Sunday, July 30, 2017

Jorge Barralaga Hernandez Arrested for Money Laundering

Former Tegucigalpa Police Commander Jorge Barralaga Hernandez was arrested and his home was confiscated.  He is accused of money laundering.

Barralaga rose to fame in October, 2011, because he allowed the four policemen accused of killing 4 university students, including rector Julietta Castellanos's son, to be freed from jail, allowing them to then flee.  At the time Baralaga was in charge of District 1 of Tegucigalpa and the four policemen, Sub Inspector Carlos Galeas Cruz and policemen Wilfredo Figueroa Velasquez, Arnulfo Padilla Roderiguez, and José Ruben Pozo, were under arrest in District 1 for the crime of murdering four university students.  Even though a court had ordered them held, in October, 2011 he released them, and they fled into the countryside.  For this action he was fired.

In 2012 he filed a legal appeal, seeking reinstatement and back pay; that case was never heard and remains open.  In 2013 he was accused and had an initial audience in court for abuse of authority along with Marco Tulio Palma in freeing the four accused of killing the university students.  That case remains untried.  As early as 2010 a police investigation found that Barralaga, then serving in the border Department of Copan,  had illicit income from corrupt sources, probably drug running, but high levels of the National Police, including Juan Carlos "El Tigre" Bonilla, sat on the investigation and allowed Barralaga to continue to serve and be promoted.

Baralaga was arrested this morning and his house confiscated.  He is accused of money laundering.  The police are still investigating the source of the 27 million Lempiras ($1.2 million) he has in personal bank accounts.

Friday, July 14, 2017

MACCIH to investigate DESA, government contracts, funding

The Misión de Apoyo Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras (MACCIH) announced Thursday that it would begin investigating, not the murder of indigenous activist Berta Cáceres, but the funding and government contracts of DESA, the company building the Agua Zarca dam for possible corruption and money laundering.

Mission spokesperson, Juan Jimenez Mayor announced the OAS mission would look into DESA, how it got its government contracts for the Agua Zarca dam and ENEE electricity purchase, and how it grew from a company with less than $1000 in capital in 2009 to have over $17 million in 2014.  In particular, Jimenez Mayor said the Mission wanted to verify the source of the funds, and whether DESA was money laundering.

Another aspect of the Agua Zarca project that Jimenez Mayor said was interesting was the awarding of the original environmental license in 2010, and the enlarged project environmental license in 2011.  The latter, approved by Dario Roberto Cardona, then sub secretary of the Secretaria de Recursos Naturales y Ambiente (SERNA).  Jimenez Mayor noted that while Cardona was being prosecuted for issuing the expanded environmental license in 2011 without proper consultation with the indigenous communities around Agua Zarca, he wondered why the issuer of the first environmental license, then Minister Rigoberto Cuellar, was not being investigated for the same crime since the same problem exists with the first environmental license issued in 2010. 

Jimenez Mayor also pointed to Congress, and its approval of an electricity buying contract from DESA to ENEE that called for ENEE to purchase more electricity than initially agreed on.

DESA denies there was an increase in its electricity production licensed by Cardona, and maintains it properly consulted with the municipality through open meetings, and that ILO 169 has not been codified into Honduran law.

The Agua Zarca project remains suspended.  The recent withdrawal of two of the international funding agencies (the Netherlands Development Bank (FMO) and the Finland Fund for Industrial Cooperation (FINFUND)) has not resulted in its cancelation because much of the funding comes from the Banco Interamericano de Integración Económica (BCIE) which has not withdrawn its support.

TPS and DACA to End This Year

Luis Gutierrez, a Congress person from Illinois, as part of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, met with John Kelly, head of Homeland Security earlier this month.  The caucus learned that Kelly intends to end both Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program this year, opening hundreds of thousands of "Dreamers" and legally present temporary residents to immediate deportation.  Gutierrez issued a statement saying:
"Secretary Kelly determines the future of TPS and basically told us he is not sure if he will extend it for hundreds of thousands of people. He also said that the future of DACA is up to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, America’s leading advocate against immigration, so Kelly was basically telling us DACA is facing a death sentence.  They actually want to take millions of people who are documented – with our own government – make them undocumented, and then go after them and their families. " .......
Trump, Sessions and Kelly want to take 800,000 DREAMers with DACA and hundreds of thousands with TPS who are registered with the government and in compliance with the law and make them into criminals, felons, and deportees in the next few months. 

