Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Death of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History

Virgilio Paredes, Director of the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia (IHAH), and Áfrico Madrid, Interior Minister, appear to have sown the seeds that will ultimately reduce the IHAH to inconsequence and put the national patrimony of Honduras at risk.

Under Honduran law, all archaeological and historical sites and objects are the property of the people of Honduras, with the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia the guardian of this patrimony. IHAH is charged with conducting and regulating research on this national patrimony, with managing both the movable property and sites, and with disseminating knowledge of the patrimony to the people who are its ultimate owners.

A special office, the Fiscalia de Etnias, currently occupied by Jany del Cid, prosecutes violations of the law concerning national patrimony.

But the state government of Honduras has never footed the actual bill for the protection, management, or interpretation and public dissemination of the national patrimony. In 2012, the resources in the national government budget for IHAH (page A45 of the linked PDF of La Gaceta) looks like this:

42, 471,458

Income from Operations (admissions)




Transfers from the Central Government


Transfers of Capital from the Central Government



That's a total budget of $3.4 million dollars. $1.1 million is allocated by Congress.

But the larger portion, $2.2 million, is in income from visits to the national archaeological and historic parks and museums that IHAH maintains.

Less than a third of the budget is provided by the central government, and about two thirds of its budget is provided by income from visits to the parks and museums.

Where does the Institute spend its money? Here's the budget projections for 2012 (all amounts in lempiras):




Services (phone, lights, water, etc.)








Books, Magazines, and Gifts


Intangible Assets


Construction and Improvements

The central government's budget contribution does not even cover the payroll of IHAH for a year.

It is only through the income from admission to archaeological and historical parks and museums that it can perform all of its services, which include:

  • maintaining the National Historical Archives
  • maintaining archaeological parks open to the public
  • educating the public about national patrimony and its protection
  • fostering local and national histories
  • protecting archaeological sites from looting and destruction
  • research when construction threatens an archaeological site
  • enter into international agreements to protect the national patrimony

Now, in an open meeting in the town of Copán Ruinas, Helmy Giocoman, Mayor of Copan Ruinas, and Áfrico Madrid, Minister of the Interior, decided that the law governing IHAH would be changed to give municipalities a say in whether archaeological pieces can be loaned to foreign museums or not.

They also agreed to fire Salvador Varela, the local representative of IHAH, for failure to adequately communicate with the local authorities.

The Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia reportedly participated in this dismantling of its mission.

And it agreed that a percentage of the income from the park will be transferred to the local government. The agreement left the amount to be negotiated later. Copan Mayor Giocoman hopes it will be 50 percent of the income. There is nothing to suggest he will not get his way, as he has already in these unprecedented steps effectively appropriated control of a national patrimony for the economic benefit of a particular municipality.

The agreement was signed by Madrid as representative of the government, Giocoman, representing the town, and Rosa Maria Lopez, an IHAH lawyer.

Virgilio Paredes, the director of IHAH, was not present.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Adrienne Pine: "U.S. foreign policy backs abusive Honduran state"

An op ed under this title appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle today, following the implications of the Comayagua prison fire which killed 360 people.

Pine sharply cuts through the obfuscation of the real issues that started once US investigators identified the source of the fire as a cigarette. For some, this seemed to relieve pressure for the Lobo Sosa administration to be held accountable for the inferno and the deaths it produced.

But as Pine writes
it was neither accident nor oversight that the Lobo administration did not implement changes ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to prevent more prison deaths.

As she reminds readers, this is not the first time prisoners have died in similar incidents in Honduras:
Police were found to be involved in planning and executing the 2003 and 2004 massacres that killed nearly 200 inmates.

In the Comayagua fire, first hand reports by survivors describe guards shooting at prisoners desperate to escape the overcrowded death trap. The overcrowding, Pine emphasizes, is caused by detention of excessive numbers of people under anti-gang, and more recently, anti-terrorism, laws, without ensuring timely trials. More than half of the prisoners in the Comayagua disaster had not yet been tried.

Pine calls for us to listen to Honduran human rights activists who, in her words
assert that justice requires accountability at the highest levels for the Comayagua fire and all other human rights violations. They demand the implementation of due process for prisoners and a reworking of the penal code by a publicly accountable judiciary.

And they call on the United States to withdraw military and police aid to the Honduran government.

It is long past time for the US to recognize that the Lobo Sosa administration is not advancing reconciliation and peace in Honduras; instead, it has deepened corruption, impunity and privilege of the powerful factions behind the 2009 coup.

And people are dying.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Leticia Salomon: "The fire in Comayagua is evidence of the collapse of the system"

Leticia Salomon, a sociologist at UNAH, provided some of the most rapid and most insightful analyses of the 2009 coup; we linked to these and discussed them (here, here, and here) in the early months of the de facto regime.

Now Diego Jimenez, writing in Costa Rica's La Nación, gives us Salomon's response to the prison fire in Comayagua.

That fire exposed the shameful facts of Honduran policing: prisons overcrowded with populations not yet tried, let alone convicted, many there as a result of laws targeting expressive behaviors by young people, primarily men, said to be indicators of gang membership and thus bases for incarceration (as well as making these individuals targets of extra-judicial death squads); and rising numbers of murders, most uninvestigated or questionably attributed to convenient targets.

The interview is worth reading in full (although it seems to end so abruptly that we thought it might be part of a longer piece).

Salomon touches on the failure of the entire judicial system; the reason why guns are so pervasive in Honduras today (which we continue to think is an under-appreciated part of the reason that the murder rate is rising); and the fact that youth gangs-- maras-- became a focus of security policy for political reasons, and are not the main reason for the situation on the ground today.

She characterizes the situation as one in which the police "don't just cover for those that commit crimes, rather they are part of the organized bands" who commit the crimes; a system biased toward the rich, where the entire justice system is "deficient", something far exceeding even the excesses of past political struggle or repression: a total breakdown, in particular, without accountability for increasing funding justified for "security".

Not, one would say, where the US should invest more security funding.

What is the present profile of violence in Honduras?

There has been a change in the origins of violence. The old rivalries among political parties no longer translate into battles with wounded and dead, nor does the violence that the State exercises on the citizenry through violation of rights and the persecution of dissidents proliferate.

”Now, instead, society itself is what generates a host of problems, that run from social conflicts that are completely valid, to the organization of bands, gangs (maras and pandillas), drug trafficking organizations, and so on”.

What is the state of the Honduran justice system to confront the problem?

The Honduran system of justice presents characteristics that are very deficient to guarantee due process. I refer to all the offices of justice: preventive police, investigation police, solicitors, judges, defenders, the penitentiary system and including norms in problems of security.

"Criminality rises despite the legislative and executive branches approving budgetary increases. Since there is no horizontal rendering of accounts, it is not asked of the authorities that they should say what they are doing with those funds and they continue in the same circle without producing positive results.

