Friday, August 27, 2010

Crying Wolf

El Heraldo headlined it "FONAC: Protests receive foreign influence," reporting on public statements given by the head of FONAC, the Foro Nacional de Covergencia de Honduras, Leonardo Villeda Bermudez.

Villeda Bermudez was referring to the protests by the teacher's union.
"There have been influences to sow anarchy in the country"

he said. He goes on to single out the way the protesters dress, wearing "Che" tee shirts and red and black bandanas, saying
"This is not from Hondurans, this comes from the outside"

Villeda Bermudez should have learned back in 1987 to temper his words, when his cries of "baby organ trafficking" cost him his government job.

On January 2, 1987, La Tribuna ran a story which quoted Leonardo Villeda Bermudez as indicating that there was traffic in baby organs, harvested for transplanting, in Honduras.
"Many families came forward to adopt children with physical defects. At first we thought they were decent people who loved children, but in time it was discovered that they wanted to sell them for body parts..."

(quoted in Tim Tate, "Trafficking in Children", in C. Moorhead, Ed. Betrayal: Child Exploitation in Today's World. Barrie and Jenkins, 1989, pp. 115)

He retracted the statement (El Heraldo 3 January 1987, La Tribuna 5 January 1987) and indicated he had merely heard unconfirmed rumors about such traffic, but the damage was done, and shortly thereafter President Azcona removed him. The Orlando Sentinel of January 10, 1987, quoted President Azcona's wife, Miriam de Azcona, as saying "We don't know why he said it because there's no documentation to support it."

Enough said.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Money, money money...

There, got your attention?

We have been arguing for more than a year now that the coup d'etat of June 28 and its continuing aftermath were not ideological-- unless the ideology involved is capitalism.

The forces behind the coup were shown to be a cadre of business-owners in early analyses by Leticia Salomon and other Honduran scholars. Resistance to a living wage and to union contracts was only the most visible evidence of this direction of the de facto regime, continuing in the Lobo Sosa administration. Government agencies charged with protecting the environment were converted after the coup into rubber stamps for developments damaging to sensitive ecological zones, and even to the health of the Honduran people.

The fingerprints of this shift back to favoring business interests of a small elite are also found all over concessions of rights for power generation, even if it is hard to connect the dots due to an almost total absence of real reporting in mainstream Honduran and foreign news media.

Yesterday, El Libertador published a formal statement by the Frente de Resistencia about the "harmful contracts for renewable energy" granted to "the golpista oligarchy". The contracts in question are for thermal generation of electricity. The Honduran National Congress has, according to this report, approved the concession of more than 50 watersheds for this purpose to private companies.

One of the main arguments against these contracts, advanced by the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Empresa Nacional de Energía Eléctrica (STENEE), the union of the national electrical workers, is that the contracts for ENEE to buy the energy produced guarantee an overly high price: reportedly 12 US cents per kilowatt hour, far above the previously negotiated price of 5 US cents per kilowatt hour.

Unlikely to be a coincidence, on August 25, El Heraldo published an interview with Honduran businessman Fredy Násser of the energy development enterprise Grupo Terra. The theme of the article: there is a reason why they haven't invested in "clean energy" in Honduras, they would love to, and they have lots of investment funding from the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica (BCIE), the German Development Bank, and the Dutch Development Bank. Násser was among the businessmen singled out by Leticia Salomon in her analyses of the business interests behind the coup of June 28, 2009.

El Libertador claims that the concessions for energy generation rely on forged signatures of mayors of affected towns, and thus that they were "negotiated" without consultation of the citizenry. One of the hallmarks of the Zelaya administration was a push for citizen participation, and one of the counter forces against that administration was a desire to return to a system in which representatives without accountability speak for the people.

So, the Frente calls for mobilization to
defend in a permanent way our natural resources, that should be developed under public policies with participation and direct benefit for the communities. Only under this procedure can we support clean energy projects.

Rigoberto Cuellar, the Secretary of Natural Resources in the Lobo Sosa government, defended the new contracts, saying his ministry will ensure that the contracts will be the least expensive possible and environmentally sensitive. He stated firmly that the entire process of letting contracts adhered completely to the requirements of the law. The one thing absent from his public statements: any comment on how, or whether, the proposed new energy facilities have been discussed with the local communities.

But, as Fredy Násser would argue,
it is necessary to generate wealth and the spaces necessary to develop opportunities for our people. The governments have to realize that this is the only way out of poverty.

The only way out of poverty? or the only way to "generate wealth"?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cutting Off Your Nose To Spite Your Face!

The school year in Honduras is 200 days. It began in January and is supposed to run through November. But this year and last, school has been interrupted and the instructional period shortened.

The administration of Roberto Micheletti thought nothing of ending the school year more than a month early last year to clear out the public schools so the military and police could take them over to hold their flawed election last November. This year, various days have been lost to protests and, most recently, to a two-week strike.

In this situation, the Lobo Sosa administration's Education Minister, Alejandro Ventura, just made an absurd suggestion:
It hurts us to say this, but its preferable to cancel the school year from September on, because the teachers are acting irresponsibly.

Really?! If the teachers are acting irresponsibly, how is it responsible to the students to make the irresponsible suggestion that the government just cancel the rest of the school year?

