Friday, February 19, 2010

Corruption and Anticorruption in Honduras

Recent news, such as the Gacetazo scandal over a lucrative dam contract in Nacaome, highlights the perennial problem of government corruption in Honduras. In the "scorecard" for FY 2010 released by the Millenium Challenge Corporation in October of 2009, "control of corruption" was one of the few indicators where Honduras failed to meet the standard required. According to that source, Honduras scored in the 44th percentile among its peer group of countries, a decline from its previous position close to the median for the peer group.

Coincidentally, this past week saw the release of the latest report from the the Consejo Nacional Anticorrupción (CNA), or National Anticorruption Council, on progress in government transparency and combatting corruption. As noted by Adrienne Pine, the report was publicly challenged by Isbella Orellana, a sociologist and professor at UNAH-VS, the campus of the national university located at San Pedro Sula. As reported in the original Tiempo article translated at, Isbella Orellana questioned how the results reported were generated. The lack of definition of the population surveyed and method of sample selection identified by Isbella Orellana makes the report unreliable. The claims made are clearly biased and frankly unbelievable. And, Isbella Orellana argued, the commission mixes religion in a troubling way into what should be a secular activity, for example, claiming that the main reason for corruption is a decline in belief in God.

So what is the Consejo Nacional Anticorrupción?

According to its website, the CNA was founded in 2001 under Liberal Party President Carlos Flores through Decreto Ejecutivo 015-2001. It was renewed under Nationalist Party President Ricardo Maduro in 2005 via Decreto Legislativo No 07-2005. So it is an officially chartered body owing its existence to the national government of Honduras.

Today, the CNA incorporates representatives of local government, the leadership of Catholic and Evangelical Christian groups, business, media, and labor. It thus makes a claim to speak for "civil society" generally. Of course, not every organization is part of this umbrella group, as is perhaps most obvious in the area critiqued by Isbella Orellana, the reliance on organized Christian leadership groups. Specifically included in CNA are the following organizations:
Business and labor interests:
Consejo Hondureño de la Empresa Privada (COHEP)

Asociación de Medios de Communicación (AMC)
Confederación de Trabajadores de Honduras (CTH)
Consejo Coordinador de Organizaciones Campesinas de Hondura (COCOCH)

Education leaders:
Consejo de Rectores de Universidades de Honduras
Federación de Colegios Profesionales Universitarios de Honduras (FECOPRUH)

Public service and municipal governance:
Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos de Honduras (ANDEPH)
Asociación de Municipios de Honduras (AHMON)

Organized religion:
Confraternidad Evangélica de Honduras (CEH)
Conferencia Episcopal de Honduras de la Iglesia Católica (CEH)

Federación de Organizaciones Privadas de Desarrollo de Honduras (FOPRIDEH)
Foro Nacional de Convergencia (FONAC), National Convergence Forum

CNA leadership has historically been dominated by the religious sector. Its first director (from 1997 to 2005) was Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, notoriously outspoken defender of the coup d'etat of 2009. The current leader of the CNA is José Oswaldo Canales, a pastor whose support for the coup d'etat and the Micheletti regime was equally open. Canales represents the Confraternidad Evangélica de Honduras (CEH).

Canales took over the leadership of CNA in October of 2009, succeeding Juan Ferrera. Ferrera is currently listed on the CNA website as representing COHEP in its general assembly. In March 2005, Ferrera was cited as a consultant to the federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and Executive Secretary of FONAC, the Foro Nacional de Convergencia (National Convergence Forum) in a report on civil society consultation that paved the way for Honduras to receive Millenium Challenge Corporation support.

FONAC, one of the members of CNA today, was described in 2002 as an organization, again formed under President Carlos Flores,
whose mission is contributing to the adoption and execution of State policies that guarantee governability, participatory democracy and the integrated development of Honduras, as an expression of the consensus reached by participation and dialogue between civil society and the government,

At the time FONAC included
members of the Federation of University Professionals of Honduras, the School of Journalism, Teachers Associations, Workers Confederations, Farmers, Native ethnic groups, Cooperatives and the Association of Honduran Municipalities.

