Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Occasionally the actions of the National Congress of Honduras come pretty close to violating the intent of the Honduran constitution without actually violating the letter of the law. Nowhere is that more apparent than in how the Congress under the direction of Juan Orlando Hernandez skates on the edge of the law when it comes to Constitutional amendments.

Article 373 of the Honduran constitution, as clarified in 1986 by Decree 169-86, states that any constitutional amendment must be approved in two sequent Congressional sessions. The idea is that there be adequate time to publicize and debate the changes, both among members of Congress and the informed public. I doubt, however, that the framers of the constitution ever envisioned that those two sequent sessions would be literally six days apart, and that the Congressional session might be closed, and the vote secret, as has frequently been the case in the Congress as administered by Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Until last Thursday night, Honduras had a constitution that prohibited extradition. This prohibition was enshrined in Article 102 of the constitution. It states that no Honduran may be forcibly expatriated. It was clearly violated in 2009 with the military's expatriation of Manuel Zelaya to Costa Rica, officially whitewashed by the current Honduran Supreme Court.

But it was also violated back in 1988 with the forced extradition of Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros from Tegucigalpa to the United States. The military was involved in this extradition as well. Matta was a suspected member of the Medellin drug cartel living in Tegucigalpa. He had been known to the DEA since 1973. James Mills, in the Underground Empire, cites a DEA intelligence report as stating that Matta had financed the coup d'etat in 1978 that installed his partner in the drug business, General Policarpo Paz Garcia as "President" of Honduras.

Matta was also the owner of SETCO Air, the principal air transport company used the by Contras to haul fuel and arms to their camps, according to the US Senate Subcommittee report "Drugs, Law Enforcement, and Foreign Policy", an investigation of Oliver North's clandestine Iran-Contra drugs for arms swap. Furthermore, the report notes he was paid for this service by the US under a two year contract despite already being well known to the DEA as an important player in narcotics smuggling.

The DEA accused him of ordering the assassination of DEA member Enrique Camarena in Mexico. The DEA had tried several times to kidnap him according to Christopher Pyle in his book, Extradition, Politics, and Human Rights (page 282). On April 5, 1988, a group of 60 Cobras, the military's special forces unit, seized Matta as he returned home. He was immediately turned over the US Marshals, where he was handcuffed, hooded, and driven to the Tegucigalpa airport and flown to Miami.

Forced extradition; illegal.

Then Porfirio Lobo Sosa and Juan Orlando Hernandez flew to the United States for an emergency meeting with high level Homeland Security people. That was January 18, 2012. On January 19, 2012, Congress held a late night closed door session where a bill to modify article 102 to permit the extradition of Hondurans to countries with which the executive branch has negotiated an extradition treaty was introduced, voted on, and passed without further discussion. Did I mention the text of the bill was not revealed outside of Congress "for security reasons".

So on January 19th of this year, at the tail end of the second congressional session, this constitutional reform was introduced debated and passed all within a few hours. Six days later, the third session of this Congress began on January 25. This bill was brought up in a closed session, debated, and approved that evening.

So Juan Orlando Hernandez took six days total to modify the constitution, holding votes in two sequent sessions of Congress. While that accelerated process does fulfill the letter of the law, it clearly thwarts the intention of the writers of the Constitution, who wanted to encourage public discussion of the bill between its initial and second vote.

Marvin Ponce, of the UD Party, says the bill's language and origin are foreign.
"This is a law logically which comes more from outside than inside,"

said Ponce. Remember that secretive flight to the US by Lobo Sosa and Hernandez the day before its introduction?

January 27 that constitutional amendment (Decreto 02-2012) was published in La Gaceta (El Heraldo called it "at the speed of lightning") and became law and we got to read it for the first time. Extradition is permitted if the crime involved is one of drugs, terrorism, or organized crime.

Not too shabby if you're a political operative bent on having your way, but hardly transparent, democratic, or promoting of national debate.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Dana Frank Tells it Like it is in Honduras

...in the New York Times.

Frank is among a group of scholars specializing in Honduras who have tried to get the mainstream English language media to cover what is actually happening in Honduras, during and after the coup d'etat of 2009. Even when the coup itself was fresh, we found little interest by US media in a complex story that didn't fit existing simple narratives.

As the US role in Honduras slipped from an initial stance that seemed strongly to oppose the breakdown in the rule of law, to more ambiguous statements that treated the legally elected president and self-appointed dictator as equal parties who should negotiate a settlement, to the final position of claiming an election held under a de facto regime engaging in repression of free speech and assembly was somehow a path back to legitimacy, US media showed ever less interest in publishing work that critiqued the US role.

So it is a landmark event to see such a prominent news outlet publish these words:
Mr. Lobo’s government is, in fact, a child of the coup. It retains most of the military figures who perpetrated the coup, and no one has gone to jail for starting it... the Lobo government cannot reform itself.

There is much more of substance in this extraordinary Op-ed. Among the most important: a summary of little publicized congressional actions within the last year taken once congress members understood what has happened and is happening in Honduras. To quote Frank:
Last May, 87 members signed a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton calling for a suspension of military and police aid to Honduras. Representative Howard L. Berman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote to her on Nov. 28, asking whether the United States was arming a dangerous regime. And in December, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and others obtained conditions on a small portion of the 2012 police and military aid appropriated for Honduras.

These actions are important because they shine light on the actors who need to be held responsible for the situation in Honduras today. Frank deserves immense credit for tenacity in bringing these issues to the attention of policy makers and the public through her tireless work. We can hope that this NY Times piece sets a target that other media start to emulate.

For the record: Frank is a historian at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the author of Bananeras: Women Transforming the Banana Unions of Latin America. Honduras represents only a small part of her impressive publication record, focused on labor history. She has contributed multiple articles of The Nation describing the political and economic forces that led to the Honduran coup, and the effects it has had.

Energy Contracts or Energy?

When is an emergency not an emergency?

Westport Finance LLC is a curious company that won an "emergency" no-bid contract for electrical generating equipment and installation from the Empresa Nacional de Energia Electrica (ENEE) via Contract and Decreto 218-2011, published November 24, 2011 in La Gaceta.

Westport Finance is owned by Ira Ginsburg and his wife, Carla. Mr. Ginsburg's sole expertise is putting together financing for projects, not in supplying electricity or building generation facilities. He claims to be affiliated in some way with Wartsila, a Finnish builder of oil and natural gas generation equipment. We wrote about the contract back in November.

