Saturday, December 31, 2011

Whither Free Speech

It is customary at the end of each year for some Hondurans to construct paper maché, wood, and fabric figures of the bad things that happened that year and burn them, to symbolically kill all the bad of the current year and usher in the good of the next year. Normally these would be filled with fireworks: rockets, mortars, and firecrackers, but this year there's a complete ban on fireworks, so they'll reportedly be stuffed with paper, grass, and other combustible materials.

It's New Years Eve and a weekend, so the reporters stayed close to home this year (coverage: El Heraldo, El Tiempo, La Tribuna, and La Prensa, and international press coverage in EFE and Univision.). Here's what Hondurans in Tegucigalpa want to leave behind.

One figure is a Transit Police vehicle with the bodies of Rafael Alejandro Vargas Castellanos and Carlos David Pineda Rodriguez thrown carelessly in the back.

Another is a tank driven by Porfirio Lobo Sosa and ENEE boss Roberto Martin Lozano with text that calls into question the final thermo-electric generation deal. To quote one of the creators,
"They have been cruel to the people of Honduras with the increases in the cost of electricity....It's a government that has the people on their knees, and they cannot do anything to get out of poverty."

Still another is a figure of a police officer, in a uniform and orange colored official vest donated by a police officer disgruntled by the corruption, holding up a sign that says "A Bribe or Your License".

Another figure is an assassin standing before a tree labeled, the "Tree of the Poor". "This is the assassin, we have to kill him so that he won't kill more people," said the creator.

The owners of an upholstery shop constructed a figure of a man and a woman riding a red motorcycle. They want to protest the new law that restricts who can be a passenger on a motorcycle.

The creators of the Transit Police Car report receiving death threats:
The figures were almost done; we had them outside the house but mysteriously the (figure of) the driver of the patrol car disappeared. Another day, around 6 pm as we were finishing up the final touches, someone shot at us from a moving car."

This morning, Police officers came by and confiscated all the figures related to police corruption. The commander of the National Police, José Ricardo Ramirez del Cid, ordered that the Police "not retain the figures", noting that:
The people have a right to protest. I call on all the police, and we are talking here about an order, that they let people protest; we do not have a reason to be offended; we are subject to criticism. If we have committed errors we'll try to fix them.

So far, not sign of anyone returning the confiscated figures.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Thunder and Lightning

So, what's with this name, Operation Lightning (Operación Relampago) anyhow?

Is Porfirio Lobo Sosa just copying Manuel Zelaya Rosales?

In August 2006 Zelaya initiated Operation Thunder (Operación Trueno) as his solution to the growing organized crime problem. It proposed to employ the 30,000 - 60, 000 private security guards as a paramilitary force deployed to put a stop to crime, along with the military deployment of 10,000 soldiers to the streets.

Operation Lightning, by comparison, has only deployed 3000 soldiers, in an operation intended to help stop crime.

Zelaya's deployment was marred by military shootings of innocent civilians. Lobo Sosa's deployment has been incident free-- so far.

Operation Lightning has only been deployed in the cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, and the department of Olancho. The plan is to extend it to the departments of Copan and Atlantida in January 2012.

While Lobo Sosa claimed early success, with alleged reductions of 30 percent in the murder rate in Tegucigalpa, both the most recent journalist killed, and the assassination of Alfredo Landaverde, the former head of the Anti-drug taskforce, came after the Operation had been active for weeks.

And the question will still remain, even if demonstrated decreases in crime come from militarization, how much damage is done to civil society when the constitutional separation of civilian police and armed forces is so thoroughly compromised?

Rumors of a Coup

Here we go again.

Marvin Ponce, Vice President of the Honduran Congress, says that he's been present at various discussions of political scenarios with politicians and businessmen in which they were discussing that Porfirio Lobo Sosa could be a victim of a coup.

According to Ponce, there are groups within Honduras that want to take advantage of the political destabilization and the internal chaos caused by the "discovery" of police corruption to get rid of Lobo Sosa:
These groups would like to take advantage of the Police crisis and can count on a sector of the Armed Forces with which they could go as far as to stage a coup,

Ponce told El Tiempo. He added:
there's a geopolitical game between Honduran politicians and businessmen.

Ponce was even more forthcoming in what he told El Heraldo's reporters:
In the last few days they have been talking about coups in political circles, that they no longer want Pepe Lobo as president. There is a geopolitical game between the US Embassy and powerful economic and political groups that want a government that serves them.

Ponce went on to allege that the US Embassy is behind an intentional destabilization of the democratic order in Honduras, pointing to the failure of Honduras to qualify for a Millennium Challenge grant and the withdrawal of the Peace Corp.

He also included a recent Washington Post article describing conditions in Honduras as out of control due to drug trafficking in his list of US Embassy efforts to destabilize Honduras.

So two and a half years on from the first coup in Honduras in over 30 years, and there's talk of a coup again.


Well for one thing, those who carried out the first coup, who did the unthinkable, got away with it, unpunished in any fashion.

Why wouldn't they think about doing it again if they're unhappy with Lobo Sosa?

More, More, I'm Still Not Satisfied

General Rene Osorio was hoping that the 2012 budget would include an increase in the size of the military, by 1000 to 2000 soldiers.

He said he'd be happy if they even had to do it in increments, say 1000 this year, and 1000 next year. He also made it clear he wants 40 million lempiras more (slightly more than $2 million) just to support Operation Lightning, the military deployment with the police which Porfirio Lobo Sosa ordered back in October.

Why you ask, does the military need to increase in size?

Osorio cites an increase in the size of the Salvadoran military as justification. We are hoping that doesn't mean he is planning for another Central American war.

Closer to home, he argues that he needs more troops to support Operation Lightning.

Then there's forest protection, part of the mission creep in the military we wrote about here and here. Osorio already got funded in the 2012 budget to add the 2000 new soldiers destined for a special "forest protection" brigade. Congress member Rigoberto Chang Castillo noted that the 100 million lempiras dedicated for the forestry protection brigade are part of the 2012 budget.

