Wednesday, April 28, 2010


A new omnibus tax law (decreto 17-2020) was published Monday in La Gaceta, the official organ whose publication makes laws legal. La Tribuna reports that on reading the published law, which they passed just before their Easter break, Congress was astonished to see changes in no fewer than nine articles. La Tribuna tells us that those most amazed were the committee that assembled the final version of the bill after all the changes and amendments were collated. The revision committee ("comisión de estilo") , consisting of German Leitzelar, Oswaldo Ramos Soto, and Rigoberto Chang Castillo, denies it made these changes in the version of the bill it sent to the President.

Earlier today, Secretary of Congress, Rigoberto Chang Castillo, said the only difference is in Article 15, where they left off the exoneration of payment for raw materials imported for the manufacture of medicines. Chang said of the publication of the new law in the Gaceta:
"Any doubts, any error, or omission there is in the publication of this law, the only person responsible is Rigoberto Chang Castillo, and we are willing to clarify the doubts, errors or omissions....There was no ill will nor manipulation, nothing like that, what happened was that a paragraph was left out of Article 15 and that will be rectified."

However, in later stories, La Tribuna quotes Congressman Marco Antonio Andino as finding errors in Articles 15, 16, and 19. Marvin Ponce, fourth Vice President of Congress and a UD party member, said,
"It's deplorable that at least three articles were of them is the revision presented by Congressman Marlon Lara so that supplies to produce medicines by Honduran companies would be exonerated, including, we said here (in chambers), that medicines for animals would be exonerated, but in the publication it's different and the exoneration isn't included."

Also missing was a motion that exonerated those owing back taxes of the fines and surcharges on them, and the tax on rental units was supposed to be five percent, starting with luxury rentals of 15,000 lempiras, but was printed as a 10 percent tax. Ponce indicated that the printed version also left out exoneration of fines and surcharges for those with a debt to the agricultural development bank, BANADESA.

Ponce continued,
"There is no confidence of that approved by the members in open session, the true law has been disrupted by the revision committee or by the people who sent this document to the Executive or in those instances."

German Leitzelar, a member of the revisions committee said
"we are reviewing La Gaceta and saw that the document of ours does not agree, there are errors in copying and changes in the working, and the members of the revision committee need to present a decree to amend by addition and correction things based on what we submitted."

His list of changes needed includes Articles 1, 7, 15, 16, 19, 20, and 21. As the Liberal Party Congressman Jose Simon Azcona said,
"laws should be published as they were approved in the National Congress, if there is a group that is not in agreement with this, they can submit a law to amend the existing law, but no one should change things outside of Congress."

Oswaldo Ramos Soto, another member of the revisions committee, urged people to wait until the committee has fully compared the document they sent to the Executive branch for signature with that published in La Gaceta.

Despite these objections, the new tax law goes into effect as published in 20 days from its April 22, 2009 date of publication. It will be up to Congress to approve revisions and amendments to the version published, to correct any errors in the published version. Supposedly the committee on revisions is working on such a set of amendments now.

These changes to the law aren't minor, if we go by the comments on the scope of changes in the various La Tribuna articles. The revision committee members seem to be trying to calm the waters, portraying the changes as minor copying errors, rather than deliberately introduced changes. Interestingly, only Marvin Ponce of the UD party called for an investigation into how and more importantly, where, the changes were introduced. I doubt he'll get his investigation.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rainbow Tour?

Strange news continues to come out of Porfirio Lobo Sosa's trip to New Orleans. Earlier today it was the information in the previous post, about Lobo Sosa stating that Zelaya was trying to prolong his stay in power.

Now comes the strange news, reported in La Tribuna, sourced to the Secretaria de Obras Publicas, Transporte, y Vivienda (SOPTRAVI) director Miguel Pastor, that Porfirio Lobo Sosa has "received the highest award from representatives of the World Trade Center".
"The president was the subject of an award that is given only to personalities such as former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger and personalities over the years to highlight his struggles to achieve peace in the hemisphere."

Say what?! Lobo Sosa struggling for years to work for peace in the hemisphere? Miguel Pastor continues:
"It is the highest award that is given by the World Trade Center, here in the city of New Orleans, that fills us with pride and sincerely, the President felt very excited to receive it."

OK, that allows us to somewhat decode what this really is. Porfirio Lobo Sosa has won some sort of prize/award/certificate of recognition from the World Trade Association of New Orleans, a business association whose mission is to facilitate the addition of "wealth and jobs in Louisiana through international trade, port development, and allied activities...". There's no mention of an award in their News section, or their Twitter feed, nor anywhere else that Google can find, nor previous mentions of awards to Reagan or Gorbachev or Kissinger, but maybe Miguel Pastor only meant to people like them, putting Porfirio Lobo Sosa in their league. Good PR move, Mr. Pastor.

Pastor continues describing Lobo Sosa as having sustained important meetings that will generate international support. Among these were meetings with leaders of Louisiana universities, who offered fellowships for Honduran students in the sciences and medicine. He also met with security companies that offered to sell him technologies to make Honduras safer, according to Miguel Pastor. Finally Lobo Sosa worked to encourage international investment.

Later today Lobo Sosa moves on to Florida where he will give a speech at the University of Miami. In the meantime, for those wondering about presidential succession in Honduras, María Antonieta Bográn de Guillén is acting president in Honduras in Lobo Sosa's absence.

I'm strongly reminded of Eva Peron's "Rainbow Tour" to Europe in 1947, where she attempted to meet with numerous dignitaries and heads of state, with mixed results. It was a political failure (except for her meeting with Franco in Spain), made into a public relations success in Argentina. Lobo Sosa's calendar in New Orleans was hardly earth-shaking but it was a good solid set of contacts, more appropriate to a cabinet level official or lower-level government bureaucrat. His highest-level meeting was with Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal. To paraphrase from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical about Eva Peron, it seens like for Porfirio Lobo Sosa, some sort of coming home in triumph is required no matter how manufactured.

Lobo Out Of The Closet

Porfirio Lobo Sosa, in a round table discussion at Tulane University, told the audience that Manuel Zelaya Rosales wanted to remain in power, according to his communications director Miguel Angel Bonilla. Bonilla told Tiempo in a phone interview that:
"President Lobo confirmed that former President Zelaya himself had intended to stay in power and he reviewed all the facts coming from that ... the subject of the Supreme Court of Justice when there was a crisis and wanted to impose one person to Judge."

Bonilla also said that Zelaya wanted to appoint the wife of his minister Enrique Flores Lanza as a Supreme Court justice, again as part of his plan to remain in power.

Asked about these declarations, Bonilla said he didn't think they'd cause problems because Lobo Sosa had been "prudent, and has maintained the unity of the country."
"If you mention that someone's personal interests caused them to make mistakes, that's not attacking any part of the population."

Bonilla is worried about the statements, which were not intended for domestic consumption. Only Tiempo has the story in today's web edition. Lobo Sosa has refrained from saying anything of substance about the coup, and had in the past let his campaign spokesperson, now Communications Minister, Miguel Angel Bonilla, speak for him.

The authors of this blog researched the claim that Zelaya wanted to remain in power without finding a shred of evidence that supports the statement. While it's true that Zelaya proposed that Congress appoint Enrique Flores Lanza's wife to the Supreme Court, there is no evidence we know of that ties that to an attempt to remain in power. Assertions by third parties, like Porfirio Lobo Sosa, aren't evidence.

In his statements in Louisiana, Lobo Sosa merely confirmed what we already knew; he supported the coup, something Bonilla has attempted to keep ambiguous until now.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"It Should Be Automatic"

Mario Canahuati, Honduras's Foreign Minister, says Honduras's readmission to the OAS should be automatic when the OAS next convenes in Peru on June. He currently is in the US to meet with Miguel Insulza to lobby for Honduras's reinsertion in the OAS. In a La Tribuna article, he's quoted as saying "the seventh point of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord says Honduras should be reintegrated into the different forums, and nothing remains but for the OAS to fulfill its promise under the document." In Canahuati's vision, it's automatic because they've fulfilled the letter, if not the intention, of the clauses of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord, so they should be allowed back in to play with other countries.

The OAS has a slightly different view. Albert R. Ramdin, the Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, said that the OAS “continues to seek solutions”, and “supports the efforts started by the governments of Central America to create the necessary conditions for the readmission of Honduras to the Organization”.

The OAS determined last July, under Article 21 of the Democratic Charter, that there had been an "unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order of a member state", and that diplomatic initiatives to correct the situation had failed. More than two-thirds of the member countries voted to suspend Honduras. Although suspended, Article 21 still required that Honduras uphold all its OAS obligations, including human rights obligations.