Under the terms of the contract Westport Finance LLC was supposed to have the first phase of generating equipment, some 50 Megawatts, up and running 60 days after the publication of the contract in La Gaceta.

So what, if anything, has Westport done to date?

Our gentle readers will not be surprised to hear that nothing has been done in Honduras since the contract was published. Westport has not imported or installed any power generation equipment of any kind.

One is reminded of Luis Larach's statement from Tim Johnson's reporting for McClatchy :
In a sign of money laundering, he said, "unknown companies are winning bids of huge infrastructure projects like highways and bridges, and no one knows where the money is coming from."
The problem here is likely that Westport Finance LLC stated to ENEE that they could install generators in 2 months at their own cost. The contract states:
Sixty (60) days after it comes into effect, the lessor (Westport) is obliged to install 50 Megawatts in total, of generating plants based on diesel (bunker) distributed in 4 of the five sites indicated in the following manner: one of 15 MW located in the city of La Entrada, Copan; another of 15 MW in Sesenti, Ocotepeque, another of 10 MW in the Coyoles Central substation and another of 10 MW in the city of Catacamas, Olancho, being responsible for the operation and maintenance of the same for a period of 12 months....

The contract also spells out how and where the new generating plants are to be connected to the national power grid. It in turn, requires Westport to post a bond for $1, 350, 000, which was due 15 days after the contract took effect. That would have been on December 9, 2011. In theory Westport is also subject to a $100/Megawatt/Month fine for delays, a further $5000/month from January 24, 2012 forward. Westport was also responsible for soliciting the necessary environmental approvals, as well as the departmental and municipal approvals necessary, within the first 60 days of the contract.

So Westport is in default on the second milestone. Did they find funding and pay the bond to meet the first milestone? Is the contract even still in effect?

So much for the "emergency" declared by Porfirio Lobo Sosa (PCM-064-2011) and the discriminating choice of corporate partners by ENEE.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Generic Central America of the Miami Herald's Imagination

Mike at Central American Politics took apart a Miami Herald editorial purportedly about Honduras, saving us the trouble of being the spoilsport media critic.

I read with complete disbelief the following, supposedly relevant to Honduras' current surge in murder rates:
The recent withdrawal of America’s Peace Corps volunteers from Honduras is one more sign that the security situation in that Central American country has deteriorated to crisis levels not seen since the civil wars of the 1980s. The country is quickly turning into a disaster zone.
After the tide of civil war receded, the armies went back to their barracks and the insurgents laid down their arms. But then narcotics traffickers flooded in, and the violence has spiked dramatically ever since. The DEA estimates that 25 tons of cocaine move through the country every month heading north.
What "civil war"? what "insurgents"? Honduras, as anyone capable of reading back issues of the Miami Herald could have confirmed, did not have a civil war in the 1980s. There was no historic peace accord leading insurgents to lay down there arms. It seems clear to me that what we have here is the generic Central American imaginary-- perhaps the writer is thinking of El Salvador? Guatemala?

But not Honduras, that is for sure.

And that is why, in a rare move for us, I am giving a blogger elsewhere the space for the pushback. Here's Mike, and while I could add to this, let me simply say bravo and cede the floor:
Why not talk about the US-encouraged militarization of the country during the 1970s and 1980s. How about the contras operating on Honduran soil and launching illegal attacks across the border and into Nicaragua? You could also write about US support and training for Honduran troops involved in helping to massacre Salvadorans along its border during the 1980s.

They could also avoid the 1980s Cold War rhetoric altogether since the war's been over for twenty years. If there's been a "a 250-percent increase in half a dozen years," why not look to the source of violence six years ago rather than twenty-five years ago? They could write about some of the mano dura policies first introduced in 2002 or the breakdown of the rule of law prior to, during, and after the 2009 coup?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Beans For Gas

No, not that kind of gas.

Juan Artica, the Vice Minister of Agriculture and Cattle for Honduras, is proposing to grow more beans for exclusive export to Venezuela should Honduras regain membership in Petrocaribe.

You may recall that one way members of Petrocaribe can pay for the refined petroleum products that they use is with agricultural goods.

The central government reckons it has enough production and storage of beans already to satisfy the national demand, last year's shortages and the highest priced food basket in Central America (including beans) not withstanding.

They report they are in contact with producers to increase the production of beans, to be exclusively exported to Venezuela.

Artica reports that in a few weeks they will send a mission to Venezuela to bring back the kind of beans they eat there. Venezuelans eat, it seems, black beans. Hondurans eat a variety of small red/purple beans.

The fact is that in Central America, at least, each country has its own distinctive bean variety that is traditionally grown and consumed there, and local taste demands local beans. Some of this has to do with the way different beans react to cooking methods; in the past Honduran cooks have complained that imported beans did not soften up properly in the amount of time normally allowed for domestic beans.

The proposal actually seems more like an off-the-cuff speculation than a well thought out plan. How will they manage to outwit the coyotes/speculators, who created last year's artificial shortage of beans and, oh, by the way, exported Honduran beans to other Central American countries while beans were short and expensive in Honduras, when an export market is created for beans for Venezuela?

Will Honduran grown Venezuelan black beans find acceptance in the Venezuelan market? Stay tuned.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Security Consultant Assigned

The United States has assigned a former diplomat, Oliver P. Garza, to be a security consultant to the Honduran government. Garza was US Ambassador to Nicaragua (1999 - 2002) and interim Ambassador to Panama (1994 - 1995). He currently is a retired Foreign Service Officer, but continues to serve as a Western Hemisphere Advisor at US Department of State office of eDiplomacy.

During his tenure as Ambassador in Nicaragua, he reportedly fought with then President Arnoldo Aleman Lacayo over the levels of corruption in Aleman's government.

He won the Aguila Award from the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association in 2010 " his dedication to country, law enforcement, and his community at large, and for exhibiting professionalism and courage beyond the call of duty."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tim Johnson sheds light on Honduran crime

Since I recently complained in frustration about the way mainstream media (using as my example the Washington Post) rely on an overly generic storyline to account for crime in Honduras, I need to applaud McClatchy reporter Tim Johnson for writing a story that sounds, for practically the first time, as if it was written by someone who has actually talked to people in Honduras.

