Saturday, February 27, 2010

It's Just Politics, Says Interpol

La Tribuna reported today that the Interpol spokesperson in Honduras, Orlin Cerrato, announced that Interpol in Honduras will no longer forward international arrest warrants against Manuel Zelaya Rosales and his former Ministers because Interpol believes them to be political crimes:
In cases of political, ethnic and religious or military situations, sincerely they won't follow up on such notices.

Since the June 28 coup, the Public Prosecutor, Luis Rubi, has been issuing arrest warrant after arrest warrant, and the Interpol office in Honduras has been dutifully forwarding red notice requests, as Interpol refers to these arrest orders, on to Interpol headquarters in France, where nothing happened. Scans of the Interpol red notice request form for Manuel Zelaya were among the documents circulating in my email shortly after the coup.

On July 3, 2009, Interpol issued a statement denying it had received any red notice requests for President Manuel Zelaya Rosales. In the press release it clarified that international law prevents it from issuing a red notice on any President, Head of State or Government unless the notice was requested by an international tribunal.

Then on July 7, Interpol told the press,
The charges against President Zelaya of misuse of authority, usurpation of public functions, offences against the system of government, and treason were assessed as being of a political nature with no ordinary-law crime element.

On February 5, Cerrato, who many of you will remember as spokesperson for the National Police in the de facto regime of Micheletti, told El Heraldo that the Secretary General of Interpol had commissioned a legal study of the red notices against Zelaya and former members of his administration when the first one came in shortly after the coup.

Well, word has finally filtered back to Honduras and Cerrato is informing the Public Minister, and the press, that Interpol will not be pursuing these red notices because they are of a political nature, and Interpol will not pursue them.

Ironically this comes days after the Interpol head in Honduras was reported to have said to a reporter that he didn't understand why Interpol Headquarters in France was ignoring the international arrest warrants for Zelaya and his ministers coming from his office.

So, La Tribuna reported today what the rest of the world knew last July, that Interpol was not going to pursue Honduras's red notice requests against Zelaya or former members of his administration because they were recognizably nothing more than political persecution.

And it bears underlining that for all the talk of the Lobo Sosa administration being a change from the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti, Lobo Sosa did not end the emission of warrants against Zelaya government officials. The same Public Prosecutor remains in power; many other members of the Micheletti regime, like Orlin Cerrato, continue to occupy positions of influence in the government or civil society. The coup is still the present, not the past.

Friday, February 26, 2010

"Neither Forgive nor Forget" Shouts the Resistance

Yesterday, the Frente de Resistencia in Honduras carried out a massive protest march in Tegucigalpa. Coverage by Honduras' Tiempo, which provided the headline quoted above, reported estimates of 20,000 participants who marched to demand constitutional reform and accountability for human rights violations that followed the coup d'etat of June 28, 2009.

The crowd was described by Tiempo as composed of
Teachers, union members, workers in general and the unemployed... galvanized by the popular leaders Rafael Alegría, Daniel Durón and Eulogio Chávez.

The pro-coup La Tribuna took a different approach. Their story, which offered no estimate of the crowd size, focused more on the participation by teachers-- who have been the long-term target of conservative backlash from the media and political elites. La Tribuna quoted the Lobo Sosa administration's Minister of Education, Alejandro Ventura, as calling the strike by participating teachers "unfortunate". In response, Jaime Rodríguez, president of the Colegio de Profesores de Educación Media de Honduras (COPEMH) was quoted as saying "It is also possible to teach students in the streets". So much for the idea that Lobo Sosa's appointment of Ventura had resolved the opposition of teachers.

But that didn't stop El Heraldo-- also resolutely pro-coup-- from headlining its story mentioning the march Majority of Teachers Gave Classes Thursday. Their first line tells it all, from their (nakedly biased) perspective:
Primary school teachers from the capital city did not attend the Zelayist march that ended in the accustomed acts of vandalism.

Well, glad we got THAT sorted out.

So is anyone taking notice outside Honduras?

Well, the Jamaica Observer wins the award for highest attention to the issue in the global English-language media. Its coverage estimated the crowd at 10,000 and managed to accurately communicate that the marchers "called for reform of the constitution and denounced corruption and rights abuses since Zelaya was ousted last June".

Of course, its opening paragraph mis-characterized the marchers as simply "pro-Zelaya".

This confusion between a national movement for reform and the personal supporters of a specific politician is not unusual in English-language media. But it detracts from the real issues, and facilitates the media ignoring the fact that it is not just a segment of the Honduran population that remains concerned about what the success of the coup has produced, both in Honduras and more broadly in Latin America.

When Argentina's Christina Kirchner discusses the negative reaction of Latin American governments to the failure of US policy in the face of the coup on CNN-- negative reactions that contributed to the creation of a new regional group excluding the US-- US media should follow through with analysis of what she, and others in the region, are concerned about.

But instead, the US media rely on two strained storylines for Honduras: Zelaya is the past; Lobo is doing everything needed to create "reconciliation".

But there is no reconciliation without actually facing the facts of what divided Honduras, and continues to divide Honduras. To ignore public protest is to shape the news.

Or, as Ida Garberi puts it in the headline of her article on Vos el Soberano about the event:
we are not five, we are not one hundred, sold-out press, count us well...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Romeo Good Night

General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez is out as commander of the armed forces of Honduras. This afternoon, President Porfirio Lobo Sosa swore in the former Inspector General of the Armed Forces, General Carlos Antonio Cuéllar Castillo, as head of the armed forces of Honduras.

General Vasquez Velasquez was not due to be replaced in this position until next December, but international pressure is cited in the Tiempo story as the reason for his removal now. The story says that the international community does not want anyone linked with the coup in Lobo Sosa's government.

