Thursday, April 28, 2011

FFAA Replies to Wikileaks

In the interest of fairness, we want to point to a series of articles that appeared after our post about the Wikileaks cable alleging the Armed Forces of Honduras were selling weapons to the drug cartels. The gist of their response is, "we found it and told the US" and "its been distorted in the press."

Perhaps the first hint of a response came in an El Heraldo story from mid day yesterday which adopted the story line that it was the Honduran military who notified the US of the missing weapons after an inventory in 2007. It was current Defense Minister Marlon Pascua who spoke to the press. Pascua called the Defense Intelligence Agency report entitled "Honduras: Military Weapons Fuel Black Arms Market," a distorted tale of what actually happened.

Strangely, that story notes that there was a hearing in 2008 in which the evidence against the person or persons responsible was presented, but they're still waiting for a judicial decision in the case. Either justice moves slower than a glacier in the Honduran military courts, or more likely they locked this person in jail and threw away the key. Except in this case, the only weapons the person had access to were the light anti-tank weapons (law) and AR-16 and AK-47 rifles used by the Honduran armed forces. No access here to the M433 grenades reportedly recovered as well.

Shortly thereafter EFE covered the story, substantially the same as the El Heraldo story, noting that Pascua claimed that Honduras "was the victim, not the promoter of drug and arms trafficking." A follow up El Heraldo story notes that when asked what guarantee there was that this sort of thing would not happen again, both Pascua and General Osorio Canales, Head of the Honduran Joint Chiefs, replied "well, that's the danger of having these kinds of arms." El Heraldo noted that those responsible for the robbery of an aircraft from the Air Force base in San Pedro Sula have yet to be punished. The also noted that weapons captured from a drug traffickers bunker at the end of last year have disappeared as well.

La Tribuna's coverage notes that Pascua said the International coverage was meant to embarrass Honduras. Pascua said the information came from a leaked cable from an organization (Wikileaks) with a dubious reputation and anyhow the whole thing was covered in the Honduran press four years ago. Its from La Tribuna that we find out that the arrested naval officer is Lieutenant Selvin Castro Zelaya, and that he was one of 10 students at the TESON school at the time, and the only one charged with the crime. At the time he was the instructor of the course and in charge of logistics, which meant he had a key to the arms locker.

La Tribuna also reminds us that the military stored arms for private arms dealers after the Contras disbanded in the 1980s and that between 2000 and 2004 about 500 rifles disappeared from military custody, according to General Osorio Canales.

So rather than being a one time thing, as Pascua tried to imply, arms in the custody of the Armed Forces of Honduras have disappeared with some frequency since at least 2000. Ironically, the Armed Forces directly own the only licensed arms dealer in Honduras, "La Armeria", the only company that can sell and license guns in Honduras.

While its clear that the light anti-tank weapons stolen in 2007 ended up in the hands of drug traffickers, its not so much that there's a systematic effort by the Honduran military to sell weapons to the drug traffickers and organized crime in general; but rather a continuing culture of corruption which enables individuals to decide to steal weapons for person gain.

If the Honduran military is OK with that as the story, so are we.

One Computer Per Child?

María Antonieta Guillén announced Wednesday that Honduras was launching its "one computer per child" program with a $3 million contribution from the government of Taiwan. This was one of the few campaign promises Porfirio Lobo Sosa made in 2009, that he would start such a program.

The article in La Tribuna says that Taiwan will donate $3 million to purchase the first 8000 computers. In addition, Guillén announced the government had obtained a loan from the InterAmerican Development Bank (IADB) for a further $38.26 million dollars to purchase more educational computers.

The picture that accompanies the article shows Maria Antonieta Gullén holding a XO laptop, produced by the One Laptop Per Child foundation. This would suggest that Honduras will be purchasing XO laptops, a laptop computer designed for use in the third world for educational purposes. These would be ideal for deployment in Honduras. They are designed for use in both with and without connection to the internet, have simple off-the-grid rechargers, and abundant educational software. Both Guatemala and Nicaragua have purchased and deployed thousands of these computers.

Only something doesn't add up. The XO laptop costs $199, but if $3 million buys, as the article suggests, 8000 computers, that yields a unit price of $375 per computer. At the actual cost, the original $3 million investment would buy 15075 XO laptops, not the 8000 computers the article specifies. Either some of these funds aren't being used to purchase computers, or Taiwan is getting a large order for cheap Windows computers without educational software.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Canahuati Shamed?

Adolfo Facussé, head of the National Industrial Business Association (Asociación Nacional de Industriales, ANDI), started a rumor Monday that Mario Canahuati was going to resign as Foreign Minister.

Facussé told the press this was because Canahuati was distressed over not being included in the secret meetings between Lobo Sosa, Hugo Chavez, and Juan Manuel Santos. He said it was embarrassing for Canahuati to not be included in the meeting, when the Foreign Ministers of Venezuela and Colombia were. Instead, Arturo Corrales, Lobo Sosa's planning minister, participated.
"Don Mario Canahuati for respect and his own dignity, should resign from his position,"

Facussé told the press.

He further suggested that the Lobo Sosa government should respect Canahuati and if he didn't have the President's confidence as Foreign Minister, perhaps Lobo Sosa would appoint him to manage soliciting foreign investment. Facussé pointed out that Mario Canahuati was the former head of the Honduran Council of Private Business (Consejo Hondureño de la Empresa Privada, COHEP).

Why is Facussé trying to create a breach between Lobo Sosa and Mario Canahuati when there is none?

Perhaps it is because both he and Canahuati were backers of Micheletti, who just warned about the dangers of meeting that supposedly shamed Canahuati. Maybe he's warning Canahuati of business's unhappiness with Lobo Sosa's policies. Maybe its just that they were business buddies. We don't know.

Facussé specifically suggested Canahuati be put in charge of the "Honduras is open for business" conference to be held next week in San Pedro Sula. He took the opportunity to criticize the list of invited companies and individuals saying it was heavy on the industries with things to sell to Honduras and light on investors.

Facussé seemed not to know that Canahuati's Foreign Relations Ministry is in charge of the event and was responsible for the invitations.

In any case, Canahuati said he's not resigning and supports Lobo Sosa.

Supreme Court Delays Again

The Supreme Court appeals panel rejected the attempt of Gustavo Bustillo to recuse himself from the case because of a friendship with Zelaya. The court ruled his recusal "lacked legal justification." Apparently a judge isn't the best judge of when to recuse himself; the other judges know better.

The delay in reaching a verdict, however, continues, so the political effects are the same.

The three judge appeals panel met this morning and failed to reach a consensus on a verdict. They will now have to meet every business day until next Monday, at which time they must render a verdict according to Justice Rosa de Lourdes Paz Haslam.