According to the CNA website, FONAC today represents
30 organizations of Civil Society, 5 representatives of the political parties, and 5 dependencies and institutions of the State.

This configuration raises some interesting questions about how far FONAC can represent itself as independent of the government and outside of politics, as would seem necessary for a truly independent watchdog on public corruption.

By June of 2007, when the CNA issued its first version of a "transparency" report, Juan Ferrera was its head. He was quoted shortly after that as saying that
corruption is creating such public disenchantment that Hondurans may even "put aside democratic options."

This seems eerily prophetic in retrospect, and it may therefore not be surprising that Ferrera has, like his predecessor Cardinal Rodriguez and his successor pastor Canales, voiced strong support for the coup d'etat. Ferrera was quoted on July 23 in La Tribuna describing one of the orchestrated marches in support of Micheletti as an
extraordinary manifestation of the people in support of democracy, justice, and liberty...While the ex-president Zelaya calls for discord, here we are united to seek the recovery of democracy.

Described as speaking for an "umbrella group of pro-business civic groups", which seems like a surprising way to characterize the CNA, on July 30 Ferrera was quoted as saying President Zelaya could only return
with some condition that guarantees that he doesn't turn over Honduras to people affiliated with Hugo Chavez.

So, the CNA clearly has in recent years been far from independent of Honduran politics. In the run-up to the coup and its aftermath, its religious and civic leadership has been aligned with the unconstitutional actions that led to the replacement of the legal government with a de facto regime.

Which brings us to Sergio Membreño Cedillo, named to the proposed Truth Commission. As we previously noted he was a director of CNA, preceding Juan Ferrera. After the coup d'etat, he posted a YouTube video as part of a series by people associated with the Association for a More Just Society of Honduras. In it he committed to being an agent of reconciliation and peace in a time of polarization, citing his position as a Christian leader, a role in which he contributed an article about confronting the global economic recession to a website in 2005.

Membreño was described as the representative of World Vision in an October 2009 article about a press conference given by a group of NGOs calling themselves Transformemos a Honduras (Let's Transform Honduras) that presented 15 proposals to transform Honduras, intended to outline a program for the next government that would have to pick up the pieces after the coup and government of the de facto regime. The Association for a More Just Society (AJS in Spanish) led the coalition, promulgating a rejection of both Zelaya and Micheletti and a commitment to building a more just Honduras. Other participating NGOs listed at the press conference included Caritas, Global Village Project, and the Confraternidad Evangélica de Honduras.

As might be suggested by the nature of the participating groups, one principle of Transformemos a Honduras is that partners want to "do the will of God". Additional participating organizations mentioned on the group's website include Save the Children, Committee of Christian Leaders, and Compasión Internacional. The English-language website of the organization describes it as "an ecumenical Christian movement".

Unlike the CNA-- which was created by the government-- this new ad hoc coalition insists that it has no political ties. This does not mean that constituent members were neutral or objected to the coup d'etat and the actions of the de facto regime; notably, AJS published an editorial that, while stopping short of supporting the coup d'etat, presented an argument for dismissing President Zelaya as an "enemy" of the poor. [Update: see commentary below for other ASJ information that establishes their intent to maintain an unaligned position equally critical of both Micheletti and Zelaya.]

Speaking at the press conference in October, Membreño is quoted as saying the five key structural problems facing the country are
poverty, iniquity, corruption, violence and injustice. Beginning from those major problems five major components can be defined which are: employment and growth, education, health, transparency and anti-corruption policies, and finally a component of security and justice.

"Transparency and anti-corruption policies" defines what up until now have been the arenas of the CNA. Unlike that body, Membreño's new association does not incorporate media or business groups.

