Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Human Rights Loses Again

The security forces in Honduras continue to be in denial about their trampling on the human rights of Hondurans. For the second week in a row, Ana Pineda, the Minister of Justice and Human Rights, called on the Police and Military to change their procedures to comply with UN protocols and observe human rights to no avail.

In the council of ministers meeting yesterday Pineda pointed out that the security forces are using teargas "irrationally". They are, she asserted, violating UN protocols on how to use teargas on several fronts; foremost by launching the teargas canisters directly at people instead of into the air, which also makes the teargas less effective overall and is an improper use of force. She also noted that security forces were shooting teargas into enclosed spaces like offices and the interior of cars, causing more harm and damage than necessary. She noted that the security forces were violating UN protocols because they failed to initiate any form of dialogue with the protesters before resorting to force. The UN protocol states that force should only be a last resort after all attempts at dialogue are exhausted. Finally she noted that proper arrest procedures were ignored in the detention yesterday of Garifuna leader Miriam Miranda in Tela. Miranda was held 9 hours and her rights were violated numerous times during that detention.

Last week it was Oscar Alvarez, the security minister, who was in denial. It was Marlon Pascua who was in denial of the problems this time. Pascua, the defense minister and nominally in charge of the military asserted that it was the police and military whose human rights were being violated.
"Unfortunately human rights only work in one direction,"

said Pascua, ignoring the power differential between an unarmed public and the armed security forces. Pascua went on to remind the ministers of the three soldiers hospitalized with burns from Molotov cocktails. Perhaps not fully realizing the irony of his statements, Pascua noted that so far the international human rights organizations had not ruled in favor of the security forces. Gee, I wonder why?

Armando Caledonio, vice minister of Security read a letter written by Ramon Custodio, the Human Rights commissioner, to the security agency noting that the police use of wooden clubs (toletes y garrotes in Honduran Spanish) violated the UN conventions on the use of force and asked them to cease using them immediately. One wonders where this concern about the use of wooden clubs was during the de facto regime, but better late than never.

La Tribuna notes that Porfirio Lobo Sosa asked both sides to meet and work out their differences, perhaps appoint an ombudsperson and review the security force procedures in light of UN protocols. He called on the ministers to put aside their differences and work as a team. This is much the same thing he told them last week, so obviously it is working well as a plan.

Until there is a recognition on the part of the police and military that they are violating the human rights of the Honduran people, the problem will persist. The problem, caused by poor training, cannot be addressed until it is recognized as a problem by those who lead, and so far they are in denial. Until then, Honduras will continue to be called to task by the international community.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jesus Not Mary in Zacapa, Santa Barbara

The bishop of western Honduras, Monsignor Luis Santos has visited the miraculous image in El Ocote, Zacapa, Santa Barbara and identified it as the image of Jesus of Nazareth. On March 24 Bishop Santos found the news stories in La Tribuna and pledged to visit. None of the local priests had notified him of the apparition.
"This is not the Virgin of Zacapa; this is the image of Jesus of Nazareth before Crucifixion,"

he said after examining the image.

La Tribuna reported that Monsignor Santos spent time viewing the image from several directions and talking with the residents of El Ocote. He told the gathered crowd to agree on a day and all pray the rosary and other prayers, preferably at 3 pm, agreeing that it was a sacred image, and that he would inform the catholic hierarchy of the events. Monsignor Santos noted that this is not anything new for those who believe because
"Jesus and Mary have always made themselves known to the people."

Bishop Santos urged the residents of El Ocote to take turns guarding the image against further vandalism.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Labor Code for Dummies

The Lobo Sosa administration can't quite figure out Honduran labor law. They haven't figured out all the steps they need to actually suspend or fire the teachers who are on strike. They've tried several times to suspend or fire the striking teachers, and appear to still not have done everything required under Honduran law to make it legal.

First on March 18, Lobo Sosa declared an education state of emergency, abusing the emergency declaration laws, and threatened to replace the striking teachers. Five days ago, on March 22, the Lobo Sosa administration tried to suspend 1200 teachers who are participating in the strike. The declaration came from the Secretary of Education. Only one problem; that declaration violated the Codigo de Trabajo, Honduran labor law. Oops. The teachers then filed a legal challenge with the Supreme Court.

Today the Lobo Sosa government tried again, issuing a declaration that they were suspending them under Article 571 of the Codigo de Trabajo, the labor code. Article 571 states that once a strike is declared illegal (and article 570 covers who declares it illegal and how) the government has the right to dismiss the strikers and suspend for two to six months labor leaders who lead the strike.

To be valid, an act using Article 571 as the justification requires, under the rules of Article 570, that the Minister of Labor and Social Welfare have issued a prior finding of illegality using the criteria spelled out in Article 569. Once such a declaration is made, and communicated, the workers must cease their strike immediately or they may be dismissed or suspended. Without the Article 570 finding by the proper government official, Lobo Sosa's emergency decree replacing them, and today's firing of them does not comply with Honduran labor law.

So, has such a finding been made and communicated as Article 570 requires? I would have to say "no" based on the wording of today's declaration, which starts:
The Government of the Republic of Honduras to the National and International opinion, ..... declares the illegality of this collective suspension of work, the same that by virtue of law and by Administrative resolution, has already been declared, since the seventh of March of 2011...

So that would imply there has been no finding of illegality by the required party. It appears that Lobo Sosa has declared it illegal, not the Minister of Labor and Social Welfare, as required by law.

It is Felícito Ávila Ordóñez, Minister of Labor, who has been busy trying to negotiate the new minimum wage and being part of the government commission that took over running the Instituto de Prevision Magesterial (INPREMA) earlier this month who needs to issue the Article 570 declaration that the strike is illegal. He's made no pronouncements about the teacher's strikes, let alone issued a declaration that they are illegal. He's not been involved in mediating the strike, as required by law. He's not been involved at all. Sigh

Once again it would appear the Honduran government has failed to comply with, or even read and understand, its own labor code. Lobo Sosa cannot invoke Article 571 when the proper Article 570 declaration has not yet occurred.

Do over?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

"They're making them in the laboratory...."

It would be funny if it weren't serious; General René Osorio, head of Honduras's Armed Forces, believes one needs a university laboratory to make Molotov cocktails, or so he says in Saturday's Tiempo
"they're making them [Molotov cocktails] in the laboratory of the Teaching University."

Rather than explain the simple components of a Molotov cocktail, something anyone can manufacture in seconds from simple household ingredients, without a university laboratory, I would recommend General Osorio learn what's involved in their fabrication; no laboratory needed.

Speaking of fabrications, the spectre of Nicaraguans invading to disrupt Honduran society has been raised again. First Oscar Alvarez, and now General Rene Osorio claim that foreigners are infiltrating the teacher's protests to cause chaos. Alvarez was specific; they're Nicaraguans. Just last December Alvarez announced that Nicaraguans were importing thousands of weapons and arming and training the FNRP in the Bajo Aguan. Although they announced several times they knew where the arms were (apparently in the local INA office, which they occupied for two months), no arms, or Nicaraguans, were ever found. Only the land titles which show INA owns some of the lands claimed by Miguel Facussé.