What is behind this questionable proposal is a labor dispute that the Lobo Sosa administration could settle.

A confederation of teachers' unions, the Federación de Organizaciones Magisteriales de Honduras, has been out on strike the last two weeks because the government is two years behind in its payments to their retirement fund, and is up to three months late in paying the monthly salary of 3000 teachers, among other issues.

It is not that all the teachers all over Honduras are out on strike, but there's a large contingent of them protesting in Tegucigalpa.

As a result, for the last two weeks, many, but not all, schools have been shut, children not receiving classes. The government says about 2 million students are affected.

The protesting teachers have been peaceful, but the security forces have been disproportionately violent of late. Over the weekend the Assistant Security Minister threatened more violence against the protesters if they block the streets, a common tactic in Honduras, that he said interferes with the citizen's right of free passage.

There are many other paths forward that would have better educational outcomes than canceling the school year. Suggesting canceling the rest of the school year is a political response, not one made by someone acting responsibly towards Honduras's students.

Instead, the Education Minister is considering issuing a decree declaring a state of emergency, canceling the remaining school year, and beginning procedures to fire the striking teachers. Here again the disruption of normal constitutional order last year echoes forward: having developed a habit of suspending normal constitutional protections by using the "state of emergency" claim, the Honduran government seems to see it as a solution for all problems.

Not one that will ensure students get the education they deserve. Not one that will settle the debts already owed to teachers. Just one that would allow unilateral elimination of opposition in an undemocratic manner.

August 25: Talk by Historian Dario Euraque

Based on his recently concluded book manuscript, El Golpe de Estado y su Impacto en el Patrimonio Cultural y la Identidad Nacional (The Coup d'Etat and its Impact on Cultural Patrimony and National Identity).

In Tegucigalpa, Wednesday August 25 at 5 PM.

Place: COPEMH (Colegio de Profesores de Educación Media de Honduras)

(Online sources give the address for COPEMH as Boulevard Centro América, Primera Entrada Colonia las Colinas, Tegucigalpa.)

The talk will be transmitted and viewable live on and

Monday, August 23, 2010

Selective Prosecutions

It looks like the Bar Association of Honduras has finally noticed what we've been remarking on for months; that Public Prosecutor Luis Rubi is only selectively prosecuting corruption cases. They wrote a letter to the Secretary of Congress asking that Luis Alberto Rubi, and the prosecutor in charge of corruption cases, Henry Salgado, be fired.

The president of the Bar, José Antonio Ávila, noted in the letter that
they have not complied with the constitution nor the law of the Public Prosecutor.

The letter goes on to accuse Rubi and Salgado of having pocket-vetoed some of the accusations of corruption that the members of the Bar Association have placed.
When they took office, they promised to comply with the laws, but they are only gathering a salary without justifying the existence of their institution [the prosecutor's office],

said Avila.

He added that the lack of follow-through on cases is the reason that the head of the Legal unit of the National Anti-corruption Commission, José Raúl Suazo Lagos, to resign.

Suazo Lagos had given the evidence in the cases of corruption to both Rubi and Salgado, but they allowed them to gather dust. The head of the San Pedro Sula branch of the Public Prosecutor's office, Rafael Fletes, hinted at much the same thing when he resigned in July. His comments at the time suggested lack of support from the Public Prosecutor's office.

Andres Pavon, head of the Comité para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Honduras, said yesterday that Rubi, in his role as Public Prosecutor, was acting irresponsibly in the way he charged four members of the teacher's union with "illegal demonstrations", a charge which, Pavon says, the legal code specifies is only applicable if the demonstration is for the purpose of carrying out an illegal act or part of an attempt against the government with arms or explosives.

We have noted in earlier posts that Rubi tends to have unique readings of Honduran law, as determined by the courts of Honduras. The courts have dismissed the majority of the cases he's brought since the coup. Rubi declined to even open an investigation when Lobo Sosa denounced elements who were openly plotting a coup against him.

The International Criminal Court notified Rubi in January it had documented several cases of crimes against humanity, in which he was one of those implicated as responsible.

The Honduran Bar Association has just cause to ask for Rubi's dismissal.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

José Antonio Funes protests proposed move of National Archives

An open letter published today adds to the voices of concern raised about the proposal to move the National Archives from their present location. Addressed to Bernard Martinez, Secretary of Culture, Arts and Sports, it is written by the poet José Antonio Funes, who served as director of the National Library of Honduras from 2006 to 2007, and is a university faculty member. He writes:
By various means I have heard about the official communication No. OS-545-2010, in which you solicit from Sra. Rosa Maria Prats, Director of the National Gallery of Art, a space in that building to "store the National Archive, the Archive of Land Titles, and the Hall of Investigators and Analysts".

In the beginning I thought that this was a tasteless joke, or some crudeness of a functionary who could mix up one letter with another in the middle of the bureaucratic bustle. But unfortunately it was not that, your signature was there on the official letter, and, as can be seen, you continue defending the reckless content of that missive.

Sr. Minister, I don't know what idea you must have about how to treat a National Archive or what a National Gallery of Art concerns. But if it is analyzed with care it will be realized that they are two institutions that fulfill totally different functions. In what country has it been seen that a National Archive, where national and foreign investigators come, would be going to be tucked in a corner of a National Gallery of Art?

