Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Who's Who in Hugo Lloren's Cable

Looking at the list of people receiving Hugo Lloren's cable available from Wikileaks, presented in our previous post, there's something odd in the list of recipients.

Here's the list of addressees:
and further, in the body it notes distribution to:
Tom Shannon was, at that time, nominated as ambassador to Brazil but was still Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs. His nomination to become ambassador was held up by Senator Jim DeMint (R, NC).

Harold Koh was appointed by President Obama to be the Legal Advisor to the Secretary of State. Under President Clinton he had been Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Democracy, and Labor.

Joan Donoghue, at the time of the cable, was Principle Deputy Legal Advisor at the State Department, having for the six months ending in June 2009 been the acting Legal Advisor. She has served in a number of roles in the State Department since her most recent tenure there began in 2007, including giving advice to the State Department on the development, interpretation and application of international human rights law. She has since been nominated and appointed a judge in the International Court of Justice.

Dan Restrepo, at the National Security Council, was President Obama's senior adviser on Latin American Affairs during the campaign. He was appointed as Senior Director of the Western Hemisphere Affairs council of the National Security Council, the post which he occupied at the time of this cable.

Other addressees include the Western Hemisphere Affairs Central American Committee in the State Department, the White House, the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the National Security Council (NSC) and SOUTHCOMM, the Southern Command of the US Military.

The last addressee, however, puzzles me. That addressee is the US Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, at the time just reoccupied by Patrick Duddy. Duddy had been appointed ambassador under President Bush, but was thrown out of Venezuela by Hugo Chavez in September 2008, for alleged complicity in the coup plot against Chavez. He was subsequently re-appointed under the Obama administration and after Obama met with Hugo Chavez in April 2009, was allowed to resume his post in Caracas in July 2009.

Why is the cable addressed to the US Embassy in Venezuela? Wikileaks does not currently have any related traffic from either Honduras or Venezuela, but promises more cables from each country will be posted in coming weeks. Maybe some of that traffic will help clarify the inclusion of this one other embassy in communication about the Honduran coup.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hugo Llorens Concluded Coup was Utterly Unjustified

------- Comment -------
¶19. (C) The analysis of the Constitution sheds some interesting light on the events of June 28. The Honduran establishment confronted a dilemma: near unanimity among the institutions of the state and the political class that Zelaya had abused his powers in violation of the Constitution, but with some ambiguity what to do about it. Faced with that lack of clarity, the military and/or whoever ordered the coup fell back on what they knew -- the way Honduran presidents were removed in the past: a bogus resignation letter and a one-way ticket to a neighboring country. No matter what the merits of the case against Zelaya, his forced removal by the military was clearly illegal, and Micheletti's ascendance as "interim president" was totally illegitimate.

¶20. (C) Nonetheless, the very Constitutional uncertainty that presented the political class with this dilemma may provide the seeds for a solution. The coup's most ardent legal defenders have been unable to make the intellectual leap from their arguments regarding Zelaya's alleged crimes to how those allegations justified dragging him out of his bed in the night and flying him to Costa Rica. That the Attorney General's office and the Supreme Court now reportedly question the legality of that final step is encouraging and may provide a face-saving "out" for the two opposing sides in the current standoff. End Comment.
These are the last two paragraphs in a cable sent from Tegucigalpa in July, 2009, by US Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens.

The cable, included among a massive release of documents by Wikileaks, has already been discussed by the Miami Herald. They chose to emphasize the fact that the ambassador reached the conclusion that the coup was "clearly illegal".

That conclusion should come as no surprise to anyone who has actually paid attention to the facts, and tells us more about the ability of the US media to refuse to understand those facts than about the content of the cable or US policy.

Instead, we would emphasize the point by point summary of the arguments of coup supporters and the devastating rejection of those points:
¶3. (SBU) Defenders of the June 28 coup have offered some combination of the following, often ambiguous, arguments to assert it's legality:

-- Zelaya had broken the law (alleged but not proven);

-- Zelaya resigned (a clear fabrication);

-- Zelaya intended to extend his term in office (supposition);

-- Had he been allowed to proceed with his June 28 constitutional reform opinion poll, Zelaya would have dissolved Congress the following day and convened a constituent assembly (supposition);

-- Zelaya had to be removed from the country to prevent a bloodbath;

-- Congress "unanimously" (or in some versions by a 123-5 vote) deposed Zelaya; (after the fact and under the cloak of secrecy); and

-- Zelaya "automatically" ceased to be president the moment he suggested modifying the constitutional prohibition on presidential reelection.

¶4. (C) In our view, none of the above arguments has any substantive validity under the Honduran constitution. Some are outright false. Others are mere supposition or ex-post rationalizations of a patently illegal act. Essentially:

-- the military had no authority to remove Zelaya from the country;

-- Congress has no constitutional authority to remove a Honduran president;

-- Congress and the judiciary removed Zelaya on the basis of a hasty, ad-hoc, extralegal, secret, 48-hour process;

-- the purported "resignation" letter was a fabrication and was not even the basis for Congress's action of June 28; and

-- Zelaya's arrest and forced removal from the country violated multiple constitutional guarantees, including the prohibition on expatriation, presumption of innocence and right to due process.

This reads almost exactly like a summary of the arguments we have made, in this blog and its predecessor, Honduras Coup 2009.

We also like the ambassador's choice of words for paragraphs 11 through 13 of his cable, which he entitled "The Article 239 Canard". As he properly noted, this was only cited post-facto to retroactively claim that President Zelaya had removed himself from office by advocating constitutional reform. The US Embassy cites numerous good reasons for rejecting this entire line of argument.

Most wonderful in this section is the final paragraph:
¶13. (C) It further warrants mention that Micheletti himself should be forced to resign following the logic of the 239 argument, since as President of Congress he considered legislation to have a fourth ballot box ("cuarta urna") at the November elections to seek voter approval for a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. Any member of Congress who discussed the proposal should also be required to resign, and National Party presidential candidate Pepe Lobo, who endorsed the idea, should be ineligible to hold public office for 10 years.