When an otherwise seemingly intelligent person, like General Osorio, makes a ridiculous claim in the press, one must look beyond the claim, to its implications, to understand why they might be asserting it. In this case General Osorio almost certainly knows better than to believe Molotov cocktails require a laboratory to manufacture. So what could actually be behind this profoundly outlandish statement? It is likely to be about creating an excuse to move troops and police onto the Teaching University campus. The police used an almost identical claim to justify moving troops and police onto the Autonomous University campus (an illegal act) during the de facto regime. It wasn't true that time, either.

Hey, it worked once....

Friday, March 25, 2011

Zelaya Case Continues

Radio Globo just reported that Supreme Court Judge Oscar Chinchilla has ordered that Manuel Zelaya Rosales stand trial for the charges of "fraud" and "abuse of authority", but has dismissed the arrest warrants. Zelaya is free to return to Honduras without fear of being arrested, but the case brought by the Public Prosecutor, Luis Rubi, continues.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Intransigence is a terrible thing in managers, presidents, heads of security. It means an unwillingness to listen, to reconsider your position. It's a sign of a bad manager, bad president, bad cop.

Honduras has intransigent leadership. Porfirio Lobo is intransigent; Oscar Alvarez is intransigent. Intransigence will not resolve the strike or the human rights problem it reveals; it's an unwillingness to resolve; it is a child's tantrum. Porfirio Lobo Sosa said, "I won't talk to them until they go back to work" and then ordered the police to shut down the protests. That's not good government, that's a tantrum.

Today's La Tribuna carries a story of a split in the Tuesday cabinet meeting allegedly between those who support the teachers and those who support the security services. That sounds like a mischaracterization from the rest of the story. It sounds like the split is between those who believe the security forces are violating the protester's human rights, and those who believe the police can do no wrong.

On the side of the police is Oscar Alvarez, who asserts that he leads a force that is among the most professional police forces in the world. Really? Hands up anybody who believes that.

Alvarez says all the police actions were carried out under the constitution, citing Articles 78 and 58. He says Article 78 guarantees the right of free assembly, but also the right to freely walk around, for everyone. He then cites (according to the article in La Tribuna) Article 58 as allowing all people free transit (the right to walk around) anywhere in the country and that the Police have the obligation to support that right.

Article 78 does in fact allow for freedom of assembly and association provided it does not contravene the public order. Article 58 however, says that ordinary courts, regardless of privilege, will know all electoral crimes and misdemeanors. Oh my. Perhaps he meant Article 81, which does say that everyone has the right to circulate freely.

So Alvarez isn't so good at his constitution. Furthermore he ignores the rights of the teachers to assemble and protest peacefully. He ignores good police procedure, which is to negotiate with protesters to guarantee everyone's rights are observed. He needs a remedial police work course on crowd control, and his police force needs one as well.

On the other side of the argument is Ana Pineda, says La Tribuna. She apparently pointed out the negative effects of the death of Ilse Ivania Velásquez for the efforts of the government to establish a good human rights record. After all, they'd just finished earlier in the week whitewashing Honduras's human rights record before the UN (see our previous post where the government admits to only investigating 3.8 percent of crimes).
"With these events, (Mr.) President, our country is exposed, not only nationally and internationally, but it weakens our level of credibility which we had obtained in front of the members of the UN and other forums of human rights."

Oops. She said the Police and Armed Forces need an operational norm that regulates their operation so that they respect the human rights established in the constitution, international treaties, and Honduran law. She said that the indiscriminate use of explosives, guns, and other things in protests, which have been seen in the videos and still photos available, can wound and even kill. She said that before resorting to force, the security forces need to exhaust all possibility of dialogue with the protesters. She noted that the Channel 36 reporter had been attacked without justification. In short, she acknowledged that the security forces are violating human rights, something the international press already knows.

Pineda is right; there's a training issue which Alvarez refuses to recognize. The police aren't trained to respect the human rights of anyone; they're trained to use force to solve any problem. Training police cadets to sing "...we will bathe in a swimming pool full of blood..." is not a sign that they know to protect human rights. It glorifies the bloodshed they cause. Until Alvarez can recognize, and address this problem, Honduras will be deficient in human rights protection.

At the end of the discussion, Porfirio Lobo Sosa said:
"I maintain my position: street taken; I will dislodge them."


Education as Social Emancipation

"Education as Social Emancipation." That's the phrase from the Ley Visión de País y Plan de Nación that is used to justify the Ley de incentivo a la participación comunitaria para el mejoramiento de calidad educativa. This is the law, being debated by the National Congress, that is part of the reason the teachers unions are out on strike. So let's examine this law.

The law is guided by two guiding principles from the Plan de la Nación, "citizen participation in government as a generator of governability", and "decentralization of efforts and decisions related to development." These two principles directly derive from the Organización de Demócrata Cristiana de América's (ODCA) guiding planning document, El Nuevo Centro Humanista y Reformista, which we wrote about earlier this month.

Article 1 tells us the motivation is to promote participation by the family and local community in improving the quality of education, and then defines the measures of improvement: complying with the academic calendar (number of days of classes), improved student performance (in some undefined way), fewer dropouts, and less grade repetition.

Article 2 also deals with the objectives of the law, but in this case, the practical objectives. It allows parents to be part of the committee that designs the Proyecto Educativo del Centro (PEC) which is the ideal set of goals that guide education in the center. It establishes two oversight committees, the Consejo Municipal de Desarrollo Educativo (COMDE) and the Consejo Escolar de Desarrollo.

The municipal level council, COMDE, has as its purpose the "social oversight of the effective teaching of the teacher in the classroom", the fulfillment of the academic calendar, and meeting the educational goals set in the municipality in conformity with the national education goals. It is responsible for the financial auditing of all of its schools. Article 5 sets the composition of the committee of eight members, appointed by the municipal government. Article 6 sets a series of specific goals and tasks for the committee. Article 7 says that COMDE has to coordinate with the Consejos Regionales de Desarrollo (regional development committees). The COMDE is responsible for making education sustainable, whatever that means.

The Consejo Escolar de Desarrollo is at the school level and is designed to promote community participation among the different actors surrounding the school. Article 8 describes the composition of this seven member committee. These groups participate in the institutional PEC, support the teachers, have oversight responsibility for the use of funds and take attendance of all school staff, and to report back to the local COMDE.

In turn, the government will offer the communities the following incentives: financial resources assigned by the central government to the Minister of Education, from there assigned to the schools through the school's Consejo Escolar; learning aids such as equipment, computers, internet connections, etc. to improve the quality of education; and recognition by the Minister of Education.

Article 13 tells the municipalities to assign resources to COMDE and the Consejos Escolares through their development committee. Article 14 says that Congress will assign, each year, a budget to provide the educational incentives to the best schools, the ones that meet or exceed their goals to provide incentives for the municipalities.

Article 14 will have an effect of preserving the status quo. Good public schools in rich communities will continue to receive the most, because they will be able to do the most, and have the lowest dropout rates, best performing students, etc. Poor schools in poor communities will get next to nothing under this system.