As a result, the story he tells is one of police corruption and impunity, and the rule of law broken down; a lack of security and a lack of trust in government to provide security. Johnson writes:
Unlike other parts of Central America, where organized crime has relied on enforcers recruited from street gangs and unemployed youth, in Honduras entire units of the national police appear to work for drug and crime groups, preying on the public and gunning down foes.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/01/20/136474/crime-booms-as-central-americans.html#storylink=cpy

This is a far cry from the easy storyline about youth gangs which has been used in Honduras to justify fatal violence against the young, whether they are engaged in criminal activity or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

My own perspective on this comes from a prior episode of repression in Honduras, when a hard working young man I knew, from a dirt poor barrio (literally dirt poor-- the kind of place where houses had dirt floors), who was as talented as any of the much better educated and privileged North Americans on our project, was shot and killed, victim of being out for a drink when someone decided to take out young men thought to be (and perhaps actually) involved in drug dealing.

My friend was collateral damage. But the crime was portrayed as a regrettable but necessary response to the danger posed by young men generically-- not young men involved in crimes, who-- again, sadly, worth underlining-- should be subject to arrest, trial, and conviction before being punished, but were seen as disposable.

We can disagree about all of the causes of the current Honduran situation. We will disagree about what steps might put Honduras on a route out of this mess. But we should all agree that Johnson proved that a reporter who approaches the story with open ears might actually find something new, and maybe even illuminating, to say.

I was astonished to read a quote from the head of the Chamber of Commerce and Industries of Cortes (where San Pedro Sula is located), Luis Larach saying that

drug lords "have bought tremendous tracts, ranches, farms (and) coastlands" in Honduras, and the drug profits have filtered into sectors such as banking, construction, sports teams, restaurants, auto sales and private security.

In a sign of money laundering, he said, unknown companies are winning bids "on huge infrastructure projects, like highways and bridges, and no one knows where the money is coming from."

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/01/20/136474/crime-booms-as-central-americans.html#storylink=cpy

We have been covering many of these government contracts given to shell companies. Our suspicion has been that these are evidence of behind-the-scenes corruption, payoffs to decision makers, or promises of favors, but like Larach, our ultimate question has been, how do companies with no assets get these contracts?

I am glad to see a story that doesn't just say Hondurans are inherently violent. Now, the question is whether other media will start paying attention to the specifically local character of the tragedy in Honduras. Johnson quotes the rector of UNAM, Julieta Castellanos, whose perspective as a sociologist informs her comments, saying
many Hondurans [view] police corruption as a litmus test of whether the state could stave off an onslaught of gangsters.

"People are really indignant, worried, but above all frightened. If nothing happens, if the police are not purged, where is the country headed?" she asked. "Who will be governing in a few years?"

This isn't a threat entirely from outside; it isn't a cancer that can be removed with ever more security measures. This is what happens when impunity reigns, trust in institutions disappears, and the social fabric itself threatens to come apart.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Robbing Culture to Pay Copan

We've said all there is to say before, but it bears re-iterating after a January 9 article in El Tiempo noted that Congress member Julio Cesar Gamez late last year introduced a bill which would assign 50% of the income from selling admission to the archaeological site of Copan to the town of Copan.

The basis of the argument advanced by the town of Copan is that they have a right to the income from admission to the archaeological site. This would take vital funding away from the Honduran Institute for Anthropology and History, responsible for all the cultural properties in Honduras, including Copan.

It's sheer greed, combined with the decreasing budgets given to municipalities by the state government in Honduras.

According to Mayor Helmy Réne Giacoman, who leads the latest effort,
"We are only left with the trash that the tourists leave",

a statement that ignores all the benefits that the town and its residents derive from those tourists. The Mayor speaks nonsense, of course.

As Victor Manuel Ramos noted last August in his column in El Tiempo, the town of Copan
receives most benefits from the Archaeological Park, because the enormous quantity of visitors also stay in the hotels of the locality, they consume food, they buy crafts, they visit the restaurants and the shops and use local transportation. All those businesses contribute taxes to the municipality. More than that, the benefits that the Institute receives are really limited if we compare them with those that the entire community and the municipality receives, since the costs for entry are very cheap and if we do an analysis of the expenditures of the visitors we will see that a tiny quantity corresponds to the Institute in the shape of tickets since the major part of the expenditures of the tourists remains in the hands of the local business people.

Just to be clear, tourism poured $650 million into the Honduran economy last year.

A 2003 study by the UN suggests that more than $60 million of that went directly to the town of Copan.

That's some trash.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Finally! A New Culture Minister

The circus at the Secretaria de Culura, Artes, y Deportes (SCAD) continued all through the day yesterday, and even into the evening, but finally, Porfirio Lobo Sosa named a new Minister of Culture, only it's not who you think!

Last night around midnight, Lobo Sosa called Tulio Mariano Gonzalez to inform him he was the pick to be Minister of Culture.

The day, however, was crazy. Bernard Martinez returned to the offices of SCAD and said he was the Minister again because he had not heard anything official from Lobo Sosa. Tony Sierra issued a statement saying he had been called by a high ranking member of the Lobo Sosa staff on Friday and told to start Monday as interim Minister of Culture.

From the time of his arrival early in the morning, Martinez was accompanied by 13 Garifuna supporters, members of the Alianza 214 and Gemelos de Honduras, among others. They held dances and burned incense, smoked cigars, and beat drums on the fifth floor of SCAD's office building. El Tiempo reports that even Bernard Martinez danced for several minutes. Israel Senteno, head of the Gemelos de Honduras told the press this was an attempt to eliminate the bad vibrations of the government, and of Tony Sierra, Godofredo Fajardo, and the SCAD union in particular.

Apparently it did almost drive out many of the employees, who complained as the building filled with the cigar smoke and incense. Melba Bardales, head of the SCAD employees union said:
Enough of the circus.

But it did not drive out Tony Sierra, who showed up at the SCAD offices about midday from Comayagua where he had been inaugurating a performance of a dance group. In an attempt at re-establishing good will, went up to the fifth floor to meet with Martinez. He shook Martinez's hand, but was given a frigid reception by the Garifuna there so he left to go to Lobo Sosa's offices.

At 1:30 pm Sierra showed up for what he thought would be a swearing in ceremony at the presidential offices, making him Minister of Culture, but was informed there would be no swearing in. He was interim Minister of Culture because the law says when the Minister isn't present, a Vice Minister fills the office; they told him this and sent him on his way.