Gutierrez says he was told DACA will end in September.  Kelly already has revoked the Temporary Protected Status of 55,000 Haitians, who have until September to leave the US.  After that they will be prosecuted.  Gutierrez says Kelly intends to next end the TPS for Central Americans

Saturday, June 10, 2017

RNP Budget May Disenfranchise Votes

The Hernandez administration cut the budget of the Registro Nacional de Personas (RNP) which issues official identity cards by $170 million lempiras this year.  As a direct result, up to 1,000,000 Honduran voters, who need the card for the next election, may not be able to vote.

The Executive branch in Honduras proposes a budget, and Congress approves it, making the changes it deems appropriate.  The RNP required, by its estimation, $370 million lempiras (aprox. $17.7 million) to cover its costs this, an election year.  This includes the funding for new identity cards for 1.5 million citizens, including the more than 330,000 teenagers who became eligible to vote this year.  However, it was assigned a budget $200 million lempiras ($9.5 million) by the Executive branch, augmented by $39 million lempiras ($1.9 million) of a budget that Congress allocated for it to dispense with the fees charged for citizens who ask for a new identity card.

That budget only allowed funding for 500,000 new identity cards, of which 330,000 will be new voters.  Yet the demand is for another 1,000,000 identity cards, which the RNP cannot make because it lacks the funds to make them.  In the first 4 months of the year, the RNP made and distributed 700,000 new identity cards.  Since then they've had to stop due to a lack of funding.

Nor have they kept quiet about the problem.  During the budgeting they listed 8 large projects that would make and distribute those identity cards to people without them having to come to a central place to collect them.  The Hernandez government did not request funding for any of them.  Hence the current problem.

So now, either 1,000,000 voters will be disenfranchised in November, or Congress will have to appropriate additional funds to the RNP, which may not have sufficient time to make and distribute that many identity cards.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Honduran Prisoner Leaves Prison; No One Cares

[Updated below] So how does a prisoner with a life sentence housed in a maximum security prison in Honduras suddenly show up on the streets of San Pedro Sula?

In October of 2013, Virgilio Sanchez Montoya, a suspected head of the Barrio 18 gang,  was found guilty of the 2010 massacre at a shoe shop in San Pedro Sula that left 17 people dead.  He was sentenced to over 500 years in prison.  In November of 2016 he was moved from the National Penitentiary in Tamara to the newly constructed "El Pozo" prison in Ilama, Santa Barbara, a maximum security prison where gang members are segregated and kept under harsh conditions.  Yesterday he was arrested walking the streets of San Pedro Sula carrying an AK-47.

Nor is he the first prisoner from El Pozo to mysteriously appear on the streets of San Pedro Sula.  At least 3 others have been re-arrested in San Pedro over the last 9 months, free when they should have been in prison cells.  There's been no explanation, no investigation as to how these admittedly dangerous prisoners are showing up on the streets of San Pedro when they should still be in prison.

Earlier this month 8 prison guards at El Pozo were dismissed for unspecified "security irregularities" but no one noticed any prisoners missing.  One of those dismissed was a guard who made a duplicate key for the prison armory.

The Honduran prisons, which are sieves,  hold almost 19000 prisoners either convicted of a crime, or awaiting trial.  It appears that in these new maximum security prisons, the prisoners are still in control of some aspects of prison life.  That a prisoner with a life sentence can go from a maximum security prison cell to walking the streets of a major city with no one noticing, or caring back at the prison, is disturbing.

[Update] The Insituto Nacional Penetenciario (INP), the people who run the prisons,  put out a story yesterday that this was a case of two people with the same name.  Nothing to see, and anyway, they still have their prisoner.  Except that the photo they released really does look like the same person arrested in San Pedro.

The Public Prosecutor's office confirms that the fingerprints of the person arrested in San Pedro match those of the person who is supposed to be being held in the maximum security prison, El Pozo, in Ilama, Santa Barbara.  The question now is who at the prison pulled off the switch, releasing the gang member and substituting a look alike to occupy the cell?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Innumerecy in the Tribunal Supremo Electoral

The Honduran Tribunal Supremo Electoral announced today that there were 6.2 million registered voters for the presidential elections to be held this November.  The problem is, there can't be.

Depending on who you want to believe, the Honduran population is, this year, 8.2 to 8.8 million individuals.  In Honduras, you must be 18 to vote.  So the question is, what percentage of the Honduran population is under 18?  That number turns out to be 42% of the Honduran population. 

6.2 million registered voters equates to about 72% of the current Honduran population.  So the question is, what percentage of the Honduran population is under 18 and therefore cannot register to vote?  That number is about 42% so Honduran demographics means the TSE election rolls are heavily inflated. 