Lobo Sosa explained that Cuéllar would serve in this position until he was due to retire, in 2013. Cuéllar, La Prensa reported, will make recommendations to Lobo Sosa about the 5 officials who should head each of the branches of the armed forces and form his equivalent of the Joint Chiefs.

General Carlos Cuéllar was one of the Generals charged by the Honduran Public Prosecutor with exiling President Manuel Zelaya Rosales on June 28, so its hard to see how moving from one golpista General to another is actually a response to international pressure to not have anyone associated with the coup as part of the Lobo Sosa government, but maybe its the degree to which Romeo Vasquez Velasquez is linked to the coup that necessitated his removal. In any case, this is not a radical change.

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?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The unmasking of golpismo: Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle

Translated from the Spanish posted February 23 on Vos el Soberano:

Those who have taken pains to better inform themselves have not been confused. After a debate of more than a month, hundreds of anthropologists who are members of the American Anthropological Association just passed a resolution that not only condemns the coup d'etat, as many historians of the US have already done, but also asks their government to condemn the abuses of rights on the part of golpismo, support the Resistance, collaborate with the governments of the region and refuse to recognize the government elected under golpismo. But those that have trusted in the information of the press do not end up understanding and one of my old professors-- a political scientist-- here (in México) a few days ago asked me in puzzlement "if the ex-President Zelaya did not intend to remain in power, as the conspiratorial press always alleged, what could have motivated the coup d'etat of the 28th of June?"

I do not know if I knew how to explain well to him that the proposal for a Constitutional Assembly menaced the interests of the beneficiaries of the system, determined to continue being those that command and to command for their benefit. Nor do I know if the majority in Honduras understand it thoroughly. But I see with clarity how the conspirators have tried to conceal this essential motive.

Before and after the 29th of November, golpismo has wished to justify itself recovering its rhetorical defense "of institutionality" whose advance it reverted thirty years, "of the Constitution" that it broke, of "the democracy" that it repressed and of which it made a mockery, and "of private enterprise" whose legitimate right it has placed in insecurity. And it has sought to symbolically consecrate these justifications declaring the day of the coup as that "of the defense of the Constitution", and the golpistas, above all the tramp Micheletti, as "hero of democracy", an idea that was inspired by the grotesque joke of Thomas Shannon that history will not forget him, and to which the Grupo de Rio now has responded. Gradually (as the old adage goes, "by his deeds you will know him"), the contradictions and disputes among the golpistas for the loot surpassed the underlying motives, so that they can be contemplated starkly and they wind up being understood by themselves and strangers.

The later proliferation-- that La Gaceta testifies to-- of concessions of exploitation of open-air mining, that ex-President Zelaya had suspended from the day of his inauguration. The denunciations of corruption of the first post-coup regime (of Micheletti) on the part of the second (of Lobo) that have been disseminated from the Presidential Residence by Sr. Discua, of as yet obscure antecedents, detailing the scandalous management of resources. The denunciations of a pair of ministers, notoriously that of Culture, about the unknown fate of hundreds of millions of lempiras of funds evidently outside the budget (transferred outside of the budget of the entity) for unjustified purposes. The unheard of concession to the mafia of a dam in which the Honduran State (and the people) have invested dozens of millions of dollars since the time of the earlier military dictatorship. The protest now of COHEP about the presentation of "the fiscal species" that this corporation used to enjoy legal benefit from, to the military class, to buy goods of questionable valuation. And, finally, the candid disclosure, on the part of the new Chancellor, of the division of consulates among the traditional parties allied in the coup they attempt to explain.

These things together and simultaneously place in evidence the motive of golpismo: the cupidity of the elites, business, political, and military, and their eagerness to continue enjoying the benefits of public goods and resources without restraint, which the prospect of "Citizen Power" placed at risk. These larcenies are not novel nor unique. So it is that it has always operated, the present "democratic" State (the system of government that the golpistas defended with such passion against any change) to benefit the "real power groups", "interest groups" that have disputed the division of the benefits, the exemptions, the pardons, the concessions of services, the well- and badly- conceived state enterprises, etc. according to the old pattern of colonial corporatism.

If it had been possible to consolidate, in effect, a political regime that responded in direct and exclusive form to the general interest of the citizenry, through a constitutional assembly that would facilitate the participation in legislative representation, in the operation and control of the system, this understanding among delinquents would have been threatened, not only when their misdeeds were revealed, but in the process of public discussion and decision. (This was sought by the ill-fated, because misunderstood, Law of Access to Public Information, that was promulgated at the beginning of the Zelaya administration and that the system rapidly neutralized, dividing the magistracies among the parties.) The coup was produced to protect these privileges for their beneficiaries.

I do not know how many people know that-- even though the cynics of the Honduran political class "understand the routine this way"-- this type of distribution (and more when it is done publicly) is unacceptable not only in the advanced countries, but also in the neighbors of the isthmus that have already passed through a modernizing process. Many Hondurans will not be able easily to understand it. I do not know in what proportion the mass of the Resistance or the public in general understand it. (In the final instance the prospect for reform and the development of the country depends on what the majority understands, because those who benefit from the usufruct rights that they run the risk of losing control of understand it well.) But I do not wish to boast about finding the water tepid. And the unveiling of the modus operandi of this primeval dominant class is a sorrowful civic education for all and a component of the construction of democracy that, in the Honduran case, precisely due to this type of throwbacks, passes -- necessarily-- through a re-founding, by a Constitutional assembly that will armor, as they say today, the general interest.

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.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Honduran Members of Truth Commission Previewed

Radio America reported this afternoon, as did El Heraldo and La Prensa, that the Lobo Sosa government confirmed today the names of Hondurans who would be members of the truth commission.

Two of the announced members are the current and former rectors of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH in Spanish), Julietta Castellanos and Jorge Omar Casco. Casco has been working with Stein on setting forth the ground rules for the commission.