This is indeed the case; but look who's in the Presidential Palace now, with full US recognition.

Finally, we fully endorse the conclusion in paragraph 18 that the illegal actions of the Honduran Congress did more than remove Zelaya; they were an illegal removal of an entire branch of government by the other two branches, a violation of the very notion of checks and balances:
In the absence of any of these conditions and since Congress lacked the legal authority to remove Zelaya, the actions of June 28 can only be considered a coup d'etat by the legislative branch, with the support of the judicial branch and the military, against the executive branch. It bears mentioning that, whereas the resolution adopted June 28 refers only to Zelaya, its effect was to remove the entire executive branch.

There is every reason to expect more material posted on Wikileaks will be relevant to understanding US policy in Honduras.

The question this July 2009 cable raises is, why was the US so timid in its actions when it had access to such a clear exposition of the issues?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Dreams of an Insurgency

On November 15, armed guards at one of Miguel Facussé's African palm plantations in the Bajo Aguan community of El Tumbador, shot and killed 6 campesinos who they said were trying to invade the plantation.

The police declined to investigate the latest shootings. They neither recovered the bodies nor collected any evidence.

After these latest killings, Porfirio Lobo Sosa ordered the complete militarization of the zone.

Oscar Alvarez, Honduras' security minister, claims to have information through the Police intelligence unit that there are armed groups intending insurrection forming in the Bajo Aguan.

This is not a new claim; it was made at least as early as February of this year. There's no public evidence to support the claim.

Then on Wednesday, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, declaring that there was good evidence that there was an arms cache somewhere in the Bajo Aguan with 1000 AK-47s and M-16s in the hands of groups being trained to attack the government of Honduras. Lobo Sosa knows this because Security Minister Alvarez told him it was true.

Lobo Sosa indicated a massive, secret operation was underway in the Aguan, to clean out all the known arms caches in the Bajo Aguan:
"We have traces of the people who have been voyaging outside of Honduras to receive training, we have them all located, including the places where they are being trained outside of here, of Honduras; it's a large quantity of arms they have, and we're going after them."

No one outside of the military and the national police knows the target(s) of this investigation. Lobo Sosa claims the current operation will put an end to the killings in the Bajo Aguan.

The first, and so far, only target, was the INA regional office in the Bajo Aguan, which the military and police took over in an early morning raid yesterday morning.

They found nothing.

Why target INA? it might have something to do with the history of the land where the latest massacre of peasant activists took place.

El Tumbador, the site of the massacre, in the 1980s formed part of the Centro Regional de Entrenamiento Militar (CREM). CREM, just outside Trujillo, was where US military advisers trained Salvadoran, and later Nicaraguan Contra forces, in the US's battle against leftists in Central America.

There's a long history of conflict over this land, home to some important archaeological remains investigated in the 1970s by Paul Healy. In 1983 I was advised by the Honduran military that the US base commander had denied me permission to verify the safety of the Selin Farm archaeological site, which I was checking as a representative of the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia.

After the CREM facility was decommissioned, campesinos moved in and established the community of Guadalupe Carney in the remains of the base. Guadalupe Carney has been the site of killings of as many as 17 campesinos in struggles over rights to the land.

Today, both the Movimiento Unificado de Campesino del Aguan (MUCA) and the US citizen Temistocles Ramirez claim El Tumbador. So how does Miguel Facussé come into it?

The Instituto Nacional Agrario (INA) says that the government, not Miguel Facussé, owns the land in question at El Tumbador.

The documentation is stored in the INA regional office in Sinaloa, in the Bajo Aguan. César Ham, current head of INA (a cabinet position in the Lobo Sosa government, remember), said that Facussé appropriated 565 hectares of government land inappropriately, land which belongs specificially to INA, land that was part of CREM.

Oscar Alvarez, the security minister, says that armed groups in the Bajo Aguan are funded by NGO's that are trying to destabilize Honduras. According to him, it's Nicaraguans and Venezuelans who are supporting these supposed clandestine groups. This charge has drawn a categorical denial by Nicaraguan Authorities.

Rafael Alegria, campesino leader and one of the voices of the FNRP called Alvarez's allegations a smoke screen designed to disorient public opinion.

The de facto regime made similar claims about the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (FNRP) right after the coup, and harrassed and deported many Central Americans during its 7 month reign. In fact, Oscar Alvarez goes further, and revives a claim that in the 1980s, "several Hondurans were recruited in Nicaragua and then trained in Cuba to try to destabilize the Honduran government".

In fact, there is a large paramilitary organization in the Bajo Aguan right now, armed with AK-47s and M-16s, and protected by powerful individuals, just as Porfirio Lobo Sosa claimed. Except that it's not a campesino group. It's the armed guards hired by DINANT corporation to guard facilities in the Bajo Aguan.

Honduran resistance members argue that these private police forces are being trained by Colombian groups like the Mano Blanco, linked to similar violence against campesinos in Colombia. Reports of former AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia) operatives being hired by Honduran elites were treated seriously by the UN in fall 2009. It is publicly acknowledged by Honduras and Colombia that security forces from Colombia are in Honduras this year on a "training" mission.

It was the spokesperson for DINANT corporation, Roger Pineda, who told HRN radio the unbelievable story that the El Tumbador finca guards were attacked by a group of 200 campesinos armed with AK-47 rifles. Press photographs circulated that showed several of the corpses allegedly holding (in what appeared to me to be a completely unnatural manner) AK-47s.

It's among DINANT corporation's paramilitary guards that Oscar Alvarez needs to look for his arms cache.

But instead, credit the new military operation for the successes it can report: in traffic stops they found 27 people carrying pistols and even a shotgun, without having the proper documentation of their right to own these guns

So José Luis Muñoz Licona, director of the National Police called the operation a success.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tale of Two Polls

November's news from Honduras has brought us piecemeal reporting on the results, though not all the data, from two different opinion polls in Honduras. These show an interesting evolution in opinion in Honduras, though you couldn't tell that from the press coverage.

