Thursday, December 30, 2010

Oldest Clock in the Americas to Ring In New Year

On December 31 at midnight in Central America, the international Spanish-language TV stations Telemundo and Univision (along with CNN and NBC) will transmit the sound of the clock in the Cathedral in Comayagua striking midnight. Telemundo and Univision will broadcast from the Plaza in front of the Cathedral as part of a national celebration funded by the government of Honduras and the Alcaldia of Comayagua.

Why Comayagua? The clock mechanism in the Cathedral is said to be the oldest clock in the Americas. Photos of the mechanism show it uses a system of iron weights to power the escapement.

While the local history says the clock was built around 1100 A.D. (though some sources say 1374 A.D.), this kind of clock came into use in the 13th and 14th centuries in Europe. The clock is said to have been originally installed in the Alhambra, Islamic capital in Granada, Spain.

The official website of the city of Comayagua says the clock was a gift of the Duke of Consentania. Other sources say King Phillip II of Spain gave the clock as a gift. All agree the gift was to Jerónimo de Corella, the newly named Bishop of Comayagua. Corella was originally appointed Bishop of Trujillo, but in 1561 he arranged to have the bishopric transferred to Comayagua.

In 1586 the clock was installed in the church with today is called La Merced, but then was the Cathedral of Comayagua. In 1711 the clock was moved to the newly build Cathedral of Comayagua, where it remains today.

In 2007 the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia restored the clock as part of the renovations of the Cathedral of Comayagua. Part of the renovation involved constructing a new clock face, as the old one had deteriorated, though even that one is not the original clock face.

The clock, which must be wound every day, strikes quarter hours as well as the hour. The Cathedral bells the clock is connected to are 200 years old (La Emigdio) and 300 years old (La Concepcion), with the older bell being used to sound the hours.

So listen for this gem if you're watching television New Years eve.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Every Stone in its Place": Marvin Barahona

Why does cultural policy and historical knowledge matter in a place like Honduras?

Honduran historian Marvin Barahona, author of a number of books about Honduran identity and 20th century history, provides some answers in a long presentation of Dario Euraque's recently published book El golpe de Estado del 28 de junio de 2009, el Patrimonio Cultural y la Identidad Nacional ("The coup d'Etat of the 28th of June of 2009, Cultural Patrimony, and National Identity").

Barahona's essay is too long to translate in its entirety here. But it is worth citing how Euraque's important work is being received in Honduran intellectual circles, and why it is, more than a commentary on the coup, a critical work in Honduran historiography.

Barahona starts by saying he is resisting the temptation to either begin with the Honduran Congress discussing the Ruins of Copan at the beginning of the 20th century, or with words drawn from a magazine commenting on "the visit to the Copan Archaeological Park in January 2010 by the president of the de facto government, Roberto Micheletti Bain, invited by the Asociación Copán to show him the bounties of the site."

He then goes on:
The underworld of the tunnels designed by generations of archaeologists seem to have been waiting, in the last three decades, for a retinue like this, that emerged from the underworld of politics, as knowledgeable experts of the most ancient caverns of politics and as architects of the latest coup d'Etat that shocked the national conscience by its historical anachronism, and left a trail of instability and chaos in the governability of the country.

What links these two subjects-- archaeology and the de facto regime? Read on:
For that, if it were possible, I would want to extend an historic bridge between the most distant past and the most recent past, to link deeds that at first glance don't seem related, such as the use of official culture to make the collective consciousness forget its past and the abuse of the State to favor the interests of a minority to whom culture and the past has been of interest only as merchandise for tourists, as a business in which they could enrich themselves.

Barahona, following the lead of Euraque, identifies the commodification of national culture as yet one more regrettable product of the reactionary politics of contemporary Honduras.

The trajectory is complicated, but it includes the elevation of one part of the precolumbian Honduran past-- that of the Maya of western Honduras-- to stand for the entire nation, a process Euraque called "mayanization". In this process, Euraque's book shows that all political parties in Honduras and academics, both national and foreign, have played a part. The result is a failure to connect most contemporary Hondurans with a deep past of their own:
And when we recognize this incredible disproportion between the many books written about the Ruins of Copan and the few studies about the peoples and cultures that are still alive, such as the Tolupan or the Pech, the Tawahkas and the Miskitos, the Lenca and the Garifuna, then it is required to think that the cultural policies of the State are as unjust as the form in which national income is distributed, dedicated in the last two centuries to benefit a few wealthy families, to the detriment of thousands of meztizo, Indian and black families that don't fit in the official culture and still less in the economy and the national budget.

As Barahona notes, Euraque's book argues that the antidote to this poison lies in
a new cultural policy of the State, concretized in projects to rescue the cultural diversity of the peoples that give it flesh, to rescue national history in local archives, to give to archaeology its rightful place, to reconstruct the characteristic features of popular culture and provide communities with people qualified to recover local historical memory and that of the population marginalized by official culture.

Barahona argues that
the goal of giving to Honduras a democratic, inclusive, participatory cultural policy capable of responding to the challenges of the world today, continues to be a valid effort and an inescapable responsibility of the State and society...

Therefore it won't suffice, in the present day, to insist on mayanizing Honduras to sell to foreign tourists the bounties of our past, nor less will it do to continue privileging the value of the stones of the distant past...

And even putting each stone in its place, there remains no doubt that Honduras needs this new cultural policy to avoid letting the study of its archaeology continue in the hands of the same foreign institutions as at the beginning of the 20th century..

The alignment of archaeology, especially foreign archaeology, with conservative politics, in other words, may not be new but it is not to be supported in the future.

Knowledge of history, Barahona concludes, is indispensable, and democratization of history continues to be critical for Honduras:
every effort to reconstruct the national identity, including all its protagonists without exclusions of any kind, implies a large scale effort to re-elaborate national thought, to put it into action and place it at the level of the requirements of our time.

