Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Lempira Floats

Since 2005 the value of the Honduran lempira has been fixed at 18.95 to the dollar. This came about after years of rapid inflation and lent some stability and predictability to the Honduran economy. The Banco Central de Honduras announced that as of Monday the lempira will again float. Its price will be set by demand for lempiras at auction once a week. The Central Bank has set the initial auction price on Monday at 18.8951, a slight increase in the value of the lempira.

While the lempira gains in value against the dollar, it will be cheaper for Hondurans to import foreign goods, but their exports will be more expensive for the rest of the world to buy. If the value of the lempira decreases with respect to the dollar, imports will be more expensive, but their exports will get cheaper.

By allowing the lempira to float again, the BCH allows the market to set its value, which currently they see as better than the old official exchange rate. However, this may well lead to devaluation if/when the US Congress acts to raise the US debt ceiling and reduce the volatility of the dollar.

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Copan misses the tourism heydey of yesteryear"

So says La Prensa in an article published Sunday, July 17.

Tourism is undoubtedly down at the Classic Maya archaeological site, one of the main engines of this sector of the Honduran economy: from 200,000 in 2007 to 110,000 in 2010.

Disentangling the contributions of the world economic crisis and the coup d'etat of 2009 to this drop in visitation is tricky.

A global decline in tourism began in 2008. Central America was hit hard, with a 10% decrease in the first six months of 2009, reflecting fears of the H1N1 virus on top of the economic downturn.

Then came the coup d'etat. Honduras ended 2009 with a total of fewer than 100,000 visitors to Copán, a 50% decrease from 2006-2007. (We have not found data for 2008.)

The 10% increase in visitors to Copan in 2010, to 110,000 visitors, is right in line with the recovery rate of Central America as a whole for that year reported by the World Tourism Barometer.

But Copan hotel owners and tourism operators aren't happy with that. They blame their government for not doing enough to promote Copan.

Udo van der Waag, owner of Don Udo's in Copan, is quoted by La Prensa as saying
"They are not promoting Copan for the world. The occupancy rate has not gone above 42 percent..."

In fact, Nelly Jerez, the Minister of Tourism, has been promoting Copan: most recently, with tie-ins to the supposed Maya end of the world prophecy for 2012. So why the sense from the business community in Copan that the government isn't doing enough?

Copan businessmen have submitted a 2 million lempira proposal for events in Copan, with the expectation that the Tourism Ministry would fund it. Jerez is looking for them to commit capital to this project.

Meanwhile, Jerez has been promoting tourism to other areas of the country, through the Ruta Colonial and Ruta Lenca. She told La Prensa
"We have met with various publicity agencies with whom we work and their consultants to bring about a better strategy, so that people come not only for what Copan and the archaeological sites signify, but also to the other touristic sites of the country."

Copan businessmen, who see tourism lagging, must feel this is happening at their expense: if the ministry of tourism spends money promoting something other than Copan, it's not doing enough for Copan. This kind of Copan-centrism notoriously figured in the illegal dismissal of the former director of the Institute of Anthropology and History, Darío Euraque, discussed in his recent book about cultural policy and the coup d'etat.

So why is tourism recovering so slowly at Copan?

A critical study of the social impacts of Central America tourism by Ernest Cañada, published in April of 2010, suggests that tourists to Central America increasingly focus on "sun and sand". Cañada notes that tourists, especially from North America, are taking shorter vacations, spending less on food and drink, and buying fewer things to take home. None of this is good news for Copan tourism operators.

Are Copan businessmen justified to expect that tourism will recover to pre-2009 levels ?

A reading of the World Tourism Barometer suggests they should expect growth in 2011 of only 4 percent over last year's numbers; that would mean a rise to around 115,000 visitors, far below pre-2009 numbers.