So reset your Supreme Court alarm clocks for Monday, May 2.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Honduras diverts US Weapons to Cartels

The website "InsightCrime" reports on a US State Department cable (not yet released on Wikileaks) that indicates that light anti-tank weapons transferred to the Honduran military have ended up in the hands of the drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia. The cable was written on October 2, 2008 from the State Department, signed by Condoleezza Rice, to the US Embassy in Honduras.

The cable cites a Defense Intelligence report entitled "Honduras: Military Weapons Fuel Black Arms Market" released on July 2, 2008. This report notes that the serial numbers of light anti-tank weapons and M433 40 mm. grenades recovered in Mexico City, Ciudad Juarez, and in Colombia on San Andres Island matched the serial numbers of weapons delivered by the US Defense department to the Honduran Army's Second Infantry Battalion TESON training center, in 1992. TESON stands for Tropas Especiales de Selva y Operaciones Nocturnas, paratroopers. The M433 40mm grenades were transferred to Honduras in 1985. In April 2008, the Honduran Army could not account for the whereabouts of 26 of the original 50 light anti-tank weapons.

Light anti-tank weapons are one shot devices that replaced the bazooka after the Korean War. The weapon in question here is the either M72 light anti-tank weapon, a single shot 66 mm weapon with an armor piercing rocket, or the AT4 light anti-tank weapon, an 84 mm one shot anti-tank rocket that superseded the M72.

Honduras Weekly, a golpista newspaper, implicates the Zelaya administration in the loss of the weapons, but the weapons could have been leaked to the drug cartels any time after 1992 and the grenades any time after 1985.

The full text of the cable can be read here.

Supreme Slowdown

With the deadline for the appeals panel of the Supreme Court to render a decision on the charges against José Manuel Zelaya Rosales fast approaching, one judge has chosen today to resign from the panel, allegedly citing his "friendship" with Zelaya Rosales as the cause.

The justice, Gustavo Enrique Bustillo Palma, was elected by the full court to serve on the appeals panel along with Rosa de Lourdes Paz Haslam and Marco Vinicio Zúniga Medrano on April 17. Bustillo Palma was nominated to the Supreme Court by the Universities panel in 2008. He previously served as legal advisor to the Agrarian Institute in 1983-84 and again in 1985-86. He was also briefly legal council for the Customs service. He was a family court Judge in La Ceiba, and has taught law at several universities in northern Honduras. He serves in the Constitutional law section of the Supreme Court.

The five day clock was ticking and the Supreme Court had to render a decision tomorrow, April 27. The resignation makes that moot. The court will meet today or tomorrow or whenever they please, to select a new justice to serve on the appeals panel, resetting the clock to five days after that justice is selected.

Bustillo Palma has known since April 17 that he was assigned to this case. If he actually had a friendship with Zelaya, he should have recused himself immediately, not on the day before a verdict was due. If this really was the reason he recused himself, he acted irresponsibly by not doing so earlier. Its likely there's another, more political reason that's being left unvoiced here.

What the court decides has major political consequences. If it decides to nullify the charges, then it is certain that Honduras will be readmitted to the OAS at its early June meeting. If, instead, it decides to let the case proceed, or that the charges need to be reformulated (the other possible decisions) readmission is much less likely, although Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Lobo Sosa last week to assure him she would push for it.

Restart your Supreme Court countdown clocks to look for a decision around May 4, next week, if they don't find another way to delay.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Mine! Mine! Mine! Oops!

The Honduran Congress is like the seagulls in the movie Finding Nemo. It shouts "mine! mine! mine!" at everything confiscated by the security forces directed by Oscar Alvarez. These government seagulls are using the funds "confiscated" from organized crime as if they are their own money, spending it outside of the official budget.

How much are we talking about? 211 million lempiras of confiscated funds and property to date. The confiscated money and property is managed by the Oficina de Administradora de Bienes Incautados (OABI) a division of the Public Prosecutor's office directed by Omar Zuniga, . The OABI has divided the 211 million lempiras between the security forces, the defense department, development projects, and funds for the poor (the 10 thousand lempira bonus program started by Lobo Sosa), as specified in the law rushed through congress last year.

Only one problem; the courts are ordering that the OABI give back some of the funds and property; three million lempiras here, another few thousand there. By the OABI's own projections they expect the courts to order restitution of an equivalent of 48 percent of the resources, or about 100 million lempiras of the 211 million lempiras currently controlled by the OABI.

This stupidity is the Ley de Disponibilidad Emergente de Activos Incautados which passed Congress in November 2010. The law demands that the OABI assign immediately, according to the specified percentages, the rights to use the funds under OABI control to the benefiting agencies. So who benefits?
The Public Prosecutor gets 26.6%
The Security Minister gets 26.7%
The Defense Minister gets 26.6%
The 10,000 lempira bonus fund gets 10%
The fund for marginal people gets 10%

Here's another stupid part: the law says the OABI guarantees the funds and guarantees the interest on any funds deposited with it. How can it do that, if it has to immediately give the funds out as windfalls to the above beneficiaries? There's no budgetary support for it to do this. The law says its up to the Finance Minister to guarantee the funds that need to be returned.

Thus, if restitutions are ordered by the court, the OABI is left with a budgetary problem, where to come up with the funds for restitution (not to mention property, which the OABI can sell). As the Zuniga, the director of the OABI notes, there is no budgetary support that guarantees the repayment should the OABI have to return funds, there's no budgetary line item in Congress for it. The law specifies that the Minister of Finance is the guarantor of the funds, so its his problem to find them, when the court orders a restitution.

Funding for the OABI comes out of the Public Prosecutor's office budget. Currently it does not include funds to manage the physical assets assigned to the OABI, the boats, houses, cars, and other physical property confiscated. Zuniga notes that for one confiscated property alone the OABI has spent 1.1 million lempiras on security and upkeep over the last several years.

Does the law seem poorly thought out, gentle reader? That's because it is. It allows the benefiting agencies to spend funds that don't really belong to the state, leaving future governments the responsibility of repaying those funds, when the courts order their repayment. By their own estimates, the courts will order repayment of about half those funds.

As we've said many times, the Honduran government is broke (and broken). This was an ill considered law that provided for windfall spending to reward a small number of powerful beneficiaries, and ones whose budgets for 2011 were already increased over previous levels. Now that the courts are ordering restitutions, the Lobo Sosa government will be forced to find funds it already doesn't have to pay back these obligations.

We doubt it will have the political will to take back these funds from future budgets of these powerful agencies, so look for further cuts in the budgets of education, culture, and development, already reduced in this year's Lobo Sosa budget.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

DINANT: Helpless on Human Rights

We have been traveling throughout April, not always with the best of internet access.

So we missed posting when news broke that European banks were reconsidering or outright canceling their support of development of African palm oil projects in the Bajo Aguan-- where landowner Miguel Facussé, at times enjoying military support, has been engaged in a standoff with local peasant cooperatives that has led to the killing of dozens of campesinos.

