It is an extremely dangerous game whenever a political leader attempts to paint an opponent as an enemy of the state, or at the very least traitorous or unpatriotic, because if the label should manage to stick, then it opens the way for the opponent to be treated differently -- perhaps denied his or her civil rights, perhaps denied due process under the law, perhaps even basic human rights -- all in the name of "national security".
The tactic is a common one used by political leaders who wish to gain and consolidate power and control, thus isolating and destroying the opposition. The reasons for employing such a tactic can vary from fear or hatred to personal ambition or greed. Okay, maybe simply ignorance. Take your pick. The goal is the same: Target somebody and bring them down, thereby lifting yourself up even higher.
Think back to the era of McCarthyism during the first half of the 1950s in the United States -- a time of political witch hunts. Think about all the attempts in the past few years by ideological extremists or racists (or just loonies) to label Barack Obama a socialist, a Muslim or a non-American. Of course, most of those efforts have tended to be pathetic, laughable or just plain sad, carried out by political hacks such as Donald Trump, Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz. But the danger with witch hunts is that they sometimes build up momentum, particularly when the economic and social situations in a country are not going so well. Sometimes, they get out of hand and people get hurt -- often, innocent people.
Last week, President-elect Juan Orlando Hernández warned extortionists, gangbangers and members of organized crime in Honduras that they are soon going to be losing their friends, notably people within the Liberty and Refoundation (Libre) party.
"Among those few friends," Hernández said, "there are a few leaders of the Libre party who support them. I recommend to [these friends] that they not continue doing it, because otherwise they are colluding. The fiesta has ended for the extortionists ... The nefarious party that has caused so much damage to this country has ended for them."
It's okay to talk firmly about getting tough on crime. The people of Honduras need to know that someone strong and competent is in charge and is going to improve security in the country and get the bad guys. It is not okay to single out a particular political party and try to make the public believe that it is synonymous with organized crime. As Congressman Teófilo Enamorado (of Libre) correctly pointed out shortly after Mr. Hernández made his remarks, "I do not believe that only in Libre can there be criminals, or a person who wants something bad for the country. There exist those kinds of people in all parties, in the same way that there are good persons."
Eduardo Reina of Libre strongly rejected Mr. Hernández's claim. He said, "It is dangerous to link Libre to organized crime. We see this as a political issue of the President-elect in order to generate a smokescreen and divert attention from the problems of healthcare, security and others."
He asked why it is that Mr. Hernández always seems to want to blame all of Honduras' problems on Libre when it has been the Nationalists under him (when he was president of the National Congress) and President Lobo who have ruled the country for the past four years.
Mr. Reina noted that it was Mr. Hernández who "changed the Supreme Court magistrates and named the attorney generals at the Public Ministry ... he governed the last four years and things remain the same or worse in the country".
Mr. Reina speaks the truth, and Mr. Hernández is indeed playing a dangerous game. All leaders of all political parties should speak out against the tactic. All Hondurans should. Remember Martin Niemöller's famous quote: "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -- Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out -- Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -- Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me."