Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Holy Week, Tradition, and Cultural Tourism

Honduran newspapers are publishing accounts of the annual observance of Holy Week, that runs between Palm Sunday and Easter. Religious processions carrying carved and painted images of saints will wind their way from major churches.

In a few places, their route will be decorated with brightly colored imagery created out of dyed sawdust. The most traditional location of these alfombras of tinted sawdust is Comayagua. According to an article in La Tribuna, by Friday there will be 43 of these artworks along the streets of the city.

International tourist publications encourage visitors to come to Comayagua this week, stressing its well-preserved colonial buildings, products of its long history as the capital of Honduras, before the mining town Tegucigalpa took over this role. Comayagua is represented as Honduras' equivalent of Antigua Guatemala, where Holy Week processions and the creation of sawdust carpets brings enormous numbers of tourists, an estimated 1.5 million in 2008. News reports claim that 50,000 to 60,000 tourists are expected to visit Comayagua for its celebrations.

The creation of alfombras has because a focus of national identity and nationalistic pride. Supported financially by the Ministries of Tourism and Culture, the creation of similar street decorations in the capital city, Tegucigalpa, is described by El Heraldo as an opportunity for
residents of the capital city and tourists to be able to appreciate this impressive artwork, that there is no need to envy that of other countries.

Yet as another article in La Tribuna about Holy Week observations in Tegucigalpa notes, the tradition of making alfombras has shallow roots, having been introduced only about forty years ago in Comayagua. The initiation of these religious artworks is attributed to Miriam Elvira Mejía, in 1963. A website created by her son describes her introduction of a custom of her native El Salvador. While the practice continued in Comayagua from then on, its adoption as an emblem of Honduran culture marketed to tourists is much more recent. Fifteen years ago, tourists visiting Comayagua for Holy Week reportedly numbered only 3,000 to 4,000.

Secular entanglements of what began as a religious tradition are visible in many ways. El Heraldo reported on alfombras in Tegucigalpa, some made by members of the parish, others sponsored by the Metropolitan Committee of the Foundation for the Honduran Museum of Man. Some of the planned alfombras will use innovative materials, flowers, seeds, and fruits, to create more effects than possible with the dyed sawdust that is more typical. The incorporation of varied materials is described as making these street carpets a celebration of the harvest, a surprisingly secular role for what are otherwise monuments to the Passion of Christ.

The variety of materials being introduced in Tegucigalpa recalls the decoration of floats in civic parades in the US, as does the sponsorship by secular organizations-- this year, according to El Heraldo, including Pepsi, the general store Larach & Compañía, the hotel group Plaza San Martín, and the bottled water company Agua Azul.

Nor is that the only secular aspect of the alfrombras of Tegucigalpa. The same article quotes Elder Rissieri, in charge of creating a 540 meter long alfombra in Tegucigalpa, saying that the "social theme" this year, "Honduras united in the faith of Christ", addresses tensions created by the coup d'Etat (here described simply as "happenings", acontecimientos):
"By means of this work we want to invite union by means of the Christian faith. The incidents that happened in recent months have been the cause of division within society and we want to unite it in the faith."

Holy Week thus presents a melange of colonial tradition, modern adaptation of a religious practice typical of Guatemala and El Salvador, and overtones of secular parades. And this year in particular, the urgency of increasing tourism income in the wake of the economic disaster brought on by the coup d'Etat is especially evident.

Newspaper coverage documents a particular emphasis by the Ministry of Tourism on increasing internal tourism during Holy Week. An article in El Heraldo quotes the Minister of Tourism, Nelly Jerez, encouraging internal tourists in Tegucigalpa, saying the government has granted a week of holiday for that very purpose. La Prensa's article encouraging internal tourism prominently mentions the alfombras of sawdust to be installed in the streets of Santa Rosa de Copán, another colonial city in western Honduras.

The self-conscious promotion of these events to the Honduran public underlines the blurring of lived tradition and commodified culture that has become ever more evident as tourism rose to the third greatest source of external income. As yet another article promoting internal tourism this Holy Week put it, based on an interview with Juan Bendeck, president of the National Chamber of Tourism (CANATURH):
At this time it is important to take pleasure in family and rediscover a noble and generous country that offers above all human quality.

Before taking your vacations, think of the social welfare that will be left to the country if you decide to undertake internal tourism and take the decision to explore this Honduras that is yours, and that awaits you with open arms.

Convert yourself into an ambassador for Honduras in the world, get to know the native soil that saw your birth... because it's all here!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Who's the legitimate president of Honduras?

Don't ask the Christian Science Monitor. In an article published yesterday about the dilemma facing the Central American Parliament (Parlacen) in the wake of the 2009 coup d'etat, this usually reliable source gives the following tagline:
The turmoil surrounding last years ouster of Honduras President Manuel Zelaya has mostly died down. But the Central American Parliament is considering giving him a seat at the table over his rival, new President Porfirio Lobo.

Well, no.

The issue is whether to seat Zelaya in the Parlacen as the representative of Honduras, or Roberto Micheletti. So why is the Christian Science Monitor so confused that it not only leads the story this way, but captions the accompanying photo with the same inaccurate claim that the "Central American Parliament is now considering [Zelaya] over his rival, new President Porfirio Lobo, for membership in the Parlacen".

After correctly reporting that "many countries in Latin America continue to question the legitimacy of the new administration of Porfirio Lobo, because he was elected to office without Zelaya being restored to office first", the story equally accurately says the question before Parlacen is who the legitimate former president of Honduras is.

This question is pertinent because Parlacen seats former presidents of member nations.

The CSM article quotes Hena Ligia Madrid, described as "a lawmaker in Honduras from the Liberal Party" as saying
Our founding treaty is very clear as to who forms part of Parlacen. It stipulates that outgoing presidents of member states are immediately admitted. … In the case of Honduras, it is obvious to me, as a politician and Parlacen legislator, that the man who should come is President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, because he was elected in free elections and was sworn in as constitutional president of the republic.

This quotation comes from a story by IPSNews that contains the curious detail that, in fact, neither Micheletti nor Zelaya has made any move to take up the seat afforded to former presidents. The issue is presently being debated by members of Parlacen representing right-wing and leftist political positions within Central America, whose positions are completely predictable.

But who first raised it?

An English-language online media outlet, Honduras Weekly, began publishing articles in February claiming that Zelaya was actively seeking the position, noting that it would come with diplomatic immunity from prosecution.

Also in February, pro-coup Honduran daily newspaper El Heraldo published an article including a statement from Public Prosecutor Luis Rubí saying Zelaya should return to Honduras to face prosecution. In this article, Lobo Sosa was quoted as saying he would be talking to Parlacen officials to resolve the issue
in the face of demands by right-wing political leaders in the country who consider that Micheletti should be included in the Parlacen, not Zelaya.

And here, finally, we find the source of the controversy: right-wing Hondurans who fear seeing Zelaya in an official capacity that would acknowledge his legitimacy as former president.

On February 15, pro-coup La Prensa published an interview with none other than Enrique Ortez Colindres, famous for his undiplomatic comments on US President Barack Obama and the nation of El Salvador during his time as Roberto Micheletti's minister of foreign affairs. Dismissing Parlacen as a failed institution, he nonetheless argued that Micheletti should have the seat given to former presidents because only he had "completed his mandate" as president. You know, because Zelaya didn't stay on after June 28.

And besides, Ortez Colindres said,
if Pepe Lobo accepted [the appointment of Zelaya], then he would be accepting that there was a coup d'Etat and to accept that would be to make his own presidential election vulnerable.

So, now finally we get to why the Christian Science Monitor has gotten the idea that the Parlacen problem is between Zelaya and Lobo Sosa.

Because in a manner of speaking, it is: if Lobo Sosa wants to keep support from the right, he has to oppose Zelaya's non-existent candidacy for Parlacen, or admit that his own election took place under the administration of an illegitimate administration.