Among its fifteen proposals, Transformemos a Honduras does call for reform producing depoliticized and participatory elections for the Supreme Court, Attorney General, Supreme Tribunal of Accounts, Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and Solicitor General. Many of these -- the Supreme Court, Attorney General, Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and Solicitor General-- were directly implicated in the coup d'etat and its aftermath, tied politically to Roberto Micheletti by the corrupt processes of their nomination and appointment. So presumably, this initiative would address one of the contributing factors that allowed the coup to take place.

Corruption in Honduran politics knows no party loyalty, and has been no monopoly of any one administration or party: while rabid apologists for the 2009 coup d'etat tally corruption during the Zelaya administration, the US State Department country summary singles out the Nationalist Callejas administration (1990-1994), and Liberal President Carlos Flores is recognized as running a government in which international aid intended to support recovery from Hurricane Mitch in 1998 was directed instead to the pockets of the powerful.

A 2000 report on governance and anti-corruption by the World Bank, in the wake of Hurricane Mitch, found that a statistically representative sample of Hondurans ranked the judiciary (excluding the Supreme Court), SOPTRAVI (the ministry that authorizes lucrative road construction contracts), and the National Police as the three most corrupt government agencies.

Not far behind came the National University, municipal governments, Supreme Court, the Army, Fondo Hondureño de Inversion Social, labor unions, and the Congress.

The five least corrupt public institutions identified in that survey were the Banco Nacional de Desarrollo Agrícola, the Ministry of Security, the Central Bank, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Finance.

In other words: while there has been plenty of corruption to go around in Honduran politics, from the local to the national level, Congress and the judicial branch have been more intensive sites of corruption than the executive branch.

The CNA, tied to many of the same governmental branches seen as corrupt, may have spelled its own end by its explicit endorsement of the coup d'etat. Sergio Membreño, with his prominent position in the attempt to get beyond the effects of the coup d'etat, appears to be something else.


John (Juan) Donaghy said...

A note about Transformemos Honduras.
The project is trying to get 1 million signatures for its platform.

The national office of Caritas Honduras is actively supporting this effort, but Caritas of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán is NOT supporting this effort. There is concern that it legitimates the coup d'etat.

There is concern about this effort among other sectors of the church in Honduras but it has not become a major public issue. I think it is more ignored than promoted.

A serious question for some is the source of funding for Transformemos Honduras. I do not have any information on this.

The issue of corruption is significant and ongoing. There are grassroots efforts, some being promoted by the Caritas offices of the separate dioceses of Honduras to strengthen the Transparency Commissions in the municipalities, but this is a long-term effort at the grassroots.

RAJ said...

Thank you for raising these issues. For me, the lack of information about where the funding comes from for a national-level organization with a website that is quite professionally done is a clear danger signal. (The existence of the glossy website, even ignoring where the funding comes from, is itself a sign of heavy institutionalization).

And Transformemos a Honduras is operating like a strongly institutionalized group. It has posted news about meetings with G16 leaders, facilitated by USAID. Explicitly mentioned: Spain, Sweden, Germany, France, UN, World Bank, and International Development Bank representatives; the World Bank; and the UN's Development Program (PNUD). PNUD and USAID are said to be supporting the group, although it is not clear whether this is solely logistic or also financial.

But equally important, your comment allows me to pursue one of the issues raised by review of the CNA and what I think we can say is its failure. That is the role of religious leadership, not just in this campaign, but in Honduran society in general. Sociologist Isbella Orellana objected to the current CNA report as inappropriately injecting religion into a nation founded on a secular basis. She is right about the constitutional treatment of religion, and it is deeply disturbing to see the coup leaders wrapping themselves not just in "patriotism" but also in claims of divine support.

But we need to differentiate between the leadership of institutionalized religion and the way that churches and religious entities on a local level may work. Your comments on Caritas at the Santa Rosa de Copán level-- and indeed, the example of the principled stand of the bishop of that diocese-- demonstrate this point.

Grassroots efforts will never gain the same visibility as a national-level group composed by people with deep ties to centers of power. But without grassroots efforts, nothing really can change.