The third Honduran member of the commission will be Sergio Membreño, also an academic, who will be the technical secretary of the commission. Membreño was Deputy Chief of the Honduran diplomatic mission in Washington starting in 2003, having previously served the Honduran UN Development Program as an economist. Perhaps more intriguing, in 2007 he was the Executive Director of the Honduran National Anticorruption Council (CNA), and was quoted then as saying
Corruption [in Honduras] is closely related to a system of political favoritism, bi-partisan favoritism, and the way in which the operators of justice are named...There is a shortage of values in Honduras and it makes me sad to admit it, especially in front of the international community, but if we don't acknowledge this, it will be very difficult to find a solution [to corruption in politics]

Porfirio Lobo Sosa has already announced that Eduardo Stein will stay on as one of the three international representatives on the commission, but as yet, has not confirmed who the other two international members will be, only that the commission will be fully formed by the 25th of February. Stein said the process of organizing the commission is taking longer than he anticipated, and that it is no longer sure that the commission will be fully formed by February 25.

In reaction to the announcement of the Honduran members, the Unión Cívica Democrática (UCD), or at least one of its organizers, businessman Jimmy Dacarett, continues to call for a public consensus on who should be truth commission members. Dacarett said Porfirio Lobo
is placing his people how he wants, with people who are not qualified to be part of the truth commission.

Dacarett told La Tribuna that Julietta Castellanos, the rector of the University, has been singled out by businessmen as supporting the resistance. Stein, they allege, published articles in which he referred to events in Honduras as a military coup. In his view, this disqualifies both:
These are people who have deep beliefs about a position in this sense. As people, they are not qualified to be part of the commission. The commission has already failed because no one will accept their report as either true or false because they are not complying with the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord under a national consensus. Just like Manuel Zelaya did in his time, what Pepe Lobo is doing is going against the interests of the majority of Hondurans.

Meanwhile, the rabidly pro-coup El Heraldo spun it that Julieta Castellanos was pro-resistance because she has hired some of Zelaya's former cabinet members to be faculty and administrators at the University, and some of them had even supported the cuarta urna! They stopped short of actually saying that this disqualified her to serve on the commission, but that certainly would have been their position if they were voicing one.

La Prensa adds that Lobo responded to a question from a student later in the day, commenting on more than 3000 reports of human rights abuses in the country since June 28, saying
yes we are going to pay attention to those 3000 cases that you point out because....we want to respect those rights.

So perhaps human rights abuses might actually be on the agenda after all. Stay tuned.

Finally, Proceso Digital noted today that Lobo and Eduardo Stein would meet with the members of the committees that negotiated the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord for Micheletti and Zelaya on Thursday. The meeting is to understand what both parties intended a truth commission to do in including it as part of the Accord.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Miguel Facussé Explains the Importance of the Bajo Aguan

As a follow up to the previous post, consider an article in today's El Heraldo where Miguel Facussé explains that resolving the conflict between his claims and those of campesinos is critical to prevent bank failures in Honduras.

If your reaction was "Huh?" read on. If that last sentence made sense to you: hello Miguel! glad to have you reading!

This one needs to be taken step by step precisely as presented.

According to the article, Facussé explained that "one of the aspects that preoccupies him most is the image that Honduras projects to the world of the investors", saying
One of the most important things is the idea of what we are in Honduras, the image that we are giving to the investor. In this time, to succeed in getting investors to come to Honduras will be very difficult because of the political situation that we have experienced, so that we have to unite ourselves in some way to give a good appearance to the world.
Hah! too bad someone went and created that whole political awkwardness, scaring off those investors. Now if we could just get that guy to come forward and take responsibility...

And what's at risk here is far more than any of us have considered, as Facussé went on to explain:
If we do not succeed in getting investors to come to Honduras, with the calamitous situation that faces the world, here we are going to be in misery, I think that we have to make a common front and see how we can resolve this problem, it's not a problem of Miguel Facussé, rather, one of the entire country.

When I read the phrase aquí vamos a ir a la miseria I couldn't help but think of the kind of life campesinos who reoccupy unused land routinely live, without basic services, acceptable housing, and under constant threat of expulsion.

But to return to Miguel Facussé's clarification of the issues at hand: it appears that one of the worries is that there are loans authorized that cannot be paid out, portending disaster for the entire Honduran economy:
The World Bank, the International Development Bank, and the Banco Alemán authorized loans, but they are paralyzed by the problem of the Bajo Aguan. There are a total of 20 banks that are financing me and the guarantee is the land and its cultivated products. Look, if it comes to shutting, various banks here are going to close.

Facussé says this is much more than a mere conflict over agrarian policy, on which he is willing to give his informed opinion as well:
This has gone beyond what is an agrarian problem, we bought the farm and we paid very well for it, those of the agrarian reform had the dough but they did not invest it and they squandered the money, therefore I believe that agrarian reform is not the way out.

That should come as news-- not sure what kind of news to call it-- to César Ham, who one assumes thinks it is an agrarian issue. But he should be reassured: after responding to a call to discuss matters with INA, Facussé reported that Ham is a responsible official:
He isn't that wild bear now, I found him very amiable.

And isn't that the most important thing-- that all the political and economic elites like each other?

Selective memory and the Campesinos of the Bajo Aguan

Today's email brings another urgent notice about ongoing violence against farmers in north coast Honduras', in the fertile Aguan river valley. Here, the Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguan (MUCA) has been vigorously calling attention to violence that so far has resulted in the reported deaths of four rural farmers. The Bajo Aguan conflict has been well covered by like that of anthropologist Adrienne Pine, who reported on January 9 on a paramilitary operation to evict the campesinos in the lower Aguan valley. Spanish-language blogs include details of the names and numbers of those detained and mistreated in these operations. On January 9, El Libertador reported three deaths among the campesinos, two from Cooperative San Esteban and one from Cooperative Guanchias, without disclosing their names; as well as the deaths of two security guards involved in the raid.