The first poll, carried out by Vanderbilt's Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), is covered in recent stories in El Heraldo and La Prensa. Press coverage was sparked by the public release of the LAPOP report Cultura politica de la democracía en Honduras 2010, part of their Americas Barometer series. [While the link to the PDF appears to be working erratically, the technical information page establishes the information used here.]

This report is based on data from a poll carried out in January and February of 2010, just after Porfirio Lobo Sosa was inaugurated. LAPOP describes it as a stratified and clustered sample of 1596 respondents, with a margin of error of 2.75%. Previous commentary on the poll appeared in LAPOP's Insights series in August.

LAPOP has been issuing press releases based on analyses of the data since at least April. We covered an earlier one in this post.

On November 8, El Tiempo reported the results of a Centro de Estudios para la Democracia (CESPAD) poll carried out in September, 2010. This poll, carried out by a European polling agency and funded by OXFAM, surveyed 800 respondents and bears a reported margin of error of 0.07%. Their report can be downloaded here.

Polls measure sentiment at the time they were carried out, which can stay relatively stable or change in response to changing knowledge or conditions.

Poll results can also be influenced by the way questions are asked, which is why analysts always need to see the specific wording of a question. At its extreme, so-called "push-polling" involves asking questions in ways that, while purporting to solicit opinion, actually seek to change opinion. This verges from spreading outright falsehoods to simply framing an issue in ways likely to give people a bad impression and raise negative feelings.

Push-polling is considered a political strategy, a way to distort people's ideas. But there is a broader literature on polling that asks whether polls themselves can influence opinion, either through "bandwagon" effects (or contagion-- moving to the winning side), or through what in elections is called "strategic voting": making a choice that is not the one you really most support because your assessment is that what you most support has little potential of happening. Research results do support the existence of such strategic opinion shift.

So polls need to be considered historically and with attention to the specific questions asked.

In the wake of the inauguration of Porfirio Lobo Sosa, the LAPOP poll from January/February question PN4 asked "In general, would you say you were very satisfied, satisfied, unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with the form of democracy in Honduras?" La Prensa reported that 53.6% of their respondents were satisfied with Honduran democracy, and a further 12% were greatly satisfied. 31.6% told LAPOP they were unsatisfied, and a further 2.9% were very unsatisfied.

In its poll, taken in September, CESPAD obviously did not ask precisely the same question. Instead, it included two questions that generate comparable opinion; and those opinions completely reverse the picture of satisfaction LAPOP's earlier poll presented.

CESPAD found a huge level of dissatisfaction with the condition of democracy in Honduras. In answer to the question, "Are you satisfied with the current democracy or think that things should become more democratic?", only 14% of respondents reported that they were satisfied. A full 86% reported that they were unsatisfied and felt things should become more democratic:

Satisfied/Very Satisfied

Unsatisfied/Very Unsatisfied







In September, only 15.4% of the respondents felt that Honduras had overcome the crisis set off by the 2009 coup, with a further 8% thinking Honduran democracy was functioning normally. The remainder either felt that Honduran democracy was in crisis (50.0%) or felt Honduras had no democracy (21.4%) or weren't interested (5.1%).

Compare this to the January/February LAPOP survey question HONCRSPOL7: "How satisfied were you with the solution to the political crisis of 2009?". Note that this question contains the assumption that the political crisis had ended, presumably with the election of Lobo Sosa in November 2009. In early 2010, LAPOP reported that 59.6% of respondents were satisfied with whatever they saw as the solution to the political crisis.

If we take these two questions as measuring about the same thing, then sentiment about whether the coup of 2009 has been resolved has eroded from 59.6% in January/February to 23.4% in September. A much higher proportion of the population in September thought the democracy was in crisis or there was no democracy in Honduras (71.4%) than believed in February that the crisis had been resolved (23.4%).

In January/February LAPOP followed their question about how satisfied with the "solution" to the crisis people were with another (HONCRSPOL8) that asked respondents what their preferred solution to the crisis was. The questionnaire provided a predefined list of answers that were to be scored, along with the instruction that the list of potential answers was not to be read to the respondents. The list of preferred solutions to the crisis did not include holding elections.

Here, 42.2 percent of the LAPOP respondents preferred reinstating Zelaya in some way for a period of time (31.2 % until the end of his term in January 2010, while a further 11 % said restore Zelaya and allow his reelection).

29.8% thought Micheletti should continue in power, another 11% thought a third party should be appointed to head the government as a solution.

Finally, 8.1% thought the solution to the crisis of 2009 involved trying those who broke the law.

All of the other proposed solutions were favored by under 2% of those surveyed.

In contrast, CESPAD found that in September, 76% of their respondents felt that a solution to the crisis would require an agreement among all the actors in the crisis. 65% felt that this was the only way to solve the crisis, and a further 11% felt that it was necessary but would not resolve all the underlying issues.

These respondents didn't feel the crisis was over in September, and it is likely that they would define "the crisis" differently than respondents did in January and February. Then, the proposal being put forward politically by everyone from the newly elected Honduran government to the US State Department was that the November 2009 elections had put the coup behind. Now, half a year further on, people can see that has not really happened.

Changes in popular opinion between the two polls suggest the campaign to promote a constitutional assembly by the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (FNRP) is bearing fruit.

In January/February, LAPOP asked "Are you in favor of forming a constitutional assembly?" (HONCRSPOL5). A largely majority of their respondents were not in favor of a constitutional assembly (70.5%) with only 29.5% in favor.

In September, CESPAD found that things had turned around, so that when they asked "Are you in favor or against convening a constitutional assembly?", a majority of their respondents, 55%, were in favor, with 45% opposed.

As we have noted in other posts, in recent months politicians from all the major parties have begun to single willingness to talk about changing Article 5 of the constitution to allow polling the public to find out their opinion, and Lobo Sosa is willing to talk about holding a constitutional convention.

Public opinion changes.

LAPOP's press releases this week were based on old data. There is newer, and therefore, more relevant, opinion research available, which tells a different story.

That's the tale of these two polls.

