Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Guilds and unions: Alternative histories

Education Minister Alejandro Ventura is publicizing a technical note published by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB, or BID in Spanish) issued last August. IADB technical notes are published with the disclaimer that they are the opinions of the authors, not the IADB.

The study, which is a thorough attack against the education unions in Honduras, is long on opinion and light on credible supporting sources for those opinions. But that's a topic for another time.

Honduran teachers' unions are actually quite different from the image of modern labor unions. And the IADB study illuminates those cultural differences sharply.

Honduran teachers' unions are technically gremios. Gremios, or guilds, arose in the 11th century A.D. as confederations of artisans and merchants that controlled the production, price, and quality of a certain craft. You had to be a member of the guild to make and sell that craft in a particular town, and your education and even the tools you could use were often spelled out. The guild guaranteed your pay. Guilds also provided services like funerals, hospitals, and loans.

In this area of services, guilds served the same function as cofradia memberships did. Cofradias were lay-religious organizations licensed by the Pope that developed at the same time as guilds. Cofradias were concerned with the adoration of a particular saint, but also provided diverse social services such as funerals, hospitals, and loans. We'll return to this shortly.

Honduras has had some form of teacher's union since 1895. The compulsory education law of 1966 established that all teachers must belong to a professional organization recognized by the Honduran government, and those organizations are gremios; guilds. They set the teaching standards, define a code of ethics, and the conditions under which teachers work.

Fast forward to today. What do teachers say are the most important reasons for joining one of the gremios?

According to one study cited in the IADB technical note, they are (in order from most to least important) loans, life and health insurance, and discounts on funerals.

In Honduras teachers are part of the group Hermano Juancito called the "lower middle class." For these people, gremios continue to play a vital role in ensuring economic stability and access to social services.

This is reflected in an otherwise difficult to understand fact: about 20% of the teachers' union members belong to two or more teachers' unions. This matches the practice among cofradia members in medieval Spain, where multiple memberships were common. Each cofradia or guild had a diverse set of social services that could attract members. Some people belonged to as many as five cofradias in sixteenth century Zaragoza, for example.

A World Bank/IADB Public Expenditures Survey (PETS) in 2008-2009 found that having multiple memberships was explicitly a strategy to get more and better health coverage and life insurance, to have greater access to loans, and to have access to a greater suite of diversified services.

(The PETS study found a different set of priorities cited as the main reasons members joined a gremio: salary concerns, academic training, and the formulation of education policy. But that may reflect the contemporary salary negotiations just concluded at the time, and the pattern of multiple memberships is not explained by these interests.)

Medieval institutions still function in our day, still provide benefits to their members. More modern institutions seek to dismantle them in the name of decentralization, not particularly concerned with replacing those services that keep the older institutions popular.

Whatever else is driving the conflicts over teachers' unions that the IADB note seeks to dismantle, one of the effects of their recommendation would be to replace a way to secure social services that has centuries-long roots in the Spanish culture brought to Honduras in the 16th century.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The OAS Made Us Do It

News from Honduras: the Lobo Sosa government is moving rapidly to create a Secretariat of Human Rights and Justice.

Which is not going down well in Honduras with a group of people who continually criticize Lobo Sosa.

No, we don't mean the resistance (although we expect no one in resistance will believe such a move will lead to improved enforcement of human rights legislation or treaties). The criticism coming for Lobo is from members of congress and the government.

They are outraged that this new position has been imposed from outside, as a requirement for the OAS to reconsider Honduras as a member. Except that is kind of not true.

The allegation is made repeatedly by those opposed to the new cabinet post, like Nationalist Party and Choluteca Congressional Representative Francisco Argeña.

According to La Tribuna, when the Nationalist Party caucused on Thursday, they were told by their leadership that the establishment of this Secretariat was a condition for Honduras's return to the OAS. The Nationalists came out of the caucus affirming they would support the creation of the Secretariat, assuring its passage. But that doesn't mean they are happy about it.

Nora de Melgar, Vice President of Congress, told La Prensa
"We have already started the debate; it's one of the conditions of the Organization of American States for re-entry in the Organization; it's not something invented by the President of the country, nor the National Party, it's a mandate from them [the OAS] and as a poor country we have to do it to get the aid."

While the Nationalists agreed to support this for pragmatic reasons, without any notable dedication to the supposed goals of the new cabinet post, other voices were particularly critical of Lobo Sosa for agreeing to what they see as more outside interference.

Ramon Custodio, Honduras' disfunctional Human Rights Commissioner, accuses the Lobo government of taking away his independence, and of violating his constitutional mandate with the law to create the new Secretariat.

Elvin Santos Lozano, head of the Liberal Party Central Committee, feels that Honduras is the victim
"of a gang of so-called Latin American leaders who want us under their fascist boot; and this is bringing a horrible anarchy, but unfortunately we are a country that has not jumped the Third World barrier and we will continue under their control."

Roberto Micheletti called it unconstitutional and said that it represents an abuse of power by Lobo Sosa. He reiterated that it is the ALBA countries causing the OAS to impose this on Honduras.
"Chavez will never stop insisting in the possibility to attract this country to his criteria, to his services."

But the claims that the Human Rights cabinet post is being developed because of foreign pressure are counterfactual.

It was the suggestion of Ana Pineda, Lobo Sosa's Minister/Advisor on Human Rights, who in a letter to the OAS High Commission on Honduras this summer, suggested that Honduras would consider founding a Secretariat of Human Rights and Justice. Her letter, dated the 23 of July, was included in the OAS report as annex 7.

She wrote
"The President, in the framework of the transformation of the State, has taken the decision to seek a better institutional development and not an interim space for response, in this regard, he will create a Minister of Justice and Human Rights, with the legal mandate and budget necessary so that in especially it can plan, coordinate, facilitate and implement all the actions that will be required on the national and international level in regard to Human Rights."

So the outrage about international fascist imposition on Honduras is, in the end, more posturing. But it brings out in the open what should be self-evident: there is no real commitment in the Honduran government to the mission defined for this new cabinet minister. This is just going through the motions as far as Lobo Sosa's own party is concerned. For the main opposing party, it provides a way to make some political gains against him at home, playing off the jingoistic nationalism that has been assiduously cultivated since the coup d'etat.

Only Ramon Custodio thinks this new ministry will have any real effect. And his worry is that someone else will notice that he is not doing his job.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Opiate or Antidepressant

"Religion is the opiate of the masses" may be Karl Marx's well known saying, but the InterAmerican Development Bank (IADB, BID in Spanish), in a study released today, is putting a new spin on it.

According to them, religion is actually an antidepressant.

And Honduras, the authors say, is one of the least depressed countries in their international sample.

This was reported in La Tribuna as "IADB: religiosity reduces the depression of Hondurans", citing the EFE original.

Sound good? well, not so fast: take a closer look at how the study was conducted, and the conclusion seems a little, well, dubious.

The 25 page study, which is part of the IADB's sponsored research on the "Quality of Life", is the work of Uruguayan economists Natalia Melgar and Máximo Rossi. It began with the observation that past studies have indicated some correlation between personal life characteristics and risk factors for depression and sought to extend previous findings by exploring the relationship between specific environmental factors and depression.

To summarize, the study found the depression is
positively related to being a woman, adulthood, divorce, widowhood, unemployment, and low income.

Not surprisingly the study found depression correlated with living situations where there are high levels of inequality, especially in urban areas. But the study didn't actually find as strong a relationship as the authors expected between poverty and depression. And that's where the findings about Honduras that La Tribuna chose to emphasize come in.

The study's authors found that Honduras had one of the economically most uneven distributions of wealth, concluding that "the three least equitable countries are Bolivia, Brazil and Honduras". Yet Honduras had a lower level of depression that would be expected, which they argued "may be explained by the very high percentage of people with religious affiliation".

