Friday, July 6, 2012

Padre Milla, LIBRE, Drug-trafficking, and Honduran Politics

Every so often a story comes along that is so deeply rooted in the complexity of Honduran politics and culture that it seems almost impossible to explain.

Today on quotha, Adrienne Pine provides a statement from the Human Rights Alliance, an umbrella of Honduran rights groups, asking for expressions of solidarity with Father Fausto Milla.

Padre Milla formed part of the alternative truth commission, the Comisión de Verdad, a recognition of his extraordinary history and credibility in Honduran society. As his biography for the Comisión describes, after he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest by Pope Paul VI, he began his service to the Honduran people in Guarita, a traditional Lenca town in the department of Lempira. Later, while a parish priest in Corquín, in the Department of Copan, he worked for the rights of the Lenca people, and provided protection to refugees from conflict in El Salvador, including denouncing the Sumpul massacre in El Salvador in 1980, and was kidnapped and intimidated. As we wrote in our blog post on the Comisión, he
was jailed in 1981 by the Honduran military junta and went into exile in Mexico. In 1985, he returned to Honduras assigned to Santa Rosa de Copan, where he returned to the community organizing and human rights work he had been doing since before his exile in Mexico.

Hermano Juancito describes Padre Milla's preaching, including his linking of poor diet in modern Honduras and poor health, something he bases on his understanding of prehispanic cultural practices. Quoting the biography posted by the Comisión, Padre Milla now assists in
community development, human rights, food development, and herbal curing. Owing to this work he was accused of forming part of guerrilla groups.

After the 2009 coup, Padre Milla was a strong voice of protest. In 2011, he fled the country, following death threats, only to find himself drawn back shortly after.

Father Milla, in other words, has a long history of risking the anger of the powerful, beginning in the period from the 1970s to 1980s when Honduras made its transition from open military dictatorship to grim days under early electoral governments when extra-judicial killing thrived.

So where is the threat coming from today?

The Public Prosecutor's office.

Quoting the press release from the Human Rights Alliance:
El Padre Milla, ha manifestado su preocupación sobre un tema que afecta directamente a nuestros los pueblos como es el narcotráfico y el Ministerio Público (MP), lo ha citado a declarar.

[Padre Milla has expressed his concern about a theme that directly affects we, the people, which is drug-trafficking, and the Public Prosecutor has summoned him to make a statement.]

This is not to say that the Public Prosecutor has discovered a real law-enforcement mission. No; what they have discovered, not surprisingly, is a new way to harass a long-term critic, and at the same time, smear LIBRE, the new political party that will be running Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, former first lady, as its candidate for president.

Here's what happened: on June 29, media in Honduras published stories quoting Padre Milla as saying that corrupt ex-officials, and people involved in drug trafficking, were infiltrating LIBRE. He reportedly said
we know which candidates are going to be on the ticket of Doña Xiomara and that they have already occupied public positions to enrich themselves, corrupt ones, well known to the population...LIBRE are incorporating candidates known publicly as high-flying drug traffickers, they aren't sellers of baggies, but rather millionaires, of those of great authority within drug-trafficking... I don't want to enter into details, I want to ask that they back Doña Xiomara, but that more purity is demanded in the movement, that they take more measures of control, because if they place a candidate known by the people as corrupt in place, the people will not vote.

The quoted statements focus on the need for LIBRE to take measures to ensure that down-ticket candidates are not seen as illegitimate due to their previous political histories, for enriching themselves in public office, for corruption, and yes, for involvement in drug trafficking.

Proceso Digital provided clearer context for the statement, quoting Father Milla endorsing the project of LIBRE but saying it is a difficult thing to do given the political culture in Honduras:
This is an attempt to fulfill those grand dreams that motivate great numbers of people in the six months following the coup, I say that it is an attempt because it is not so easy in a country where for so many years damage has been done to the people with the tricks, the lies, the corruption, the impunity, the prepotency, of those who occupy any positions of service to the people, and in place of serving the people enrich is not so easy to achieve a project in a uniquely pure form, it is easy to see that he that was a cat yesterday today seems like a mouse. It is not easy, because it isn't a question of the tail or the paw, but rather of something that is in the heart and in the mind of the person.