But the final words should go to Darío Euraque, whose summary account of his motivation in writing a memoir of his experiences during the coup d'Etat has also been published now:
Today there exists a new government in Honduras: nonetheless, the authorities imposed on the management of the Institute of Anthropology and History by means of the coup d'Etat, lacking in experience or intellectual vision of our culture, continue in their offices. I suspect that they continue violating the cultural policy that I promoted since 2006 in coordination with the Secretariat of Culture. Not only the Cultural Patrimony of Honduras suffered, but also our National Identity, the fragile institutionality of the State, and ironically even the support given to cultural tourism promoted by the Institute of Tourism and Chamber of Tourism of Honduras decreases.

“Alta es la noche y Morazán vigila.”

Monday, December 27, 2010

Full Circle

High government officials are tried by a procedure distinct from common citizens. We talked about this in the context of the legal case brought by the Public Prosecutor, Luis Rubi, against then president Manuel Zelaya. At the time, we showed that this was the proper, legal proceeding for prosecution of a case against a high government official, such as the President.

Well, the Asociación de Jueces y Magistrados de Honduras, a group of judges that supported the coup, wants the existing fraud case against Zelaya back in the Supreme Court. Their argument is that Zelaya is still a high government official because he is the representative to PARLACEN, and therefore the case must be heard in the Supreme Court.

Good thing the courts are on vacation. Judge Claudio Aguilar has a motion in front of him to nullify the cases against Zelaya brought by the alleged defenders he appointed for Zelaya, and a suggestion that he has no jurisdiction over the case brought by a group of his fellow judges and magistrates. Normally he would have to decide such a motion within three days, but because of the holidays, he has three days from when the courts resume a normal schedule, that is, until January 8, to render a decision.

Not that he can't rule sooner. At the very last minute he was put on the holiday rotation which means he can hear and resolve issues during the break. Speculation is that this was done to prevent another judge from being assigned to the case.

If Aguilar decides he does not have jurisdiction over the case because Zelaya is a member of PARLACEN, the prosecution of Zelaya will have come full circle, back to the Supreme Court; the same Supreme Court that the International Commission of Jurists report noted was "permeated with extreme partisan polarization."

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Unreported News made by the International Commission of Jurists

What is news?

Seems like a simple question. News is something that happens that is important enough to be picked up by the media and commented on and discussed.

As anyone following the Honduran coup d'etat and its aftermath knows, however, what is news depends on the judgment of the media, and that judgment is very selective. Horse-race show elections are news, but the protests against them are not. The installation of a meaningless "Truth Commission" which has no credibility with conservative or progressive ends of the political spectrum is news, but the formation of a commission with independence and credibility is not. And tragically, too little of the violence perpetrated against union organizers, peasant cooperatives, women, sexual minorities, and even journalists is unworthy of serious news coverage, at least in mainstream English media.

But despite knowing all this, we find it extraordinary that the US media completely ignore even high profile international organizations that continue to call attention to the serious failures of Honduras to redress any of the circumstances that the coup d'etat of June 2009 set in motion. Human Rights Watch's statement on from December 20, for example, has barely has been noticed.

Now, perhaps there hasn't been enough time to get news coverage of the HRW report out. Yet the same is true of the stinging report by the International Commission of Jurists, which has now been available for weeks.

What's the news here? Well, this is a rebuke not only to Honduras, but to the government claiming most loudly that Honduras has put the coup behind it, which is the US. It repudiates the main claims in the US argument for "progress" in returning to civil order, which are the election of Porfirio Lobo Sosa and the appointment of a "Truth Commission". Instead, it urges Honduras to follow the proposals of Latin American nations, including UNASUR, about the necessary steps to take to regain political credibility following a coup.

Here are a few points from the CJI statement that reporters might have followed up as news:
  • The CIJ endorsed giving the alternative truth commission the same level of resources, international support, and access to government sources of data as the official "Truth Commission", arguing that the latter has no credibility with the victims of the coup. Why is this news? because the US claims the "Truth Commission" is meaningful and an effective step to restoring democracy.
  • The CIJ called for the installation of an International Commission against Impunity and an office of the High Commission of the UN for Human Rights. Noting (without naming him) that Ramón Custodio supported the coup, it argued that the Honduran Human Rights commission had lost credibility. News, again, because Custodio remains in office under the Lobo Sosa government.
  • The CIJ called explicitly for the restitution of the judges dismissed for their opposition to the coup d'etat. The CIJ provided grounds in international law in support of the right, and actually duty, of judges to oppose disruptions of constitutional order. These dismissals happened during the term of office of Porfirio Lobo Sosa and can hardly be ignored as evidence that the present government of Honduras is still carrying on the violence against democratic order of the coup d'etat.
  • The CIJ also called for effective investigations of the many extrajudicial killings that have occurred since the coup d'etat. It specifically called for police and military to be tried in civil courts, not special military tribunals. The US refuses to even respond meaningfully to press questioning about the continued killings of activists.
  • Finally, going beyond the coup itself, the CIJ also expressed concerns about a newly proposed "Law on Financing of Terrorism". This kind of legislation has all sorts of potential for abuse. We will not be holding our breath for coverage of this issue, anymore than we will for coverage of any of the other points made by the CIJ.
[We have posted our translation of the statement, which can be found here in Spanish, as a document. If an English version exists, we have not been able to find it, and we thought this was significant enough to make it available more broadly.]

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Justice Delayed for Honduras

In light of statements that the Procuraduria General of Honduras is happily poised to appoint a "defender" for José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, so his trial can proceed without waiting for him to actually participate, it is especially timely that today also brought news of a visit to Honduras by a non-partisan international body monitoring the Honduran judiciary.

The news is not good.

La Tribuna reports that the Comisión Internacional de Juristas (CIJ)-- International Commission of Jurists, in English-- visited Honduras between December 6 and 10 of this year. The CIJ concluded that its opinion registered in 2003, that
the Judicial system of Honduras “is permeated with extreme partisan polarization",
still is valid; and that in 2010,
"despite the efforts realized by NGOs and the international community, the advances are few and the majority of recommendations have not been followed."

As we noted during the heat of last summer, changes undertaken in the Honduran legal system in the last decade were intended to shift the Honduran legal system from an inquisitorial to an adversarial system, in which the rights of the accused include, among other things, the presumption of innocence.