Apparently Osorio wants the 2000 soldiers already funded for the "forest protection brigade", and 2000 more soldiers on top of those.

Mainly what he got handed in the 2012 budget was a 25% across the board budget cut.

So he's going to talk to his boss, Porfirio Lobo Sosa:
We are thinking of talking with president Porfirio Lobo to explain to him that the Secretariat of Defense should not have its budget cut, and logically also the Secretariat of Security.

So far, Osorio says, the deployment of troops in Operation Lightning has cost $17 million lempiras (about $900,000):
We cannot stay in the streets with the ordinary budget we have... If the president makes the decision that we need to increase (the soldiers in the streets), he better have more budget.

Osorio clarified to El Heraldo that the extra funds to support Operation Lightning are needed for food and fuel.

Public reaction (in the form of comments on newspaper articles) suggests that Osorio's arguments aren't persuasive to most El Heraldo and La Prensa readers, who oppose any additional funds for the military.

One commenter noted that both the police and the military have the same excuse, "they don't have sufficient budget to do anything" so they just get paid and sit on their ass for the last two years.

Another pointedly noted, "didn't we pass a Security Tax to cover these costs?"

Osorio's boss, Defense Minister Marlon Pascua said he's not that worried about the cuts to the military in the 2012 budget. He noted that there will be funding available shortly from the seized assets program (the proceeds of selling allegedly drug related assets), funding which is split between the Defense Ministry and the Security Ministry.

Rigoberto Chang Castilllo noted that the Finance Minister has set aside a special fund to help pay for Operation Lightning. He argued that the cuts to the military could be easily absorbed by reducing their office equipment and supply budget by 20%, without endangering their military readiness.

Now to wait for Osorio to explain why photocopiers are indispensable to the mission of the armed forces.

(title with apologies to Tom Lehrer)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

As The US Withdraws, Hugo Chavez Moves In

The United States has cut back its aid to Honduras.

The Peace Corp has withdrawn, perhaps for only a month, perhaps for a longer period.

Honduras did not qualify for the new Millennium Challenge grant competition this year, and so has been offered lesser aid.

BID and the World Bank are funding at lower levels than in the past.

Yet the government must go on.

Like Manuel Zelaya Rosales, Porfirio Lobo Sosa is turning to ready sources of investment in Honduras to replace the US and European reductions. China and Taiwan figure large in Lobo Sosa's plans, as do Brazil and Colombia.

But also among the choices being discussed is soliciting funding from Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

Suddenly the right wing in Honduras is quiet. Porfirio Lobo Sosa has announced that a return of Honduras to its Petrocaribe contract is assured; which has garnered nothing but praise from business organizations. US Ambassador Charles Ford, when Zelaya did the same, said charges could be brought against Honduras for violating the rights of existing transnational corporations and their importers in Honduras to sell their products at a higher price, noting it would reduce the profitability of Texaco, Shell, and Esso.

In June of 2008, ANDI and Transportation Council asked the government to supply them with lower priced Venezuelan oil. COHEP, the other main business council, also saw the Petrocaribe deal as good in 2008. PVDSA allowed the government of Honduras to buy 50% of the oil on a 25 year loan at 1% interest. The balance was sold at market rates. Honduras made its payments to PDVSA, even under Micheletti's de facto government, while using the income from investing the deferred payments for social projects in Honduras.

Now Hugo Chavez has offered to end the conflict over land in the Aguan by having the Venezuelan state oil company, Alba-Petróleo, pay the 546 million lempiras on the loan the Honduran government will set up to buy 5700 hectares of land in the Aguan at market rate. This would make it possible for the government to get better terms with the bank.

Title to the land would pass to Alba-Petróleo, which intends to mortgage it back to the campesinos of MUCA and MARCA.

Chavez also offered to have Alba-Petróleo build an African palm fruit processing plant with agreements to give MUCA and MARCA access to markets for their palm oil. This, by the way, would be in direct competition with Miguel Facussé whose DINANT Corporation has already built a palm oil processing plant in the Aguan, who expected to get much of the palm fruit from MUCA and MARCA to process.

The amount of land being discussed, 5700 hectares, is larger than that mentioned in a purchase agreed to between the government and Facussé of 4045.7 hectares. Its not clear where the additional land is coming from, but it may be that Facussé has agreed to be bought completely out of the Aguan.

This deal raises some potential legal issues, since under the agreement, Alba-Petróleo would presumably, temporarily hold title to the land before mortgaging it to the campesino organizations, and this appears to contrevene article 14 of the Honduran constitution, which allows foreign governments title only to the land occupied by their embassy. This could easily be overcome by having title pass to the Honduran government as guarantor of the campesino organization's mortgage.

El Heraldo reports that the rough details for such an accord have already been worked out with INA and it awaits Porfirio Lobo Sosa's permission to go ahead and negotiate the final details.

Facussé expects to be paid on January 4 for 4045. hectares of land.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Overbuild It And They Don't Come

I think the Copan hotel owners misheard the quote from the movie "Field of Dreams".

In the movie, Ray Liotta, playing Shoeless Joe Jackson said "If you build it, he will come", which has often been misquoted as "If you build it, they will come."

The hotel owners in Copan Ruinas seem to have taken this to heart, building hotels to offer today some 1500 beds. If one bed is equal to 1 visitor for one night, then that's the equivalent of a built environment for 547,500 visitors per year (365 * 1500)!

Now the reality is that they are experiencing something like a 35-40% occupancy rate (it varies depending on the month) in Copan Ruinas, according to CANATURH data. Using the 40% occupancy rate, that means at best about 219,000 visitor nights actually are being passed in Copan Ruinas.

But that doesn't mean 219,000 visitors.

Individual visitors usually stay more than one night. The average stay reported in 2010 was 2.7 days, stays that would require two nights in a hotel.

That yields an estimate of around 109,500 visitors per year. That's a pretty good match to the actual reported visitor numbers for the last few years.

Not anywhere near the capacity of hotel rooms in the town, which would support 273,750 visitors spending the average 2 nights.