In April 2009 Honduras suffered a great cultural loss when an entire city block just off the square in Comayagua burned. This block of colonial buildings belonging to the Diocese of Comayagua, included a chapel of the Virgin of Carmen, the Bishop's residence, the church's radio station, the Colonial Art Museum, and the Colonial Ecclesiastical Archives. The fire, which started in the electrical system in the roof over the chapel quickly spread to all the interconnected structures, which burned. All that was left were charred adobe walls.

Much of the collection of the Colonial Art Museum was rescued; estimates are as high as 80% of the material on exhibit was saved. The Colonial Ecclesiastical Archive was nearly a total loss, with only a few charred bound volumes recovered. Fortunately, parts of this invaluable collection of documents had previously been microfilmed by the University of Texas, Arlington, and the Mormon Church. In the chapel there were a number of Colonial images of saints being stored, including Our Lady of Sorrows, Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint Peter, and the Virgin of Carmen with baby Jesus, and all of these were destroyed.

These saint's images, along with others, were used in processions around the city of Comayagua during Holy week. Last year, there was sadness, as the fire happened just after Easter. This year, however, there is joy.

Monsignor Roberto Camilleri, Bishop of Comayagua, commissioned a sculptor in Seville to make replacements for all the lost saint's statues. Reubén Fernández Parra, whose workshop in Seville is famous for religious sculpture, was commissioned last June to replace the 5 saint's statues, and to provide a sixth, of Saint Veronica. All are standing wooden and painted figures with the exception of the baby Jesus held by the Virgin of Carmen. The baby Jesus figure has movable arms and legs. The new image of Our Lady of Sorrows is an attempt to copy the destroyed one using existing photography. The Saint Peter statue was inspired by the one lost, but there was less photographic documentation so it is not a faithful copy. For the others, there was insufficient documentation to make replicas.

An article in Arte Sacro has a wonderful set of pictures of the new figures, and they also appear on Fernández Parra's website, where he has numerous photographs of his work. The ones for Honduras are the statues that currently appear first on the page. Welcome, then, to these beautiful new figures making their debut this week in Comayagua!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Devil in the Details: Honduras' Budget Proposal

Among the multitude of things that a new executive administration does, the one that best shows its priorities is its budget proposal. This week, we got to see the proposal by the administration of Porfirio Lobo Sosa.

The bottom line: the budget proposes an increase of about 6.5% over 2009.

But this is not to say that every part of the budget is treated equally. In fact, a number of government agencies will face declining budgets under the proposal.

Big losers in the proposed budget:
  • the Fondo Hondureño de Inversión Social (FHIS), which would lose about 25% of its budget, affecting its mission of providing funding for social development projects;
  • the Consejo Hondureño de Ciencia y Tecnología appears to face a budget more than 95% reduced from 2009, perhaps indicating that in Honduras as in the US, right wing governments think science and technology are best left to the private sector; meanwhile, the Direccion de Ciencia y Tecnología Agropecuaria would lose more than 50% of its 2009 funding, presumably indicating that the application of science and technology to farming and animal husbandry is something recognized as usefully done by government;
  • the Instituto Nacional de Conservación y Desarrollo Forestal will experience about a 13% decline, presumably not good for its mission of encouraging forest ecosystem preservation and development;
  • the Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones will see its budget decline by 30%, presumably because telecommunications has ceased to be a corrupt part of Honduran commerce;
  • the Registro Nacional de las Personas, responsible for the voter rolls that were so contested in November 2009, would be reduced by 17%; the Tribunal Supremo Electoral would have its budget cut in half, perhaps in tribute to its role in the "success" of the November 2009 election;
  • smaller but still significant decreases were proposed for the Judicial branch; Instituto de la Propiedad; Empresa Nacional de Artes Gráficas (responsible for printing La Gaceta-- twice in the case of the Nacaome dam scandal); the Fondo Víal; and the Comisión Nacional de Energía.

Within the executive branch, the proposed budget makes several dramatic adjustments, which cumulatively give a sense of what cabinet offices are likely to have the resources they need to carry out existing programs or implement new ones. Juxtaposing these changes reveals troubling policy directions.

Remaining close to the same level: the Secretaría de Gobernación y Justicia.

Meanwhile, the Secretaría de Despacho Presidencial, Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Secretaría de Trabajo y Seguridad Social, Secretaría de Recursos Naturales y Ambiente, all are slated for budget decreases. The Secretaría de Agricultura y Ganadería will see a 15% decline in its budget.

While the Secretaría Técnica y de Cooperación Internacional would see its budget decline by more than 95%, a newly established Secretaría Técnica y de Planificación y Cooperación Externa, with a budget of 371,150,742 lempiras, would increase funding in this area five-fold. A Secretaría de Desarrollo Social y Red Solidaria which had no budget in 2008 would see an increase from 54,658,900 lempiras in 2009 to 532,289,371 lempiras in 2010.

Going up modestly are the budgets for the Secretaría de Educación; Secretaría de Salud; Secretaría de Seguridad; and Secretaría de Finanzas.

Most striking are a few ministries with greatly increased proposed resources. First among these is the Secretaría de Defensa Nacional, which oversees the Armed Forces, and will do so with 23% more budgetary resources if Lobo Sosa's budget is approved. The Secretaría de Industria y Comercio will see a 15% increase in budget to allow it to promote the interests of the business community.

One dramatic juxtaposition will give an example of the implications of such increases and decreases.

On the one hand, the Secretaría de Cultura, Artes y Deportes (Ministry of Culture) would see its budget decline 9% (to 244,354,800 lempiras), while the Secretaría de Turismo would see an increase of almost 50% in its budget (to 333,987,604 lempiras). Readers of our coverage of the Ministry in Culture's mismanagement under the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti will recall that the woefully inadequate appointee to that ministry, Myrna Castro, was confused about the respective roles of these ministries, criticizing the head of the Institute of Anthropology and History for declining tourism as if tourist development were the role of the Ministry of Culture. At least the Lobo Sosa administration appears to understand where to put its money if it wants to increase tourism, without ensuring professional research and education about national culture.

As part of its process of deliberation, Congress also received a delegation of cabinet-level officials charged with economic affairs who were charged to explain the need for a "paquetazo" of special economic measures. As reported in El Heraldo, the president of the Banco Central de Honduras, María Elena Mondragón, Minister of the Presidency María Antonieta de Bográn, and Secretary of Finance William Chong Wong, explained that
Honduras is bankrupt and that the coffers of the State have a 17,000 million lempira deficit, as well as a floating debt around 33 million lempiras.

Such a deficit is precisely what we projected based on the rate at which the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti burned through Honduran funds to avoid coming to terms with international disapproval of the coup d'etat. Now there's a price tag on the coup, if anyone cares to notice.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Retaliation Against Honduras' National University

Student correspondents at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras (UNAH) write, alarmed at proposals to close the university "temporarily", which they believe are a pretext to dismiss existing faculty and hire new professors, who our correspondents suspect will be selected on ideological grounds.

The threat to close the university has been widely reported in the Honduran press. While today's coverage in La Tribuna says the proposal has been discarded, it also reports the head of Congress saying that
“there has been talk of distinct options to approach this problem, we're not going to hide it, there are congress members that have advised that if this continues it might be more profitable to give a grant to a student so that he could study in a private university, the amount that a student at the autonoma [UNAH] costs the State so much that it has been said, but no decision has been taken."

Rigoberto Chang Castillo, secretary of the National Congress, reportedly proposed closing UNAH as "ungovernable". News coverage notes that Chang Castillo is a faculty member of the school of law, and cites a precedent (although unsuccessful) when in 2008, then-president of the Junta de Dirección Universitaria, Olvin Rodríguez, called for a two year closure of the university which quite obviously was not implemented.

