption.
Father German Calix, director of Caritas Honduras, told Catholic News Service that the church’s charitable arm wanted an investigation to “prove or disprove” accusations of medical supplies being purchased at inflated prices and local officials — responsible for providing food to people in quarantine — only offering assistance to those affiliated with the political party in power.
“The accusations are so great and so frequent that the government is obliged to investigate,” Calix said.
In a strongly worded statement, Caritas’ youth ministry said, “It’s a popular outcry to stop the COVID-19 pandemic. But the outcry is equally strong to stop the other virus: corruption, which has produced so much damage in our society and is one of the causes of poverty in Honduras.”
The statement, issued April 30 with the title “The pandemic lays bare corruption,” continued, “The phantom of a worsening poverty … makes it so the population is deeply suspicious and sensitive to all that the abuse of public positions means.”
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez has addressed the COVID-19 crisis by declaring a quarantine and providing food assistance, which is distributed on the local level to people in their homes.
The accusations follow an old pattern of political parties providing assistance in exchange for support. A common practice also involves party leaders needing to provide approval for people being hired for public positions, say sources in Honduras.
Calix said the distribution on the local level was proceeding with fewer problems than on the federal level, although the National Anti-Corruption Council said masks were being sold at inflated prices.
“There are always anomalies,” said Father Edwin Guardado, director of Caritas in the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Copan. “The government sent a fund to each municipality to buy food … but there’s always corruption.”
Some of the COVID-19 assistance, he said, was going to “people close to those that manage these groups overseeing the pandemic.”
Guardado said Caritas employees and church volunteers were distributing food to people in the rural western part of the country.
“In this area, people have been very generous … and many people have shared with us,” he said.
Corruption has corroded Honduras for decades but has become especially notorious in recent years and has stained the Hernandez administration. Funds embezzled from the health system ended up in his 2013 election campaign and physicians, who protested in 2019 during a dengue outbreak, have made subsequent accusations of looting by public officials.
Calix said the health sector was weakened and unprepared for the arrival of the coronavirus and that the lack of trust in the authorities has made people in some parts of the country doubt the pandemic warnings they receive.
Honduran bishops have demanded transparency in the pandemic response, saying in an April 16 statement, “Corruption shatters all leadership and, once again, brings about mistrust and ungovernability.”
They also called for not returning to “normalcy,” saying, “It would mean that we should accept violence, injustice, poverty, corruption and the violation of laws and the constitution. … All this is the true virus that impoverishes us and destroys us as a society.”