These reforms require Honduran judges to change their role from zealously pursuing evidence themselves, to assessing arguments by prosecutors and defenders. Inquisitorial systems do not generally include a presumption of innocence, and in our view, it is this change that has not fundamentally been absorbed in Honduran legal proceedings, which still appear to operate on the until-recently familiar inquisitorial model.

For those of you who don't quite get the distinction-- which, based on reading Mary Anastasia O'Grady's recent wad of words about Honduras, includes columnists for some of our major newspapers-- under an adversarial system there is a presumption of innocence, meaning the accusers or prosecutors have to demonstrate their case.

"Where there's smoke, there's fire" may be a good traditional folk saying-- but it ain't the law of the land, not in the US, and not (anymore) in Honduras.

(O'Grady's problem is confusing the presumption of innocence, which is uniform in US legal practice, with the existence of different standards of proof in criminal and civil cases. Criminal cases use a standard of proof "beyond a reasonable doubt". Civil cases-- which are differentiated from criminal cases because the state is not one of the parties, and the outcome is awarding damages, not jail sentences-- usually use a standard of "preponderance of evidence". As a result, while civil cases also incorporate the common law "presumption of innocence", meaning the accusers have to make a case, once they have done so convincingly, it may be up to the accused to refute the arguments made. The reason why OJ Simpson could be found liable in a civil action is that there was a different, easier to reach, standard of proof-- not that he started out presumed guilty. At least not legally. While expecting anything sane from O'Grady is probably too much to ask, her belief that the trumped-up charges against Manuel Zelaya were not subject to the criminal legal code of Honduras simply shows how little she knows of Honduran jurisprudence. But it beggars belief that she doesn't understand the US legal system.)

Which reminds me, back to the primary topic here: in 2003, the CIJ singled out as an example of extreme partisanship the procedures for the appointment of Honduran Supreme Court justices:
“A clear example of this partisanship can be observed in the election of magistrates for the Supreme Court. While the procedures for selection anticipated the participation of diverse sectors of civil society and the political task, the election of those magistrates had as a result a Court divided along lines of political affiliation, with a majority clearly identified with officialdom and a minority in opposition."

A press release summarizing the current findings of the CIJ can be downloaded (Spanish only) from their website. The CIJ noted that the coup exacerbated previously identified weakness of the judicial system, pointing to an increase in impunity in violations of civil rights and a lessening of judicial independence.

The actual report is worth reading in full. In item 6 it goes to lengths to argue that "the restoral of constitutional order doesn't come about simply by convening and carrying out general elections":
The return to democratic legality demands identifying the responsibility of the authors [of the disturbance of constitutional order], without prejudice to other means necessary for reconcilation as an element of co-existence; in addition, according to international legal doctrine it is impossible to legitimate a coup d'etat by means of de facto measures or the development of apparently constitutional arguments about the de facto doctrine that contradict the same principles of democracy and the International Law of Human Rights.

As we noted last summer, the CIJ has been quite critical of judicial progress in Honduras since it began monitoring the attempts to modernize and professionalize the legal system.

Since nothing has improved, it is hardly surprising that the CIJ concludes that things are bad. But it is heartening to see clear endorsement of the need to address impunity and the targeted killings of women, lawyers, and journalists advanced by an international body that is not afraid to say that a coup cannot be put behind simply by recognizing an election.

It is a message the US would do well to heed.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Indefensible Defenders

( on an extended London adventure due to Mother Nature )

On December 16, the Attorney General of Honduras (Procuraduria General) asked a Tegucigalpa court to appoint a public defender for Manuel Zelaya Rosales
"so that they could facilitate proceedings against him,"

said Ethel Deras, the Procuraduria General.

Deras said that rather than smoothing the path for Zelaya, as Canahuati's papers (El Heraldo and La Prensa) have accused, she wants to "move the case forward":
"ex-president Manuel Zelaya Rosales has stated publicly that he will not appear (before a justice) because he considers there aren't sufficient guarantees in the country for his appearance, and he has declined to appoint a defender. This office has request, based on this knowledge, that [the court] name a defense lawyer so the cases can continue.....In conformity with the Legal Proceedings Code and the Honduran Constitution, everyone processed in the courts has the right to a defender."

Just not, apparently, the right to choose their defender.

But wait, it gets better:
"I believe it is in the national interest to finalize once and for all these proceedings and bring them to an end, and a criminal trial comes to an end only when we read the real truth of the facts; it is logical that we continue with the criminal process."


Arturo Corrales, a Micheletti supporter and Lobo Sosa's Minister of Planning, says that Lobo Sosa asked the Attorney General to act.
"What the President (Lobo Sosa) asked of the judicial branch was they look for a legal way to leave the charges behind on these two remaining cases (of supposed corruption) to establish a propitious environment so that the ex president can come to the country."

So it's a request from on high to make this a national priority to settle this case.

This "procedure" goes completely against the Código Procesal Penal of Honduras, the very law Deras cites as supporting her actions.

Here's the problem she's trying to get around. Manuel Zelaya Rosales refuses to participate in the charges against him, and as part of not recognizing the court, has not named a defense lawyer. This pretty much puts the case on hold under Honduran law, until Zelaya either returns and voluntarily presents himself, or is arrested and brought before the court, or names a defense lawyer to represent him.

Under the Code (Chapter 5, Articles 111-122), a defender can be appointed by the court only when the defendant cannot afford to hire one, or is mentally incompetent to designate one. The code assumes the defendant has already been arrested or named as the target of an investigation by the Public Prosecutor. A defendant can only have two defense lawyers, plus one substitute.

Article 14 of the Code says
the right to defense is inviolable....the accused and their defender have the right to be present in all procedural acts that incorporate elements of proof.

Article 15 reads, in full
Everyone should have the technical assistance and advocacy of a legal practitioner, from the time they are held as allegedly involved in a crime, or when they voluntarily surrender and make a declaration, until the sentence has been fully executed. If the accused does not appoint a defender, the judicial authority shall immediately request the appointment of a public defender, or failing that will immediately appoint them self. This right is absolute. Its violation nullifies the acts that occur without the participation of counsel for the accused.