But you would be hard-pressed to know the full story if you were only reading the daily newspapers in Honduras. El Tiempo has a story about the Bajo Aguan confrontation datelined February 16, headlined Government seeks solution to agrarian conflicts of the Aguan. It reports that César Ham, in his new role of government insider as director of the Instituto Nacional Agrario (INA), has formed a "commission" of landlords, campesino leaders, and the government to "seek a peaceful solution".

From the government's perspective, the problem is that 3500 campesino families have occupied and are cultivating 9000 hectares of land for which businessmen claim property titles. Ham is reported to be studying solutions ranging from expropriating the land (while paying the land-holders); moving the campesinos to other land; or a combination.

El Heraldo also had a story about the ongoing conflict yesterday. Not surprisingly, their coverage had a somewhat more sinister tone, claiming that the violence being experienced could be "attacks on the part of organized crime". Heraldo emphasized what they claim are the deaths or disappearances of five security guards for Dinant Corporation at the hands of "supposed campesinos". The report quotes an "anonymous source" who goes further in smearing the campesino movement that is itself under attack:
A different treatment should be given to this problem, since these actions have characteristics of guerrilla cells, based on the messages that they left and the weapons that they are using.

These Honduran news reports engage in selective silence. The deaths of the campesinos reported by email and on progressive blogs are not mentioned or are only vaguely included in a generalized claim of violence.

References to the "landlords" don't specify who is involved, nor do these reports make clear what is at issue and why. The conflict involves land claimed by Miguel Facussé and others prominent in the coup d'etat of June 28.

The land at issue was claimed by the campesinos under policies-- now silently repudiated-- of the Zelaya administration. As reported by the Salvadoran blog Tercera Información
These campesinos, belonging to various unions grouped in the Movimiento Unificado de Campesinos del Aguan (MUCA), a part of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular, remind us that "there exists a legal agreement (convenio) between president Zelaya and these campesino groups of the Aguan, signed at the beginning of the month of June 2009 before the coup d'etat, in which was agreed that a technical legal commission would investigate the legality of the tenancy of these lands and the supposed property-owners Miguel Facusé, René Morales y Reinaldo Canales would be paid for the improvements that they had made; but the lands would be handed over [to the campesions occupying them].

Needless to say, in the wake of the coup, the Micheletti regime did not follow through. As those claiming title to the land were powerful backers of the coup and the regime, it was their interests that were uppermost for Roberto Micheletti. So, as progressive blog Kaos en la Red puts it, the campesino groups took direct action:
groups of campesinos initiated a process of recovery of land beginning December 9... land usurped by the businessmen Miguel Facussé, René Morales and Reynaldo Canales, who, taking advantage of the coup d'Etat, paralyzed the process of negotiation initiated under the presidency of Manuel Zelaya.

The attempt to throw the farming community off the land has involved police, Armed Forces, and security forces contracted by the landlords, who routinely hire military reservists for such purposes. The blurring of lines between military and civilian, government and private security, has been a feature of Honduran life for the entire time I have worked there. It is corrosive to the atmosphere of civil society at the best of times when you cannot be certain if the uniformed man with the gun telling you to "come with me" is official or free-lance. In the wake of a coup that officially authorized violence against peaceful protestors by both police and army, and that gave the army a renewed mandate to intrude in daily life, the blurring of lines is fatal.

And of course, none of this is reported in the English-language media, obsessed by its storyline of normalization under the new regime that supposedly is unifying Honduras.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why change your defense when it is working so well?

Tonight, the AP reports that Porfirio Lobo Sosa has made his decision about the leadership of the Armed Forces.

And surprise! he is keeping the 2009 team that was so successful in committing the coup d'etat, and then serving the de facto regime.

As Col. Ramiro Archaga told the press after a three hour meeting with Lobo Sosa,
The president told us he is no hurry to make changes to the military leadership, that he will do that when he thinks it's convenient...That means there will be no changes for now.

Coverage by the pro-coup La Prensa is more colorful than the AP story. It quotes the Armed Forces spokesman as saying Lobo Sosa met over lunch with the high command and Defense Minister
to reiterate to the Armed Forces his backing in the programs to combat criminality and in assistance to the communities of the country, principally those affected by the drought.

Lobo Sosa is quoted as asking that the Armed Forces "get close to the people". To help in that task, the Armed Forces are reportedly going to be given part of the goods seized from drug traffickers and other members of organized crime.

Not that Lobo Sosa's announcement was a ringing endorsement of General Vasquez Velasquez personally. Having previously given murky statements to the effect that there was precedent for removing a chief of the command, what Lobo Sosa is said to have indicated is
for the moment [Vasquez Velasquez] continues being the chief of the High Command... until the President names the substitute that he feels is convenient.

General Romeo, the spokesperson pointed out, was originally named to serve through the end of this year. So apparently he will have time to pack his things. And meanwhile, he and his comrades in arms are satisfied, they say, that Lobo Sosa is in the "best position to aid the Armed Forces so that [they] can move ahead".

And in case the message is not clear, recall that Lobo Sosa continues to have Adolfo Sevilla, appointed by Roberto Micheletti, as his Defense Minister. This has its awkward moments: the government of Spain, for example, refuses to let anyone who served in the coup regime government enter the country, explicitly including Sevilla, who bears direct responsibility for the actions of the Armed Forces in repressing dissent after the coup d'etat.

But Lobo Sosa can count on the same fine team that helped implement the defense policies of the Micheletti regime. And why would he not want that?

