Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández will arrive for a brief visit next week, his second in just over a year, to put finishing touches on a massive security deal to significantly upgrade that Central American country’s ability to battle its crime scourge.
Hernández will arrive on December 7 and was last here in October 2015. Two visits by a president of the same country in just over one year is unusual.
Hernández will be preceded in Jerusalem by a few days by Uruguay’s Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa, who arrived Wednesday evening for a four-day visit.
Novoa arrived just as Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales – who visited during the first half of the week – finished his state visit, amid talk of a historic visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Latin America in 2017.
If such a visit takes place, it would be the first visit by a sitting prime minister to South or Central America, part of Netanyahu’s push to significantly strengthen Israel’s relations in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
In the 13-month interim since Hernández’s last visit, Israel and Honduras signed a massive security deal that was recently approved by the Honduran National Congress.
At a press conference earlier this month, Hernández – according to the Honduran government’s official website – said that the deal will allow for the upgrading of the country’s naval and air forces “like never before.” This includes the refurbishment of the Honduran Air Force’s entire helicopter fleet, as well as many of its fixed-wing aircraft.
According to IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly, the contracts are worth $209 million.
Hernández, at his press conference, said Israel has also committed to collaborating on “issues of intelligence and cybersecurity.”
Hernández said the technology, which he declined to detail, will give the Honduran government capabilities it has never had before to “protect its territory, sovereignty and people.”
Up until now, he said, the criminals often had more resources and better technology than the government.
Over the summer, when Hernández announced that he was seeking approval for the deal, he termed it “a very important agreement that is crucial for the growth of the Honduran nation. This will provide the basis of fortifying our armed forces with capabilities that we likely never would have obtained.”
He said that his country would benefit from the “latest generation” of Israeli technology.
Gangs, organized crime and drugs have long plagued Honduras, and for many years it had a reputation for being the “murder capital of the world.”
Though the homicide rate there has fallen by 30% over the past four years, from 86.5 per 100,000 people in 2011 to 60 per 100,000 last year, it still suffers from some of the highest murder rates in the world.
The US State Department continues to have a travel warning in place for the country, saying that the “level of kidnapping crime and violence in Honduras remains critically high.
“Criminal activity is a serious problem throughout the country, and the government of Honduras lacks sufficient resources to properly respond to, investigate, and prosecute cases. As a result, criminals operate with a high degree of impunity throughout Honduras,” the warning reads.
During Hernández’s trip to Israel in 2015, Netanyahu said that Jerusalem appreciates the friendship with Honduras, which is expressed in various international forums.
Just a month earlier, Honduras – along with Paraguay and Uruguay – were the three Latin American countries that voted for Israel in a critical resolution in the International Atomic Energy Agency that, had it passed, would have forced Israel to open its nuclear facilities to international inspections.
In a related development, the visit of Uruguay’s Novoa comes at a time when that country holds diplomatic sway, since it is a member of the 15-nation UN Security Council until the end of 2017. In the summer of 2015, Netanyahu phoned Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez to thank him for his country’s support for Israel in international forums.
That phone call came after Uruguay broke out of the bloc of Latin American countries that automatically vote against Israel, and began supporting Jerusalem in votes in international and regional bodies.
For instance, Uruguay – a significant world soccer power – helped Israel defeat Palestinian efforts in 2015 to get it kicked out of FIFA, soccer’s world governing body.
Uruguay’s shift toward Israel began when Vázquez took over as president in March 2015, replacing José Alberto Mujica. Mujica termed Israel’s operation in Gaza in 2014 a “genocide,” and called the Gaza Strip a “big concentration camp.”