Key points here, which seem to have escaped the top attorney in Honduras charged with following this code: the defendant has to "held" or "voluntarily surrender" to put in motion the appointment of a defender. And the right to appoint a defender is absolute.

Its violation nullifies the acts that occur without the participation of counsel for the accused.

While the UCD is not my idea of a legal authority, they outlined the same points made above in a letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice Aviles, pointing out that this would nullify any judicial actions taken as a result of appointing defenders.

The Honduran papers are unclear on whether the court actually appointed defenders or not, with published reports that they did, and that they are waiting to decide.

So much for a rule of law.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Oscar Alvarez's Lame Visions

Oscar Alvarez, Honduras's Security Minister, has visions. What else could account for his announcement Monday that the civilians, residents of Dulce Nombre, San Augustin, Dolores and Concepcion who took over the main road between Santa Rosa de Copan and Guatemala and El Salvador were colluding with narcotraffickers.

Alvarez told El Heraldo
"Could it be that they are in collusion with organized crime? Is drug money behind these actions? I say that so that the people will judge them and so that society will turn its back; we will proceed according to the law along with the Prosecutor."

According to Alvarez, its all part of a plot by organized crime to get the Police dispersed into the countryside, leaving the cities unprotected.

Despite Oscar Alvarez's fervent imagination, could it be there's a less sinister, more human explanation?


Under President Zelaya Rosales, Honduras was to build an airport in Concepción using international financing. The purpose of the airport is to make it easier for tourists to get to to the Maya ruins of Copan. . In order to receive the international funding, Honduras first had to pave the road from the highway to Concepcion before the money for the airport would be released. Zelaya inaugurated the project in March, 2008, but after making a few half-hearted attempts to start, apparently the firm contracted for the work walked off the job alleging they were not being paid. So nothing has happened. I have vastly oversimplified a politically charged decision here, one that upset powerful people in Copan, but that's not this story.

Fast forward to the present. The citizens of the affected towns want the road paved as promised. They'd like the airport too, but for now the road is much more important to their future. On Friday the mayors of the towns Alvarez named called for a strike to call attention to the lack of progress in paving their road. They organized a group to go up to the highway and take it over, but when they got there, there were about 100 soldiers, police, and special forces, and they decided to go home without taking over the highway.

On Monday they returned at 6 am. The police were already there, and there was some violence, with two children beaten so bad they had to be taken to the hospital in La Entrada. Nonetheless, they blocked the road, and called the Bishop of Santa Rosa de Copan, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, to defuse the situation. He called the Secretary of Transportation, Miguel Pastor and negotiated for Pastor to meet with the Mayors in Tegucigalapa on Wednesday and by late afternoon they quietly quit protesting and opened the roadway to traffic.

The story is told, in part first hand, in more detail on John Donaghy's blog in his "Waiting - but in the streets" post. As John says,
"The people who planned the blockade in Dulce Nombre were not drug traffickers, as far as I know. There are mayors involved in drug-trafficking but I've never heard this charge against any of them. Others involved are land-owners and business-owners. The poor supported the cause because an improved road would make transportation easier and because church leaders support the cause."

I couldn't have said it better. Mayors, land owners, business owners, the Catholic Church and campesinos, all uniting behind a simple attempt to get what they were promised by the government. Oscar Alvarez's lame attempt to criminalize the citizens of Dulce Nombre, Concepcion, Dulce Nombre, San Augustin, and Dolores should be thoroughly condemned by all.

Monday, December 13, 2010

That Pesky Zelaya Problem

Porfirio Lobo Sosa wants Honduras back in the OAS. Mario Canahauti, his Foreign Minister wants Honduras back in the OAS. José Miguel Insulza, OAS Secretary General, wants Honduras back in the OAS. Arturo Valenzuela, the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs (or WHA as abbreviated in the leaked cables) of the US State Department wants Honduras back in the OAS.

All of the above named individuals know that the solution is simple: allow Manuel Zelaya Rosales to return to Honduras without facing the charges filed against him during the coup by the Public Prosecutor, Luis Rubi. All of the above named individuals, except Canahuati, have made attempts to make that happen.

In his most recent visit to Honduras, concluded the 6 of December, Arturo Valenzuela recognized the efforts of Lobo Sosa to bring about reconciliation, but insisted that Zelaya be allowed to return.
"National reconciliation will have advanced when Honduras is capable of resolving the affair of the return of ex president Zelaya so that it can retake its place in the OAS....This is important for the full reinstatement of Honduras in the international community....The bottom line of what the international community asks in effect is that there be n actual process where the law is applied euqally to all sectors there be a real search for national reconciliation, and this (the return of Zelaya) is an important step that must be accomplished and done."

This is a new recognition by the US State Department of the political reality in the OAS, since until now, the US has not raised Zelaya as an issue in talks with Honduras.

But the right wing in Honduras, which includes the group that planned and executed the coup, stands as a roadblock. As we saw in our recent post on Trash Talking, those standing in the way include Luis Rubi, the Public Prosecutor who brought the charges that need to be dismissed, Jorge Rivera Aviles, the Chief Justice who blessed the coup by exonerating the military for forcibly exiling Zelaya Rosales, and even members of Lobo Sosa's own National Party such as Rodolfo Irias Navas, currently a Congressman and former head of the National Party caucus in Congress.

José Miguel Insulza recently told the AP that he wants the vote to readmit Honduras to the OAS to not be divisive.
"What I am looking for is that the voting not be divisive. It would be very divisive if 10 or 11 voted against it, even if we got a majority....The situation of Zelaya needs to be resolved"

Right now, by his estimate, there are 11 or 12 votes against Honduras.

The cost in Honduras is a truncated foreign relations program. It has put a halt to negotiations about Honduras's maritime boundary with Cuba, Jamaica, Belize, and Guatemala in the Caribbean; It has halted funding for the continued placement of monuments along its border with El Salvador. It kept Honduras from being invited to the IberoAmerican meetings held in Argentina on December 4, at which the group adopted a new "democracy clause" specifying how it would react to future attempted coups in the hemisphere. The cost is in international investment, slowed by the coup. The cost is a 17% reduction in international tourism at Copan in June 2010 when compared with June 2009.