”There is also involvement of the authorities with common and organized crime. The denunciations of recent days, including about the fire in the Comayagua jail, as well as the assassination of two university students, show the breakdown of the system of justice. The police don't just cover for those that commit crimes, rather they are part of the organized bands [of criminals]".

How much have policies of mano dura of recent years influenced the deterioration of the Honduran judicial system?

It has influenced it a lot. The fire in the Comayagua jail places in evidence the collapse of the system of justice to confront a real problem to which the authorities have never paid the necessary attention. The topic of penitentiaries has not been incorporated in the agenda of any government.

”They have simply dedicated themselves to sending to the jail everyone that they seize, many of whom never are definitively sentenced. There are many in jail for very minor things, such as having a tattoo, and they serve more than the time stipulated by the law while the judge is still deliberating."

What happens with those that commit crimes of great gravity?

There are persons that have the greatest resources, great political influence in the country, and that when they are detected in some problem of great crime, enjoy almost total impunity. In general, these persons neither are cited, nor investigated, and if they take a decision to imprison them while they are investigated, there are privileged systems within the jail, that they can pay for as if it were a hotel.

”So they can live with a TV, sound system, with a larder...., with everything, as if it were a hotel. And what is worse: they can go out however many times they want with the complicity of the custodians. They can observe the weekends in the discotecs, in their houses, or even taking classes".

The statistics say that the average number of guns in Honduras is five per person. Why is it so easy to get guns in Honduras?

This is an question that we have had since the National Congress approved the topic (in 2010). When it was supposed that what was recommended was to have a gun, and that with the greatest restrictions, the legislative decision did not put limits on carrying [guns]. I feel that this was a great concession to the businesses and people that have private security. The result is the existence of a potential use of violence to be able to solve any minor conflict.

How much do maras affect the level of violence of the country?

The maras are delimited in marginal neighborhoods of the city and they have the defense of their territory as a raison d'etre. That's to say, they are easily located, they do not proliferate in all the city.

”In the period of [the presidency of] Ricardo Maduro (2002-2006), this topic was placed as the focus of attention in the area of security. This responded to an actual problem, but it was made larger to distract attention of the citizenry and to disregard other topics.

”That persecution translated into the capture of the small-time leaders, who were put away in the penal centers, and many of them, on encountering other maras, entered into conflict and the violence that they had carried on outside was reproduced. There were many deaths of mara members within the prisons because the prisons were not prepared to guarantee security.

”Today, the maras continue to exist but that is not such a relevant problem as it was some years ago. However, they have gone on to other stages, such as drug trafficking on a local level".

Note: the use of quotation marks is precisely as in La Nación; it is unclear to us if the sections outside quotation marks are paraphrases, but the use of first person pronouns suggests they are also precisely what Salomon said.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Separation of Powers 2 (the sequel)

We wrote before how Porfirio Lobo Sosa doesn't understand the Honduran Constitution's separation of powers.

Today he made that even clearer: he said that he would be forming a commission of jurists to examine whether the recent decisions by the Supreme Court were based in the law, saying
"The only [state] power without anything over it is the Judicial power; whatever they do or decide is the last recourse, which doesn't seem fair to me in the balance of power".

Yes, the Judicial branch is the ultimate arbiter of the law under the Honduran constitution, just as it is under the US constitution.

Apparently that's news to Lobo Sosa, and he knows what he thinks he can do about it:
"There are things that are not fair, them perhaps it is adhering to the Constitution, but I have the right as well to put in place jurists who will analyze for me if the decision of [the Supreme Court] really adheres to the Constitution of the Republic".

The only saving grace here is that Lobo Sosa isn't saying what he will do after his selected commission reports on their opinion of the Supreme Court's recent opinions.

There is no question the Honduran judicial system, including the Supreme Court, is politicized. We've blogged about the problems with the selection process for the court before. Heather Berkman's scholarly article on the subject provides a good analysis.

But the problem is not that the Judicial Branch has no oversight; the problem is in how the justices are selected for the Supreme Court. The problem is that the judicial system is partitioned as "spoils" by the two major political parties. The process is heavily politicized.

The selection process is spelled out in Article 311 and 312 of the Honduran constitution. Nominations are made by a commission composed of seven members:
(1) one Supreme Court justice, elected by 2/3 of the justices on the Supreme Court
(2) one lawyer, from the Lawyer's Union, elected by the assembly.
(3) The Human Rights Commissioner
(4) one representative from the Honduran Council of Private Business (Consejo Hondureño de la Empresa Privada (COHEP)) elected in assembly
(5) one representative of the Law Professors, election run by the National Autonomous University
(6) one representative of Civil Society
(7) one representative of the Workers Unions
The law that governs the operation of this group is Decreto 140-2001.

It calls for these people to get together and propose at least 3 nominations for each of the 15 places in the Supreme Court.

Members of the nominating committee cannot themselves be candidates for the Supreme Court, nor related to a candidate. Each representative comes to the committee meeting with a slate of up to 20 candidates proposed by their organization, which cannot be modified once it is proposed. They then discuss each of the candidates and vote to arrive at a slate of no fewer than 45 total candidates which are then proposed to Congress.

At this point, the nominating committee dissolves itself. Congress winnows the list down to 15 members of the Supreme Court, each appointed to 7 year terms.

In theory, it's a law designed to incorporate the views of a large part, though not all, of Honduran society. Campesinos are not represented, nor are indigenous people, for example.

In practice, it ends up being dominated by the political parties that control government. The Misión de Observación del proceso de selección de los nuevos miembros de la Corte Suprema de Honduras reported in 2008 that there was much pressure by political parties to make bargains on the slate of candidates. They wrote:
They [the Mission] received information from multiple sources about alleged irregularities in the elaboration of certain lists, and information concerning alleged political influence, which if true, only serves to undermine the selection process. The Mission also verified a widespread distrust in the selection process, and more specifically, a belief that the candidate lists are a result of political and powerful interest groups interferences.

The Mission reported that the selection criteria were not transparent, but seemed to be limited to the candidate's educational background and work experience with no attempt to determine the candidate's legal skills, philosophy, ideology, or ethical positions.

In 2008 the Congress voted on slates of candidates from the pool proposed by the selection committee. Two slates were created, sponsored by the two main political parties in Honduras, the Liberal Party and the National Party.

As a result, the current Supreme Court consists of 8 Liberal Party members, and 7 National Party members. Each of the current justices is a member of a political faction in one of the two major parties. For example, Tomas Arita Valle, who issued the legal warrant that precipitated and sanctioned the coup, belongs to the Liberal Party faction headed by former president Carlos Flores Facussé.

So it may not be surprising that Porfirio Lobo Sosa does not understand separation of powers, and the place of the Supreme Court in that separation of powers.

He is certainly free to appoint a panel to give him an opinion about the current crop of Supreme Court decisions with which he disagrees.

And there have been a lot of them. His 1 percent security tax, model cities, and the Evangelical Church Law were all found unconstitutional. It is the last of these that seems to have roused him to greatest outrage.

