Thursday, February 28, 2013

Foster Tilapia, Kill Lake Yojoa

 Lake Yojoa is an amazing, beautiful natural wonder located on the road between Honduras' two largest cities, San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. Located in the midst of mountain peaks, with hundreds of species of birds reported, it has long been a destination for Hondurans traveling the road, who stop at roadside fish restaurants. The name on the menu, if not the fish on the plate, was always bass. The lake was stocked with black bass back in the 1960s by the Tela Railroad Company, sparking a sport fishing industry that attracted fishermen from all over the world, especially the United States.

But Lake Yojoa has not fared well from the Honduran government.

A recent decision by the Dirección General de Pesca y Acuicultura, DIGEPESCA, to add 500,000 minnows of Tilapia to Lake Yojoa is among the most stupid and damaging things that could possibly be done to the lake. DIGEPESCA had a choice of any number of fish varieties to add to the lake. They picked a terrible, environmentally destructive fish.

Tilapia already exist in the lake. Tilapia were supposed to be farmed on the lake edge and in streams, but escaped into the lake, overpopulating it, reducing the oxygen available.

The black bass population decreased, as did the size of bass remaining in the lake, decimating the sport fishing industry and making it difficult for the Lake Yojoa area restaurants to obtain the famous black bass that drew in the crowds. 

No one comes to eat fried tilapia

Black bass, although also introduced, were not destructive of the lake environment the way tilapia are. Studies in 2008 found that tilapia farms were the major cause of pollution of the lake.  In particular the fish feces was found to promote algae growth. It also makes the lake smell bad. 

Today the lake is full of algae, a direct result of tilapia excrement, and red and black tilapia in abundance. To this overpopulated lake, DIGEPESCA will add 500,000 minnows of tilapia. 

The good news is that these will be devoured by the existing fish so in effect, DIGEPESCA will be supplying dinner for the existing fish supply, not introducing a new commercial fish.

In 2008 Donard Reyes condemned the government for fostering the destructive shift to tilapia:
The government has weighed in a balance, we can have the beauty of lake Yojoa or we can export tilapia, because undoubtedly, the cages that produce the tilapia, generate a good economic return for the state.

Black bass, and the international fisherman who prized them, are not the only victims of bad decision-making here.

The algae, low water, water hyacinths, and low oxygenation has greatly diminished the diversity of species of birds and animals found in and around the lake.

SERNA, the ministry responsible for the environment was trying in 2010 to restore some balance to the lake by removing water hyacinths and restricting agricultural runoff into the lake.

There was even talk of removing the existing tilapia farms in the lake to try and reduce the contaminants.

DIGPESCA, however, belongs to the Secretaria de Agricultura y Ganado, not SERNA, and appears to be unconcerned about working against another minisry. 

Nor is there any concern apparent about the impact on the work of Hondulago and Amuprolago, NGOs working to provide water treatment for communities dumping wastewater into the lake.

So much for the tourism industry around the lake.  It, like the lake, will die of government stupidity.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Silencing the Opposition

As part of a set of legal reforms to the criminal code, the Honduran Congress has passed a new law directed at members of the media that "incite hate or attack against ideological groups, sexes, or genders".  This new law is in addition to the existing libel/slander laws in Honduras.  The new penal code contains a revision to Article 321 which reportedly now reads:
To those who publicly, or through public communications media incite discrimination, hate, contempt, persecution, or any form of violence or attack against a person, group, association, foundations, societies, corporations, NGOs, for any of the causes enumerated above, is imposed a file of 3 to 5 years in prison and a fine of 500,000 - 300,000 lempiras.

The punishment is applied to the person who makes the statement, not the media itself.  It can be applied to anyone who violates the provision while performing their professional, sales, or business activities, or anyone doing so while in public service.

That breadth of coverage should give a reader pause. Where are the limits of this law?

There are already indications about where it comes from that should warn us to be cautious about celebrating enhanced legal protection against speech. The head of the Honduran Congress, Juan Orlando Hernandez, said of the new law:
The important thing is to have as a starting point respect for the dignity of the person, which is a fundamental principle of the international human rights system now I can proceed against those who call me a Lenca Indian or Juan Tortilla.

If the new law is used as as suggested, it could silence dissent as illegal disrespect for the "dignity" of Honduran politicians-- like Juan Orlando Hernandez. 