Can Honduras continue to bear the costs?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Jorge Reina a terrorist? Ideas are not bombs

As new Honduras cables continue to emerge through Wikileaks, those of us with interests in Honduras are finding the revelations for the most part unsurprising, if distasteful.

Latest case in point is a patronizing summary by ex-Ambassador to Honduras Charles A. Ford providing his "insights" into then-President Zelaya. On Daily Kos, Charles II of Mercury Rising has provided a good analysis of the disturbing tenor of this cable, which can be read in full on quotha for those who can take it, courtesy of the inimitable Adrienne Pine.

Both Charles and Adrienne point out some of the more wretched indictments of a kind of easy assumption of US privilege, including the contempt Ford showed for Zelaya's roots in Olancho and Zelaya's apparent failure to understand that Tegucigalpa was not the big city, a role played in Ford's universe of model Honduran behavior by New Orleans or Miami. You know, where the Honduran elites go to shop so they don't look so, well, Honduran.

Charles also points to one of the curious and almost unintelligible opinions Ford expresses as facts:
Ford is also loose with accusations. He accuses Jorge Antonio Reina Idiaquez of having terrorist connections. At the time, Reina was UN Ambassador and no charges had ever been brought against him, nor have been. I am unable to discover any substantiation for this allegation, and it may well come out of the Contra Wars.

This had bothered me in reading the cable as well, but not because I had not heard such implications. Instead, for me it rang a bell. So I tried to trace back what I remembered, and I think the story is even less sensible than Charles thought.

In September of 2006-- barely nine months into the Zelaya administration, long before the independent actions that led Ford to express frustration with him-- Proceso Digital published an article about Mel knowing "since December 2005" that his chosen Ambassador to the UN, Jorge Arturo Reina, did not have a visa to enter the US.

According to an earlier Proceso Digital article, this lack of a visa was due to Reina being blocked for what the US embassy described as unspecified "terrorist acts".

But Reina himself volunteered what he thought were the actions at issue. Again quoting Proceso Digital:
Reina, brother of the ex-president Carlos Roberto Reina, now dead, remembered that in the 70s he had been accused of placing a bomb on the Palmerola air base, in the central Department of Comayagua, where the US military forces were based.

Reina went on to say that he had been legally cleared of these charges:
he denied his participation in this act, and said that owing to the fact that this was not true the judicial authorities exonerated him of the action and they sent him home in a kind of dismissal of charges.

The reporters, primed by this information, asked the US consul, Ian Brownlea, whether these were the "terrorist acts" in question, getting this gnomic response:
"ideas are not evils, but rather bombs...the place where the acts occurred doesn't matter".

Indeed. It would seem that the place where the acts occurred does actually matter, if the first half of this statement is, as it appears to be, a grudging agreement that the terrorist actions imputed to Reina involved bombs.

There is something confused in Reina's own account: Palmerola only became operational in 1981. I remember vividly reports of a bomb set off in a restaurant in Comayagua during the 1980s when I was living in the country, a restaurant my Honduran friends said was targeted because the US forces ate there. The New York Times story on this incident in 1987 says six US soldiers and six Hondurans were wounded.

Trying to find press accounts to date these events was a painful reminder that the US presence at Palmerola was not accepted peacefully, no matter what the US would like to tell its citizenry now.

The period from 1987 to 1989 saw a series of bombs or grenades exploded near places frequented by US forces, in La Ceiba, San Pedro Sula, and Comayagua, according to reports in the LA Times gathered in its archives. An LA Times article from 1989 reported two other incidents of attacks on US troops, one a bombing that definitely took place on the road from Comayagua to Palmerola. As late as 1994, the Orlando Sentinel reported on the explosion of a bomb in Comayagua that authorities said was intended for Palmerola.

Bombings drew a lot of press attention but there were other forms of protest as well. An Orlando Sentinel article from 1986 reported on a rally where Juan Almendares spoke out against the bad social effects of the base, promoting prostitution in Comayagua.

But Jorge Arturo Reina was not mentioned as a suspect in any English-language coverage of bombings on or near Palmerola. What he was, without doubt, was an outspoken critic of what he repeatedly called the US "occupation" of Honduras, which he said strengthened the right wing. He called for the withdrawal of US troops, and warned that death lists were circulating with names of many, including his own. (The news articles I consulted are pay for view, so I do not link to them here.)

Palmerola had already come to represent US occupation by 1983, when Reina was widely quoted criticizing increasing tensions with Sandinista Nicaragua as not in Honduras' interest. US newspapers, with remarkable uniformity, characterized Reina at the time as "leftist", at times taking care to note he was "not Marxist".

Reina criticized US basing at Palmerola for dragging Honduras into El Salvador's civil war as well. An article in 1983 in El Pais of Spain, describing him as secretary general of the "Liberal Alliance of the People" (Alianza Liberal del Pueblo, a movement within the Liberal Party), quoted him as saying
"The US refused to negotiate in El Salvador because it has an exclusively military version of the facts and considers that the cause of the Salvadoran crisis was Cuba and its solution uniquely military", adding that "Washington discovered later that the cause was not Cuba and that the situation does not have a military solution, but before this change of view thousands of deaths were produced".

These are the kind of views that undoubtedly made Reina, like Zelaya, appear not to be a friend of the US. But they hardly qualify him as a terrorist.

After all, as the US consul himself said, "ideas are not evils". Nor are they bombs.

But apparently unsubstantiated rumors are fine fodder for a US Ambassador's briefings to his successor.

Inflation: The Beans Did It

Blame the beans. The Honduran economy continues to get bad news. This time it's on the inflation front. November, 2010 inflation added a further 0.8 percent to the cumulative inflation for the year, bringing the total to 6.4% so far this year. This is more than double the inflation rate of 2009.

The Banco Central de Honduras (BCH) released the November Consumer Price Index, and it contained the bad news. The target established by the BCH for all of 2010 was 6% (except for El Heraldo, which claims it was 6-7%), so at the end of November we've already exceeded the target inflation for this year by 0.5% with all of December to go.