In response, he said
"They declared the law unconstitutional, a Court, but not God and we'll move forward until that law is valid because it is the law that rules and what the Honduran people want so they can be with God".

The Supreme Court found the Evangelical Church Law unconstitutional because it mandates that to be a legal "church" in Honduras, you must belong to the Evangelical Confraternity of Churches.

Lobo Sosa's legal options to make good on his promise are few. Any revision of the form of government and separation of powers would require major constitutional surgery, which in turn, would need the tacit approval of this Supreme Court, to avoid triggering another constitutional crisis.

Lobo Sosa has, oddly, been citing as support for his position the official Truth and Reconciliation Commission. That group suggested Honduras create a Constitutional Court to review the determinations of the Supreme Court. What is unclear is why they think that will help at all.

How do you select members of the Constitutional Court in order to avoid the politicization of the selection of justices that created the current set of problems with the Supreme Court? Wouldn't it be easier, legislatively and structurally, to change the way Supreme Court justices are selected, rather than trying to shoehorn in an entirely new level of court?

Coincidentally, just when Lobo Sosa is airing his unusual theories of constitutional separation of powers, on Thursday a delegation of German judges left Honduras after reviewing its legal system.

Their conclusion: it's worse than they thought. They indicated that there was impunity and corruption in the judicial system and that the Honduran justices where not up to the fight.

A new Supreme Court will be selected on January 25, 2015. There is no particular reason to think that changes will happen by then that would fix the broken selection system.

Meanwhile, we have the spectacle of a Honduran president, faced with decisions he doesn't like, proposing to institute some sort of ad hoc oversight to decide which decisions he really has to accept.

Anyone who thinks Honduras has a functional form of government should probably pause to consider that.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Model Cities Are Unconstitutional

Model cities, or Redes Especiales de Desarrollo (RED) as they are known in the law (decreto 238-2010) enabling them, are "an attempt on the form of government and national sovereignty," according to a report issued by the Public Prosecutor's office. In it, the Defender of the Constitution, Xiomara Osorio, reasoned that because the law contemplates changes in the form of government over these regions, the lawmakers committed treason against their country. As such, the law is unconstitutional.

The legal opinion of Public Prosecutors office, which is not binding, was in a report they filed with the Supreme Court as part of the appeal of this law. They are agreeing in this report with a group of lawyers who filed a legal challenge to the law in November 2011 and have asked the Supreme Court to overturn the law.

One commentator on the El Heraldo report, said "That they violated the constitution, how is this news? They [Congress] do that every day!"

El Tiempo ran an editorial Monday in which it pointed out how the report from the Prosecutor's office echoes the points raised in their own editorial on the subject published last June 30.

While this is not the death knell of Model Cities in Honduras, it is none-the-less a severe blow. It is now up to the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the Model Cities enabling legislation.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Burning of Markets: History Repeats Itself

Comayagüela lies across from Tegucigalpa, separated by a mostly dry riverbed. Most North Americans probably spend little time there; there would be almost no reason to do so.

Unless you want to go to the traditional markets. Hundreds of market stalls selling everything from sneakers to food.

The first time I went there, in the late 1970s, I found something magical: tiny fired clay whistles shaped like birds. Never found out where they were made; just fell in love with them.

On Saturday, the markets burned. The AP story says more than 1800 stalls were destroyed. Photos show images of incredible destruction in the Colon and San Isidro markets.

Not surprisingly, Honduran newspapers give much more detail. El Tiempo's story on Saturday describes a six hour fight against the fires. The cloud of smoke is likened to a nuclear explosion.

Tiempo described the apparent beginning of the fire, saying that the most common eyewitness account was
that a spark began the blaze in the sector of piñatas in the Colon market, and as it was 12:15 midday and there was a scorching sun, three minutes were enough to unleash a fire of the greatest proportions that has been seen in the capital.

But this is not the first time Tegucigalpa has witnessed these markets burning. Colleagues who are Honduran history students provided the image reproduced here. It shows the market of San Isidro in April 1924, after it was burned "in a context of war and disputes between the caudillos of the time" (to quote one of my correspondents).

A special feature article published by El Heraldo describes the 1924 fire as the first to afflict the market, and identifies the powerful political bosses in conflict as Tiburcio Carías Andino, Vicente Tosta and Gregorio Ferrera. Carías Andino, of course, became the long-running dictator of mid-century Honduras.

El Heraldo goes on to list a litany of more recent fires in these markets: one in the Alvarez market in the late 1980s; another at the end of the 1990s in the Colon market; the destruction in the Colón, Las Américas, San Isidro and Quinta Avenida markets of 218 stalls, on July 30, 2009; and 20 stalls destroyed in the Galindo market just this past October 23.

The latest fire, according to Tiempo, completely destroyed 846 market stalls in the Colon market; half of the 800+ stalls of the San Isidro market; 60% of the Quinta Avenida market; as well as three rows in the Alvarez market, 10 businesses of the San Miguel market, plus other shelters across from the church of Maria Auxiliadora on First Street, and others on Sixth Avenue along the Colon and San Isidro markets. Estimates are that 5000 small market businesses were affected.

The writers of El Heraldo take the opportunity to blame the market people for the repeated fires that destroyed their livelihood, calling the markets "badly constructed" and "in disorder", "for lack of an integrated vision that would permit them to have worthy installations".

Coming right after a description of the 1924 fire, this characterization struck me as inconsistent with what the historic photo shows: the burned facility then was a formally built masonry arcade, surely a "worthy installation".

But there is a narrative being advanced here of backward common people, for whom the fire of 2012 might act as a kind of housecleaning. Historically, though, it might make more sense to pay attention to the tenor of the communications from my correspondents, who note that with the absorption of Comayagüela by Tegucigalpa in 1937,
the people of Comayagüela were condemned to subsidize with their taxes the administrative cost of Tegucigalpa...the same way that in the colonial epoch, when the Spanish appropriated Tegucigalpa and displaced the indigenous population to Comayagüela, where they were gathered together to be used in labor gangs of Tegucigalpa during the day.

Ricardo Alvarez, the current mayor of Tegucigalpa (and primary candidate for President for the Partido Nacional) has called for the relocation of the market stalls to a different site, as yet unidentified.

He also called for the US to send ATF agents to investigate the cause of the fire, which he described as "very unusual" because it "spread from one marked to another like nothing that has happened before". Perhaps reflecting the disquiet raised by two deadly fires in such rapid succession, Alvarez said that a serious investigation was needed to disprove his suspicion that the market fire was deliberately to "destabilize" the country, saying
"I hope that I might be mistaken in that perception".

Mistaken or not, by spreading this innuendo, he is losing no time in making political capital out of the tragedy of thousands of people.

The exploitation of the working people of the capital city has a long, long history. It shouldn't be surprising that this latest disaster can be so quickly turned into propaganda by a politician. It may not be precisely the same as Carías Andino, Tosta and Ferrera burning the market during their struggle for power. But it has the same stench.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Fires This Time

It has been difficult to even think of writing in response to the fire in Comayagua.