The most recent news reports say that the heads of the three branches of government, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, Juan Orlando Hernández (on behalf of Congress), and Jorge Rivera Avilés (from the Supreme Court) met with Julieta Castellanos, rector of UNAH, and decided against closing the university.

Yet today, the university has reportedly been closed for a period of ten days, although not apparently by the National Congress: the Ministry of Health says it is closing the campus due to unhealthy conditions created by garbage accumulated when workers went on strike. The Health Ministry claims in particular that dengue (a mosquito born illness) and H1N1 (spread by contact with someone already affected) will be promoted by the trash that has built up on campus and the uncleaned bathrooms. This suggests the ministry of health has a novel view of disease processes, one that we might have hoped was not the understanding of the officials charged with improving health conditions in the country.

The current irritation to the government that is behind the proposal floated this week is the continuing strike by SITRAUNAH, the union that represents labor at UNAH. SITRAUNAH has been on strike since February 23 in a power struggle over reforms at the university. One of the keys to the controversy is the University's unwillingness to continue with the requirement to make payments of over two years of salary upon the death of an employee. As a result, SITRAUNAH has gone on strike and taken over buildings.

The union appears to have some faculty and student support, with recent reports of strikes by some faculty and students, although these also concern proposed financial policies that directly affect students. But SITRAUNAH does not have support from the administration of the university: according to today's report in La Tribuna, Julieta Castellanos requested the congress declare this strike illegal.

The Public Prosecutor, Luis Rubi, would go further: he wants to charge union members with sedition, usurpation, and coercion and has asked a judge in Tegucigalpa to issue arrest orders for the entire leadership of the union.

Sedition? Really? Sedition is an illegal action against lawful authority, directed at a government, tending towards insurrection, but which does not itself amount to treasonous conduct.

What makes the university such a target? Among other things, UNAH is full of intellectuals who have written critical analyses of the conditions that led to the coup d'etat, and of the overall system of government in the country. As we noted in a previous post, UNAH has been criticized for hiring former members of the Zelaya administration, people well-qualified for the jobs they took on.

During the months of open aggression by the Micheletti regime, UNAH students and faculty, even the rector, were subjects of violence. UNAH, and the national teaching university, the Pedagógica, were accused of being sites where bombs/Molotov cocktails were constructed and stored, despite the documented fact that the chemistry lab where the police claimed this was going on had burned years earlier, and not been repaired or replaced.

UNAH is a continuing irritation to government because it is in the nature of a university to encourage free expression of opinions and the development of critical perspectives. The fact that the national congress and public prosecutor are using a labor dispute as a pretext to discuss shutting the whole place down, and even re-directing public funding to private universities, is another indication that Honduras remains far from the ideal of reconciliation and far from conditions that would allow a real pursuit of the truth about the political events of 2009.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Trouble in Honduras' Korean Embassy

As we have been monitoring the process of setting the Lobo Sosa administration into place, we have been tracking political appointments, including those of ambassadors. As in the US, these diplomatic posts are places where you can see the strings connecting the elected government to the unelected one. Until now, while these have interested us, they have not been particularly newsworthy.

Well, that just changed. Joong Ang Daily, an English-language Korean paper, just published an article confirming what the Honduran press was reporting:
The Honduran government has withdrawn its request to the Korean government to approve Korean-born Kang Young-shin to be the next Honduran ambassador to Seoul.

Joong Ang Daily
attributes the change to a conflict with basic Honduran law:
A diplomatic source here said Honduras cited “issues with local law” as the main reason to withdraw the request....

Under Honduran law, a naturalized citizen isn’t allowed to represent Honduras in his or her native country.

Honduran media, however, identify the problem as South Korean law, which does not permit a Korean citizen to represent a foreign government. These reports imply that either South Korea did not recognize the assumption of Honduran citizenship by Kang, or that she maintained her Korean citizenship in parallel with Honduran citizenship.

But another article in yesterday's El Heraldo, while burying it deep in a story purportedly about US demonstrations asking for continuation of Temporary Protected Status for Hondurans, has a slightly different take on what happened, describing it as part of a pattern:
A little more than 50 days after the Porfirio Lobo Sosa government was installed, friendly countries have not approved the ambassadors named by the new administration. On the contrary, the responses that Lobo Sosa has obtained are negative. Such is the case of South Korea, which denied its blessing on the ambassador proposed by the government of Lobo Sosa, for being a citizen born in that country, although she has Honduran nationality.

When the appointment was announced, it was characterized by the The Korea Times as a "surprise":
Incumbent Honduran Ambassador to Korea Rene Francisco Umana Chinchilla told The Korea Times Sunday the news was unexpected.... Umana Chinchilla heard the news over the weekend through a Korean media outlet, raising suspicions over a lack of communication between the embassy in Seoul and the new government in Tegucigalpa, the country's capital.

So why was this appointment ever floated? Joong Ang Daily quotes Kang as saying
“President Lobo is very knowledgeable about Korea, appreciates Koreans’ work ethic and promptness, and probably named me [as the ambassador] to build stronger ties with Korea” ...“When I told him over the phone I’d take the job, he said, ‘I trust you.’”

Another report from The Korea Times gives the widely-repeated personal background on the appointment:
Kang graduated from a teachers' university in Seoul and worked as an elementary school teacher before moving to Honduras in 1977 when her husband took a position as a professor at its military academy. She became naturalized as a Honduran citizen in 1987....Kang had previously run a private Taekwondo Institute with her husband, now deceased. Kang was asked by Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, who was once her Taekwondo student, to represent Honduras to Korea.

Beyond the enlightenment this attempted appointment yields on the colorful background of Lobo Sosa, what does this tell us about Honduras today?

The Korea Times wrote that the designation of Kang "was an expression of friendship to Korea by the Honduran President, diplomats say, while it was also taken as a well-received surprise in Korea as a success story of a Korean immigrant overseas."

South Korea is an important economic partner for Honduras. In the latest year for which data are available on South Korean government websites, 2006, Korean imports from Honduras totaled $23 million and its exports to Honduras reached $139 million. At the time, the South Korean government estimated that about 470 Koreans lived in Honduras.

According to the South Korean Ministry of
Foreign Affairs and Trade website, from 1991 to 2007 South Korea provided more than $11 million in aid to Honduras, $6 million in the form of loans, with another $5 million in loans then pending disbursement.

The $6 million loan reported as completed was for a major power grid expansion project, the kind of infrastructure work that has been subject to cronyism and corruption in other cases, and that even if handled entirely legally, tends to enrich the owners of Honduran construction companies and major businesses.

Approved for funding by South Korea in 1998, the project for which this loan was intended was the subject of Decreto 15-2001 published in La Gaceta on April 17, 2001, ratifying the original congressional resolution 14-99 of 1999. As is common with such loans, the contract required Honduras to purchase the necessary goods and services from South Korea (allowing up to 20% of the funds to be used for purchases from other countries). In addition, materials for the project were exempted from import duties and taxes.

The full publication of the loan agreement on August 30 of 2001 (Decreto 112-2001) includes an Annex specifying that the project would support building 611.4 km of primary and secondary electrical wiring to provide electrical service to 177 rural communities in 12 of the 18 Departments of Honduras, with work to be carried out by ENEE, the national energy company.

So there is much more at stake in diplomatic relations with South Korea than simply recognition of an immigration success story. And the most telling sentence in all the news coverage of this now canceled appointment is Kang's quotation of Lobo Sosa:
'I trust you.’

Friday, March 19, 2010

The rebellious spirit of Lempira: The Frente de Resistencia and Lenca Rhetoric

From this ancestral territory of Lenca resistance, with the rebellious spirit of Lempira:

This is the final salutation in the Manifesto that was issued by the Frente de Resistencia after the recently concluded meeting in La Esperanza, Intibuca, with the stated goal of beginning a process of "refounding" Honduras.