And nowhere near the 300,000 projected visitors wistfully contemplated in tourism stories promoting the celebration of the Maya calendar cycle ending in 2012. Who, if they actually materialized, would presumably have to double up in some of those currently under-utilized hotel rooms.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Peace Corp Withdrawal

The Peace Corp is temporarily pulling out all its volunteers in Honduras while it evaluates their security. This comes after a peace corp volunteer was wounded in the leg on a public bus, when a passenger undertook to thwart a robbery attempt. A Peace Corp volunteer blog from Honduras indicates that that office's Safety and Security Office resigned, then shortly thereafter, the staff of that office were all let go as part of budget cutting.

The New York Times reported today that in addition to temporarily closing down operations in Honduras, the Peace Corp will not send any new volunteers to El Salvador or Guatemala, but for now, will keep the volunteers who are already deployed there in place.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Welcome to the End of the World (Or Not): Honduras Maya Edition


Other than the title of one of the world's worst films ever, what does it mean to you?

If you are an archaeologist working in Mexico or Central America, it is likely to bring a sigh of resignation about a conversation no one wants to have. Yes, the prehispanic Maya inscriptions include mention of a date in 2012. Yes, that date "ends" one cycle of the "Long Count" calendar, the 13th cycle of approximately 400 years.

What comes next? Well, not the end of the world. Sorry, but there is nothing to suggest any Maya inscription predicts an apocalypse. In fact, if there were still Maya using the Long Count, we do not really know what they would do on December 22, 2012. There are two main possibilities.

One is that, since most Maya time cycles run in groups of 20, baktuns also should be counted in sets of 20-- which would mean December 22, 2012 would be, and some day 400 years or so from now, the dial would turn over to Like the odometer on your car.

Another possibility is that a new cycle would begin: December 21 would be, and December 22 would be This would be consistent with mythological texts from Palenque that tell of world-beginning events long in the past, which happened the day after a cycle 13 ended, and initiated a new Long Count starting at 1.

Based on confusing mythology about the beginning of time with a prediction of the end of time, a very large group of people have developed popular proposals that the ancient Maya predicted the end of the world, and it will come a year from now. For those who believe it, December 21, 2012 is not just an end of time, it is the end time.

Which brings us to Copan on Wednesday. As El Heraldo writes,
Some fear that it will be the beginning of the end. Others assert that it deals with a new era. What is certain is that together we all began this Wednesday to walk the path that will take us to see the truth face-to-face. The date is 21/12/12.

The clock began ticking. Within exactly one year the world will discover the truth about the enigma that will close the Maya calendar and for that, since yesterday the eyes of humanity turned toward Copán Ruinas, the Maya heart of Honduras.

In case the prose isn't purple enough, take a look at one of the images that accompanied their story:What you are looking at here is spectacle, the outright exoticization of the history of an indigenous group. Read carefully through the coverage and you will not find the names of any representatives of the Chorti, descendants of the authors of the inscriptions on Copan's monuments.

El Heraldo assures us that
Never before in the history of humanity has a generation been present at the beginning or the end of a cycle of baktuns, and therefore 2012 will be a unique moment, in which for the first time humanity will be witness to a change of epoch according to the Maya measurement of time.

That would be news to the ancestors of the Maya who lived lives as hunter-gatherers in 3114 BC, when Palenque's inscription record the beginning of our current era. But of course, what the passage means, other than asserting a universalizing claim to Mayaness as a unique Honduran heritage divorced from any actual Maya people, is that never before has any human being seen the kind of shows and spectacles that are being trumped up for this manufactured event.

On hand to start the festivities off was Porfirio Lobo Sosa, quoted by El Heraldo as saying:

"This is the countdown of this era that we all are waiting for and during these 365 days that today begin we have proposed to celebrate many events of an academic nature. We hope that the world will come to know the marvels of the Mayas and the impressive studies that have been done."

"We hope that the world will come to know": that of course is what this is all about: the desperate need to revive the tourism industry and get it to yield more money for the Honduran economy.

El Heraldo, again, is clear about making the connections:
In Copán Ruinas they are conscious that this opportunity cannot be let past and they want to take advantage to the maximum to revive national and foreign tourism...

Juan Ángel Wélchez, president of the [organizing committee, Comité Copán 2012], affirmed that they would do everything in their power so that Copan would be the center of attention of the world. "It is of greatest importance, this year coming, it is an excellent opportunity to relaunch Copan as a tourist product of high quality for the world. These last years have been difficult, but we believe that now it can change..."

The secretary of tourism, Nelly Jerez, also underlined the importance of promoting this tourist destination in the world and boosting enthusiasm for the Maya civilization that inhabited the zone. "This is the best opportunity and the best window that our country could have, our Maya culture. This is the moment of Honduras".

News reports say that the hope is for 300,000 tourists to visit Copan this year.

Of course, Copan is not alone in trying to exploit 2012. International news coverage gave Honduras shared billing with Guatemala, undercutting the repeated claim in Honduran media that Copan had a special role in astronomy and calendars, based on a now-discredited interpretation of the figures and dates on Copan's Altar Q as a reunion of astronomers.

Starting the festivities, Copan witnessed an enactment of a so-called "fire ceremony" and ballgame, as El Heraldo said, "following the traditions of the Maya". In other coverage, they describe the "new fire ceremony" presented during the recent festivities more accurately, as a hodge-podge of Mexican indigenous ritual and Euro-American New Year's ideologies:
This ceremony comes from the moment in which the calendar of Anahuac was invented, around 4,000 years ago, and has been maintained to the present, being celebrated by many indigenous peoples, although adapted to Catholic festivities.

So where are the Chortis as Honduras inaugurates this celebration of a badly misunderstood, garishly exploited version of their historical legacies?

On December 15, eighty Chorti families were evicted from land in the municipality of Copan Ruinas by police and members of the armed forces:
The Chortis, located in the community, asserted that they had lived for twenty years on the properties where they built their houses. Nonetheless, the sale of the property to another owner initiated the conflict that ended with their eviction.

Men, women and children remained in the street, with their petates, bundles of clothing and other belongings they left the property and set up in the middle of the street. The eviction was peaceful, but tears were visible among the women and children who remained without a roof.