It is just the latest in a series of incidents in which massive numbers of detainees in Honduran prisons have died. Similar disasters happened in 2003, when police deliberately set a prison fire, and in 2004 in San Pedro Sula, a case investigated by the IAHCR for human rights violations.

More than 350 people died this time. They were being held in a facility crowded with more than 850 prisoners, more than half not yet tried. The prison where they were being held was originally intended to house only 250 prisoners, according to the Bishop of Comayagua. The huge numbers incarcerated in Honduran prisons are a direct result of draconian anti-gang laws.

Reuters quotes the Honduran fire official in charge of fighting the inferno in Comayagua, saying that they were prevented from entering the prison for a half hour:
"These people in the prisons have their protocols, and while these are going on, they don't let anybody in."

Prison officials kept the firefighters out while hundreds died in a horrible way.

People related to the incarcerated-- who, remember, were mostly not even tried, let alone convicted-- are demanding answers and accountability.

So how can we react to this?

Adrienne Pine provides two pragmatic suggestions:

(1) write to your congress member and urge him or her to sign on to a congressional letter asking that military aid to Honduras be suspended

(2) donate funds to Rights Action which will ensure they reach
the Centre for Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and their Families, a group that works with prisoners and their families in Honduras.

Then consider borrowing a contemplative practice from the Jesuit community that runs Radio Progreso, as described by Dana Frank:
All the following day the Jesuits’ opposition radio station, Radio Progreso, read out the names of the dead, and the incantation of their classic Honduran names underscored the magnitude of the blow to the Honduran people.

Univision has a list of names emerging of some of those who died. Instead of viewing the grisly footage of the dead, try reading some of those names, as Dana Frank says, full of the poetry of Honduran identity:

Delmer Matute...
Edys Ariel Cruz Martínez
Melvin Orlando Pérez García
Marlín Giovanni Rivera
Wilmer José López...
Darwin Castro Flores
Darwin José Reyes
Denis Omar Izaguirre Quintanilla
Denis Omar Zavala
Delmis Padilla Cruz...
Eleuterio Amaya del Cid
Ever Yoni Cruz...
Frank Osmani Argueta
Fredy Isaac Irías Mayen...

These victims and all the others did not deserve to die-- even the minority who had been convicted of crimes.

They deserve to be remembered.

They deserve to have someone listen to their story.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Democracy 101: Separation of Powers

Porfirio Lobo Sosa doesn't understand the separation of powers embodied in the Honduran constitution.

On January 31 of this year, a Supreme Court decision went against a law he championed, a tax on businesses of one percent of gross income.

The law was approved by Congress on April 24, 2011, published in La Gaceta on May 30, 2011, but supposedly took effect as of January 1, 2011. The Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional because it was a retroactive change to the tax code, something prohibited by Article 96 of the Honduran constitution.

The law should have been written to take effect on passage, not retroactively. Congress, and Lobo Sosa, should have known that what they proposed was illegal. They ignored it and proposed and approved a patently unconstitutional law.

Enrique Castellón, head of the Honduran IRS equivalent, the Dirección Ejecutiva de Ingresos (DEI), told the press on February 8, 2012, that the government would not refund the money already collected last year, some 800 million lempiras, on the grounds that the judicial decision from the Supreme Court was not retroactive!

But it gets worse.

On Valentine's day, Porfirio Lobo Sosa told La Tribuna that he would seek an international jurisdiction to review the Supreme Court's decisions concerning the Executive Branch. He went on:
If we have to make legal reforms, well we will have to propose them; I hope that the Court will not declare them unconstitutional, because it is the refuge of many now who go there; what recourse do we have as a State to defend ourselves?....For example, the matter of the one percent [tax], has an effect of more than 1,200 million lempiras on the Honduran treasury and so, if the court makes a mistake, well they say it is unappealable.

As if to reiterate how much he doesn't understand the legal framework of his country, he continued:
I think there should be an international legal body where one could go to verify the justice of a decision [by the Supreme Court], we will have to see how to do it, because if we are there, we're snarled up.

So, in Lobo Sosa's mind, there needs to be an international court above the Supreme Court to which he can appeal their rulings on his domestic law making.

It looks like the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute better spend some of their State Department allocated Honduran budget educating Honduran government officials on basic democracy 101 and the contents of their own constitution.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Morning After Pills and Abortion

The Honduran Supreme Court ruled Monday that human life begins at conception.

Deciding on the legality of a decree passed just after the coup, the Court ruled that a law banning the sale of "morning after" pills as emergency contraceptives did not violate the rights of women. It further ruled that the approval of morning after pills (which took place under the Zelaya administration) was against the Honduran penal code (Article 126) which defines abortion as the death of a human being at any time during pregnancy or birth.

There is a glaring problem with this decision: it is based on false claims about how the newly rejected drugs work.

So called "morning after" or emergency contraception pills are drugs which are intended to disrupt ovulation or fertilization to prevent pregnancy. To do this higher doses of the same hormones found in oral contraceptives (estrogens, progestins, or a combination of the two) are taken within 120 hours of intercourse. A thorough review of the English language literature on the mechanism of action of emergency contraceptives carried out in 2010 by Leung, Levine, and Soon, found that
the evidence strongly supports disruption of ovulation as a mechanism of action. The data suggest that emergency contraceptives are unlikely to act by interfering with implantation, although the possibility has not been completely excluded.

A 2010 study of the mechanisms of emergency contraception drugs performed by Gemzell-Danielsson, found that in particular, the emergency contraceptive Levonorgestrel, a progestin, taken within 120 hours of intercourse
acts through an effect on follicular development to delay or inhibit ovulation but has no effect once luteinizing hormone has started to increase. Thereafter, LNG-EC cannot prevent ovulation and it does not prevent fertilization or affect the human fallopian tube. LNG-EC has no effect on endometrial development or function. In an in vitro model, it was demonstrated that LNG did not interfere with blastocyst function or implantation.
In plain language, it does not prevent fertilization or implantation once ovulation occurs.

In 2011, Noé, et al conducted a study of Levonorogesteral where the timing of administration was tied to a woman's ovulation cycle. For those that took LNG-EC in the five days before ovulation, there were no pregnancies. For those that took it on the day of ovulation, the expected number of pregnancies resulted. They concluded:
Our results confirm previous similar studies and demonstrate that LNG-EC does not prevent embryo implantation and therefore cannot be labeled as abortifacient.

These drugs don't prevent implantation; they don't prevent fertilization; they are not abortifacients. In fact, there are no recent studies into the mechanisms of these drugs that support the notion that they have any effect once ovulation takes place.

But tell that to the Honduran Supreme Court and more importantly, the Honduran College of Medicine (Colegio Médico de Honduras) which La Tribuna tells us, "carried out an objective analysis of the effects of these drugs".

Obviously this "objective analysis" didn't include a review of the literature.