But now Bloomberg has published a new report on the story, leading with the claim that DINANT Corporation-- the business entity involved-- has been wrongly treated.

The basic facts are these:

On April 8, a German development bank, DEG Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH, canceled a proposed loan reportedly worth $20 million, that (For German readers, there is a good long review of this part of the story in Neues Deutschland). Even in recent articles, bank spokespersons have refused to explain why they canceled this loan.

But shortly after, the French energy firm, EDF, canceled its agreement to buy carbon credits from DINANT. Reporting by Bloomberg contained only an unintelligible quote from CEO John Rittenhouse, who said “We take a responsible appraoch to our CDM portfolio.”

Longer articles elsewhere, including Reuters, were slightly clearer, quoting Rittenhouse as saying
“We have taken the situation in Honduras very seriously and have spent the past few months looking at our options in respect to our withdrawal...We have therefore issued our notification of termination to the seller and will no longer be involved in this project".

Why did these companies back off from the project?

The Reuters story notes that an "Environmental watchdog group CDM Watch" had brought human rights abuses to the attention of EDF. A Bloomberg story about the loan withdrawal by the German bank also cited CDM Watch, described there as a "Bonn-based environmental lobby", as well as FIAN, the FoodFirst Information and Action Network, based in Heidelberg.

The cancellations by these two European companies are not the end of the story; other financing could emerge, and the project is still under consideration by the UN's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)

Bloomberg reports that the government of the United Kingdom had approved the Bajo Aguan project for buyers of carbon credits, noting that the energy and climate change secretary, Chris Huhne, has now sent letters requesting more information to, among others, DINANT itself and "Honduran authorities".

The project is still due for discussion at the UN's CDM Executive Board meeting on June 3. That body could still decide to give the project its blessing, despite the human rights issues it raises.

Hence Roger Pineda, treasurer of DINANT, coming out strong on defense in the latest Bloomberg story.

Pineda characterized the link to human rights abuses as "misleading".

Repeating a loathsome strategy seen in other Honduran human rights abuses, Pineda argued that the real crime here is that security guards have died:
The human rights organizations “don’t seem to care about the people who get killed by the peasants,” Pineda said.

That's right. DINANT has no responsibility for the 23 deaths of campesinos recorded by FIAN; and those peasant deaths and land claims should be canceled out by deaths of security guards, none of which has actually been linked to a campesino activists by anything but innuendo. The repeated claim that Bajo Aguan peasants are armed by Nicaragua has been used to justify military occupation. But even Honduran President Lobo Sosa had to admit the military did not find any weapons.

In a weird side argument, Pineda suggested that canceling the project would be bad for Hondurans because DINANT also is producing "food".

What food? Fried snack foods and artery-clogging palm oil, ubiquitous as the cooking oil of at least the north coast. The website of the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank calls for investment in Dinant to "increase production capacity in its snacks and edible oils divisions".

But of course, that is not the main argument Pineda has to offer. No, his strongest claim is that for some reason, the report documenting peasant deaths should not have been taken seriously because "FIAN didn’t approach Grupo Dinant before making its report". Apparently, had they just done that, he has an explanation for the violence:
A security company hired by Dinant killed five people in November last year because its guards were under attack, he said. There has been no legal action stemming from the killings, he said.

The stakes are high for DINANT, so perhaps it is not surprising that they are exposing their best (worst?) arguments.

Not only did these two specific European companies decide that DINANT was perhaps a bad partner.

More generally, consultants in the sector-- at least in Europe-- understand that the liabilities that might come may not be worth the profits that remain questionable in the face of this unresolved and violent land dispute.

In its April 19 article reporting Roger Pineda's defense of DINANT, Bloomberg quoted Mark Meyrick, described as head of the Rotterdam-based carbon desk at Eneco Holding NV, a Dutch utility company.

Mr. Meyrick is clear:
“This is a question of proper due diligence” ... Projects must consult their so-called stakeholders as part of the process seeking United Nations- overseen approval for tradable credits... “In too many CDM projects, only lip service is paid to the stakeholder consultation, and the CER buyers and finance providers don’t check that properly.”

Roger Pineda clearly thinks DINANT is the one stakeholder that should have been consulted.

Score one for broader participation in consultation, and credit the tenacity not just of FIAN, but of the other organizations it acknowledges in its press release on the campaign to stop funding of the Bajo Aguan development project, including Honduran organizations COFADEH, CIPRODEH, and the Commission for Truth.

Now, can anyone get the UN CDM to read the reports of the UN Human Rights Commission?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Impossibility of Transgendered People

It's hard enough being gay or lesbian in Latin America. Its even harder to be a transgendered individual, especially when your country's laws make that impossible, as those of Honduras do.

Everyone age 18 and over must have a national identity card issued by the Registro Nacional de Personas (RNP). Not having an identity card is illegal. The Registro Nacional de Personas says on its website:
The identification of the person is a fundamental human right because from it derives the legal recognition of important rights like nationality, relationship, the rights of children to demand parents comply with obligations, and the recognition of the rights of citizenship.

Unfortunately for that "fundamental human right", the RNP will not issue identity cards to transgendered individuals in their new identity. If you were registered at birth with the RNP as male, and you show up for your identity card photo dressed female, they will refuse to take your picture or to issue you an identity card. If you've plucked your eyebrows, they won't issue one as a male, either.

Honduran law has no support for the changing of identities. It has no support for changing names.

It's not that it's illegal, it's just not possible.

You are who and what your registration at birth says you are. The law of the Registro Nacional de Personas spells out the kinds of changes it is able to register. There is no law for the registration of changes of identity or gender. Being transgendered is inconceivable, and hence not possible under the existing law, written in 2004.

In Honduras gender and chromosomal sex are irretrievably linked and frozen in law at the registration of one's birth. Names are also frozen.

Even what Honduran authorities call hermaphrodites (better described today as intersex) people, born with genitalia that differ from expectations of normative male or female, are registered with a fixed gender of male or female at birth. In Honduras, an intersexed person can elect to have plastic surgery to establish a gender identity; but that identity is chosen for them by a chromosomal and medical exam deciding which sex is more completely expressed in the individual. Their choice of identity, their sense of themselves, does not enter into the decision.

And the imposition of state authority on the most intimate aspect of a person's identity doesn't stop there. Postsurgical intersex persons may be issued a new birth certificate by the hospital. However, the RNP does not recognize these new birth certificates for the purpose of establishing identity.

Likewise, transgendered individuals in Honduras may have plastic surgery to change their gender, and be issued new birth certificates. Again , the RNP does not recognize these changes, and refuses to issue new identity cards, other than cards describing the person they were at birth.

