Thursday, February 25, 2010

All In The Family

Does Porfirio Lobo Sosa have a "nepotism" problem? That, at least, is the accusation from the Juan Ramón Martínez in an editorial published in Tuesday's La Tribuna. This question was raised on February 21 in an El Heraldo story about nepotism and corruption in the Honduran consulates in the United States, and has been echoed in a story on the Spanish website of Tercera Información yesterday.

In Honduras, a President is a lame duck from the day he is elected, with all the negatives that entails. That is as true of Porfirio Lobo Sosa as it was of his predecessors. In such circumstances, you try to appoint people you trust to office, because only that way will you be sure to have your will carried out. Sometimes those you trust the most are family members.
"This seems natural to us," Juan Ramón Martínez wrote, "Callejas named his cousin, Zelaya gave a position to the wife of his Minister of the Presidency, while Flores (the Minister) gave, in a favor that had nothing to do with the institutions, but with political favoritism, [a position to] a brother of a former president."

Juan Ramón Martínez draws an analogy with the US: President Obama didn't publicly intervene when his sister-in-law was threatened with expulsion from the US, whereas Lobo Sosa would have named her to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). "From this, our backwardness," he concludes.

So what has Porfirio Lobo Sosa done to stir up these accusations of nepotism? He's appointed two of his children to high government positions, and another relative to a consular position.

Lobo Sosa named his son Jorge Dimitrov Lobo Alonso as political governor of the department of Olancho. Under the Honduran constitution, a political governor must reside in the department, and is the President's representative in the department. Prior to being named political governor, Jorge Lobo Alonso was President of the Olancho Nationalist Party Committee and a member of Lobo Sosa's Cambio Ya (Change Now) political movement. He also runs the family Hacienda La Empaliza, an agricultural and cattle enterprise which among other activities, was a large producer of genetically modified corn (Star Link) and beans.

Lobo Sosa named Jorge Lobo Alonso's wife, Dora Cinthia Gabriela Cardona de Lobo, as Coordinator of Education For All (EducaTodos in Spanish) in Honduras. Education For All is a set of education goals coordinated world-wide by UNESCO to achieve full literacy for all in the participating countries. It has been funded through multiple international agencies, including the World Bank and more recently US AID. In its current US AID-funded incarnation EducaTodos is a radio-based education program. None of the coverage explains Doña Dora Cardona de Lobo's qualifications to coordinate this program.

Porfirio Lobo Sosa is also credited with appointing his daughter, Tania Lobo de Quiñonez, to be the Director for Honduras of the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (BCIE in Spanish), though, to be fair, the press release says the Bank's board of Governors appointed her. She has been employed at the BCIE for the last eight years, having earned a university degree from the Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana de Tegucigalpa in business administration. Her husband, Juan Carlos Quiñonez, was elected Alcalde of Maraita on November 29.

Finally, Mario Canahuati, the Foreign Minister, named Lobo Sosa's cousin (or nephew, depending on the news source), Francisco Humberto Quesada Lobo to be the Honduran Consul in New York City. According to the State Department website, Francisco Quesada Lobo was first appointed a consular agent in 2003 in New York where he was one of 3 consular agents. During 2008, an opinion piece in the newspaper, La Prensa, identified him as a "paracaidista", someone who uselessly occupies a post gathering a salary. Francisco was an active supporter of the de facto government during the last half of 2009.

The problem, as Jorge Rivera (identified as a leader of the Honduran community in the US in an El Heraldo article widely quoted elsewhere) sees it, is that Lobo Sosa is not seeking capable people to be named to the consulates, just relatives and friends.
"These are people who want to study abroad, and because of this they ask for posts, not because they are capable of doing the job."

On the naming of Francisco Humberto Quesada Lobo to be consul in New York City, Rivera said
"This is nepotism. The President promised not to abuse this form....the white collars, this is the problem of our country."

While the appointment of Lobo's daughter appears to make some logical sense. since she's been employed at the BCIE for the last eight years, the other appointments are patronage, the breaking of the government piñata, scattering the opportunities for enrichment that in Honduras goes along with such patronage.

In fact, there are rumblings within the Nationalist Party ranks that Lobo Sosa is not doing enough "gifting" of these state positions to party members who the status quo says are entitled. The Nationalist Party called a meeting for 3 pm tomorrow to demand that Lobo Sosa do more for his fellow party members.

Nepotism is just an extreme form of patronage. Is either any way to run a government?

1 comment:

John (Juan) Donaghy said...

A few weeks ago I read a book by a Filipino bishop, Francisco Claver, who made an interesting suggestion that the corruption in his country was somewhat related to the strong sense of family and family ties.

I found the remark provocative. I also wonder if the strong cultural emphasis on relationships here also facilitates "corruption."

I see some people looking for employees among those they know rather than in a process based on experience and talent.

And so the efforts of Lobo to place his family and his political allies in positions of power is not surprising for some Hondurans, even though it may weaken the country.

This political cronyism is, I think, one of the great weaknesses of Honduras where people are often chosen for posts because of their "connections," - or more specifically, their activism in one of the two major political parties - rather than their talents.

It also might reflect, as you intimate, the lack of trust that political leaders have in others, even in their own party.

All this might be good material for social scientists to examine - if they haven't done so already. I'm just a philosopher by training and a pastoral worker by profession.