Resistencia: organization and goals

As we have previously discussed, the proposal on the table for the composition of a "truth commission" includes a call for membership of one representative of the Honduran resistance.

But the question that raises is, who decides who can represent the resistance? it is already clear that there are attempts to misrepresent César Ham's appointment to the Lobo Sosa cabinet as somehow representing the "resistance" (with a lower case "r"). This in part stems from the logic of refusing to recognize any movement that has not subjected itself to the legal requisites of registration as a "political" organization under Honduran law.

Instead, the National Popular Resistance Front (with a capital "R") continues to organize itself as a broad popular movement, by definition without a single leader. And that movement has reiterated that its goal is not to be part of a truth commission seen as intended to whitewash the coup; but to advocate for a new constitutional assembly.

This point is made most clearly by a statement posted today on Vos el Soberano:

Definition and Organic Structure of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia

The FNRP is a broad organization of political and social struggle, anticapitalist, anti-neoliberal, anti-oligarchic, anti-imperialist, anti-patriarchal, and anti-racist that seeks the transformation of social, political, economic, educational structures, and those of cultural dominance, by means of the installation of the National Constitutional Assembly, inclusive and popular, that will approve the first political constitution made by the people to refound the State of Honduras, eliminating the present relations of domination and exploitation and creating a system of social justice that wil guarantee the well-being, liberty, and dignity of all men and women.

The FNRP seeks to deepen Latin American and Central American integration, and in the framework of the free self-determination of the peoples, rejects any type of domination or foreign meddling in the internal affairs of the country.

The FNRP is an instrument that is a construction of popular power with full political and ideological independence from political parties, religious faiths and other organizations and persons, and is made up of popular movements, social organizations and political forms that seek the social transformation of the country; in it are represented inhabitants (men and women), the peasantry, laboring men and women, micro, small, and medium-size business men and women, environmental movements, students, progressive NGOs, progressive and democratic political forces, the teaching profession, professionals, human rights groups, youth, women, artists, indigenous and black peoples, groups, the lesbian, gay, trans-sexual and bisexual community (LGTB), popular churches, migrants and other organized and unorganized sectors.

The Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular has as fundamental axes of struggle, political formation as the determining factor for the construction of participatory democracy, organization as a key factor for the consolidation of forces at the local, regional, and national level, and permanent mobilization in defense and protection of the rights of the people.

General description of the organic structure:

1. Resistance collectives (neighborhoods, rural communities, popular organizations, social organizations)

2. Municipal assembly of representatives of the resistance collectives

a. executive organ: coordination of municipal resistance

3. Departmental [state] assembly of representatives of municipal resistance

a. executive organ: coordination of the state-level resistance

4. National assembly of representatives of state resistance plus the representatives of the social and political forces (popular, social, and political organizations)

a. Executive organ: national coordination

Other notes on organization:

1. Each region will have autonomy to define its own internal organic structure. While the process of consolidation of the local, municipal, and department-level Resistance Fronts is in process, a Provisional National Coordination will be installed.

2. In each level of the organization there will be integrated representatives of the popular organizations and political movements that make up the FNRP

3. Each level of organization will define the working groups that are necessary to carry out its operational work.

4. The conduct of each form should be horizontal, democratic, and inclusive, respecting the declaration of principles.

So again we ask: who will speak for the "resistance" in the proposed Truth Commission? and who will they speak for?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mario Canahuati Goes to Washington

A story on the AP newswire last Saturday quotes Mario Canahuati, new Foreign Minister of Honduras, saying he is on his way to Washington, DC to promote a direct meeting between Barack Obama and Porfirio Lobo Sosa as part of the campaign to normalize relations with the US.

According to El Tiempo, Lobo Sosa's main goal in meeting with President Obama would be to seek extension of the Temporary Protected Status, extended to almost 80,000 Honduran immigrants in the US. This status allowed undocumented migrants who came to the US in the wake of Hurricane Mitch to remain there.

Foreign Relations Minister Canahuati is quoted in the Spanish El Economista as saying
What has been requested is to strengthen relations with the US and logically for that a reunion of president Porfirio Lobo with president Barack Obama is necessary.

Of course, a direct face-to-face conversation between the two is not required for strengthening of relations with the US; but it would be a publicity boon for Lobo Sosa. It is worth remembering that President Obama never met directly with former President Zelaya after the coup d'etat, despite Zelaya making at least five separate trips to Washington, and despite reiterating that Zelaya remained the only recognized president of Honduras in the eyes of the US government, even as late as January 22 of this year. Instead, Zelaya was offered meetings with representatives of the State Department, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. There is a reason that governments use high-ranking cabinet members for such purposes: the aura that comes from meeting directly with the US president is political capital on its own.

So does Mario Canahuati have a chance of promoting such an encounter between Obama and Lobo Sosa? In part, that depends on defining a politically acceptable agenda. So it is worth pointing out that while the AP claims the purpose of such a meeting would be "restoring ties damaged by last June's coup", the actual proposal by Canahuati steers clear of that touchy terrain. Instead, by raising the impending end of the protected status in summer of this year, Canahuati has identified an issue that is of sufficient weight that it can credibly be proposed as the focus of joint discussions by presidents of the two countries. Which of course does not mean Obama has to agree to this, and given the radioactive nature of debate in the US about undocumented immigrants, and hysteria promoted by news coverage of gang violence by youths of Central American background, it would not be surprising if this issue were taken up at a lower level of the government.

And that brings us to a second factor at play in this bid to get Lobo Sosa some reflected glow, which is Canahuati's own skills and connections. As minister of Relaciones Exteriores, Canahuati brings to the table a history as Ambassador to Washington, from 2002 to 2005. As Ambassador, he was responsible for negotiating a previous renewal of the protected status given to undocumented Hondurans in the US after Hurricane Mitch. In 2005, he was the National Party candidate for vice president, on the losing ticket with Porfirio Lobo Sosa. He went on to be President of the Consejo Hondureño de la Empresa Privada (COHEP, Honduran Council of Private Enterprise) in 2006, speaking in opposition to President Zelaya's policies.