The main source of inflation? The BCH report identifies food, especially those pesky beans as the main cause of inflation in November. Oh and pork, eggs, and all the other 33 foodstuffs in the canasta basica. The BCH say that food costs account for about 75% of the inflation rate this month.

While El Heraldo claims the price controls passed by the government, which went into effect on November 19, have worked and kept inflation in check, other papers, such as Tiempo, have pointed out in recent days that the price controls are toothless, because there's no one to enforce them. The law contained funding to hire and train 300 inspectors to enforce it, but of course, that takes time, maybe months. In the meantime, caveat emptor.

Both Tiempo and El Heraldo pointed out there were no beans or pork to be found in Tegucigalpa farmers' markets as recently as December 5. Everyone who can find beans to buy that aren't at a Banasupro store is paying more than the government mandated 70 lempiras for 5 pounds of beans. Red beans were "frozen" at 14 lempiras a pound, but are, according to the Consumer Price Index, priced at a weighted average of 20.25 lempiras a pound in November.

Nor is the burden borne equally around the country. The BCH report shows that inflation is highest in Juticalpa and Danli, at 1.8% in November, followed by western Honduras (Santa Rosa de Copan) at 1.5% and central Honduras (Comayagua) at 1.5%. In fact, just about everybody outside of Tegucigalpa has an inflation rate higher than the "official" inflation rate for the country according to the BCH report. Only the San Pedro (0.5%) and La Ceiba (0.7%) regions have lower inflation.

What does this mean? It is bad news for the Lobo government, which continued to resist price controls until long after things got out of control. Missing your inflation target will have implications with the IMF perceptions of your management of the economy.

But ultimately its bad news for anyone who eats, and that's everyone in Honduras.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Trash Talk

No, I'm not going to discuss the back and forth between Manuel Zelaya Rosales and Porfirio Lobo Sosa. You can read about that trash talking somewhere else.

I'm talking about what politicians do. Politicians say things for many reasons, but generally because they are politically expedient, truth doesn't matter.

Rodolfo Irias Navas did some trash talking to La Tribuna on December 9, 2010, saying he was tired of the double standard of foreign leaders when it comes to impunity. He says they are asking for impunity for Manuel Zelaya Rosales, in violation of Honduran law.

Who is the politician, you ask? He's a former president of the Honduran Congress and a conservative leader for the National Party. What he said, exactly is
"When they ask you to accept ex-president Zelaya, and that we forget the crimes that he committed that are not covered by the amnesty, it appears to me that they are requiring us to violate the constitution of the Republic and the rule of law.....It is sad and it makes me sad when foreign functionaries come here with the double morality, they come to say that there's impunity in Honduras, and on the other hand, they're twisting our arm behind our back to get us to violate the constitution and the laws of the country."

That would be sad, if it were true, but politicians say things that aren't true all the time, if it advances their cause.

What Irias Navas's statement is really all about is clearer when you combine it with a new statement by Chief Justice Jorge Rivera Avilés, who says
"Ex-President Zelaya, in the moment he comes to Honduras, must be captured and placed at the order of the courts.....They have to defend him oportunistically, in the sense that some interpretations can be made, but on this I may not pronounce, because despite having my own criteria, that would be prejudging."

But of course, Rivera Avilés has already prejudged the case. He continues
"They'll send him to jail, or they'll give him an alternative sentence."

Apparently exoneration is not a possibility in Rivera Avilés's universe.

All of this political talk, because that's what it is, is about taking up a position in opposition to Porfirio Lobo Sosa and his attempts to regain international recognition for Honduras. Irias Navas told La Tribuna
"The situation of President Lobo is difficult"

Yup, and its people like Rodolfo Irias Navas and Jorge Rivera Avíles and Luis Rubí who make it difficult.

Welcome to the 1980s

Daily life in Honduras is increasingly much like it was under the military dictatorship of the early 1980s. In the name of security, the country is gradually being militarized.

Yesterday came word that the Department of Copan, along the border with Guatemala, is the latest place to become fully militarized.

Without warning on Wednesday, Operation Fuerza Cabañas, an indefinite deployment of 8 combined military and police units, a total of 350 troops, to the northern part of the Department of Copan, took control of the towns of La Entrada, Florida, San Antonio, El Paraíso, Cabañas, Santa Rita y Copán Ruinas. Police and military began combined patrols, stopping and identifying people walking and driving, and set up 24 hour checkpoints at various points along roadways.

The official policy of joint policing involves placing roadblocks and checkpoints where military and police review the identity papers of everyone who passes that point, by car, bus, truck, or on foot. They inspect everything in and on any vehicles. They pat people down, looking for weapons.

The policy also involves combined patrols walking through neighborhoods, entering houses rounding up people they suspect of being criminals, without warrants.

Most troubling are getting reports from correspondents throughout the country of more disturbing checkpoints set up at night, where the people stopping vehicles are masked, do not wear uniforms, and are heavily armed.

This is precisely what daily life was like in the early 1980s under the last military dictatorship. Travel through the country meant being stopped by army and police units, having everything in your car inspected and potentially queried, up to and including books based on their covers. It meant having buses stopped, young men removed, some taken to military bases for further investigation-- something that happened not just to Honduras we now, but to RNS as well.

First to be militarized in the current campaigns were parts of Colón and Olancho, allegedly to take over security. The military immediately established checkpoints, took over and still control the INA regional headquarters, and began rousting the campesinos of the Movimiento Unido de Campesinos del Aguan (MUCA) who have occupied African palm lands they argue were improperly taken from them by large landowners such as Miguel Facussé. The occupation of this region is indefinite.

In the case of the Copan campaign, the publicly stated purpose is to bring security to the residents of the area. The department of Copan is one of the places where Mexican drug cartels are reported to have established safe houses.

Press accounts of the rationale of this latest deployment is mixed. SDP reported it was strictly an anti-drug campaign. Honduran domestic sources called it a response to the assassination of a congressman from Copan by supposed gang members from Guatemala.

If there were any doubt that militarization is meant to intimidate local populations, Oscar Alvarez, the Security Minister for the current government, has dispelled that with numerous threatening statements.