This law has been presented by the government as essentially giving the municipality a block grant for them to staff schools, buy educational material, and pursue their own education goals. Teachers have claimed that it will allow for the privatization of schools. The rhetoric from both sides, the government and the teachers, doesn't match what the law says, so its hard to say who is right here.

There are no funding statements in this law, apart from the requirement that Congress fund the educational incentives. There is no statement about how municipalities will fund the work of these committees, which is considerable, other than the requirement that they appropriate funds in their development budget for this purpose. In the US, this would be called an unfunded mandate. The law also does not appear to give local control over the hiring and firing of teachers.

What this law does do is transfer the auditing and accountability functions previously held by the central government and the Ministry of Education, to the municipalities, without proposing to fund them to do it. It has a little sugar in the form of education incentives, but the article structuring their award seems to preserve the status quo, with rich schools in the best position to reap these rewards. It provides the spectre of more local control over education while politicizing that control by putting the composition of the committees in the hands of the local government.

Juan Orlando Hernandez met with representatives of the Associacion de Municipios de Honduras Monday to explain the law. He said there will be an open meeting with all of the 298 municipal governments on April 2 to explain the law. At this Monday meeting he professed not to understand why the teachers are opposed to this law since it guarantees they get paid. One of the many problems with the current Ministry of Education is that it either fails to pay teachers or pays them three months in arrears.

This law should make municipal governments nervous.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Department 19: A new political player in Honduras?

Over the past few months, a new phrase has cropped up repeatedly in postings from the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular: Departamento 19.

I knew what it indexed right away, because (among other things) I was on a PhD dissertation committee that introduced me to El Salvador's attempt to reincorporate Salvadorans living in the US in post-civil war politics and culture, as a 15th political division outside the boundaries of the national territory.

After reading the latest notice that mentioned the representation of Hondurans abroad as a new, 19th department, I wondered when and how this became a political reality?

Resistencia, the official web site of the FNRP, first mentions Department 19 on November 22, 2010, in an article about increasing the size of its representative assembly, including adding four delegates "of Hondurans who live outside the country".

On November 24, 2010, Vos el Soberano carried an update called "Camino al Constituyente" that seems to be the first mention of representation for Hondurans abroad on that site, in an interview with a Los Angeles based resistance member.

On January 19 of this year, in its coverage leading up to the February 26 Asamblea of the FNRP, Vos el Soberano published an entire article about how Departamento 19 would be well represented in the assembly. This report includes the entire document formalizing participation by Department 19 in the FNRP's political assembly, starting with a description of the composition of delegates:
In general terms, 17 delegates were approved for the so-called Departamento 19 (12 for the US, 3 for Spain, 1 for Canada and 1 for France) with the possibility of being augmented in a future national assembly.
And then came a post-Assembly report by Gerardo Torres Zelaya, that included the news that in the interim assembly, Carlos Mejía from California and Lucy Pagoada of New York represented this bloc.

Contained in Torres Zelaya's report is a statement that claims a higher significance for Department 19 than merely representation:
D19 is more than a territorial expression and has turned into one of the principal symbols of the will of an entire people to refound their country and has demonstrated that when we are speaking of struggle, frontiers are obsolete.

So where did the idea come from in the first place? Is it inherently, as Torres Zelaya suggests in this quote, revolutionary?

The earliest mention I can find for this concept, using Google, is an essay by a Honduran poet, Fabricio Estrada, called Broza de esmeril first published in February 2008. In November 2008, Estrada republished it on his own blog under the slightly revised title Brozas de esmeril, Honduras (roughly, an emery brush-- a brush that grinds).

This version includes the striking image I link to here, which embeds a map of the US inside the territory of Honduras (credited at the original site to Hugo Bautista). The text accompanying this map vividly summarizes facts which together demonstrate the potential significance of Hondurans in the US in Honduran politics. In a preface to his essay, Estrada wrote that
In the beginning, I created this proclamation or manifesto, believing in a "Paíspoesible" [a pun: poetically possible country], but given the boisterous failure of this collective proposal...I reclaim the words that are still valid beyond elitism and pawing in which has ended what originally was a revolutionary vision, a generational revolution, dream, fist, prodigy of the brotherhood among cannibal poets, an esthetic that overflowed the confinement of ego..."

What follows is a description of the situation of being a poet in Honduras in a time when with the internet "no one lives regionally".

Included in this essay, which takes the form of a numbered list, reflecting, among other things, on Honduras as a territorial entity and as a state of identity (see my translation of items 5 and 8 at the end of this post). Estrada critiques the fragmented historical identity of territorial Honduras, each part except Tegucigalpa, the capital city, yearning for a geographic other; and even the framing of Honduras as patria in Tegucigalpa the poet sees as a mystical illusion.

He ends his vision of fragmented identity by saying "that is without speaking of all that country in transit in Department 19".

So for more than two years before the FNRP took it up as a real entity, the idea that Honduras has the equivalent of a 19th state made up of the Honduran diaspora was already circulating in they cultural imaginary, specifically as part of writing that challenged the coherence of the nation-state as the grounding of identity.

The term seems to be used sparingly in economic writing over the last two years; for example, an editorial by sociologist Ricardo Puerta about guest workers programs, published online by Proceso Digital, unfortunately undated but on internal grounds from the first half of 2010, includes this description:
The so-called "Departamento 19" of the new Honduran nation, in "this globalized era of information", will continue being relevant at the macro and micro levels, for the desired local, regional, and national economic revival that is sought, and has not begun to arrive. A product of that, the Department 18, better characterized as "the Department with the growth growing for lack of generalized welfare", today already counts a total estimated population of 1.5 million compatriots, "scattered throughout the world", that represents almost 20% of all those born in Honduras and that can be found living within or outside of Honduras.

An article in May 2010 in Proceso Digital on extending access to the national public health system to Hondurans in the US (allowing them to pay into the system for the benefit of their family members in Honduras) used "Departamento 19" but followed it immediately with a gloss (los connacionales en el exterior, "those who share nationality living abroad"), indicating that it is by no means in wide use or of automatically recognized meaning.

The language of a 19th department was there to be taken up by political actors. But it has not been uniquely associated with a revolutionary vision. In fact, the largest cluster of references to it, prior to the recent surge in its use by the Frente, comes from the Nationalist Party.

Already in October 2009, Honduran media used the term in covering Pepe Lobo's "satisfaction" with support from Hondurans living in Miami. This coverage made reference to the "leadership" of the Nationalist Party in "Department 19". Just last week, coverage of the lead-up to the Nationalist Party convention, under the slogan of "Nationalists united for Honduras, underlined the inclusion of Hondurans abroad:
“We have invited the 1000 attendees from the 18 departments as well as those of department 19 that symbolically represent the Hondurans resident in the US".

The contrasts between the two political groups in their approach to Department 19 are subtle: the Nationalist Party describes this as a symbolic gesture, and recognizes only Hondurans in the US; the FNRP is adding representatives porportional to the estimated residents abroad, from the four countries with the largest Honduran expatriate populations.