Martinez had a meeting there later in the day and was formally told of his dismissal.

Then at midnight, Tulio Mariano Gonzalez received a call from Lobo Sosa's office informing him he had been named the new Minister of Culture. He told the press:
I am sure we can move ahead to construct new agendas, perfecting the existence and elevating this ministry to the level it should have.
Gonzalez was most recently a member of the Central American Parliament (Parlacen) where he was Honduras's representative on the elections commission. He has also been a Vice President at the National Agricultural Development Bank. He is a National Party activist. Did I mention he's Afro-Honduran?

So, not a solution for Lobo Sosa's "government of reconciliation" problem, but we can hope more seriousness for this critical Ministry.

Honduran Congress Calls Foul over Change in Budget Bill

Was it a premeditated corrupt act, or simple incompetence that caused the 2012 budget that was published in La Gaceta to not accurately reflect the budget passed by Congress. And who introduced the change?

The 2012 budget was discussed, modified, and passed on December 14, 2011, the final day of the Congressional session, when few Congress members were around. It was published as Decree 255-2011 in La Gaceta on December 22, 2011, after the current Congressional session ended and everyone was home preparing for Christmas.

However, the Honduran Congress is now up in arms because for the second, or possibly third time since the current administration took over, they say the bill that was printed in La Gaceta did not accurately reflect the bill that Congress sent to the Executive Branch.

In this case, the controversy is over Article 132 of the budget. By law, nine percent of the budget must be passed along to the Municipalities of Honduras. In the past, that has meant the full nine percent with no deductions. However, Article 132, as printed, allows the government to credit funds given to other government entities for projects in a particular Municipality as part of the nine percent. This would represent a significant decrease in their operating budget, but would greatly benefit the bottom line of the central government.

The problem is, that clause, which was supported by the Executive Branch, was considered unjust by the majority in Congress during debate on December 22, and the clause was amended to grant the Municipalities the full nine percent with no deduction for other government projects. It should not have appeared as it does in the printed version.

By definition, the printed version is the law.

So the question is, what happened so that the version printed is not what Congress says it approved and voted upon.

To understand where the error might originate, we have to understand the path of a bill after it is approved by Congressional vote.

First the bill goes to a Congressional commission which modifies the original text of the bill to incorporate any changes or amendments approved by Congress. They then send it along to the Executive Branch.

Could they have screwed up and not incorporated the amendment of Article 132? or, as El Heraldo asks, did they make a mockery of Congress by not incorporating its will?

Once the budget bill is in the Executive Branch, it is supposed to simply forward it to La Gaceta for publication, without any changes. Might someone in the Executive Branch have reintroduced the original language of Article 132 to help with closing the national budget gap?

This is not the first time this happened. The most recent example was with the motorcycle bill, which we blogged about here. The Executive Branch inserted a "clarification" not discussed by Congress, in the language when the bill came to them. As passed, the bill allowed only a driver to ride on a motorcycle. However, when published, the law "clarified" that as long as the passenger was a woman, or a child under the age of 12, that would be allowed.

Such a "clarification" is of course, a complete violation of the Honduran constitution's separation of powers, which gives the Executive Branch only the power to veto or approve bills as passed by Congress, not change the language. Interpreting the intent of Congress in legislation is supposed to happen through the court system.

Since the Executive Branch has seen fit to change the language of Congressional bills in the past, it seems quite possible that they introduced this change, since they benefit from it.

Now, the bill has become law with the original Article 132 text, meaning municipalities won't necessarily get the funding level they expected, or that Congress intended.

Congress is working with the Association of Municipal Governments to introduce an amendment to fix the problem. Meanwhile, Jose Saavedra, a member of the budget committee of Congress, promises to introduce a resolution calling on the Executive Branch to provide an explanation of how the change occurred.

Mind you, the Executive Branch has ignored previous requests for explanations.

Who needs that pesky constitution anyhow?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Showdown in Culture

So who is in charge of the Secretaria de Cultura, Arte, y Deportes (SCAD) in Honduras this Monday morning?

SCAD has been run for the last month by a commission investigating irregularities in the ministry. The commission turned in its report on Friday and its commission expired Sunday evening.

Tony Sierra says that on Friday evening, Porfirio Lobo Sosa called him and told him that as of Monday morning he was in charge of SCAD. Speaking by telephone from Comayagua, when contacted by the press, he said:
"My job is to return the Secretaria to normalcy and refocus on everything to do with the artistic, cultural, and sports development of the country."

But don't tell that to Bernard Martinez.

He showed up at his office in SCAD this morning to resume his job as Minister of Culture, saying:
"I don't have any official notification of the naming of Mr. Sierra as interim [head] in this job....I am awaiting some notice from the president that will make this clear, conclusive and official."

El Heraldo couldn't resist a dig at the presidential press office:
The defective press office of the Government House (Executive Branch) which is coordinated by Miguel Angel Bonilla, could not say if Bernard Martinez was fired or remained suspended indefinitely.

In addition, unofficially, El Heraldo has heard from a source in the Executive branch that Godofredo Fajardo, formerly Vice Minister of Sports, was informed of his dismissal by Lobo Sosa's private secretary, Reinaldo Sanchez.

El Heraldo also reported that the head of the SCAD workers union, Melba Bardales, assured them that Martinez and Fajardo were fired, and if they came to work today "it was only to pick up their things, because both already know they've been fired."

So: who is in charge of SCAD this morning?

Update 9:52 AM PDT: La Prensa now reports that Lobo Sosa has not, in fact, made up his mind what to do with Bernard Martinez. According to them (citing unofficial sources in the Executive Branch), Lobo Sosa appointed Sierra as interim head of SCAD while he decides who to appoint as the next head of SCAD. They go on to say it might be Sierra, or someone else. They did not say or even hint that it would be Martinez.

Military Hitmen for hire?

Was the Honduran military paid to kill a Nicaraguan citizen?

That's what Nicaragua's La Prensa claims.

When Daniel Ortega announced that he would seek an unprecedented third term as Nicaragua's President, it raised all sorts of anger among the community of former Contra members who fought the Sandinistas in a civil war back in the 1980s with CIA and US military backing (look up Iran-Contra).

First to declare his opposition was Jose Gabriel Garmendia who in July 2010 announced he was organizing an armed rebellion against Ortega during a ceremony in Matagalpa to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Contra disarmament. Known as Comandante Jahob, he was known as a charismatic and brave commander among the rural anti-Sandinista population.