It may be that the old days were truly the heydey of Copan tourism.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Talking Constitutional Reform: Campesinos and Unions

Porfirio Lobo Sosa held his second dialogue with Hondurans on constitutional reform. This time it was with some campesino organizations(6 groups) and some union confederations(4 groups) and citizen groups (2 groups). The participating organizations were:
Articulación Campesina (AC)
Confederación Nacional Campesina (CNC)
Confederación Hondureña de Mujeres Campesinas (CHMC)
Movimiento Unificado del Aguán (MUCA)
Consejo Coordinador de Organizaciones Campesinas de Honduras (Cococh)
Frente Nacional Campesino (FNC)
Central General de Trabajadores (CGT)
Confederación de Trabajadores de Honduras (CTH)
Confederación Unitaria de Trabajadores de Honduras (CUTH)
Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos de Honduras (Andeph)
Confederación Nacional de Federaciones y Patronatos de Honduras
Consejo Nacional de Pobladores y Patronatos

The main themes brought up by this group were to hold a National Constitutional Assembly and the need for a new agricultural reform law. The law they want reformed is the disastrous reforms put in place by President Rafael Callejas in the early 1990s that among other things, are the root of the land tenure problems in the Bajo Aguan and elsewhere. Cornelio Chirinos of COCOCH said
"the agricultural reform has not been well done; also the Law of Agricultural Modernization is doing much harm to our country and because of this we have an enormous crisis."

The main suggestion was to sanitize the language of decreto 18-2008, which the Supreme Court found unconstitutional, to streamline the process by which campesinos get title to land. In addition to agricultural reform, many of the campesino organizations asked for a review and amnesty for campesinos imprisoned for conflicts over land.

The theme of a National Constituent Assembly found support among the campesino organizations and the unions, with the exception of ANDEPH whose spokesperson spoke against such an assembly.

Other themes that were mentioned include education reform, health, and expropriation of land. Finally the unions asked for reforms to the minimum wage laws.

Lobo Sosa indicated he would form a committee to consider writing an agricultural reform law based on suggestions made at the meeting, as well as have his Human Rights Minister, Ana Pineda, review any cases of campesinos arrested over land disputes from lists provided by the different organizations.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Rio Amarillo Airport Redux

La Prensa reported today that the Lobo Sosa administration is lobbying UNESCO to approve building an airport in the Rio Amarillo valley.

The article primarily reports statements by several Santa Rosa de Copan residents on why nothing is happening on either the construction of an airport or the construction of the road from Santa Rosa, through Concepción, to near Copan, long a priority of the businessmen of the region.

Here's what UNESCO had to say about the idea of constructing an airport at Rio Amarillo, and its possible impact on Copan, in their draft agenda for the recently concluded (June 19-29) 35th annual meeting in Paris (from pages 256-257 of the PDF).
The 2003 and 2005 joint World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS reactive monitoring missions to the property made several objections to the construction of the airport at the Rio Amarillo site, and identified alternative locations. In 2006 the World Heritage Centre congratulated the State Party for the decision to halt the construction of the airport at the Rio Amarillo area....

However in 2007, the State Party informed the Committee of plans to construct an alternate airport at the old air strip in the village of Concepción. The 2009 state of conservation report indicated that a final decision on the construction of an airport in La Concepción was still pending and that IHAH was reviewing the Environmental Impact Assessment to make an official statement. No further information was received on its decision. On 30 September 2010, the World Heritage Centre sent a letter to the Honduran Delegation indicating its concerns regarding the reconsideration of the construction of the airport at the Rio Amarillo site after reviewing information from the published press. The 2011 state of conservation report submitted by the State Party indicates that the Ministry of Tourism had cancelled the option of La Concepcion for financial reasons and that it is once again evaluating the Rio Amarillo option. It also reported that prior to making further decisions the IHAH will analyze by October 2011, an updated assessment of impact on cultural heritage and the Public Use Plan, which will include the potential impact of the airport, particularly as it relates to the visitor management programme.

The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that sufficient information has been provided to the World Heritage Committee over the past 5 years, and Decisions of the World Heritage Committee have indicated clearly that the construction of an airport at Rio Amarillo, could have an adverse impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property.