What the inclusion of Department 19 in texts from the extreme right to the left, from sociology to poetry, says overall is that we are seeing the emergence of a new consciousness of the global Honduran diaspora.

Salvador's Departamento 15 has become, in the analysis of Ana Patricia Rodriguez, Associate Professor of Spanish at the University of Maryland, a medium for the creation of a trans-national "salvadoranness" in its disaporic community, mobilized by post-civil war Salvadoran politics. Will Honduras see something similar in the wake of the political upheaval begun by the coup d'etat?

From Brozas de esmeril:

5- W live in Honduras, we assume it and that is what leads to us avoiding putting together $5,000 and going with a trustworthy coyote to the north. For one reason or another, Honduras retains us, it is an earthy, precambrian magnetism, full of contraries and premonitions... and nonetheless, we can bet what remains to us whether any Latin American wouldn't feel the same. We are in continual formation, this existential mobility is a beautiful broth, unstable, but definitely it is our essence. We look at the State from a position of mockery, everyone knows it, not even we ourselves believe in the task of national conformation, and nonetheless we intuit a country of the mind, much more open and grand than the anachronistic limits suggested by jurists in The Hague. Our country is a steppe and we are its untiring horses!

8-Honduras is a ball of steel wool... an emery brush... the fruit of the knives that Rubén Izaguirre visualized by means of his poetics... Honduras is attracted and dismembered from four historic magentic poles: those of the coast dream that in New Orleans there still live their patron-bosses, the gringo banana men who gave them keepsakes from La Lima to Olanchito.

Those of the Mosquitia still walk intoxicated with their Misquito Empire and their toasts continue giving halleluias for Queen Victoria of England.

Those of the East live buying and selling cheeses in Nicaragua... those of the West consider that they are an extension of Guatemala and those of the Southwest play with El Salvador. Only in Tegucigalpa does there survive a mystical Honduras, made visionary by the word "patria"; and that is without speaking of all that country in transit in Department 19.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Damning Statistics on the Police

The Honduran government held a press conference this weekend and gave out copies of the Human Rights report that Honduras filed with the UN this week. It has some damning statistics about how little crime is investigated in Honduras, and therefore why no criminals ever get caught. Remember that these are supposedly the numbers Honduras submitted; they are government sanctioned.

The government report said first that 80% of all crimes are never reported in Honduras. They then said that of those 20% of crimes that are reported, a further 81% are not investigated by the police. That means that only 3.8% of all of the crimes that happen in Honduras are even investigated by the police! The report goes on to state that the police also fail to carry out arrest warrants, that 80% of the arrest warrants issued are never executed by the police! One wonders what they are so busily doing that they can't do their job.

The same report asserts that Honduras has made progress or completed all 129 items in the November, 2010 as part of its Universal Periodic Exam. This includes resolving the case of the dismissed judges mentioned in the previous post. Amnesty International called them on obfuscating their position on the judges in their presentation to the UN this week (at about 18:30 into the video of the session). Almost every comment on the Honduran government's position paper mentioned the lack of any proposal to deal with the incredible level of impunity demonstrated above.

Today, Tiempo reports that the Asociación de Jueces por la Democracia demands Ana Pineda, Honduras's Human Rights minister, step down because she's been ineffective since she assumed office last November. She has not been able to moderate the human rights violations that continue to occur in Honduras.
"Minister Pineda should resign if she has dignity. The death of the teacher (on Friday in Tegucigalpa) is caused by the repression ordered by the government of Porfirio Lobo Sosa.....Minister Pineda is not being realistic. There are serious indications that the government of Honduras has done nothing,"

said the AJD spokesperson.

What it boils down to, is that Ana Pineda talks a good line when it comes to human rights. She's pushed changes in laws, supposedly established a hate crimes investigative unit in the police, and called on Honduran society to be more tolerant of gays, lesbians, and transvestites after the US Embassy issued a statement warning Honduras on its continued ignoring of these hate crimes.

But nothing has changed in Honduras, as the above crime statistics demonstrate. There has been no improvement in the actual lived experience of Hondurans when it comes to the human rights situations that Pineda claims to have resolved. There's still no investigation of hate crimes against the press, or LGBT people. She hasn't even spoken about the problem with paramilitary mercenaries imported by the land owners in Honduras, widely acknowledged as responsible for the majority of the deaths in the Bajo Aguan.

Its all talk; there's no action; Honduras may as well not have an human rights minister for all the effect her office has had on Hondurans.

Those statistics represent lawlessness, impunity. Until that situation begins to improve, all the fine words of the Honduran Human Rights minister mean nothing.

Dismissed Judges Get a Hearing

On Friday, March 25, the Honduran judges dismissed by the Supreme Court over coup related statements, will get a hearing before the Comision Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH), the OAS's human rights body. Giving testimony in the case will be the Asociación de Jueces por la Democracia (AJD) and the Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL) as well as representatives of the Lobo Sosa government.

The hearing is scheduled for 11:30 A.M. to 12:30 P.M. local time in Washington, D.C. You can watch the hearings live on the OAS website here. Afterwards, the video of the hearing will be posted to their website here.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"State of Emergency" in the schools (K-12 only)

Vos el Soberano has posted the complete text of Decree PCM-016-2011, dated March 18, in which Porfirio Lobo Sosa grants himself extraordinary powers to fire, hire, and generally run the school system.

This is only the latest in a string of sweeping declarations of "emergency" by Lobo Sosa, that echo the state of emergency decrees through which Roberto Micheletti asserted control by his de facto regime.

This decree cites Article 9 of the Ley de Contratación del Estado as allowing for such declarations when "continuity of, or the opportune offering of, State services" is affected. One thing we learned from Roberto Micheletti is to always check the original to see what the claimed authority actually says, so here is Article 9 in its entirety (see end of post for Spanish original)
ARTICULO 9.-Emergency situations.
The declaration of a state of emergency will be made through a Decree by the President of the Republic in the Council of Ministers or by vote of two-thirds of the respective Municipal Corporation.

The contracts that are agreed to in situations of emergency, will require later approval, by agreement of the President of the Republic, emitted by means of the corresponding Cabinet Minister, or of the Directing Junta or Council of the respective Decentralized Institution or of the Municipal Corporation, if it is relevant.

In whichever of the cases the result should be communicated to the control bodies, within 10 working days following, provided that the celebration of contracts is foreseen.

When situations of emergency occur due to natural disasters, epidemics, public calamity, necessities of defence or related to states of emergency, or other exceptional circumstances that substantially affect the continuity or opportune and efficient provision of public services, the construction of public works, the purveyance of goods or services or the lending of consulting servces that might be strictly necessary, without subjecting them to the requirements of solicitation of bids and the remaining regulatory dispositions, without prejudice to the functions of auditory control.

It is an ambituous stretch to use a law intended to absolve government from the need to submit contracts for competitive bids in the case of natural disasters, epidemics, of defense emergencies to allow the government to arbitrarily suspend teachers and replace them. But this is a now-familiar pattern: laws in Honduras seem to exist to be mined for phrases that can be taken out of the context for which they were intended, to underwrite impunity.