Padre Milla is asking LIBRE to live up to its aspirations-- not to accept politics as usual. How does this political intervention end up with Padre Milla being legally summoned to testify?

The reaction, predictably, has focused on a demand for Padre Milla to name names. Elvia Argentina Valle, one of the former Liberal Party congress members who was a prominent voice of protest after the coup, added to her demand for names a threat to proceed legally against him. She took his comments as particularly pointed at the movement within LIBRE that she leads, and said he has never liked the former Liberal Party members who form part of the new party.

Then, on July 4, El Heraldo trumpeted the return to the Liberal Party of a group of delegates, described as having gone to LIBRE and formed part of the movement within that party that Argentina Valle was defending. The Liberal Party candidate for president, Mauricio Villeda, tried to claim that if these defections from LIBRE were motivated by the comments of Padre Milla, they were to be congratulated-- presumably, because this showed they would not participate in a political movement with such doubt cast on it.

But here's the truth: drug trafficking is so pervasive in the halls of power in Honduras that any party is likely to harbor people corrupted by drug money. If you think of it from the perspective of these entrepreneurs, it is likely that they are in fact working to infiltrate all political parties: it would just be good business practice. If these delegates (from the Department of Yoro) returned to the Liberal Party for its anti-drug purity, they are likely to be disappointed. In any event, what seems to have actually motivated their defection was a realization that there weren't places for them to be candidates in LIBRE.

Whether it came about because of requests from within LIBRE, or from another direction, an article in La Prensa on July 5 reported the summons by the prosecutor's office, along with the objections of the Human Rights Alliance, which noted that Padre Milla was neither the first nor only public figure to make such statements, and none of the others has been subject to a legal summons.

What seems to be happening is political push back-- Padre Milla is being threatened with an impossible demand, since (as the Human Rights Alliance notes) his information may well come from privileged communications received in his work as a priest; and in any event, is more likely to be endangered by naming names than any highly-placed traffickers he might be forced to identify.

The only way for LIBRE to change the system is to act differently than established political parties-- that is what Padre Milla, a holy man, is saying. Pragmatically, a start up party in Honduras may not be able to afford such purity-- but it would be well to endorse the sentiment, even if it cannot carry through with a real disengagement from the most visibly corrupt political actors.


John (Juan) Donaghy said...

Padre Fausto upset a lot of people with his challenge to LIBRE on the presence of corrupt politicians as well as drug traffickers - especially since he said it just days before LIBRE's big event in Santa Barbara.

Padre Fausto's resistance credentials are now being challenged by some on the left because of his challenge.

At the same time, the Public Prosecutor's Office is threatening him and asking him to name names which could risk his life.

Your analysis does shine some light on the complexities of politics and culture here, but there are two other things to consider.

Padre Fausto also spoke of corrupt politicians who are now in Libre and not just drug-traffickers. Some commentators have overlooked this. Corruption is incredibly widespread and so this is not surprising - but I think Padre Fausto is right in challenging this.

Another note about drug-traffickers and drug lords. They are trying in so many ways to involve all sorts of people. I have heard of at least two cases where drug interests have approached church leaders with offers of money which were rejected. (Thank God and the priests' consciences.)

Yet there are other church authorities who are naïve about the drug lords. Padre Fausto is not among them.

RAJ said...

Thank you for reminding us that the corruption charge is being overlooked. Again, we find his rhetoric in his actual statements to be clear: if LIBRE is to rise about politics as usual, it has to monitor the antecedents of participants.

While the defensiveness from LIBRE is understandable-- especially since the Honduran press is treating this like it is surprising that some politicians are corrupt, and some are involved with drug traffickers, and thus conveying the impression that new parties are uniquely vulnerable-- it is in our opinion a mistake. Politics may be inherently corrupting-- but if so, then political parties aspiring to more need to listen to their internal, or slightly external, critics.

EMJ said...

Padre Milla specifically referred to the political movement directed by Mel Zelaya's brother, Carlos Zelaya. And he also mentioned the states and locations were these drug lords are running for public office. Therefore, this is a serious matter. Also, everybody knows now that many of these candidacies are being distributed by the political bosses of these political movements inside the party.