The Supreme Court's reasoning went something like this. They cite the WHO definition of pregnancy as beginning at implantation, and abortion as the termination of a pregnancy. The Supreme Court wrote:
As a consequence of that, some authors who promote the use of emergency contraception conclude that there is no interruption in the pregnancy because the embryo has not implanted.

They then use that misdirection to conclude that
to have implantation, there must be a fertilized ovum, because without an embryo, there is no chance of implantation. In consequence, human life initiates at the moment of the union of the sperm and ovum, not at the moment of implantation. To negate this is to go against logic and biological principles.

Notice the deft misdirection. They take it as a given that the emergency contraceptives work by preventing implantation of the fertilized ovum, something that study after study (as we cite above) has demonstrated is not true. The overwhelming consensus of the recent medical literature on the mechanisms by which these drugs prevent pregnancy is that they only do so if the woman has not already ovulated. Once ovulation occurs, even if they take these emergency contraception drugs, the expected number of pregnancies result.

La Tribuna reports that the research paper presented to the court by the Colegio Médico de Honduras concluded counterfactually that Levonorgestrel works by blocking implantation, a statement contradicted by current research.

So Honduran women lose ground on reproductive control because of bad science on the part of the Colegio Médico de Honduras.

That should be illegal.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Operation Lightning Backlash

The first backlash against Porfirio Lobo Sosa's Operation Lightning is getting press coverage in Honduras. The 150 members of the town council and residents of the town of Ocotillo shut down the main road through town, blocking it with burning tires, to demand that the 105 Infantry Brigade remove the 300 troops they have stationed in the town as part of Operation Lightning because the troops are violating their rights and abusing their authority.

They report that the soldiers are doing too much identity checking, making everyone, men, women, children, and even the aged, get out of the bus twice as it passes through town. They are also torturing the young men who are on public buses, bending and twisting fingers to get them to confess gang membership. One town councilman says they are even forcing ministers and priests to disrobe to check for arms. They take your cell phone if you aren't carrying the receipt for it.

So, Miguel Ángel Guifaro, the head of the town council, is asking the 105 Infantry brigade to withdraw its troops because they feel the town police post is sufficient.

However, the commander of the 105 Infantry Brigade, coronal Carlos Discua Valle, rejected the complaint alleging the 150 people who protested (out of a population of 11,000) were just relatives of those arrested over the weekend for possession of drugs and a stolen motorcycle. Coronal Discua said:
"Every operation is supervised by officers and non-commissioned officers and nothing is outside the law"

So no investigation, no review, just outright rejection of any claims of abuse. Didn't happen.

Isn't that the epitome of abuse of authority?

Turns out it's Hard to Ignore a Coup

First, it was Dana Frank's Op-Ed in the New York Times, a piece still drawing strong reactions in Honduras.

A concerted effort followed to publish non sequiturs by diplomats not precisely refuting her analysis-- since that is not actually possible-- but blowing smoke about, for example, alleged advances in human rights law. Frank's strong statement (in agreement with human rights organizations in Honduras) opposing increased US security aid to Honduras, because it is used against the people, also drew support from a former US ambassador to El Salvador with experience in Honduras, Robert White, whose letter to the New York Times was not printed along with the two opposed to Frank. But you can read Ambassador White's letter in full at quotha, where he concludes that

Instead of using the leverage provided by a unanimous vote of the Organization of American States to restore constitutional government to Honduras, the Department of State fumbled its responsibilities and propped up the coup regime long enough for it to survive and taint the 2009 presidential election.

Then late last week, NPR broadcast an extraordinary two part story by Annie Murphy, a fellow in the Investigative Reporting Program at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley.

Part one, called "In Honduras, Police Accused of Corruption, Killings", does an excellent job of sketching out the disaster caused by police impunity and corruption, without falling into the easy narrative of assigning the cause to drug trafficking alone. In a major departure from too much of the English language reporting, she allows Berta Oliva of COFADEH to make the case of human rights activists in Honduras against US security aid:
"We've asked the U.S. to stop giving aid to security forces here, and we're going to keep asking them to stop."

But it is part two that has the most extraordinary news, although it would be easy to miss the fact that it is news.

Called "'Who rules in Honduras?' Coup's Legacy of Violence", the second segment of Murphy's report economically describes the events of the coup, and the aftermath in which lobbyists managed to get US government opinion turned against returning the democratically elected president to office to complete his term, and towards the spurious solution of conducting elections (under a de facto regime, without international observation, and after months of violent repression and suspensions of civil rights).

Murphy gets unlikely people on the record supporting the critique of US reaction to the coup, and identifying it as having on-going impacts that neither the Lobo Sosa government nor the US want to recognize. As she writes,
Many [in Honduras] say the outcome of the coup is what pushed Honduras to where it is today: the world's most violent nation, according to the U.N.

Murphy also quotes include former ambassador to Honduras Cresencio Arcos, and Fulton Armstrong, a former CIA analyst. Armstrong describes the US reaction to the coup from the perspective of a senior staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is quoted saying
when you look at what was actually happening in Honduras, [Zelaya] really was a continuation of a halting but definitely forward-moving consolidation of democracy.

The thing that made us sit up and take notice, though, was what Murphy records from Rafael Callejas, president of Honduras from 1990 to 1994. Governing from the Partido Nacional, Callejas might be expected to support the arguments of the current administration of Porfirio Lobo Sosa. Instead, he argues that Zelaya was "too brash"

but says illegally ousting him has had huge repercussions.

"We're in a crisis. We went back 20 years. We lost again the issue of democracy," Callejas says. "Who rules in Honduras now? Really? Who rules? The people? The system? Or strength? I mean, that's the question that has to be solved."

That's news. When former Honduran presidents of the same party that gained power in the 2009 election says "We lost again the issue of democracy", that's news.

Unfortunately, no one now seems to be concerned to help Honduras regain the two decades of progress toward "consolidation of democracy".

To do that, you first have to admit what happened: and the US, the one country with the influence and resources to make a difference, has tied itself to the claim that Lobo Sosa presides over a government of "unity and reconciliation" that is improving human rights and cleaning up the security forces.

Reports like those by Murphy, and the refusal of scholars like Frank to be silenced, are critical to challenging that storyline.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Hard Life Leads to Hard Death

When I began to work in Honduras, the economy I experienced was quite different from what exists today. San Pedro Sula was growing, but the many free trade zones that would lure sweatshops were in the future. In the Bay Islands, where today hotels stand side by side, we saw almost deserted beaches and pristine reefs.

What supported the economy then was agriculture, cattle ranching, banana and sugar plantations, all dependent on the laboring bodies of campesinos.

I spent my work days walking across the countryside, meeting these working people and seeing their daily lives. They worked hard. In the sugar plantations in particular, the work was hot, long, and intense. I could barely stand the heat myself, and I was not swinging a machete to cut the mature cane, a grass whose strands cut into your skin like a thousand tiny glass knives.