Under Article 22, restoration may be proposed, once the situation is resolved, by the Secretary General of the OAS (Miguel Insulza) or any member state, and will require that two-thirds of the member countries vote in favor of restoration.

You see the problem. While the United States, and several Central American countries are working for Honduras's readmission as a member in good standing in the OAS, there are other countries that have expressed concerns. These countries, including most of South America and Mexico, remain uncertain about whether Honduras should be readmitted at this time.

Honduras hasn't exactly complied with its human rights obligations as required under Article 21. It was added to the OAS Human Rights organization's "black list" in April. It also is not clear that even if the will was there to uphold human rights on the part of the government, that the judicial system has the required independence. Human rights violations aren't grounds for suspension, but they certainly will be taken into account in discussing reincorporation. While the US would like to say the situation is resolved and that Porfirio Lobo Sosa was democratically elected, as Hillary Clinton said in Costa Rica last month, there are other governments that have a different view.

Why is all of this important? What's at stake is the unlocking of aid from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Both have stated in the past that Honduras being reincorporated into the OAS would be required before funding could actually be restored. That funding, along with money from the BCIE and BID is critical to staving off a complete collapse of the Honduran economy.

The OAS discussions in June in Lima, Peru should be interesting.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Press release from Latin American Public Opinion Project

Courtesy of the poll's authors, who note that the full study will be published by the end of the year, come the latest data from the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) located at Vanderbilt University.

We reproduce the press release in full below. We have drawn on the authoritative and long-term work by LAPOP intensively over the past months to help us understand the situation in Honduras. For example, it is their studies that showed that Hondurans had the lowest level of belief in the capacity of government institutions or democracy in the Americas. So we put a great deal of confidence in their results. At the same time, we look forward to the full report they will produce by the end of this year, which we expect will contextualize the results more than this brief press release does.

In the meantime, we want to point out some implications of the data they provide. While their lead in the press release is that support for the political system in Honduras increased, despite clear objections to the coup by a majority of respondents, we would caution that a country so deeply polarized, and marred by repression that has not ended with the transition from Roberto Micheletti's de facto regime to the administration of Lobo Sosa, can hardly be viewed with equanimity. Unthinking support for the Honduran constitution has been encouraged by polemical claims that it is an inviolate document, despite its history of almost constant revision through a process that puts control of the constitution almost entirely in the hands of the Congress.

So, while we understand why LAPOP highlights measures that suggest a higher level of support for Honduran government, we would actually suggest that some of that increased support may be something we should worry about, not just treat as a good sign. Again, we look forward to LAPOP's final report which we are certain will place these issues in more context.

Meanwhile, what can we learn from this first release of data? As did surveys we reported on in 2009, this one, completed in March, shows that Hondurans disapproved of the removal of President Zelaya (58.3%) and even more strongly, of his forced expatriation (72.7%). Hondurans solidly recognized the actions of the military as a coup d'etat ("more than" 61%).

Such high levels of reported opposition to what the respondents clearly recognize was a coup are especially striking, because the respondents to the poll also reportedly strongly objected to proposals for a constitutional assembly, with 75% of those responding to this poll reporting they had been opposed to the June 28 survey that was disrupted by the coup, and 70% reporting that they are opposed to convening a constituent assembly. (Our thanks to LAPOP for providing the wording of the questionnaire so we could confirm that the question about the June 28 survey was historical, and that the question about support for convening a constitutional assembly is in the present tense.)

Data based on retrospective reports of what opinion was at an earlier point need to be considered as likely to have been influenced by events that took place since then, so we should not consider polling in March 2010 as an indication of what people thought in June 2009. In fact, polling data over the months since June 28 show increasing self-reports of opposition to the June 28 Cuarta Urna survey.

A CID Gallup poll from shortly after the coup in 2009 also found a majority opposed to the Cuarta Urna, but in that case the proportion opposed was lower-- 63%, far outside the 2.5% range of error for the present LAPOP poll (which would suggest a range of 72.5% to 77.5%). This increase of at least 10% in expressed disapproval of the June 28 question strongly suggests that expressed opposition increased during the period when the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti controlled the country and its media, repeating representations of the Cuarta Urna designed to portray it as destructive.

But notice that the LAPOP numbers indicated that respondents who by a wide majority now say they disapproved of the June 28 Cuarta Urna campaign, and do not accept the constitutional reform goals of that campaign, still disapprove of a military coup d'etat including expatriation of a sitting president.

One correction to the press release that has to be made is with the characterization of the scheduled June 28 survey as
a poll scheduled that day to determine whether there should be a referendum on Zelaya’s plan to convene a constituent assembly to make changes to the national constitution to allow for presidential re-election.

Well, no. As we have pointed out many times: there was nothing in the written language of the question, or in the promotional materials seized by the Armed Forces, or in the statements of President Zelaya or other government members, that would justify the claim that the goal was to allow presidential re-election. That is a propaganda claim that has been so successful that it has become accepted by many English-language media and US government members. But it is wrong.

So while the poll reports that
75 percent are opposed to changing the constitution to permit presidential re-elections

that tells us less about how Hondurans felt about President Zelaya's policies than it does about the effectiveness of Honduran press distortions in spreading propaganda to the population sampled by the LAPOP poll.

There is much more to come in the report that LAPOP is producing. We truly appreciate their sharing these early results, and look forward to seeing the contextualization and more detailed data, which promise to illuminate how Hondurans currently feel about various government institutions, what their opinions are about the various media, and what they now feel about their own experiences during the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti. We concur with the authors of the press release that the positive assessment of Porfirio Lobo Sosa barely two months into his term should be seen as a honeymoon effect. As we have been reporting, Honduran media are already criticizing Lobo Sosa for every step he takes that departs from the advocacy for the power elite. It is critical to have this baseline to assess how public opinion develops over the coming months.


April 15, 2010
Media contact: Elizabeth Latt, (615) 322-NEWS

Hondurans’ support of political system increases, despite objection to way previous president was ousted

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A majority of Hondurans opposed the ouster and exile of President Manuel Zelaya last summer, even though they strongly objected to his attempt to change the nation’s constitution, a recent comprehensive survey of the nation’s population found.

The findings of the survey by the Latin American Public Opinion Project “suggest that there are important strengths in Honduran political culture, yet agreement is far from universal,” Mitchell A. Seligson, Vanderbilt University Centennial Professor of Political Science and LAPOP director, said.

In their report, survey analysts conclude, “The results … provide evidence for a population highly attuned to and supportive of the nation’s constitutional charter … and opposed [to] the former president’s attempt to change the constitution by what many considered illegal, or at best controversial means.

“On the other hand, Hondurans clearly oppose the manner by which the political establishment sought to stop Zelaya’s policies,” the analysts said.

The study was authored by Orlando J. Perez, chairman of Central Michigan University’s Department of Political Science and a member of the LAPOP’s scientific support group.

Less than two months after the inauguration of popularly elected President Porforio Lobo, the Hondurans’ support of the political system has improved, the survey found. Lobo also enjoys a considerable boost in his approval rating over that of the former president, although survey analysts said that “may well reflect the ‘honeymoon’ effect of a new administration.”

The survey is part of The AmericasBarometer 2010, a multi-nation study of public opinion in the Americas. The Honduran project was conducted between March 6 and 26 and is the result of surveys of nearly 1,600 Hondurans in nine different regions of the country. It is the latest survey in the Central American country by the LAPOP, based at Vanderbilt University and funded largely by the U.S. Agency for International Development with additional support from the United Nations Development Program, the Inter-American Development Bank and Princeton University. The survey’s margin of error is approximately plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Zelaya’s ouster came June 28, 2009, when he was taken into custody by the military on orders of the Supreme Court. The action resulted in the cancellation of a poll scheduled that day to determine whether there should be a referendum on Zelaya’s plan to convene a constituent assembly to make changes to the national constitution to allow for presidential re-election.

After Zelaya was exiled, the Honduran Congress voted him out of office and installed the president of Congress as the interim head of government. In November Lobo was chosen president in popular elections that had been scheduled before last summer’s change in power.

“The victory of Porfirio ‘Pepe’ Lobo in the November 2009 presidential elections, along with the departure of Zelaya from Honduras and a general amnesty to those involved on either side of the crisis, seemed to have significantly increased support for the political system, as compared to 2008 when Zelaya was in power,” the report said. That is the year that the last previous AmericasBarometer was undertaken.