There are about 14% more registered voters than there should be according to demographics.  That is, if 42% of the Honduran population is under 18 years of age and therefore not eligible to be a registered voter, then at most 58% of the population is eligible to be registered to vote, a total of 5.104 million voters, not the 6.2 million the TSE is claiming.  Thats 1.096 million extra voters enrolled that simply cannot not exist.  Yet they apparently do exist on the voter rolls.

But actually its worse, because the 0.2 percent of the Honduran population that's in prison either convicted of or awaiting a trial, cannot vote.  There are no polling places in prison.  A further 0.14 percent of the Honduran population is in active military service, and also not allowed to vote.  The Honduran military aid the TSE by distributing ballot boxes before the election, and collecting and returning them to the TSE.

This excess of 1.096 million voters has built up over the last several years, and at least in part is because the TSE is notoriously bad at its job of cleaning up the voter roles in between elections.  The dead are seldom removed from the voter rolls, and indeed, in nearly every election since 2005 political parties in Honduras have demonstrated that people known to be dead nonetheless somehow managed to vote in presidential elections of 2009 and 2013, votes certified as fair and transparent by the US State Department.

So it would be good if the TSE learned to count and did a better job of keeping up the voting rolls, because some of us can count, even if the President of the TSE, David Matamoros, can't.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Spoiled Ballots Say Something

Honduras has just concluded its national primary elections to choose candidates to compete in the national elections for President, Congress, and Mayorships this coming November. While the official results are not expected before the end of the month, there are some disturbing trends in the voting:  spoiled and blank ballots are becoming much more common.  Spoiled ballots are ones that are defaced by political messages, or vote for more than one candidate for office where only one selection is allowed.  Blank ballots are those that contain no discernible vote.

In the low information, highly politicized elections in Latin America, spoiled ballots and blank ballots mean something.  As Driscoll and Nelson (2014) state:
"Scholars interpret blank and spoiled ballots as resulting from some combination of voter incapacity, where citizens lack the requisite skills or information to cast a valid ballot, and political motivations, when voters deliberately signal their malcontent."
Driscoll and Nelson go on to show that it's less about incapacity in their case study of Bolivian elections, and more about political intentions.  In the Bolivian 2011 election, where 60% of the votes cast were spoiled votes, they conclude that both blank and spoiled ballots are the result of political concern, but that blank ballots were more likely to be from  politically more sophisticated voters.

In Honduras, a quick examination of the Tribunal Supremo Electoral's (TSE) archive of the results of past elections shows that the number of spoiled and blank ballots in general elections oscillates between 4% and 8%.  The rate seems to increase when the candidates are more contentious, as in the election between Zelaya and Lobo Sosa in 2005, and drop when the election is less contentious as in the election between Carlos Reina and Oswaldo Ramos in 1993.

Unfortunately, the TSE archive does not preserve complete data on the primary elections before 2012.  In the  2012 primary, the TSE data show the rate of spoiled and blank votes by political party:
National Party          14.15%
Liberal Party            13.73%
Libre                          5.27%

Yet voter dissatisfaction with Party candidates dropped in the general election of 2013 to 4.88% while overall voter participation rose.

While the full and final results are not yet in, a comparison with this year's reported results to date is nonetheless instructive:
National Party          16.73%
Liberal Party            13.43%
Libre                          6.85%

Honduran press reports indicate a campaign to inflate the number of votes cast in the National Party with at least two videos surfacing showing polling place workers filling out left over ballots and stuffing them into the National Party ballot box.  Twitter was full, after the election, of images of National Party ballots marked with messages against  candidate and current President Juan Orlando Hernandez (here, and here for example). In addition, the TSE has failed to purge voter roles of the deceased, so that even the dead could vote in the primary.

All three parties have strong central administrations that control the degree to which different factions have a say in party positions.  All three parties have had the same faction of the party in control of the central administration since the 2009 coup.

Our interpetation of the data suggests that internal party dissatisfaction with the candidates available is increasing in all three parties, but it's especially notable in the National Party. As Driscoll and Nelson note in their conclusions:
"we show that these votes are intentional demonstrations of citizen dissatisfaction, signaling to elite voters disapproval of the electoral process."

To write these voters off as anomalous is to risk loosing the confidence of the voters that brought them to power. A study of where these spoiled and blank votes come from could be used by a smart political party, as a cue to where it should concentrate its efforts to consolidate Party support.