As commenter "Amargada" (embittered) put it:
What a disaster.  Instead of concentrating on the crime (killing women) they had the time to intimidate and place fines on the media who have the job of informing the country of all that passes in the corrupt country of the wonders of Don Pepe Lobo.

Enough said.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Honduran Government vs. Freedom of the Press

Porfirio Lobo Sosa neither understands, nor likes, freedom of the press. He laments the fact that the Honduran press can print things that he thinks are not true, and threatens publishers for not supporting government policies.

Stories demonstrating this are not uncommon. On February 8, La Prensa published an account, headlined "President Lobo returns to threatening the media of communication", quoting Lobo Sosa complaining that newspapers shouldn't display images of violence because they affect young people:
"I don't know how Ana Pineda has not entered a complaint with the UN or before whoever it should be, you know the damage that the media of communication does to children, some of them in their front page display the violence".

Back in December, Lobo Sosa personalized his attack, decrying the publisher of two Honduran daily newspapers, La Prensa and El Heraldo, Jorge Canahuati, for allegedly opposing his police purification campaign, because they covered the rejection of the law by justices of the Supreme Court (later removed in a legally dubious way by Congress).

In February Lobo Sosa again singled out the same two papers, this time for criticizing his lack of progress against the level of fatal violence in the country:
Here we have two newspapers that greet me every day, what they forget is that although the days are passing by rapidly, they will never make me bend, I am going to impose order in Honduras, you can be sure.

We make no claim that the Honduran press is exceptionally reliable, or lacking in bias. But Lobo Sosa wants to stop the press from doing anything that makes his government uncomfortable, even though part of the role of a free press is just that: making the powerful uncomfortable.

Lobo Sosa's government has now developed a proposal for a new Ley Marco de Telecomunicaciones (Telecommunications Law).  As La Prensa reports, the proposed law would allow the government to close media outlets, and would introduce an unprecedented censorship body.

The target is broadcast media, radio and television, whose ownership overlaps with the print media against whom Lobo Sosa has railed, but which are more easily subject to government control because they are dependent on licensing of the broadcast spectrum.

At the end of last week, press reports on proposed reforms presented to Lobo Sosa by CONATEL (Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones) said the new law would
seek to regulate the granting of radio and television frequencies and to create mechanisms to censor radio, television, and print media. The proposal has been based on a proposal presented by the non-governmental organization Comité por la Libre Expresión (C-Libre), whose content turned out to be more injurious than the Government's proposal for the regulation of media, since it even spoke of Committees of Censorship for radio and television news programs...

 C-Libre is a consortium formed in June 2001, with a stated mission to promote freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Honduras. It had previously made its proposed telecommunications law revisions available on its website. While much of their proposal has to do with ensuring access to broadcast spectrum by different sectors of society (including a proposal to limit ownership of broadcast media to one channel per family), it also included a passage that seems intended to respond to Lobo Sosa's critiques of the media: a call for a national council for the regulation of ethics in communications.

The new body they proposed would oversee programming to assure that it conforms to morals, to avoid what C-Libre called the loss of national moral values and identity.  It would have oversight to determine if programming was appropriate for a Honduran audience.  It would be able to make lists of the kind of programming considered damaging to the Honduran population.

While in theory it could  not restrict the rights of the media with respect to guarantees of freedom of religion, ideas, or politics, this provision in C-Libre's proposal was denounced by a representative of the Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa (SIP) in Honduras, Rodolfo Dumas:
“It disturbs us very much when the proposal of C-Libre speaks of a national council of regulation of ethics in communication, that is worrying because we already known that both the Convención Americana [de Derechos Humanos], la Declaración Universal [de Derechos Humanos] and our internal law prohibits advance censorship, and it is an absolute prohibition, This type of article has to be approached with great caution."
He also noted that there even is a section of the proposal that speaks of the need for truth. It demands that the news should be true, which is a term that today many politicians like to use when they refer to these issues, he added, He noted that "there is already a declaration of principles issued by all those related in regard to liberty of expression in which the demands of truthfulness, expedience, and impartiality are incompatible with liberty of expression and liberty of the press, because the concept of truth is ethereal, it is subjective, so to demand the truth, whose truth will it be? The official truth? Your truth or mine?"

