US Media Ignores Massive Scandals Surrounding Honduras President as He Visits Washington

The president of Honduras traveled to Washington, DC for a two-day official visit this week, and the mainstream US media completely ignored explosive charges leveled against the president’s brother, his political mentor, and other current and former Honduran elites.

During President Juan Orlando Hernández’s trip to Washington, he met with many of the top officials in the US government — which one would think would make this visit newsworthy in and of itself.

The president began his tour of Washington’s halls of power by meeting with several leading members of Congress, including Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Kay Granger, Norma Torres, Bob Menendez, Marco Rubio, Bob Corker and Benjamin Cardin.

Hernández also met with other top US officials, including Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who himself made many trips to Honduras as head of the US Southern Command from 2012 to 2015.

The Honduran president also met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as well as the head of the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, William Brownfield.

He even met with Vice President Mike Pence.

But most major US media outlets completely ignored Hernández’s visit.

The New York Times … nothing:

The Washington Post … nothing:

Reuters … nothing:

The Associated Press … nothing:

The Wall Street Journal did not cover Hernández’s visit, either. But a few days earlier the news outlet ran a story that should have made the Honduran president’s visit a fairly big news story, even in the midst of such a crowded news cycle. But the Journal’s headline (“Trafficker says he met with the Honduran president’s brother”) downplays the explosive nature of the actual statements made by the trafficker in question.

As we reported on March 20 at InSight Crime, Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, the former head of the drug trafficking group known as the “Cachiros” who later became a DEA informant, testified in a federal court in New York that not only had he met with President Hernández’s brother Tony, but that Tony had asked Rivera Maradiaga for bribes in exchange for making payments to a company controlled by the Cachiros organization.

To state it plainly, Rivera Maradiaga alleged that the brother of the current president of Honduras solicited bribes from a known drug trafficker. And he made those allegations just days before the president met with some of the top officials in the US government. And the US mainstream media said absolutely nothing about it.

But there’s more to the story. Not only did Rivera Maradiaga accuse President Hernández’s brother of having ties to organized crime, he had also testified earlier this month that he repeatedly bribed Hernández’s presidential predecessor and political mentor, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo. (These allegations were made in testimony given at the trial of Pepe Lobo’s son, Fabio, who has pled guilty to drug trafficking charges in the New York court.)

It is remarkable, to say the least, that President Hernández could meet with so many of the most powerful people in the US government just days after these explosive allegations were made public, and that not one of those officials — and not a single major US media outlet — would raise the issue, even in passing.

(The Guardian provided some of the only mainstream coverage of Hernández’s visit, but that outlet’s article focused entirely on protesters heckling the president over his government’s handling of the investigation of the murder of prominent environmental activist Berta Cáceres.)

The lack of mainstream coverage of these allegations is particularly galling, considering the close relationship between the United States and Honduras, particularly with regard to security and law enforcement matters. It is disappointing that the US mainstream media has so utterly failed to inform the American people about significant developments that could affect public attitudes about the United States’ cooperation with and assistance to the Central American country — which is one of the most violent and corrupt in the region.

“This man killed himself in such a painful way, specifically to get our attention on these things” – UPDATED

At about 4:30 on Friday, I was standing outside the building where I work, smoking a cigarette, just a few blocks from the National Mall. A helicopter was circling overhead at a low altitude – strangely low, I thought. Just at that moment, an unmarked, fire-engine red SUV flew past me down 7th street with flashing lights and a screeching siren. I watched it until it stopped near the Mall.

I watched curiously for a few more moments as more emergency vehicles flooded to the same point. My inner journalist had the almost irresistible urge to run down to the scene and start asking questions, but I was on the clock at my “real” job and after the news from the day before, I decided that it would be prudent to stay at a safe distance from the commotion.

I took out my phone and checked Twitter. Unconfirmed reports of a “man on fire” started popping up in my feed. One tweet (I think it was from NBC) reported that it might have had something to do with “loose materials” at a “homeless encampment.” I resigned myself to heading back to my cubicle and hunkering down for the last half hour before the weekend.

Since that time, we have learned precious little more than these scant “facts”:

1) The man (as of this writing, still unidentified) self-immolated using gasoline as an accelerant.

2) The fire was extinguished by “good Samaritans.”

3) He was conscious and breathing when he was airlifted to the hospital (by the National Park Police helicopter I saw) but has since succumbed to his injuries.

4) He was definitely photographed at close range and the entire incident was potentially filmed by an accomplice.

His motives are unclear at this point. Some reports cited eyewitnesses who say he saluted the Capitol building and that he may have referenced something about voting rights before lighting himself on fire.

Whatever the case may be, the incident has achieved shockingly little airtime on both local and national media. Self-immolation has a long history as a form of political protest and the choice of venue for this particular incident strongly suggests that this is the case here.

Politically-motivated self-immolation in the United States was a prominent protest “tactic” – as emotionless and academic as that term may be – during peak of domestic resistance  to the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Here is a quick list (h/t Wikipedia) of those who self-immolated in protest of that war.

Alice Herz  – March 26, 1965; Detroit

Roger Allen LaPorte – November 10, 1965; UN building, New York City

Florence Beaumont – October 15, 1967; Federal Building, Los Angeles

George Winne, Jr. – May 11, 1970; University of California, San Diego

Arguably the most well-known act of self-immolation in this country’s history happened in Washington, DC on November 2, 1965 when Norman Morrison set himself on fire in front of the Pentagon office of then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

After the end of the Vietnam War, the next high-profile act of self-immolation this country experienced was that of Kathy Change (October 22, 1996; University of Pennsylvania), a long-time pro-democracy activist whom many considered to have been dealing with mental-health issues. (Then again, as Kurt Vonnegut put it “A sane person to an insane society must appear insane.”)

On November 3, 2006, Malachi Ritscher (born Mark David Ritscher) self-immolated to protest the US’s invasion of Iraq. His suicide was largely ignored by the media for at least a week (arguably longer). He too was said to have struggled with mental health issues. Nonetheless, as Jennifer Diaz, a student who never met Ritscher but conducted research into his life, said “This man killed himself in such a painful way, specifically to get our attention on these things” referring to US actions in the Middle East.

Before the events of Friday, October 4, 2013, the most recent incidence of self-immolation in this country was June 15, 2011 when Thomas James Ball self-immolated on the steps of a family courthouse in New Hampshire in protest of what he perceived to be injustice by the court in violation of his rights as a father.

I think Diaz’s other quote about Ritscher pretty much sums up my feelings on this: “I’m not going to sit by and I can’t sit by and let this go unheard.” If someone is willing to take their own life in such a painful and public manner, the least we can do as a society is to try to understand what motivated them to do so.

— UPDATE (h/t John Anderson, @diymediadotnet): Last month a man in Houston attempted but failed to light himself on fire in front of the Exxon building in Houston. One witness was quoted as saying, “It was a couple of people saying it was because he couldn’t find a job.”

– UPDATE #2 Sam Husseini’s prescient post (from 2 years ago!) is definitely worth a read. Also, thanks to him for the info I missed in my overly-hasty research.

Chris Hayes Goes “All In”

Read this piece in its entirety at the South Florida Arts Review.

At 8 p.m. Monday night, Chris Hayes, formerly of MSNBC’s “Up” – scheduled unfortunately early on Saturday mornings – debuted his new prime-time weeknight show (the unfortunately named) “All In.” Somebody should have checked with Paula Broadwell about the rights to that…