In those days before purified water was commercialized in Honduras, I carried a half-gallon water bottle with me, filled from the taps in La Lima where the banana company that owned all the housing provided drinkable water. If I emptied my water bottle, I would have had no alternative to combat the sun and the heat. I had learned on my first trip to Honduras what would happen if I did not stay hydrated: collapse from heat stroke took me out of the field for days.

So it always amazed me to see the relatively tiny water bottles that workers carried to the field. When I offered a drink to someone, they would politely refuse, and then possibly take a tiny sip from their own container. I thought it was something about growing up in that setting; that they were more adjusted to the heat, and needed less water.

Now, an AP story tells me otherwise. It describes a mysterious epidemic of kidney disease killing agricultural workers in Central America. Despite original suspicions that the cause might be a chemical used in the fields, tests for these, and for heavy metals, came up negative. Instead, "the roots of the epidemic"
appear to lie in the grueling nature of the work performed by its victims, including construction workers, miners and others who labor hour after hour without enough water in blazing temperatures, pushing their bodies through repeated bouts of extreme dehydration and heat stress for years on end. Many start as young as 10. The punishing routine appears to be a key part of some previously unknown trigger of chronic kidney disease, which is normally caused by diabetes and high-blood pressure, maladies absent in most of the patients in Central America.

My naive impression that the men I saw toiling all day, with less water than would get me through a couple of hours, were somehow avoiding the damage I feared for myself was wrong. They were not avoiding it: they were accruing that damage year in and year out. Some were probably already dying of it.

But not in such numbers as in the last decade, when in El Salvador and Nicaragua, the frequencies of deaths from kidney disease doubled. The article cites rising mortality in sugar-cane zones of northern Costa Rica, and possible indications of the same in Panama, although "at less dramatic rates".

Because the report didn't mention Honduras, I went off to see what I could find about the incidence of chronic kidney disease there. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, responsible for the original story about chronic kidney disease in Central America on which the AP report is based, describes its methods of investigation. The note on methodology posted by the Center for Public Integrity says "studies have indicated the disease is spreading in Honduras and Mexico as well" but then adds "no data were available for Honduras."

Saying its data come from the World Health Organization, a site called World Life Expectancy claims that in 2011 Honduras deaths from kidney disease made up 4.67% of the mortality there, making this the fifth most common cause of death and placing Honduras 8th in the world for deaths from this cause. El Salvador ranked first; Nicaragua trailed Honduras slightly at 10th. I was unable to find a specific source on the WHO website that would let me verify these numbers, but that's not my specialization, and as the Center for Public Integrity note on methodology indicates, deaths from chronic kidney disease are not coded transparently. What the relative ranking would indicate is, as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists suggests, Honduras is experiencing a similar level of the disease as Nicaragua and El Salvador. Some support for the conclusion that chronic kidney disease is a more urgent health problem in contemporary Honduras than previously comes from news coverage of protests by 1000 patients dependent on dialysis in Honduras suggests the number of those needing this treatment is outstripping the resources the government has to provide.

In the case of El Salvador and Nicaragua, where they could find comparable data, the scientists the reporters talked to argue that increases in kidney disease are not simply due to better reporting. They point out that
in nations with more developed health systems, the disease that impairs the kidney's ability to cleanse the blood is diagnosed relatively early and treated with dialysis in medical clinics. In Central America, many of the victims treat themselves at home with a cheaper but less efficient form of dialysis, or go without any dialysis at all.

International demand for the products of sugar plantations may be putting increased pressure on the labor force:

In 2006 [one plantation in Nicaragua] received $36.5 million in loans from the International Finance Corp., the private-sector arm of the World Bank Group, to buy more land, expand its processing plant and produce more sugar for consumers and ethanol production.

As the AP article notes, some companies are taking steps intended to prevent the chronic disease; but the need of employment leads workers to desperate measures:
about eight years ago [the Nicaraguan factory] started providing electrolyte solution and protein cookies to workers who previously brought their own water to work. But the study also found that some workers were cutting sugar cane for as long as 9 1/2 hours a day with virtually no break and little shade in average temperatures of 30 C (87 F).... many worker protections in the region are badly enforced by the companies and government regulators... Many workers disqualified by tests showing high levels of creatinine go back to work in the fields for subcontractors with less stringent standards, he said. Some use false IDs, or give their IDs to their healthy sons, who then pass the tests and go work in the cane fields, damaging their kidneys.

"This is the only job in town," Glaser said. "It's all they're trained to do. It's all they know."

The article notes, grimly, that the conditions that probably produced this increase in kidney disease and death exist elsewhere:
they have seen echoes of the Central American phenomenon in reports from hot farming areas in Sri Lanka, Egypt and the Indian east coast.

These are deaths of people who matter. And if the diagnoses are correct, they are completely avoidable consequences of the choices made in global centers of capital; the desire for more sugar in foods and for ethanol to postpone the inevitable transition of the world economy from petroleum fuels to other sources. These working bodies are dying for us.

Friday, February 10, 2012

It's Good News Time in Honduras: And You're Invited!

Yesterday, La Tribuna published an article about the need to get newspapers to print good news stories about Honduras so that tourists can be lured back.

Now, UPI is distributing a story with the headline Honduras inching back to economic recovery that starts
Honduras is inching back toward economic recovery and sees more international tourism as a way out of the crisis triggered by its June 2009 coup.

La Tribuna was reporting on a meeting of leaders of the National Chamber of Tourism of Honduras-- CANATURH-- with, among others, "directors of communication media" to "discuss a strategic plan to manage security". The story quotes the president of CANATURH, Epaminondas Marinakys, as saying that due to the bad press that has come out in
international media where the country is categorized as the 'City of Crime', it is urgent to seek a mechanism to change that image... One of the strategies will be to create a committee that will draw attention to positive news from Honduras and that will also give immediate response at the moment that negative information comes out publicly.

In addition, Marinakys added that the participation of the media is important so that they will consider highlighting good news and not magnifying bad news, and for that they will seek the assistance of the Asociación de Medios de Comunicación de Honduras.

The tourism promoter said that a change in the attitude of Honduran society and the communications sector has to begin to recognize the attractions that the country has.

Happy talk!

And UPI steps up to oblige. What makes their story surreal is that it is essentially a press release for none other than-- Onyx Services and Solutions, one of the highly questionable contractors awarded juicy contracts by the Honduran government.

As we reported just days ago, the SEC suspended trading in Onyx in January, after raising questions about its statements of its actual business. In its filings with the SEC, Onyx describes its business-- accurately-- as based on collecting fees on financial transactions (specifically, it owns a small number of ATMs in New York State). But for months, the company has been sending out press releases about its move into solar power. What the SEC had to say about Onyx was that it was concerned about the
accuracy and adequacy of publicly disseminated information concerning, among other things, the company’s business projects and prospects.

Looks like UPI did not get that memo.