Forget It

In Porfirio Lobo Sosa's world, everyone who did anything connected with the coup of June 28, 2009, would be pardoned, if only the National Congress would give him that power.

Lobo Sosa announced this Friday after returning from a visit to Taiwan. He said he'd like to pardon Manuel Zelaya Rosales and the military, since he doesn't want to see anyone behind bars. He noted he's already had conversations with the National Congress about getting them to grant him the authority.

Lobo Sosa says that this is merely a power that other presidents have had, and that his mandate, derived from his election, is to bring peace and reconciliation.
"Because of this, as I have said and repeated, I don't want to see "Mel" in jail, I don't want to see the military in jail, not anybody; we've got to pardon everyone; we're buried in the past and that which divides us.....I would pardon everything derived from the 28th of June and I say lets look forward and forget the past."

Lobo Sosa wants the issue of the coup and June 28 to be closed once and for all, so that he can get on with his 28 year neoliberal National Plan without having to constantly fight for international recognition and funding. It's what he promised he would do once elected, but this issue of the coup keeps getting in the way, taking up all his time and energy.

George Santayana said, in the context of a theory about how knowledge is acquired, that
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
(in Life of Reason 1)

Honduras needs the self-knowledge about what happened on June 28, 2009. By attempting to sweep it under the rug, Lobo Sosa looks for a facile solution to move forward, but instead only prolongs the time to self-knowledge.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Golpistas Are Nervous

The golpistas in Honduras are nervous after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued the announcement that it would proceed to investigate if it had jurisdiction over human rights crimes allegedly committed by those who carried out the coup and formed the de facto regime in 2009.

The ICC is an independent organization, not part of the UN, located in The Hague, Netherlands. It is governed by the Rome Statute, a UN treaty that establishes the court and the rules under which it operates. The court, funded by individual country governments, was established to "help end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community."

The complain was lodged by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH for its name in French). FIDH sent an evaluation mission to Honduras in late July, 2009, and at that time confirmed serious human rights violations had and were taking place. They outlined their findings and concerns in a press release on July 30, 2009. At that time they called on the ICC to remind Honduras it was a member and if the situation continued it could come under the jurisdiction of the ICC. The de facto regime, through its human rights commissioner, Ramon Custodio Lopez, denied at the time that human rights abuses had taken place.

The ICC has assigned Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo to the case. Moreno Ocampo is an Argentinian who successfully prosecuted the Generals in Argentina in 1984 for human rights abuses. He announced that he would shortly conduct preliminary investigations in Honduras.

Sandra Ponce, the Honduran Human Rights Prosecutor, told El Tiempo that the ICC had not communicated with the current Honduran Government. She noted that
"The process of opening an investigation implies the prosecutor (of the ICC) wants to verify the information, and if it has merit, he will have to ask the permission of the Pre-Trial division of the ICC to open a case."

Among those accused of committing human rights violations are Roberto Micheletti Bain, Luis Rubí Avila, Jorge Rivera Avilez, José Alfredo Saavedra, and the military high command, command of the National Police, 18 people in all.

El Tiempo reported that one of the first things that happened after the announcement of the ICC was published in the press, was that the Public Prosecutor, Luis Rubí Avila asked the Human Rights Commissioner, Ramon Custodio Lopez, to come to his office and discuss the announcement. Both Rubí Avila and Custodio Lopez are named in the complaint.

While neither Rubí nor Custodio spoke with the press, a judicial advisor to Rubi, Rigoberto Espinal Irías dismissed the human rights charges alleged by FIDH, claiming that many were "questionable" or "never happened", as documented in a report by his office to the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights.
"You cannot have an assassination where there wasn't one; its easy to put something on paper and build on top of it."

The attitude of that part of the Public Prosecutor's office is in sharp contrast with that of its Human Rights Prosecutor. Sandra Ponce told La Tribuna the visit of Moreno Ocampo was historic since it was the first visit ever by an ICC prosecutor to perform an investigation of Honduras. She pointed out that the government was obligated to cooperate with Moreno Ocampo and the ICC. She also explained that if any of the charges of political persecution were found to have merit, the ICC would have jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, El Heraldo spread the disinformation, sourced to the Colombian Ambassador to Honduras, Sonia Portillo, that the ICC doesn't prosecute individuals, just governments and institutions and used this to make fun of Ángel Edmundo Orellana. However the ICC website states specifically,
"The International Criminal Court (ICC) is an independent, permanent court that tries persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes..."

Hmm, nothing there about trying governments or institutions, just persons. So much for the Colombian Ambassador's knowledge and the journalistic integrity of El Heraldo, which didn't bother to do even simple fact checking.

The repression that happened after the coup, the extrajudicial killings by the police and military (indivisible since the coup) that continue to the present, the illegal revocation of constitutional rights, all of these charges deserve an impartial thorough investigation. It will have to be started by the ICC, since there is no reason to believe it will ever happen Honduras.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Patrimony and Cocaine

Customs agents at the Ramon Villeda Morales airport found cocaine inside a replica of a prehispanic figure sent for shipment out of the country last week.

Nearly 2 kilos of cocaine were enclosed inside the object, part of a group of 27 packed in two boxes.

On November 13, El Tiempo reported that the alleged sender had been identified as Ismael Ramírez, resident in San Pedro Sula, while leaving open the possibility that his name was used without his authorization.

The package was being shipped to an individual in Barcelona, Spain, named variously "Salomón Guerra" or "Salomón Porra".

The replica containing the cocaine in this shipment was described as made of a mixture of cement and stone, about two feet tall, and judging from the picture in El Tiempo, is a somewhat bad impression of one of the much larger stelae of Copan.

Mixtures of stone and cement have been used with greater and lesser degrees of skill to make replicas of stelae for quite some time; the best such work is actually on view in the site of Copan itself, where many of what look like original sculptures are actually replicas prepared under the supervision of international archaeologists. The object involved in this drug shipment is clearly of quite another order of artistry.

Another 26 small statues made of modern composite material were included in the shipment. Similar objects, often still wet and covered with hastily applied black or green paint, are commonly offered to tourists who visit the archaeological ruins at Copan by vendors outside the park.

