He was born in the city of Tegucigalpa on November 14, 1943, and passed away on April 4, 2020, in the United States of America.
His parents are Rafael Callejas Valentine and Mrs. Emma Romero de Callejas, originally from Danlí, El Paraíso. Rafael Leonardo Callejas married lawyer Norma Regina Gaborit.
He was the third constitutional president of the Republic of Honduras in the period 1990-1994, representing the National Party of Honduras, of which he was an indisputable leader.
He studied at the American School and at the San Francisco Institute in Tegucigalpa. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics from the University of Mississippi between 1961-1966.
In 1967, he specialized in Agricultural Development in the Netherlands.
He started in politics during the presidential campaign of Ramón E. Cruz in 1971. In 1975, a trio of military coup plotters began appointing him to public positions.
General Juan Alberto Melgar Castro appointed him Minister of Natural Resources within his government cabinet in 1975.
He was confirmed in his ministerial position in August 1978 after General Policarpo Paz García overthrew Melgar and took power leading a Military Government Junta.
Between 1980 and 1981, he was a deputy of the National Constituent Assembly for Francisco Morazán. From 1980 to 1982, he held the position of Treasurer of the National Party of Honduras.
He was a member of the Political Commission (1983-84) and the Coordinating Commission. For the November 1981 elections, the nationalist politician Ricardo Zúniga Augustinus, a presidential candidate, appointed him as the designated presidential candidate. However, this formula was defeated by the liberal candidate Roberto Suazo Córdova.
Path to the Presidency
As a candidate for the presidency of the Republic representing the National Party of Honduras in 1985, he individually obtained the highest number of votes: 656,928 compared to his closest contender, José Azcona of the Liberal Party, who also obtained individually 424,346 votes, representing 93.8% and 53.9% respectively within their respective parties: National and Liberal. This meant that individually, Callejas received 41% of the total national votes cast, while Azcona obtained 26.5% individually.
On this occasion, he would lose the presidency due to the option B that allowed combining all liberal votes, thus leaving Azcona as the head of the nation.
President of Honduras 1990 – 1994
With a campaign under the slogans “The man of change” and “Let’s go for change” for the general elections in November 1989, he founded the National Movement Rafael Callejas (Monarca) and competed for the presidential candidacy against other factions within the Nationalist Party.
In the elections held on November 26, 1989, he obtained 52% of the votes, against the 45% of his main contender, Carlos Flores Facussé, the candidate of the Liberal Party. Thus, in his second attempt, he became the President of Honduras for the 1990-1994 term.
His overwhelming electoral victory allowed the National Party to have control of the Executive branch and a majority in the Legislative and Judicial branches. However, Callejas decided to include representatives from other legally recognized political parties in the Public Administration, even at the Cabinet level.
According to an analysis by the Honduran Information Bulletin, in issue No. 92, both Callejas and his main political rival in the recent elections, Carlos Roberto Flores F., have “a conservative political monopoly… both political leaders are young… owners of a business-oriented vision in handling public and private interests, pragmatic, respectful of military and American influence, easily presented to the electorate as mass-consumed political products, with controversial backgrounds, and defined in public opinion by their anti-popular ideas.
The same Bulletin, in issue No. 56, adds: “Their ideas and concepts are nothing original. A set of commonplaces attached with a technically well-designed propaganda and an advertising image of a young winner.
Exercise of the Presidency
Months after taking office, arguing that the country’s economy was bankrupt, he implemented a series of neoliberal policies.
A profound economic crisis marked by fiscal deficit, massive unemployment, imbalance in the trade balance, and pressure from international credit organizations would be the main challenge during his presidential tenure.
The Honduran currency, which was pegged at two to one against the dollar, began to depreciate, while on the other hand, the State became a mere observer of the business market.
He improved communication routes and promoted the Public Ministry and the Honduran Social Investment Fund (FHIS). However, his administration is also remembered for several corruption acts that went unpunished.
According to Spanish scholar Marta Elena Casaus Arzú, the presidency of Rafael Leonardo Callejas represented a widespread trend throughout Central America: the return to power of the traditional Central American oligarchies through an economic and social metamorphosis, even though they faced a significant political challenge against their former hegemony in power.
He served as Chief of the Agricultural Sector in the Superior Council of Economic Planning during the government of General Oswaldo López Arellano in the period 1967-1971.
From 1972 to 1975, he held the position of Undersecretary and later Secretary of State in the Department of Natural Resources during López Arellano’s second government.
He chaired the Board of Directors of the National Agricultural Development Bank (BANADESA) and the Honduran Institute of Agricultural Marketing (IHMA) during both periods of General Oswaldo López Arellano’s government (1963-1971).
He served as Minister of Natural Resources in the government of General Juan Alberto Melgar (1975-1978) and continued in the same position in the administration of General Policarpo Paz García.
He participated in various associations and private companies, including Banco Mercantil, the Association for the Progress of Honduras, and others. In 1989, he was appointed Vice President of the International Democratic Union, representing Latin America.
President of the National Autonomous Federation of Football of Honduras (Fenafuth) from 2002 to 2015.
Honduras in the World Cup
He presided over the National Autonomous Federation of Football of Honduras (Fenafuth) from 2002 to 2015.
During his tenure leading the national team selection processes, several youth football teams earned the right to participate in international competitions, and he led the National Team of Honduras to the FIFA World Cups in South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014.
After leaving power, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, led at the time by the Attorney General Edmundo Orellana, accused Callejas of seven corruption cases, in which he was charged with abuse of authority and misappropriation of public funds.
These cases included “Brazos de Honduras,” “La Familia,” “Comunitas,” “Fondo Petrolero,” and “El Chinazo”.
For many years, presidential immunity shielded the former president from legal actions, but once in 2005 the National Congress suspended immunity for former presidents, Callejas went to the courts to withdraw his letters of freedom after being found innocent of all charges.
On September 18, 2006, US authorities arrested the former ruler in Miami and deported him after informing him that his visa had been suspended, a measure taken by the US against political corruption.
In December 2015, US justice requested his extradition, along with Alfredo Hawit, who had been his right-hand man.
The United States accused him of receiving bribes in the amount of $600,000 from the company MediaWorld for the exclusive broadcasting rights of the national team matches, using US banks for money laundering.
Facing the tough stance of US justice, Callejas decided not to go to trial, and on March 28, 2016, he pleaded guilty in a New York court to the criminal charges of racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, and money laundering.
In 2018, he was diagnosed with leukemia, and in 2019, he underwent a successful bone marrow transplant. He remained free, under electronic surveillance (wearing an ankle monitor). He died while awaiting sentencing on May 5, 2020.
The former president died at the age of 77 on Saturday, April 4, 2020 in the United States due to a heart attack, hours after being admitted in critical condition to a hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.