On June 7, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo announced that Araujo would be suspended for a period of 30 days, and administration of the country’s Ministry of Health would go to a specially appointed commission. According to Lobo, the move was necessary because a lack of effective management had contributed to a “crisis” in the Honduran health system. Also, El Heraldo reported that it had obtained a copy of internal government documents showing that some 2.5 million dollars meant for dengue medication had been unaccounted for during Araujo’s 2010-2012 term as head of Honduras’ national anti-dengue program.
Araujo’s case seemed like an open and shut case of official corruption. That is, until a report from high profile anti-corruption NGO Transformemos Honduras released a statement vouching for her as a public figure who has cooperated with them repeatedly to denounce fraudulent activity related to medication purchases in the past. While Transformemos Honduras said it welcomed an honest investigation into the allegations against Araujo, the group also praised her for taking steps to address abuses “which no one else had to courage to stand up against,” including the sale of low quality medication at inflated prices and theft.
According to the NGO, Araujo appeared with some of its representatives to meet with Lobo in the days before her suspension was announced, in order to address concerns about high-level corruption in the Ministry. From Transformemos’ press release:
There is strong evidence that those responsible for the irregularities found include economic and political groups that have historically used the Ministry of Health to profit by selling overpriced, poor quality drugs, in addition to abusing the internal procedures of the institution to place representatives of their interests. Among the partners of the main drug suppliers to state firms -- who have provided overpriced, low-quality drugs -- are people linked to mass media, others of the largest companies in the country, as well as senior politicians.In light of their evidence, Transformemos has launched a new campaign to speak out against these activities, known as “Pare el Robo” (Stop the Theft). Araujo has backed the campaign, and accuses President Lobo of suspending her because of his administration’s ties to the illicit racket. By way of response, she has announced her resignation and is fighting back against the administration in the public arena.
“One of my main mistakes was firing the woman in charge of buying medications, who was very close to someone in power,” Araujo said in an interview on Monday. “There are many interests at stake; there are economic interests, but also individual and family interests,” she added. When asked if she meant family members of President Lobo, Araujo nodded. “That’s right.” On Wednesday the former minister told La Tribuna that the ministry was obligated to purchase certain medications at exorbitantly high prices from pharmaceutical companies with ties to the government, even though the quality of their products were inferior.
Lobo, for his part, has coolly denied any wrongdoing. On Tuesday El Heraldo reported that, “although he does not like to address such matters after ending relations with an employee, the president made an exception to quell rumors.” According to Lobo, Araujo was simply dismissed because she was not handling administrative tasks like paying her employees on time or a shortage of medications in hospitals.
Meanwhile, the committee overseeing the ministry in Araujo’s stead has submitted its first report to the Lobo administration on suggested reforms to the health system. El Tiempo reports that its contents were not made public, against the request of Transformemos Honduras.
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- BBC Mundo profiles the blue-helmeted “cascos azules” who volunteer to serve as the watchdogs of police abuse at student protests in Chile, filming demonstrations and monitoring police behavior.