This is actually what dictatorship looks like when it is cloaked in the guise of representational government.

And while constraints of time prevent me from translating and commenting on this whole document now, it is worth noting that the preamble-- always the most creative and revealing thing in these documents-- recycles the arguments made by the discredited Ombudsman, Ramón Custodio, against teachers' unions, portraying retaliation against unions as required by international human rights conventions that guarantee a right to education.

Perversity seems to be the rhetorical mode of Honduran government in the post-coup era. How better to slough off the stench of human rights violations deserved for causing the death of your own citizens by releasing the army on them, then to claim that the protests you are suppressing are themselves a violation of human rights?

ARTICULO 9.-Situaciones de emergencia.

La declaración del estado de emergencia se hará mediante Decreto del Presidente de la República en Consejo de Ministros o por el voto de las dos terceras partes de la respectiva Corporación Municipal.

Los contratos que se suscriben en situaciones de emergencia, requerirán de aprobación posterior, por acuerdo del Presidente de la República, emitido por medio de la Secretaría de Estado que corresponda, o de la Junta o Consejo Directivo de la respectiva Institución Descentralizada o de la Corporación Municipal, si es el caso.

En cualquiera de los casos deberá comunicarse lo resuelto a los órganos contralores, dentro de los diez (10) días hábiles siguientes, siempre que se prevea la celebración de contratos.

Cuando ocurran situaciones de emergencia ocasionados por desastres naturales, epidemias, calamidad pública, necesidades de la defensa o relacionadas con estados de excepción, u otras circunstancias excepcionales que afectaren sustancialmente la continuidad o la prestación oportuna y eficiente de los servicios públicos, podrá contratarse la construcción de obras públicas, el suministro de bienes o de servicios o la prestación de servicios de consultoría que fueren estrictamente necesarios, sin sujetarse a los requisitos de licitación y demás disposiciones reglamentarias, sin perjuicio de las funciones de fiscalización.

Police Deny Responsibility for Death

The Deputy Director of the National Police, René Maradiaga Panchamé, a former unit leader in Battalion 3-16, says the police are investigating the death of Ilsa Ivania Velásquez during the teacher's protest, but he's sure they, the Police, aren't responsible.
"Everything is in the process of being investigated. There's an investigation. There's video, the investigators will use all these situations [sic]."

But he told reporters the Police are not involved in her death:
"the investigations are what will produce the final determination of these facts."

Lets see, the investigation has only just started, but even before the investigation gets rolling, Panchamé can tell us the Police aren't responsible for her death.

Does that give anyone confidence that there's a real investigation into her death? or are the results of the investigation being foretold to block any chance the Police could be found responsible?

I guess he's just echoing the official line, dictated by the executive branch, which issued a statement on her death that also claims the National Police are not responsible.

I guess they haven't gotten used to actually investigating crime in Honduras. After all, as the US State Department notes,
Honduran law enforcement authorities' ability to prevent, respond to, and investigate criminal incidents and prosecute criminals remains limited, further strained by the necessity of policing the increased number of demonstrations since the June 28, 2009 coup.

Maybe the National Police should just stick to brutalizing demonstrators. At least they've demonstrated they know how to do that.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Does the death of a teacher count as a human rights issue?

Porfirio Lobo Sosa has taken a hard line against teachers' unions, saying he will not talk to them until they return to the classroom and stop going out on strike. The response from the unions has been nationwide protests that yesterday and again today were received violently by security forces.

Lobo Sosa has played on the frustration parents feel about the discontinuity of education of their children, and the effect that is likely to have on their future.

It is far easier to portray striking teachers as an enemy, because it is the strike that leads to suspended classes; far harder to convey the argument that it is the government that has the responsibility for these strikes, by not resolving the issues involved, which involve government defaults on funding teacher's pensions, failure or lateness of payment of salaries and benefits, and, most recently, proposals that teachers unions interpret as aimed to privatize education.

So, as is almost routine in post-coup Honduras under the security regime of Oscar Alvarez, not only the police but the military are sent in to combat protesting teachers.

This policy has now led to the predictable outcome: the death of a striking teacher, Ilse Ivania Velásquez, who Vos el Soberano reports was hit in the head by a tear gas canister, then run over by a vehicle described as a "tanqueta".

The story in El Heraldo describes the action as intended to remove striking teachers and Resistance members from the Boulevard Centroamérica in Tegucigalpa. Its description of the cause of death was, perhaps predictably, quite different than that on Vos el Soberano:

According to versions from witnesses, the educator was thrown to the ground by a stampede of teachers that caused serious wounds to her face.

Afterwards it happened that the woman was run over by a vehicle that was crossing the area. Up till now, none of the versions has been confirmed.

In a separate story, El Heraldo specifically disputes the claim that she was run over by a vehicle. Their story clarifies that the tanqueta in question was a water tanker, the kind of vehicle used to fuel the water cannons that were turned against the teachers by the police and military.

This additional coverage explains that teachers were attacked with batons and tear gas grenades when they tried to stop a commission named by Lobo Sosa from entering the building where the Instituto de Previsión Magisterial (INPREMA) has its headquarters. INPREMA is at the center of the pension dispute with the Lobo Sosa government, and the teachers have rejected this commission, whose motives they (quite reasonably) distrust.

El Heraldo
does admit that the action was being carried out by the National Police and the Cobra unit of the military, but manages to blame the teachers and resistance members for the death.

International news stories echo the claim that Velásquez was run over after falling in the crowd, while fleeing from tear gas being fired into the protest.

Vos el Soberano describes her as the sister of Manfredo Velásquez, who disappeared in the repression of the 1980s. She was also the sister of Zenaida Velásquez, described as the first president of the Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH, Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras).

These are reminders that there are deep roots to the resistance in Honduras.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Virgin Appears, Attacked!

A month ago, La Tribuna reports, ENEE, the state electric company, cut down part of a tree whose branches threatened a power line near San Pedro Zacapa, Santa Barbara. The tree is a half mile up the road to San Pedro Zacapa from the paved road that runs between Pito Solo and Santa Barbara.

Six days ago, Mario Aguilar, age 21, noticed a brown image on the surface of the cut face of the tree, an image which he says is the Virgin Mary, and which was not there previously.

While Mario Aguilar saw the image as the Virgin Mary, still others saw it as the Virgin of Suyapa (a Marian image and Patroness of Honduras) and wondered if she had come to visit. Some others saw the image as that of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Patroness of Mexico. Still others saw an image of Christ.

Since Mario Aguilar discovered the image, people have been coming every day to light candles and pray for miracles. To that end, an impromptu stone altar has been placed on a horizontal face of the cut, on which the candles are placed. One visitor is quoted as saying
"What's important is that these images show us that a God in the heavens has always existed and he protects and loves us."

No Catholic priest has yet visited the site. Municipal officials in Zacapa have promised to erect a fence around the image and build a chapel next to the image.

But overnight the image was attacked by someone with a machete who whacked the image a number of times, including slices across the figure's face. The police are investigating the act as
a criminal act against the faith of the people who live in this zone.