On Monday, La Prensa published an analysis comparing the law actually proposed by the Lobo Sosa government to the existing legal code. They found an inserted passage in the first article giving the government the right to regulate the content transmitted for the "protection of the ethical principles and cultural values of society".

What the government can demand is framed entirely in vague and lofty-sounding language, that nonetheless falls into the debatable terrain Dumas noted in the C-Libre model law:
“In regard to the content of transmissions... these should be subjected to the regulations, parameters, policies, dispositions and administrative rulings that for reasons of social interests shall be established in conformity with the law".

In other words: the government can say that you shouldn't broadcast stories about any topic it thinks would be against "social interests".

And if a broadcaster does violate this clause, the new law is ready, having established a new basis for formal sanctions if media "promote lack of respect either for the reputation of someone, or weakening of national security, public order, public health or the fundamental rights and liberties of infancy, childhood, and adolescence.” The fines approved would rise from a maximum of 500,000 lempiras in the present law (about $25,000), to 3% to 5% of the gross income of the enterprise.

Added to the call for a Regulatory Commission on Programming, the new language would put the government in a position to impose its perspective on what programming would be in keeping with government policies and views on ethics and values.

Whatever else that might be, it is not a free press.

But then: Porfirio Lobo Sosa doesn't like a free press. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

When You Stack the Court...

You win.

The special Supreme Court organized from mostly non Supreme Court justices by Chief Justice Jorge Rivera Aviles, unsurprisingly voted 13-2 not to admit the appeal of the Supreme Court justices removed by Congress on December 12, 2012.

We say unsurprisingly because Rivera Aviles hand-picked all but two of the justices on the panel from the lower courts.

The justices who voted to admit the appeal were Raúl Antonio Henríquez, from the Penal branch of the Supreme Court, and Adela Kaffaty, of the Appeals court.

The thirteen who voted against admitting the appeal consisted of Rivera Aviles and his hand picked appeals court judges. Only one sitting Supreme Court justice supported him. But that was all he needed.

Adela Kaffaty (already then an appeals court judge) in 2011 argued in the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for the de facto government of Honduras. She urged the IACHR to not admit a human rights appeal from four magistrates dismissed by Rivera Aviles in 2009, under the de facto regime, for speaking out against the coup.  She told the IACHR that to admit the appeal would "convert the IACHR into a political organization and would contribute to discrediting Honduras".

There is a case to be made that discrediting Honduras internationally was promoted by actions like the removal of those magistrates, the involvement of the Rivera Aviles court in post-facto rationalization of the coup, and the series of confrontations that led to the spectacle of a not-so-Supreme Court refusing to reinstate four justices removed because Congress didn't like their decision.

It isn't just our opinion that this is bad for government in Honduras.

Before the latest decision continuing the dismantling of the judicial branch had been announced, Salvador Nasralla, the Anti-Corruption party candidate for president, said of the judges making the decision:
They think it's a soccer match, but internationally, if today the justices are not returned, Honduras will be considered a dictatorship and that is serious because it removes the rule of law we've boasted about.
Rivera Aviles' court ignored him and decided against the appeal anyway.

Justice Rosalinda Cruz, who was dismissed in December, said of the decision:
It's totally arbitrary, an illegal, unconstitutional decision lacking any legal foundation.
She indicated that the next step would be to seek a reconsideration, but that too is likely to fail.  She noted that they have an expedited path to the international courts once they've exhausted this appeal.

One avenue would be to take a human rights appeal to the IACHR. Maybe Adela Kaffaty would like to testify, this time on the right side?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Liberal Party at 122

The Liberal party in Honduras just celebrated its 122 birthday, amid widely divergent views about the status of the party.

Founded February 5, 1891, the Liberal party grew from the Liberal league which had been formed in 1884.  Liberalism, based on ideas ideas espoused by Morazan, is described as a center-right political philosophy. 