Seligson founded the LAPOP in the 1970s to conduct scientific surveys of Latin American citizens about their opinions and behaviors related to building and strengthening democracies. It functions as a consortium of academic partners throughout the hemisphere. The AmericasBarometer survey has expanded so that in 2010 it includes 26 nations in Central America, the Caribbean, South America and North America.

Findings of The AmericasBarometer 2010 survey of Honduras, which will be presented in greater detail in the months ahead on, include:
  • 75 percent opposed the poll that President Zelaya proposed to conduct on a referendum for a constituent assembly.
  • 70 percent opposed formation of a constituent assembly.
  • 75 percent are opposed to changing the constitution to permit presidential re-elections.
  • Two-thirds said Zelaya violated the constitution while just over half said the military had not.
  • More than 61 percent said the actions taken by the military on June 28 constitute a coup d’etat.
  • Majorities opposed the ouster of Zelaya (58.3 percent) and his exile (72.7 percent).
  • Support of the political system increased by 14 points (on a 0-100 scale) from an average of 46.4 in 2008 to 60.4 in 2010.
  • Presidential approval has increased significantly. In 2008 President Zelaya’s approval rating stood at 47.5 on a scale of 0-100. In March 2010, Lobo received 66.2 on the same scale.


Recognition: bumps in the road

On the heels of Mario Canahuati's triumphant claim reported yesterday that 70% of the nations that once recognized Honduras have now done so again comes a reminder that "recognition" is not a simple thing.

As reported in today's El Heraldo, there is an influential nation in the western hemisphere that has still not accredited the Honduran ambassador. It has even rejected proposed consuls. Is this Brazil? Mexico? Argentina?

No: it is the United States.

El Heraldo cites its own previous reporting on difficulties getting consuls approved because they are US residents or even are in the process of obtaining US citizenship. But Mario Canahuati, Foreign Secretary, is quoted as saying the problems are different:
Mario Canahuati said yesterday that "they are having problems" but for other reasons, for example, he cited the consul designated to occupy the position in Los Angeles. The problem is that she was discredited after the events of June 28, when ex president Manuel Zelaya Rosales was removed from power, since she still served in her position in the interim government of Roberto Micheletti.

Canahuati asserted that the remaining consuls would not have difficulties being approved. But he also acknowledged that the US has yet to approve Honduras' proposed ambassador.

Nor is the US alone. Canada, Peru, and Colombia-- all, like the US, counted as early supporters of recognition of the Lobo Sosa government-- have not yet approved proposed Honduran ambassadors.

Canahuati also clarified that Mexico has yet to re-establish relations, a point that has been confusing in the Honduran press coverage. Along with Mexico, Canahuati said Chile and Jamaica still hadn't "normalized the ties of friendship".

And things are still not going entirely the way Honduras wants with Spain, a major leader of European condemnation of the coup. According to El Heraldo, Canahuati said
there had been a meeting with the ambassador accredited to Honduras to find out the situation of the designated ambassador [to Spain], but he did not offer details of this meeting. Unofficially, it is known that Spain denied approval.

We cannot speculate about the reasons Spain, Mexico, Chile, and even the US have for being cautious about accepting diplomats proposed by the Lobo Sosa government. But what is clear is that, as the Honduran press has been emphasizing, all is not well in the Honduran diplomatic corps.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


As we previously noted, supporters of the government of Porfirio Lobo Sosa and the government itself are desperate to find any indication of "recognition" that they can. So pro-coup Honduran news media claimed that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega had "recognized" Honduras by signing an accord to reauthorize a border dispute commission.

Now, Danilo Valladares writing for IPS notes that Nicaragua officially disclaimed such an interpretation:
In a statement issued by Managua after their meeting, representatives of leftist parties, including the governing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) headed by Ortega, said they had decided "not to recognise the de facto government of Honduras."
The IPS article also includes comments from Ángel Edmundo Orellana Mercado, who resigned his post in the Zelaya cabinet days before the coup, then refused to participate in the post-coup Congress in protest against its illegal actions on June 28. Orellana was the author of a series of important editorials contesting the innovative attempts by the de facto regime to retroactively cleanse the coup of the stain of illegality.

IPS notes that Orellana argued against too-easy agreement to reintegrate Honduras in regional organizations like SICA and the OAS.
Commenting on the Truth Commission set up by the Lobo Sosa government as part of its attempt to gain re-admission into OAS, Orellana said
"A bad precedent could be set if the commitments outlined there are not fulfilled and everything that happened is simply pardoned".

This is, of course, precisely what has been set in motion by the Honduran Congress passing a decree granting amnesty for "political crimes", which has been criticized by legal experts.

The IPS story repeats the claim seen in most recent articles that only 30 countries world-wide have recognized the Honduran government. This is far less than the number of countries claimed by the Lobo Sosa administration.

Among the Central American countries, as it properly points out, only Nicaragua has so far refused to recognize Lobo Sosa's government. The newly elected president of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla, has gone even further than Oscar Arias, saying

"We will be advocating, as we have up to now, the full and total reincorporation of our beloved sister republic of Honduras in all of the region's bodies".

Mauricio Funes, president of El Salvador, is reported to have stated that "Honduras will be fully integrated in SICA" by its scheduled July 20 meeting.

Renzo Rosal, described as assistant director of the Central American Institute for Political Studies, is quoted in the IPS article as saying that before Honduras is re-admitted to SICA,
"Issues that should be discussed are the role of the Honduran army in a democratic society; the historical two-party system in Honduras; the reconstruction of the social fabric; and the role that the OAS and SICA should play to help solve conflicts like the one in Honduras".

That would seem a very ambitious agenda to complete before July 20. Notably, it is not within the charge of the Truth Commission, which has been explicitly warned off such fundamental areas of Honduran political life.

The closest approximation to this agenda is, in fact, the manifesto issued by the Frente Popular de Resistencia following the meeting it convened in La Esperanza earlier this spring, which also called for reconsidering the role of the army
, the place of the historical two party system, and the reconstruction of the social fabric. Good ideas; maybe someone should invite the authors to the table for real dialogue.

Coup Rewards

Porfirio Lobo Sosa yesterday rewarded two generals who helped carry out the coup with control of two more government agencies. During the coup, Micheletti appointed retired general Nelson Wily Mejía to head Immigration. He recently retired from that post.

Lobo Sosa has appointed another active duty general to replace Mejia, Venancio Cervantes. Cervantes was, last February, widely held to be the likely successor to Romeo Vasquez Velasquez as supreme commander of the armed forces. In March, El Heraldo reported he was unhappy with being passed over for the position, and might be thinking of retiring. In his position, he controls the access of foreigners into Honduras, and the permission of Hondurans to travel outside their country. It was widely speculated in the Honduran press that Lobo Sosa, as a condition of general Mejia's retirement had agreed to appoint another general to the position, and this appointment seems to confirm it.

In addition, yesterday Lobo Sosa appointed general Manuel Enrique Cáceres to head the Honduran equivalent of the FAA. During the coup he was appointed as head of the investigation unit of the high command. An OAS memorandum on Security in the western hemisphere lists his participation in a 2001 basic seminar of the Council of Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) in Washington, D.C. as a military confidence and security building measure.

Unlike general Vasquez Velasquez, appointed by Lobo Sosa to head HONDUTEL, these two generals are still on active duty; they have not retired. This brings to three the number of government institutions back under military control after 27 years of civilian control.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Sometimes Honduras is surreal.

In the 1980s the only way you could tell someone was part of the investigative arm of the police (the Dirección Nacional de Investigación or DNI) was that they openly carried guns in public. They didn't wear a uniform, but did openly carry weapons at a time when you needed a permit from the military dictatorship to have a weapon. Thus when men in street clothes carrying guns stopped you on the streets to question you, you were obliged to assume they were police and obey them. There was no way to distinguish them from the criminals, who also had guns and often openly carried them in public.

Fast forward to now. As part of the modernization of the National Police everyone got uniforms. The Dirección General de Investigación (DGIC) or Dirección Nacional de Invesitgación Criminal (DNIC) which replaced the DNI has a simple uniform. Their uniform shirt, as I recall, is either a dark blue or black shirt with the name of the DGIC written on the back. Its simple, modeled after what FBI agents wear in many TV shows when out on a "bust".

Maybe its too simple a uniform, though. Anyone with silkscreening equipment, say a t-shirt shop, can copy it. The DGIC complains that criminals are impersonating them by wearing their uniform shirt. You can't tell the criminals from the real police. Shades of the 1980s.