In other words, nothing has changed; it's still a lousy idea that endangers the World Heritage Site of Copan.

In 2003 UNESCO said:
ICOMOS adds to this that the properties of Piedras Negras, Rio Blanco and Rio Amarillo must be protected due to their important scientific value for the overall understanding of the cultural system of Copan and its potential role as a state.

The information provided by the Lobo Sosa administration to UNESCO indicates that it is the prerogative of the Tourism Minister, Nelly Jerez, to choose the site for the airport. Despite claims to the contrary, this airport is primarily seen as something to drive tourism, not something vital to the overall economy of the region.

The report by the Lobo Sosa administration to UNESCO indicates that the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History is carrying out yet another analysis of the environmental and archaeological impact of a Rio Amarillo airport, this one due in October 2011.

That's what you do when you don't have the answer that you want: you commission a new study.

Not that there is any mystery about what the report due this coming fall is likely to say: in January this year Jerez stated the airport would be at Rio Amarillo, and that IHAH had already approved the site:
"We've already made the decision, we have already done the studies; we have already done the investigations; we have it all put together in the Institute of Anthropology."

UNESCO notes that a 2004 study by IHAH concluded that an airport at Rio Amarillo would endanger both Copan and the Rio Amarillo archaeological sites. Press reports of the time indicated that that conclusion cost archaeologist Carmen Julia Fajardo her job as head of investigations for IHAH. A second study carried out six months later by IHAH reversed the first, claiming that an airport at Rio Amarillo would be acceptable.

In June, the latest UNESCO report concluded:
5. Reiterates its concern that the site of Rio Amarillo is being considered for the construction of the airfield, in spite of previous World Heritage Committee decisions, yet acknowledges that additional information has been gathered and new studies have been produced after the 2005 reactive monitoring mission conducted by ICOMOS, which requires further analysis;

6. Accepts the State Party’s invitation for a joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission in 2011 to assess the state of conservation of the property and particularly review all the information produced up to this date regarding the project of building an airfield in the site of Rio Amarillo, including environmental impact assessments, and a heritage impact assessment, in order to update the analysis for consideration and review by the World Heritage Committee;

So Jerez is waiting for a UNESCO visit and the new IHAH report.

If she really is waiting until October or later, the airport will not be built by the deadline of December, 2012, that she set for it to open.

As we've pointed out many times (here, here, and here) the La Concepción site would serve a larger population without the projected damage to historic sites.

If Jerez wants an airport built by December, 2012, it needs to start construction today, and be built at La Concepción.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Talking Constitutional Reform: The Political Parties

The first of Porfirio Lobo Sosa's dialogues over constitutional reforms happened Saturday with half hour statements by individuals representing political parties and organizations. All were agreed, Tiempo reported, that changes were necessary to move from the current elected democracy to a more participative democracy, and all agreed that some form of participatory democracy is the goal.

Attending were representatives of the five organized political parties (Partido Liberal, Partido Nacional, Unificación Democratica,Partido de Inovación y Unidad, Partido Democrata Christiana), the Electoral Tribunal,and seven political parties in the process of formation (the Frente Ampio de Resistencia Popular, Frente Amplio Politico Electoral, the Partido Convergencia Nacional, the Partido Transformación de Honduras, the Movimiento Tendencia Revolucionaria, Nueva Democracia, Movimiento Anticorrupción).

La Tribuna reported that a large number of the delegates spoke in favor of convening a National Constituyent Assembly, though they were not joined by representatives of the National and Liberal parties. Individual speakers touched on a number of themes including universal heath care, anti-corruption, jobs, land distribution, security, and prosecuting those responsible for the coup d'etat.