But, in addition to being absurd, your decision turns out to be from every point of view contrary to the Patrimonio Nacional-- which in your position of Minister you are the first named defender-- since it would be putting at grave risk the physical security of the former Presidential Palace by intending to convert it into the offices of the Secretariat; and, by the same step, to invade with papers and books the National Gallery of Art, would be invading a space that does not belong to the Secretariat of Culture, but rather to the University and the National Congress. That is to say, it would be incurring an abuse of power, another lamentable error that equally could one day bring you before the courts of the country.

Sr. Martinez, a Minister arrives at an institution, such as that which you direct, to construct, not to destroy; to defend the cultural patrimony of the country, not to trample on it at your whim. In these circumstances, I understand well the indignation of the ex-Minister of Culture Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle because he worked hard to recover this building that today shelters the National Gallery of Art and to organize in the former Presidential Palace the Centro Documental de Investigaciones Históricas de Honduras (CDIHH). These achievements should be considered "of the State", since they serve to benefit the nation, to expand the opportunity to access the culture and the history of the country. There you have an example, to build with new bricks, rather than breaking the bricks of the works of others. No one has the right to destroy that which serves the Honduran people, and what you would do would be a misinterpretation, a betrayal of your office.

For the love that you might have for Honduras, don't continue the pseudofascist escalation that was let loose from the Ministry of Culture against the cultural patrimony of the country after the coup d'Etat of June 28 of last year, where over this institution flew sovereign the banners of awesome ignorance and corruption.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Closing the deal.....

Yesterday the Lobo Sosa government failed to close a deal with the International Monetary Fund for standby funding for the government of Honduras for the next 18 months. This was an important test of the government's political capital as well as its economic capital, and it failed.

So why did the deal fall through at the last minute? The newspaper El Tiempo reported today that the IMF wants to be sure the Lobo government continues sound fiscal policies into the next year by examining its budget proposal in September.

The first negotiations between the IMF and the Lobo Sosa government began in March with a visit where the IMF reviewed the fiscal plans of the government. Among their suggestions, made in a public press release, was that the government needed to contain spending, especially the spending on salaries of public employees. The IMF also recommended that the government strengthen the finances of public institutions such as ENEE and Hondutel, strengthen the government pension plan, and improve the financial situation of the cities.

In response the government passed a set of new taxes, quite unpopular with business, but supposedly designed to have minimal impact on the poor.

It also started a new program financed by government bonds, that gives 10,000 lempiras to poor families. It has had to pay these piecemeal as its cash reserves are quite low and the market for government bonds could not absorb the full cost in a single offering. A new bond offering for $26 million towards this program was being offered by the government today.

Another response, however, weakened the Instituto Nacional de Jubilaciones y Pensiones de los Empleados Publicos del Poder Ejecutivo (INJUPEMP). The Secretary of Finances determined that the fund had over 1000 million lempiras it could invest, and decided to use those funds to retire the debt of the government Electric Company (ENEE) which buys electricity from private power plants that generate electricity using bunker oil. These plants are mostly owned by Honduran businessmen.

Honduras needs the standby agreement to finance budget shortfalls and to fund emergencies. In light of its failure to secure the agreement on this visit of the IMF, the government had to try to put a good face on its failure. All it could seem to find to brag about was there was an agreement that in the next year there would be no new taxes.

The lack of an IMF agreement highlights the failure of the Lobo government to completely unlock international finances. Instead, it has had to issue bonds backed by INJUPEMP funds, and others backed by the money owed to Petrocaribe to finance normal government spending. For now, the international financial community is keeping Honduras broke.

Monday, August 9, 2010

"Collective memory" at risk: On moving the Honduran National Archives

It is easy, we have noted, to lose sight of the economic effects of the coup in the face of the horse race about politics of OAS recognition. And it is equally easy to forget the profound negative effect the coup and its continuing aftermath has had on Honduran culture.

After the coup d'etat of June 28, 2009, the appointment of Mirna Castro by the de facto regime to take over administration of the Ministry of Culture led to a series of developments that drew widespread outrage from artists, scholars, and writers in Honduras: denunciation of book distribution programs, firing of well-qualified office holders for political reasons, the infamous argument that, in a country with as high a level of economic stratification as Honduras, funding fashion design events was appropriate because fashion was culture, and more.

One of the more disturbing incidents was the proposal to provide space for a military reservists organization in a national monument, the old presidential palace, which also serves as the home to a unified national library and archives facility. The opposition carefully presented to this move by then-director of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History, Dr. Dario Euraque, himself a noted historian and university professor in the United States, while staving off this misuse, contributed to the animosity that led to his removal from office.

With the transition to the Lobo Sosa government, a new minister of culture, the former presidential candidate of a small party, Bernard Martinez, was appointed. A few days ago a PDF copy of a letter from Martinez to the Director of the national gallery of art was widely circulated. In it, Martinez asks for space in that museum for the documentary archives, arguing that the ministry was experiencing severe space needs that, implicitly, were more important than housing and providing access to these irreplaceable historical records.