Their article starts with the claim that "U.S. diplomatic help enabled Lobo to start rebuilding the Honduran economy and relieve poverty and suffering among 8.2 million Hondurans" after the 2009 coup. It ends with a couple of throw-away lines about the Lobo administration coming into office with "huge off-budget debts".

What comes in between that is truly mind-boggling: the content of an Onyx press release, reproduced without any apparent knowledge of the ongoing SEC investigation.

The UPI article-- which is unsigned-- says that a "solar-powered tourism resort" on Roatan, the West Bay Lodge Resort, "expects to start receiving larger numbers of tourists" due to the installation of a 330-watt solar panel installation. It touts Roatan as a retirement destination for US expatriates.

The rest of the content comes from a company press release published on MarketWatch on February 8. UPI simply lifted the promotional information that is news-like out of the marketing context.

Onyx, not coincidentally, today announced its plans to acquire 25% of the actual source of the solar panel systems it is marketing, a Chinese company called Optimum Solar. The Roatan installation is Onyx' first solar project and the only evidence that it can successfully sell this technology.

Meanwhile, all our questions about where a small ATM company with reported negative assets, under investigation by the SEC, is getting the financing to acquire a large stake in a Chinese solar company remain.

One thing we do know: one 330 watt solar panel installation is a far cry from the contract awarded Onyx, which called for installation of a total of 18.5 megawatts of solar panels on Roatan in return for payments amounting to $84 million.

But this is undoubtedly 330 watts of good news for Honduras.

And what timing!! Good news!! Come on, all you tourists, join the rising tide!!

CANATURH assures you that Honduran crime is not taking place in tourist destinations, and now, you can enjoy your piña coladas with ice produced with solar power! The march to modernity begins now!!!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How you know you hit a nerve: Honduras edition

Answer: when the Honduran Ambassador to the US, Jorge Hernandez Alcerro, writes to the New York Times to object.

I am talking, of course, about Dana Frank's powerful New York Times op ed, laying out bluntly the argument that, since the coup in 2009, Honduras has been in a state of disarray.

The response from the Ambassador was published February 5. It makes two main arguments:

(1) questioning the 2009 election is
"offensive to the 56.6 percent of Hondurans who voted for President Porfirio Lobo in the last election. More than 4,600 international and domestic observers closely supervised the electoral process. The other four Honduran political parties recognized President Lobo’s election, have been integrated into the sitting national reconciliation and unity government, and are represented in Congress."

While this is a comforting claim for the US backed government that took power in early 2010, the facts say otherwise. The "observers" mentioned were not the independent, neutral, guarantors of free elections that are normally required. The UN withdrew its technical support. The OAS refused to send observers, and no other respected international body did either. Reporting at the time noted bias on the part of these supposed observers, who, among other things, denied the violence that took place on election day itself.

The cited vote total of 56.6%, obscures the fact that voter turnout was under 50%, a steep decline from the previous presidential election, despite early inflated participation claims promoted egregiously by the US in early congratulatory messages. Even CNN managed to publish a correction with some analysis of what this meant for the legitimacy of the new government (although they rounded voter turnout up to 50%).

Then there is that thing about all the political parties recognizing the election-- and getting their share of the spoils. So career politicians are happy. What happens when a large proportion of the people do not feel represented by any political party, when they witness this kind of spoils system? You get loss of faith in any political party, and in governance generally.

(2) Calling for an end of US aid being used to militarize policing in Honduras would undercut the supposed successes Honduras is achieving in addressing crime, here reduced to drug trafficking.

What is perhaps most astonishing about the response-- apart from the strength of the attack, which reveals the way a real critique bites-- is this sentence:
The independent Office of the National Prosecutor for Human Rights has been investigating and prosecuting the alleged human rights violations.

That "alleged" is worth a million dollars on its own. Anyone paying attention knows that human rights complaints made in Honduras are routinely not investigated, and that the occupants of government offices created to theoretically promote Human Rights are over-ruled in security decisions and ignored when they caution against the erosion of civil rights. They complain about lack of resources. The ambassador follows this sentence with a nonsequitur about passing laws against child labor and human trafficking, and establishing a "committee against torture". But the human rights problem is much simpler and less exotic than that: it is a priest being beaten up on the side of the road; a peasant leader being assassinated; a LGBT activist being killed.

Then there's the letter by former US ambassador to Honduras (1996-1999), James Creagan. Again, he counter factually blesses the 2009 election process as "free and fair". I think most observers would say suspension of the rights of free speech and assembly, assault on a presidential candidate, and the lack of unbiased observers mean even if you want to accept the results of this election, the process was hardly "free", and arguably not "fair".

But this is not about truth. Creagan also writes that:
Honduras faced political and institutional stalemate after the removal of President José Manuel Zelaya in June 2009. Far from making a “mess,” the skilled diplomats under Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton deftly worked for the only way out of a descent into armed clashes — democratic elections.

How wonderfully revisionist. The "removal" of President Zelaya was of course not a neutral surgical procedure: it was a coup. The "stalemate" could have been broken if the US diplomats had not kept propping up the confidence of the deluded Micheletti regime. "Skilled" and "deft" are the opposite of the words that would honestly characterize the State Department role: clumsy and clueless are rather more to the point.

And finally, finally, we have an admission: the US wasn't trying to reinstate the legally elected president of the country, and restore the rule of law. It was trying to avoid "a descent into armed clashes".

Too bad no one in the State Department noticed that the armed clashes had already happened. Only the victims were not politicians and the wealthy: they were school teachers and students.

Whitewashing things in 2009 is one thing. Continuing to assert, in the face of all evidence, that the breach opened in June 2009 was healed by the inauguration of Porfirio Lobo Sosa is insane.

And while watching a clear-eyed scholar be put to the rack is not enjoyable, it shows that the critique hurt. And, as a wise Honduran colleague notes, the more they react to the original op ed piece, the more exposure it gets, including within Honduras, where El Heraldo's story on the "diplomatic offensive" helpfully links to the original piece, in case any reader had not seen it already.

"Underlying it all is impunity": Honduran Disillusion with Politicians

"Underlying it all is impunity, and a rift between the government and its citizens caused by the lack of solutions to (the country's) problems."

So says historian Marvin Barahona in a story by Thelma Mejía published January 30 on IPS News.

The "it" here: new polling data indicating a continued erosion of the Honduran public's evaluation of the national government of Porfirio Lobo Sosa. Compared a year earlier (based on polling in November), the Lobo Sosa government was rated 4.6, down from 5.11, on a scale of 10.

Stop to consider that neither of these is a very high level of approval. Then let's go on to consider what that trend portends for national politics in Honduras, as the country gears up for primary elections in the fall. Here, the article notes that the continued erosion of people's sense of safety is a major factor in the falling grade given the Lobo Sosa administration:
Of the respondents polled ... 67 percent say the police have ties to organised crime, and 72 percent say they do not feel safe with the current police force.

The military troops that have been called in patrol the streets are somewhat better perceived, with 46 percent of respondents saying they trust them.