The wording here is significant: "high percentage of people with religious affiliation". So what did the study actually find?

The study relies on data from a CID Gallup poll in 2007 to assess depression. The question Gallup asked to assess depression was "Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday? How about depression?" The possible answers were "Yes", "No", "Don't know", and "Refuse". Approximately 80,000 people in 93 different countries answered either "Yes" or "No" to the question. Overall, 14.63% of the international sample answered "Yes" to the question, with 85.37% answering "No".

The most depressed country in the sample? Ethiopia, where more than 51% of the respondents reported being depressed.

Religiosity was one of the individual (personal) factors the study's authors tested against depression. Being religious was measured by response to a question asked in the 2007 CID Gallup poll about having attended a place of worship within the last seven days. If a person answered "Yes" to that question, they were considered "religious". They found that attending religious services had no significant effect on depression.

So, in fact, the authors conclude that religiosity-- a personal characteristic-- is not related to depression.

The study's authors, though, went further. They were interested in how what they call macro level factors-- characteristics not of individual people, but of countries-- affected depression.

So they used data on religion: the percentage of the population that was Catholic, Muslim, or Protestant. Each of these had a significant negative correlation with depression: the higher the percentage of the population affiliated with one of these religions, whether or not they attended church services, the less likely the country's populations was to be depressed.

Nine of 14 countries with the highest income inequality that unexpectedly had the lowest probability of depression also had a high proportion of the population that belonged to one of the major religions.

The list includes Honduras, Panama, Niger, Senegal, Jamaica, Uganda, Brazil and Mozambique.

But there is a problem here. For unexplained reasons, the study's authors used a 1980 source for the proportion of the population belonging to the major religions. So somehow, the proportion of the population belonging to a major religion in 1980 is correlated with the degree of depression in 2007.

Never mind that the US State Department 2008 report on Religious Freedom in Honduras states that
there are no reliable statistics on religious affiliation.

The State Department cites the same 2007 CID-Gallup poll used as the source for self-reported levels of depression in the IADB study as the best source for estimating religious affiliation in Honduras.

According to the State Department, the 2007 CID Gallup poll says that 47% of the Honduran population self-report as Catholic, with a further 36% self-reporting as Evangelical Protestant.

Melgar and Rossi do not state where their 1980 data come from, or why they used those data in place of the more recent results from the same poll that provided their data on depression.

From a purely social-science perspective, the IADB study is at best reporting a correlation, which does not say one factor causes the other. Both may be effects of some third factor.

Using data from two completely different surveys separated by 27 years means that the populations sampled were not the same. To see these as cause and effect would require a mechanism through which the religious affiliation of Honduras in 1980 led to a situation in 2007 that caused less depression among a later population. The mechanism involved is, shall we say, hard to imagine.

The fact that actual practice of a religion in 2007 did not correlate with levels of depression in 2007 is a hint that perhaps the 1980/2007 relationship is not real.

According to the 2007 Gallup poll, 11.96% of Hondurans reported being depressed. No comment on what the numbers would be in 2010.

Broke Again

Like many families today, the government of Honduras is having problems making ends meet. This despite the flurry of financial support announcements this month unleashed by the agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

The problem is that what the government collects in taxes and payments from businesses and citizens is falling behind the financial projections. Spending, in turn, has accelerated, not in small part due to the problems produced by the inclement weather, poor or nonexistent construction standards, and previous infrastructure neglect. More cash is going out than is coming in right now.

William Chong Wong, the Minister of Finance to Lobo Sosa complained yesterday in the Council of Ministers meeting, that the payments weren't coming in as projected, and the government cash on hand was down to 200 million lempiras. This is not entirely a surprise. Chong Wong has been predicting the cash flow would reach a crisis without an increase in government income, and has been promoting belt tightening measures in the government. His original prediction that the crisis would occur in August was incorrect, but only slightly off.

Chong Wong warned that he was being creative, using funds from other sources, such as the excess investible capital in government employee retirement funds managed by the private sector. Isn't this the same kind of creative financing that the Public Prosecutor is calling corruption when members of the Zelaya government did it? Still Chong Wong warns that as things stand, the government will not be able to pay the salaries of all the public employees this month.

This is the direct result of the spending practices of the de facto government. Last time Chong Wong issued a warning about cash flow, Lobo Sosa called him a cry baby. It should be interesting to see his reaction this time.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Reworking Symbolic Capital: Francisco Morazán

Why block access to a statue of Francisco Morazán?

That detail in stories about Wednesday's attack on marchers from the Frente de Resistencia in San Pedro Sula may not have resonated with readers who are not from Honduras or Central America.

But it is important, both because of the intent of the marchers to stop there, and the fact that this is where the chief of police chose to draw his line in the sand.

The attack itself started later, when the marchers were reaching the Parque Central via the alternate route of 2a Calle. But it was reportedly preceded by a "dialogue" between the police chief and the Frente. This concerned whether the marchers would be allowed to reach the statue of Francisco Morazán that stands on 1a Calle, which is more generally known in San Pedro as Bulevar Morazán. The statue is located near the main soccer stadium on 1a Calle.

The most detailed descriptions of the route followed by the FNRP marchers says they began at the Mercado Dandi at around 10th Avenue east-- the southeast quadrant of the four quarters of the city. From there, they marched west, reportedly along 7th Calle south, a total of 24 blocks to 14th Avenue west. At that point, they turned north and proceeded to within one block of 1a Calle.

The reported moment of confrontation with the chief of police came at this point, when the marchers wanted to go to the statue to leave what the news media called "a floral tribute" to Morazán. The police claimed that doing so would interfere with the official march down 1a Calle.

This is not particularly surprising. What is interesting is that the chief of police of San Pedro Sula, who immediately afterward ordered the use of disproportionate force against the marchers as they proceeded down 2nd Calle south, walking east toward the Parque Central, apparently offered to let a dozen or so people from the Frente go to the statue to place their tribute to Morazán.

Why even offer a compromise, when it is clear that he was prepared for an all-out assault on the marchers?

And why was this a goal of the Frente in the first place?

The answer, it seems to me, lies in the symbolic importance of Morazán, revered in Honduras as the leader who tried to forge Central American unity and died in the attempt. When you are trying to refound a nation, you return to the imagery of the founders. In previous posts we have drawn attention to the citation of Lempira, the Lenca resistance leader of the 16th century, in a similar fashion. Like that case, the historical resonances are not vague, but quite specific.

Francisco Morazán won election as president in 1830 against a conservative opponent. As a Liberal, he advocated for federalism: autonomy within unity. His legislative agenda was to promote equality, freedom of religion, and public education. The policies he encouraged challenged the standing of the church as a civic power, and gained him a powerful enemy.

In 1839, during his second term in office, the independent states making up the union withdrew from it. In 1840 Morazán went into exile in South America. In 1841, reportedly motivated by dangers to local autonomy he saw in the British presence on the Moskito Coast of Honduras and Nicaragua, he returned to Central America. He rapidly overthrew the head of state of Costa Rica, and began to plan a campaign to reunify Central America. Opposing forces captured him and on September 15, 1842, he was executed in San José, still insisting that union should be the goal of the region.

His last will and testament is a widely cited expression of patriotism in Central America. In it he says in part:
I declare: that I have not deserved death, because I have committed no more fault that to give liberty to Costa Rica and to procure peace for the Republic.

I declare: that my love for Central America dies with me. I rouse the youth, that are called to give life to this country, that I leave with regret for its remaining in anarchy, and I desire that they should imitate my example to die with fortitude before they leave it abandoned to the disorder in which unhappily today it is found.

I die with regret for having caused some evils for my country, although with the true desire of procuring it good...
Morazán exemplifies dedication to the cause of reforming government, even in the face of overwhelming odds. The reforms he called for were intended to broaden civil participation in Central American society. While the region has not reunified, the form of government he championed largely has provided the blueprint throughout the region. It surely provides one of the main statements of founding values.