He said of the campaign in the Bajo Aguan,
"we have the names of a few of the leaders who incite the humble campesinos to take the roads; they will be captured and placed at the order of the prosecutors....We cannot permit that they muddy the name of Honduras and bring water to their mill, which is not the water of honest campesinos, but of persons that wish to discredit the rule of law and the actions of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa."

Is the fascism of the 1980s the future of Honduras?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dario Euraque: Required Reading

In cities across Honduras, the release of historian Darío Euraque's book, El golpe de Estado, el patrimonio cultural y la identidad nacional [The coup d'etat, cultural patrimony, and national identity] is being marked, starting this coming week.

The event marking the release of the book in San Pedro Sula will be December 11.

We won't be there in person; but as we have since June 28, we will be there in spirit for our colleague and for others who, like him, struggled and continue to struggle to bring Hondurans into a conversation of what it means to be a people without giving into the logics of the modern nation-state.

Euraque has a record of publication which is, quite simply, indispensable to anyone wanting to understand cultural identity in modern Honduras. A previous book, Conversaciones históricas con el mestizaje y su identidad nacional en Honduras [Historical conversations about mestizaje and national identity in Honduras], published in 2004, reframes the conversation about Honduras' roots in indigenous, African, and European populations and how that diversity has come to be misrecognized.

Even earlier, in the 1996 Reinterpreting the Banana Republic, Euraque established a unique focus that refused to homogenize the Honduran past, and that resisted easy simplification. For anyone studying the north coast, it was an unparalleled examination of the local social networks and their influence in the 20th century history of the Honduran state.

And of course, Euraque coined the term "mayanization" to label the process through which deliberate promotion of an image of the Honduran precolumbian past as entirely Maya-- thus making the histories of other Honduran indigenous groups valueless and invisible.

I have had the privilege of reading a draft of Euraque's latest book. It offers a unique, and to me still painful, record of how the practice of liberatory historical research became one of the targets of a reactionary right-wing coup in Honduras. Like all Euraque's works, it is meticulously supported by a rich documentary record. It is a kind of study that really is without equal, despite two decades (or more) of examinations of the pernicious tangle of nationalism and "cultural heritage" (the conceptualize of the physical remains of past people in an area as a property owned by the modern nation, often bolstering that nation's claim to coherent historical reality).

We do not know yet how the book will be distributed in the US. But we will relay that information as soon as we have it, and will hope readers of this blog who have sufficient Spanish will read it. And we look forward to a long future with Dr. Euraque's voice speaking clearly about issues of culture and politics in Honduras.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

When Citizens Aren't Equal

Áfrico Madrid, the Honduran Foreign Minister says naturalized citizens cannot engage in political activity. We wonder what constitution and set of laws he's been reading. His position would seem to violate the Honduran constitution and Ley de Migración y Extranjeria (Decreto 208-2003).

First to what Madrid told La Tribuna.
"The country is not a field in which the foreigners can do what they want and for this we are going to apply the screws [to them]...."
"The constitution of the Republic and the Ley de Migración y Extranjería facilitate evaluation of those persons who have acquired naturalization, including suspending and deporting from the country, this is a power the State has."
Well, yes that is a power the State has, but only under carefully defined circumstances as we will see below.

The only named individual to be threatened is Federico Alvarez, a Costa Rican citizen, former president of the Central American Development Bank, and 40 year resident of Honduras. During the de facto regime, Michelletti got Congress to pass a bill giving him naturalized citizenship. But Madrid, and Porfirio Lobo Sosa, claim that Alvarez and five "foreigners" are targeted for expulsion because of political activity.

Remind anyone of the excuse Micheletti's Foreign Minister, Oscar Matute, used to expell Father Andres Tamayo?

What they did then appeared to us at the time to be without merit in Honduran law.

This looks to us like more of the same creative fabrication of Honduran law.

Now in Federico Alvarez's case, Madrid may have a leg to stand on, if, as claimed, Alvarez did not complete the application process for naturalization. Honduran law is clear. Foreigners may not engage in politics in Honduras. But, once you're naturalized, a citizen can engage in politics. The things you, as a naturalized citizen cannot do are spelled out in the Honduran constitution.

A naturalized citizen is a full citizen according to the constitution of Honduras, except for certain clearly spelled out specific things in the constitution.

Article 26 says a naturalized citizen of Honduras cannot:
- Perform official acts on behalf of the Honduran government in your birth country.

Article 42 establishes the grounds by which you can lose citizenship.
- Supporting an enemy of Honduras in a time of war.
- Giving support to a foreigner or foreign government against the government of Honduras.
- To act politically for a foreign government or military, without the permission of Congress.
- by restricting the freedom to vote, adulterate ballots, or employing fraudulent means to circumvent the popular will.
- by supporting re-election of the President of the Republic.
- by, as a naturalized citizen, residing more than 2 years outside of Honduras.

Article 42 goes on to state that for the first two offenses, Congress must issue a law revoking citizenship. For next two, the Executive must issue a decree, and for the last two, the Executive must issue a decree, and there must have been a legal condemnation in the appropriate judicial court.

Decreto 345-2002 (ratified by Decreto 31-2003) establishes that you lose your naturalization if you
(1) accept citizenship in another country
(2) your naturalization letter is revoked for legal reasons.

The Ley de Migración y Extraneria establishes in Article 65 the following reasons a naturalized citizen can lose their citizenship.
(1) By becoming a naturalized citizen in another country
(2) By the cancellation of your naturalization papers
(3) when justified by serious reasons which show the citizen unworthy of Honduran nationality.
(4) when they made a false declaration to aquire citizenship.

That's it.

There's nothing there about a naturalized citizen not participating in the political life of the country. That would make them second class citizens, not something the Honduran constitution contemplates.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The First Reaction from the US Embassy

Wikileaks has now released more Honduran cables (see quotha for a list with links). The latest includes a cable from June 29, 2009-- the day after the coup itself. Paragraphs 13 and 14 are a report about the coup in the heading "significant events":
13. (C) WHA Honduras - Honduran military forces arrested
President Manuel Zelaya June 28 according to orders issued by
the National Congress and the Supreme Court of Honduras.
Zelaya was taken to a local air force base and flown to Costa
Rica. Emergency Action Committee (EAC) Tegucigalpa
subsequently met to discuss the ramifications of the seizure
of the president by host-cost country military forces. The
RSO noted the general climate in the capital was calm;
however, a standfast order was issued, and additional
security measures were implemented. The Embassy released a
Warden Message regarding the actions against Zelaya and urged
AmCits to remain in the residences or hotels for the day.