The Honduran Liberal party is one of two founded in Central America that has persevered to the present, the other being the Colombian Liberal party.  The Honduran Liberal party itself is part of Liberal International, a federation of Liberal parties throughout the world, which promotes:
liberalism, individual freedom, human rights, the rule of law, tolerance, equality of opportunity, social justice, free trade and a market economy.
Since that definition starts with "liberalism" it is somewhat recursive, so lets unpack what liberalism is.  According to the 1947 liberal manifesto, liberalism believes
that liberty and individual responsibility are the foundations of civilized society; that the state is only the instrument of the citizens it serves; that any action of the state must respect the principles of democratic accountability; that constitutional liberty is based upon the principles of separation of powers; that justice requires that in all criminal prosecution the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, and to a fair verdict free from any political influence; that state control of the economy and private monopolies both threaten political liberty; that rights and duties go together, and that every citizen has a moral responsibility to others in society; and that a peaceful world can only be built upon respect for these principles and upon cooperation among democratic societies. We reaffirm that these principles are valid throughout the world.
The Liberal Party of Honduras seems to have lost its web presence, which used to be at, which now redirects to the Facebook page of Esteban Handal, a failed Liberal Party candidate in the primary elections for President this year.

A historic rift formed between the Catholic church and the Liberal party during the nineteenth century. During the rule of Francisco Morazan over the United States of Central America in the 1830s  Morazan, who advocated the true separation of church and state, made the state government stop enforcing the tithing of the population for the benefit of the church.

In recent times, Liberal parties have tended to split up fractioning into more social democrat factions, and more conservative ones.  Until the coup of 2009 the Honduran Liberal party had avoided this split, but as a result of the coup, about 55 percent of the Liberal party left to form Libre, the new political party headed by Manuel Zelaya Rosales.  That rift has left a small social democrat faction within the remainder of the Honduran Liberal party, along with a strong right wing faction, responsible for the coup, which controls it.

Liberal party members assert the party has come together since the exodus of 2009 and will win the 2013 elections. Analysts disagree. 

Yani Rosenthal, himself a presidential candidate in the party primary this year, told a reporter for Proceso Digital that he didn't see the party as factionalized, but that it must unify now that the primary elections are over around its presidential candidate, Mauricio Villeda, who represents the far right in the party.  Rosenthal said:
Everything will depend on the capacity of the leaders of the party to unify the distinct factions which participated in the internal [elections].  If the leaders are capable of uniting it, the party can be first and win the next general election.
So far, though, the party has not rallied in support of Villeda, who of course was intimately involved in the de facto regime installed in the coup of 2009.

Edmundo Orellana, who belongs with some of the remaining few social democrats inside the Liberal party, doesn't see the party leadership consolidating authority; just the opposite:
There is no acceptance of the leadership of the Central Party Executive because there has been an exodus of Liberals to the Libre party and those that are still within the Liberal party feel marginalized in the organization....There is a distancing between the Liberal party organization and the candidate of the party.
Julio Navarro, a political analyst and Liberal party member sees no way the party can win in the 2013 elections.  For Navarro, there's a crisis of credibility in the party itself.  He further indicated:
The party leadership that arose out of the primary elections has not been seen; the presidential candidate does not appear interested in uniting the factions which participated in the primary election.
Navarro suggested that
to win, they have to regain credibility and confess, because those who ran the party made a mistake in June 2009.  They need to say a "mea culpa" for liberalism and blame the errors on whose who led at that time; they must recover the ability to organize and construct messages that convince the electorate to accept their political proposal.
But Navarro doesn't hold out much hope of this happening.  He noted that their party presidential candidate, Mauricio Villeda has the same problem that Elvin Santos had in the last election, held while the de facto regime controlled the country:
They believe because they are the most conservative that is sufficient to win elections.  Villeda assumes that because he is the most conservative candidate, against the menace of Juan Orlando Hernandez and Libre, that he'll be elected....this belief that he'll be elected could lead him to defeat.
The first political poll of the year showed that the Liberal party candidate would come in fourth if the election were held now, behind Xiomara Castro of Libre, Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National party, and Salvador Nasralla of the Anti Corruption party. 

That tends to support Orellana and Navarro's analyses. 

Proceso Digital assures us that most experts agree that the Liberal Party would come in third, though they fail to cite any specific experts.

The Liberal party remains stuck in the factionalism that resulted in the coup of 2009 where the ultra conservative faction of the Liberal party took out their party's more centrist president. 

Mauricio Villeda has not made any overtures to other existing factions within the Liberal party to try and unify it post primary elections.  Instead he's left it up to the factions to come bargain with him for a power-sharing role in the party, as Yani Rosenthal did.