The salutation recalls the history of resistance by Honduras' Lenca people faced with the Spanish military colonization in the sixteenth century. Lempira was the leader of a widespread Lenca uprising in 1537. The traditional story goes that he was killed while under a flag of truce. But Lempira is a more complex figure than simply that of a noble, yet defeated, leader.

Every July 20, Honduras celebrates the Día de Lempira to commemorate this founding moment in the history of the nation five centuries ago. As Wendy Griffin described it in Honduras This Week in 1999, this celebration has traditionally been observed by having school children dress in what they imagine is Lenca clothing and elect an "india bonita" (beautiful Indian girl).

Griffin notes that in Lenca communities, and in Honduran society more broadly, this appropriation of a romanticized indigenous past is contested:
The Lencas celebrate the Day of Lempira as their day of ethnic pride. After the election of the "India Bonita," Lenca musical groups or "conjuntos" made up of a fiddle, guitars, and a base fiddle, play ranchera music so people can dance. "Recorridos", which are often protest songs, are also popular at these gatherings...

July is a time to reflect on Honduras' motto of being "Free, Sovereign and Independent." Ethnic groups and academics organize forums and write articles to reflect on whether current policies truly reflect those of a sovereign state.

The spirit of Lempira was to reflect foreign imposition and each year his day draws critiques of current attempts toward such imposition, be it against Contra bases in the 1980s or U.S. troops at Palmerola or IMF imposed conditions in the 1990s. The Lencas add to this protest their own cry, asking a country that so honors Lempira then leaves the hijos de Lempira (the sons of Lempira) in such a state of neglect.

It is this less-domesticated aspect of Lempira that resonates in the invocation by the Frente de Resistencia of Lempira: "the spirit of Lempira to reflect foreign imposition" and "whether current policies truly reflect those of a sovereign state", both made urgent by the coup d'etat of 2009. The symbolism of Lempira is not that of a valiant but unsuccessful fight against colonization, but rather, of a persistent resistance. News coverage of Lenca activism in the late 1990s recorded slogans on posters displayed in La Esperanza: ''500 years after the conquest of the Americas, Lempira is alive!'', ''Indigenous resistance is still alive, the Lenca people are present!''

It is those overtones that the Manifesto invokes, as much as the site and sponsorship of the II Encuentro itself. The
gathering in La Esperanza was noted to have been hosted by COPINH, an indigenous rights organization. Positioning the Frente as like Lempira reinforces the radical and revolutionary nature of the movement being forged, whose goals are not simply to gain a little political power, but to "re-found" Honduras.

What actually happened at the Encuentro in La Esperanza? Counterpunch, in an article reviewing the position of Canada's right-wing government on Honduras (where Canadian companies are the largest external mining interest), cites a first-hand report by Claudia Korol describing
twenty simultaneous popular assemblies to discuss a variety of themes: the preservation of water, forests, land, subsoil, traditional territories, and air; the political system and popular sovereignty; culture; justice; autonomy; sexual diversity; health; communications; foreign policy and international relations; anti-patriarchal struggles; anti-racism; national security; work and workers’ rights; the economic system; indigenous and black communities; youth; fighting corruption and learning about popular accounting.

The goal: "the building of popular power from below", to "refound" Honduras, not merely reform it. As Peter Lackowski describes it in The Santiago Times,
After a serious debate the various sections of a new constitution were laid out. A committee to direct the National Constituent Assembly was nominated, and Bertha Oliva of the Committee of Families of disappeared Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH) was elected to lead this group.

While mainstream US media have ignored this event entirely, there is another narrative that has spread via reports in a variety of other news media.

This storyline suggests that at the Encuentro, the Frente decided to transform itself into a political party. According to the claim advanced on March 14 in a "news" article by the pro-coup Honduran newspaper La Tribuna,
The Frente Nacional de Resistencia declared its decision to constitute itself as a political party to gain power by means of the vote with the sole mission of refounding Honduras.

No specific document or person was cited in support of this claim. It does not in fact appear to be accurate. But comments on the online version of this story show that transforming the Frente into a political party would satisfy the imagination of readers of La Tribuna about how opposition rhetoric should fit in Honduras.

And it gained some traction in Spanish-language reporting for Radio Nederland, which on March 16 repeated the same claim, attributing it to "César Ramos, political analyst close to the Frente".

First-hand reporting on statements at the Encuentro by Giorgio Trucchi quoted Carlos H. Reyes firmly stating quite the opposite:
We have to dedicate ourselves to [organizing to get the necessary votes during the Popular Consulta of next June 28 to demonstrate being the majority in the face of the necessity to form a Constituent Assembly that will refound the country], because there are those that day that we should dedicate ourselves starting now
to forming a political party. The Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular has decided that first we have to strengthen ourselves as a Frente, to put in place the head, body, feet and finally, wings of that bird. We cannot put a roof on a house that we still have not constructed. First we have to deepen the work of consciousness-raising, organization, mobilization, and politicization

The fundamental proposition of the Frente is that Honduran government is broken, and that only starting over with e popular Constituent Assembly can solve the dilemma. Insisting that the Frente is really about to convert into a conventional political party lessens the impact of the radical claim to speak in "the rebellious spirit of Lempira".

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Manifesto of the Encuentro Nacional por la Refundación de Honduras

The original Spanish Manifesto of the II Encuentro Nacional por la Refundación de Honduras produced in the recently concluded meeting of the Frente Popular de Resistencia can be found on voselsoberano:


Reunited men and women, in the city of La Esperanza, under the auspices of the sign of hope, men and women of 17 departments of the country, we have gone through with another appointment with Honduras, to examine ourselves, debate, and strengthen through dialogue our knowledge, experiences, and dreams with the eagerness to re-found our native land.

This II Encuentro por la Refundación de Honduras was characterized by ancestral spirituality, creativity, the profound interchange in the diversity and the long and arduous exercise of the installation of a Popular and Democratic National Constituent Assembly that will express the proposals that are pillars of our process of refounding this country.

Before the Honduran public, we declare:

That we are continuing in resistance against the golpistas and their national and international allies, and therefore we do not recognize the fraudulent government of Porfirio Lobo.

That we continue in the construction of historic proposals of the Honduran social movement, that line up to eradicate the system of neoliberal, patriarchal, and racist domination.

That we insist on constructing, from a diversity of sectors, voices, and experiences, a just, worthy, and enjoyable way of life for all Honduran men and women that has already been expressed in the struggles for land, for justice, for the defense of natural resources and for the respect for human rights.

That we will continue making use of our legitimate and sovereign right to exercise popular power. This power of the people exceeds the representative character and therefore it can be assumed to be legitimate to delegate as well as to revoke that representation.

That we will not renounce the proposal for the installation of the Democratic and Popular National Constituent Assembly where the diversity of the thoughts and struggles of the Honduran people will be recognized.

We declare our solidarity, at this time, with the struggles of the national teachers' organizations, the union of the national university (SITRAUNAH), the towns of San Francisco de Opalaca and Nacaome against the construction of dams, and the struggle for land on the part of the Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguan; we stand in solidarity with Manuel Zelaya Rosales and with father Andrés Tamayo, and other exiled Honduran men and women, products of political persecution just as we demand that their right to enter national territory be respected. In the same way we stand actively in solidarity with the political prisoners and men and women persecuted politically.

The II Encuentro for the Refundación de Honduras is an action more in this refoundational and resistance process, that will not be exhausted here, rather it will open and convene multiple and diverse popular actions to realize the task of constructing a new Honduras.

From this ancestral territory of Lenca resistance, with the rebellious spirit of Lempira, on the 14th day of the month of March of 2010.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Institue for Women versus Feminists in Resistance

As readers of this blog know, a week ago, on International Women's Day, there was a call for mobilization by Honduras' Feminists in Resistance. Coverage in the Honduran press of demonstrations on International Women's Day illuminates the challenge Feminists in Resistance present to the Lobo Sosa administration.