Canahuati is the son of a businessman, Juan Canahuati, whose wealth came from textile companies in the north coast, near San Pedro Sula, founded in 1964, and today called Grupo Lovable. His brother is Jesús Canahuati, head of the maquiladora's association. Jorge Canahuati, owner of La Prensa and El Heraldo, is another relative. According to a profile published while he was Ambassador to Washington previously, Mario Canahuati studied industrial engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology.

In a previous post, we noted Canahuati's role as a defender of the coup d'etat of 2009 who promoted the idea that the economic sector could withstand international pressure. He was a major rival of Lobo Sosa's in the primary campaign for the National Party nomination, leading the "Todos Somos Honduras" movement. Juan Canahuati was identified by sociologist Leticia Salomon as one of the group of wealthy elites who backed the June 28 coup d'etat. Jesus Canahuati was vice president of the Honduran section of CEAL, the Business Council of Latin America, notorious as the on-the-record employer of Lanny Davis as apologist for the 2008 coup.

US Denies Lobo His Ambassador Of Choice

Voselsoberano reported this morning that the US State Department has rejected Porfirio Lobo Sosa's nomination of Roberto Flores Bermúdez to be the Honduran Ambassador to the United States. Flores Bermúdez was appointed Ambassador to the United States by Manuel Zelaya Rosales, but shortly after the coup on June 28, 2009, switched allegiance to the de facto regime in Honduras. Zelaya then wrote a letter to the State Department firing Flores Bermúdez, which caused the United States to revoke his diplomatic status. Flores Bermúdez actively represented the de facto regime in several of its attempts to persuade parts of the US government that what happened in Honduras was legal, proper, and correct.

Lobo Sosa was likely testing the waters to see how much he needed to distance himself from the de facto regime, which he has never denounced. No one who was directly involved in the de facto regime has had their US visa restored. The State Department's rejection of Lobo Sosa's choice as Ambassador means that the United States, like Spain, so far, is rejecting the participation in diplomacy of anyone directly linked to the de facto regime. While I am under no illusion that this will actually happen, the US government, as a condition of full diplomatic normalization, should require a clear condemnation of the events of June 28 from the Lobo Sosa government.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mayanization in action: erasing Pech history

A story that caught my eye today, from the Bulgarian site FOCUS Information Agency (billing itself as "the first Bulgarian private information agency" and "the most preferred Bulgarian electronic media both in Bulgaria and abroad"), simultaneously illustrates the complexity of Honduran cultural history, and the narrowing effects of what historian Dario Euraque has dubbed mayanization: the collapse of all the diversity of Honduras' pluralistic indigenous heritage into one category, as generalized "Maya".

The story reports on an initiative by the "Friendship Society Bulgaria – Honduras" who will be traveling to La Ceiba, a city on the north coast of Honduras, east of San Pedro Sula. There, they say, is found the only river in the world named after their native country, the Rio Bulgaria:
Inquiries have shown that a Bulgarian community has been living in the Central American country for 100 years. At the beginning of 20 century they discovered an unknown river and named it Bulgaria in honor of their native country.

That brought me only a moment's pause. While I had no previous knowledge of a Bulgarian immigrant population, the North Coast is incredibly diverse, and waves of immigrants around the turn of the 20th century were drawn there by the business opportunities created by internationalization of the banana industry.

The expedition will bring Honduran photographers Nimer Alvarado and Mervin Corales to trace the course of this river from its headwaters near Tegucigalpita (a small town, not the capital city), as it runs from Pico Bonito, one of Honduras' astonishing national parks, to La Ceiba.

So far, so good. The article notes that the photographic trek is
carried out in cooperation with the culture center in La Ceiba.

This is one of the local "Casas de Cultura", an initiative pushed forward under former Minister of Culture Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle beginning in his first term in that position between 1994 and 1996. Casas de Cultura are intended to encourage public participation in the exploration of specifically local histories. It would seem like nothing could be more localized than a coherent Bulgarian community with sufficient sense of national origin to lead them to name a local landmark in memory of that country.

But wait:
The photographs taken will be displayed in an exhibition called Rio Bulgaria – the Bulgarian Presence in the Land of Maya [emphasis added]
So in what sense were Bulgarians living near La Ceiba "in the land of the Maya"? None, really.

We do know quite a lot about the prehispanic people of the north coast of Honduras. They lived in towns, the largest of which probably had populations of a few thousand people, whose remains are recognizable as mounds today, mapped by archaeologists visiting the area since the first half of the 20th century. At least one large archaeological site is directly adjacent to La Ceiba itself, although not developed for visitation. Based on ceramics, it probably dated to the Classic period-- more or less 500-1000 AD. And, also based on these ceramics, the people living near La Ceiba were not the same as the people of Copan, who we refer to today as Maya.

Who were the people living near La Ceiba? To answer that question, we enter into speculative territory, and need to take into account how archaeologists know who lived anywhere. The common approach is to take the people who Europeans described in the 16th century as most likely descendants of those who had lived in the same place earlier. Notice that this means we assume that people stayed in place, unless there is some strong evidence that they moved; this conservative assumption can sometimes be misleading.

But if we take this common approach, then the likely people of the area around La Ceiba would be the ancestors of the indigenous group today known as Pech, previously called Paya. Pech are recognized as the indigenous people who occupied the island of Roatan in the sixteenth century. The northeast coast opposite the Bay Islands was the earliest focus of Spanish occupation, including massive slave raiding of the indigenous population. This began a long history of depletion of Pech population, including forced resettlement and voluntary movement away from exploitation.