La Tribuna believes that there may be a consensus building in the region that the Virgin appeared to tell people to confront the delinquency in this, and other parts of the country.
"It appears to me that it is a call to reflect, for so much crime and delinquency which happens in Honduras and mainly in these parts which are so isolated,"

said one believer quoted in La Tribuna.

In the meantime, believers continue to flock to the image, as La Tribuna says, making this part of Honduras less isolated.

Close embassies? Who said anything about closing embassies?

Remember that announcement, covered in our previous post, about Honduras closing its embassies in UNASUR countries? Porfirio Lobo Sosa has overruled Mario Canahuati's announcement that Honduras was going to close embassies in some UNASUR nations, calling it a misunderstanding.
"At no time has the government of the Republic headed by president Porfirio Lobo Sosa been disposed to close embassies in South American countries,"

said a press release from the executive branch in Honduras.

Mario Canahauti, the foreign minister, made that announcement just before leaving the country.

This is not the first time Canahauti has floated this suggestion. In the past, the executive branch has remained silent when he's suggested it.

The idea to close the embassies originates with the ultra-right in Honduras and forms part of the tension between the ultra right in Lobo Sosa's government, and the slightly more centrist parts. Lobo Sosa, coming off a National Party convention which overwhelmingly supported his policies, had the strength, this time, to reply.

Lobo Sosa made clear his rejection of this position yesterday when, through a spokesperson, he said that his goal was
"to establish diplomatic and commercial relations with all the countries of the world,"

according to the press release from the executive branch.

The release goes on to state that Canahauti was really announcing that they were evaluating the desirability of maintaining concurrent diplomatic and commercial missions in any part of the world.

Untangling that, what Lobo Sosa means is embassies in one country might serve several countries.

It's very clear that there was no press misunderstanding of what Canahuati actually said, which is how Lobo Sosa tried to save face.

Both international (EFE) and national reports had the same story after Canahauti's announcement. Neither the executive branch, nor the foreign ministry, made any attempt to clarify, EFE notes, despite widespread coverage in the national and international press after the announcement. Canahuati's vice-ministers gave interviews about it in the national press.

It took an entire day for the executive branch to disown the story, and for Canahauti's ministry to issue a statement claiming he was misunderstood.

But this seems to be less a case of misunderstanding than of different policy directions. And in this round, at any rate, Lobo Sosa seems to have put his foot down.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Who Needs Brazil? On to Asia...

Tiempo's coverage characterizes this is a "reorientation" of resources. La Tribuna quotes vice-minister Mireya Agüero calling this a "temporary closure".

But the Honduran papers are clear: the budget formerly used to maintain embassies in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina will now be used to open commercial missions in India, Singapore, China, and Canada.

The ringer in there, of course, is Canada. Let's come back to that.

First, though, it is worth recognizing that Mario Canahuati, Foreign Relations Minister of Honduras, seems to be acknowledging that this is a response to the continued refusal of the UNASUR countries to recognize the Lobo Sosa government as legitimate.

Canahuati proposed that Honduras would maintain contact with South America via its embassies in Chile, Peru, and Colombia, the countries that have recognized the Lobo Sosa government. He is quoted as saying
"We cannot stop having relations with Latin America... it is better to have friends than enemies".

Tiempo, noting that the South American countries selected to have their embassies closed also reject readmission of Honduras into the OAS, says this is because
the country has not complied with certain requirements, among them the unconditional return of Zelaya without charges.

This is very much the way the issue is now portrayed in all media, Honduran and English alike. It is unfortunate, because it reduces the issue to personalization. It is of a piece with the lazy characterization of the resistance movement in Honduras as "Zelaya supporters", as, for example, the Economist does in a particularly bad article earlier this month.

Among the requirements that Honduras has not satisfied are some much more important ones. These have to do with investigating the human rights abuses that took place during the coup and under the de facto regime of Micheletti, and that continue to take place under the Lobo Sosa administration.

The mainstream media never really cared much to cover these stories. Just this month, Human Rights Watch issued a press release about threats to Leo Valladares, former ombudsman and the former president of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights:
Valladares told Human Rights Watch that he has received intimidating phone calls, and noticed people monitoring his home and following him, after he questioned the increasing power of the Honduran military since the 2009 coup.

"The Lobo administration's inability to ensure that human rights defenders can do their job and express their views without reprisals is frustrating," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "If someone with Leo Valladares' experience and international exposure is getting serious, credible threats, it is crystal clear that the human rights community in Honduras is facing risks."

It does not appear that this story was covered by any major media.

Nor has there been major media coverage of the continuing violence in the Aguan river valley, where Lobo Sosa's government exacerbated a confrontation between campesino cooperatives and large landowners, injecting the military into the region. Nor has the mainstream media seen fit to acknowledge that gay, lesbian, trans-sexual and transgender people are at constant risk in Honduras, with apparent impunity.

Zelaya isn't the issue. He may be a symbol, but the issue is that with the coup d'etat, Honduras moved backward, and no country with influence has used it to promote redress, except those of UNASUR.

Which brings us back to the main topic here: the Lobo Sosa government has made a discovery. It doesn't need to be legitimate to return to business as usual, as long as there are countries clamoring for cheap labor and new markets for cheap and dangerous goods. Lobo Sosa's recent Asian trip apparently encouraged him to expect new investments from that sector.

And Canada. Reportedly, Canada is close to finalizing a Free Trade Agreement with Honduras. Canadian mining companies with interests in Honduras, like Goldcorp, are enjoying record profits.

Oh, Canada.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Honduras has Two Christian Democrat Parties

The National Party in Honduras is neither leftist nor rightist, but centrist and Christian Humanist according to Ricardo Alvarez, the Party president. But what does Christian Humanism mean in the context of politics?

According to the English language Wikipedia, there are no notable organizations of Christian Humanists. Wrong. Clearly the authors of that page have never read the Spanish language page on Humanismo Cristiano, which identifies it as a catholic, and political philosophy originating in the writings of the French philosopher Jacques Maritain and the political philosophy of the Christian Democrats as a political movement. The National Party of Honduras is a member of the Organización de Demócrata Cristiana de América (ODCA), as is the Christian Democrat party (PDCH). So effectively Honduras has two Christian Democrat affiliated parties.

The ODCA's website calls the National Party's affiliation with them last August a 180 degree turn from its principles of more than a decade. So what are the new values?

The ODCA's political philosophy is presented in a document from their website called "El Nuevo Centro Humanista y Reformista (the New Humanist and Reformist Center)". which in 2008 outlined the political philosophy of the ODCA, and hence, the member parties.

First and foremost, it is conservative (so much for Alvarez's rhetoric above); with christian moral values (e.g., emphasis on the family, against abortion) and emphasizes small changes (evolution) rather than large changes (revolution). There is an emphasis on the community and a person's duties to the community, on free market economies with little regulation

The emphasis of Christian Humanism is on the creation of persons not individuals, in the community, making a world more prosperous through the "harmonic conjunction" of the market, democratic equality, and globalization to be used for the development of people. They must understand the limitations of the market in assigning resources. They must deepen democracy, increase social justice nationally and internationally. Globalization provides an opportunity to overcome poverty and equalize the inequalities in economic development. This is "positive realism". In summary, they must value a new sense of socialization and citizenship based on the market and on democracy and globalization to humanize them.