The amount of cocaine involved-- two packages totalling two kilos-- is relatively small. What is most troubling about this news is that the authority of the Honduran national patrimony agency is being actively exploited to try to facilitate the export of drugs. Paperwork accompanying the shipment was supposedly from the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History, authorizing the pieces, from the Copan region, to leave the country.

Indeed, the article in Tiempo credits airport staff as originally questioning the papers from the Institute because they suspected the objects were actual antiquities being smuggled out against Honduran law, under the guise of replicas.

Speaking strictly as a professional, the objects illustrated in news articles shouldn't have caused even a moment of uncertainty about their legitimacy. They are tchotchkes, souvenirs, and my only question would be why anyone in Spain would want to import them.

Not that the linkage of Precolumbian artifacts and drugs is entirely novel. Archaeological materials and drugs seem to circulate through the same channels. There is a thriving trade in illegally exported Honduran antiquities, and in recent years, theft of colonial art has been especially heated, again for illegal exportation. To quote Neil Brodie, an expert in the illegal traffic in antiquities,
Direct links between drugs trafficking and antiquities smuggling in Central America for instance have been reported on more than one occasion. In Belize and Guatemala jungle airstrips are used by criminals to smuggle out drugs and antiquities...while at the receiving end a smuggler’s plane arriving in Colorado from Mexico was found to contain 350 lb of marijuana and many thousands of dollars-worth of Pre-Columbian antiquities.
Press coverage to date leaves open the question of when the drugs were inserted in the replica stela, and whether this was done by the original maker or after the object was acquired. The former, obviously, would indicate a more serious tie between the cultural heritage industry and drug smuggling. But even if, as we hope, the smugglers in this case simply seized opportunistically on a cheap, easy to find, hollow container for drugs, the case is a troubling one.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Koban: Japanese Community Policing

The Vice Minister of Security, Armando Calidonio, announced the formal addition of the Japanese model of community policing, called Koban, as part of the National Police training and continuing education. As part of the announcement, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) turned over a manual on Koban, elaborated from the experiences of the military police of Sao Paulo implementation, La Tribuna reported. The JICA funded program is scheduled to run through the end of 2011.

So what is Koban? Literally it means "police box". The Honduran press is taking it slightly out of context as standing for the whole model of Japanese community policing, when its only one part of it. Japanese community policing consists of police boxes (koban) and residential police boxes (chuzaisho). The Japanese National Police published a good description of the system in English here, and its from this description that the rest of this article is sourced.

With koban, the idea is in urban areas to have a small number of police officers in every neighborhood, 24/7, working shifts that include standing watch at a small, neighborhood station, walking street patrols, and going door to door talking to people. The Japanese National Police hold that this is advantageous in preventing crime, a big concern in Honduras today.

Koban are urban police boxes, deployed at the neighborhood level, with from 1 to 10 police officers who work 8 hour shifts at the police box. Residential police boxes are deployed in rural areas where a single police officer lives with his family. These officers work a single shift, but are on-call to residents at all other times.

In Japan, the basic duties of a police officer posted to a koban include standing watch, which consists of either sitting in the police box or standing outside it, and field duties of going on patrol, which includes questioning people, and performing door to door visits with houses and businesses to inform the community. Typically an officer will do both kinds of duties on a single watch. These duties are interrupted by having to deal with accidents and crimes.

It's difficult to see how this community policing model can be applied in Honduras, since several factors the Japanese police identify as essential for its success aren't true in the Honduran case.

One such essential is that there already be good security conditions. Koban, according to the Japanese National Police, only work in areas that are already safe. They are particularly vulnerable to terror attacks and vandalism. This would seem to leave out large parts of Honduras, where narco-terrorism is already an admitted problem.

Another essential is that there need to be quality officers with a good relationship with community residents. Since the model involves police coming into direct contact with residents on a daily basis, it is the behavior of the local police that comes to tinge the perception of all police by the community. Officers posted to community policing come under direct supervision of their superiors less often and thus need quality training to work independently. Without the emphasis on the quality and honesty of the recruits, this would be a foucauldian recipe for social disaster, a panopticon placing everyone under surveillance.

This is where I think the system might have promise in application to Honduras. By improving the quality of police recruits, training them well, eliminating those who are corrupt, or cannot maintain good community relations, Honduras will have a police force that is more well respected both at home and abroad, one that can contribute to a greater community sense of security.

That's the real goal of Koban.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Strange Coincidences

On Saturday, the Special Anti-Kidnapping Unit (GEAS in Spanish, Grupo Especial AntiSecuestro) of the National Police announced they had rescued a kidnapped cousin of Porfirio Lobo Sosa.

Mario Filberto Moya Lobo was kidnapped October 16, 2010 near Catacamas, Olancho. According to El Heraldo, Moya Lobo was being held on a hacienda in the mountains of La Zarzaloza, Ocotillal, in the Municipio of Patuca, Olancho. After being freed, he was returned by the police to Catacamas.

Also involved in the operation were elements of the Colombian Special Anti-Kidnapping unit of the Army, the Gaula, who are in Honduras to train its National Police. The Gaula groups specialize in breaking up criminal groups. El Heraldo reported that they have helped free 11 Hondurans kidnapped so far. The National Police spokesperson went to great lengths to explain that their role was only advisory, that this was a domestic operation.

According to La Tribuna, no one was captured during the rescue, but the Anti-Kidnapping Police were left there to "comb the countryside" to find those responsible.

Thursday morning, six bodies (seven in some reports) turned up in one small aldea in Olancho.

All six bodies were found in Ocotillal, Municipio of Patuca, Olancho, where the operation that freed Moya Lobo was carried out.

Every press account agrees they were some of those involved in the kidnapping of Moya Lobo. CODEH, the non-governmental human rights organization headed by Andres Pavon, has indicated the National Police are responsible for the deaths of these individuals. The National Police deny responsibility, explicitly stating they detained no one, and report they've opened a special investigation.