These resonances may be part of the reason the FNRP in its "Proclamation of the 15th of September" invoked a different anniversary than the 189 years of independence from Spain:
Today the 15th of September of 2010, it is 168 years since the assassination of our hero, Francisco Morazán, with his example and that of all the women and all the men that gave their lives to achieve justice and equality, we will continue to victory.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A cry of moral outrage over repression in San Pedro Sula

From Nuestra Palabra on September 16, by the Jesuit-run Radio Progreso:
On the evening news on the 15th of September on a radio station of national scope, the news presenter was precise: "In San Pedro Sula the so-called resistance did its thing [hizo de la suyas]". There was nothing missing from the press release: the leaders of the resistance, among them the youthful group of music with a social message, Café Guancasco, provoked the police, promoted disorder and violence. The police had no choice but to act in their defense. There was no mention of the death nor of the wounded, much less of the threats to journalist colleagues.

The media siege continues its course and its implacable format. There doesn't exist even the slightest shred of opening for a journalism of minimum ethics. And this is so because the behavior of the Honduran elites in relation to those who oppose their privileges continues unimpeachable. Their decision is invariable and implacable: to make use of that which they can, without concern for the human costs, with the goal of preserving their privileges. There is no possible road unless it is that of their earnings and using the State for the strict advantage of their interests.

The case of the country continues intact. Here there is no commission of truth that is worthwhile, and if it has worth it is because it says things in such a way that it leaves intact all the case of the country. So yes, the spokespeople of these elites, in full tune with the tightrope walkers and the prudent, shout themselves hoarse speaking of reconciliation, of peace and of unity. And with pleasure they will accept and promote the embraces-- with all the photos for circulation-- of those opponents that guarantee that the case of the country will continue intact.

In the logic of these minorities, the good are the people who promote individual moral change without ever questioning the state of things that sustains and justifies exclusion and structural inequality. The ideal is to have the top businessmen and politicians whose goodness is expressed in donations to support works of charity in parishes or religious ministries of the prudent and the tightrope walkers, without upsetting anything deep that would place at risk the model producing inequalities.

But when the people and groups demand structural changes that break with exclusion, and when they demand a new structuring of the country that breaks with the control of the State and of the society by wealthy and privileged minorities, then to the fire with them, because they incarnate wickedness, attempt against democracy and the laws, they are servile to international slogans and enemies of reconciliation and peace.

In San Pedro Sula there was a repression with evident signs of premeditation and calculation, and an abusive use of force that only confirms the reality: the small wealth and power elite understands that what is happening in Honduras is a war, and from their privileged trench, they don't value compromises: the resistance is their enemy and only its extermination is worthwhile.

All the rest, call it reconciliation, dialogues, State of Law, respect for human rights, Truth Commission, unity, Plan for the Nation, are interesting themes to fill agendas that distract the unwary and entertain the prudent, the tightrope walkers and the international community. For them the case is more than clear: here we are at war, and the media siege is an essential part of the trench from which is launched the mortal attack against everything that promotes minimal consensus that would save the country from the galloping barbarism in which we are now trapped.

Impunity on Impunity

Porfirio Lobo Sosa announced last Friday that he has invited the members of the UN Commission Against Impunity to come to Honduras.

But the Public Prosecutor, Luis Rubí says not so fast. "Nobody from outside can tell us what we have to do," Rubí told reporters on Monday.
"When you bring a commission, you are having doubts and really, this country is not for having doubts; we who believe in its institutions; we who believe in its functionaries, we who believe in the country; we have to believe in ourselves, the Hondurans."

So what is this thing that Rubí finds so threatening, so un-Honduran?

The immediate precedent is the Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (CICIG). It was established in 2008 to investigate the existence of clandestine security apparatus in Guatemala and facilitate dismantling it. It assists the Public Prosecutor's office, and may participate as a complementary prosecutor, but always in conformity with the Code of Criminal Procedures in Guatemala, as part of its mandate. It makes recommendations about new public policies and procedures that would help with the eradication of these clandestine security organizations, and that will help strengthen Guatemala's capacity to protect the basic human rights of its citizens.

Lobo Sosa outlined similar tasks for such a commission in Honduras. He said the commission would investigate the clandestine security apparatus that's operating in Honduras, train prosecutors and police, and make recommendations about modifications to laws to help disarticulate such clandestine groups.

Proceso Digital expands on reasons to reject such a commission, in unsourced comments following their quotations of Rubí's reactions. According to them, it is all a Zelayista plot to get rid of Luis Rubí, the Supreme Court, the Human Rights Commissioner, and everyone in Congress who voted, twice, to remove Zelaya. Oh, and if that's not enough, it is also, according to them, Hugo Chavez's strategy which he's pushing through the ALBA countries in the OAS.

Hmm. Porfirio Lobo Sosa is a Zelayista? Who knew?

And if the Supreme Court is a target, why is the Supreme Court said to be in favor of it?

The actual inspiration seems somewhat more local. Alvaro Colom, President of Guatemala, told the press in Guatemala that both Honduras and El Salvador were preparing petitions to ask the UN for a Commission Against Impunity such as Guatemala already has.

Any such commission in Honduras will have a difficult task probing clandestine activities of the military, police, and politically powerful. Part of the challenge is that investigating impunity in the security forces is likely to lead directly to drug traffickers.

The Guatemalan commission has sparked push-back by elites who find themselves under investigation and prosecution. In June the head of its commission resigned, citing attacks by the powerful and lack of support for his work. This only months after giving press comments on the successes of the commission, which certainly seemed impressive: about 2,000 policemen (15 %) were removed from the force, an attorney-general and ten other prosecutors were fired, and three justices of the Guatemalan Supreme Court lost their office. The commission saw 130 individuals jailed following successful prosecution.

It is clear that uprooting impunity in the security forces cannot be done entirely from within the system in Honduras; it will need the backing of the international community to succeed.

But that's not going to happen if Rubí and the others who believe they gained impunity for the coup and its aftermath through congressional amnesty have anything to say about it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mobilization and Repression on Independence Day

[Revised: minor edits to correct grammar and spelling]

Two stories in El Tiempo tell the story:
The FNRP Demands True Independence
reads one; the other
The Police Dislodge the FNRP

The first story, time-stamped 9:41 am reported that "tens of thousands of people" marched in San Pedro Sula, attempting to stop at the statue of 19th century founding father Francisco Morazán before proceeding to the lovely main plaza of San Pedro where a concert was planned.

The second headline, posted at 11:23 am, sadly, leads a story of brutal violence used to shut down a concert with popular pro-Resistance performers, Cafe Guancasco. The photos and videos are shocking, recalling the most violent moments of the de facto regime's attacks on the people of Honduras. Revistazo reports 12 people wounded and 37 arrested.

Andrés Pavón, president of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (CODEH), reported that Efraín Hernández Villalta, a lottery ticket salesman who habitually worked in the Parque Central, died of the effects of the massive tear gas attack. Others were badly injured by beatings, with witnesses reporting not just the use of the batons issued to riot police (which are bad enough) but of wooden clubs.

Revistazo quotes the rationalization provided by the police:
they said that they were obligated to disperse the demonstrators, in the face of the intrusion that they made in the marches of the schools in the patriotic festival.

It is not clear what this might mean. With even less credibility, an unnamed police member is quoted as saying
"We had to disperse them because among them there were people carrying firearms and they tried to make disturbances."

What seems really to have happened is somewhat different. The Artists in Resistance had set up a stage for a concert. The police attack was unprovoked and coordinated, with tear gas shot into the plaza from the banks that line the north side. Water cannons were used on the stage and the band, destroying the equipment and instruments there.