Christian Democrats must introduce values that give their citizens not only a sense of local belonging, but of belonging to the world, more liberty, equalities, equal opportunity, the setting up of a civilization of brotherhood. They must actualize the suggestions of christian humanism or whole humanism in their contract between individualism and leading. Change must be based on the possible within ordinary politics (eg, no revolutionary or rapid change), centrist, but working towards the ideal with an ethics of responsibility.

Privilege neither the market nor the state ; people's values and initiatives and interresponsibility should order the market and the state as instruments of their will. They will create a strong civil society based on mutual responsibility that not only creates a climate for economic development but also sustainable democracy. Human rights must be defended in all circumstances. They must work for respect, the basis of democracy.

They will work for sustainable development for men and women. Governments should evaluate themselves by whether or not they improve the life of individuals Parents must assume more responsibility for children's education and religious development. People should work hard, have confidence, and be responsible to others and tot individualistic like the United States.

Families are based on the couple, a man and a women where interpersonal relations are centered. Families are the locus of personhood and the party will work to promote, strengthen, respect, and protect families. Labor laws need to be family friendly.

Equality between men and women requires profound changes in the family. There needs to be a more equal division of labor between husband and wife. The Christian Democrats will propose changes to law that emphasize the equality of men and women in marriage, work, and open opportunities for women to lead politically.

Decentralization is fundamental to strengthening democracy by creating more spaces for people to participate.

But Lobo Sosa and the Nationalist Party are moving quickly to change Honduras and its laws to meet these goals, without doing the necessary social development. In that sense, the change they're introducing is just as revolutionary, in Honduras, as some of the changes Zelaya Rosales introduced.

In this way they're like the Republicans in Wisconsin. They control the government and so can push through just about any kind of change, and it doesn't matter what anyone thinks about it. So much for the Christian Democrat belief in participation. Is the National Party Christian Democrat in Name Only?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Geography of Cocaine Processing

Honduran news media have for the last two days been reporting the discovery of Honduras' "first cocaine lab".

Honduran newspapers are, in general, lurid tabloids that delight in the presentation of crime and violence, the bloodier the better. The coverage of this raid has been, in my reading, contaminated by a kind of dark celebratory tone-- sort of "we told you it would come to this" combined with "we're on the world map".

This may partly be my reaction to the fact that, of all the events that happen in Honduras, it is things like this that international media, even the more reliable BBC, find worthy of coverage.

Honduras has been stereotyped, and this time, it isn't the old "banana republic": it is the corrupt drug capital.

Considering the fact that the storyline comes straight from the Minister of Security, Oscar Alvarez, whose entire political career is based on promoting a sense of lawlessness, I find myself feeling somewhat cynical about the hype. When Alvarez is quoted as saying that they found
"a laboratory of the first rank, Colombian-style, which appears to me is very worrisome because it is the first time that we discovered a cocaine processing laboratory in Honduras"

I hear the next sentence that he didn't say: "so give me more money and more weapons and more ways to clamp down on the entire population under the pretext that everyone is really, to some extent, a criminal".

Alvarez has been outspoken in recent weeks about lack of adequate US support for his activities. On March 5, a story in La Tribuna began:
The Minister of Security, Oscar Alvarez, in a sarcastic form stated yesterday that it made him happy that the State Department of the US is realizing that there is a serious problem of drug trafficking in the region, because then there might be more aid for the country to combat this scourge.

Alvarez was reacting to the 2011 State Department International Narcotics Control Strategy Report issued on March 3. The Honduras country summary there would not, at first glance, appear objectionable, although perhaps this passage stung a bit:
corruption within the Honduran government and its law enforcement elements presents obstacles to counternarcotics efforts. While law enforcement authorities made numerous arrests related to drug trafficking, prosecution rates remained low for all crimes and few convictions have been made, in part due to corruption at all levels of the prosecution process.

Oscar Alvarez complained particularly about Colombia receiving helicopters and radar that Honduras was not given. Clearly, his message was that the US was over-valuing the drug threat represented by Colombia and under-estimating the situation in Honduras. In fact, the US report began with a summary that concluded that organizations operating from South America and Mexico
use the remote northeastern region known as La Mosquitia and other isolated sites as transit and storage areas. Marijuana is cultivated in Honduras almost exclusively for domestic consumption. Honduran police have not detected any cocaine or heroin processing laboratories in the country. [emphasis added]

So I may be pardoned for wondering about the timeliness of Alvarez's find of "the first cocaine processing lab" in Honduras-- especially as there was no one to be arrested when the site was raided.

But my cynicism is not what motivated me to write this post (although it is what has motivated me not to write about this "discovery" until now).

What is driving me crazy is the complete inability of the international media to identify places in Honduras in any way other than by distance north of Tegucigalpa-- the capital city, yes, but not always the most relevant reference point.

The BBC describes the locale, Cerro Negro, as "a mountainous area north of the capital, Tegucigalpa" and as "about 175km (100 miles) north of the capital".

Boz, in a post about this story, citing the BBC report and reiterating the "100 miles north of the capital" description, was led to conclude
4) Also notable, this lab was in the middle of the country up in the mountains. It's not as if they moved it in by boat to some unoccupied coastal region. The people behind this lab had to get the coca paste in by air or land and a plan to get the processed cocaine out by land and sea. This required some significant logistics.

Well, yes and no. Significant logistics, maybe; but as in real estate, what matters here is location, location, location. Cerro Negro is not all that isolated, and it is in fact within easy reach of the Caribbean coast.

The Cerro Negro in question is up in the Montaña de Merendon, west of my beloved San Pedro Sula, and about 8 km south of Omoa, the little colonial town on the Caribbean coast where I spent June of 2009. Don't be confused by internet databases that show another Cerro Negro somewhat further inland; this one is called Cerro Negro de Omoa on topo maps, and Honduran press coverage makes it very clear that this is where the raid took place.

Topo maps made some time ago showed access via a dirt road up from Omoa to the aldea of Santa Tereza, then the closest inhabited place to Cerro Negro, again, about 8 km distance, although a rugged haul.

More recent topo maps show an improved road to a cluster of buildings at Cerro Negro itself, coming from the east, starting at a place called Bijao (along the Puerto Cortes-San Pedro Sula highway, north of Choloma, and location of major cement works). The road is visible and can be traced on Google Earth all the way up to the top of Cerro Negro, where the lab was apparently operating under cover of a coffee plantation.

While Honduran press reports say that local people indicated helicopters were used to transport drugs from the lab, the location lends itself to moving raw materials and equipment in from the Caribbean coast up into the mountains.

Even though I remain cynical about the timing of this raid, the bad luck that allowed all the people operating it to escape, and the convenient timing of finding "the first cocaine lab" just when Honduran authorities are airing their grievances about not getting enough support from the US to combat drug trafficking, I would still like discussion to take into account the actual geography of Honduras, and thus the actual effects experienced by actual people living there.