Then today, an "Open letter" directed to Minister Martinez circulated, signed by both Dr. Euraque and the former minister of culture, Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle. They open with a paragraph summing up their reactions to the proposal:
We want to make known to you that on proceeding according the cited letter, you will commit a grave administrative error, and an attempt against the Ley del Patrimonio Cultural de la Nación (Law of the Cultural Patrimony of the Nation), perhaps worse than those that the Attorney Myrna Castro committed when she functioned as Secretary of Culture, Arts, and Sports. And if you proceed as anticipated, the Prosecutor for the Patrimony will have to take action in the matter.

The signatories, both historians recognized internationally for the research as well as experienced administrators, argue that "The National Historic Archive is the patrimony of the Hondurans, principal reservois of their collective memory" and should only be moved, as it was in their administration, after serious study of the advantages for curating and providing access to the resources it represents.

They outline a well-documented process of consultation which obviously has not taken place before the current proposal, which seeks simply to remove the archives to make more space--for what is unclear-- in a national historic monument. They note that the building occupied as an art museum does not even belong to the Ministry of Culture: it belongs in equal parts to the UNAM and the National Congress, and was made available only for the purpose of being an art gallery.

And, as they note, the art gallery is inappropriate anyway:
Nor does the building that houses the National Gallery serive for the simple reason that there does not exist the necessary space to consult and conserve the National Archive there.

The National Archive was essentially rescued from neglect by being rehoused in a modern Center for Historical Documents, with computer facilities and space for study of the collection, under the administration of Euraque and Pastor Fasquelle. And for what reason would such a project be proposed?

In their letter, Euraque and Pastor Fasquelle imply that the purpose is to use the Old Presidential Palace for general office functions of the ministry. This, they note, would endanger the historical structure of that building as much as the archives would be endangered by being shifted to inadequate and inappropriate space. They write:
It is a National Monument (since 1989) that should breathe an air of culture, of esthetics, and not the hustle and bustle of the bureaucratic administration of the Ministry of Culture or any other branch of the State. For that reason, the "technical record" of its registry [as a national monument] classifies its use as "cultural".

Noting that caring for this historic structure is part of the mission of the Institute of Anthropology and History, they go on to say
Lamentably, the present maximal authority of IHAH, imposed under the administration of Abodaga Castro, totally lacks the experience or knowledge of these needs to collaborate in this sense [of guarding the historic character and fabric of the building]. In whatever way, the Prosecutor of Patrimony should monitor the actions of the present Manager of the IHAH in relation to this decision of his to move the National Archive to the National Gallery.

The authors make a special plea to Minister Martinez "not to make the same mistakes" as Mirna Castro, especially by disrupting the nascent historical research center that was formed during the Zelaya administration.

The question is, have the factors that made cultural analysis of history and identity of the nation in the broadest sense victims of Mirna Castro changed with the installation of the Lobo Sosa administration? Refraining from abusing the National Archives would be one way to show a less hostile cultural policy.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Political economy of Honduras: the 2009 coup d'etat (Part 4 of 4)

Economist Miguel Cáceres Rivera and historian Sucelinda Zelaya conclude their analysis of the modern Honduran political economy with the developments that culminated in the coup d'Etat of 2009.

They characterize the situation as a crisis of representation, a crisis in the system of representative democracy, a crisis of institutional credibility and social legitimacy.

Here, I translate the remainder of their paper in full:
Manuel (Mel) Zelaya Rosales, coming from the cattle ranching class displaced in the 1970s, ascended to the presidency with a margin of voting close to one-fourth of the total electorate, and for that reason, with a very low level of social legitimacy. Over the course of his term this increased considerably thanks to his putting into practice (more through spontaneity and political intuition than in obedience to a pre-elaborated governmental plan) two types of economic measures: on the one hand, some oriented to stabilize, reduce or impede the growth of the cost of living for the people, and on the other hand, those [measures] that sought to improve personal income. Among the first would be the control of the prices of fuels (through the regulation of the margin of intermediation and by means of a subsidy on the price of fuels) and the reduction of the interest rates for loans for construction of homes; among the second, would be the important increase that he decided on in the minimum wage. Zelaya addressed these and other solutions to the problem of the crisis of reproduction.

The majority of the people affected by the adverse impacts on the new axis of accumulation formed the business elite during the process of its consolidation and enrichening. A common suffering identified and unified this majority. So diverse in its social composition, this contingent is part of the elite. In the economic measures undertaken by Zelaya Rosales, this contingent found common solutions that established a tie of identity among its constituent elements, on the one hand, against Zelaya, on the other, in a progressive and gradual dynamic of leader-mass.

The economic measures that on the one hand alleviated the crisis of reproduction, are perceived by the business elite as threats to the process of accumulation, and therefore, to themselves. Within this perception, the threat became extreme with the proposal by Zelaya to install a constitutional assembly that it was presumed would modify the rules of the game that ruled and constitutionally supported the mode of operation of activities of the axis of accumulation that had benefited the business elite. An assembly that at the same time would change the form and means of political participation beyond the traditional mediation of the parties that had been highly functional for the elite. The elite and parties saw themselves, then, as threatened, forged the coup d'Etat and executed it making use of the judicial and legislative branches and of the army. Reacting to the coup the majority affected by the model of accumulation and identified with the economic measures was made visible, emerging in the actions of struggle undertaken against the coup. From the varied social composition of this majority derives the so-marked social heterogeneity of the movement of resistance.