While El Tiempo reported the violence in San Pedro promptly, other Honduran news media, while at least admitting that "thousands" of members of the Resistance marched in Tegucigalpa, downplayed the incident. La Prensa wrote that in San Pedro Sula "some incidents without major consequences were registered."

La Tribuna presented the most complete account of the rationalization by the security forces of the attacks in San Pedro Sula:
The march coordinated by the Frente in San Pedro Sula was detoured at 10 AM, apparently because it had presented disturbances, according to the report of the National Police.

The Police intervened when the two marches coincided in the city center, with the result of various people beaten and detained, but then both continued along separate streets, according to local media.

In San Pedro Sula, the resistance began its march, walking from the Dandi market along 14th avenue, nonetheless one block before arriving at 1st street [more commonly called the Boulevard Morazan after the statue located there] it was diverted.

The chief of police of San Pedro Sula, Héctor Iván Mejía, spoke with one of the directors of the FNRP and would have allowed a commission of 12 to 15 people to go to place a floral offering at the statue of General Morazán, but they did not accept this and continued their walk along 2nd street until they arrived at the Parque Central.

“We used the human and material resources that the State assigned us to maintain order. They wanted to install themselves next to the other march and according to intelligence reports they wanted to do damage to intimidate those that were peacefully marching", said Mejía.

There are familiar strategies here. Claiming to have "intelligence reports" of violent intentions to justify a pre-emptive attack; the police as reasonable actors offering a compromise (one that limits the freedom of assembly and speech of the citizenry); vague claims of disturbances, and minimizing the actual security violence and injuries.

El Tiempo has now updated its website with a long article that effectively refutes this account. They write that "The indiscriminate dislodging provoked chaos and confusion".

They report that the attack in the Parque Central was by the dreaded Special Squadron Cobras and even members of the Armed Forces.

Among those injured and affected by tear gas were onlookers, members of the press, and reportedly, some students.

Members of Cafe Guancasco have issued their own statement describing the unprovoked attack on the stage.

Videos of the moment of confrontation show resistance members attacked without provocation. The Roman Catholic church that faces the square appears prominently in the background, with clouds of gas floating into the crowd.

So let's be sure we understand this: the repression was, as has become normal, disproportionate. The primary victims were musicians and those waiting for a concert, one of the activities through which members of the resistance have continued to express solidarity.

And one harmless vendor died.

Refounding Independence Day

What would press coverage be like if 16% of the US population called for a new constitutional convention? Don't you think there would be analysis, coverage of rallies calling for constitutional reform, and more?

This week in Honduras, the equivalent happened: in a country with an estimated population of 7.8 million, 1.26 million signatures were gathered on petitions to begin the process of writing a new constitution. But don't hold your breath waiting for this to be covered by the mainstream media.

Even in Honduras, only El Tiempo actually reported this development fully. Other newspapers chose only to mention that the Frente de Resistencia had called for marches, always in the context of reporting that security minister Oscar Alvarez was prepared, as he said, to prevent any vandalism, with 3000 police deployed in Tegucigalpa.

The marches called for are counter-demonstrations to the annual observance of September 15, celebrated throughout Central America as the anniversary of Independence from Spain in 1821. This year, September 15 was also the deadline chosen by the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular for the completion of its drive to obtain 1.25 million signatures on a petition for a national constitutional assembly, the asamblea constituyente. In linking the two, the Frente advanced a powerful symbolic claim to following in the footsteps of Honduras' founding fathers.

According to the announcement by Eulogio Chávez, president of the Colegio de Profesores de Educación Media de Honduras (COPEMH), and attorney Rasel Tome, who have been supervising counting of the signed petitions at the office of the beverage workers' union (STIBYS), on Sunday the count reached 1,269,142 signatures. This set the Frente to proceed to mark the anniversary of Independence Day as the beginning of the next phase of their campaign for a constitutional assembly, with a call for nation-wide demonstrations and marches apart from the official celebrations of Independence Day.

In Honduras, whose flag still features a star for each of the countries that once made up the República Federal de Centroamérica, Independence Day is marked particularly by marches by school children who for weeks before have practiced, accompanied by children's marching bands, literally bandas de guerra or military bands, drum corps beating rhythms more appropriate to the armed forces than schools.

This is a festival of nationalism exhibiting a melange of symbols of identity that makes me, as an anthropologist, want to spend pages in thick description.

So to spare you that, take a look at how Wikipedia describes the annual celebration:
Honduras Independence Day festivities start early in the morning with marching bands. Each band wears different colors and features cheerleaders. Fiesta Catracha takes place this same day: typical Honduran foods such as beans, tamales, baleadas, [yuca] with chicharron and tortillas are offered.

The mobilization of children of all ages, from kindergarten to secondary school, in cities across the country, makes September 15 one of those national expressions that becomes a part of the unexamined embodied knowledge that anthropologists identify as the most powerful means for the reproduction of culture. That's what September 15 is ultimately about: children learning that they are part of a national whole through persistent participation, so that as adults they don't even think to question the national myths. What the Frente is seeking to do is push a wedge into that unexamined knowledge, and gain the attention of Honduran society, to open up the possibility of deliberate, consciously considered change in the charter of government.

On this anniversary of Honduras' first foray into self-governance, it is underlining that the call for a constituyente is neither a call for anarchy nor for dictatorship.

The basic questions anyone might have about how, under existing Honduran law, such a process might be initiated are simple enough that they could be addressed in straightforward prose in a series of pamphlets, described on the website Revistazo.

This series was published by a group of religious organizations dedicated to community service, the Organismo Cristiano de Desarrollo Integral de Honduras (Christian Development Organization of Honduras, OCDIH), CARITAS, the Instituto Ecuménico Hondureño de Servicios a la Comunidad (Honduran Ecumenical Institute of Community Services, INESHCO), and Radio Santa Rosa (the radio station of the Santa Rosa diocese). It is a reminder that support for debate about Honduran governance is not, as authorities in Honduras and the US would like to insist, a project of extremists.

If there ever emerges serious discussion of the signature drive for the constitutional assembly in English media, we can expect that the news media will attempt to minimize the achievement. After all, 16% of the population is not a majority. But recall my first analogy: the equivalent in the US, given the 2010 census population estimate of 308 million people, would be more than 49 million people. As another comparison: in January of this year, Gallup reported that nationally, only 27% of US voters identified as Republican; yet no one would argue that Republicans can, or should be, ignored in national policy debates.

International commentators (if they ever pay attention) are also likely to argue that the number is of unknown (or questionable) reliability, because the count was kept by adherents of the cause. This, in fact, is one of the most apparent reasons that the coup d'etat against Manuel Zelaya had to take place on June 28, 2009, to prevent any assessment of the level of support for a constitutional assembly to take place under governmental supervision, even by a government whose credibility had been systematically undermined by media editorializing.

And if, working on a grass-roots level without government or international NGO support, the signature campaign was able to achieve this level of participation, perhaps we have a better idea of what the authors of the coup did not want the world to know: that disillusion with the present form of Honduran government has reached a significant level, one that would need to be taken into account in a truly democratic society.

Which is one thing September 15 is without a doubt about: the first steps taken in Honduras toward government by the Honduran people. Which makes it a good date to take another step along that long road.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Security: It's a Moral and Ethical Issue

Or so says Porfirio Lobo Sosa.

Background: the Center For Hemispheric Defense Studies (a US Defense program) held a workshop entitled "Workshop for the planning of National Security Strategies" last week in Honduras.

Lobo Sosa, who dedicated two days of his schedule to this, indicated that the objective was
"to understand that the theme of security is a question that needs to be confronted in an integrated manner. Eighty percent of the themes of the seminar have to do with creating the conditions by which Hondurans will be in better living conditions which permits a more effective prevention of crime."