So change is in the wind. It will be interesting to see how Congress perverts these suggestions into methods for maintaining the status quo.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Everyone Is To Blame

That's the conclusion, in a nutshell of the official Honduran Truth and Reconciliation (not) Commission. While we have not seen the actual document, there's ample press coverage of its conclusions over what happened:
- It was a coup d'etat.
- Micheletti's government was illegal, de facto.
- The alleged Zelaya resignation letter was a forgery.
- The National Congress has no way to remove a sitting president by itself.
- The National Congress does not have the authority to appoint a successor to a president.
- The OAS is to blame for being willing to send observers to the Cuarta Urna consultation.
- The OAS is to blame because it was unable to reverse the coup.
- Zelaya is to blame for insisting on going ahead with the consultation on June 28.
- The Military, caught in a constitutional bind, provided a solution (Zelaya's expatriation) when political solutions failed!
- The International community is to blame for not taking stronger efforts to prevent the coup.
- The Honduran security forces (or perhaps private security forces) are responsible for at least 12 assassinations of the 20 the commission recognizes as having occurred.

Notice someone missing?

Those who actually plotted and carried out the coup are not assigned any blame! How is this possible? We don't know. Perhaps its a result of the biases of the press coverage since most of the sources are Honduran, pro-coup press. Perhaps that bit is contained in the 10 percent of the report that is embargoed for 10 years. We just don't know, but its a remarkable omission, don't you think?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Is Lobo Threatening the Supreme Court?

Porfirio Lobo Sosa is threatening the Supreme Court of Honduras. Its hard to reach any other conclusion when he says
"This country will be without a Supreme Court if it accepts any appeal by the businessmen against the decree [el país quedará sin Corte Suprema de Justicia si ésta acepta algún recurso legal interpuesto por los empresarios contra el decreto]"

Lobo Sosa is referring to the new Security Tax law which some businessmen in Honduras strongly oppose. Just to be clear, he also threatened the businessmen if they attempt to interfere with the law:
"They will be strongly punished; they will wish they never had evaded and avoided solidarity with the nation."

He let everyone know that he had signed the bill into law while inaugurating a new maximum security prison.

What happened to separation of powers?

Lobo: Honduras Wants Change

Porfirio Lobo Sosa will start his dialogue with the organized social and political organizations this coming Saturday.

Already he's saying that the results of that dialogue need to be proposed as constitutional changes before the end of this year, because changes proposed in 2012 would require approval by whoever wins the 2013 elections.

Speaking to his Cabinet, he said
"There are those who don't want us to listen to the people, being mixed up; leave them behind; they're not important; I tell those of you who have confidence in me that no one will remove me from my path, no one. Why? because, just as some of you don't like to read much, some, but I read every day: the doctrine of christian socialism; that's where I am placed and no one will remove me unless they do something (he laughs) which violates the norms."

Lobo announced that each session of his dialogue will last three or four hours and participants will be encouraged to present their vision of necessary changes: not just political, but economic and social as well.
"There go those crickets who go, the assembly which Pepe Lobo is talking about is the Constituyente. I have not said a Constituyente. I have said that we cannot sit waiting for a Constituyente, if a Constituyente comes, or does not come, I have the responsibility to make changes because Honduras wants change."

Lobo Sosa's consultations do not depend on the much-touted law that was supposed to enable plebiscites and referenda, because that law is gathering dust in Congress.

The law was passed by two-thirds of Congress, but the actual operationalization, drafted in committee, sits in a drawer somewhere.

As drafted in committee, the law actually makes it almost impossible to hold a referendum, requiring signatures of at least 2 percent of the registered electorate, plus the support of ten congress persons and a Presidential resolution, in order to get considered by the Congress.

Then, and only then, Congress has to discuss the issue and vote to move it forward or not, and determine the language used in the referendum before handing it off to the Election Tribunal.

Any referendum approved following this process will pass if it receives the support of 51 percent of an electorate equal in size to that which voted in the last general election.

These are high barriers that predictably will have the result of preventing anything controversial from being considered by the voting public.

As El Heraldo noted, every proposal has to pass through Congress, where members can halt anything that damages their interests.

Pepe Lobo may be right about Honduras wanting change.

But the law that is supposed to make that possible shows that Congress clearly does not.