As for legitimating the coup d'etat: I continue to wait for organizations in Honduras claiming to want to move civil society forward to openly and publicly disclaim that violation of constitutional order. Until they does that, all participants in national politics are legitimating the coup. The "Truth Commission" is such an artificial exercise that I cannot imagine it coming to grips with this reality. So it matters seeing where the participants are coming from. It would be very easy to adopt the "blame both sides" rhetoric of AJS (which was really the message of the US State Department). Any report that fails to acknowledge that the coup was illegal will be whitewash, and nothing so far suggests we will see such an acknowledgment.

Andrew said...

Great discussion.

ASJ also published this article clearly condemning the coup as, well, a coup:

RAJ said...

The link provided by Andrew leads to one of a series of posts by ASJ Honduras concerning the coup d'etat and the two protagonists.

The post about Zelaya is the original of the one to which I linked in my commentary about, which I had found reposted elsewhere (I have replaced the link with the direct one). The ASJ post about Micheletti is equally negative, ending that "to him, neither the poor nor democracy matter".

ASJ came out against amnesty because of the potential it provides to allow human rights abuses to remain unpunished.

All the posts by ASJ Honduras emphasize that the issues raised are complex; while I do not agree with every conclusion they draw, they provide an extraordinary discussion of the issues.

So I think we can say they maintained independence from the de facto regime itself. But-- and this is a big caution for me-- their attempt to be balanced ends up having to place equal blame with these two protagonists. They do not have similar commentaries on all the parties other than Micheletti who subverted public discourse, which would have to include organized religion, the media, and the court system, as well as factions in both major parties.

Any approach that treats Zelaya's ignoring lower court findings with the coup authors' illegally expatriating a sitting president, lying about a resignation letter, perverting the constitution to allow a dictatorial regime to take power, and carrying out violent repression leading to beatings and deaths, opens the way for others to diminish the criminal nature of the coup and the de facto regime. So I continue to be troubled by aspects of the ASJ's posts.

phoenixwoman said...

In the Millenium Challenge Corporation graph, the last full year to which it refers is 2008. So, this is not inconsistent with the story line put out by the coup. Not that you said differently, just that it represents a trend whose cause is unclear, and therefore is a little confusing.

RAJ said...

In an analysis of the MCC data published on November 21, 2009, Bill Conroy concluded that

The other failing grade...was in the measure of “control of corruption” — which, according to MCC, is an 'index of surveys and expert assessments that rates countries on the frequency of "additional payments to get things done"; the effects of corruption on the business environment; "grand corruption" in the political arena; and the tendency of elites to engage in "state capture"' — the latter a term essentially equivalent to crony capitalism.

For the sake of context, it is worth pointing out that although Honduras received a failing grade in the “control of corruption” measure on the current scorecard (covering the year 2008), the nation actually made progress in that area between 2006 and 2007 — moving from a failing to a passing score. The fact that the score slid back to failing in 2008 demonstrates the resiliency of the “grand corruption” and “state capture” in Honduras.

To underline this point: during the first two years of the Zelaya administration Honduras made progress in combating corruption, before sliding backwards; and the measure of "corruption" monitors both business and governmental corruption, which in Honduras includes the kind of insider deals for contracts that Congress manages, not just executive branch actions.

Abram Huyser Honig said...

RAJ, I read your blogs regularly and find them to insightful—so it’s cool for me to see Association for a More Just Society and Transformemos Honduras showing up in your discussions, even if in a somewhat skeptical light. I’d like to try and allay some of that skepticism. Next time you’re in Tegucigalpa, we’d love to have you by our office to talk more over a cup of coffee!

Abram Huyser Honig
Director of Operations
Association for a More Just Society
(I’m the liason between ASJ in Honduras and the folks abroad who give $5 or $10 a month to enable our Honduran staff do legal, psychological, and journalistic work on behalf of very poor people).

