Protecting Lives from Tainted Medicines

  • October 30, 2015


How the vice president of the Honduran Congress was arrested following AJS investigations and calls for justice

Members of the powerful Gutiérrez family, including the vice president of congress, have recently been arrested for corruption.

This past March, the Honduran government ordered a shipment of medication for poor Honduran children who suffer from malnutrition. The supply could have helped 700,000 children — but the company handling the contract chose greed over the well-being of at-risk youth. When the medicines arrived, each bottle contained only four of the 11 required ingredients and weighed 17% less than it was supposed to.

This wasn’t the first time the company, called Astropharma, acted deceitfully. AJS investigations over the past five years had uncovered a whole list of shady dealings. But, this time when Astropharma tried to defend itself with flimsy excuses, the government did the right thing and terminated their contract.

So how do Astropharma’s contracts connect with the vice president of Congress? It’s simple. They own the company.

In 2009, four members of the powerful Gutiérrez family claimed to have sold their stake in the company to foreign investors. But, the sale was a sham.

A few months later, Lena Gutiérrez began her first term as a congresswoman. Quickly, she ascended the ranks and became the vice president of Congress.

That same year was a good year for Astropharma, specifically when it came to government contracts. The value of Astropharma’s government contracts increased by an astonishing 1000%.In the years since, Astropharma’s unethical business continued, including putting thousands of Honduran lives at risk with faulty medications and medical supplies.

The end of June 2015 brought big news. The Honduran Supreme Court had issued an arrest warrant for Lena and three other members of the Gutiérrez family — plus 12 other people linked to the Astropharma contracts. The family members were put under house arrest.

The arrest was a victory for AJS staff who had spent hundreds of hours gathering proof of Astropharma’s wrongdoings and who knew all too well how the company’s bad medicine and corrupt activities were hurting the poor. The AJS staff relentlessly sought justice.

AJS staff continue to apply public pressure on the government to monitor the case as it goes through the legal process. There are powerful people involved in this case, and many other organizations have not dared to speak out. AJS is taking a bold public stand, and that is a risk in a country where violent intimidation is a regular tactic.

In 2014, with AJS’s help, 13 government officials were brought to trial for their involvement in corruption in the public health system.

Despite the very real threats that corrupt and violent individuals may use, AJS staff and other Honduran justice fighters are standing strong because they understand that being on the side of justice and love means being on God’s side.

In Jeremiah, Chapter 22, we read, “Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed.” Standing up to those who oppress the vulnerable through corruption isn’t just a good thing to do, it’s a command from God — and it’s part of our responsibility to love our neighbors.

When we remember the sacrifices that Christ gave when practicing love, we remember how costly and how precious love is meant to be — and the courage that it takes to live out.

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