In late January 2011, he released a recording noting that:
It is aberrant that Daniel Ortega is doing what he wants with the constitution of Nicaragua.

In the recording he stated he had enough people, with an organized command structure. He called on ex-president Arnoldo Aleman and Fabbio Gadea, the two candidates opposing Ortega in the election, to set aside their political aspirations and unite against Ortega. Garmendia continued:
The worst thing that could happen is the re-election of Daniel Ortega and that re-election should not be possible

Ortega had managed to get the largely Sandinista Party Nicaraguan Congress to change the constitution to allow he to run for a third term. Ortega dismissed Garmendia's threats as those of a common criminal affiliated with the drug runners and coup-conspiring officers of the Honduran military.

Two weeks later, Garmendia lay dead in the mountains. He was either shot by Nicaraguan soldiers or intelligence officers (according to Nicaraguan media) or killed by a jealous farmer in the region (according to an official Police investigation).

A second group, the Fuerza Democrática Comandante 380 (FDC 380, a reference to former Contra Enrique Bermudez who was known as Comandante 3-80), is headed by Santos Guadalupe Joya Borge, known as Comandante Pablo Negro. It was organized in April, 2011. In November, 2011, the FDC announced it was an
"armed organization in defense of the democracy, liberty, and human rights which had been cut by the dictatorial regime of Daniel Ortega"

Early in January this year rumors began to circulate in the Nicaraguan press that the FDC was organizing in Honduras, probably in the El Paraiso province where the Contras had been based in the 1980s. Then they called El Paraiso "New Nicaragua" and terrorized the local Honduran population. The Honduran military announced they would check into that on January 9, and that they would be coordinating with the Nicaraguan military, who might know more about it than they did.

However, the FDC had already announced on January 7 that Comandante Pablo Negro had been captured by the Honduran military or police, two days before the Honduran military said they'd go looking for him.

They already had him when they announced they'd go looking for him.

Indeed the Nicaraguan press on the 8th of January said that the Honduran security forces were paid $2 million to pick Joya up. This is also what Roberto Petray, President of the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights, told the press.

On Thursday, Joya's lifeless body was found in Honduras, 300 meters from the border (and the border crossing of ) in El Paraiso Department. He had been shot twice. His family, who arrived in Tegucigalpa to collect the body on Friday, said that he had been captured by four Honduran soldiers in El Paraiso. A silver Toyota pickup with four different soldiers came from the direction of the Nicaraguan border to pick him up and return him to Nicaragua the same day, January 7.

He never made it.

The Honduran police spokesperson denies that the Honduran police know anything about the capture of Joya Santos. The legal coordinator for the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH), Gonzalo Carrión. said it would by international standards fall to Honduras to do the due diligence to investigate Joya's death.

The Nicaraguan Police have opened an investigation into this citizen's death in Honduras, but indicated they will wait for Honduras to say what it knows before proceeding. They report the Honduran medical examiner will perform an autopsy tonight both to securely identify the body, and to determine the official cause of death.

There's not even a hint of an investigation mentioned in the Honduran press.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Massacre in the Aguan: Two Ways to Report

Earlier this week, another group of farmworkers living in the Aguan valley died. Children as young as one year old were killed in an act of great violence.

This time, the details were so horrific that they have attracted international media attention. But readers of the Washington Post would be hard pressed to connect the story reported January 11 with its specific context. The Post wrote
Officials in Honduras say men armed with AK-47 rifles and machetes killed four adults and four children in a part of the country torn by a land dispute between workers and landowners....

Regaderos is in the Aguan River valley where farmworkers have been demanding ownership of thousands of acres of oil palm plantations that they say were illegally seized by landowners.

All I have left out in the quoted section above is the grisly details of who was killed and how, details that feed the sensationalism of this kind of reporting. So what we are left with is all the context the Post sees fit to provide. I suppose I should be grateful that they acknowledge there is a land dispute at all; but notably absent is any attempt to explain who the victims are, structurally, and who the likely authors of this crime are.

Honduran media rushed to fill the gap with premature elimination of suspects. La Tribuna writes that
The massacre of some eight people that occurred yesterday in Sabá, Colón, could be the product of a conflict over land, the authorities noted today.

The chief of police of Colón, Osmín Bardales, said that the first inquiries point to an enmity resulting from conflic over the ownership of some land.

Nonetheless it is not possible yet to make official if this is the true cause, but he clarified that the topic of the Bajo Aguan has nothing to do with this situation.

Nothing to see here: move along.

The attempt by Bardales to divert suspicion away from the conflict that pits campesinos against major landowners is to be expected. The telling fact that the attackers were provided with AK-47s simply sits there begging to be addressed: who has this kind of weaponry?

But don't look to places like the Washington Post to follow through on asking that question, or others that might shed light on this incident. This is, after all, the paper that on December 26 published an article that shed considerably more heat than light on the crisis of violence in Honduras today.

The headline of that story Grim toll as cocaine trade expands in Honduras, offered a simple storyline that we might call the default narrative for violence in Central America. Derived from the sensationlistic coverage of what is in fact a very dangerous situation on the Mexican border, it skips the actual step of establishing cause and effect. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world; it is a pass-through point for moving drugs from South America to the US; so obviously, the murder rate must be caused by the drug trafficking.

The story acknowledges that "the homicide problem goes back decades", but then plunges right on to say that the rise to 2011 heights came "as if the cocaine were gasoline tossed on a fire".

So tell me, what kinds of evidence show that drug trafficking is producing the increased murders in Honduras? Perhaps the Post did an analysis of statistics about Honduran murders?

Well, no. Instead, they stitch together data on drug flights into the Mosquitia with the story of a police raid on a so-called drug processing lab in the mountains near San Pedro Sula, before getting to their only argument linking the drug trade-- which is, without doubt, corrosive to public safety and institutional legitimacy:
Honduran police commanders say smugglers are also increasingly paying their contacts in raw product rather than cash, driving up local drug-dealing and the lethal violence that accompanies it.

Well. I feel like that is a convincing argument. "Honduran police commanders" say so. Like Osmin Bardales, who, within hours of a massacre, knows that it has nothing to do with the continuing conflict that shapes tensions in the Bajo Aguan. Who is sure enough that it is a private conflict to state that, but offers no explanation of the access that the antagonists (presumably, other peasants?) have to AK-47s.