As the RNP correctly notes, a person without an identity in Honduras card cannot vote. They cannot get a drivers license. They cannot register a gun, attend university, leave the country, or open a bank account. This has immense implications for the lives of transgendered people. Because they cannot get an identity card that aligns with their actual personhood, they are open to being detained and harassed by the police. They can't get jobs, because you must have an identity card to work and pay taxes. This can limit their choice to illegal jobs, or to sex work. They may have to hide their gender identity in order to live and work legally. Honduras gives them no other choices.

There are people in Honduras trying to change these facts. The Violeta Collective, interviewed today in La Tribuna, provides a public face for this movement. Meanwhile, Honduras remains a deadly place to be trans-, gay, or bi-sexual.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Honduras and the OAS: The Plot Thickens

The issue of what to do about Honduras will come up again at the next OAS General Assembly in early June. As readers will recall, Honduras has failed to fulfill the requirements set by members of the OAS opposed to readmission. Most discussed has been the failure to find a way to dismiss politically motivated charges against former president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, which would allow him to return to the country. This has come even to overshadow the concerns expressed about continued human rights abuses in post-coup Honduras.

Porfirio Lobo Sosa asked again on April 15, for the Supreme Court of Honduras to do what is necessary to make it possible for Manuel Zelaya Rosales to return to Honduras.

Jorge Rivera Aviles, the Supreme Court Chief Justice, says that if it does, it will just be "a happy coincidence", not because of Lobo Sosa's pressure on the court.

This battle has been going on since Lobo Sosa took office in January 2010. Porfirio Lobo Sosa has done all he can to make it possible for Zelaya to return, but ultimately it is beyond his power. He cannot command the Supreme Court, and so far, they've declined to cooperate with him.

It took the negotiations of Arturo Corrales, once negotiator for Roberto Michelleti, and currently head of Lobo Sosa's Strategic Planning Commission, and the brainstorming of a legal team, to find a legal way the court can dismiss the remaining charges: nullification.

Here's what will happen next with the Zelaya legal case:
--on or about April 20, a three judge appeals panel of the Supreme Court will rule on an appeal by the Public Prosecutor's office to reinstate the arrest warrants for Zelaya that have previously been vacated.

--after that, there's another motion pending before Judge Chinchilla to dismiss the two remaining charges because of procedural errors by the Public Prosecutor, Luis Rubi.

(The procedural errors? Under Honduran law, Rubi had to formally notify Zelaya he was the subject of an investigation, and that notification had to occur before any charges were filed. Rubi filed charges in July 2009, just after the coup, without ever notifying Zelaya. This seems to be the core of the argument for nullification of the charges.)

--if the charges are dismissed, Rubi's office can be expected to appeal, prolonging the case for up to two more weeks.

In any event, if the Supreme Court does not drag its feet again by mid-May it should have heard all the possible appeals and ruled definitively and finally on the charges against Zelaya, either dismissing them or allowing them to go to trial.

There is a lot more now riding on what Rivera Aviles claims would only be a "happy coincidence" being the outcome.

After meeting in Colombia with Lobo Sosa, and with Zelaya and representatives of the Frente de Resistencia yesterday, Hugo Chavez has said that if Lobo Sosa can deliver on the long-demanded dismissal of charges against Zelaya, then he will support reintegration of Honduras in the OAS.

He has promised both Lobo Sosa and Zelaya he would work to bring about a resolution favorable to both sides. Juan Barahona, on behalf of the Frente de Resistencia, has said they put their trust in Chavez as a mediator as well.

There are still, of course, things that making it possible for Zelaya to return will not heal.

At the same OAS General Assembly, the government-sponsored Truth Commission (which isn't really a truth commission because its charter fails to conform to the UN standards for truth commissions), will brief OAS members on the contents of its final report.

Eduardo Stein said the report will be submitted without the help of Zelaya, who refused to give testimony to the commission, because they have a large body of press releases and statements by members of his cabinet to the press to confirm what happened, and that those statements are consistent with other reports made to the commission.

Contradicting himself, he noted that there were some topics where only Zelaya could provide information about his intentions and actions, and he regretted that Zelaya had refused to cooperate.

So, the Truth Commission, which has been touted as providing a means to reconcile Hondurans divided by the coup, is not likely to add much forward momentum. And the human rights situation in Honduras has not been improving. Both the US State Department and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission have recently condemned deteriorating human rights conditions in Honduras.

But it is probably a reasonable bet that Honduras will return to the OAS soon-- that is, if the Supreme Court delivers its "happy coincidence".

Friday, April 15, 2011

More from the Bernard Martinez Interview

The Honduran literary blog mimalapalabra on Wednesday posted a version of the Tiempo interview with the current Minister of Culture, that we translated and commented on previously.

Headlined "B. Martinez: Muy pocos concemos el concepto de cultura" ["very few of us know the concept of culture"], this version of the interview frames Martinez's dialogue around his somewhat unique interpretation of culture, which was our focus as well.

But it does something more. As a preface before the body of the interview, there is a passage reading
For reasons of space and of obvious censorship, the following interview did not appear in complete form in the edition of the newspaper Tiempo on March the 12th of April. As follows, I publish it with the parts that were missing. Observe, particularly, the "arguments" of the Minister for considering that he is the ideal person to occupy the post of minister of Culture, his "brilliant" ideas for the management of culture in the country and the curious reading that he gives of the concept of culture of UNESCO in the Declaration of Mexico in 1982.

The implication is that the interviewer who prompted Minister Martinez into a series of revelations that would certainly put in question his qualifications for his position-- or really, for any government position-- is the author of the post,
Do you think that this is sufficient argument for someone to carry out the functions of this post in an efficient manner?

I don't know if it would be sufficient, because that depends on President Lobo, but I do think that it has permitted us both to understand a little farther what the culture of the country is, where diversity and mestizaje have to be inflected, because here the topic is how to inflect cultural diversity to create the identity of the country.

This is, in the longer version, the first clear indication that Minister Martinez has an odd idea of what culture is, and perhaps an even odder idea of the mission of his ministry.

The interview continues as it was published, with the reporter asking pointedly about programs dropped by the Ministry (registry of ISBN numbers for authors) or shifted away from their original purpose (Cine en la Calle, which was funded for San Pedro Sula, but was disrupted by moving the equipment to Tegucigalpa).

But in the short interview, the questions about the latter program end with Martinez saying the real problem is he has no budget for anyone to run the equipment. In the longer interview, the next question is
And the Ministry is incapable of doing anything so that this would be started again?

It's that what we want to guarantee is that the people that come to manage it will have a serious engagement with this equipment, but the mission is to have the ideal personnel that is consistent with the budgetary structure so that both the equipment and the personnel can survive for the purpose of driving this theme of Cine and AV. Our legal department is already working on this.

Why remove this? Who knows? It does seem to reveal a Minister more concerned with pettifoggery than productivity-- which is more or less what the immediate follow-up question gets to.