Two basic political perceptions fuel this movement of expanded social stratification. One that sees in the anti-coup conjuncture the possibilities of modifying fundamental characteristics of the economic system. Another than conceives of the actions of the movement within the parameters of the system. Within the latter, there are two aspects: one that is assembled around Zelaya Rosales as its leader, and another that is constituted in reaction to the violation of the right of popular sovereignty involved in the coup. With all the possible nuances between these basic positions the political spectrum of the movement is wide. Uniting all these positions and nuances is the consensus around the need for economic measures against the model of accumulation and the need for a scheme of participation that is more open and with mechanisms for direct democracy.

The coup d'Etat split Honduran society and its institutions and polarized perceptions, opinions, attitudes and actions of the population. The strong decline in economic activity is one of its most evident and gravest repercussions. It sharpens in consequence the crisis of reproduction. The coup as a violation of the right of popular sovereignty aggravates the political crisis of institutional credibility and of representation. And one year from this coup, solutions are not noticeable.

The solution to the crisis of reproduction necessarily passes through questioning and reversal of the logic and scheme of functioning of the present model of accumulation and, therefore, the economic and political power of the business elite, while the solution to the crisis of participation passes necessarily through the questioning and reversal of the political model of representative democracy.

Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 02 July 2010

Miguel Cáceres Rivera and Sucelinda Zelaya

Friday, August 6, 2010

Political economy of Honduras: 1990s-2009 (Part 3 of 4)

Economist Miguel Cáceres Rivera and historian Sucelinda Zelaya set the stage for understanding the political economic crisis that led to the coup d'Etat of 2009 in their discussions of economic transformations in the early twentieth century and under the military dictatorships of the 1960s-1970s.

We enter the recent period with a transformed landscape: migration of rural farmers to cities where they became the labor force and reserve labor pool for industry, in parallel with surprisingly successful rural movements to take land from larger land owners and put it into production, creating demand for products of industry from a laboring farming population, all under the auspices of a military linked comfortably to the new industrial class, bypassing the traditional elites of the two party system.

Third crisis

Cáceres and Zelaya identify a third "crisis of reproduction" starting in the 1990s, in both rural and urban sectors throughout the country. They identify three root causes:

First, employment growth was insufficient;

the continuing and growing extraction of income from the rest of the social classes on the part of the business elite by means of mechanisms such as devaluation, the monopolistic management of fuel prices, and the oligopsonistic management of the prices of electricity, mobile phone service, and high interest rates;

and third,
a constant and progressive exaction of income from the population by the State by means of taxes in general and the sales tax and tax on fuels in particular.

Or to simplify it: even in the face of limited employment, the State budget was based on regressive taxes that differentially affected poorer Hondurans , while state economic policies and the holding of business in the hands of a small group of individuals allowed the maintenance of price policies that benefited the wealthy business class at the direct expense of the working class.

Cáceres and Zelaya characterize these policies as "decimating" the potential of families to purchase goods, leading to a contraction in demand and thus in new job creation in industry, which in the second crisis had assumed a much greater role in the economy. They note that one-third of the employment-seeking young emigrated in search of work during this period. The remittances sent back by these individuals, they write, postponed the "eruption of the crisis" while providing yet another source of income for the banks controlled by the small wealth/political elite, which charged high service fees for transfers.

Meanwhile, the Honduran state inherited external debt from the reform era which led to increases in taxes and currency devaluation. "It was assumed that devaluation would stimulate a greater export production that would increase income in dollars" needed to pay the international debt. This led directly to government encouragement of increased export agriculture and the development of the maquilas, export sweatshops operated by multinational corporations. In the analysis of Cáceres and Zelaya, the government extracted from the general population the funds to pay debt that was accumulated to benefit the industrial business class in the earlier crisis, a "transfer of income equivalent to the amount of the debt and interest" from the working classes to the business class.

Devaluation of the lempira "is another state action of the same nature that increased the income of the exporters and the banks". They note that this came "at the cost of the equivalent reduction in purchase capacity" due to inflation that affected the working class, campesinos and self-employed service-sector workers, micro- and small-businesses, and professionals with secondary and university education. This "transfer of income" deteriorated the living conditions of families and made precarious the survival of business, and their ability to generate jobs. Businesses faced very high interest rates on loans, imposed by banks due to the high rate of inflation spurred by devaluation of which, the authors note, the banks themselves were actually beneficiaries.

Further contributing to the crisis was disinvestment in HONDUTEL, the phone company, and ENEE, the electrical company, opening up opportunities for the private enterprise elite to exploit the demand for these services.

The economic crisis "led to a crisis of faith in the political parties and the State, that have been very useful for the growth of the business elite and the functioning of a new axis of accumulation". The growth of political parties stalled, increasing more slowly than the voting-age population. About half of the population of Honduras, they say, has no party affiliation. As we covered extensively in the run-up to last November's election, abstentionism had reached about half the population of eligible votes.

The growth of maquilas, banks, cell phone companies, and electrical companies, and of non-traditional agricultural exports,
defines and places in relief a new axis of accumulation that implies a concatenation of agricultural, industrial and tertiary investments that the business elite manages and on which is supported its present economic and political power.