Since five months ago the new owners of the property had appealed for the Chorti to move out of the lands; in the face of the conflict, directors of the National Council of Indigenous Chorti Maya (Consejo Nacional Indígena Maya Chortí) asked the government to assist in purchasing other lands. The government committed on the 12th of October of this year to give 8 million lempiras (about $445,000), but the money did not arrive and the campesinos were evicted.

The government promise made on October 12 came, of course, in response to Chorti occupying the Copan archaeological site. This is a tactic, as we noted at the time, that has been used by Chorti for some time to enlist the visibility of the site to make their own contemporary lives, poverty, and dispossession, visible.

Don't expect to see that authentic reality of Honduran Maya culture covered with the tourism festivities. After all, we don't want the international tourists to feel guilty, now do we?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Two Men On A Motorcycle: Bad

Has the Honduran Congress just accidentally created a market for female assassins?

Recently, they approved a new law that would restrict ridership of motorcycles to a man and a woman, or a woman and child, or a man and a child, but not two men.

Oh, and the man must be the driver. No male passengers over the age of 12. The new law went into effect December 14 and is in effect for 6 months, until 13 June, 2012.

Why did they write such an arcane rule?

Assassinations frequently involve gunmen on motorcycles, with one driving, and one shooting. The Honduran Congress, being sexist, knows that only men are assassins, and so promoted this rule as a way of cutting back on assassinations.

Then there are the fashion notes in the law: those protective face masks the helmet has to keep the bugs out of your eyes when driving a motorcycle? the law prefers you not use them. They want to see your face.

Within three months, the Security Ministry is supposed to supply numbered vests to all 231,965 registered motorcycle owners, who are then required to wear them while riding the motorcycle. (No word in the bill about penalties for wearing someone else's numbered vest.)

No one on the motorcycle can be armed, even with a permit for the weapon.

The law can be extended indefinitely without further action of Congress by a declaration from the Minister of Security.

There's one exception to the two men on a motorcycle rule: police officers can ride with a male passenger.

Ironic since the police are corrupt, and thought to have been behind the assassination of Alfredo Landaverde.

The law went into effect on the 14th, with little effect. El Heraldo reported that many men still rode double on motorcycles in their roadway survey.

Anyone think this is going to work?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Elvin Santos Has A Secret

On December 19, Elvin Santos Ordóñez told the press in Tegucigalpa that at any moment he might reveal some well protected secrets about the November 2009 election held by the de facto government of Roberto Micheletti, in which Porfirio Lobo Sosa was pronounced the winner.

El Tiempo quotes Santos:
"some day we will tell the reality of how those elections were."

Santos was non-specific about what secrets he was guarding, but left clear, El Tiempo reports, that he was talking about the results of the election, especially how many votes each candidate won. Until now he's kept silent, he says, because he wanted the wounds from the coup d'etat to heal, and Hondurans to reconcile.

On November 30, 2009, Arturo Valenzuela, commenting officially for the State Department said that he
"would like to commend the Honduran people for an election that met international standards of fairness and transparency..."

At the time we wrote several posts in our other blog (for example here, and here) about how untransparent the elections were, and how the official numbers literally didn't add up.

Enrique Ortez Sequeira, head of the Election Court (Tribunal Supremo Electoral), when asked about Santos's claim to know secrets, said
"That secret only he knows, but I also have other secrets, and if we discuss secrets, let's tell all of them."

Sequeira was approved to his post on the TSE while a political candidate for the Central Executive Council of the Liberal Party, and an operative for Santos's election campaign, according to El Tiempo.

What comes next depends on the relative strength of the different political actors, and the strength of the threat the secrets each holds constitutes for other actors on the Honduran political scene.

Airport Concessions and Taxes

Interairports, owned by Grupo Terra's President, Freddy Nasser, and operated by Edgardo Maradiaga, has had the concession on airports in Honduras since 2000 and the current concession was set to run untiil 2020.

Now, Interairports has announced it will invest $129 million to build a passenger and cargo terminal at Soto Cano Air Base, also known as Palmerola, about 82 kilometers north of Tegucigalpa.

This would become Honduras's fifth international airport, joining those at San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, Roatan, and Tegucigalpa.

Interairports, or Aeropuertos de Honduras as it now wishes to be known, announced a $300 million investment in Honduras's airports, including $52 million for San Pedro, $42 million for Roatan, $45 million for La Ceiba, and $7 million for Tegucigalpa.

The proposed investment in a modern terminal and separate cargo area at Palmerola that will be able to accommodate up to 1 million passengers and aircraft up to the size of 747s and Airbus 330s has a projected $129 million price tag.

Curiously, that leaves $25 million of the proposed $300 million investment unaccounted for.

Back in 2008, Interairports told the Honduran government that it would take rather more to build the facilities contemplated in Comayagua: $166 million, to be exact.

Now, with the new proposal and new numbers, Interairport's concession has been extended by the Honduran Congress to 2040, without discussion or bidding by other companies.

The concession extension was a quid-pro-quo for Interairport's announced $300 million investment.

Perhaps needless to say, this deal does not follow government regulations for large contracts.

We can't help wondering how much of the construction work will be outsourced to Grupo Terra's construction division, thus moving the "investment" in airport improvements back into Freddy Nasser's pockets.

But there is a much more immediate return on the investment that was part of the deal.

After extending the concession for twenty years, Congress passed a bill nearly doubling of the airport exit tax paid to Interairports for operating the airports, from $37 to $60.30. This tax is separate from the security tax, collected to pay the cost of required airport security, and the immigration tax, paid to the government.

This would generate about $36 million/year for Interairports at current passenger levels, or, assuming passenger levels stay the same, $1.044 million over the life of the concession.

This move makes Honduras's exit tax the highest in Central America, where comparable charges range from Panama at $40 to El Salvador at $20. An executive of Interairports, who did not wish to be named, was curiously inaccurate when he told La Prensa that:
"the airport taxes in Central America revolve, with the exception of Panama, around 60 dollars and by this measure we are standardizing Honduras with the rest of the region."