The surviving Pech are among the indigenous groups officially recognized by the State of Honduras, under ILO 160, the Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries of 1989, which was ratified in 1995. According to Minority Rights Group International (MRG), an NGO tracking global diversity, today there are about 2000 Pech who
have resisted total assimilation and, under the national bilingual programme, have developed Pech-language courses and Pech teachers.

In fact, you can find a YouTube video of Pech children singing the Honduran national anthem in translation.

Does it matter that a promotional notice of a pretty bizarre "cultural" exchange between Bulgaria, of all places, and Honduras, erases the historical connection of Pech to the land they once occupied, and replaces it with a generalized "Maya" identity?

Well, yes, it does. Cultural diversity has been a focus of struggle in Honduras for decades. In these struggles, the erasure of other pasts and their replacement with a single Maya past breaks connections between contemporary people and the territory they once occupied. It can lead to investment in understanding one valued indigenous culture to the exclusion of understanding the others that Honduras recognizes. And it undermines attempts fostered by some Honduran intellectuals to forge a national identity that recognizes historical complexity for a nation today working to accommodate various forms of difference.

As MRG puts it
For most of its post-independence history the culture of national unity forged by the state has been on the basis of a mestizo ideal... As a consequence traditional indigenous and minority populations have historically been marginalized, ignored or discriminated against....

This despite the fact that
Unlike other countries of the region, in the 1980s Honduras officially recognized the multicultural composition of its society and the need to protect the economic, cultural and human rights of its ethnic peoples. This helped to create an official space for indigenous and minority populations to work towards having their rights recognized and their needs addressed.
So yes, it matters when a photographic exhibition planned to be shown nationally and internationally erases local identity. And it is especially ironic when this takes place in the context of re-discovering the complexity of European heritages of modern Honduras.

A historical footnote: the erasure of Pech identity and its replacement by Maya identity has a long literary history.

When Christopher Columbus made his only landfall on the mainland of the Americas in 1502, it was on the north coast of Honduras, across from the Bay Islands-- that is, in the region of La Ceiba. He had first captured a canoe off the island of Guanaja, which, like Roatan, was likely inhabited by Pech speaking people. Most reports today identify the canoe as "Maya traders", ignoring the original accounts, written closest to the time of the incident. These clearly identify the canoe as coming from one of the islands, and its passengers as local people.

Most pernicious, modern accounts base the identification of this canoe on a sixteenth-century general historian, Peter Martyr d'Anghiera, who wrote that
this vast region [the mainland of northern Honduras] is divided into two parts, one called Taïa and the other called Maïa
Or, that is what he is said to have written. In fact, the manuscript of his book clearly has "Païa", not "Taïa", the name previously used for the people who call themselves Pech.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Corrupting the Public Record: Gacetazo

It started simply enough; on January 22, 2010, edition 32,120 of the Honduran La Gaceta was published. La Gaceta is the official publication of the Honduran government. It is published daily by the Empresa Nacional de Artes Gráficas (ENAG), 16 pages long, and contains the laws, resolutions, and decrees of the Honduran government that have been approved for publication. For congressional laws and presidential decrees, this is the last step in making them legal and placing them in effect.

This year on January 13, the National Congress passed a law, 207-2009 (also referred to as decree 293-2009), that allocated the rights to build, administer, and maintain a dam and reservoir in Nacaome, Department of Valle, Honduras. This contract for 25 years was allocated to the Italo-Honduran consortium, Compania Eléctrica Nacaome, Sociedad Anonima (ENASA), and was pushed through Congress supported by the de facto regime's Secretary of Transportation (SOPTRAVI), José Rosario Bonano, also responsible for hundreds of road contracts that are now being reviewed for irregularities. The building of the dam, and its use to supply water for drinking and irrigation was to be financed by the Italian government, while the turbines and machine room for generation of 30 megawatts of electricity were to be financed by the Spanish government.

So on the morning of January 22, when edition #32120 of La Gaceta was printed, this was pending legal business needing to be published.

Except that particular morning, there were two different editions of La Gaceta, both numbered #32120.

A mere twenty copies contained a copy of law 207-2009, making it official. These 20 copies were delivered to a representative of ENASA, for which they paid 20,000 lempiras, according to a receipt filed with ENAG.

The other 580 copies delivered to subscribers did not include Decreto 207-2009.

To be legally published, Martha Alicia García, the current director of ENAG, says that the text of a law must come from the Executive office with a signature of the Minister of Government. An order to publish must be issued by the director of ENAG, and it must then go through the production process, be reviewed for errors, and be published. This usually takes at least 24 hours.

The decree allocating the contract for the administration and maintenance of the Nacaome dam and reservoir was passed by the National Congress and, in theory, approved at the last cabinet meeting of the de facto government, the night of January 21.

However, there appears to be no signed order by the Minister of Government or from the de facto President ordering the publication of the decree, nor is there a signed order from the director of ENAG ordering its publication, nor did it take the normal 24 hours to get it into production. The decreto, in theory approved around dinner time, was then published in a special edition of La Gaceta, with copies all given to a representative of the consortium that benefitted, for which they paid 20,000 lempiras, less than 12 hours later!

The Assistant Director of ENAG, José Everaldo Robles, said such payments are normal and this one was based on the additional pages that were needed to print the law, at a rate of slightly more than 1,000 lempiras per page. While he did not find it suspicious that there were two editions, one with the law and one without, but he was concerned that the one with the law was of limited circulation. Martha Garcia, the Director of ENAG, agrees that it is usually the group that benefits that pays for the pages necessary to publish the decree that grants them the benefit.