Its not the first time the Special Anti-Kidnapping Unit of the National Police has been embroiled in controversy. On November 1 a member of the unit, stationed in La Ceiba, was captured while kidnapping a San Pedro Sula businessman in San Pedro Sula.

The same officer's police-issued gun had been found in a car belonging to kidnappers "a few years ago", but "nothing came of it."

To hear the National Police tell it, it was just a coincidence that the Anti-Kidnapping Unit was combing the area where the six or seven bodies turned up, all on a single hacienda in the aldea of Ocotillal, Patuca, Olancho.

A coincidence that strains credulity, don't you think?

Cold Hard Facts

What were economic conditions like in Honduras before and during the Zelaya administration? what are they like now?

Don't look to US media for the answers to these questions. The only attention US media paid to Honduras during the Zelaya administration was framed in terms of US political interests: would Honduras remain the faithful dependent ally it had been, or would engagement with ALBA allow the country to establish an independent course guided by its own social interests? US media were pre-destined to cover the coup and its aftermath as a story of global power struggle between US interests and those of ALBA.

But as we have emphasized since the beginning, drawing on Honduran scholarship and reporting in Honduran news media and governmental and international sources of information, the Zelaya administration, and the coup that removed it, had a lot more to do with combating the conditions of economic inequality in the country, and experiencing push-back from those whose interests were not served.

So it is especially gratifying to see a mainstream English-language newspaper cover the economic context. Of course, it has to be a British paper. Jonathan Glennie, writing in the Guardian's "Poverty Matters Blog", has a terrific article that lays out the economic facts.

Let's summarize:

before the start of Zelaya's term:

2001: 60% of the population lived below the poverty line
2005: this number reached 66% of the population living below the poverty line

2005: urban unemployment stood at 6.5%

2005 data show that 47% of income was earned by the 10% of the population; 2.1% of the income was earned by the bottom 10%.

during the Zelaya administration:

2006 data show that 42.4% of income was earned by the 10% of the population; 2.5% of the income was earned by the bottom 10%.

In 2007, urban unemployment had declined to 4%

By 2007, the proportion of those living below the poverty line dropped to 60.2%

The minimum wage was increased over 60%.

School lunches were extended to 200,000 more children (a 25% increase).

Over the first three years of the Zelaya administration, economic growth averaged 5.6%

since the coup that illegally removed Honduras' president:

The economy contracted -3% in the year following the coup.

This kind of analysis-- no matter how it is substantiated, including with citation of Millennium Challenge Corporation data-- normally brings out the worst in commentators on this blog, who use weird anecdotal arguments to counter national and international, objective, data, and try to muddy the overall picture by selecting one or another of their favorite scandals and claiming it counters all the data confirming that Zelaya was good for the Honduran economy and was effecting modest decreases in economic inequality.

(We particularly like the commentators who cite the cost to maintain ex-President Zelaya's horse. Definitely on a par with the current right wing media claims that President Obama's trip to India is costing $2 billion.)

But the numbers don't lie.

So bravo to the Guardian for providing one of the first serious economic analyses in mainstream English-language media of the economics of the Zelaya administration.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

IHMA to Hondurans: What Emergency

Beans are sky high. Today's price is $1.26 a pound, or 120 lempiras for 5 pounds. You will recall that in July, beans sold for $0.47 a pound.

When we last checked in on the bean crisis in Honduras, it was to report that the Finance Minister, William Chong Wong, had not, more than 30 days after the declaration of a crisis by President Lobo's Council of Ministers, released the money to the Instituto Hondureño de Mercadeo Agricola (IHMA) to purchase beans on the international market to improve supplies and drive the price back down. That was the goal of the emergency decree.

Yesterday, the head of IHMA, Carlos Girón Ayala, announced that Chong Wong had released 20 million lempiras to IHMA, more than authorized in the decree, to buy 60,000 quintals of beans and 100,000 quintals of corn to guarantee the national supply of both foodstuffs.

Girón Ayala announced that the corn purchases had already started last Friday, and that the bean purchases would begin in 15 to 20 days, when producers begin the new harvest in Honduras. Girón Ayala announced he already has 30,000 quintals of beans which he is distributing to BANASUPRO. That should be more than enough to keep BANASUPRO supplied until the new harvest comes in.

So, the money will go to national bean producers, not international grain merchants, which makes sense as part of a national economic plan. However, it is also misleading. IMHA would be buying those beans anyhow as part of its mission. IMHA buys beans every year during the postrera harvest, so there's nothing extraordinary about it. It's business as usual, not an emergency purchase.

This purchase will have no impact on the elevated prices people are paying for beans, which was one of the announced goals of the emergency decree.

It won't increase supplies; the postrera harvest will do that by itself. From an economic standpoint, this is actually the worst time for IHMA to make a purchase in the domestic market, at the high side of a predictable downward curve. Bean prices will be starting to come down as the harvest begins to appear on the market, but they'll still be much higher than they will be in a few weeks, once the harvest is finished. The purchase will serve, IHMA hopes, to guarantee supplies to BANASUPRO over the coming year.

So the message of Girón Ayala's announcement today is, if you're Honduran and you eat beans, you'll continue to suffer high prices until the harvest of the postrera crop improves the supply and brings the market price down. The government isn't going to do anything to solve the problem; instead it is waiting for the harvest to do that. There is no emergency to be solved that time alone won't deal with well enough.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Honduras Is Open For Business

Porfirio Lobo Sosa is going to Denver on Sunday, returning Tuesday night. He reportedly told a reporter for La Tribuna that he's going to hold discussions there with the Millennium Challenge Corpration and to talk about energy.

On Monday, November 8, Lobo Sosa will also give a talk in Denver entitled
Honduras Is Open For Business

at the Americas Presidential Forum Breakfast, hosted by the Chamber of the Americas at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. At this talk the President of Metropolitan State College of Denver will present Lobo Sosa with a "Token of Appreciation". According to the college's press release, also attending will be 17 "Honduran" dignitaries, including Foreign Minister Mario Canahuati and U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens.