A similarly inexplicable omission comes at the end of Martinez' reply to a question asking if the Ministry should just limit itself to lend its name to cultural projects, where one sentence was clipped in Tiempo: "So, what we are looking to do is involve all the people possible so that the Ministry will not continue being treated in the manner that it has until now."

Clearly finding the Minister's lack of concern about his inability to do anything of significance, the interviewer asked a series of questions, the last of which was cut from the shorter version of the interview:
Do you reckon that in four years of direction [of the Ministry] you will have worked on the structural question, and nothing more?

Not so much nothing more but that we want to go step by step in the structuring of something that responds to the culture of the country, to what will create the identity necessary so that we can differentiate ourselves from the rest of the countries.

The deletions do not, for the most part, add anything unexpected to the image we get of Minister Martinez from the shorter version published in Tiempo. But one they they do, perhaps, underline with greater clarity: Minister Martinez thinks that cultural identity is something that can be created from the top down; that it is primarily about distinguishing one country from another; and cultural diversity is a barrier to this goal, something to be solved, not understood, prized, or protected.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What is culture? Does Bernard Martinez understand it?

In the previous post, we provided a translation of a long interview with Bernard Martinez that was published in Tiempo. It is an amazing thing: as the reporter pressed for specific accomplishments, Martinez repeatedly said (1) we've been busy getting our act together, and (2) we don't have any money.

But he also evaded every attempt by the reporter to get him to acknowledge that Honduras has a series of recognized cultural groups-- Garifuna, Chorti, Lenca, Tol, Pech, Miskito, to name just the first to come to mind. The reporter pressed him on why the ministry no longer is extending the efforts of the Institute of Anthropology beyond Copan, as was intensified under the administration of Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle. He asked about the existing structures for promoting culture, Consejos de Cultura, which Martinez is basically replacing with decentralization (read: dumping) responsibility onto municipal governments.

To all these questions, as the reporter, in frustration, finally expressed it, his answer was "we don't have the money". So, the reporter said, do you think maybe the people might ask why we need your ministry?

And staggeringly, Martinez agreed that this question might be there.

Most bizarre, though, was the insight into the guiding understanding of "culture" which Martinez purports to base on the UNESCO definition of culture. Again, the reporter clearly found it unusual as well, ending by asking him if Porfirio Lobo Sosa shared his understanding of culture; and how many people in Honduras, anyway, did share this understanding.

Martinez allowed that he doesn't know, and ventured that Lobo Sosa probably doesn't fully understand it.

No wonder. Martinez seems to fully misunderstand the UNESCO definition of culture, which the Tiempo reporter appended, helpfully, to his article. While Martinez never specifies where he is getting his concept, the reporter, we think rightly, draws on the 1982 Declaration of Mexico City of the World Conference on Cultural Policies. That document declared
that in its widest sense, culture may now be said to be the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only the arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs;

that it is culture that gives man the ability to reflect upon himself. It is culture that makes us specifically human, rational beings, endowed with a critical judgement and a sense of moral commitment. It is through culture that we discern values and make choices. It is through culture that man expresses himself, becomes aware of himself, recognizes his incompleteness, questions his own achievements, seeks untiringly for new meanings and creates works through which he transcends his limitations.

This does not, as Bernard Martinez thinks, mean that culture is simply a quality of a person. It is-- note the text above!-- a quality of a society or social group.

We freely admit that we are not quite certain that our translation of Martinez' statement of his understanding of the UNESCO definition of culture is quite accurate. Here's the original Spanish: feel free to propose your own definition:
Habla de que la cuestión cultural es la persona misma cuando define palabras muy claras como explícitas o implícitas en el que su comportamiento religioso, su comportamiento personal, su conducta con el resto de la sociedad hace que la persona sea la cultura misma en sí.

What seems undeniable here, though, is that Martinez doesn't know what he is talking about. The Mexico City Declaration goes on to define why culture matters-- that it is a social group's "most effective means of demonstrating its presence in the world"; that it "contributes to the liberation of peoples"; that "cultural identity and cultural diversity are inseparable".

As that document says, "All of this points to the need for cultural policies that will protect, stimulate and enrich each people's identity and cultural heritage, and establish absolute respect for and appreciation of cultural minorities and the other cultures of the world. The neglect or destruction of the culture of any group is a loss to mankind as a whole".

The answer to that challenge cannot be "we don't have a budget". But if you "understand" the UNESCO definition of culture as Bernard Martinez does, then it is up to the individual to foster his or her culture.

Interview with Bernard Martinez, the Accidental Minister of Culture

Bernard Martinez, Minister of Culture in the Lobo Sosa government, was interviewed by a reporter for Tiempo as part of his promotion of a campaign to decentralize cultural activity in Honduras. While questions about this were part of the story, so were a number of less comfortable questions for Martinez, whose tenure at the Ministry of Culture has been less than distinguished.

He was one of the ministers called to task for a lack of transparency in his ministry. His proposal to move the National Archives into inadequate space not even controlled by the ministry, in order to install some part of his enterprise in offices in the historic presidential palace building, was widely decried by Honduran intellectuals. The union of the ministry petitioned him a year ago to remove from office Virgilio Paredes, appointed head of the Institute of Anthropology and History by Mirna Castro in her last weeks controlling the ministry for the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti. He notably claimed that one of his vice ministers, Godofredo Fajardo, tried to pressure him into resigning in his favor, shortly after the union lodged a series of accusations of misuse of funds.

So what does Minister Martinez have to say for himself? Here's the interview; see for yourself first, then we will follow with a post drawing out some of the implications beyond the obvious ones.

Tiempo: How and from whom came the idea of your naming as minister of Culture?

Martinez: It was a question that president Lobo asked me about where I wanted to serve in his government. And once I decided to participate I spoke about the topic of culture and then he decided to place me here.

Tiempo: Did you have any time before your naming an interest in working for culture?

Martinez: No that was born after the political campaign. The Garifuna community, of which I am a member, is a community that contributes a lot culturally, and that was what led me to think of the Secretariat of Culture.

Tiempo: The principal argument, then, to self-nominate as secretary in the dispatch of Culture, Art, and Sports is your belonging to the Garifuna community?

Martinez: Yes, above all because my community had worked at an international level putting Honduras in this area into the consciousness of the world, so I thought that I could contribute something to President Lobo to convey the Honduran cultural world with greater security because I already had an understanding of the topic.

Tiempo: Apart from the Garifuna culture, what other components do you think make up the cultural process in Honduras?

Martinez: The Secretariat of Culture is structured in such a way that it invites to be able to have the different peoples here operating becuase the construction of identity is going to come from the participation of all the peoples. In the government of President Lobo there is a greater integration of the members of the Garifuna community and of other ethnic groups such as the Miskito and the Lenca, so that it's a better balanced approach to culture.

