Eight individuals are vying for the presidency of Honduras, including Jorge Aguilar, Juan Orlando Hernández, Salvador Nasralla, Andrés Pavón, Orle Solís, Romeo Vásquez, Mauricio Villeda, and Xiomara Castro de Zelaya. The general elections will be held on November 24, 2013. The following are 10 critical questions for the candidates to ponder and figure out how they're going to confront them and implement strategies for effectively dealing with them. Each had better have a plan in place in case he (or she) wins, because he (or she) will need to get to work as soon as possible. There will be no "honeymoon period." There will not be the luxury of figuring things out as you go along. Honduras cannot afford another president who ad-libs, wings it.
One of the advantages of having a professional civil service is that whenever there is a new government administration, most of the workers remain in their positions, regardless of party affiliation or personal loyalties. It is this continuity that allows government to be responsive and effective. In Honduras, this has never been the case, which is one of the reasons governments have always tended to be dysfunctional. Given this reality, how do you plan to implement your ideas for addressing critical issues and govern effectively, and what are the top three problems you intend to resolve if you are elected president of Honduras?
2. Crime, Gangs & Drugs
Honduras is experiencing a wave of crime and violence like it has never known before in its history. Much of it is related to illegal drug trafficking overseen by organized crime syndicates in partnership with violent gangs. It is a market that is being fueled by the huge demand for illegal drugs by consumers in the United States, and so there is only so much the Honduran government can do to deal with the situation. Besides spending more money to expand, equip, and train the police and military, what will you do to improve security in the country and make Hondurans start to feel safer and confident that things will get better soon?
Honduras has one of the worst public education systems in the Western Hemisphere. It has been said that we are 100 years behind Costa Rica. Teachers are constantly on strike because they often do not get paid consistently, and students seldom receive the full 200 days of classroom instruction they are due each year... and sometimes not even half of that. Even when students are in class, the quality of their education and schools is poor. How do you plan to fix the system, specifically with regard to ensuring that teachers get paid on time every time, and radically improving the curriculum and repairing facilities so that students are inspired to want to learn?
The tax collection system in Honduras is inefficient. A large portion of the Honduran population either does not pay taxes or does not pay their fair share. A big part of the problem is logistical and administrative. But another part is simply that individuals and businesses avoid paying. What specifically will you do to modernize the tax collection system? Apart from threatening legal action and prison sentences, what can you realistically do to encourage people to pay up?
5. Foreign Investment
The Lobo administration has emphasized the need to attract foreign investment. It came up with the "Honduras is Open for Business" event, and is pushing the so-called "Model Cities" initiative. Given the crime situation and all the bad publicity that comes with that, how do you intend to effectively sell Honduras to tourists and business people without being dishonest and trying gloss over the fact that it is one of the most violent countries in the world (with a staggering homicide rate of 86 murders per 100,000 people), and also one of the most corrupt? How do you plan to move to repair the roads, highways, and bridges that have seriously decayed or collapsed throughout the country?
Each year, Transparency International of Germany publishes a "Corruption Perceptions Index" which regularly lists Honduras as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. While there is some dispute about the methodology used, and thus the accuracy of the study, the reality of extreme corruption in Honduras cannot be denied, particularly within government. Every politician promises to fight against corruption, but the truth is that corruption is a cultural and systemic problem throughout Honduran society. How would you proceed to deal thoughtfully with this issue, knowing that you will not be able to solve the problem in your lifetime -- much less in a four-year term?
7. Abuse of Women & Children
In recent years, more than 80 percent of all birth certificates issued in Honduras do not name a father. The family structure is disintegrating, and this has led to a crisis of abuse of women and children. There is an epidemic of "femicide" in Honduras. Over 3,000 women have died violently in Honduras since 2002. An untold number of children are being sexually abused. Given the weakness of Honduras' legal system, a lack of police in communities, and the inability of courts to place at-risk women and children in protective environments, how to you intend to protect victims and begin to improve the system and culture that allows the abuse to persist?
The public healthcare system in Honduras is a mess. Doctors and nurses frequently go on strike because they have not been paid their salaries or have not received promised wage increases. Hospitals and clinics often lack basic equipment in good working order and basic medications and supplies. Often, the administrators are incompetent because they are political appointees with little or no administrative and managerial background. What is your vision for improving healthcare services -- specifically fixing existing equipment and facilities, streamlining distribution processes, and ensuring competent administrators?
9. Sanitation & Clean Water
The poor health of many Hondurans (and thus their capacity to learn and work productively) is directly related to horrendous sanitation and the lack of clean drinking water. Many sanitation problems, including disease outbreaks and chronic poor health, are linked to bad or non-existent city planning and overcrowding. The lack of clean water is often linked to the polluting of water resources by industries that go unregulated. Given that the essence of a productive society lies in the health of its people, how do you plan to ensure a higher level of sanitation and access to clean water for those at risk?
Honduras must rely on imported oil and gas to meet a large portion of its energy needs, leaving it susceptible to fluctuations in international market prices for these commodities. The Lobo administration has emphasized alternative energy resources such as solar and wind, and it has moved to build new hydroelectric projects along rivers such as the Patuca. What are your ideas for improving energy efficiency in Honduras, and transitioning the country away from its dependence on expensive imported fuels?