What does it mean when 46% positive is considered a good number?

Barahona added to the poor security situation a second factor, both of which he argued can be traced to impunity:
Another aspect of this crisis is corruption, Barahona said. He recalled how government officials have been implicated in rigged electric power and basic grain import contracts, procurement contracts awarded without tender, and other irregularities.

Since the coup of 2009, we have traced one economic transaction after another that fits this description. Indeed, back in summer 2009 one of the most remarkable things we noted was that the Honduran Congress, immediately after passing its illegal acts to replace the legally elected president, wasted no time getting down to the business of carving up potential assets like the spoils of conquest.

The ever intelligent Mejia adds some context that really is critical, and should be understood by all those who reflexively oppose revision of the Honduran constitution's framework for one term presidencies. She quotes Barahona, again, noting that Lobo Sosa's effective ability to govern is over:
Lobo has arrived at the halfway mark of his term "with hardly any room for manoeuvring and his administration's image will be even more tarnished in May when primary campaigns for the candidates of next year's general election begin," ...

In Honduras, presidents traditionally have two years to actually govern. During the third year, pre-election campaigns wear down the administration, as most contenders are executive branch officers and acting legislators who hope to continue in the government in the following term.

This year's campaign season starts out, according to the polling data, with less than 60% support for the two traditional parties. But the 40% of Hondurans who no longer support the Liberal or National Party are split among six alternatives:
Honduras has five [previously existing] political parties, which will be joined by three new ones in the next elections. Two of these new parties are left-wing and the third party is a right-wing group formed by retired military officers.

Adrienne Pine, whose commentary on this article brought it to our attention, notes that the surveys cited have drawn passionate and, she writes, "anti-intellectual" responses from adherents of the new Libre party, angered by the empirical finding that the nascent party has 2.8% support. She notes that these critics (not including Mel Zelaya, the leader of the newly formed party) display a troubling but historically not unexpected attitude toward the people, what she describes as:
a vanguardist philosophy of "you can't handle the truth" toward the "masses" (be they the uneducated or rural, in complete agreement with golpista theories of Honduran "culture") without intellectually honest efforts to uncover truths that may contradict the dogmas of the Left.

There were substantive debates in the resistance about whether entering electoral politics, or remaining a popular movement outside of that context, was a better way to advance the progressive aims of the indigenous, popular, rural, women's, and African-descendant groups that form the moral core of the resistance. Skeptics of the entry into electoral politics will be watching to see how Libre and its leadership acts, to assess whether it can depart from the common reality of Honduran electoral politics.

The reaction to the new polling data is not a good sign. The polling was conducted by two highly respected Jesuit organizations, Honduras' Reflection, Research and Communication Team (ERIC) and UCA, the "José Simeón Cañas" Central American University in El Salvador.

Honduras desperately needs leadership. What will be on exhibit for almost all of the next two years, if history serves as a model, will be exaggerated posturing.
Adding to that posturing from the left is no progress at all.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

ENEE Can Sure Pick 'EM

The Empresa Nacional de Energía Eléctrica (ENEE) can sure pick its partners for generating electrical energy in Honduras.

In October, 2011 ENEE decided to partner with ONYX Services and Solution to build an 18 Megawatt solar electric generation facility on Roatan. We blogged about it here. At the time we noted that the company until six months prior to the contract with ENEE had listed its business as running a network of installed ATM machines, and that at the time ENEE awarded the contract, ONYX Services and Solutions had no solar installations either underway or completed. A strange choice to partner with, right?

An astute reader of our blog just alerted us to the news that on January 27, 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission of the United States announced it was suspending trading of the company's stock. It stated:
The Commission temporarily suspended trading in the securities of ONYX because of questions that have been raised about the accuracy and adequacy of publicly disseminated information concerning, among other things, the company’s business projects and prospects.

In a press release about the suspension ONYX claimed not to have any communication from the SEC giving any reason for the suspension. So here's what ONYX says about its business and prospects in its latest 10Q filing with the SEC:
The Company derives its revenue from surcharge revenue and inter-exchange revenue. Surcharge fees are added fees which the Company charges the ATM user for dispensing cash. Inter exchange fees are fees charged between banks for transferring money. The Company all of the Surcharge Fees and receives a portion of the Inter exchange fees as income. The Company recognizes the net fees received as revenues.

And later:
The Company had total Revenue for the Three Months Ended October 31, 2011 of $2,142. This reflects a decrease of $4,169 or 66% when compared to the total revenue of $6,311 for the Three Months Ended October 31, 2010. This change is primarily attributed to a decrease in the number of transactions on the system.
As of October 31, 2011, we had total current assets of $70,258 and total current liabilities of $481,923 which results in working capital deficit of $411,665.

See any mention of solar installations there? There are none. Yet, since November they've been issuing press releases every week, if not several times a week, about how wonderful their solar business is and how its moving forward and they'll be buying 25% of their Chinese partner, Optimum Solar, any day now. With what, one is left to wonder. Did I mention that they only have $7, 298 in actual cash on hand?

That's one ENEE partner.

There's also news about Westport Finance LLC and its emergency power contract for 100 Megawatts. In light of the questions raised about the lack of any visible compliance with the terms of the contract ENEE has with Westport Finance LLC, the head of ENEE, Roberto Martínez Lozano was forced to make public statements that only raised further questions. There's also an investigation underway by the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas and the Public Prosecutor's Anti Corruption office.

Six days ago we found out the ENEE board of directors might not have actually approved the contract before Martinez Lozano sent it on to the Executive Branch for approval. That would be a violation of the Honduran law of government contracting procedures.

Next, three days ago, Martinez Lozano told the press that Westport Finance LLC had not paid the contractually required performance bond of $1.3 million, because of an arrangement he had made with them. What he said was
"We have an arrangement with Westport and Wartsila; they're ready to pay it when we tell them."

ENEE has an arrangement!! Well, then why bother to have a contract when you've just voided the protections it provides the government of Honduras? More soberly, this is also is a violation of the Honduran law of government contracting. If the money is there and waiting, why not have them pay it and comply with the contract? Perhaps it has something to do with what we found out six days ago?

We found out three days ago that ENEE hasn't complied with its part of the contract either. Under the terms of the contract, ENEE is responsible for helping Westport Finance LLC obtain the necessary permits. All of this to be done within 60 days of the contract signing. Yet, that date has come and gone with nothing being done. Roberto Cuellar, head of Secretaria de Recursos Naturales y el Ambiente (Serna), where environmental permits come from, says no application has been filed by anyone.
They haven't done it, nor have they presented any application.

In light of all the controversial statements by Martinez Lozano, Congress has called him to testify before them on all of the above on February 15, 2012, and Ricardo Alvarez, head of Lobo Sosa's National Party, has called on Congress to invalidate the contract.

Incompetence? Corruption? Any way you look at it, there's sure to be more information coming out on ENEE and both of its partners here.