Tiempo: What do you consider are the notable advances that the Ministry of Culture has brought about in the 16 months that you have served as minister?

Martinez: In the first instance, the reformulation of the Secretariat of Culture. We have taken all this time to give it the vision that it truly should have, taking off from the concept of culture that UNESCO establishes. This concept raises the question for us of the degree to which the Ministry should have a more expansive job of stimulating the cultural diversity of the peoples, both afro-Hondurans as well as indigenous peoples. When people don't understand this concept it is normal that there exists some type of mistaken reaction but, understanding it, the very same government, the very same National Congress, will take the steps to fortify it.

Tiempo: Specifically, what does this concept say?

Martinez: It says that the cultural question is the person him or her self when it defines words very clearly as explicit or implicit in regard to their religious behavior, their personal behavior, their conduct with the rest of society, which makes it that the person will be the culture themselves. The great advance in the first year of President Lobo is to open the conditions so that the municipalities will have better participation with agreements of cooperation signed and with the municipal units of culture, of which we have already opened five across all the country.

Tiempo: And from the signing of those agreements, what results have you seen up till now?

Martinez: From there, we are loosening up the accompaniment of artistic groups to the extent of our available funding. The limitations are very great but the most important is that we are creating the political and cultural condition in the local governments to push civil society in its eagerness to have more cultural stability and identity of the municipality.

Tiempo: Basically, your advances have been simply operational...

Martinez: Yes, above all we could not advance because the Secretariat had been left in pure routine, of waiting for proposals, of waiting for us to move ourselves bringing culture to the municipalities when this was totally mistaken.

Tiempo: What is your relationship with the Regional Committees of Culture (Consejos Regionales de Cultura)?

Martinez: The relation continues the same, what has happened is the lack of an ingredient: the participation of the local governments, that also have to support the local committees. We don't discard the previous idea, rather we fortify it incorporating the municipal governments so that they define clear cultural policies.

Tiempo: How is the annual budget of the Ministry used?

Martinez: 70% of the budget goes to operating costs. The rest goes in transfers to cultural and sports groups. Only approximately 3% remains to do all the rest.

Tiempo: What are the groups to which you make transfers?

Martinez: In sports, CONDEPAH, the Olympic Committee, CONPID. In culture, to the museums, including Anthropology and those independent cultural entities that have recognition from the Congreso Nacional.

Tiempo: Why haven't you reactivated the web page to request the ISBN numbers for literary works by national authors, that ceased functioning when the coup d'etat happened in June 2009?

Martinez: There was a serious technical problem that we have to overcome. Presently, the requests can be made directly by the authors in the offices of the Secretariat in Tegucigalpa but we are looking so that in the future the Secretariat will come to the authors.

Tiempo: Why did you decide to bring to Tegucigalpa the equipment of the project "Cine en la Calle" [Cinema in the Streets], that was donated by the PNUD [UN Development Program] and assigned to the regional office of Culture of San Pedro Sula?

Martinez: A reform of the presidency required that Finances, because the project was assigned to Radio Nacional, should transfer all the funds and resources of Radio Nacional to Communications of the Presidency. But we are undertaking the formalities to recover it.

Tiempo: This decision wasn't perhaps a violation of the agreement between PNUD and the region for which the equipment was assigned?

Martinez: No, because in the moment of making the agreement of Cinema and AV they left the project as part of Radio Nacional and according to the disposition of the presidency, everything of Radio Nacional should pass to Communications of the Presidency.

Tiempo: What possibilities are they to recover this project?

Martinez: The problem is that the equipment is there but there is no budget to pay the personnel to make it work.

Tiempo: Can you say then that the bureaucracy has set back the execution of such an important project that has had such good results in all the country?

Martinez: Both in Cinema and in other schemes of the Secretariat, the bureaucracy continues being a serious problem.

Tiempo: With respect to the publications of the Ministry, why have you stopped producing books since the beginning of your management?

Martinez: Because everything is budget. We have had drastic cuts in the budget of the Ministry.

Tiempo: Moving on now to the management of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and Hitsory, that is also a responsibility of the Ministry, why have you gone back to concentrating all your efforts exclusively in Copan, when in the period of former minister Rodolfo Pastor they had begun to extend to other projects in other zones?

Martinez: The question of Anthropology continues under discussion. We have not rescinded any of the agreements established in earlier periods but financial limits continue being our sticking point [literally, eagle's talon].

Tiempo: Could we simplify the subject and say that whatever problem emerges, whatever impediment develops in a program or in the execution of a program in the Ministry has to do with finances?

Martinez: Clearly, very much.

Tiempo: Should the Ministry then limit itself to the labor of "blessing" with its name whatever cultural initiative emerges in whatever part of Honduras since now it doesn't have the capacity to offer more concrete collaboration?

Martinez: This is a Ministry that has always been decimated, that has been totally marginalized. The ministry has not been able to carry out the roll that it should carry out in Honduras. Therefore now we are trying to generate the favorable conditions so that when the deputies of the National Congress discuss the budgetary assignments they will know that there is a people that demands better financial support in the field of culture.

Tiempo: In what other things is the Ministry occupied at the moment?

Martinez: Basically in the structural questions of the municipalities.

Tiempo: Or that is that one year and four months of your management of the job has been solely with the intention of creating this new structure?

Martinez: Exactly, a very hard job, very broad, that we believe remains very short because there now remains little time before the period [in office] ends, barely two years.

Tiempo: Do you believe that with the present conditions in your office, the Honduran population might begin to ask themselves what this Ministry is good for?

Martinez: This question is latent because they don't understand the concept of culture.

Tiempo: Why do you believe that the central government doesn't give to the Ministry the backing that it needs?

Martinez: Because they do not know the concept of culture and not knowing this concept they do not link it to their way of life.

Tiempo: You believe that they don't understand this concept, or right away it doesn't interest them?

Martinez: It's that on not understanding it they aren't interested in culture.

Tiempo: You and how many other people in the country know this concept of culture of which you speak?

Martinez: I cannot tell you how many of us know it but we are very few.

Tiempo: Does President Lobo know this concept of culture?

Martinez: I haven't asked him but he has to. I will take the risk of saying that I do not believe that he knows it fully.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Chavez, Lobo, and readmitting Honduras to the OAS

News reports have appeared claiming that Honduras will be reintegrated to the OAS following a meeting between Hugo Chavez and Porfirio Lobo Sosa in Cartagena, Colombia.

AFP's story probably hews closest to the truth: talks were held, that is true. But nothing really has changed, so press coverage claiming a breakthrough would appear to be premature. As AFP correctly described the situation

Zelaya is currently in exile in the Dominican Republic, and will not return to Honduras until he is guaranteed immunity from legal action. His return is a condition for the OAS to re-admit Honduras.