This is really new math: $20-$40 is "around $60".

An Interairports executive told La Tribuna that this increase was appropriate because Honduras's 600,000 annual passengers was "very low." That's supposedly the total number of passengers at all four airports. But there's also something wrong with this number, since publicly available sources cite over 600,000 annual passengers at Ramon Villeda Morales airport in San Pedro Sula alone (here, here, and here, for example)

By way of comparison, Juan Santamaria Airport in Costa Rica serves about 4.1 million passengers annually. Tocumen airport in Panama serves 3.1 million passengers annually. El Salvador International Airport in El Salvador gets about 2 million passengers annually. Augusto Sandino International airport in Nicaragua serves about 1.1 million passengers annually.

Congress extended the concession to 2040 as part of a deal between the Executive Branch and Interairports, approved in the November 29 Council of Ministers meeting.

The question of why Honduras needs an airport in Comayagua alone that can handle 1 million passengers annually when that's more passengers than all four airports combined supposedly see now is left unanswered; as is the question of why Congress approved the exit tax increase without debate.

How this will affect tourism in 2012 is also unknown, but at least here, there's a clear indication of what the answer likely will be. In Europe, where high airport taxes are all the rage now, airlines expect a 5% reduction in passengers next year.

Juan Bendeck , president of the Camara de Turismo de Honduras (CANATURH), calls the new tax "robbery". But in this case, the robbery is taking place in plain sight.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Business Organizations At Odds Over Security, Minimum Wage

The Asociación Nacional de Industriales (ANDI) decided last week to stop participating for a while in the main business association of Honduras, the Consejo Hondureño de la Empresa Privada (COHEP).


Because ANDI's president, Adolfo Facussé, was kicked out of the Consejo Nacional de Seguridad Interior (CONASIN) for proposing a candidate for president of that body, intended to deal with cleaning up corruption in the police. CONASIN has existed for a while, but scholars have noted that even in the first half of the 2000s, it "rarely convened". In 2010, Julia Schünemann reported in a study for the EU-funded think tank FRIDE that
in recent years the functions of CONASIN have been severely cut, turning it into a toothless, “ornamental” body, and ultimately reducing civilian oversight and participation.

CONASIN was essentially moribund. Now, with police corruption the story of the hour, it is being reactivated.

COHEP chose to remove Facussé as its representative to CONASIN because they did not approve of his suggesting a candidate of his own. Facussé was replaced by the president of COHEP, Santiago Ruiz.

Adolfo Facussé reacted to this as a personal affront:
How can I go to a place where they expelled me and ignored my representations.... I don't want a bigger mess. If I bothered them, I won't attend, I don't need them....I won't attend, but ANDI will continue to be a member.

It's the first time I've been expelled from an organization, and that's why I resent it. If it was the second or third time, I'd be used to it.

ANDI also has decided not to participate in minimum wage negotiations, while COHEP will be participating. According to Facussé, that is a change from a position the business associations had agreed on, to not participate with Lobo Sosa in this exercise (which, readers will remember, was one of the presidential functions that polarized the business community against Manuel Zelaya Rosales during his term as president). Facussé said
In the last meeting of presidents of business organizations carried out by COHEP it was decided that we were not going to participate, I don't know if that organization changed its opinion, I am not attending the meetings now since they expelled me as a member of the Consejo Nacional de Seguridad Interior.

Regardless of whether they participate or not, ANDI member businesses will be bound by any agreements that come out of wage negotiations.

The ANDI-COHEP conflict, which Facussé makes seem very personal, represents a fragmentation in what until now was a united front in the business community.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Never Mind

Porfirio Lobo Sosa announced Wednesday morning that if Honduras didn't qualify for the Millennium Challenge grants competition this year, next year he would consider withdrawing from the competition for chance at $200 million in program funds and projects.
They told me that I should defer (another year). What's going on? I have been thinking of telling the Vice President (Maria Antonieta Guillen) that she should say that in the following year we will waive it, because they show that they don't behave well, what it is, it isn't fair. When they want to help, they help. There are countries that don't go around with so many things.

He added:
My mother had a saying. She told me: "My son, do good and don't look at anyone else". When you want to help, you help; this gives me, I don't know, I feel at times as if someone said I have money but if you want me to give it to you, do this and that. I'll tell you something: I received this country not at zero, but at minus 10....

Talking about what he felt were too-demanding requirements, he said:
We haven't hidden the weaknesses that we have, all the will, the affection and gratitude, but I feel that it shouldn't have to do with passing an exam. If the brother who is there is not able to investigate, because I recognize, I have the will to clear things up, but not the capacity.

He also criticized the United States for its lack of support for developing the investigative service of the police in Honduras:
I have never hidden my concern with what has happened with the journalists. Never, either, have I hidden that we don't have the ability to investigate... if a country wants to help us and knows that we have a problem with investigations, then what they should do is say "Look sir, I will send you a contingent of 50 investigators to clear up the crimes."

That left the Presidential Minister, Maria Antonieta Guillén to clean up the mess. Late Wednesday she read a statement to the press that said (in full):
The government of the Republic recognizes the good relations with the government and people of the United States and thanks them for the support and resources they've given which support the different program and projects that benefit our people.

At the same time, we would like to emphasize the positive impact that the first Millennium Challenge grant compact left for our compatriots.

The government of Honduras is making a great effort to reach the agreed levels in security, human rights, and the struggle against corruption.

It is in the permanent interest of the people and government of Honduras to agree to new or existing programs that will contribute to the well being of the Honduran people.

She went on to say:
"There's no contradiction between what I said, and what he (Lobo Sosa) said. They have helped us a lot."

Honduras's previous evaluation, in 2010, disqualified it in part based on measures of corruption, freedom of information, and economic activity.

On Thursday, it was confirmed that they would not be included in the current Millennium Challenge Corporation funding either.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Delayed Gratification, Military Edition

In 2008, under the government of Manuel Zelaya Rosales, Honduras asked the United States for military aid to include 4 Maule MXT-7-180 aircraft with Lycoming O-360-C1F engines. They also asked for replacements for the current AT-27 flight training aircraft.