The faction controlling the Liberal party thinks they will win simply because they are running the most conservative candidate from a major political party. Meanwhile, the Honduran people seems to have moved on.

How many more years of continuity will this long-established party have, if it cannot accept the evidence of lost elections and lost support?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Honduran Congress Consolidates More Power

If it wasn't clear to outside observers, it certainly should be now.  The Honduran Congress is bent on controlling every aspect of the government, and by control, I mean, removing any trace of the constitutionally specified independence of powers. 

Their current obsession is with disciplining the Supreme  Court.

The new Congressional session started on January 25 of this year.  Since they started this new session they passed the so-called model cities legislation (decreto 236-2012) that gives Congress the ability to transfer territory to the sovereignty of a foreign set of investors. 

Honduran analysts note that this law includes special tourist zones that could see the transfer of the Copan archaeological site to foreign control.

Congress also passed the law of political judgement (decreto 231-2012). The US Embassy seems to believe this is an impeachment law, but it isn't: it circumvents Honduran due process guarantees.  It would allow Congress to continue to do what it did illegally in removing Supreme Court justices in December, leading to the current constitutional crisis.

Under the law of political judgment, Congress now has the authority to remove Supreme Court justices or even Presidents because Congress doesn't like their policies. It supersedes the existing law that already allowed the Public Prosecutor to bring charges against any high government official, which would be heard in the Supreme Court, and could lead to removal from office (which is why the Honduran Constitution no longer has an impeachment procedure: they provided a due process procedure in the legal code instead).

Congress also passed the new Minerals and Mines law, which allows concessions to be given to foreign governments in addition to private companies. This law is potentially unconstitutional because it presents the same kind of sovereignty issues raised by the model cities legislation that was found unconstitutional by the now neutered Supreme Court.  The new law governs concessions of gemstone (Honduras has opals and other gemstones in commercial quantities) and metallic mineral mines for a maximun of two (non-metallic minerals) to five (metallic minerals) years starting from the issuance of an environmental license.  It splits the income from such concessions between the municipality in which the mine is located, and the central government.

Congress also restricted, though changes to Article 17 of the constitution, the international treaties and agreements in which the government can participate. This pre-empts the role of the executive branch. Congress has always had to ratify treaties; this way, they do not have to pay the political price for it.

But these are almost minor violations of the Constitution, taken with impunity knowing that they have already reshaped the current Supreme Court into a rubber stamp. What they did next is bolder, clearer, and completely guts separation of powers.

This was to pass a new set of constitutional amendments that restricts what the Justices of the Constitutional branch, and only the Constitutional branch, can do. It also strengthens the powers of the Chief Justice, who, current experience shows, can be an ally of the Congress against the court. 

To understand the new law, a reminder: the Honduran Supreme Court's Constitutional branch hears challenges to laws as unconstitutional. Their decisions have to be unanimous. If their decision is not unanimous, the next step has been for the full court-- including the justices of the Constitutional Branch-- hear the matter. The full court merely needs to reach a majority decision. Since the Sala Constitucional includes one-third of the full court, the idea is, the other two-thirds will clarify the signal.

The new law passed by Congress makes a mockery of that provision. It specifies that in the event of a non-unanimous vote by the Constitutional branch on a case, those justices cannot vote on the matter when the full Supreme Court meets, or participate in the deliberations. 

This amendment was concealed in a series of constitutional amendments passed without discussion at the end of the previous session, on January 24, 2012 (Decreto 237-2012).  Maybe Congress doesn't trust the justices they just appointed?  In the opinion of most lawyers in Honduras, this amendment will undermine judicial certainty in Honduras. It certainly reshapes the balance of powers, depriving the Supreme Court of autonomy in action.

But that wasn't enough. Congress also passed legislation that deprives citizens of the right to even appeal the constitutionality of a law! 

Congress put this in place because of threatened challenges to their newly ratified replacement for the defeated model cities law, establishing Regimenes Especiales de Desarrollo. Citizen appeals of the constitutionality of the original model cities law worked as the Honduran Constitution provided.

That won't happen again.

Citizens may now only challenge the constitutionality of rules implemented by the government to enforce a law. Although Congress has shown it has no difficulty passing sweeping changes to the Constitution, apparently it irritates them to have to get it right, legally. Now, all their laws are, by law, constitutional.

Isn't democracy wonderful?