What that means is that someone with the ability to do so would have to guarantee that the remaining charges against Zelaya were dismissed. Lobo Sosa, the head of the executive branch of government, cannot make such a guarantee, because the charges are being defended by the judicial branch.

While the most obvious political charges against Zelaya were recently dismissed, there remain charges on which the court still demands Zelaya be tried. Lobo Sosa has made overtures before, and has been briskly pushed back by Honduran factions who want the OAS to back down.

The head of the Honduran Supreme Court Jorge Rivera Aviles, recently reiterated that the judicial branch-- which is, we re-emphasize, not controlled by Lobo Sosa-- thinks it has done enough to satisfy the international community:

“From my point of view all the requirements for Honduras to be in the OAS have already been completed...Honduras should be reintegrated without greater conditions (since it has complied) with the aspects of national reconciliation and government respect for human rights, to give accounts to international organizations and many other activities since Lobo took office”.

Speaking specifically to the question of Zelaya still being under threat of trials that, given the extreme nature of his removal from office and the open hostility of the courts to him, we might assume will be somewhat less than fair, the head of the Supreme Court continued:

"He can come anytime, he doesn't have any warrant for arrest pending".

For pro-coup Honduras, this is reality, even if the rest of the world sees things otherwise.

A call for charges to be dropped against ex-President Zelaya is reinterpreted: see, we won't arrest him (at least right away) so why should he be afraid to come back?

So it seems wildly unlikely that Lobo Sosa will shift their position, especially not on the promise that Hugo Chavez-- reviled by the Honduran right-- would then change his position.

And notice that in fact, Chavez has not changed his position. Santos may have managed a surprise meeting with Lobo Sosa, but the "agreement" is that Lobo Sosa needs to deliver the immunity from prosecution which has always been the requirement for readmission to the OAS.

The positive spin on the most recent meeting comes from two sources: Porfirio Lobo Sosa and the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos. Both are, quite obviously, interested parties who would like to get credit for changing the situation.

The Chinese publication People's Daily (in English) quotes Lobo Sosa as its main source, saying
"I am very glad the meeting has initiated the incorporation of Honduras into regional bodies like the OAS".

Santos, on the other hand, sounded more cautious even in this highly spun story:
"I hope this meeting will become a further step toward the final settlement of Honduras' problem with the OAS and that the OAS will accept Honduras' return as a full member of that organization."

A "further step" is a long way from "initiating incorporation" in OAS. Indeed, coverage in the English-language Colombia Reports is more measured:

The Honduran president said he agreed to allow ousted former leftist President Zelaya to return to the country with immunity from prosecution. This is a condition of the readmission of Honduras to the OAS.

The problem remains that the will to acknowledge that the coup of 2009 was a coup is absent in Honduras. So various parties cling to their claims of corruption-- not that these would, in fact, have justified a coup.

Lobo Sosa has pretty successfully distanced himself from the coup, but does so, among other things, by pushing to the forefront the Supreme Court-- still the same group that claimed it was entirely legal in documents widely believed by anti-coup activists to have been post-dated and essentially doctored.
And the head of the Supreme Court has no intention of taking one step more to facilitate international recognition. In fact, he said earlier this week that
"the President, Porfirio Lobo, has made enormous efforts and has attended to many international requirements, in such a way that to the extent that he acceeds, they ask even more".

Time, Rivera Aviles thinks, to draw a firm line in the sand.

More egregious than his refusal to recognize the difference between immunity from prosecution and removing an arrest warrant, even if it is not what the press or the three presidents meeting in Cartagena talked about, is River Aviles' claim that the Lobo Sosa government has met international demands on human rights.

It just is not so. But then, in Rivera Aviles' circles-- and most likely in the view of Lobo Sosa as well-- it is just unfair of the rest of the world to insist on such conditions for Honduras, because the people being beaten in the streets, tear gassed, and hit with water cannons, asked for it by not accepting the iron fist of control exercised over their country.

Monday, April 4, 2011

"The demonstrations of the past week are truly frightening": A response

Via Quotha, a translation of a COFADEH summary of police actions during the recent escalation of repression against those supporting the striking teachers and the called-for general strike. In their statement, COFADEH puts the case starkly:
The attention of the world community to the crisis generated by the coup and coup ideology is still very insufficient, but it is key to brewing institutional solutions that create the minimal social and political consensus to transform the country.

Shamefully, as has been widely reported, the US State Department, through its Human Rights Labor Attaché in Tegucigalpa, came down solidly on the side of the oppressed military, threatened by the violence of protesters, writing
we cannot condone the violence currently being used by demonstrators ... While we have consistently urged the police to use restraint, some demonstrators have engaged in a level of violence not seen in many years. ...The demonstrations of the past week are truly frightening and a cause for concern. We ask that those in contact with teachers groups encourage them to stop the violence...

and concluding that "the majority of reported injuries are on the side of the security officials". Thus the US slides from tacit permission for militarization of the response to civil disobedience, to active approval of police and military actions.

Knowingly or not, the US State Department is echoing the arguments offered by Oscar Alvarez and Defense Minister Marlon Pascua against beleaguered Ana Pineda, whose appointment to a new ministry the Lobo Sosa government touts as a sign of commitment to the protection of human rights, even though it was widely opposed, endorsed in an atmosphere of political cynicism, and has been entirely ineffective.

We extract from COFADEH's statement only the reports from affected communities in the area around San Pedro Sula, communities we know well. We think they counter the US attaché's impression that, in the current unrest, it is the military and police who are the real victims. Dozens of people engaged in protest, in communities across this small region, illegally detained, beaten, shot at, and tear gassed.

When the police tear gas a town in reaction to a road blockade, that violates international expectations about restraint, and is an unproportional use of force. When they shoot tear gas canisters at individuals exercising their rights of free speech, they violate international expectations, not to mention display their misunderstanding of the effective use of the weapons that the international community, regrettably, provides them. Don't just take our word for it; ask Ana Pineda. She knows this, and is trying to communicate it to the Lobo Sosa government.

In San Pedro Sula, capital of the province of Cortes, the daughter of an ex-congresswoman from the Party of Democratic Unification (UD), Silvia Ayala, was wounded during the violent eviction of students from the University Center of the Valley of Sula, where dozens of students and professors were also detained.

A young student, Josue Rodriguez (20) was hit on the side of his head by his right ear by a metal tear gas canister fired by the policy into the interior of the university facility.

The installations of the Regional University Center were surrounded by lines of police and soldiers impeding the exit of students and professors while they were being attacked by tear gas bombs fired directly at their bodies, fainting and vomiting were caused by the inhalation of the gases.

In the municipalities of Santa Cruz de Yojoa, Potrerillos, La Lima and Choloma, in the province of Cortes, there were 43 persons detained for participating in the Civic Strike; they were not freed from the police station until yesterday, Wednesday, during the night; in some cases they had marks from the beatings they received and gave testimony of insults and discriminatory remarks made to them.