Pro-coup El Heraldo reported that there was a protest in Tegucigalpa against femicide, giving the alarming figures: 46 women killed in 2008, climbing to 59 in 2009, which is bad enough: but in January-February 2010, already there have been 60 women murdered. Indeed, as widely reported, Honduras has the second-highest rate of murder of women in Central America.

The article in Heraldo ends with the apparent non-sequitur that "Feminist groups of Honduras don't recognize the authorities of the National Institute of Women [INAM]." According to this account, "activists" from the Center for Women's Rights (CDM) attempted to enter the National Congress and were "repelled" by the police and military security. But it is not clarified who these "activists" were, nor why they or other feminists don't recognize INAM.

La Tribuna, another pro-coup paper, reported that an official ceremony had been planned to take place on International Women's Day in the National Congress building, with First Lady Rosa Elena de Lobo and the Minister of Security, Oscar Álvarez, where a formal agreement would be signed INAM and the Security Minister to reduce violent deaths of women, particularly from domestic violence.

So how did this develop into what El Heraldo called a "zipezape"-- a ruckus?

An account of the protest and its suppression translated and posted at quotha says that the police and military security evicted the women protesting on the orders of Maria Antonieta Botto, head of INAM when
the women were trying to mount several spaces to show how women have been active with the resistance against the coup... In what seemed a boycott of women’s organizations, INAM decided to have an event in the same place even though the Feminists of the Resistance had disseminated widely their peaceful event at that location.

“We were having our event on La Merced plaza, when they cut off the power because the INAM was going to have their event at the National Congress. We were able to get the power back on the stand and they shut down the power again. We went over to the INAM minister and told her to give us power but what they did instead was send the police after us with batons and weapons who beat some of the women and took away our signs.”

This report describes the mission of INAM as
to improve [women's] quality of life and promoting respect for human rights, in harmony with other participative and democratic social actors. We are an institution responsible for formulating, developing, promoting, coordinating and following up on the policies that guarantee and protect the rights and gender equity of women, adolescents and girls, to contribute towards the sustainable human development of the country.

The minister in charge of INAM is Maria Antonieta Botto. Immediately prior to taking up this position in the Lobo Sosa administration, Botto was mayor of the small city of Villanueva, Cortés, located south of San Pedro Sula. Villanueva is the site of one of the major concentrations of maquiladoras in northern Honduras, companies that rely on the labor of young women. From 1998 to 2002, and again from 2002 to 2006, Botto was a Nationalist party congress member from the department of Cortés. In the November election, Botto lost to the Liberal party candidate, Walter Perdomo.

The report translated at quotha notes that the order to remove the feminists from proximity to the National Congress on International Women's Day
worsened the distrust that has been generated for Boto, whose abilities to fill the post of minister have been questioned.
Sara Tomé, in charge of the Legal Center of Women’s Studies, CEM-H said that “before the coup we had made some important conquests, but after the coup it all came down. We lost INAM, the domestic violence courts and other entities. That work fell through.”

International coverage of the Women's Day protests by Feminists in Resistance connect the dots a bit more. As reported by EFE, these women
denounced the fact that various women that participated in the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular against the coup d'etat of last June 28 against Manuel Zelaya were assassinated and others sexually abused. The women accused the State security forces of these violations, which number 26, according to the denunciation.
In Tegucigalpa, the demonstrators also indicated that they do not recognize the new authorities of the National Institute of Women "because they are a product of the coup d'Etat", Niza Medina, Member of CDM, said to journalists.

As has become a pattern, the most illuminating Honduran press on this topic comes from Tiempo, in the form of an editorial by Anarella Vélez published March 16:

Women, particularly those organized as Feminists in Resistance, struggle for the Honduran State to assume with responsibility our demand to generate a new law that would regulate, place it in use, and follow through on all the social processes that would guarantee the status of women as subjects with rights and that will break the ancestral association of the power of the masculine sex... The political crisis created by the coup d'Etat of 28th June, added to the international economic instability, without any doubt has complicated the reality in which we Honduran women live and has made visible the asymmetry of gender and the consolidation of an increasingly sexist hierarchy as a product of greater political impact of religious fundamentalist sectors in the decisions of State.

The editorial ends with a call for a Constitutional Assembly to draft a new Constitution that would recognize the rights of women guaranteed by the various international conventions to which Honduras is already a signatory, but which are not enshrined in law or practice. Calling for political equity, economic equity, and reproductive control, the agenda of Honduran feminists was definitively rolled back under the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti, and no steps have been taken in the Lobo Sosa administration to win back the lost advances. Appointing a female politician who has no history of women's activism did not win Porfirio Lobo Sosa any support; fumbling the treatment of women's activists on International Women's Day simply added to the already existing consciousness on the part of women's activists that fundamental change is required for their hopes to be realized.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Revolution by other means: "Refounding" Honduras

At quotha, Adrienne Pine has posted a translation of a transcript of a talk given by Gilberto Ríos, Secretary of Political Formation of the Political Organization “Los Necios", a member of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular, now in political exile in Nicaragua. Despite his personal situation, he expresses hope that the mobilization of progressive sentiment after the coup has improved the prospects for progress toward greater economic equity, sovereignty, and less militarization.

Ríos characterizes the left in Honduras as leading a "new Latin American revolution" that departs from the path of armed struggle:
What´s happening in Honduras we consider to be a new Latin American revolution, that is new and different. It is important for people to know and to contribute. It is anti-capitalist, not part of a socialist or communist society, but a new and different society.

One of the most pernicious, yet insistent, claims of retrograde thinkers about what happened and continues to happen in Honduras has been that "Chavez" (or Castro, or both...) was stopped in a supposed campaign to extend "communism" (or 21st century socialism, or both...). These claims-- regardless of any political interests Chavez himself might actually have had in enlisting Honduras as a political ally in his own global power games-- deny the roots of Honduran struggle in the dramatic increase in economic inequality that marked the last twenty years, and the parallel decline in faith in government that in fact made possible the overthrow of an elected president whose views could be publicized in ways that made him seem alien, frightening, and dangerous.

As it happens, while Ríos spoke some time ago, as I write this, the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular of Honduras is holding its second Encuentro Nacional por la Refundación de Honduras (National Meeting for the Refounding of Honduras). As reported by Prensa Latina, more than 800 delegates are meeting in La Esperanza, in the heart of traditional Lenca
territory. The organizers are quoted as saying that they have
the enthusiastic mission of constituting an Assembly of the People where all the ideas and dreams that have waited centuries will converge.

The organizers, in the cited press release, argue that they
represent the urgent will of the people to construct true democracy and transform the system of injustice and repression installed by the oligarchy.

Spain's online Mercurio Digital gives a report that provides more details on the participants in the event, as yet unmentioned in the mainstream English language press:
defying persecution and violations of human rights of which the Honduran people and social leaders who demonstrate against the dictatorship (disguised as democracy since the assumption of Porfirio Lobo) are victims, the Movement for the Refounding of Honduras, the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH), the Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ) and the Feministas en Resistencia (FER), determined to continue the spirit of rebellion urging the refounding of Honduras by those who desire to construct the Constituent Assembly that remained unfinished, by the power of the people.

This is a reference to the previously announced intention to hold a popular consulta on June 28 of the present year, to complete the consultation about whether the Honduran people want to convene a Constitutional Assembly that was the immediate spark for the coup d'etat of 2009. Progressive leader Rafael Alegría is quoted as saying
We want a constitutional assembly, to create a democratic, inclusive, participatory Constitution from the Honduran people.

How is this event, or the Resistance Front in general, being covered in the English language press?