The Chamber of the Americas is a private non-profit that facilitates US companies doing business in Latin America. In July, 2010, they sponsored a visit by US businesses to Honduras and were received by Lobo Sosa at the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa.

The slogan "Honduras is open for business" is the message developed by the Foundation for Investment and Development of Exports (FIDE) in Honduras after the 2009 coup. It complements their program, "Honduras Si Exporta" to promote Honduran goods abroad. FIDE was created by US AID in 1984. It is run by Hondurans but funding comes from US AID.

Lobo Sosa has given several talks to business associations in the United States. His April, 2010 talk in New Orleans was also strangely reported in the Honduran press. In September, 2010, a "Honduras is Open for Business" event was held in New Orleans a week after Lobo Sosa visited.

Lobo Sosa seems to like being away from Honduras. In June, he had already made 13 trips. He was preparing to embark on a multi-week stay in South Africa for the World Cup Soccer Match, a trip which ultimately would cost the country more than 2 million lempiras. Each trip seems to involve travel with multiple Ministers. The trip to Denver includes 17 people. Each of these foreign trips involves significant cost to the Honduran people. Because of the budget crisis, he has just asked all his Ministers to provide detailed reports of any trips abroad, including their purpose and what was achieved.

Perhaps Lobo Sosa should provide the same travel justifications to the Honduran people.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Transparency and Corruption in the Ministry of Culture

Minister of Culture Bernard Martínez was the first of more than 40 government officials called before the Instituto de Acceso a la Información Pública (IAIP), to explain the low ranking on transparency attained by his ministry.

The IAIP is charged with monitoring compliance with Article 13 of the Law of Transparency. Government offices are required by this law to publish 19 categories of information, including salaries and disbursals of budgeted funds. According to press reports on this year's review, 75% of the score awarded to each unit is for compliance with the law; 20 additional points are awarded for management, and the final 5 for reporting.

The Ministry of Culture initially managed to receive a perfect score-- zero.

Martínez, in his testimony, said that since the initial report, he has taken steps to improve the level of public access to information, so that now his ministry would register 15%. He blamed the low degree of transparency on "technical problems out of his hands" . Saying these are now resolved, he expressed hope that his ministry would now provide all the public information it is required to by law.

Martínez has had a rocky history at the Ministry of Culture. In September, he claimed that his vice minister for sports, Godofredo Fajardo, tried to bribe him (with 100,000 lempiras, not quite $6000) to step down and leave Fajardo clear to take over. The carrot of the bribe was followed by a stick: a vaguely worded threat that if he did not resign, there would be consequences, specifically, a campaign to discredit him.

Fajardo responded, calling Martínez a "crazy person". On the other hand, his basis for denying Martínez' claim seems to be that the reported level of the bribe was too low for someone "sitting on millions of lempiras", which hardly gives the impression he is above thinking about the job as an opportunity for his own profit.

But the story is even more complicated. News reports in September said that Martínez made his accusation of Fajardo
one day after the union of employees of Culture denounced the minister for having squandered funds of the institution to pay salaries, per diem, and bonuses to outside advisors.

The claim by the union was specifically that Martínez used funds received from international aid organizations, intended for specific projects, to enrich personnel hired at the ministry. The union claims the funds misused totaled 40 million lempiras (more than $2 million).

The union also complained that Martínez hired as legal counsel people without the proper educational qualifications. The union has tried to publicize irregular hiring of personnel lacking legally mandated credentials before. At issue more generally is the use of contract consultants who are apparently quite generously compensated, information that would have had to be disclosed if the Ministry had managed any transparency in operations.

Fajardo said that 90% of the budget of the division of Culture and Arts has been spent on salaries and per diem to contracted employees, so that Martínez had to divert funds from Sports (his own vice ministry) to supplement the budget of Culture and Arts.

Echoing the complaints of the union, Fajardo traced his conflict with Martínez to his dismissal of someone unqualified to a position that required recognition by the Honduran College of Lawyers. According to Fajardo, his order was countermanded verbally by Martínez, so as not to leave a record in print of this action.

Claims of corruption in the Ministry of Culture were first made by Martínez himself in February. As reported then, the ministry could not account for over $8 million dollars worth of funding. Martínez blamed administrative disorganization under the Micheletti regime (although he kept on key personnel from that regime). That drew a sharp and defensive response from Micheletti's minion at Culture, Myrna Castro.

The latest reports about possible corruption, published earlier this week, have Martínez saying that
while not continuing to confront his vice-minister Godofredo Fajardo, he hopes that the suspected cases of corruption in which [Fajardo] might be involved will be clarified.

Fajardo isn't the only one in trouble at Culture. Claims of corruption published some time ago on the resistance website, Vos el Soberano named others accused of profiting from the lack of transparency at the Ministry. Prominent in this alternative medium was the name of Tony Sierra, Vice Minister for Culture and the Arts.

Friday, Sierra made it into the mainstream Honduran media: El Tiempo reports from the city of La Ceiba on the Caribbean coast:
The artist's guild of La Ceiba denounced the vice minister of Culture, Tony Sierra, for intending to deduct 40% from the total of the funds collected in the TV/radio marathon in favor of the families of the musicians that died in the bus accident of Las Chicas Samba.

(The accident that led to the telethon killed 13 people, members of three bands: Las Chicas Samba, La Raza, and Kasabe.)

Now, it isn't alleged that Sierra wanted the funds for himself. According to Tiempo, he wanted to
begin a process of strengthening, organization, and life insurance, or dedicate them for musicians who, in the future, would be in similar situations as occurred for the artists who died last October 4th.

But critics note that the fundraiser was specifically for the survivors of those who died in this event. People who donated did so for them, not to fund some sort of bureaucratic process.

That's part of what transparency means: what you say you will do is what you do; you don't say one thing and do another.

Trust that the Ministry of Culture will do the right thing is obviously low-- the artists' guild called for the results of the telethon to be verified by an outside auditor.

Meanwhile, despite raising its score on transparency by 15%, other reports suggest that the Ministry of Culture is not out of trouble yet.