At the highway turn-off to La Flores, Santa Cruz, in Cortes, the (Police) Commissioner Rubi, nephew of the current Attorney General, unleashed a violent repression against the protest and ordered the detention of 17 people who were transferred to the First Police Station of San Pedro Sula. Among the detained were : Lidia Arita, Nedi Santos Castillo, Antonio Maradiaga and Glenda Cabrera. There were 6 people wounded by bullets, including Daisy Sabillon and Manuel Miranda, who were taken by private transport to the Mario Catarino Rivas Hospital in San Pedro Sula.

In addition, the riot police punctured the tires of more than 30 vehicles using their firearms, and knives and then chased the owners with tear gas and gunfire while they sought refuge in the forested area of the locale.

In Potrerillo, a town in the province of Cortes, in the area of the Colonia El Triunfo 5 people were detained: with head wounds (Alejandro Duarte Garcia), blows to the legs (Luciano Barrera Monroy) and lesions on the thighs (Haydee Marquez del Cid; Junior Mejia Murillo and Gloria Marina Perdomo Rodriguez).

Lawyers, Evaristo Euceda and Iris Bude, who were carrying out human rights defense work in the police station of Villanueva were verbally and physically assaulted by the police sub-inspector of the locale.

In the community of Tacamiche, a peasant settlement that belongs to the municipality of La Lima, Cortes, the repressive forces entered the settlement to fire toxic gases into the interiors of homes as revenge for the protest blockade of the highway to the town of San Manuel and Villaneva, Cortes. The director of the community school, Professor Esmeralda Flores along with teachers, Favricio Sevilla and Pedro Valladares, were taken to the First Police Station of San Pedro Sula.

We agree that this is a "truly frightening" situation. But we think it is more frightening for the Honduran people who are being punished for disagreeing with the policies of the Lobo Sosa administration, now with the open approval of the US State Department.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lobo Sosa and Honduras' Garifuna: CNN swallows propaganda

CNN headlined its story on the marking of 214 years of Honduran Garifuna history Hondurans honor African heritage.

But their story qualifies as propaganda for the Lobo Sosa government. It even includes, as if it were news or even a fact, this line:
Lobo predicted that he would be recognized as a defender of the rights of Afro-Hondurans by the end of his term.

Well, how likely is that to actually happen? What would be the basis of such a claim?

The Garifuna are an African-descendant group formally recognized as one of the multiple groups making up Honduran society under the International Labor Organization's Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (ILO 169), which was ratified by Honuras in 1994.

So if there is any credit to be claimed by Honduran governments-- which is debatable, as it was indigenous activists who pushed for recognition-- it would be earlier Honduran governments that deserve credit for recognizing the Garifuna.

In fact, since the 2009 coup, existing independent Garifuna activities have been under constant attack.

In 2009, in a statement on the Dia de la Raza, indigenous organizations noted attacks on the independent Garifuna community health center that had been staffed by Cuban doctors, and was Garifuna run and managed. Dr. Luther Castillo, the director of that clinic, was specifically targeted. The UNHCR noted that the project was supported by funding from Honduras' ALBA initiative, and that "Garífuna students who have traditionally had difficulty gaining entry into the medical faculty of the Honduran National University" were as a result "able to obtain their medical training at the Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM) in Cuba". The clinic was credited with treating over 140,000 cases prior to the coup. After the coup, the Micheletti government moved to take over the clinic.

Reports in 2009 also mention the reversal by the Micheletti government of Zelaya administration "authorization to teach in the Garifuna language in school and to teach the language itself". Santiago Jaime Ruíz Alvarez, in a study of Garifuna language transmission, noted that the production of text books in the language during the Zelaya administration was
the first time that the Ministry of Education of Honduras, at the very official level, has produced culturally and linguistically appropriate textbooks, teaching and support materials for school children in indigenous and Afro-descended communities.

So it is beyond ironic for Porfirio Lobo Sosa to be given credit for promising that, maybe in six months he will "sign an agreement to give indigenous people and Honduran blacks a preferential right to choose teachers and doctors from their own villages". These are things they have and have had, that the coup and its aftermath removed.

And there is plenty of evidence of continuing threats to Garifuna existence that are hardly being countered by the pro-business Lobo Sosa government.

Garifuna community radio, like that of other local groups, is threatened by new policies of the Lobo Sosa government, policies that drew statements of concern from UN officials. Garifuna station Faluma Bimetu has been repeatedly threatened. In 2010, during the transition to the Lobo Sosa administration, their station was vandalized and they were taken off the air by government forces. Now, through new licensing procedures, the Lobo Sosa government itself can clamp down on this and other independent voices.

Coverage of the Garifuna anniversary from resistance sources was, shall we say, somewhat different.

First of all, they called it a protest, not a celebration. These reports noted that Garifuna protestors who marched in Tegucigalpa were accompanied by other representatives of COPINH, the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígena de Honduras (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras), and that the demonstrators "demanded a halt to the dispossession of the lands of the Lenca and Garifuna peoples". COPINH is, of course, a core part of the Frente de Resistencia, something not evident in CNN's story.

Prominent in this account is Miriam Miranda, coordinator of the Organización Fraternal Negra de Honduras (OFRANEH) who was recently rescued from illegal detention due to international pressure on the Lobo Sosa government. OFRANEH, again, was one of the organizations that denounced the coup d'etat of 2009 and continues to engage in activism against the repressive actions of the Lobo Sosa government.

In a statement released after her detention, Miranda said

In Honduras the chaos by which the country was subsumed due to the 2009 coup d'etat perpetrated by the judicial and legislative powers and the armed forces, under the instructions of the U.S. right wing and of course the Pentagon, continues.

Despite the plastic smiles of state functionaries and their eagerness to achieve international recognition, the criminalization of social protest has sharpened with the regime of Porfirio Lobo, who with his sinister ways discredits his administration in the eyes of human rights organizations.

Repudiating the Lobo Sosa administration's official event that was all too closely covered by CNN, Miranda is quoted as saying
“we did not come to the Presidential Palace to ask to be received by a person who has not been able to resolve, through dialogue, a conflict with the teachers, we do not want to celebrate, nor do we even have reason to do so”.

She reportedly added that more than a toast in the Casa Presidencial, what the Garifuna people need is the respect for their human rights and access to the lands of their people.

CNN, it would appear, hasn't heard that Garifuna voice. It is too easily taken in by the kind of meaningless symbolic gestures that count as "recognition" of minorities in US politics.

The real political story, the one about land rights, rights of self determination, and resistance to economic exploitation that is displacing the Garifuna from their traditional communities in the name of development-- the actual legacy of the Lobo Sosa government in Garifuna territory-- CNN cannot be bothered to cover.