The Post continues with a by now much-needed caution (but really, what reader other than someone like me is paying attention by this point?) that acknowledges that there is no causal analysis supporting their story line:
Researchers caution that the surge in killings here cannot be attributed entirely to narcotics trafficking. As in Ciudad Juarez, drug-fueled violence appears to have fostered an overall climate of impunity, in which bullets settle the slightest dispute and anyone can literally get away with murder.

Well, San Pedro Sula is not Ciudad Juarez, and Honduras is not Mexico. That "climate of impunity" might have other causes which an alert reporter might possibly, maybe, mention. Remember that whole coup d'etat incident back a while? when the de facto dictator defied the world, and unleashed the police and armed forces against the citizenry?

And that, of course, is where the next paragraph finally arrives:
Journalists, labor activists and gays also are apparently being killed at elevated rates, and political violence has flared since the 2009 coup that deposed leftist President Manuel Zelaya. Then there are the thousands of other Hondurans who seemingly have nothing to do with the drug trade who have been slain in carjackings, muggings and hotheaded feuds.

Yes. I would give a lot to know how much thought went into the "apparently": yes, journalists are being murdered at an extraordinary rate. And the Honduran police, including those commanders in the Bajo Aguan, try to claim that each such incident is due to "enmity", personal stuff, or else wave their hands at "drug violence". Yes, LBGT activists have suffered horrendous attacks. Yes, it became worth your life to be a labor or social activist.

And oh yes: being a peasant fighting for land in the Bajo Aguan is very, very bad for your health.

Here's what's missing from the Washington Post and other mainstream media: analysis. It isn't impossible. Back on October 6, a website called Honduras Daily took the amazingly difficult step of downloading and reading a UN report on global crime statistics.

That report considers the relationship between drug trafficking and violence to be non-linear:
Organized criminal groups involved in drug trafficking do not necessarily make themselves visible through violent and lethal crime. For example, in situations when areas of influence and/or illegal activities are clearly distributed among different criminal groups they may prefer to maintain a low profile and not to attract the attention of state authorities. Violence often escalates when an existing status quo is broken, as a result, for example, of changes in the structure of the drug market, the emergence of new protagonists or the “threat” posed by police repression.

In other words, violence along the Mexico and US border-- which results from cartels fighting battles to control a lucrative market, and fighting Mexican government efforts to break their power-- is not automatically a model that fits Honduras. The report continues:

higher levels of violence and homicides are not only associated with increases in drug trafficking flows, but also with decreases in drug flows that lead to turbulence in established markets, more competition between criminal groups and more killings. It is therefore likely that changes in drug markets drive lethal violence, not overall levels of trafficking flows per se.

For me a glaring omission in reporting dominated by the comfortable narrative of drug violence is the contribution of murders of women to the death toll. In a report titled Unbearable Levels of Violence, the NGO Social Watch draws the connection between impunity and the 2009 coup that so often evades the English-language media. Citing an "alarming rise" in violence against campesinos and a marked rise in violence against "transsexuals", the report goes on to say
femicide is also increasing. In the period 2003 to 2010 some 1,464 women were killed, 44% of them aged 15 to 29. In 2010 alone 300 women died violent deaths but in only 22 of these cases (7.3%) were the perpetrators brought to justice. From 2008 to 2010 there were 944 murders of women but the legal system only managed to punish 61 of the murderers (6.4%).

Similar figures have been reported by other advocacy groups, such as the Campaña Nacional Contra Femicidios. Writing in a statement relates October 7, 2011, this group reviewed the statistics on prosecution of murders of women in Honduras:
of the total of 351 cases reported to the prosecutor in 2010, only 179 (51% of the total) were able to enter the court as cases, and only 59 cases arrived at trial in court, of which 48 verdicts were produced, which indicates to us a percentage of 13.6% effectiveness in those cases.

They conclude:
While impunity exists we women will continue in a state of defenseless and the list of victims of femicide will continue to grow.

As, in fact, has happened with the latest atrocity in the Aguan, which added two more women to the death toll.

Impunity; the availability of guns; targeting of certain groups for political and structural reasons; and the ineffectuality and corruption of the police, who no one expects to actually investigate crimes professionally: all these factors should be the start of press coverage of crime in Honduras, not the end.

But then, that is a story that requires more specific historical context. So much easier to just draw a line from San Pedro Sula to Ciudad Juarez, and ignore all that is particular to each of these zones.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Aguan Agreement Endangered

The agreement between the Movimiento Unificado de Campesinos del Aguán (MUCA) and the Honduran government to buy land in the Bajo Aguan from Miguel Facussé is endangered. MUCA alleges the government is not keeping their part of the bargain.

Decree 161-2011 was signed on October 4, 2011, and gave a 90 day window for MUCA and the government to agree on financing of the purchase through private funding, with the government acting as a guarantor of the loan. MUCA would be responsible for paying off the loan.

According to Vitalino Alvarez, spokesperson for MUCA, the government only got one response to their request for proposals from private banks. That response, from BANHPROVI (the Banco Nacional Hondureña de Producción y Vivienda) agreed to finance the purchase, at 14% interest with full repayment in 7 years, and a two year grace period.

However, according to MUCA, the terms required them to assume all the costs of acquiring the loan (legal, environmental, registrations, etc.) which combined with the interest rate and repayment period, made the loan impossible for them to assume, according to Vitalino Alvarez.

Further MUCA said the government negotiated the loan terms without consulting them, whereas their interpretation of the agreement calls for a mutual discussion of the loan terms.

In any case, MUCA is right; the loan terms are too onerous for them to assume. They've earned about 150 million lempiras since they took over the land in April, 2010, or roughly 75 million lempiras a year. They put about 30 million lempiras of that back into land improvement. The balance they divided among the 3000 families of MUCA. That works out to be about 20,000 lempiras per family, or $1055 a year. Simple math shows they could never earn enough, at that rate, from the African Palms to ever come close to paying off the loan, even assuming the 3000 families that belong to MUCA needed no income for those nine years.

Did the government (or the bank for that matter) bother to even do the math? Apparently not since they presented this deal to MUCA. It turns out MUCA is smarter than the members of the Secretaria de Finanzas that negotiated this deal.

MUCA did the math, and it didn't add up. It would be insane for them to sign the proposed deal. It would have hurt the Honduran government as loan guarantor when MUCA inevitably defaulted.