Proceso Digital included it on a list of ministries asked by Lobo Sosa to submit a written report of foreign travel, explaining what the business purpose of each trip was.

That's one of the other problems with a lack of transparency: it gives the impression that there is something to hide.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Beans 2: Moving at the speed of bureaucracy

You will recall that on October 5, the Executive branch of the Honduran government declared an emergency because of the high domestic price of beans, a staple of the Honduran diet. The high prices were supposedly due to the scarcity of beans, allegedly caused by environmental conditions in Honduras. That emergency decree authorized the government, through the Instituto Hondureño de Mercadeo Agrícola (IHMA), to purchase up to 10 million lempiras worth of beans, store them, and use them to supply the local markets.

On October 21, Vice Minister of Agriculture, Juan Angel Artica, announced the 10 million lempiras had been spent, implying the supply of beans had been secured.

It never happened.

First came the investigations that found some distributors were deliberately withholding beans from the market to drive up prices. It also came to light that there were fair quantities of beans still to be bought and brought to market in places like Olancho, though insufficient to supply the entire nation for more than 20 days. IHMA itself found it still had some beans. Still, beans kept appearing, both in the BANASUPRO stores run by the government, and in the markets. Indeed, prices dropped for a bit. though they are still quite high, around 100 lempiras for 5 pounds, or 20 lempiras a pound. BANASUPRO maintains its price at 65 lempiras for 5 pounds, but limits purchases to 5 lbs. a day.

Now, with the new harvest of beans only 7 or so days away, it has come to light that the Finance Minister, William Chong Wong, didn't tranfer the 10 million lempiras to IHMA for it to purchase any beans.

Why not, you ask?

The Council of Ministers authorized the transfer on October 5 from the funds on loan from the Banco Social de Venezuela. These funds are sitting in an account in BANADESA, the national agricultural development bank.

In the Council of Ministers' meeting yesterday, William Chong Wong said that he had not authorized the transfer of government funds because IHMA has a 14 million lempira debt with BANADESA.

Huh? How is IHMA's debt to BANADESA an excuse for not carrying out an emergency order to address a government declared crisis? It is a government declared emergency, after all, and the transfer was properly authorized. BANADESA, at the time, even offered to take IHMA further into debt, 70 million lempiras further, to fund the purchase back when the emergency decree was issued.

Emergencies don't move at the speed of William Chong Wong's bureaucracy, they need real responses in real time.

Thirty days after it recognized the problem, the Honduran government still lacks a creditable response to the bean crisis. There is no accountability.

Its the Honduran people who continue to be hurt.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Flying under suspicious circumstances

Five armed men broke into a military base at the major international airport in northern Honduras early Monday and made off with a small airplane that authorities seized last year in an anti-drug operation.

So says the Washington Post, so that must be what really happened.

But: El Heraldo's coverage of the events earlier today had, shall we say, an undertone.

And now the same thread is in Tiempo, which-- due to its unusually fact-based reporting during the de facto regime-- always seems to be that little bit more reliable.

The plane had been seized in 2008, suspected of being used in drug smuggling. Security Minister Oscar Alvarez, not surprisingly, immediately blamed organized crime for the theft:
"It was really a temptation for organized crime or drug traffickers to have the plane there."

Well, yes. But that undertone running through Honduran press coverage is not about drug traffickers: it is about a possible inside job. As La Prensa put it,
The northwestern coordinator of the Public Prosecutor's office, Marlene Banegas, said this Tuesday that there were preparations for the last two weeks to abstract the small plane Monday morning from the installations of the Armando Escalón military base in San Pedro Sula...

"The runway had everything needed for the plane to take off, also, every day it was warmed up and a week ago one of the two keys of the plane was lost and that was not reported"....

The guards informed the prosecutor that the plane had around 40 to 50 gallons of fuel which would not allow it even to arrive at La Ceiba [on the northeast coast]. "Nonetheless there were encountered in the place various cylinders with the remains of fuel which indicates that it was filled up there".

(El Heraldo's story seems to have disappeared or been edited, but La Prensa retains what we saw earlier today in its sister paper.)

In case readers missed the not-so-subtle implication, La Prensa later summarized:
Unofficial versions pointed out that technicians of the air base were warming up the plane hours earlier, that it was full of fuel and even had the key in place. The indications that there were members of the air base implicated in the operation are considerable because not one of those on duty noticed or reacted to the situation.

What seems to rouse the most concern is that someone communicated to the air traffic control tower that the take off of the stolen plane was authorized. Public prosecutor Luis Rubí-- famous for his relentless crusade to charge ex-president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales with something, anything that will stick-- bluntly said it was not an action of organized crime, but rather, one in which the military officers were complicit:

“It is a product of a degree of boldness that organized crime and the bands that operate in the country have. This was an operation in complicity with someone, definitely. It cannot be an act that someone arrives at an air base and carries off a plane, it causes us concern".

Defense Minister Marlon Pascua and Chief of Staff Carlos Cuéllar, meanwhile, were quoted as saying the theft might have been intended to damage the image of the Armed Forces. At the same time, their actions, removing from command Lieutenant Colonel Juan Carlos Gónzalez, suggest some degree of suspicion of the military contingent that was somehow overcome by five thieves. Some critics went so far as to call on the Minister of Defense to resign.

But it took Tiempo to come right out and say it:
As the hours pass, the Hollywood-esque story about the robbery of a small plane at the Armando Escalón Air Base loses ever more force and loose ends pop up that flow into a history of corruption inside that military unit.

Suspicions are focused on soldiers who testified that the plane was being serviced for the past two weeks in anticipation of it being absorbed by the Air Force, according to the sources cited by Tiempo, because the Air Force had not been approved to transfer the plane.

It may well be that the air force was acting in advance of authorization, and drew the attention of a particularly clever gang. Perhaps the claim by the defense secretary that this was a plot to embarrass the armed forces is true-- although it is utterly unclear why that would be a goal of drug traffickers.

But it is the suspicion of corruption and complicity that appears to resonate with Honduran observers, who seem well prepared to accept that the Air Force is corrupt and in league with organized crime.