Thursday, January 6, 2011

A (Millennium) Challenge for Honduras

The Washington Post today published an English-language version of press reporting from Honduras following the decision by the Millennium Challenge Corporation to postpone a decision on whether or not to include Honduras in the next phase of the program.

The story, by AP reporter Freddy Cuevas in Tegucigalpa, repeats claims made by the Lobo Sosa government attributing the MCC's decision to corruption that took place under the Zelaya administration:

"We lament this decision because it was based on an evaluation of the perception of corruption levels in the country. And it affects the people the most," said Maria Guillen, Lobo's chief Cabinet minister.

Guillen told reporters that the decision was "due to corruption detected in 2007, 2008 and 2009," though she did not elaborate.

Foreign Minister Mario Canahuati blamed "the previous government" and said "now Lobo has to taken on this burden (even though) he acted transparently."

Poor Lobo Sosa; an innocent victim of a retrospective economic coup by Manuel Zelaya.

Except that this storyline, so pleasing to the Honduran right wing, is not supported by anything said by the US Embassy or the Millennium Challenge Corporation. In fact, the MCC press release said that
“MCC recognizes the positive steps taken by the Government of Honduras, as well as its strong commitment to reform and reconciliation. We look forward to continued engagement with the Government of Honduras and future consideration of the country for a second compact.”

So what actually made Honduras unattractive to the MCC right now-- as opposed to in some mythical future when reconciliation (that word, again) is complete and reform (what reform?) has taken place?

Participating countries are evaluated every year by the MCC, which issues "scorecards" showing how they performed. The scorecards are issued for each fiscal year-- so a scorecard for FY (Fiscal Year) 2011 summarizes a year that began in calendar year 2010.

As we previously discussed, "control of corruption" was one of the few indicators where Honduras failed to meet the standard required in the "scorecard" released by the MCC in October of 2009 (covering 2008-2009), scoring in the 44th percentile among its peer group of countries. (A reorganization of the MCC website broke the original links to this document; all the cumulative scorecards can be found here.) But even so, Honduras actually met its goals in this category in 2009. That's why "control of corruption" was green on the lovely color graphic MCC uses to summarize performance.

(In contrast, the two areas where Honduras failed to meet the criteria in FY 2009 stood out on the scorecard in bright and alarming red: "rule of law" and "fiscal policy".)

In the absence of any clear statement from MCC about where Honduras might have gone wrong-- other than that little coup thing and continuing violations of human rights, of course-- it is useful to simply glance over the scorecards from FY 2005 to FY 2011, covering data from 2004 to now.

"Fiscal policy" was already a major problem in the scorecard for FY 2005, when Honduras scored in the 47th percentile. Fiscal policy remained a problem consistently over the entire history of Honduras' participation in the MCC Compact from 2005 to now. Honduras score dropped to the 30th percentile for FY 2007, rose to the 37th percentile in FY 2008, to the 43rd percentile in FY 2009, and to the 44th percentile in FY 2010. The most recent scorecard (for FY 2011) shows a major erosion, back to the 40th percentile.

Fiscal policy is the only category in which Honduras consistently missed the MCC's targets. It seems much likelier that the decision of the MCC was based on this consistent inability to meet the expectations of the Corporation. But two other indicators shifted back and forth between acceptable and unacceptable: "rule of law" and "control of corruption".

"Rule of law" was marginal-- in the red in FY 2005, back into the green in 2006 where it stayed until FY 2008 (2007-2008, the year that political conflict that ultimately led to the coup began to be really visible). In the 2010 scorecard covering 2009-2010, 'rule of law' was again scored as a failure, which makes sense considering this covered the period of the coup d'etat and de facto regime.

"Control of corruption", the measure that the Lobo Sosa government wants to blame for the failure of MCC to renew Honduras, was an issue in FY 2008, improved in FY 2009 sufficiently to be scored in the green, and then in FY 2010 and FY 2011 reached its lowest point, well within the red (falling to the 44th and 45th percentile). But these results cover the period from 2009-2011: that is, a period when the Lobo Sosa government and its predecessor, the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti, were in control for the majority of the time.

It is not surprising that the Honduran government would like to blame a scapegoat for this decision. It is unfortunate for them that the data available don't support their claim, and suggest a far simpler explanation: Honduras just didn't meet the economic expectations of what is, after all, a neoliberal economic institution.

But it would be great if the Washington Post could manage to pretend to do some actual reporting rather than simply giving print space to unexamined claims like those made by the Honduran cabinet ministers quoted in the article they chose to print.


boz said...

Just to clarify, the Post didn't give any print space to this article. They run a feed of AP world news articles on the backend of their website that publishes 70-100 articles per day without any editorial input from the Post. They do it for pageviews, as do many major newspapers (see the LA Times or NYT versions of the same article).

Your anger should be directed at the AP.

David said...

Good points. It's ridiculous for AP to quote ministers talking about anything before FY 2010. The MCC indicators are rated every fiscal year, as you point out, so the ineligibility of Honduras is clearly and only a reflection of the current government's failing corruption ranking.  More on the process at the MCA Monitor.

David said...

Second point: Apparently Honduras is the only lower-income country in the WORLD to have successfully completed an MCC compact. That is largely correspondent to Zelaya's term of office.

RAJ said...

@boz: ah, the dangers of the internet. But can I still hold the Post responsible for not covering Honduras, now that their temporary-- and in my view, quite distorted-- interests have waned?

@David: thanks for the link-- and indeed, what the MCC seems to say in its comments, however much they may simply be diplomatic speech, is that Honduras was successful in its first compact.

Anonymous said...

IMO, if a paper runs a story, the editor has put his paper's name behind it. It doesn't matter whether it's a wire service story or not, although of course the paper can fire a reporter, while it's harder to fire a wire service in a system where AP has a near-monopoly on foreign reporting.

But, you know, there *are* alternatives. IPSNews does good work. Agence France Presse and Reuters, too. If one chooses a news service based on accuracy rather than on conforming to the assumptions of empire, AP would not be a first choice.

The Post cannot escape responsibility for what it posts, especially since the AP has such an extensive track record of bad reporting. Not to mention that the Post has an extensive track record of dishonest reporting on Latin America.