Other Hondurans in attendance were presidential minister María Antonieta Guillén de Bográn, head of the Joint Chiefs General Carlos Cuéllar Castillo, defense Minister Marlon Pascua, and the vice-minister of Security, Roberto Romero Luna. Notably absent: Oscar Alvarez, minister of security.

La Tribuna also said unnamed members of the Honduran national congress and the command of the national police attended.

From the US side the most important person present was the present director of the Center For Hemispheric Defense Studies, Richard Downie. He is a retired US military officer. In 2001, he was the first commander of WHINSEC, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly the School of the Americas). Cresencio Arcos, the Center's advisor for political affairs, a former US ambassador to Honduras, also attended. Unnamed staff from the US embassy in Tegucigalpa were mentioned by La Tribuna.

So what is the Center For Hemispheric Defense Studies?

Created by Congress in 1997, it is sited at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.. It is described as a Department of Defense regional studies institute that
uses applied policy educational and research for the strategic-level promotion of effective security policies.

In plain English, what that seems to mean is that they push policy. Translating their description of their activities in Washington, D.C., they counter the messages of terrorists and extremists, try to build a consensus on common security challenges, and align the national security apparatus with civilian-military relations.

The Center defines National Security Workshops like the one held in Tegucigalpa as one of their main approaches. They believe they develop personal relationships with emerging leaders and foster bilateral relationships, enhancing US ties with civilian and military leaders in participating countries.

Lobo Sosa, in his comments after the seminar, indicated that life gets better with a better education, not just a formal education, but also an education in morals and ethics.

So the results of this workshop were a decision to add moral and ethical training to the national education curriculum.

Oh, and more joint operations between the police and military.

Not sure if that adds to the moral or the ethical training of the nation...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Debts to Culture in San Pedro Sula

Patricia Murillo Gutierrez, Professor of Journalism at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras campus in San Pedro Sula, writing in El Tiempo last Monday, questioned a proposal by a city official for San Pedro, the second-largest city in Honduras, to renege on its commitments to helping subsidize public cultural institutions.

She begins
We citizens would like to know the logic that moved the Nationalist Party regidor Reinaldo Rouglas, to take the initiative to suspend the support that by law the city should pass on to institutions of cultural formation such as the Children's Cultural Center, the Museum of Anthropology and History, the Museum of Natural History and the Music School "Victoriano Lopez", among others. It seems that it is the logic of "economy" (we do not want to believe that it is contempt for learning) that is ruling to "rationalize" the action by the Nationalist since the bankrupt municipality can give no more and Rouglas affirms that it cannot continue subsidizing cultural institutions and that they should seek to support themselves.

It is almost like passing to the market, to the highest bidder (that equally can be money badly gained) the constitutional obligation that the State has, the municipalities have, to support the holistic development of the governed.

Murillo expresses a vision of the role of the State which, while being constitutionally mandated in Honduras, has lost traction steadily throughout the coup and its aftermath.

One of the programs at issue in the proposal to cut off funds for public cultural institutions is the continued access of 300 children who currently attend the Centro Cultural Infantil (Children's Cultural Center, CCI). Murillo notes that the funds the city of San Pedro is supposed to provide-- 83,000 lempiras a month, a little more than $4600-- are less than the salary of a regidor, a pointed comparison given that this is the office held by Reinaldo Rouglas, who is leading the charge to cut off funding for culture.

News coverage of Rouglas' proposal includes a significant clarification: the CCI is actually a municipal institution, and its 17 employees, who have not been paid their full salary for 18 months, are not simply being subsidized by the city.

There are hints of more to this proposal than simply a belt-tightening by a governmental philistine. The head of the executive committee of the CCI, Aníbal Castellanos, is quoted as saying that "the intention of the mayor's office is to take advantage of the building to install an academy of art".

The suggestion that the city government actually has a plan to substitute a different arts organization for the CCI emerged in an editorial published in La Prensa on August 28 as well. Noting that the 83,000 lempiras split among 18 employees (apparently counting the director of the center in addition to the 17 employees mentioned in more recent coverage) is less than many people earn individually, the unnamed editorialist goes on to ask
Does the mayor's office have a special project to substitute for the CCI? The pupils, boys and girls, of the Centro Cultural Infantil in their majority pertain to the middle and lower classes, and cannot invest, for example, 800 lempiras monthly to take art education in a private school. Will the present municipal administration give the final death blow to this small, but vital center of artistic formation? Only insensibility and lack of humanistic upbringing could guide the commission of an act of this kind.

Murillo sees the proposal to abandon support of the CCI and other institutions serving San Pedro Sula as part of a general abandonment of governmental support for "cultura popular", that is, public access to cultural activities, rationalized with economic arguments but by no means justified by them.

Speaking from the perspective of someone who has watched San Pedro Sula struggle for more than thirty years to develop public cultural institutions that are vital parts of the urban fabric today, the short-sighted nature of cutting off the modest funding that supports these activities is deeply troubling.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Honduras Is A Democracy, Isn't It?

"It is unacceptable and inadmissible to look for a solution to an act by violating the laws of the country"

(Article lead in El Heraldo on August 9, 2010)

We agree. However, the Unión Cívica Democrática (UCD), which promulgated this view in its protests in support of the Honduran Supreme Court Wednesday, revealed a very selective understanding of Honduran law.

The UCD based its protests Wednesday in support of the Supreme Court on the alleged "disrespect" of the Judicial Branch by the Legislative and Executive branches.

The evidence for this "disrespect": a bill approved by Congress that orders CONATEL to use its authority under Honduran and international telecommunications law to migrate Teleunsa S.A. from television channel 8 to another frequency.

According to the UCD this legislation, and the executive action it requires, violates the previous actions of the Judicial branch, which previously delivered a judicial decision that the UCD feels needs to be respected. That court decision ruled that Elias Asfura's Teleunsa company had the right to analogue television channel 8. Notice that Teleunsa isn't losing rights to a television channel-- just to this specific frequency.

The UCD muddies the water about the actions of Congress and the Executive branch, referring to the decision as "the virus of Chavez".

In Honduras, the UCD and business owners have forgotten that in a constitutional democracy, the legislature legislates, the court adjudicates, and the executive branch manages.

In the United States, Congress frequently writes laws to override judicial decisions. In fact, this is so common, there are books on the topic. These books point out that this process often serves the useful function of refining the federal legal code, removing ambiguity in the laws as passed by Congress, and reversing errant judicial interpretations through new legislation.

In short, this is part of the system of checks and balances in a democracy.

The Honduran constitution is not that different in this regard.

It is equally true that legislatures sometimes pass laws that are not in harmony with the constitution of their country. Such laws stay in effect until a court reviews and overturns them.

This seems to be what the UCD, the business interests, and even some legislators in Honduras have conveniently forgotten about democracy.

As Porfirio Lobo Sosa said in an interview in the August 10, La Tribuna,
"My friend (Elias Asfura) has the right, if he feels his rights have been violated, whether it's true or not; he has the right to appeal; the Court will know how to resolve it."

And Lobo Sosa is precisely correct.

Under the laws of Honduras, if Elias Asfura believes his rights have been violated, or that the law transferring his TV station (which is not yet on the air) to another channel is unconstitutional, then he has recourse to the courts.

Of course, the call by the UCD is deliberate forgetting, or better, an attempt to deepen the imbalance between the branches of Honduran government, building on the success of right wing and business interests in setting aside the entire judicial branch and replacing it with the former leadership of the Congress in 2009.

But it is not democracy.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Oscar Estrada: "La vida no vale nada" (Life is worth nothing)

Honduran film-maker Oscar Estrada weighs in on Vos el Soberano about the rush to attribute the multiple homicide in a factory in San Pedro Sula to "gang rivalry" that has received such unquestioning coverage in the English-language media. It would be wonderful if some of the reporters who find the story-line they are reporting so compelling would present even a bit of the context he provides:
At whom does the horror point?

