MEXICO CITY — Honduran bishops urged voters to avoid supporting candidates “stained” by drug cartels in the November elections — an admonishment in a country where illegal money has long flowed into political campaigns and delegitimized the political class.

In a letter, the bishops’ conference called on citizens to vote in the Nov. 28 elections and to “overcome sentiments of indifference, apathy and skepticism provoked by our deficient system of government and its institutions,” while saying, “Honduras does not deserve that you vote for those who want to destroy it and look to win elections ‘at any cost,’ including deceptive and fraudulent actions.”

The letter also called for voters to “choose candidates who are not stained by corruption, organized crime and narcotics trafficking” and said they “must not be part of a fraud nor approve or consent to abuses of power, as occurred in previous electoral processes.”

The bishops also urged the political class to “free themselves of autocratic leadership and clientelism” and “to be persons with a true vocation of service to the poor.” Voters in Honduras often are coerced into voting for parties through giveaways and access to social programs or relief after natural disasters.

The call for clean elections comes after a difficult 12 years for Honduras, which was rocked by a coup in 2009 followed by elections tainted by accusations, illegal financing and influence from drug cartels.

The country is still recovering from twin storms that inundated northern Honduras in 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, in which relief was scant and accusations of corruption were rife.

President Juan Orlando Hernández has come under scrutiny as it was revealed his 2013 election was financed by funds embezzled from the country’s beleaguered health system. His brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, was convicted in a U.S. court on drug charges. Some of the proceeds of his activities were funneled into campaigns.

The president also won a questionable reelection in 2017, which was followed by mass protests and migration.

“The policy for many people has been to reject politics, rejecting this government … because poverty rates have remained high (and) there are new people who have gotten rich off the treasures of the state,” said Father Germán Calix, former director of the Catholic charitable network Caritas in Honduras.

“People are very resentful of that, and this is a letter against the actual government.”

In the 2021 elections, Hondurans have united behind Xiomara Castro, a former first lady and presidential candidate in 2013. Her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, was ousted in the 2009 coup, as his closeness with then-Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez spooked the opposition and business elite.

The National Party, which has ruled since 2009, is the largest political party in Central America and runs a vast patronage network, which critics say has been battered by corruption accusations, with anti-poverty money given to party supporters.

The Honduran bishops split in 2009 over the coup, with Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa accused of supporting the coup, which he denied.

“The church has had to drag that sin around for a long time,” Calix said, though the bishops’ conference “has been very tough” in recent years “against a political class that has not been very attentive to national problems.”