This elite, the authors argue, arose from the solutions of the first two crises they discussed. Further, they write,
It is the elite that in the process of strengthening its economic hegemony created the present crisis.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Political economy of Honduras: 1950s to 1970s (Part 2 of 4)

Economist Miguel Cáceres Rivera and historian Sucelinda Zelaya continue their analysis of the development of the modern Honduran political economy, which started with a discussion of the early twentieth century and continues with an exploration of the specific factors in the period 1990-2010 that contributed to the coup d'Etat of 2009.

The roots of the alliance of military and business class are to be found in the 1960s-1970s:

Second crisis

As in the first case, the second crisis these scholars analyze took place among the campesino population. The recovery of population under Carías led to increase in population density, setting the stage for this second demographic/economic crisis.

Starting at the end of the 1950s, difficulties in access to land formed obstacles for campesinos. Ownership of land was concentrated in the hands of large-scale cattle ranchers, "the remnants of the mining-ranching model" of the 19th century, the banana companies, and other large-scale agricultural enterprises.

The authors note that two solutions presented themselves to this situation.

Migration from the rural landscape to the cities, which grew tremendously during this period, was one. Thus farmers converted themselves to workers in industries, and to service workers, simultaneously the reserve of workers for industry. This, they noted, benefited industry, both by providing a labor pool and a new body of consumers of products. Industry surpassed agriculture in generating new jobs in the early 1960s. The state encouraged these developments with industrial subsidies for the business owners. Products made by rural farmers were no longer able to compete in the urban market with the subsidized products of industry. (Think of the replacement of traditional pottery by plastic for a somewhat more recent analogy: this only works because the real costs of the plastic containers are underwritten by such things as provision of cheap electricity.) As Cáceres and Zelaya note, "The policy of industrial development is of a classist nature", encouraging the replacement of an agricultural working class by an urban, industrial labor pool.

There was a second route out of the crisis that started in the 1950s. This was migration to different rural areas, initially pushing agriculture into previously unfarmed land, later organizing to occupy "land held by large-scale cattle ranchers and large agrobusinesses", especially in the major valleys of the banana growing region on the north coast. This route was directed to maintain an identity as rural farmers, and represented "anti-institutional questioning of private property in land...and, on the other hand, the illegitimate possession of national lands" by the large landowners. Again, they see this in class terms, as a challenge to the cattle-ranching class.

While they see this crisis playing out throughout the country, they note it was especially intense in the area that previously had been home to the mining-ranching enterprise, especially along the border with El Salvador.

This rural to rural migration they credit with leading to reform of the Law of Agrarian Reform (Ley de Reforma Agraria):
The reform of [land] tenure is the vertebral column of the reformist project of the first half of the 1970s and consequently the migrant campesinos without land came to be the central social class of this project.

The newly landed campesino groups had increased purchase capacity for the products of urban industries. This especially affected former banana lands, prime targets of seizure and land reform; this is when the Aguán first became a site of struggle. Meanwhile, the increased demand helped the consolidation of the business class, with new government programs providing financing and training of workers under the same reform movement.

These reforms were led by the military juntas that ruled Honduras throughout the 1960s and 1970s, who forged links with the newly growing industrial class.

Meanwhile, the traditional parties remained distant, in part, Cáceres and Zelaya suggest, because of links to the large cattle ranchers who opposed land reform and because of lack of affinities for the industrial managers and owners.

The demotion of the "five or six families" forming the cattle-ranching wealth elite who had dominated the two major parties, and the political elevation of the industrial/business elite was a consequence.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"The 1990-2010 crisis in historical perspective" by Miguel Cáceres Rivera and Sucelinda Zelaya (Part 1 of 4)

In the first days after the coup d'Etat of 2009, Honduran scholars rapidly produced reports putting the coup in necessary economic and political context. One of the most creative of these works was by economist Miguel Cáceres Rivera in the form of a Letter to a Honduran friend who is away.

Now he and historian Sucelinda Zelaya (Professor of History at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras) have published an analysis of the economic factors in three major crises of the last 110 years, culminating in what they call "the crisis 1990-2010", which led to the coup d'Etat. Their analysis, in six short but dense pages, makes clear how Honduras went from a country of cattle ranchers and farmers to one dominated by a small, monopolistic business class. It is essential reading.

The three crises that these scholars identify came in the first third of the 20th century, from the end of the 1950s through the mid-1970s, and the most recent, starting in 1990 through the present. Anyone familiar with Honduran history will immediately realize they point to the prior incidents in modern Honduran history where constitutionally elected governments were succeeded by long-term dictatorships. Because the analysis is long and packed with detail, I am breaking up my discussion into separate parts, one for each crisis they identify and a final post translating in full their analysis of how these crises led to the coup of 2009.

It pays to read the entire argument. Think of it as a primer in Honduran political economy.

First crisis

Starting between 1880 and 1900, banana production took the role of primary source of capital previously held by mining and cattle-ranching.

The authors note that initially, there existed a possibility for small-scale banana production to lead to wider distribution of economic benefits, in the same way that coffee growing did in Costa Rica, but that this possibility was blocked by the growth of foreign-owned monopoly banana companies made possible through Honduran government concessions.

In their analysis, this led to a substitution of "taking [political] power and appropriating public funds as a form of compensating for this limitation", making governance the route to wealth for those who had previously profited from mining and ranching.

Because the political struggle between the two major parties led to "frequent coups d'Etat" accompanied by armed conflicts, a "food crisis" of reduced production developed, followed by a "demographic crisis" of slower population growth among the campesino population, the majority of the population.