When in 2007 I began work on the documentary "El Porvenir", seeking to understand and portray the most complex massacre that up until that moment had occurred in the country, in which 69 people lost their life in the penal center of La Ceiba at the hands of the prison guards in alliance with the common prisoners, one thing motivated me: I knew very well and wanted to present it that way in the film, that if as a population we allowed this frightening crime (and another four massacres that occurred in the same period) to be lost in oblivion, the horror would end by catching up with us.

In those dark years of the mano dura, public opinion that the media of communication manipulated at will succeeded in demonizing gang-member youth in such a way that, without subterfuge, many people publicly said that the massacre was good, since according to them it annihilated delinquents that otherwise would cause more damage to society.

The war against the gains was won physically eliminating almost all the gang members of the time, hence the fame of personages like Oscar Alvarez, to the point that today the gangs barely appear in the media spectrum that seeks constantly to create internal enemies to justify state repression.

But the robberies, extortion, rapes, assassinations, dismemberment of corpses, massacres and the rest of the crimes committed-- supposedly-- by the gangs continue happening. Every day in Honduras there are reported between 10 and 14 violent deaths, many of them by firearms and the numbers continue rising placing Honduras in the list of the most violent countries of the continent, only behind Mexico and Colombia.

Then came the Coup d'Etat and those persons who devised (or allowed to pass) the massacres, returned to appear stronger and unpunished. The government of the mano dura returned, now with the face of Christian humanism, to impose by force the reconciliation and unity of the gravedigger.

Who at that time was Minister of Security today continues being it and his practice, now less in the media because anti-insurgency can be carried off only in a secret fashion, continues as well to be repressive.

Who at that time was the president of Congress, today is that of the republic and, like Ricardo Maduro on the 4th of April 2003 left the country on the day of the massacre, so as not to be witness to the pain and indignation that left the dead wholesale.

In this country life is worth nothing. Literally speaking. With fifty dollars you can pay an assassin so that he will eliminate a person, with fifty dollars more you can eliminate the assassin and the traces of the crime. At 100 dollars per death, 1900 lempiras at the present exchange rate, the impunity of barbarism has been embedded in the depths of this Honduras that today falls on us.

Yesterday, while some of us marched following the call of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular for a national civic strike, demanding among other things a raise in the minimum wage, respect for the labor laws, a halt to repression and violations of human rights, in San Pedro Sula, in a barrio that carries as its name Cabañas (ex-president of the 19th century, bulwark of Morazanism and of the ethics of power), in a small shoe factory, Marxist symbol of the worker, 19 young workers were assassinated, some of them apparently members of the resistance.

Beyond the symbolism of the massacre, it has to be clear that an act of terrorism of this nature is not done improvisationally. Calculated were the place where the crime was to be carried out, their routes of arrival and escape; calculated also the hour and the day. The assassins know very well how to create terror, for this they have been shaped in in this they are professionals.

While the bodies of the youths were carried away by the forensic doctor, Wong Arévalo, unconditional spokesman of the Coup and apologist for the violations of human rights squawked about the inactivity of the police and the intelligence corps. Not so much for the massacre (which he also did to a lesser extent), so much as for the windows of his building that the demonstration broke in its wake. "This group is only comparable with organized crime", shouted Wong Arévalo and his claim echoes the declarations of the prosecution that announced it would prosecute the members of the Frente de Resistencia for "illicit association".

There is a clear effort in the media of communication to link both events: the attack with stones on the golpista channels and the massacre in Cabañas. In this effort they mix maliciously to make believe that the resistance, while it is not directly responsible for this massacre, are equally detestable and dangerous and, the same as the gangs 10 years ago, any action of the system against us is justified.

It is interesting, in contrast to the other massacres, that in this terrorist act golpismo claims the inaction and "inefficiency" of its super Minister of Security Oscar Alvarez and demand immediate actions in respect to it.

It is very improbable that justice will be done. The most likely is that they will arrest some scapegoat to calm the demands of public opinion and will try to justify the massacre with the already trite "settling of accounts".

I was right. We as a society allowed impunity to embed itself like a malign cancer and today the horror points at us.

8 of September, 2010

Mano dura is literally "strong hand", the signature policy of Oscar Alvarez in his first incarnation as Security Minister of Honduras during the term of President Ricardo Maduro. Similar policies were widely implemented throughout Central America. In Honduras, they involved criminalizing gang membership, encouraging collaboration in policing by the armed forces, and formation of extrajudicial death squads targeting youths without apparent concern about whether those killed were guilty of any crime, or even actually were gang members. The majority of these killings went unsolved, and indeed, uninvestigated. Involvement of the security forces was widely suspected.

Anti-gang legislation was based on establishing "illicit association" as a crime. So the citation of "illicit association" as a supposed crime by the members of the resistance who marched in conjunction with the general strike is laden with disturbing overtones.

Convenient Explanations

Gangs, drug trafficking, and corruption are real problems in Honduras. Unfortunately, they are also a too-convenient explanation for crimes, an explanation rolled out before anything resembling police investigations are carried out.

Oscar Alvarez, Security Minister, appallingly trotted out his blanket excuse yet again; this time to explain Tuesday's massacre of 18 people in a shoe faction in San Pedro Sula: it was gangs, or rather, gang rivalry:
"A group belonging to one gang arrived at this place with the intention of eliminating supposed sympathizers of another gang"

Case closed.

He admitted that this was not to say that the employees of the factory were actually members of any gang:
"I want to be respectful of the families of the victims, and to say they were sympathizers. I'm not saying they were members of gangs, but they were friends of those who are gang members."

Blame the victims.

The factory owner disputes Alvarez's explanation:
"They haven't found any drugs or arms here, and the employees weren't tattooed... Its not certain that this crime was a dispute for territory between drug gangs. The police need to investigate more,"

He also noted that the police took no material evidence from the crime scene, which presumably means they have no material evidence to tie the criminals to the crime. The factory floor was littered with AK-47 and 9mm shell casings according to the reporters. Were these left behind by the police?

So what is Alvarez's evidence of any gang linkage to this crime?
"The three came in and shouted 'everyone on the ground'....that 'everyone on the ground' and then executing them is the modus operandi of a gang that operates in our country."

Yet witnesses said that most of the people were shot where they worked, only some on the floor.
"When we saw they were gone, we ran to the shoe factory and found everyone shot on their tables, in their work chairs, and on the bloody floor, some breathing their last breath, others asking for help"

said one witness to an El Tiempo reporter.

Alvarez claims to know who the guilty parties are, but that they've gone into hiding, so he's opened phone lines for people to call in and give them up, and released sketches of two of the assailants.

This raises the question, if he actually knows who they are, why not release names and/or photos from the Registro Nacional, rather than the very generic unidentified sketches that were released to the press?

Alvarez's convenient excuse for not investigating this massacre is just that, a convenient excuse. The story he tells bears little relationship to the events as reported by witnesses. He blames the victims for their undemonstrated gang "association". Applying a one-size-fits-all explanation substitutes for doing the much more difficult job of finding out what was behind this terrible event.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Technical Foul: Corruption in the allocation of Channel 8

A huge amount of ink is being spilt over Honduran TV Channel 8, once used by the Zelaya administration as a government information channel, then allocated to a private businessman by court action, rented back by the de facto regime, then claimed again by the current government.

Stay tuned for further developments. But meanwhile, a word from your sponsors about TV channels in Honduras and how they end up in private hands.

CONATEL is the Honduran agency that is in charge of administration of telecommunications, radio, and television, the equivalent of the US FCC. Its current operating rules were established in 2002 by accord 141-2002 and include procedures for allocating bandwidth and supervising all broadcasters in Honduras. This accord also establishes dispute resolution procedures, not that they were followed in the current case.