The laziness of the BBC and other major media substantively affects the ability of others to understand where this drug operation fits into the landscape of Honduras. I wonder what Boz would say about the implications of this location, with a more accurate geographic placement within a few hours drive (at worst) from San Pedro Sula and Puerto Cortes?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lobo Sosa in Houston

Last weekend Porfirio Lobo Sosa abruptly disappeared on an unscheduled trip to Houston, reportedly to lobby for his new model city idea. I say abruptly because he had just returned from his Asia trip to view Asian model cities and had told the press he would hold a press conference on Sunday, March 6, to explain the benefits of the trip. Instead, the very next day he was on a plane to Houston.

Press coverage says he went to meet with a group of investors who might be interested in Honduras's model cities. He flew out Friday March 5 and returned Monday, March 7. There's no press coverage of any meetings. Perhaps the investors were early arrivals for the CERAWeek 2011, the IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates Energy Conference. The theme this year is “Leading the Way: Energy Strategies for a World of Change".

What we do know is that there is a facebook posting and picture that shows that Friday evening he took his daughter and entourage to Arcodoro, a restaurant serving traditional Sardinian cuisine. We also know that Monday before flying back he visited the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo along with Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Honduras, Jacobo Regalado; the Ambassador of the Republic of Honduras to the United States, Jorge Ramon Hernandez-Alcerro; and the Consul General of the Republic of Honduras in Houston, Consul General David Hernandez.

We don't know where he promoted "Honduras is open for Business" nor who the potential investors were.

It seems like someone should ask him about it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dress Code

Luis Rubi, the Public Prosecutor, is disturbed by how his employees dress.

'You are instructed to exercise strict control and oversight of the dress of people working for you, as it has been observed that some of them do not dress properly, so that they are reminded that its forbidden for female staff to wear blouses with plunging necklines, or short dresses and skirts, capri (fisherman's) pants, jeans, and blouses with straps (spaghetti straps?); in the same way male staff should not wear jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes."

These are the words of José Francisco Morales, head of human resources in the Public Prosecutors office in circular 2-2011- DRH entitled "Dress".

I guess Luis Rubi doesn't want chuzadas (the practice of placing a microphone in the bodice of a woman for clandestine eavesdroping in meetings, popularized by Uribe in Columbia to eavesdrop on his opposition) in his workplace.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Honduras has a violent crimes problem and is struggling to find ways of combating it. Unfortunately, the imagination of the current government runs to authoritarian solutions which require changes in the law or the constitution to be legal. The proposed solutions fail to address the fundamental problem. Alvarez told the press
"We're not trying to throw out the Penal Code, rather to find a way to make it more efficient by reforming it as necessary, and with the support of Congress, we can make it happen."

Here's what's broken.

The problem they recognize facing is organized crime, by which they mean drug traffickers and gangs. The unacknowledged problem they face is the police lack credibility. This is not to say there are not good honest police officers in Honduras; there are. But there are also corrupt ones, and that's where the problem begins.

How do you identify a police officer in Honduras? Until last week the government kept no information on the individuals hired as police, except that required to pay them. There were no photo id cards, no fingerprints kept, no signatures even. Your uniform is the only indication a civilian had that you were a police officer, and uniforms are easily obtained by criminals. Only now is Alvarez starting a program to identify the motorcycle police by collecting this basic information.

Nor do the police always wear their uniforms. Various police groups involved in checkpoints are often in plain clothes, as anyone who looks at the photographs in the Honduran newspapers will have noticed. Its been this way for more than 30 years. You know they're police and you have to stop because they have rifles and machine guns, or at least, I assume that's how you're supposed to recognize them. They don't wear uniforms; they don't have identification (and don't bother asking them for it unless you want abuse).

Then there's the question of police corruption. Mordidas to get out of traffic fines, avoid arrests, the petty cost of living in Honduras is contrasted with really corrupt police who are criminals. Members of the anti-kidnapping unit have been arrested heading up kidnapping rings in the San Pedro area. Police have in the past six months been caught robbing banks and businesses. Police have been caught running extortion and blackmail rackets against businesses.

Without a systematic purging of the ranks of these corrupt individuals, it does not matter how many police there are. Alvarez needs to address police corruption before hiring more police.

Then there's the fact that there is no investigation of crimes. Only 2 percent of murders ever result in charges being filed. Robberies almost never get solved. The crime statistics are bleak. Alvarez would say its a lack of manpower, but really, its a lack of training. There is no investigative unit, at least, not one that can investigate crime in Honduras. Even the Public Prosecutor, Luis Rubi, noted that fewer than 48 percent of the cases he remands for investigation ever come back to him. Until Honduran police can effectively investigate crimes, the crimes will go unpunished. This will require training, manpower, and technology.

To investigate crimes, you need citizen confidence in the police. Papa Elvin Santos argued Thursday that you can't purge the police because they'll just go out and become criminals. Wrong. Without doing this, you have no public confidence in the police; and without public confidence, no information about criminals; you cannot investigate crimes. As Jorge Ortega, a member of the Alianza Democratica Nacional put it
"So for us to addrdess the violence first we have to have confidence in the Police and later, when that confidence exists, the citizens may go peacefully to denounce the actions."

Yesterday Porfirio Lobo Sosa held a meeting, on his return from visiting model cities in Asia, with Juan Orlando Hernandez, Jorge Rivera Avilés, Ricardo Maduro, Oscar Alvarez, Luis Rubi, Áfrico Madrid, Ana Pineda and Jose Luis Muñoz Licona to decide what to do about an ongoing problem that is the primary cause of dissatisfaction with his regime, street crimes.

Coming out of the meeting, Lobo Sosa ordered the military to resume joint patrols with the police, ignoring the fact that soldiers, especially Honduran soldiers, are not trained in policing. Note to Embassy: this should be the highest priority military aid for Honduras, training in military policing. If they're going to be out on the streets, train those units in how to be effective at it.

Instead of vowing to clean up and professionalize the existing police force, Alvarez has asked for budget authority to double the number of police under his command. This likely will lead to an increase in crime, as a percentage of the new officers become corrupt.

At the meeting they also discussed the problem of judges who don't apply the law (the assumption is that they're either too scared or corrupt themselves), and of establishing more severe penalties for violent crimes, 50 years or even life for violent criminals. They spoke of increasing the penalties for criminals who attack judges, police, and prosecutors. They spoke about changing the law so that raids can happen any time of day, not just after 6 am as current law allows. They talked about changing the law to allow for holding of individuals for 72 hours without charges instead of the current 24 hours. Teodoro Bonilla, head of the Association of Judges requested that judges get not 6 days, but 12 days after charges are filed to decide whether to release the person on bail or remand them to jail for trial.

As El Heraldo notes, the changes discussed involve changing the law, changing the Constitution, and even abandoning some international treaties. Ana Pineda's voice is missing from any of the press coverage. Was she silenced, or did she have no concerns about the proposed changes?

In any case, Alvarez needs to clean up the police before he can address organized crime head on. Failure to clean up the police means failure, regardless of what else Alvarez does.