The answer to that is unfortunately, not much at all. You need to go to English-language media from Latin America to find any that even acknowledge there is an organized resistance front. Writing for Inside Costa Rica, Peter Lackowski reports on his experiences recently on a human rights delegation to Honduras. His summary of the goals of the resistance is that it

expects the struggle to go on for years, hoping to build a movement that brings in many people who have not been active in the past. Communication is a big concern, with community radio stations playing a role, especially if the anti-coup commercial radio stations that depend on advertising revenue are not able to continue providing the solid support that they have given the movement in the past. The internet will also be useful. Political education will be important, as well as a democratic organization solidly based on broad participation of all popular sectors.

The basic program of the Resistance has three elements: non-recognition of the Lobo government, no dialogue or negotiation with what is seen as an illegitimate regime, and a constituent assembly to create a new, just constitution as the only real solution to the situation. Work on a new constitution is proceeding even without official sanction. COPINH, Consejo Civico de Organizaciones Populares y Indigenas, was founded in 1993 to defend the interests of the Lenca people who live in the Western Highlands. COPINH has issued a call for a Peoples Assembly in the city of La Esperanza, March 12 to 14, where the ideas that would be embodied in a new constitution will be discussed.

At a recent meeting in the southern city of San Lorenzo leaders of the Resistance planned to build an organization that will be able to take power through the elections in 2013. No one knows whether the oligarchs will allow this program to proceed. The one thing that is certain is that there are many people who are willing to risk everything, including their lives, for the sake of a country that is no longer governed by fear.

Contrast this with the characterization of the Frente in New York Times coverage March 3 of a letter Human Rights Watch sent to Honduran public prosecutor, Luis Alberto Rubí (himself, of course, deeply implicated in the coup d'etat): for the paper of record, the Frente is
a coalition of labor and other social groups that protested the coup.

The past tense here, and the solely reactive role to something that current US policy insists is "the past", matters. Treating the Frente as part of the past supports the current Honduran administration ignoring its existence, underlined by the claim of the US State Department that Porfirio Lobo Sosa's government exhibits "unity" because it includes members of multiple parties, who are said to represent "the left", despite the explicit refusal by the Frente to accept these politicians as their representatives.

The issue of identifiable leadership-- a person who can be presented as running the popular resistance-- underlies some of the coverage, or lack thereof, of the Frente. In its most pernicious form, this takes the shape of insisting the resistance is nothing more than "zelayistas", personal adherents of José Manuel Zelaya Rosales. This kind of argument requires no revision of the existing narratives about Latin America, in which ignorant "masses" are understood to be under the thrall of charismatic leaders. So this storyline is much more digestable.

Conservative Spanish language media exemplify this in the extreme. Coverage by Honduras' Proceso Digital of Zelaya's trip to Venezuela claims the "resistencia zelayista" is engaged in
protests that seek to destablize the administration of Lobo, to push for a constitutional assembly and the entry of Zelaya [to Honduras] so that from the Liberal Party he will form an internal political movement, in which his wife, Xiomara Zelaya, would be the card up the sleeve for the next presidential candidacy in four years, or in the event of her failure, ex- prosecutor and Zelaya official, Edmundo Orellana.

This is a clever mixture of reality, rumor-mongering, and smearing that recalls the press run-up to the coup itself. Edmundo Orellana, a highly respected public figure who served in the Zelaya administration, as he had previously, and resigned in protest of Zelaya's decision to proceed with the June 28 encuesta, is vilified by the Honduran right wing for his editorials presenting his authoritative legal opinions against the claims that the coup and installation of Micheletti was constitutional. Zelaya's wife Xiomara gained extraordinary public approval for her courageous presence in Honduras during the de facto regime speaking out against it, and that popularity undoubtedly scares Honduran conservatives.

The insinuation that Orellana or Xiomara Castro de Zelaya would be a cat's paw under Mel Zelaya's control is a way to smuggle back in the fear of ongoing presidential office as equivalent to dictatorship that, ironically, justified the actual imposition of the Micheletti dictatorship.

The current Liberal party leadership, in the hands of unsuccessful presidential candidate Elvin Santos, shares the same kind of muddy belief that the resistance is a movement of zelayistas seeking power within the Liberal Party:
The ex-presidential candidate considers that all the forces have the right to participate in politics, including the zelayist liberal resistance.

Projecting the resistance as operating primarily as a faction within the confines of the two dominant parties helps to reduce to a personal power struggle what in fact is the most terrifying potential outcome of the coup for the existing power structure: a new political force not part of the existing structure might emerge.

What Zelaya actually said about the Frente de Resistencia while in Venezuela, even as quoted in the extremely misleading "news" story in Proceso Digital, was something quite different from claiming to lead the future Liberal party or a zelayist resistance front:
there is a revolution underway, marked by the solidarity and humanism that the popular resistance and my friends are guiding... Carlos H. Reyes, with whom I spoke a few minutes ago, Rafael Alegría, Juan Barahona, Rafael Barahona, Rodil Rivera Rodil, Carlos Eduardo Reina and other friends, are driving a totally worthy revolutionary process there, in Honduras, where they want to make of Honduras an example of change in Central America.

To return to Ríos:
Zelaya has become a theoretical problem because he’s not left or right. He can’t be accused of being a communist. He’s become a challenge now. When we’re all organized to create a new world, we have to be on the same side. ... Zelaya was the only president who listened more than he spoke, so I think he is capable of making it into a revolution. But if he can’t the Movement itself can turn it into a revolution.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


In their book, Twenty -First Century Populism: The Spectre of Western European Democracy, Daniele Albertazzi and Duncan McDonnel define populism as
"an ideology which pits a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who are together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity and voice (p.3)."

The key to populism is the opposition between the common masses, usually seen as good and virtuous, and the elite in a nation, usually seen as self serving, and therefore, bad.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, doesn't like populism, which he links to weakened states. To quote his congressional testimony from today (so far only covered by the Spanish language press and not on the State Department website):
"The lack of strong institutions in Latin America feeds populism....Our commitment is institutional strengthening, which includes the rule of law and attention to the real needs of people."

This sheds some light on why the US State Department was not enthusiastic about Manuel Zelaya Rosales, who was viewed as a populist.

But it also raises the question of how this view of populism relates to support or lack of support for the Frente Popular de Resistencia and other Honduran progressive organizations arguing that existing institutions in Honduras cannot be reformed incrementally. Does that mean supporting "institutional strengthening" means ignoring or even battling against reform movements?

This question is especially urgent because Honduras' governmental system fails minimal tests for democracy. The main editorial in the March 10 edition of El Tiempo (no longer accessible online) points out that Honduras' representational system lacks the core concept of popular participation, without which there can be no democracy.

Instead, the editorial argued, today popular participation is under attack, and "all state policies reinforce authoritarianism, elitism, and autocracy":
The big problem in Honduras is the class politics of the power elite; they lack a democratic culture. They consider themselves the owner of the country and don't recognize the people as the supreme power, as the sovereign state. They look at the grassroots with suspicion and distrust and fear, as an enemy that must be kept from the most basic democratic right, that of self determination. "The village is not ready for independence," they have said from time immemorial.

Is this the populist message Valenzuela wants to eradicate by strengthening state institutions?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A coup is "the kind of thing that cannot be easily absorbed": Celso Amorim

"And finally, on Central America, again, I don’t know what you’re referring to, but the United States believes strongly in democracy and we are supporting the return of constitutional democracy to Honduras. The election which was held was by all observers found to be free, fair, and legitimate. President Lobo has moved quickly to implement many of the recommendations that first came from President Arias’s work on the San Jose accords and then were incorporated into the Tegucigalpa Accord. He has a unity government. He has a truth commission that will be stood up. He expedited the safe departure of former President Zelaya. And we think that Honduras has taken important and necessary steps that deserve the recognition and the normalization of relations."