So, how do they propose to solve this problem? La Tribuna, in its minute by minute column, tells us the solution is simple; they're going to stop wearing uniforms, or at least, the uniform shirt. Its the obvious solution, isn't it?

Lets see, the problem is that the criminals are wearing police uniforms, which the police wear so that citizens can tell they're the police and not criminals. So now, the police will stop wearing the uniforms, so you won't be able to tell them from ordinary citizens or criminals with guns. So once again, we're back to the 1980s, you can't tell the police from the criminals.

The DGIC says this will stop the delinquents from passing as police.


Without a uniform, once again, there is no way to tell the police from the criminals. This seems like a transparent attempt to reduce the number of human rights abuse claims against the DGIC, by making it harder to ascertain who committed the abuse. Can the COBRAS be far behind?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Alternative truth, official truth, or honest disagreement?

An article published by IPS today, written by Thelma Mejía, attests to the widespread skepticism about the newly formed Honduran Truth Commission.

Composed of former Guatemalan vice president Eduardo Stein; Michael Kergin, a Canadian diplomat; María Amadilia, former Peruvian minister of justice; and Honduran members Julieta Castellanos and Jorge Omar Casco, assisted by Sergio Membreño as technical secretary, the Commission will begin its work on May 4.

As Mejía points out, conservative forces in Honduras-- notably the
Unión Cívica Democrática (UCD)-- are opposed to including Julieta Castellanos. In addition, Mejía points out, "human rights groups criticised the inclusion of Casco, whom they link with the most radical fringe of the political right". Meanwhile, the Human Rights Platform notes that the Truth Commission has been established without following international norms.

The selection of the international members of the commission appears to have been constrained by the need to avoid participants from countries that have been critical of the coup. Since few governments in the world refrained from expressing outrage about the de facto regime, and many governments have not yet recognized the Lobo Sosa administration, the range of candidates was restricted from the outset. While
Mejía cites Minister of Foreign Relations Mario Canahuati as saying the selection was made from a group of 15 competitive candidates, she quotes Reina Rivera of the Human Rights Platform as saying that
We believe that the selection of the international members was made more on the basis of their nationalities than their competence and abilities. The representatives from Canada and Peru are not well looked upon in some sectors, which is why some reject the Commission, while others view it with reservations.

Among those skeptical others: pro-coup businessman and ANDI president Adolfo Facussé, who reportedly said
this Truth Commission is a demand of the international community and we already know what its findings will be.... [These] will be geared to what the world wants to hear, and not to what really happened in Honduras. I don't have very high expectations regarding this question. It won't contribution to reconciliation; on the contrary, it will create greater division.

Finally, something on which both sides can agree! But surely even if it doesn't heal the wounds, finding out the truth will help? well, not so fast:

As we previously pointed out, the fact that the commission will seal records for ten years suggests the search for truth in Honduras is premature, if the committee thinks the country cannot handle hearing what it expects to discover. The report that Stein suggests will be complete in eight months is hard to imagine, if it has to avoid sensitive topics.

On the positive side, Mejía reports plans for an "
Alternative Truth Commission", reportedly with the backing of Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, to "monitor the process and the conduct of those who make up the Truth Commission".

So, while we may share the skepticism of the left, right, and pro-business sectors in Honduras about the official Truth Commission, there is a chance that opposition to the proposed whitewash will keep a focus on the actual events of the coup and its aftermath and give human rights groups a chance to call attention to ongoing repression.

Campesinos and sombreros in Honduras

Honduran press coverage of the national march called by the Frente de Resistencia for April 15 was, not surprisingly, muted.

Pro-coup La Tribuna, for example, framed their story (credited to AFP) around the"success" of the campesinos of the Bajo Aguan in obtaining land grants earlier in the week.

Most interesting is their description of the march as
convened by the Frente de Resistencia Popular de Honduras (FRPH), created after the coup d'Etat against ex-president Manuel Zelaya in June of 2009.

OK. Remember, this is a pro-coup paper. The official line of the Honduran media throughout 2009 was that no coup d'Etat had happened-- just a "constitutional succession". The terminology used repeatedly to describe those continuing to argue for social justice has almost always been "zelayistas", a way to personalize and dismiss the organized Frente. Naming the Frente properly seems like a major shift. Even though the source of the story is Agence France Presse, the printing of a story without editorializing or editing is an unexpected break.

But even when the story lacks overt signs of dismissive rhetoric, it is important to be cautious about the claims made. Take the last paragraph of the AFP story:
La solución de este conflicto alivia en poco el problema de los sin tierra en Honduras. Según las organizaciones del llamado sector reformado, unos 300.000 campesinos carecen de tierra y tienen que trabajar como asalariados o alquilando tierras a latifundistas.

[The solution of this conflict alleviates a little the problem of those without land in Honduras. According to organizations of the so-called reformist sector, some 300,000 campesinos lack land and have to work as salaried workers or renting land from large landowners.]

If we leave aside the use of "llamado sector reformado" here, which could be translated slightly differently ("what is called the reform sector"), this seems to be a very clear acknowledgment of the challenge experienced by Honduran campesinos.

Except that it actually understates the problem. The real extent of the land problem for Honduras' farming sector is better described elsewhere on the web, in activist blogs written by people like Giorgio Trucchi:
300,000 families -- approximately 1.5 million people -- do not have access to land, while another 200,000 possess barely 1 to 3.5 hectares.

That's 300,000 families, not individuals. The additional 200,000 families with up to 3.5 hectares fall below the level of land needed to sustain an agricultural family.

Again, from the same blog,
the rural Honduran population lives on an average of one dollar per person per day, and less than 30% live in homes whose incomes pass this level. Almost half of the rural population lives with income less than half a dollar a day and around 25% have income less than 25 cents a day.... 2.8 million Hondurans in rural areas live with an income under the poverty line. This group represents more than 75% of the rural population and more than 70% of the poor in all the country.

According to a 2005 report by the World Food Programme,
More than 80 percent of farmers, about 400 000 households, own less than 5 hectares each (for a total of about 560 000 hectares, only 15 percent of total agricultural land).

This situation has been brought about, in large part, by a shift in use of land to large plantations, for agricultural exports, leading Honduras today to produce less than half of the basic grains needed by its own population, as summarized by Trucchi:
Each year there is a deficit of more than 10 million quintales of corn, and 200,000 quintales of beans and 500,000 quintales of rice have to be imported.

Where do those imports come from? Among other places, the United States. According to the World Food Programme report, "imported basic grains mainly originate from the United States". Between 1991 to 2005,
Rice imports from the United States flooded [Honduran] markets, with highly negative impact on national price and planted areas.

These economic facts were not solved by the agreement reached in the Bajo Aguan. They provide the motivation for continuing campesino participation in the Frente. As Adrienne Pine notes in her coverage of the march, the adoption of the imagery of the sombrero recovers a symbol of the agrarian countryside, a symbol also used by Manuel Zelaya, that resonates with people of the campo.

While it remains impossible to know how many people took part in the April 15 march due to lack of objective reporting, the photographic testimony tells the story:

men and women wearing sombreros listening to speakers in auditoriums with banners saying

"Honduras Free of Transgenics" and

"We demand comprehensive agrarian reform now"

Marchers on the street carrying signs reading

"Let's stop hoarding land immediately-- Yes to a comprehensive agrarian reform for food sovereignty"

And above all, the presence in the crowds, variously estimated at hundreds or thousands, of entire families and generations of campesinos, each one proudly wearing the formerly despised symbol of rural backwardness, the sombrero, now recovered as a sign of agrarian strength.

Friday, April 16, 2010


The Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued its annual black list of countries that do not respect human rights. For the first time since 2006, a new country appears on the list, Honduras. The inclusion of Honduras is based on the report of the IACHR visit to the country last August. Chapter 4 of the report, which can be downloaded here, is an executive summary of the longer IACHR report on Human Rights and the Coup, issued in December, 2009. Compare that report with the rather sparse State Department report on Human Rights in Honduras.

The response in Honduras has been dismissive.Porfirio Lobo Sosa's newly minted Human Rights advisor, Ana Pineda, is quoted on Radio America's website as saying "this is not the time for Honduras to say whether it endorses the report of the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights." She is reported to have said that the report of the IACHR, in general, reflects the problems of the country after the expulsion of Manuel Zelaya Rosales. In other words, she thinks this is old stuff.
"Now, Honduras is trying to take into account the recommendations of the IACHR and investigate specific cases of human rights violations."
Except querida Human Rights advisor, the Human Rights prosecutor, Sandra Ponce, has come forward recently to say that her office cannot investigate and file human rights cases because she has no budget to do so.

