October 30, 2015
Miguel Interiano whips out a pocket-size copy of Honduran Municipal law and emphatically points out a highlighted section. This security guard wants everyone to know that the mayor of his small town has been taking advantage of its citizens, stealing money that should have gone to improve schools, clinics, and roads in the poor community.
Although it had been rumored for years that the mayor was stealing money for personal vacations and vehicles, when Interiano heard that the mayor had stolen a check for $4,250 dollars–more than many Hondurans make in a year—he knew he needed to seek help. He tried going to the government’s anti-corruption organization, and to the Secretary of Human Rights, but neither could answer his questions.
That’s when he saw an advertisement for the Association for a More Just Society’s newly opened Advocacy and Legal Advice Center* in the northern city of San Pedro Sula. It is the second center of its kind in Honduras, where AJS lawyers work with victims and witnesses of corruption to achieve justice in their cases.
The San Pedro Sula project’s lawyers were excited to take on Interiano’s case as the center’s first-ever. They gathered evidence with his help, pushing the government’s anti-corruption Public Prosecutor to take action. The case is now scheduled for trial and prosecutors are confident that they can win.
This kind of collaboration between community members and center staff is exactly what AJS is working towards. Because of the complexity of the Honduran legal system, the time commitment involved, and fear of retribution, corruption witnesses are often afraid to go through the process by themselves. Center staff are there to help them but don’t simply take over the case. In the words of Evelin, a staff member in San Pedro Sula, “We don’t work for people. We work with them.” Interiano is committed to continuing to work with AJS saying, “I care about my community, and don’t believe that our elected officials should be getting rich while everyone else is poor.”
And Interiano is not the only one, in the past five months, the center in San Pedro Sula has received over 60 cases of reported corruption and is gaining a reputation as a place that people can go to receive the help they need to achieve justice.
*AJS-Honduras is Transparency International’s chapter in Honduras. Transparency International is an anti-corruption watchdog group, and one of its initiatives is to assist Transparency International chapters in opening Advocacy and Legal Advice Centers where victims and witnesses of corruption can report what they’ve seen, and receive legal help to get justice in their cases.