Somewhere along the line, that request, which was granted, got delayed, and the aircraft were never received.....until now.

The US Southern command has now delivered two batches of two Maule aircraft, painted a fetching yellow, to the Honduran Air Force.

These are relatively slow aircraft (top speed 164 MPH or 256 KMH) that can carry up to six passengers, or equivalent weight in cargo, for up to 1000 miles (1600 km.).

La Tribuna said the Maule Air 7-180s will be used in pilot training, search and rescue, and aerial spying, as well as disaster relief.

This echoes a story from June of 2008, in the Moultrie, Georgia, Observer that quoted Honduran Air Force Colonel Jorge Cabrera saying that while the primary use would be for air force pilot training, they could also serve in search and rescue, surveillance, and reconnaissance. (Moultrie is the location of the Maule Air, Inc., manufacturer of these planes.)

Some Honduran press reports suggest that these small planes will now be used as part of the drug interdiction program in Honduras, though how has not been made clear.

The US Embassy in Honduras made note of the delivery of the Maule aircraft in a press release marking the visit of SOUTHCOM Commander Douglas Fraser.

So what's the explanation for the long delay in turning over the last of the Maule aircraft first requested in 2008?

Some Honduran media mentioned the suspension of military aid that followed the coup of June 2009 as contributing to the delay. Announced September 3, 2009, the suspension of aid came so late that it had no real effect on the political emergency. But that doesn't mean it didn't have substantial effects on specific programs. So we decided to try to follow the money here.

International media attributed the financing for the Maule aircraft just delivered to the Foreign Military Financing Program of the Department of Defense.

According to an October 2011 GAO review, over $6.5 million in Foreign Military Financing Program funds (administered by the Department of State) were suspended in September 2009. Suspended categories of aid were restored after the inauguration of Porfirio Lobo Sosa. A Congressional Budget justification of the USAID budget for Honduras, undated but after the inauguration of Lobo Sosa, projected $1.075 million in 2010 and $1.3 million in 2011 for the Foreign Military Financing Program. (The funding from this program for Honduras is not singled out in the "highlights" sections of the full budget reports, that give the only specificity to the proposed and completed uses of the funds in this program.)

This level of funding is a sharp increase from the total recorded for 2008 under the same program, when $496,000 was expended.

The sometimes unreliable Honduran media, however, gave the source of the funds for the Maule aircraft as a different program, Foreign Military Sales. Honduras received rather less from that program over the period of interest: $292,000 in 2008; $845,000 in 2009; and $117,000 in 2010, the last year for which we found data.

For those of you curious about how many Maule MXT-7-180 planes Honduras could have purchased with funds from either of those programs, we found 2007 models going for just under $160,000. A bargain.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bernard Martinez, 2 Others At Culture Suspended

Maria Antonieta Guillén announced today that Minister of Culture Bernard Martinez and his two Vice Ministers, Godfredo Fajardo and Tony Sierra have been ordered to absent themselves from the premises of the Secretaria de Cultura, Arte, y Deportes (SCAD) for the next two weeks.

They are to be absent while a verification commission is appointed and investigates the accusations brought by employees of SCAD as part of a human rights investigation of their management. When that investigation has been completed, Porfirio Lobo Sosa will make a decision as to their fate. The SCAD employee union took over the facilities last week and has asked that Martinez and Fajardo be fired.

Lobo Sosa has made it clear that if Martinez is fired, he will be replaced by another PINU party member, not a National Party member as Ricardo Alvarez has demanded.

And So It Begins

Late December 5, the Honduran Cabinet, in a session without the participation of Porfirio Lobo Sosa, approved a decree declaring an emergency of public security for 90 days, enabling the Honduran military to officially assume police powers as soon as La Gaceta publishes the decree.

The initial 90 day period can be extended.

Ana Pineda, the Minister of Justice and Human Rights, argued against the 90 day period, urging that the public security emergency last no more than 30 days. Pineda stated that the measure might have repercussions for Honduras in the international community. She expressed concern that the military still have no actual training on policing or human rights.

In response to Pineda, the Security Minister, Pompeyo Bonilla, said:
"We live in reality; we need the presence of the armed forces in the streets if we think about the human rights of the most poor of Honduras....the first thing we give a soldier who is going onto the streets is a brochure (cartilla) on human rights."

And what if the soldier cannot read the booklet, as many are functionally illiterate?

Lobo Sosa did not participated in the Cabinet meeting, because he was in Mexico, but he approved of the outcome.

He also approved of the new wiretapping law, stating December 6 that
"We want to explain that the law is totally constitutional."

and that the new law
"will be a powerful instrument against organized crime."

He also pointed out that there were already people in the country with wiretapping capabilities (not legal ones) and argued that the new law will strengthen sanctions against them.

In a meeting the same morning called by Juan Orlando Hernandez, president of Congress, that most notably did not include the Minister of Justice and Human Rights Ana Pineda, he reported that participants unanimously thought the wiretapping law was a good idea. Pineda, of course, came out against the specific revisions to the law as potential human rights violations, but she was ignored yet again.

International news coverage, in a predictable repetition of their failure to understand the context for everything happening in Honduras, publicized the militarization of policing as an essentially positive move. The BBC wrote that "opinion polls suggest people feel safer with soldiers on patrol", ignoring the human rights issues raised.

The only voice mentioned against the move was UD member of Congress Sergio Castellanos, not identified by role or title, who said
We have serious doubts about the implications of sending the army to do police work... They are not prepared to deal with civilians and this will only strengthen their position in society after the coup.

As the Eurasia Review explains in an analysis published December 11, the coup is the context not just for this surge in involvement by the military in domestic affairs: it also has led to a drop in Hondurans' support for democracy as a political system. They note that the population in places like Honduras seems "willing to overlook an administration’s democratic lapses to achieve domestic security."