This "crisis of reproduction" took place in the non-banana growing areas, making up 12 of the 17 states of the country at the time. While the area closest to Tegucigalpa, hardest hit by conflicts, saw greatest population declines, the area along the north coast from San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba, center of banana production, saw its population grow.

The dictatorship of Tiburcio Carías Andino followed this period of governmental upheaval. Per capita income of the population outside the banana-producing area went up, and the small business elite grew into a larger-scale industrial elite, using the capital they were accumulating.
Self-conscious of their economic contribution to the production of the country and their position on the social scale, this industrial class demanded and proclaimed for itself a share of political power towards the end of the 1940s.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Corruption, Impunity, and the OAS High Commission

Today begins a litany of denunciations by the far right of the OAS report as covered in the pro-coup press of Honduras.

Unlike the bombast in Proceso Digital that we blogged about yesterday, these attacks are all carefully attributed to specific individuals with institutional positions lending them credibility at first glance.

In Honduras, corruption falls under the purview of the Consejo Nacional Anticorrupción, the National Anti-corruption Council. This quasi-governmental organization monitors corruption, and accepts denunciations of corruption, but does not investigate or prosecute; the responsibility for that lies with the Public Prosecutor.

The CNA consists of an Assembly composed of representatives of a 12 different civil society groups. Religion is represented both by someone from the Archbishop's office, and from the Fraternal order of Evangelical Churches. Business is represented by someone from COHEP, labor by someone from the Confederation of Workers, and so on. Funding comes as part of the regular government budget, and is supposed to be supplemented by international grants. It's director is called a coordinator.

The Consejo Nacional Anticorrupción is particularly ineffective, as the Millennium Challenge Corporation noted in its FY 2010 report, covering 2008, where Honduras scored lower than the mean in controlling corruption.

Oswaldo Canales is the representative of the Evangelical Churches of Honduras on the council. He is also the coordinator of the Honduran CNA, and was appointed to that post in October, 2009. In today's La Tribuna, Canales, asked about the OAS High Commission report in this capacity, repeated two slogans of the far right in Honduras: "the law is for everyone, equally", and "international organizations need to obey their charters and stop interfering in Honduran internal affairs".

La Tribuna writes:
Canales, although he admits he does not know all of the report of the OAS, regretted that decree "erased and [created] a new account" for presumed acts of corruption in the administration of Zelaya Rosales, this will affect the obligations which the country has with other organizations, and this when these governmental authorities had declared 2010 the year of transparency.

Meanwhile in El Heraldo, Roberto Herrera Cáceres, identified as ex Secretary General of SICA, argues that the report might violate the UN Treaty on Corruption. Herrera Caceres is a noted jurist, which for some reason is not mentioned in the article. Under the presumption of innocence introduced into Honduran jurisprudence in the last decade, opinions about cases should be formed only after they are heard. Herrera Cáceres does not speak after having studied the case against Zelaya or even the OAS report. He's making a political statement dressed up superficially in legalese.

Predictably, Luis Rubi has also come out against the report, raising the same objection in El Heraldo that somehow dismissing this charge would violate international corruption treaties. Rubi, citing the OAS Convention Against Corruption, says,
The Treaty of the OAS against corruption does not permit that these crimes be subject to amnesty.

That seemed curious to us, so we reviewed the OAS Inter American Convention Against Corruption, which can be found here. It makes no mention of amnesty. Neither does the UN Convention Against Corruption, which can be found here. The only discussion of amnesty in the context of corruption is endorsement of its use as an investigative tool in the UN Anticorruption Toolkit.

Neither body envisioned the corruption that is being practiced in Honduras now: using the courts as a political weapon.

Juan Orlando Hernandez, President of the Honduran Congress, insisted that the amnesty he helped approve in January does not apply to corruption charges, nor to violations of human rights. True, but irrelevant.

According to the OAS report, the charges at issue against Zelaya were brought under Article 17 of the Inter American Convention Against Corruption. Article 17 reads, in full
For the purposes of articles XIII, XIV, XV and XVI of this Convention, the fact that the property obtained or derived from an act of corruption was intended for political purposes, or that it is alleged that an act of corruption was committed for political motives or purposes, shall not suffice in and of itself to qualify the act as a political offense or as a common offense related to a political offense.

Which is all about determining if the act was a political offense or common offense, as it relates to Articles 13, 14, 15, 16, not in general. So what are those articles about? They are about, respectively, Extradition, Assistance and Cooperation between States, Cooperation between States regarding property, and Protecting Bank Secrecy.

The OAS report (in paragraph 3i), quoting information supposedly supplied by Porfirio Lobo Sosa, says
He made reference, nonetheless, to the cases where it is not possible to apply said law [the amnesty] in virtue because they involve accusations whose dismissal would imply a violation of Article 17 of the Inter American Convention Against Corruption which is in effect in Honduras.

Lobo uses Article 17 to say that Zelaya's crime is not covered by the amnesty, but Article 17 does not apply. It isn't relevant, since it only refers to a determination of the nature of the crime for the purpose of extradition, cooperation between states, etc (Articles 13-16). Another red herring?