14. (C) Later in the day, Congress officially named Roberto
Micheletti interim president. The U.S. Ambassador gave a
press conference outside the Embassy; he insisted that
President Zelaya was the only democratically elected
president of the country and urged that freedom of expression
and circulation be restored. He also demanded the release of
those government officials said to be in military custody.
The EAC reconvened to assess the situation. Protest activity
has centered around the presidential palace, some roads in
the capital were blocked, and there were some troops on the
street. However, traffic flow was reported normal in most of
the city. Authorized Departure for family members was
discussed, but not warranted at this time. Embassy personnel
were advised to remain in their homes for the rest of the day
and to limit their movements today, June 29. All Peace Corps
volunteers have been accounted for and are on standfast. Post
will be open today for emergency services only. The EAC will
continue monitoring events in-country and provide updated
information as available. (Tegucigalpa Spot Report; telcon;
Warden Message; Appendix sources 8-10)

There has been an explosion of punditry over the first cable, all reaching whatever conclusion they had already reached, in which perhaps the most interesting thing from our perspective is the repudiation of the analysis by conservative congress members and their continued insistence that there was "no coup": Connie Mack and colleagues are more insistent on this point now than any Hondurans, with the possible exception of Roberto Micheletti. Otherwise, the Honduran perspective has been that yeah, it was a coup, but (in the notorious phrase) a "good coup".

We would agree that the cables are unlikely to change minds, and we doubt there are any true smoking guns to find. The smoking guns were all out in the open in US policy on Honduras: dithering about whether it was a "military" coup; Thomas Shannon assuring the Honduran and US right wing that whether or not the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord was implemented properly, the US would recognize whoever came out on top in the presidential election; and the outright failure of scholarship embodied in the Library of Congress producing a report that validated the coup through an analysis repudiated by leading scholars of the Honduran constitution, through relying on the personal communications of an advocate of the coup.

But from the perspective of researchers on history, and on the production and circulation of meanings, seeing the precise way things unfolded does matter.

It matters that on the day after the coup, the US Embassy, despite the ambassador speaking out against the coup, reported that President Zelaya had been "arrested" (when he had not been); that this was on "orders of the National Congress and the Supreme Court" (when it was not); and that he "was taken to a local air base" (without mentioning the stop at Soto Cano/Palmerola).

And it matters that the cable says "Congress officially named Roberto Micheletti interim president". Not only does that mistakenly imply that congress had the authority to act ("officially": why not say "illegally", or "extra-officially"-- especially as the special session held violated the rules of order for Congress, people who voted reportedly included members without authority, and the reported number of votes has always be questioned).

Worse: it gives Micheletti a status that even the Honduran Congress did not try to give him. Their claim was that he was now "President". By inventing an office of "interim president", the US early on chose to treat Micheletti as a legitimate actor, insisting that he and the real elected president negotiate.

The US, in other words, never quite got the point about what constituted the rule of law in Honduras. In this they joined many Honduran political actors; and yes, I hear you all already telling me that's how politics works.

But some situations present us with a moment of choice: do we follow principle, or abandon it? The US never even seems to have contemplated the issues-- despite having an ambassador who clearly understood them in place in the country.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Only Nightmares After All

It seems that Oscar Alvarez, Honduras's Security Minister, only dreamed he had intelligence that Nicaragua was training campesinos in the Bajo Aguan to be insurgent guerrillas, and that Nicaragua was arming said campesinos with thousands of AK-47s.

At least, that should be the only conclusion possible after Porfirio Lobo Sosa flatly denied that the Government of Nicaragua was participating in a scheme to train and arm Honduran campesinos as insurgents.

Lobo Sosa made his comments to the press after officiating at the graduation of the current class from Zamorano, the Agriculture school near Tegucigalpa, saying
"there is no evidence of any participation by the government of Nicaragua in training rebels to act in land disputes between campesinos and landlords in Honduras."

Oscar Alvarez's fantasy of Nicaraguan trained peasant insurgents began in the cabinet minister's meeting on November 22 when he told Lobo Sosa that he had intelligence that indicated there were armed campesinos in the Bajo Aguan and that Nicaraguans were training them.

Alvarez included a telling detail: there was a large arms cache of 1000 AK-47s, and he knew where it was.

Lobo Sosa went public with Alvarez's accusation on November 22, backing it as something known by police intelligence.

On November 24, Alvarez himself made press statements that repeated all the same elements, but backpedaled on claiming that the government of Nicaragua was behind it:
"The information that we have is that people coming out of Honduras have been moving to Nicaragua, supposedly to train....We've been informed that they've entered from Nicaragua, that they've entered, also, in shipping containers."

Alvarez said.

Unfortunately for the security minister, his claims did not gain wide support from his colleagues in the cabinet.

In fact, one of the security minister's targets actually was another cabinet ministry: the National Agrarian Institute (INA), headed by his colleague in Lobo Sosa's "government of reconciliation", Cesar Ham.

The local INA office was the target of a raid as part of the "security" operation seeking the non-existent arms caches in the Bajo Aguan, as we previously noted, without finding the promised fire arms.

Then an even more important cabinet colleague, Mario Canahauti, Honduras' Foreign Minister, asked for documentation of the claims of Nicaraguan government involvement:
"I need the documentation which permits me to guarantee we have the evidence, so as not to create a serious international problem for Honduras."

Nicaragua, of course, strongly denied training or arming any Hondurans.

Lobo Sosa backpedaled and said he never mentioned Nicaragua. And in fact, his remarks just said it was an adjacent country:
"we have all this located, including the places where they are training outside of Honduras; its a large quantity of arms that they have and we have to chase this down."

Now Lobo Sosa says there's no evidence of participation by the Nicaraguan government.

No weapons, no proof of Nicaragua's participation. But a Security Minister can dream......