Back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Winds of Change in Culture Ministry?

The date for a report from the investigative commission appointed by Porfirio Lobo Sosa to look into the work conditions and financial management of the Secretaria de Cultura, Arte, y Deportes (SCAD) has come and gone. But that doesn't mean we can comment on the report.

El Heraldo on Thursday said that Lobo Sosa was not happy with the report, that it simply repeated the conclusions drawn under previous investigations without concretizing anything.

Perhaps more interesting, they say that Porfirio Lobo Sosa is having trouble finding a replacement for Bernard Martinez.

Their source, El Heraldo tells us, is an anonymous person in the executive branch, who told them:
"He's been looking, but he hasn't been able to get a confirmation from those he had thought of for Culture."

As a result, Lobo Sosa has extended for another 15 days the suspension of Bernard Martinez and Godfredo Fajardo, and has asked the commission to come back at the same time with a more concrete report-- one imagines, to give him cause for making the changes he is trying to engineer.

In the meantime, the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas (TSC) has launched an audit of purchases made during the last two years under Bernard Martinez's oversight.

There were so many accusations of impropriety placed with them that they had put this auditing of SCAD into their 2012 budget. The TSC has already determined that Martinez needs to better account for 2 million lempiras he spent, and that Fajardo needs to better account for 87 million lempiras, or be held accountable for repaying that amount to the state.

The Corruption Prosecutor is awaiting the results of the TSC investigation to bring charges on any documented abuses.

One problem with finding a replacement for Bernard Martinez may be that Lobo Sosa has publicly pledged that any replacement of ministers who were part of the much-hyped "government of reconciliation" will come from the same party as the minister being replaced.

In the case of SCAD, that means the Partido de Innovación y Unidad (PINU) to which Martinez belongs, which would greatly restrict the pool of candidates.

Of course, it may also simply be the case that, having suffered now from the notorious Myrna Castro administration ("Fashion is culture too") and the Bernard Martinez interval ("Very few of us know the concept of culture") SCAD is a Ministry no sane, qualified person would take on.

In the meantime, although suspended, Bernard Martinez and Godfredo Fajardo continue to receive their salary.

Monday, January 9, 2012

More Victims of Police Violence: Catholic Clergy Edition

What does "impunity" mean?

In Honduras, it means that the police and armed forces are not held accountable for the violence they unleash against the people with no reason other than that they can. The number of victims and the sectors of society they come from exceeds our ability to track or report them. As has been repeatedly noted, few of these excesses are investigated, even by the human rights officials assigned this responsibility.

Now, add another group to those subject to random violence by Honduran security forces: the Roman Catholic clergy. And this time the outrage that actually gained traction with the international media.

The Latin American Herald Tribune reports that Father Marco Aurelio Lorenzo, pastor of Macuelizo, a small town in the Department of Santa Barbara, has filed a formal complaint with the Public Prosecutor's office in San Pedro Sula denouncing a police attack he experienced.

Father Lorenzo described the attack by the police, which took place on December 26, when he and two brothers were traveling to visit family, and stopped along the highway to rest. Honduran reports specify that they were between La Esperanza and Gracias, on the way to the town of Yamaranguila, in the heart of Lenca territory.

Eight police officers set on them and beat them, badly enough that they then took them to the hospital. The Latin American Herald Tribune quotes Father Lorenzo:
“They beat us on every part of our bodies,” Lorenzo said, adding that the cops didn’t realize he was a priest until they took the three brothers to a nearby hospital.

The story has been circulating in Honduran media for about a week. On January 3, La Tribuna of Honduras provided its version. Lorenzo is quoted as saying that he feared he would be killed:
“In the beginning I thought that they would assassinate me, but they did not do it."

This is how impunity leads to power: Hondurans live with the very real, and well-founded fear that if the police attack, they will end by murdering their victims to cover up their actions. The fear intimidates people and leads them to avoid exercising the rights they have under their constitution. That makes Father Lorenzo's decision to file a complaint especially important.

The Herald Tribune story adds that Father Lorenzo "is known in western Honduras for his activism on behalf of human rights and the environment". Juan Donaghy provides more details about Father Lorenzo's work in the community where he ministers.

His work places him in the company of many others who have been victimized in this way; the only apparent difference is that he wasn't deliberately targeted, but was randomly set on.

Why? in another country we could hope that the prosecutor, who supposedly "said in a communique that he would investigate the case", would clarify that. But we won't be holding our breath.

In the absence of an investigation, what we have is a story of three men, stopped to rest along the road in the countryside, randomly set on by the police. One of Honduran stories says the police robbed their victims of 11,500 lempiras during the attack. The local police claim that they were responding to an accident.

A case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the kind of violence that exercises a chilling effect on the people of Honduras.

The parish of Father Lorenzo, in a statement of support for him issued on December 31, provide an indication of the corrosive effect such incidents have on public trust in government institutions:
We alert the public in general so that they don’t trust nor allow themselves to be seduced by the security forces which are the right hand of organized crime in our society and that don’t fulfill their function to protect, serve and care for the population in general.

They add a very serious additional charge:
the principal objective was to get into the vehicle and throw it in a chasm 300 meters deep.

This apparently unbelievable claim would be consistent with a police history of covering up violence by committing even more acts of violence.

This time, the police appear to have picked the wrong victim. In reporting last week, La Tribuna of Honduras noted Father Lorenzo's history of community activism:
defender of human rights and of the El Merendón forest, the zone his parish belongs to. He also battles against the installation of mining enterprises in the area.

In the complaint he filed, Father Lorenzo said
"Both the priests as well as the nuns of the Christian base community in the Departments of Copán, Intibucá, Lempira, Santa Bárbara and Ocotepeque, belonging to the Dioces of the west of Honduras, live in a climate of terror and threats from the repressive bodies of the State."

Fighting back and providing an example for his community, Father Lorenzo can expect to have his reputation blackened and his motives questioned. But his is an example that needs to be publicized in the face of the linked impunity and despair that state violence has produced in Honduras.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Secret Contract

Africo Madrid, Interior Minister, has entered into a no-bid contract with Securiport, a Washington D.C. based company, for implementation of its Total Digital Control System (TDIC), a system which uses biometrics to determine that the same person who checks in is the person who boards an aircraft.

Once implemented, it will check the Honduran national criminal database for individuals with the same biometric data (fingerprints, in this case).