Dismissing the charges against Zelaya does not, as Proceso Digital and Oswaldo Canales asserted, strengthen impunity in Honduras. The Honduran Congress already did that when it carefully crafted the amnesty bill so that it blocked prosecution of those who staged the coup. Neither the reporters behind Proceso Digital nor Canales complained about the amnesty bill.

Nor does dismissing the remaining charges against Zelaya contravene the "apply the law to everyone, equally" precept that the far right trumpets in this instance. In the international context, Honduras was not under the rule of law when the charges were brought against Zelaya, after the June 28, 2009 coup.

Corruption is a serious problem in Latin America. Honduras is no exception. However, corruption charges don't happen equally to all corrupt individuals. Instead, corruption charges can be another tool in the arsenal of those in power against their political foes. So, in Latin America, when someone is charged with corruption, it is necessary to look at who is being charged, by whom, and under what conditions.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Proceso Digital: Advocacy Journalism?

Proceso Digital, the online digital newspaper that boasts of being run by professional journalists, demonstrated yet again the worst possible example of why Honduran journalism is in trouble.

The provocation? covering the report of the OAS High Commission on Honduras.

As a reminder: Proceso Digital is run by Marlen Perdomo de Zelaya, a professor of Journalism at UNAH, and Orfa Sofia Mejia Maradiaga, a graduate of the UNAH journalism program (self descriptions here).

All the other Honduran daily newspapers, even the pro-coup ones, provided credible reporting on the content of the OAS report.

Tiempo ran yesterday with the 7-point conclusion of the report, and today covered Arturo Corrales's discussion of possible scenarios for dismissal of the charges against Zelaya.

El Heraldo also covered the conclusions of the report yesterday, and today led with a story on Lobo Sosa's government's interpretation of the report as "favorable". La Prensa mirrored the coverage in El Heraldo, as usual.

La Tribuna covered the conclusions yesterday, and today reproduced the entire report, minus the annexes, without comment.

At Proceso Digital, in contrast, the journalism professors and their staff produced multiple articles, one factual article, and one that suffers from their usual excess of editorializing.

In the National news section, the headline was "Lobo describes the OAS report as "very positive". It contains good journalistic writing, quoting Lobo and Canahuati on the OAS High Commission report. In the Politics section, however, the headline is "Insulza strengthens impunity in Honduras". What follows bears no resemblance to actual reporting; this piece is laced with factual errors, as anyone who read the version of the report published in La Tribuna can plainly see.

The article starts with an opinion, a point of view, a take on the report, and a factual error:
Impunity was strengthened in Honduras with the report of the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, which asks that the legal cases against ex President Manuel Zelaya and his collaborators be laid aside by the judicial system of the country.

The lie is that the report is by José Miguel Insulza; it is not. The report, as noted in every other Honduran newspaper, is by the High Commission appointed by Insulza at the direction of the OAS General Assembly. If you cannot get the basic fact of authorship right, how can you call yourselves journalists?

The next problem, apparent to those who have read the entire OAS report, is that the report does not ask that the judicial system lay aside the case against Zelaya: it states in the conclusions that the cases against Zelaya are politically motivated (as determined by a jurist consultant to the High Commission) and that they should be ended. The discussion in the body of the report describes at least three different scenarios by which the case might be ended in ways consistent with Honduran law, only one of which is judicial nullification.

The next sentence of the Proceso Digital article states:
Insulza asked that the legal cases initiated against Zelaya not follow their normal process as a condition by which Honduras could ask for its reintegration in the OAS.

That is also false. Insulza made no such demand. The report, by the High Commission, not Insulza, reached some conclusions, among which dropping the legal cases against Zelaya because they are so clearly politically motivated was one, but it made no recommendations whatsoever about the reintegration of Honduras into the OAS. It explicitly left that as an exercise for each member state to decide.

The next sentence, surprisingly, is not erroneous.

But in the next sentence, the authors return to form, writing
Among the conditions placed on the country, the most unusual is to free Zelaya and his followers of the responsibility to respond to the justice for their excesses, while also not guaranteeing that the government of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa can designate a representative to the OAS, because this power is authorized by the votes of the governments of the continent and many of them, with the power to block, have let it be known that they will not recognize the present arrangement.

Opinion; the use of the word "unusual" is the clue, but then it goes off into left field with the rant about guaranteeing Honduras a representative in the OAS.

Once again, people, the OAS High Commission report makes recommendations to improve democracy in Honduras; it does not make them the conditions of reintegration into the OAS. The report was never meant to make a recommendation, only to inform the OAS General Assembly so that it could better make up its own mind, each country individually, about whether, when, and under what conditions to reincorporate Honduras into the OAS. The report was never meant to promise reintegration, or representation; that is the prerogative of the OAS General Assembly, by at least a 2/3 vote in favor of reintegration.

So most of the above is just a red herring with no actual relevance. It shows either willful misdirection or a complete lack of understanding of what the OAS High Commission was charged with doing.

I could go on deconstructing the rest of the article but it's long and just as bad as the examples already cited above; certainly not their best work.

I have to conclude that these two journalists who, to be fair, often do fairly factual reporting, have confused journalism with blogging or editorial writing. What is written in this story would be suitable (but still factually wrong) for an editorial page or a blog, but has no place in something claiming to be a news article, digital or otherwise. As professional journalists, you need to write more responsibly.