Eurasia Review cited a Latinobarómetro poll discussed in The Economist in late October that found that the number of Hondurans who agree that democracy is the preferable form of government fell from 57% in 2001 to 43% today, falling a full 10 points just from last year's proportion of 53%. Explicit support for authoritarian government rose from just 8% in 2001 to 16% in 2010, and is now at 27%.

None of this context seems to make it into the mainstream English-language media. Public opinion in Honduras should be treated as a sign of the erosion of a free society-- not an acceptable mandate for militarization.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Alfredo Landaverde Assassinated

Continuing with the litany of death today Alfredo Landaverde, frequent critic of the Security Ministry, former Congressman, and former head of the Anti-Narcotics Commission in Honduras was murdered as he drove from his residence in Valle de Angeles to Tegucigalpa. He was stopped at a traffic light when he was shot to death by gunmen on motorcycles. Two other occupants of the car were rushed to a hospital.

I guess Porfirio Lobo Sosa's Operation Lightning, where the military are deployed in Tegucigalpa along with the police to cut back on crime, isn't working after all.

Journalists Assassinated

Two more journalists were assassinated in Honduras this week. Radio journalist Luz Marina Paz Villalobos was being driven through Comayaguela when her vehicle was intercepted by assassins on motorcycles who shot into the moving vehicle and killed her and her cameraman/driver, Delmer Omar Canales. There were 16 bullet holes in the car, and 47 shell casings from various caliber weapons were found at the scene.

The car they was riding in was owned by Coronel Marco Tulio Leiva Puerto of the Honduran Army. Leiva is in charge of the forest protection detail of the Army. He told the press that Luz Paz was taking a test-drive to decide about purchasing it. These were the 17th and 18th journalists to be assassinated since Porfirio Lobo Sosa took office.

The Police are floating the theory that Luz Paz was killed for not paying a "war tax" to the gangs. She owned a small store in a neighborhood in Comayaguela. Such theories are usually the prelude to not investigating the crime, but Pompeyo Bonilla says that Ambassador Lisa Kubiske promised US aid in the investigation of the assassination of journalists, transsexuals, and lawyers.

In a surreal juxtaposition of headlines, El Tiempo ran stories headlined "Journalism under Terror" and "Still Vacancies in the Journalism Career" in today's edition. Do you think the two might be related?

Monday, December 5, 2011


Despite rampant police corruption in Honduras, for which Porfirio Lobo Sosa just approved a law to give the Armed Forces policing powers, now Juan Orlando Hernandez wants to give the police permission to wiretap.

Not only does he want a law to let them wiretap, but he wants it now.

Hernandez says they're wiretapping anyway, so the government might as well give them a legal way of doing it.

In other words, solve the illegality by making it nice and legal.

Some in Congress think this is a bad idea. PINU party member German Leitzelar said:
"It would be a delicate thing to put into the hands of agents in the judicial branch infiltrated by organized crime a weapon so powerful as wiretapping."

Analysts pointed out that such laws have failed in other Central American countries, where they've been used for political blackmail more than they've been used against organized crime.

The Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Ana Pineda, has come out against this law as unconstitutional because it violates the right to privacy.

Even the Commissioner of Human Rights, Ramon Custodio, who sees crime as the most serious human rights issue in Honduras, has come out against the proposed new law.

Still, Hernandez intends to fast-track it.

There already is a law in Honduras that governs wiretapping. Article 223 of the Codigo Procesal Penal spells out the conditions that must be fulfilled to authorize the interception of communications. It reads, in full:
A Judge, at the petition of the Public Prosecutor or other lawyer in his office, may order via a well founded resolution, the recording of the telephone, computer, or other kinds of analogous signals made by the accused or any other person directly or indirectly related to the crime being investigated.

The Judge should weigh in his resolution the gravity of the crime being investigated, the utility and proportionality of the measure.

The intervention in communications treated in this Article might be the identification and recording of the origin, the destination, or both or in the knowing and recording of the content.

In the act which authorizes the intervention, the Judge shall determine who carries out the intervention.

The intervention may not last more than 15 days, but may be extended by the Judge, at the request of the Public Prosecutor or lawyer in his office, for additional 15 day periods, by founded acts, as long as the conditions which initially justified the adoption of the measure remain true.

The recordings, once made, will be given only to the Judge who ordered them, within five days of the termination of the intervention, and every one of the successive extensions. In the case of extensions, the recordings will be turned over to the Judge within sufficient time for the Judge to consider them before reaching a conclusion about extension. Only the Judge may know the contents of the recordings. If they are related to the crime under investigation, the Judge may order transcripts prepared so they can be used in the legal process.

The people charged with making the recordings or the transcriptions must keep secret the contents of the recordings and if they leak the information, will incur legal responsibility.

The recording of a communication by one of the parties without fulfilling the requirements outlined in this Article will lack all probative value.

Juan Orlando Hernandez argues that, because this Article lacks specific procedures for how the recording will be made, his new law is necessary.

In fact, the current law contains what Hernandez's law lacks: judicial protection of the Honduran populace's right to privacy under the constitution. Currently, no wiretapping intercepts can legally occur without a judge's review and approval. Hernandez's law would eliminate judicial review.

Mario Perez, the Congress member Hernandez commissioned to write the new law, says that it will create a Unit for Communications Interception which will both determine when intercepts are necessary and authorize them.

Let me emphasize that this leaves judges out of the loop. The new wiretapping Unit will both determine an intercept is necessary and carry it out, all without the review of a judge, according to Perez.

Mario Perez is getting into a pattern here. He was also part of the committee that wrote the unconstitutional interpretation of Article 274 of the constitution, twisting it to grant full policing powers to the military. Constitutional guarantees seems to mean little to him, other than being obstacles.

Meanwhile, the legislators are ignoring the objections of both the Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Ana Pineda, and the Commissioner of Human Rights, Ramon Custodio. As with the departed Sandra Ponce, events like these make it clear that human rights positions are simply there to satisfy international organizations: the Honduran legislature sees no need to pay attention when these individuals tell them they are acting unconstitutionally.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

So what is "Culture" in Honduras these days?