So, new technology, purchased on a no-bid contract. What's it going to cost?

Hondurans don't know. Madrid said the contract terms are secret, to prevent letting organized crime know the details of the technology.

Some secret. Anyone can use google to find information on what Securiport does.

Madrid told the press he's doing this because it's too easy for people to enter and leave Honduras without the police being able to accurately identify them. He told El Heraldo:
"we are trying to avoid the immigration of members of organized crime, terrorists, drug traffickers, kidnappers, arms traffickers and money launderers that use our country as a center of operations because of the lack of scientific mechanisms of immigration control."

Madrid said that the equipment is to be located at the 23 border crossing points where travelers can legally enter Honduras. Madrid said that the system will, through a satellite connection, bring back real time images of a person's face, and run vehicle identification information based on the license plate.

Such systems of identification are only as good as the databases to which they connect.

The best security would come from connecting to Interpol's SLTD database, a collection of lost and stolen identifications and travel documents as reported to Interpol by national governments. Former Security Minister Oscar Alvarez promised back in July 2011 that Honduras would do this. It's a good database and identified 23,000 people worldwide in 2011 traveling on one of the lost or stolen documents.

But that isn't part of the workflow outlined for customer's on Securiport's website.

Their website explains what their technology does. Fingerprint scanning is done using "ultrasonic imaging". This is both a strength and a weakness of the system. Ultrasonic fingerprint scanning is great. It avoids the distortions introduced by putting your finger on a glass plate, or taking a photograph of your finder tip. It is also said to have the ability to detect "live" versus "dead" skin, avoiding the problems caused by chemical burns and occupational calluses.

Ultrasonically obtained fingerprints are not entirely comparable to those obtained by other methods. Thus, as this manufacturer of ultrasonic fingerprinting chips shows, appropriate applications are for places where you can scan 100% of the population for comparison using the same technology.

What makes it possible for this system to interact with others is a US government project, by way of the National Institute for Science and Technology. This has over the years defined a finger print identification and storage system that constructs a vector based on the ridges, working around the incompatibility of directly comparing images collected by different systems.

This system codes 3 levels of detail. The first level data contains what NIST calls the "flow" of the ridges. The second level encodes the pattern of ridges, recording the paths of ridges, and their sequence. Level three encodes features along individual ridge paths. Recognition is usually performed (in the computer) by reference to just the first, or the first and second levels of data. From these recommendations, a series of International Standards Organization specifications for fingerprint data storage, interchange, and identification were issued.

So, not-so-secret technology.

And even if it were, that wouldn't explain why the contract cost needs to be secret.

So how much will Securiport actually get? That's Madrid's big secret.

Some travelers will now have to pay an additional $34, $17 on entry and another $17 to leave, in a "security tax". Madrid told the press
"Someone has to pay for it."

He continued:
"This security tax will be applied uniquely and exclusively to international travelers who enter and leave the national territory via the four international airports; they will subsidize the people who enter and leave by land and sea."

And that's how we can estimate the actual payoff to Securiport that Madrid doesn't want to reveal.

According to El Heraldo, all of the money collected will be placed in a special account and go to Securiport, about $27 million a year. The contract has a duration of 10 years. $270 million: not bad.

This special security tax was approved by Congress on December 14. They approved the increase in airport exit fees to $60.30, later rolled back by order of Pepe Lobo, around the same time.

All of this secrecy.

The added expense for air travellers-- including all those tourists on whom the country is depending-- leaving Honduras with the highest airport entry and exit fees in Central America.

How many criminals would it take to justify the cost of this contract?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Papel Sellado By Another Name

New Year's brought a change to another legacy of Spain in Honduras. In 2012, papel sellado, or legal size sheets of paper with tax stamps affixed to them, is no longer valid for legal documents. Instead, Hondurans must get used to two different colors of Papel Especial Notarial, or special notarial paper. Same concept, different implementation.

In a Royal decree of 15 December 1636, the Spanish King, Phillip IV established papel sellado as a royal right and a way of conferring "trustworthiness" on legal documents. While the decree talks of improving the reliability of legal documents and this being a royal right, the income generated from it was equally welcome. Papel sellado sold for 4 or 8 reales. The decree went into effect in Spain in 1637, and papel sellado came to Central America in 1638 and replaced a tradition of writing legal documents on plain paper.

In the Honduran colony, papel sellado was initially scarce, such that many legal documents continued to be written on plain paper. It was not until the 18th century that papel sellado really became widely used in Honduras, and even then, one frequently encounters documents written on plain paper that bear the notation "written on plain paper because we have no papel sellado" in the Archivo General de Centroamerica.

Thus papel sellado formed part of the Spanish colonial legal and bureaucratic system brought forward to the present day.

This year Honduras turned its back on another part of its colonial history.

In 2002, Decree 194-2002 conferred on the Supreme Court the power to provide, administer, and distribute papel sellado of a single type for all legal uses. The court also acquired the right to determine the price of the paper. On November 12, 2011, La Gaceta published the Reglamento para la emisión, adminstración, distribución y uso del papel expecial notarial, issued by the Supreme Court to do away with papel sellado.

The new paper for legal documents is called "special notarial paper" and comes in two colors, green and orange. As I understand it, the green is for wills and contracts, the orange for legal documents with the government. Only approved notaries can buy the green paper, on sale at banks. Approval consists of authorization in writing from either the Comptroller of Notaries or the judiciary. Notaries do not require authorization to buy the orange paper from a bank. Each sheet will sell for a court established price of 20 lempiras.

There is no argument in the rule that special notarial paper is more secure than papel sellado. While the rule calls for the special notarial paper to be printed on "security paper", it does not specify any security requirements. Generally such papers are watermarked, and may incorporate metal or plastic threads, some of which might fluoresce under ultraviolet light. However, paper alone is not enough to provide security. It's far too easy to steal paper. Usually one specifies security features in the printing as well, as is done for currency.

The description of what's printed on the special notary paper provides no security. It is printed without lines. On one side is the seal of the Judiciary, on the other is a drawing of Themis, the Greek representation of divine justice, law, and custom. Below Themis is printed the phrase "Special Notarial Paper", the value, and the four year interval for which it is valid.

Both papel sellado and special notarial paper must be capable of holding 25 double spaced lines of text printed on them while maintaining strict margins.

So the special notarial paper seems to be "because I can", not because it has any benefit for Honduras or Hondurans.

Papel sellado by another name.