Hillary Clinton, March 4, 2010, in remarks in San Jose, Costa Rica

The recently concluded trip throughout Latin America may have produced many positive outcomes for the US Department of State. But on the topic of Honduras, what it mainly showed was how far apart the US and Latin American countries still are, and why.

First, let's point out that Clinton's description of the situation on the ground is not, shall we say, entirely reality-based:
"The election which was held was by all observers found to be free, fair, and legitimate."

The Honduran election was not observed by any of the usual institutions. UN election observers and the Carter Center for Democracy declined to observe the elections. Both groups stated that they did not find there were proper conditions to hold free and fair elections. Conservative organizations did send "observers", but these can hardly be regarded as independent. Nor can the individual national observers recruited to fill the breach through the business councils (COHEP and ANDI) and conservative civic organizations (the UCD). In some cases, these observers interfered with other observers. International progressive observers of the election, like those from the Quixote Center, would also contest this characterization.
"He has a unity government."

The redefinition of government of unity (and remember, the original call was for a government of unity
and reconciliation) is one of the most cynical things here. Appointing the minor party candidates to the cabinet has now been redefined as "unity". Elvin Santos and the Liberal Party, sent to political exile, surely would debate that, as would the Frente de Resistencia. And even the minor gestures Lobo Sosa made have gotten him into trouble in his own National Party, which now says it intends to monitor him monthly, having registered its unhappiness with his failure to give out enough plum positions to party loyalists.
"He has a truth commission that will be stood up."

Ah, wishful thinking. The date for formation of the truth commission has passed, with only the Honduran participants named. And this immediately set off a smear campaign against Julieta Castellanos, who is regarded by many Honduran activists as not progressive enough, yet is under attack for hiring former members of the Zelaya government who are well-qualified for the jobs they are taking up. But perhaps the definition of what constitutes "standing up" a truth commission will be reshaped just as the definition of "unity government" has been.

So, in Hillary Clinton's world all is forgiven, and, as she put it, while "
other countries in the region say that they want to wait a while. I don’t know what they’re waiting for" to regularize relations with Honduras.

There is a lot we could write about what actions other countries might appreciate. Start with the following:
Lobo Sosa has never renounced or condemned the coup d'etat of June 28 itself.

His government continues to appoint extremists from the de facto regime to positions of even greater authority.

He shows no sign of even wanting to engage in dialogue with the popular forces that opposed the coup and continue to campaign for constitutional reform.

His few actions to remove the most visible members of the coup, all taken under obvious pressure from the US, have followed equivocal statements in support of these same actors, and have been followed by their reappointment to other government jobs.

But in fact, Brazil's Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim, managed to put it much more succinctly than all of that, as reported in the NY Times:
Foreign Minister Celso Amorim described some of Mr. Lobo’s actions since taking office as positive, but would not commit to restoring full relations with Honduras. A military coup “is the kind of thing that cannot be easily absorbed,” he said.

Contrast that with Secretary of State Clinton's statement after her meeting with President Kirchner of Argentina:
"We had a very frank exchange of views about our different perceptions of Honduras. And as the president said, I appreciated the opportunity to explain why we believe that the free and fair elections which have elected the new president in Honduras means it’s time to turn the page. The difficult period Honduras went through, we hope is now over. "

Again, listen to Celso Amorim's remarks after his meeting with Clinton:
"Countries that have undergone, say, the trauma of living under a military dictatorship following a coup d’état – for example, my own generation, Brazil was deprived of voting rights. For 21 years on end we were not able to vote for the presidency. So you can’t take these things that widely. You have to bring that into perspective."
"It’s the kind of thing that cannot be easily absorbed. I mean, the type of a military coup d’état happened and it struck a legitimately elected president who was very much in the middle of an otherwise successful term in office. So we need to, of course, work on the basis of two things, two variables: facts on the one hand, and time on the other hand. It can’t be just time, because, of course, some events may speed up the lapse of time, and that is why I do not wish to indicate any deadline, because very often you may find yourself without any relevant events, therefore time itself is not enough."

Yes. It can't just be time: there need to be facts. And the facts in Honduras include continued threats and murders of progressives, vilification of opposition members, and a failure to repudiate the coup d'etat or the authors of it.


On August 31, 2009, the de facto government of Honduras announced a new accelerated program to approve environmental licenses for projects. Under the program, private industry would fund 35 new positions for lawyers and technicians at SERNA, the Secretary of Natural Resources and Climate, to speed up the approval of environmental licenses for projects such as housing developments, roads, dams, and such, which take an average of two years to get approved. The goal of the acceleration was to get through the entire backlog of 1200 applications by year end.

Less than a month after the program had been funded, SERNA had approved 320 of those programs and turned over the environmental licenses, projects like a new pier for cruise ships to dock on the Bay Island of Roatan, housing, restaurants, pharmaceutical factories, chemical plants, dams, none of which raised any environmental concerns according to SERNA last September 26.

Now comes word that the Prosecutor for Environmental Crimes is worried, according to the office of the Public Prosecutor. Aldo Santos, the prosecutor in charge, has seen a number of clearly worrisome projects with environmental licenses approved under this accelerated process.
"The prosecutor already has the first reports of some licenses that should be reviewed because their environmental permits were issued in less than nine days under the previous administration, and that really scares us because in so many years of being here with the theme of the environment, physically it is impossible for an environmental license to be given in nine or ten days."

Among the licenses he is investigating are several for dam projects near La Ceiba which were approved under the accelerated processes at SERNA.
"This office is not opposed to having more dams, if needed, but these should be built within the law, the Constitution, and above all, with proper mitigation, not as official grants to help a friend or member of a political party, that's irresponsible."

So, under the de facto government, environmental license approvals went from an average of 720 days wait, to 9 or 10 days. The real question is, why did it take even 9 or 10 days? They clearly weren't doing the required oversight, so why weren't the licenses just issued immediately? Maybe it was the sheer volume of environmental licenses they were handing out to their backers....

And The Coup Goes On.....

Romeo Vasquez Velasquez was fired from his job as commander of the Honduran Armed Forces by President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, reportedly because of international pressure. He formally left the position on February 26, officially retiring from the Armed Forces. How strange, then, to see him reinstalled in the government of Porfirio Lobo Sosa as the new head of HONDUTEL, the troubled national phone company, less than two weeks later.

Vasquez Velasquez wasted no time in thanking Lobo for the appointment and immediately announcing the appointment of Jesús Arturo Mejia, a former employee of the Public Prosecutor, Luis Rubi, and a supporter of Ricardo Alvarez, the head of the Nationalist Party and Mayor of Tegucigalpa, who is already running for President, to be the head of the HONDUTEL computer services division. Vasquez Velasquez noted that as a military officer, he had lots of experience in administration, and that when he was head of the Institute of Miltary Planning (IPM in Spanish), the military prospered.

Myrna Castro, the "fashion is culture" de facto Minister of Culture has been given an appointment in the High Court of Auditors (TSC in Spanish), the very organization that will investigate the disappearance of 157 million lempiras in funding during her tenure in Culture.

Arturo Corrales, one of Micheletti's negotiators for the Tegucigalpa San Jose Accord, is Porfirio Lobo Sosa's Minister of Planning and International Cooperation. As such, he is in charge of the process by which the National Plan, Lobo Sosa's 28 year economic and social development plan for Honduras, is formulated.

Vilma Morales, another of Micheletti's negotiators, was appointed the head of the Banking and Insurance commission (CNBS in Spanish).

Clearly there either isn't enough international pressure, or that isn't the reason Romeo Vasquez Velasquez was replaced. The golpistas continue to find prominant places in Porfirio Lobo Sosa's government.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Adolfo Facussé to Honduras: Don't Demonize Mining

One of the clear contributing factors to the coup d'etat of 2009 was the abysmal nature of Honduran press coverage of politics. Today's La Tribuna brings an article that so perfectly exemplifies this, while also exposing more of the web of economic interests that distort Honduran society, that it merits commentary.