Apparently, the naming of Honduras to the list bothered President Lobo Sosa, who came out and said "Its not the policy of the state to violate human rights." He continued:
"The important thing for me is that it is not a state policy, I acknowledge that we have inherited a country with high crime and are doing our best ; there is no State policy of violating human rights."
State policy is not the issue, Mr. President, its are you prepared to stop the abuses that are undeniably being denounced daily. Denial is a step on the road to recovery, I'm told.

But moments ago the AP reported that Lobo Sosa had rejected the IACHR report. The same story quotes Human Rights Ombudsperson Ramón Custodio as calling the report "a form of manipulation with the goal of hurting Honduras. The IACHR has lost its ethics."

The Center for Justice and International Law told the UN that the Honduran government has taken no action to protect the majority 134 people named in IACHR demands for protective orders. It found this lack of action worrying.

At the same time, a motion introduced by the representatives of the UD party in the National Congress to replace Human Rights Ombudsperson Ramón Custodio Lopez because he has not properly carried out his functions was defeated by a 122-6 vote. La Tribuna calls this a "unanimous rejection" bringing new meaning to the word "unanimous". Lobo Sosa said that this is not the time for such a motion, rather that it is the time for reconciliation.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Nacionalista Congressperson Renán Inestroza has introduced a bill in the National Congress that would, by amending the constitution, reduce the number of representatives from 128 to 80 (or 90, the article uses both numbers). Why, you ask? His argument boils down to the fact that the Congress people cost money, about $50,000 (US) per year in salary per representative, and this would save all that salary.
"We believe that it has been the desire on the part of the citizens to reduce the high bureaucracy that exists in the National Congress with 128 representatives."

His secondary argument is that he claims the current distribution of representatives, by department is not fair, citing the 2005 representation for Comayagua and Santa Barbara as an example. The constitution calls for a proportional distribution of representatives.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

On April 8 Vos el Soberano posted a document dated March 18 issued by the union of the Ministry of Culture, SITRAECAD, demanding the immediate firing of Virgilio Paredes.

Who is Paredes? At present, he occupies the office of director of the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia (IHAH). During the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti, he served Myrna Castro as administrator of the Ministry of Culture.

The union of workers in the Ministry of Culture accuse Paredes of continuing involvement in appointments to positions there, which they say went to relatives of Paredes. They specifically accuse Paredes and a colleague of manipulating the new Minister of Culture, Bernard Martinez, not letting him develop and exploiting the power that he is supposed to wield.

They also suggest that Paredes should be considered responsible for some of the financial irregularities that Minister of Culture Martinez publicized when he took over after the inauguration of Porfirio Lobo Sosa. They suggest the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas is ignoring these irregularities because Mirna Castro moved there as a high official after the end of the Micheletti regime.

The post notes that Castro named Virgilio Paredes as director of IHAH on December 14, 2009, filling the position left open when Castro moved against internationally respected historian Darío Euraque. As Vos el Soberano notes, Paredes lacks legally required qualifications: he does not have a degree in one of the academic fields specified (anthropology, archaeology, history) or a related discipline.

The inauguration of Lobo Sosa did not magically heal the damage done during the Micheletti regime. The ministry of culture, which went terribly off course under Myrna Castro, and the IHAH, where projects underway were canceled, are potentially important sites of creation of national identity, warped in the wake of the coup. The willingness of the unions to speak out shows that resistance extends broadly in Honduras today, and establishes a challenge for Minister Martinez.

Tentative agreement reached in Bajo Aguan

Late today Honduran news media began reporting that an agreement has been reached between MUCA and the government of Porfirio Lobo Sosa.

El Tiempo's coverage says that Lobo Sosa and the leaders of MUCA signed an agreement after a marathon 14 hour negotiating session. It describes MUCA as accepting the government offer. But the conditions are markedly different than the offer the government was making yesterday.

The proposal "the slow adjudication of some 11,000 hectares of land for the 28 campesino groups". That comes out to a little more than 3 hectares per family. Of this, 3,000 hectares are to be planted in African palm, and another 3,000 not cultivated.

Within a year of signing, an additional 1,000 hectares of African palm land, and an additional 4,000 hectares of uncultivated land, are to be added.

The first step is to be the designation by the government of the first 3,000 hectares in African palm, followed by MUCA leaving the rest of the occupied land. Within three months, the first allotment of 3,000 hectares of uncultivated land is to be made.

The agreement still needs to be ratified by the membership of MUCA, something scheduled for Saturday in Trujillo, the largest city near the Bajo Aguan.

While Tiempo limits itself to covering the main points of the agreement without editorializing, La Tribuna titles its article "Agreement will bring peace to the Aguan". This is taken from comments made by Lobo Sosa, after an event with US Ambassador Hugo Llorens.

An AP story by Freddy Cuevas appears to be the first English-language reporting on the tentative agreement. He adds one important detail:

The workers are demanding that the troops withdraw, but the government has made no decision on that.

Meanwhile, early Spanish-language coverage suggests the agreement be viewed as a success by the campesinos. Writing on of Spain, Daniel Lozano reports that "Honduras yields before the pressure of the rebel countryside". Not only does Lozano count the land grant as a success, he says that Lobo Sosa agreed to redeploy the troops sent to the region, deployment Lobo Sosa has tried to portray as unrelated to the Aguan negotiations. And he is much more explicit about the agreement being subject to ratification, quoting MUCA representative Rudy Hernández:
"We recognize that more land has been granted to us, but we are going to the membership to deliver them this agreement".
The complete agreement can be downloaded as a PDF embedded in the story published by Honduras La Prensa. We will be posting an English translation within 24 hours.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bajo Aguan: MUCA rejects government offer-- or maybe it accepts it

A report posted three hours ago by La Tribuna claims MUCA has rejected the government offer and demanded demilitarization of the Bajo Aguan as a condition to continuing negotiation. The report cites Jerónimo Escobar, described as representing MUCA, interviewed on Radio América. At almost the same time, Radio América published a contradictory report claiming an agreement was within reach. Meanwhile, Spanish- and now English- language press alike is swallowing and reproducing the claim that the deployment to the Aguán was never meant as a threat to the campesinos, but was just the beginning of a little military repression of the general population across the country. Which, for some reason, the Lobo Sosa government seems to think makes deploying the army against the citizenry better.

Jerónimo Escobar is said to have indicated that at the meeting with Porfirio Lobo Sosa, MUCA presented
a "new and good" proposal to the governor Lobo Sosa, on the basis that the proposal that had been made would not be accepted because it would not resolve the problems of land tenancy of the campesino families.

As a reminder, the government offer reportedly is two hectares to each family, one cultivated in African oil palm (which has to be sold to the companies owned by the major opponents of the campesinos for processing) and the other in
a co-investment project that would guarantee the sale of the product to the businessmen... the government offers to the 28 campesino organizations that make up MUCA 28 parcels of land in African palm production so that by a mechanism of co-investment the farmhands can supply the processing plants.

In other words, the campesinos would become a labor force for the business community, taking on all the risks of production, while the processors could set prices in response to international markets, allowing them to make money no matter what the world market did.

Lobo Sosa spokesman Samuel Reyes continued the government's practice of assessing its own proposals as very good ones, saying that
the proposal that the government is making is attractive compared to the counterproposal of the campesino movement that demands the assignment of 4 or 5 hectares of land for each family since that is what the Ley de la Reforma Agraria calls for.

Unfortunately, according to La Tribuna, MUCA did not actually agree with the self-congratulation of the Lobo Sosa administration.

It is somewhat surprising, then, to turn to Radio América's website and find them reporting that there will be an agreement. Datelined just after 4 PM, this story says that the campesino negotiators meeting with Lobo Sosa
estaría aceptando la propuesta que les presentó recientemente el gobierno para pone fin a la lucha por la tierra

[will be accepting the proposal that was presented recently to them by the government to put an end to the struggle for land.]

The subjunctive voice here tells the most important part of the story. Radio América continues
the government delivered to MUCA a proposal that includes 10 points, which in the majority are in agreement with the demands of the fieldhands and others require revision.

The source credited by Radio América is Andrés Pavón, described as playing the role of mediator for MUCA, who is said to indicate that there is consent by MUCA to resolve the confrontation. Pavón is also said to have indicated that
for the moment they trust the word of the authorities of the government that the military and police deployed in the Aguán are to initiate a process of general disarmament and to combat the wave of criminality and not to violently dislodge the campesinos.