That case is the on-again, off-again pursuit of analog Channel 8 by Elias Asfura.

CONATEL had a policy of only allocating the odd analog channels (3,5,7,9,11) to avoid interference between the channels. The FCC used that allocation approach for years in the US before finally allocating some adjacent channels in crowded urban markets.

Technically, in analog television, adjacent channels don't actually overlap, except channels 7 and 8. The frequencies of these two channels do overlap, so that allocating both in the same market assures there will be some interference. The FCC has not allocated both channel 7 and channel 8 in the same market, even in the crowded New York City market.

Channel 7 had already been allocated in much of the country to TeleSistema Hondureña, S.A.

So in 2005, Teleunsa, S.A., owned by Asfura, was denied permission to operate a television station on channel 8 by CONATEL.

Rather than use the dispute resolution solutions specified in the CONATEL rules, Asfura chose to appeal the decision in the courts.

In May, 2007, a lower court found in favor of Asfura and ordered the government to give him channel 8.

Rasel Tomé, then legal counsel of CONATEL, filed an appeal on November 4, 2007, which the appeals court ruled was technically invalid because it was filed one day too late.

CONATEL had valid technical reasons for not allocating channel 8 to Teleunsa, S.A.. Nonetheless, in 2007, when the government requested a channel, CONATEL went ahead and allocated channel 8 to the government, for a period of 15 years, publishing its decree in La Gaceta. On August 10, 2008, the government began broadcasting on channel 8 as the Red Informativa del Poder Ciudadano.

But El Heraldo reported that on August 5, 2008, Rasel Tomé, as legal counsel of CONATEL, had signed CONATEL resolution AS327/08 allocating channel 8 to Asfura.

Under Honduran transparency law, CONATEL posts a document on its website that notes that every authorization/allocation of spectrum, be it a radio station, TV station, or other use, brings with it financial obligations to pay for the rights to the channel, the registration of that right, and for CONATEL's supervision of the operation of that broadcast unit. Resolution AS327/08 cannot be found on CONATEL's listing of 2008 resolutions, but the transparency law in Honduras is not enforced, so that, in and of itself means nothing.

Tomé's lax handling of the case was apparently scandalous. Enrique Flores Lanza, as Zelaya's principal advisor, stripped Tomé of his legal responsibilities at CONATEL. So, between August 5 and November 24, 2008, CONATEL apparently recognized Asfura as the owner of channel 8. But on November 25, 2008, CONATEL appealed the case to the Supreme Court using a new legal team.

Fast forward to June 2009, when in the week before the coup, Channel 8 broadcast Manuel Zelaya's appeals directly to the people from the presidential palace and the speeches of those who came to join him in an attempt to ward off his removal from office.

After the coup, on August 4, 2009, a lower court again awarded channel 8 to Asfura.

By then, the de facto regime had replaced several members of CONATEL and installed Miguel Rodas as its head. Another of Asfura's companies, Eldi, was assigned channel 12, which he won in another legal suit, this one against SOTEL.

Roberto Micheletti recongized the utility of having a government channel and on assuming power after the coup, signed a contract in which the government rented back from Asfura the rights to channel 8 for the duration of his government, 7 months, renting the channel from Asfura for 1 lempira a month. Micheletti rebranded channel 8 Televisión Nacional de Honduras.

Therein lies (part) of the current problem.

As part of the transparency law, CONATEL must post its fees, which in 2008-2010 included a 57,924 lempira annual fee for the right to transmit on a particular channel, fees for spectrum use, annual fees for supervision, etc? Did Teleunsa pay these fees?

When Micheletti rented back from Asfura the broadcast rights on channel 8, he violated CONATELs operating rules, which prohibit any transfer of broadcast rights without review by CONATEL and a corresponding published resolution.

In short, Micheletti acted irregularly in signing an agreement with Asfura. But equally, the courts which repeatedly have ignored the dispute resolution process applicants are supposed to file in order to affirm Asfura as owner of Channel 8 seem, at the very least, to be acting outside their authority.

As CONATEL argues, the airwaves belong to the government. But it would be hard to tell that by the actions either of Micheletti or the courts.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Culture, Peace and Contested National Identity

“Normally, the traditional politician has in his house a beautiful bar, but he does not have a library, they are enemies of the written word, they do not know Honduran music, they are fans of the narco-corrido, of ranchera and música procaz, and the proof of this is that this is the music they use in their political campaigns because it is the best representation of them and best identifies them...."

So, who might we imagine made this provocative statement? One of the Artists in Resistance who have kept the spotlight on the erosion of public culture that began with the appointment of Myrna Castro by the de facto regime, to replace Minister of Culture Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle?

Would you believe maybe a cartoonist who was elected to the Honduran Congress in 2009 as a Liberal representative in Congress?

Ángel Darío Banegas has been a political cartoonist since 1985. His work appears in La Prensa, and has been recognized internationally.

When he began his run for the Congreso Nacional in 2008, he was quoted as saying that he wanted to clear out the "monsters and dinosaurs that have discredited politics for years". He also made an apparently serious proposal at that time that Congress members receive only minimum wage.

Starting in 2000, Banegas began to teach courses on drawing and painting, especially for children. His latest move, described as "a permanent cultural activity to stimulate youth so that they stay away from idleness and violence", seems to be closely related.

It also highlights the contested nature of "culture" in the aftermath of a coup and a de facto regime that made cultural institutions central targets for attack.

As announced in La Tribuna this weekend, using his new position in Congress as head of its "Commission on Culture" Banegas has promoted the first Honduran "Festival de las Artes, Congreso, Cultura y Paz" (Festival of the Arts, Congress, Culture and Peace). Taking place in Danlí, it is supposed to be the first of a series in all departments of the country, "to convert public areas into spaces of expression that will contribute to the formation and consolidation of peace, as a culture".

Invoking "peace" as a culture echoes a public discourse in Honduras that predates the coup, but is strongly linked to it. Public concerts and marches as early as May, 2008, explicitly framed as attempts to persuade young people not to take drugs or become involved in street gangs, were organized with the support of the Catholic hierarchy and the business community.

In July 2008, we watched one of these marches in the former colonial capital city of Comayagua, ending at stages set up in front of the cathedral where inspirational speeches were given and Garifuna musicians and dancers performed, explicitly urging teenagers to adhere to "peace". The crowd included large numbers of people dressed in white.

Both before and after the coup, marches using similar rhetoric and clothing were mobilized against President Zelaya and later in support of the de facto regime by the right-wing Unión Civica Democratica and its allies. The rhetoric used in these marches equated "peace" with more intensive policing. As press coverage on June 5, 2009 of a demonstration in Choluteca organized by the Chamber of Commerce described it, marchers were "in favor of peace, security, and democracy and therefore asked for an end to high indices of violence and insecurity that afflict the country".

Banegas' campaign advances a second emphasis, on national identity. The first event in Danlí, and the other festivals of arts to follow, are described as intended to help identify students with artistic talent "who will contribute to local and national culture in the forge of identity".

Banegas personally emphasizes the link between art, national identity, and the outsider political stance on which he ran:
“Because of my critical attitude towards traditional politics, I committed myself strongly to not be the same and to be different; ...I was charged with presiding over the Commission of Culture and Arts, for which we are pledged with a group of partners to make a meaningful effort to manage to fortify national identity."

The first program to this end is the festivals of art. The second is equally ambitious:
"we have created an National Identity Prize that will be given every year, on the 20th of July, in the City of Gracias, Lempira, with the honor in 2010 going to the singer/songwriter Guillermo Anderson."

What is left unstated here is what stands as national identity.