The allocation of the rights to build the dam and generation equipment was questioned almost immediately, on January 23, by the National Electric Company's Employee's Union (STENEE in Spanish) who felt the National Electric Company (ENEE) should build and operate the facility. Multiple investigations, by Congress, by the Public Prosecutor, by the National Electric Company, and others, have all begun, with a scapegoat, the ex-Minister of SOPTRAVI, clearly in their sights. Edition #32120 of La Gaceta has been officially annulled. All of the laws and decrees published in either version of edition #32120 of La Gaceta have been put in limbo until they can be republished.

The administrator of the file room where the negatives of the pages of each edition of La Gaceta are filed has disappeared after asking for permission to take a leave of absence, along with the keys for the file room. The ex-President of Congress, Jose Alfredo Saavedra, under whose leadership the Congress approved supposedly approved the decreto in question, disclaims any knowledge saying he only oversees the discussion, not its content.

When we say that the de facto regime exploited their months in office to enrich themselves and those behind the coup, we expect the evidence to be obscured and the tracks hard to follow. Not that there will be a paper trail a mile wide documenting insider deals and corruption so clearly.

Unspeakable Truths

Ramon Custodio, the Human Rights Commissioner, sounded the alarm yesterday that the truth commission being formed by Eduardo Stein might be considering suggesting social and legal reforms as part of its mandate. Stein confirmed yesterday that it was possible the commission would look into suggesting reforms with the idea of preventing future crises.

Custodio's comments, and those of others, come following the announcement late this week that Stein would head a truth commission made up of 3 international representatives and two Honduran representatives, and that one of those Hondurans would be from the Frente de Resistencia with President Lobo selecting the other. Stein suggested the international representatives be ex-foreign ministers or jurists well versed in issues of human rights. While Stein suggested names in his report to Porfirio Lobo Sosa, he made it clear that President Lobo would be making the selection of representatives on the commission.

Maria de Bográn, presidential designate and advisor to President Lobo Sosa, said yesterday that Stein's report to the President
told us about making an analysis of some reforms, not precisely constitutional; it spoke of some reforms of social laws that needed to be made clearer or better.

She stated that the position of the President, and the Government, is that the commission has no mandate to suggest constitutional reforms.

Custodio, however, asked if this wasn't a continuation of the cuarta urna, the fourth ballot box whose proposal triggered this constitutional crisis. He inferred that the truth commission would be suggesting changes to the "written in stone" articles of the Constitution, including the prohibition on re-election of the president:
If what we removed with the cuarta urna they're going to impose on us with a yoke hidden in the truth commission, then Mr. Stein is presiding over and coordinating a constitutional commission.

Custodio went even further, accusing Stein of not being impartial:
Mr. Stein has in his background his bias about the Honduran crisis because he was part of the commission which declared that the Honduran elections were not legitimate and called at the time for the reincorporation of Mr. Zelaya as President of the Republic. So he is a person representing attributions that perhaps are not appropriate for the impartial, ethical carrying out (of the mandate of the truth commission) and could affect the relative stability that we've gained.

I think there is too much indulgence of the OAS. They're the cause of this problem...

Custodio's is not the only voice sounding the alarm. Federico Álvarez, an ex-president of the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (BCIE in Spanish) thinks things are moving much too fast, and that the truth commission needs commissioners who are questioned by no one:
We could have looked for investigators of international reputation, a group of constitutional law professors, who would be happy to be here with no interests and no links to anyone (involved in the crisis), and people would be more calm.

Álvarez suggested that there needs to be a separation between what Hondurans need to do to reform their constitution with the goal of strengthening their democracy, and what the truth commission might want to do with the constitution:
The only thing we know is what Stein said, and he said that it is necessary to revise the process by which a president is removed from office, ignorant of what article 239 of our constitution says.

Álvarez had already come out against Stein before recent reports about the nature of the proposed Truth Commission. In a February 6 editorial in La Tribuna he stated that Stein was disqualified by being a representative of a government (Guatemala) that had passed judgment on what happened in Honduras. This is not precisely true. While the government of Guatemala has expressed an opinion, it was not the government of which Stein was a part, since he was a member of a prior administration. Álvarez seems to be referring to Stein's membership in the Carter Center's mission to Honduras in October, 2009, to know the truth of the human rights violations and decide whether conditions were apt for an election.

So why this manifest anxiety over suggestions of reforms? How did Maria de Bográn's comment about the report suggesting the commission might consider suggesting reforms to social laws transform itself, in the representation of Custodio and Álvarez, into constitutional reforms and the suggestion that the truth commission was the feared "constituyente" that the cuarta urna might have initiated?

One possible cause of anxiety-- not openly alluded to by Federico Álvarez or Ramon Custodio-- could be Stein's proposal that one representative on the commission be from the Frente de Resistencia. That appears to be almost literally unspeakable: to date no Honduran press coverage of this part of Stein's proposal has appeared. On February 7, Juan Barahona, a leader of the Frente de Resistencia, rejected the Truth Commission itself as "pure show". But since the proposal by Stein that a representative of the Frente be included, there has been no further comment, and no official communication. Of course, since that selection is to be made by Porfirio Lobo Sosa, it is hard to imagine that he or she would be a legitimate representative of the popular resistance. The Honduran press and officials-- including Ramon Custodio in an interview with Spanish media-- continue to claim that the inclusion of former UD presidential candidate César Ham in Lobo Sosa's cabinet was equivalent to representation of the resistance, a position explicitly disclaimed by the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular itself in a communique on January 26.

In this case, it seems, silence is golden. As with all monsters in closets, the fear has to be expressed somehow. So Custodio and others like him pass over in silence the real threat of having a Truth Commission actually hear from opponents of the coup and critics of the pretense that the present government is free of entanglements with it. But their imaginations run directly to where they fear listening to the people might take an independent commission: the absolute need for constitutional reform.