Under the headline They can't close sources of work with a new Law of Mining the article opens with the news that the San Martin mine, operated by Entre Mares, will be closing, having ended its cycle of production.

Entre Mares, owned by Goldcorp, a Canadian mining company, is well known to activists because of the complaints registered by local residents against the negative environmental impacts of its open-pit gold mine, located in an area of Honduras called the Siria Valley, in the Department of Francisco Morazán. Cyanide leaching processes are alleged to have led to elevated levels of arsenic, lead and mercury in the bodies of residents, contributing to a variety of illnesses. Cattle have died in the vicinity of the mine.

In 2007-- in the midst of the Zelaya administration-- the mine was fined one million lempiras (not quite $60,000) for environmental damage. Deforestation, damage to water sources, and displacement of a rural community are all products of this mining adventure. Reports on investigations by CAFOD (the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, a branch of CARITAS) makes grim reading. CAFOD has called attention to the danger that Entre Mares and its parent Goldcorp will leave an environmental disaster that Honduras cannot clean up throughout 2009.

So what does Adolfo Facussé, president of the Asociación Nacional de Industriales (ANDI), have to add to the discussion? Well, let's let La Tribuna's objective reporting give us the answer:
Despite the fact that there are small groups in Honduras that demonize the companies, the businesses re-established all the environmental conditions that existed before the exploitation of the land, they even improved them, [Facussé] pointed out.

In the same way they left a tourist center constructed, where there is an hotel; these installations will serve to maintain the economic activity of the residents of the municipality of San Ignacio.

The bizarre notion of transforming a former open pit mine into a tourist center is hard to even take seriously.

I would point out that none of the above is in quotes, nor is the text that follows immediately:
Unfortunately the owners of the mine could not continue investing in Honduras, because some people meddled so that Honduras is the only country in the world where mining should not exist.

They are people inspired by the left and they forget that in Cuba, Peru and Venezuela there is exploitation of mines, only in Honduras they wish to prohibit it.

Ignore for the moment the nonsequitur between saying that the mine is being closed down because it reached the end of its cycle of production, and that the mining company cannot continue because of some meddlesome person. Attacking environmental and social justice groups-- among them, the Association for a More Just Society of Honduras, which published reports on the contamination as early as 2003-- by branding them as leftist, and especially, dragging in Cuba and Venezuela, is dangerous rhetoric in the wake of the coup in Honduras. (Why poor Peru got included I cannot say...)

But remember: the text above is not quoted. It is the body of the news report. It echoes and thus treats as facts assertions by Facussé, who is quoted next as saying
"To prohibit mining exploitation in Honduras damages the national economy, because in these moments gold has achieved extraordinary prices and in our country many mines could be opened to give work to thousands of compatriots, but it changed to thinking negatively."

The paper continues by paraphrasing Facussé further as saying
The enemies of Honduras do not want there to be work for the Hondurans, but they do not close the mines of Cuba and Venezuela, among other countries where there is mining exploitation.

then changes to direct quotes to continue his comments:
“In Honduras there already exists a Law of Mining that was agreed upon some years ago and we are in favor of them applying this law, and in it was established respect for the environment, an increase in the taxes that the mining companies should pay, among other regulations."

“Definitely, we are 100% against the project of Deputy Marvin Ponce, who wants to close the opportunities of work for thousands of Hondurans that need a job in this country.”

The line between reporting on the facts of the issue, and conveying the opinions of Facussé as if they were facts, is not just blurred in this article: it is obliterated.

The target of this thinly veiled piece of propaganda is a proposal Ponce-- congress member of the UD party-- made early in February. An article published on February 12 in Tiempo reports on the facts of the newly proposed law, which regulates, but does not end, mining. The key change to former practice that it would introduce would be the prohibition of open-pit mining like that in the Valle de Siria:
The project proposes the prohibition of open air mining in all the [Honduran] territory as well as the use of cyanide and any other chemical substance that might be manipulated in the processes of recovery and concentration of minerals and metals.

Ponce's proposal also calls for review of existing concessions for environmental impact, including the potential to close those found to be damaging the environment. It is worth recalling that one of the outcomes of last year's coup was a dramatic acceleration in the pace of approvals of petitions for environmental licenses by SERNA, the Secretariat of Natural Resources and Climate. The issue was and remains financial interests that lead some members of Honduran society to promote economic activities shown to be damaging to the common good and the people in general because of the benefits that would accrue to a small group.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Women's Day and the Frente de Resistencia

A story dated March 9 in Cuba's Prensa Latina reports that the Frente de Resistencia is calling for a popular consulta on June 28, 2010. The aim would be to carry out the popular opinion poll that was cut short by the coup d'etat of 2009. But where that consulta was going to ask if there should be a referendum on last November's ballot to determine levels of support for a constituyente, the proposed 2010 consulta is directly on whether to convene a constituent assembly.

The same communique also convenes the "Segundo Encuentro por la Refundación de Honduras" (Second Meeting for the Refounding of Honduras) this coming March 12 to 14. Following up on the first assembly of the Frente, held in Siguatepeque, this second meeting will take place in La Esperanza.

Siguatepeque, located in the Department of Comayagua, was a traditional Lenca community. Today, it is the location of the Red Comal (Comal Network), a development organization working with rural men and women that was targeted by the de facto regime in the days leading up to the coup. La Esperanza, in the Department of Intibucá, is located in the heart of contemporary Lenca country, and has been a center of popular and Lenca resistance, exemplified by this video statement against the coup d'etat by a Lenca woman. The places chosen for meetings by the Frente exemplify the fact that the Frente is a network of labor, campesino, indigenous, and women's organizations. Which brings us to International Women's Day.

While the communique from the Frente referred to by Prensa Latina has yet to appear on the website Vos el Soberano, the convening of the gathering in La Esperanza is mentioned in a statement by Feminists in Resistance posted on March 7, anticipating the International Day of Women, today, March 8.

The Feminists in Resistance write
The commemoration of this March 8 is invested with profound significance for organized women, since it coincides with the celebration of the first century that this date has been recognized as the International Day of the Working Woman. Nonetheless we cannot forget that this date is the result of the great and heroic journeys that we have carried out through the course of history to attain the dignity and emancipation of working women and women in general. We should not forget the pioneers that, on March 8, 1908, declared themselves on strike, demanding the right to form unions, salary increases, vocational training and a workday of less than 12 hours.

Linking the challenges facing women then to those in Honduras after the coup and today, the statement calls on
world feminist organizations, international women's movements, popular movements and democratic institutions on all the continents and, of course, all our [Honduran] people who from their respective spaces can contribute to holding back this repressive wave against the Honduran popular movement that is setting free a peaceful struggle to achieve a life of peace and liberty.

The full communique from the Resistance Front, Number 51, is available on the blog Resistencia 5 Estrellas. Coverage in Prensa Latina is partial: reporting only on the first two points of the communique (calling the consulta, and condemning the US for interference in the country's affairs).

Left out was the Frente's call for human rights organizations to pay attention to the escalation of tension in the Aguan valley. In this point of the statement, the Frente accuses
La Prensa and El Heraldo, property of Jorge Canahuati Larach, and the TV channels of the Corporación de Televicentro, property of Rafael Ferrari, that attempt to show the working families and popular leaders as terrorists.

In addition, the communique expresses support for the union of workers at the national university, UNAH.

Why do these omissions matter? whether it is CNN failing to discuss the entire context of the coup d'etat, or Cuban media ignoring the current local issues to cherry-pick the Frente's statements, it is important not to substitute selective representations that match our expectations for the unprecedented historical processes unfolding through the agency of the Frente and its constituents, including the Honduran Feminists in Resistance.

Saludos, compañeras, en el día internacional del mujer. Venceremos.