Both programs represent incursions by Congress onto terrain of the executive branch's Ministry of Culture. Banegas seems to be directly taking aim at the Ministry through the Casas de Cultura it coordinates, saying that he will promote congressional initiatives
related to strengthening the Casas de la Cultura in all the country that... in many cases are empty shells, entities abandoned to their own luck.

Banegas repeatedly defines cultural activity as aimed at reinforcing a uniform national agenda and a singular national identity:
“culture is fundamental for the development of a country since it contributes to national identity and we ourselves regain faith in what we do, what he have and our own way of being".

The original mission of the Casas de Cultura was something quite different: "to provide conditions for the flourishing of local culture" through a "policy of decentralization of cultural material".

The Casas de Cultura were central to efforts under the Zelaya administration to promote pluralistic cultural identity; as Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle notes:
we almost tripled the number of Casas de la Cultura in capitals and important towns with their own identity and in remote ethnic communities, Garifuna, Cusuna, or Tawaka, each with bilingual libraries.

Politicization of culture is nothing particularly new, in Honduras or elsewhere. Pastor Fasquelle begins a review of governmental intervention in Honduran culture with the proposition that "the organizations of Honduran cultural institutionality, the Instituto de Antropología e Historia (I.H.A.H) and la Secretaria de Cultura (S.C.A.D.), were creatures of dictatorship":
The Institute was founded with the idea of glorifying ancient Copan as the historic navel of the nation, paradoxically by foreign inspiration, while the Secretariat was established with the primordial aim of co-opting intellectuals and creators. And it ended up deposited in the hands of the military, whose vision amalgamated a folk concept of the culture of the people and an elitist vision of bourgeois High Culture. These were its sins of origin.

Pastor Fasquelle writes that in his first term as Minister of Culture starting in 1994, he began "the professionalization [of these organizations] and the articulation of policy lines: decentralization, democratization, ethnic rescue and support for creators".

When he returned to that role in 2006 he again pushed forward an agenda of "diffusion [of information], rescue of the national patrimony, diversity, direct assistance to creators and decentralization of functions and resources".

Rather than aim to produce a single national identity by promoting a uniform culture, the Ministry of Culture in the Zelaya administration promoted projects designed to exemplify Honduras' cultural diversity.

Pastor Fasquelle argues (as does the former director of the Institute of Antropology and History, Dario Euraque) that the very direction of these policies-- pluralistic, democratizing, decentralizing-- is what brought on the de facto regime's suspicion, embodied memorably in the appointment of Myrna Castro, who denounced book distribution, labeled the Casas de Cultura "Casas de ALBA", and redirected funding to Fashion Week in Tegucigalpa.

But, Pastor Fasquelle argues, all of this "underlines as the moral that our principal function-- institutionally-- is to secure that the people appropriate their own patrimony". He notes that only when culture is locally produced and controlled can it actually survive, a principle that guided policies of the Ministry that encouraged mobilizing local historians and local stakeholders in presenting their own culture.

In stark contrast to the implicit argument that culture is weaker in Honduras today, Pastor Fasquelle suggests that resistance to the coup has awakened creators of the arts in Honduras to their role in public life:
the brave involvement of the great majority of the best thinkers and artists in the country in civic life is one of the unexpected fruits [of the coup], surprising and hopeful. ... our artists and intellectuals have subscribed-- for decades-- to skepticism, not just towards the public cultural institutions, but also towards the State and politics. This skepticism has been a problem for the culture and a headache for the public cultural institutions. But worse, it has been part of the civic problem. Because, to the degree that the critical and creative spirits absented themselves from the forum, politics remained orphaned of intelligence and imagination. The flourishing of culture in the Resistance has engendered a new consciousness, a new type of commitment, critical for the opposition and for the future reconstruction of a deeper and more authentic democracy.

So we have laid out for us a series of contrasts: decentralization versus centralization; State projects versus local appropriation of patrimony; an idealized culture of "peace" versus culture as the expression of critical consciousness.

A telling detail: the time and place cited for the new "National Identity Prize", on the Día de Lempira in the heartland of the Lenca people, implicitly invokes a national imaginary of mestizaje, but now stripped even of the nominal and token brandishing of the Lenca as the primordial people of Honduras.

In the aftermath of a coup that polarized the Honduran people, two models of cultural production are now in open competition. One argues for promoting a common Honduran national identity; the other to recognize the multiplicity of Honduran identities. In the absence of any coherent cultural policy emerging from the new Minister of Culture, the nationalist project enjoys the advantage of energetic promotion by a Congressional novice with a public profile and the means now to promote his own agenda on a national stage. Yet we cannot help wonder if it will prove so easy to put the genie of Honduran diversity back in the bottle of a uniform national culture.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Minimum Wage or Living Wage?

In all the discussion about setting a new minimum wage, with its focus on the proposals and counter-proposals of business and labor organizations, it can be easy to lose sight of what it costs urban workers to subsist in Honduras. The Honduran government has defined this as the cost of the canasta basica alimenticia, a monthly supply of 32 basic products that feeds a family of six.

In 2008, Honduras' labor minister said the cost of the canasta basica was 6,800 lempiras ($360 US). The minimum wage then was just half that amount.

Rampant speculation in 2008 was driving up the cost of beans. When the minimum wage was last set, Honduras had the most expensive canasta basica in all of Central America.

When he set a new minimum wage in December 2008, Manuel Zelaya explicitly placed it at 500 lempiras less than what it would cost a worker to buy the components of the canasta basica at that time.

Yet the claim being made today is that the canasta basica costs a fraction of its 2008 price, a claim that if true, would justify (in some measure) a lower minimum wage. How is this estimate being produced?

COHEP says the canasta basica cost is about 4,400 lempiras per month, basing their estimate on pricing the goods at the Tegucigalpa government-subsidized supermarket called Banasupro and the wholesale market in Tegucigalpa. This is well under the current minimum wage of 5,500 lempiras.

The workers unions, in contrast, suggest the canasta basica costs about 6,300 lempiras a month in the stores where their employees actually typically shop. The difference between the two sides comes to about $100 (US) a month.

The Instituto Nacional de Estadistica (INE) calculates the prices of the constituents of the canasta basica in a quite different manner from that used by COHEP. INE collects prices from six retail markets in a specific city, for a given week, as well as in seven supermarkets, 46 pulperias and two farmer's markets in the same city, and for each category calculates an average price. These four averages are then averaged to get a price for a given item in the canasta basica. You can find the weekly price reports for 2006 to 2008 for several cities on the INE's website here.

The Banco Central de Honduras then use these prices and applies them to a standard amount of each item sufficient to feed a family of six for a month, and calculates the cost of the canasta basica.

What COHEP did, in contrast, is go to a wholesale food market and to a government subsidized supermarket, a disingenuous selection of prices that systematically profoundly underestimates the real cost of the canasta basica.

Current INE estimates, and in fact, any of those for 2009-2010, are not available online. But one thing is clear: proposing a minimum wage based on low prices very few Hondurans will actually be able to obtain would make the minimum wage something far different from a living wage.

La Prensa noted in August that, in general, prices have continued to increase throughout all of 2009 and 2010. Bean prices increased $0.80 a pound just in the month of August, largely due to speculation. Vegetable prices have increased rapidly as the persistent heavy rains damage field crops. To the extent that these prices are not reflected in neighboring Central American countries for the same commodities, and they are not, this indicates significant market price manipulation in Honduras.

When Porfirio Lobo Sosa was sworn in in January, 72 percent of Hondurans lived in households that didn't have access to even the canasta basica according to a European Union study, creating a serious food security problem for Honduras. That's 5.7 million people. A further 1.5 million Hondurans lived in households that earned enough to pay for the canasta basica every month, but not enough to afford housing, health care, transportation, education, etc. That leaves just 800,000 people in Honduras, according to the study, in households with incomes that adequately support them.

And that is what is at stake in the current negotiation, if we step back and think about how wages affect people's ability to survive.