1) ASJ Stance on the Coups
Thanks to RAJ and Andrew for posting additional information about ASJ’s stance on the coup. I’d like to add a few more points to that discussion, if I may:
-ASJ's online news magazine,, has consistently covered human rights violations that have occurred as a result of the coup, doing its own reporting as well as re-publishing reports from Radio Progreso and others.
- ASJ’s criticism of Zelaya had little to do with what rules he did or didn’t break in the week before June 28 (as RAJ implies), and very much to do with the fact that while he used rhetoric and enacted changes on behalf of the poor that no previous president had, during his presidency he had it in his power to do much, much more—but didn’t. For example, instead of investing $4 billion in Poverty Reduction Funds to execute plans that had painstakingly been prepared by thousands of grassroots organizations, he instead used almost all of it to give salary raises to a few blocs of government workers—who, while not growing wealthy, are also far from poor. Claiming that an honest look at the many ways Mel failed and sought to manipulate the poor equals support for the coup is poor reasoning and simply misleading.

2) TH Funding
-The first $20 - $30,000 came out of the personal savings of ASJ board members Kurt Ver Beek and Jo Ann Van Engen, and from a handful of individuals and congregations in the U.S. Ver Beek and Van Engen are professors at Calvin College—and have no interests business, political, or otherwise, at all in this. They spent their own money because they believe in what they're doing.
-TH has now received about $18,000 from UNDP. Some might choose to see this as a shadowy plot to promote UN interests...but our perspective is that finally UNDP is funding something that's actually worthwhile and, hopefully, effective. Many of the NGOs formally aligned with the Resistance also receive foreign, especially European, funding. RAJ doesn't seem to be questioning how that affects their integrity.

3) TH: "Grassroots" vs. "Institutional"
RAJ’s and Juancito's points are interesting and well worth taking into account. Let's let history be the judge. We've organized the movement in such a way that it will only succeed if we do enjoy lots of grassroots support--there is no other way to get anywhere close to a million signatures unless the movement really does go "viral." If you browse through the promotional videos up on Transformemos Honduras you’ll see that a wide range of people (none of whom were paid a cent to support the movement, by the way), from Human Rights Prosecutor Sandra Ponce to Honduran Christian musicians to Afro-Honduran track athletes, feel TH’s 15 points are a pretty good summary of what Honduran government and society should focus on in the coming years.

I think the whole “Grassroots” versus “Institutional” conversation could take up a long post and conversation on its own, but what seems clear to me is that work at both levels is important—we need to get institutions more in tune with what ordinary people want, which is what TH is trying to do.

RAJ said...

Thanks very much for the comment which I find extremely helpful.

To clarify, I originally found the Zelaya piece re-posted in a context that used it to justify the coup.

So I am extremely glad to have the opportunity to clarify ASJ Honduras' position clearly here, in my comment above and through this additional comment.

My original post on CNA is extremely skeptical about that organization and what it became -- and that history makes me cautious about other movements. Even the Frente de Resistencia-- rely on me to call the Frente out when it stops organizing as a collective organization with clear commitments to broadly-based rights including those of women, sexual minorities, ethnic and racial minorities, and secular and minority religious group members.

I do respect religious-based civil organizations that are clear about the impact their religious basis has on their policy. Raised Roman Catholic and with a brother who is a Methodist minister (long story), I know that Christianity can be a positive basis from which to fight for social justice. But that makes me even more wary of the times when, as in Honduras in recent years, Christian religious themes are injected where they should not be: the Armed Forces, for example, or the rhetoric of Cardinal Rodriguez.

But I do want to believe there can be broad grass-roots movements, including those with religious foundations, even those receiving funding from UNDP (imagine a smiling emoticon here), which is not the kind of funding source I do worry about. US foreign aid, I regret to say, does make me worry-- but European aid programs, in my experience, have been much more likely to allow local people to create local agendas. All governmental aid, of course, is premised on performances of certain kinds. But I live in the real world and I have taken plenty of funding from government sources.

And I will take you up on the offer to meet in person when I next make it to Tegucigalpa. With current commitments, not likely to be until late summer. Meanwhile, thanks for the clarifications and I, and I hope others here, will watch with interest to see how your role unfolds.