This is really the only position that MUCA can take: it puts pressure on the Lobo Sosa government not to turn to military violence, since that would be a public proof of falsehood. MUCA, like the Frente de Resistencia in general, is committed to non-violent protest, so they have nothing to fear from disarmament if it takes place under watchful eyes of international media, said to be in the region, and with the Lobo Sosa administration on alert not to give itself a black eye.

But it cannot be ignored that the deployment to the Bajo Aguan is a form of intimidation; nor that it serves to advance a narrative of lawlessness and violence that is dangerous and serves to legitimate greater police and military repression.

This, in fact, is how the ongoing tension in the Bajo Aguan has finally reached English language mainstream media, via an AP news wire story by Freddy Cuevas in Tegucigalpa. Headlined "Honduran Army to help combat violent crime wave", the story advances the official storyline:
On Monday, Lobo's administration announced it was sending more than 2,000 soldiers and police officers to the Atlantic coast region around the Aguan River to seize drugs and illegal weapons. Drug cartels are increasingly using the coasts of Central America to move drugs toward the U.S. market.

Even if this militarization does not end in repression of the MUCA group specifically, let's pause to consider what it implies for the condition of civil society in contemporary Honduras. According to this story, which is rapidly being republished around the US as I write-- and others in Spanish published previously in Honduras-- the new campaign will involve soldiers assigned to search vehicles and pedestrians and pursue criminal suspects.

This is the fulfillment of the law and order promises that Lobo Sosa made in his failed presidential bid in 2005, and it is worth underlining that the means taken potentially open the doors to violation of civil rights under the Honduran Constitution, if searches take place without cause and without due process. And an open-ended military-police action against the citizenry casts a shadow over all projected mobilization by Hondurans who plan to continue protesting the situation in their country.

"We'll know the truth in 10 years"

"A truth commission also aims to affect the way the public understands its national history and the conflict or violence of recent years. It is thus important that the conclusions of the report are made widely available throughout the country." -- Rule of law tools for Post-Conflict States -- Truth Commissions, United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, page 31.
I know that the truth commission was forced on Honduras, and that no one in power there wants it, but we are left just scratching our head at the resultant truth commission that Honduras has come up with. Who does it serve, and to what purpose?

"We'll know the truth in ten years" was the headline in La Tribuna this morning. My jaw dropped; I did a double take, and then I laughed. I've read the UN manual on truth commissions; they literally wrote the book on them. Apparently no one at the State Department, which pushed for the truth commission in Honduras, or in Porfirio Lobo Sosa's government in Honduras, bothered to read the manual on what a truth commission is, or does, or why you have one, because this is a joke.

"We'll know the truth in ten years" according to La Tribuna, is a quote from Eduardo Stein, the Guatemalan to whom Porfirio Lobo Sosa subcontracted the organization and charter of the truth commission. La Tribuna tells us Stein says the final report of the truth commission will be deposited in the National Archives to be released to the public in 10 years.

Stein writes, "Collection of elements that help to clarify the facts are at all times the key to rebuilding and support these issues of national reconciliation" in the preamble of the charter of the truth commission; but what national reconciliation is being aided by hiding the truth for ten years, we are forced to ask? Is the whole exercise a farce? or is it that Honduras is not ready to have a truth commission? Stein assures us that the OAS is in favor of hiding the truth for 10 years.

Originally this commission was supposed to be formally organized on February 25, but that date slipped and next Stein announced it would be formally chartered on April 29, however, today he announced that "there is particular interest by some international organizations in participating," so the formal charter will be delayed again to give them time to be invited to participate.

"The impact of a final report may ultimately depend less on its content than on a variety of surrounding factors, including when and in what circumstances the report is released and publicized, how widely it is distributed, how much coverage it receives in the media, and, perhaps most importantly, how the political authorities treat the report and whether they have any interest in publicizing and implementing its conclusions and recommendations." Rule of law tools for Post-Conflict States -- Truth Commissions, page 31.
May I be the first to be wrong in predicting this report will have no impact, because the political authorities have no interest in knowing, publicizing, or implementing any of its future conclusions. Remind me again why they are going through this exercise? Oh, right, the State Department wanted it? Why again?

Lobo Sosa Insinuates Bajo Aguan campesinos are armed

In remarks quoted in El Heraldo as of 10:43 pm Monday April 12, Porfirio Lobo Sosa dangerously escalates his rhetoric, drawing connections between the campesino activists of MUCA who are occupying land in the Bajo Aguan, and unnamed foreigners who he insinuates have provided guns to the self-identified peaceful activists.
"No voy a permitir grupos armados de ningún tipo en Honduras y lo quiero repetir: no voy a permitir grupos armados en Honduras."

El Heraldo stated that Lobo Sosa said this in response to questions about why he has sent 2,000 military into the area
where campesinos advised by foreigners have invaded dozens of hectares of already cultivated land.

The claim that the MUCA movement is advised by foreigners is a way to divorce their actions from Honduras, to make these farmers into a dangerous other.

El Heraldo notes that Lobo Sosa
has asserted that behind the land conflict in the Bajo Aguán "there exist political interests"

and goes on to add that
some sectors do not discard the presence of armed groups in the region.

A subsecretary of the Ministry of Security, Roberto Romero, is quoted at length as arguing that this militarization of the Aguan in no way violates the spirit of supposedly ongoing negotiations:
"The negotiations have been respected and at the moment the only thing that the secretary of Security has done, with instructions from the President, is comply with a constitutional mandate, which is to generate spaces of trust and augment the security in this zone, in such a way as to control the flow of arms."

Lobo Sosa himself reinforces this grand lie:
"What they (Army and Police) are going to do is remind people of the Ley de Tenencia y Portación de Armas (Law of ownership and carrying of Arms) that establishes penalities of nine years in prison for anyone who carries arms in an irregular way."

Meanwhile, Sandra Ponce, who has the title of "Human Rights Advocate" (Fiscalía de Derechos Humanos), explained that in response to complaints she had initiated an investigation which has already found that
what official sources say is that the mobilization does not equate with a repressive action against persons of the campesino movement, but rather to operations against drug trafficking.

Univision quotes Ponce more succinctly as saying
The police have no order to dislodge the farmhands and their mission in Tocoa is to lower the arming and the drug trafficking in the region.

But who's arming here? not the campesinos.

In this atmosphere of intimidation, MUCA is reportedly expected to come to a final decision today about the no-longer-negotiable offers from the Lobo Sosa government. But the militarization, we are asked to believe, has no specific relationship to the campesino actions.

And the Honduran news media add fuel to the flames, editorializing that MUCA is following a "hard line" and repeating that the businessmen disputing land rights "have asserted that the occupation of the land is aided by foreigners" and that Lobo Sosa "fears that the actions of the campesinos are politically motivated and that they seek to disparage his government with the theme of human rights", concluding that
the greatest risk that presently exists is to continue giving time for radical groups so that they can totally take control since what they want is a greater confrontation to impose their manicheanism by violence [sangre y fuego].

The solution, according to the editorialist for El Heraldo, is simple; people just have to stop thinking that police actions in the middle of a tense land dispute have anything to do with that dispute, and it is up to the campesinos to see that they don't give anyone the idea that a massacre is about to happen or they will show they are tools of the radical left:
the peasants of MUCA have the opportunity today to give the lie, through deeds, to those that see them as instruments at the service of the radical left. They only have to accept the proposal of the government of Lobo....

So we hope, then, that in the meeting today a definitive agreement will be reached so that the government can dedicate itself to confronting grave national problems such as insecurity, without its actions being misinterpreted like yesterday, that deployed armed forces and police to combat common delinquency and organized crime in Cortés, Atlántida, and Colón [coastal departments], and that stirred up such an ado saying that a "genocide" was being prepared against the campesinos of the Aguan.

Monday, April 12, 2010

"We'll respect human rights" (for now)

After creating total alarm in the Bajo Aguan over the weekend, we learned late this morning that contrary to the official statements made yesterday, the government of Honduras does not intend, at least today, to evict the campesinos who reclaimed african oil palm plantations in the region around Tocoa, Colon.

El Heraldo reported that in a press conference late this morning, which it characterizes as involving, "the three powers of the state" those involved confirmed the presence of large numbers of police and military in the Bajo Aguan, but denied that they were there to evict the campesinos from the African oil palm farms they've claimed.

In this case, the "three powers" were not the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches, but rather Maria Antonieta Bográn, representing the Executive branch, Marlon Pascua, the defense minister, and Roberto Romero Luna, the vice minister for security. El Heraldo goes on to inform us that they assured the press that the police and military would respect human rights.

