The complicated narcopolitico dance

Last year, liberation theologian and recognized Resistence leader Padre Fausto Milla publicly stated that LIBRE had high-level drug traffickers among its candidates. This earned him—no surprise—the enmity of the party, who threatened in return to sue. Of course that didn't go anywhere; it's impossible to run a political party (or any large business for that matter) without some drug money in Honduras. Padre Melo was similarly attacked for his role in publishing a survey that showed less than overwhelming support for the then-newly founded party, in early 2012. Critiques of LIBRE from the left, since they provide such great fodder for its enemies on the right (apologies for using those very inaccurate terms; they're shortcuts), often result in accusations of treason that are read by the critics themselves as Stalinist.

A couple days ago when the news came of Chepe Handal's blacklisting by the U.S. Treasury Department, my first question was why Chepe, and not any of the other US allied Honduran drug kingpins? Who in Honduras benefited from his censure? One answer came quickly from the media. Articles from La Tribuna, La Prensa and El Tiempo took pains to identify him as being either a candidate for or a member of LIBRE. He had indeed been a candidate for the floundering Liberal Party, which self-immolated following the coup, but lost in the fraudulent primary elections held last November. "Amor Paz y Vida!" proclaim the promotional tee-shirts worn by likely paid followers pictured on his campaign website. Following his loss, he does seem to have switched his party affiliation. But LIBRE has been in heavy damage control mode, denying any link with Handal in less mainstream media outlets and in press communiques.

LIBRE can't be blamed for disowning Chepe now, just as they can't really be blamed for not disowning him earlier. It's not like he became a narco two days ago when the Treasury Department announced it. Honduran electoral politics (all the parties) is just so full of narcos, and they're so powerful, that it would have been politically complicated for LIBRE to reject him as a supporter, or even candidate (supposing they wanted to). What were party leaders going to say? "You're a narco, so we won't let you in"? Slander. Risky. Not just losing money risky, but party leaders getting killed risky. You don't turn down a socio of Chapo Guzmán in Central America. Come. On. But once the U.S. picks sides by attacking a LIBRE-identified narco (but not a Liberal or Nacional, of which there are boatloads), LIBRE does indeed have to take the moral high ground.