In what could be a metaphor for its current state, on November 17, the Ministry of Culture, Art, and Sports left a semi-trailer containing its mobile stage blocking a lane of a major thoroughfare in downtown Tegucigalpa. The Ministry has consistently declined to loan the stage for programming when requested. It is a former asset that simply has become an abandoned truck load.

Last year the Ministry discontinued the BiblioBus, a mobile Library that visited remote communities, only allowing it to travel if the community paid for the fuel consumed and provided lodging and meals for the staff.

So what is SCAD doing with its funds this year?

The press coverage we have found covers only a few events, but those tell an interesting story: continuing a trend begun by Myrna Castro, appointed to run the ministry during the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti, the events SCAD promoted this year seem to have less to do with awareness of Honduras' own culture, and more to do with implementing a weak reflection of a global kind of "culture".

Not that there is all that much to judge by. Press reports show that the ministry has done some of what we might think of as its normal honorific activities, awarding certificates to some athletes, awarded the medals of art and literature (but not science). It has also published some books.

All of this took place in Tegucigalpa. What has SCAD done for the rest of the country?

At least one press critic answers that question: nothing.

In an editorial in La Tribuna, Miguel Osmundo Mejia Erazo says
The reality is that little or nothing has been done by Culture, Art, and Honduran Sports...

That's not entirely accurate. The ministry funded a concert performance of Carmina Burana, the cantata by German composer Carl Orff. The ministry also partially funded an international food festival.

We cannot help hearing echoes of the Euro-centric "fashion is culture, also" of the lamented Castro in these decisions about where to invest the ministry's resources. We happen to love Carmina Burana, but there is a lot of Honduran music that doesn't appear to be on the radar screen of the new ministry.

This move to a vision of high "culture" located somewhere outside Honduras also calls for renewed reflection on the famous interview in which Bernard Martinez provided his own definition of culture as a quality of the individual person.

At the time, we confessed to being uncertain if we understood the minister. It now seems clear that we did.

What he thinks his ministry should promote is not the distinctive practices of a people that mark their historical presence.

It is culture in the sense of "someone with culture", someone who has cultivated a set of values and behaviors, historically usually those of a restricted class set as the standard for others. Culture as fashion; culture as European symphonic music; but where is the culture that only the Honduran ministry could possibly encourage?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Culture Wars

Parts of the National Party hate Porfirio Lobo Sosa's government of "unity"; it has a small number of cabinet Ministers from the other political parties.

The reason they hate it, and continue to call for the removal of all Ministers who are not National Party members, is that Ministers hire employees to positions within the Ministry.

In Honduras, those jobs are treated as the spoils of the party in power. Thus, the logic is that all employees at all Ministries (who are not protected under civil service laws) should be active supporters of the party in power.

So it galls National Party loyalists like Ricardo Alvarez that non-party members control a few of Lobo Sosa's Ministries. On November 23 he again called for the removal of Jacobo Regalado (Agriculture and Cattle), Rigoberto Cuellar (Natural Resources), Bernard Martinez (Culture, Art, and Sports), Cesar Ham (National Agrarian Institute), and Felicito Avila (Labor).

Porfirio Lobo Sosa told the press to "pay no attention to Alvarez," but of course, the Honduran media, like their colleagues elsewhere, like a good dispute.

The most recently aggrieved Nationalists are 80 or so who were let go by the Minister of Culture, Art, and Sports (SCAD), Bernard Martinez.

These were all from the division overseen by the Vice Minister of Sports, Godfredo Fajardo. Martinez attempted to fire Fajardo (who recently admitted to working only 2 days a week) in July. At the time, Martinez took back all responsibility for the Sports division, including hiring and firing. He let these 80 National Party members go in July, then reportedly hired back 10 National Party members, filling the remaining positions with 70 or so members of his own PINU party.

Lobo Sosa forced Martinez and Fajardo to make up after the July blow up, but the rift is still there.

On November 28, the Nationalist Party members fired from SCAD went to complain to the party Central Committee, saying that the party was not doing enough to control the "spoils" of governing and not rewarding enough party members with jobs.

On November 29, Godfredo Fajardo started a hunger strike in support of the fired SCAD workers. Fajardo is demanding the firing of Minister Bernard Martinez and, in an unusual, perhaps unprecedented move, also called for his own firing.

Tony Sierra, the Vice Minister for Culture, told a prosecutor for human rights that he was frustrated because the Minister had not let him carry out a single one of the projects for which they have plans and a budget.
"No projects have been carried out because the Minister has not approved them. I have told him I don't agree with some of his actions; I don't understand."

Nothing is happening in the Sports division under Fajardo either, because the Minister appropriated his budget. Fajardo, who is a bit vulgar, said of his connection with SCAD, "I only come to pee."

Complaints to the Human Rights Prosecutor's office from other SCAD employees include not being paid for four months at a time, death threats, intimidation, and abuse of funds.

El Heraldo reported Wednesday that the Tribunal Supremo de Cuentas will cite both Bernardo Martinez and Godfredo Fajardo for what appear to be improperly supported expenditures of their budget.

In Martinez's case, it's 2 million lempiras ($105,000.00) for which there is no paperwork supporting the expenditure. For Fajardo, the problem is 87,000 lempiras (about $4,600) he received in expense reimbursements without supporting paperwork or reports on the business purpose of the expenditure. Fajardo specifically is billing the government for travel to the matches of a boxer he manages.

Both will have 60 days from being cited to clarify the legality of the expenditures.

Lobo Sosa has reiterated over and over again that his government will close out in 2014 with the same political parties represented in it as he started with. He told the press:
"As my government began, that's how it will terminate with members of different parties, if some leave to campaign we will substitute for them someone from the same party."

What does that mean if Martinez is found to have mismanaged the Ministry of Culture? Either he will continue-- presumably with the same undistinguished record seen to date-- or Porfirio Lobo Sosa will have to identify a second PINU member for whom there is some rationale as a new candidate. Considering the murkiness of the qualifications Martinez had for the position, that should be a really interesting second act, politically.

Unfortunately, though, in the meantime the people of Honduras are no longer getting any of the benefits they should be able to expect from this government agency.