The sub-director of the National Police, René Maradiaga Panchamé, is quoted as saying that the police and military were "complying with the precise instructions of the President, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, the Security Minister, Oscar Alvarez, and the Director of the National Police, José Luís Muñoz Licona, to maintain public order and preserve the rule of law, bringing security to all in the area." He also denied local reports of a curfew having been imposed over the weekend.

Today the police set up checkpoints around Tocoa, Colon, to check people's papers and confiscate weapons, El Heraldo concluded.

Meanwhile, Tiempo reported this morning that the same Police spokesman, René Maradiaga Panchamé, confirmed to them that the evictions were scheduled for early this morning (Monday), and that's why there was a strong presence of the police and military in the area. Tiempo confirmed with Maradiaga Panchamé that more than 2000 police and 1000 Special Forces (a.k.a. the Cobras) had been dispatched to the Bajo Aguan.

The military commander of these troops, Colonel Florentino Sarmiento, said that the military was simply there to assist the National Police, and it was the police that would have to carry out any evictions.

La Tribuna changed its story this morning, from the earlier headline "Bajo Aguan heavily militarized" to "Start of Disarmament Operation" adopting the messaging of the Lobo government.

Meanwhile, videos posted to YouTube show military transports loaded with troops and towing supply trailers:

The government is deliberately muddying its message. On the one hand, the massive deployment of police and military is, they tell us, meant to reduce tensions in the Bajo Aguan, never mind that it achieved the opposite; but it is also meant to carry out drug interdictions, no doubt using the water canons seen transiting past El Progresso toward the Aguan over the week end.

Anyone concluding the Honduran government is not being honest about the purpose of water canons, troops, and police in the Bajo Aguan would not be mistaken.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Armed Forces vs. campesinos: Militarizing the Bajo Aguan

News reports from Honduras today confirm that, fed up with negotiating with ungrateful campesinos, the Lobo Sosa government is proceeding to escalate the confrontation with unarmed campesinos seeking land rights on the Honduran coast.

El Heraldo reports that more than 30 military transports have arrived to quell what it calls the zozobra there-- literally, anxiety. Whose anxiety?

Even the right wing El Heraldo recognizes what is coming:
While the Honduran governor prepares to receive the president-elect of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla, this Monday, the conditions for a massacre are being created.
More than 3000 families are at risk if the Honduran government proceeds with military action. El Heraldo actually quotes a spokesperson for MUCA, the campesino organization, Yony Rivas:
"Today, the Bajo Aguán has been totally militarized and we have detected at least 30 military vehicles with troops that are carrying high caliber arms... A climate of anxiety has been created in the area, because we know that the army in our country defends the interests of the oligarchy. We are living a very difficult moment."

Andrés Pavón, director of the Comité para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Honduras (CODEH) noted that this was unprecedented, because civilian conflicts should be resolved by police, not the armed forces.

"Recognition": grasping at straws in Nicaragua

A news article in El Heraldo today reports that a previously scheduled meeting of the Presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua to be held in Guatemala this Sunday has been canceled.

Explanations were diverse, but all concerned the President of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes. He is either sick, over-scheduled, or had a problem with his agenda. Three participants, three reasons. Raises the question, what really is going on?

Funes and Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom were reportedly to try to convince Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega to support the re-integration of Honduras in the Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana (SICA), the Central American System of Integration.

Reintegration in SICA, the El Heraldo article says (in the kind of editorializing that is typical of the Honduran press)
without a doubt will open the doors for the return of Honduras to the OAS.
Nicaragua, the story notes, is the only Central American government not to recognize what the writers call

the democratic process from which Lobo emerged, because it was carried out under the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti.

Pretty fair factual statement about what Nicaragua sees as the problem with the Lobo Sosa government.

But the story then editorializes that Nicaragua (actually, it says Daniel Ortega, trying to personalize a government action and thus delegitimate it) took this position

despite the fact that [the election] was programmed since before the coup d'Etat that deposed the constitutional president Manuel Zelaya.

Today's story also mentions a meeting that took place between Ortega and Lobo Sosa in Managua on Friday as evidence of progress toward the goal of Honduran legitimation.

Coverage of the Friday meeting in El Heraldo happily headlined the story "Daniel Ortega bestows recognition on Lobo".

So what was the political content of the meeting, how did it come about, and how can El Heraldo claim it represented "recognition"?

Lobo Sosa was en route to Panama, and the meeting took place in the Managua airport during a stopover.

Ortega is quoted as saying

"Hemos coincidido en que no se debe de rehuir la palabra unidad, que es una necesidad vital, la unidad de la región centroamericana".

["We have concurred that the word unity should not be avoided, that it is a vital necessity, the unity of the Central American region."]

Quite an endorsement of the Lobo Sosa government, isn't it? See the clear statement of recognition? Why not? The Latin American Herald Tribune thinks it did.

The actual purpose of the meeting was for the two countries to sign an agreement to reactivate a bilateral commission on disputes about the Gulf of Fonseca, the Pacific coastline shared by Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. The El Heraldo article resuscitates the claim that Nicaragua and El Salvador are trying to close access to the Pacific by Honduras, by projecting a marine frontier directly between them (leaving Honduras with frontage on the Gulf of Fonseca, but no right to move into the Pacific).

Border disputes also exist on the Caribbean coast, for which, the same article noted, Ortega and Lobo Sosa agreed they should reactivate the commission on national boundaries initiated October 2008.

Lobo Sosa thanked Ortega for releasing a group of Honduran fisherman seized in Pacific waters claimed by Nicaragua. His other quotes were the same kind of vague generalizations about unity as the one quote from Ortega.

So: how is this recognition?

Quoting El Heraldo:

La firma del acuerdo de carácter político, selló el reconocimiento de parte de Ortega al gobierno del presidente Lobo.

[The signing of an agreement of a political character, seals the recognition on the part of Ortega of the government of president Lobo.]

Inter-governmental negotiation of border disputes cannot be entirely set aside, or among other things, Nicaragua would be forced to indefinitely hold Honduran fisherman captive. Vague endorsement of greater integration of Central America is a far cry from recognition, even if it is a relief to Lobo Sosa not to be so completely ostracized.

The problem with this kind of reporting-- other than that it is a complete misrepresentation of facts-- is that it continues to muddy the waters of what precisely is and is not recognition of a government.

It might even disincline a diplomat to participate in other discussions that might be subject to the same kind of egregious spin, spin that recalls the constant drumbeat of disinformation published by the Honduran newspapers throughout the rule of Roberto Micheletti.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Lobo Sosa, the Bajo Aguan, and the OAS

If the title of this post sounds like a bad foreign film, well, hold on because we are about to embark on a very odd ride.

On April 7, the pro-coup Honduran newspaper La Tribuna published an article tying together these three unlikely themes. Headlined There are political interests in the problem of the Bajo Aguan (well, yeah...), the article quoted Porfirio Lobo Sosa appealing to the OAS to send a "commission" to review the government's proposal to settled the tense confrontation in the Bajo Aguan, characterized by La Tribuna as involving claims by 3,000 campesino families for use rights of 4,500 hectares of land currently planted in African oil palms. By my math, that would be about 1.5 hectares per family. Never mind that Honduras is not part of the OAS. Lobo Sosa needs some help, and apparently, the OAS owes it to him.

La Tribuna notes that last Monday, a proposal made by the campesinos, organized in the Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguán (MUCA), was "immediately rejected" by the government. The MUCA proposal is described as involving
the total recovery of 28 cooperatives that had been formed with the approval of the Ley de Reforma Agraria or the judgment of five hectares per family.

Lobo Sosa went on record as saying that the government offer looked good to him, not surprisingly:
the proposal, which consists of a hectare cultivated in African palm and another that would permit them to engage in contracts of co-investment with the businessmen, "is very good", since he has had experiences with co-investment with campesino groups and every time that such a transaction has been made, "it has been something that functions well when there is good faith".


Perhaps that "good faith" thing would be a bit more convincing if the article didn't also include Lobo Sosa's thoughts on the broader forces at work in encouraging the campesinos of the Bajo Aguan:
“I perceive that behind this, what there is is a political interest in damaging the government with the theme of human rights", he added, on considering that it makes no sense for someone to oppose the government proposal that consists of the grant of two hectares of land to three thousand families that form the campesino movement.

Funny how accusing peasant cooperatives of being armed militants might raise the broader issues of human rights, isn't it?

In an almost-certainly inadvertent moment of irony, Lobo Sosa encouraged the MUCA group to settle because otherwise, if they don't,
the declaration signed by ex-President Manuel Zelaya on June 12, 2009, will be taken as the point of departure, which consisted in the grant of 30 millon lempiras for the purchase of the land.

That's the spirit. You wouldn't want to have to go back to the way things were under Mel? oh wait, maybe we can rephrase that-- as César Ham, UD party candidate for president in 2009 co-opted by a cabinet post in the Lobo Sosa government, tried:
The director of the Instituto Nacional Agrario (INA), César Ham, recounted that the proposal of the Lobo Sosa government surpassed that proposed by Zelaya, since it went from 30 millon lempiras to 800 millon lempiras.
So we have the spectacle of Lobo Sosa and César Ham proposing more recompense to MUCA than the supposedly socialist Zelaya, albeit with extremely sticky strings attached. Obviously, the only reason to turn down such a great deal must be a desire to make politics with a land dispute to embarrass the government.

In other agricultural institute news, César Ham is looking for 100 missing tractors sent by ALBA in 2009. Or maybe all he needs is the keys; La Tribuna reports that rumor has it the tractors were found but missing the keys. And while he's at it, he can try to find anyone who knows what happened to the other farm equipment from ALBA: 85 heavy earthmovers, 15 fumigators, and 15 planting machines.

As the article helpfully concludes, all this equipment coming to Honduras was
a result of the close relationship that Zelaya maintained with Chávez, which caused discontent, above all among the businessmen and politicians, who criticized Honduras' joining ALBA from the beginning the 25 of August of 2008.

Pretty strong aversion to farm machinery.

For the want of a nail, a shoe was lost.
.. or, updated,

For the sake of a fumigator, a coup was born...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Recognition or Probation?

A recent email asked us which countries have officially recognized the Lobo Sosa government. Our reply to this correspondent, a fellow academic, was disappointing for his purposes, but encouraged us to consider a post; because the answer is, it depends. Depends on what "recognition" means; depends on who's identifying "recognition"; and depends on what is being recognized.

Honduran Secretary of State Mario Canahuati claims that the total is up to 50 countries. He had been previously quoted as saying Honduras had "succeeded in re-establishing relations with 29 countries of the 39 which which we have relations of diplomatic representation". Clearly, even he is using shifting criteria for what "recognition" means.

So let's start with the easy things first. Honduras is still, as of this writing, outside the OAS. Of course, the OAS feels this is a result of their expulsion of Honduras; but wait, remember: Micheletti claimed that Honduras withdrew from OAS before it was expelled.

As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained in her road trip throughout Latin America, the US recognizes the November election as legitimate (despite the lack of any independent international observers) and thus the Lobo Sosa government has US recognition. And she wonders what some Latin American countries are waiting for. Except that as of this writing, the US has not in fact accepted the credentials of a proposed ambassador to Washington. According to La Tribuna on March 21, the current candidate is Jorge Ramón Hernández Alcerro, who some sources say was selected from a short list of five candidates proposed to the US, after Roberto Flores Bermúdez, who notoriously aligned himself with the regime of Roberto Micheletti, was not given US approval. And of course, the US laid down a set of conditions for Lobo Sosa to fulfill for recognition, including the farce of a "reconciliation government" and the (apparently permanently stalled) "truth commission", so even US recognition has been complicated. Most significantly, it has meant letting aid money flow again.

International lending agencies have in fact led the way in "recognizing" the Lobo Sosa administration, opening the purse strings for the kinds of loans that are critical for a government facing a treasury exhausted by the policy of Roberto Micheletti. Among those back in Honduras are the IMF, BID, World Bank, and the BCIE. Some countries that have agreed to restart financial assistance have been counted as "recognizing" Honduras, but not all of these have sent diplomats back to Tegucigalpa, or those diplomats have not tendered their credentials to the Lobo Sosa government.

Here's the crux of the matter: international diplomacy is not an on/off switch. Diplomatic protocol provides an exquisite variety of ways to establish relations, even with what are considered rogue states. On January 26, when Lobo Sosa was inaugurated, only the presidents of Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Taiwan attended, and only the US, Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama, and Peru were counted as fully recognizing Lobo Sosa's government. As of April 5, Honduran Foreign Minister Mario Canahuati reported approval of the Honduran ambassador to Costa Rica, and expected approval this week of those to Panama, Colombia, Spain, Guatemala, and El Salvador, out of a dozen nominations reportedly proposed by March 21.

The spectrum of available diplomatic approaches provides the international community, even the booster-ish US, with options to apply pressure on the Lobo Sosa administration. Some of that pressure can be seen as directed to whitewashing the coup and its aftermath. And some may be less cynical than that-- but the more serious the pressure, the less likely we will see it reflected in news media.

So. Who's recognized the Lobo Sosa government fully, by which I mean, sent a new ambassador, sent back the ambassador they had withdrawn, or either accepted the credentials of the Honduran ambassador or indicated that they will?

Shortly after the November elections, Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica and Peru were the first Latin American nations to indicate they would do so. They were joined in early 2010 by El Salvador, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic, in an openly reported quid pro quo for safe conduct out of Honduras for former president Zelaya.

Mexico's position appears a little ambiguous, despite my best attempts to confirm reports that they have also recognized Lobo Sosa. Taiwan and Israel never actually clearly withdrew recognition from the Micheletti de facto regime, and both countries are said to be actively supporting the new Honduran government. And while Canada followed the US lead in supporting Lobo Sosa's advocacy for normalization, to the disgust of progressives in our northern neighbor, its official website on relations with Honduras as of March 4 said Canada was just "moving to normalize relations with the new, elected government of President Pepe Lobo".

Adamantly resisting are, as expected, the ALBA nations (most important being Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela). The largest South American nations-- Brazil and Argentina-- were rather polite but firm in resisting Secretary of State Clinton's coaxing to come on board. Speaking more diplomatically than Clinton, Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim noted that a coup is hard to forgive and forget.

On February 21, Mario Canahuati counted ten countries that were resisting re-establishing diplomatic missions with Honduras, including Brazil, Uruguay, México, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Chile. While Uruguay has been recorded consistently as not recognizing Lobo Sosa's government, Chile was briefly counted by the Honduran press as recognizing Lobo Sosa by virtue of Lobo Sosa's plans to attend the inauguration of its new president, plans he had to cancel after Honduras charge d'affaires in Chile communicated that he was not, in fact, invited to Pinera's inauguration.

France and Spain were noted as returning recalled ambassadors to Honduras in early March, yet coverage on April 2 of Spain's advocacy of including Honduras in EU discussions of an economic agreement with the Central American nations quoted Spanish minister of Foreign Affairs Miguel Ángel Moratinos as saying that Spain "has decided that its ambassador should return to Tegucigalpa" as a first action toward the normalization of diplomatic ties.

On March 24, El Heraldo reported on seven ambassadors presenting credentials to the Lobo Sosa government, from Finland, Germany, Israel, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and India. Several will serve at the same time as ambassadors for other Central American countries. Other coverage cites Canahuati as listing Italy among those recognizing the Lobo Sosa government.

Meanwhile, Honduras has yet to confirm its ambassador to the United Nations, although the Zelaya appointee, Jorge Arturo Reina, was happy to announce that he would be staying on (prematurely, and perhaps inaccurately, as he is also reported to be Lobo Sosa's delegate to represent Honduras to the ALBA countries). Honduran press counted the UN as "tacitly" recognizing the Lobo Sosa government as of February 1, by including it in documents.On April 1, Mario Canahuati attended a meeting about aid to Haiti at the UN, credited as having recognized Lobo Sosa as of February 3.

So perhaps the best way to think about all this is that the Lobo Sosa administration is on global probation.

Skepticism about the new administration will not be easily erased as long as it continues to incorporate supporters of the coup d'Etat in prominent posts. The fact remains that Lobo Sosa never has disclaimed the Micheletti regime, or the coup itself. There are countries more scrupulous than the US that, while accepting that electoral politics is never completely clean, balk at affirming an election conducted under transparently repressive conditions.

Instead of thinking of this as a recognition tally, what should concern us more is how the nations skeptical of Honduras will exercise whatever influence they have on the new regime. By so quickly accepting the new government as entirely legitimate, and refusing to even acknowledge the existence of a broad popular movement for constitutional reform, the US has given up the potential to encourage new directions. Worse, it seems committed to policies of co-optation and token representation of other voices that ignore the wider community mobilizing for a new Honduras.