Sunday, September 11, 2011

Resigning Himself: Oscar Alvarez, Presidential Candidate

As we reported Saturday, Porfirio Lobo Sosa is in the process of making changes in his cabinet and has gone beyond that to make a series of changes in top level security positions nationally and in the northwest region.

The article in El Heraldo on Saturday was headlined "Remezón en Secretaria de Seguridad de Honduras": "Aftershocks in Security Secretariat of Honduras". It referred to the "separación" of former minister Oscar Alvarez. It noted that a press conference later in the afternoon was expected to clarify the matter, "la que en algunos medios se ha manejado como una destitución y en otros como una renuncia" ("which in some media has been treated as a firing, and in others as a resignation").

There were plenty of advance indications that might have pointed towards this outcome. On September 1, as he was headed on his way to Kosovo, Lobo Sosa told Honduran media that on his return he would make changes in his cabinet. El Heraldo quoted him saying that he would retain Cesar Ham as head of the Instituto Nacional Agraria, but otherwise not promising security to any cabinet member.

On Friday, September 8, back in Honduras, La Tribuna reported that Lobo Sosa said that he "already had in his possession the resignations of all of his cabinet ministers, so that 'in the coming hours' he would determine 'which ministers will go'" ("ya tiene en su poder la renuncia de todos sus secretarios de Estado, por lo que 'en las próximas horas' determinará 'qué ministros se van'").

So comes the day after, and what do we hear?

Oscar Alvarez is out in public with statements to the press, making sure that everyone understands that he resigned, he was not fired. The Associated Press story, reported from Tegucigalpa by Freddy Cuevas and translated in typically uncritical way by the AP, runs with Oscar Alvarez' preferred narrative:
A top leader of Honduras' battle against rampant drug violence has resigned, saying he lacked economic support for his efforts and had been stepping on the toes of powerful interests.

But this is nonsense. Yes, he tendered his resignation. That is how top government officials are replaced, in the US as much as in Honduras. As Lobo Sosa said on Friday, he had in his possession resignation letters from all his cabinet ministers. It was then his decision who to let go, and who to keep. The original reporting was all correct-- every fired cabinet minister had first assented by resigning. But that doesn't make them any less fired-- removed by Lobo Sosa, for reasons he is unlikely to ever share with the press or public.

A President is not put in the position of publicly firing a cabinet member unless things have really broken down. Diplomacy would call for a cabinet minister removed from office to say something equivalent to "I serve at the pleasure of the President": to note the successes achieved and point to the future.

But not Oscar Alvarez, bless him. He is not going quietly.

El Heraldo's report on his statements to the press sums it up in the headline "I didn't succeed in cleaning up the police nor work as I had expected". It quotes Alvarez extensively from the press conference he gave to present his side of the story:

First, I would like to say to the Honduran people that our post has always been at the disposition of the President and today he has made use of the faculties that the law confers on him....

(Primeramente quiero decirle al pueblo hondureño que nuestro cargo ha estado siempre a disposición del señor Presidente y el día de hoy él ha hecho uso de las facultades que la ley le confiere)

I have not accepted another post. I am not about to accept any job, but rather a commitment that I have with my beloved homeland, Honduras....

(“no he aceptado otro cargo. No se trata de aceptar un trabajo cualquiera, sino un compromiso que tengo con mi querida patria Honduras”)

I did not achieve my objective of cleaning up the National Police of Honduras. I was not able to work as I had expected for lack of economic support; despite the numerous limitations there were attained some noteworthy successes because we were affecting interests related with kidnapping, organized crime, drug trafficking, money laundering and other crimes"...

(“No logré mi objetivo de depurar la Policía Nacional de Honduras. No he podido trabajar como tenía previsto por la falta de apoyo económico, a pesar de las numerosas limitaciones se alcanzaron logros destacables porque estábamos afectando intereses relacionados con secuestro, crimen organizado, narcotráfico, lavado de activos y otros delitos”)

In relation to my immediate future, I want to inform the Honduran public that this is a moment to plan, redefine, and reorient my efforts and my actions. We three leave with our heads held high and our conscience clear having made every undertaking, effort, and labor to turn back the insecurity that we inherited.

(“En relación a mi futuro inmediato, quiero informar al pueblo hondureño que este es un momento para plantear, redefinir y reorientar mis esfuerzos y mis acciones. Salimos los tres con la frente en alto y la conciencia tranquila de haber puesto todo empeño, esfuerzo y trabajo para revertir la inseguridad que heredamos”)

If that sounds like a political speech, well, that's because it is.

Oscar Alvarez has been widely rumored to be a candidate for president in the National Party in the next election.

That, as much as his failure to contain violence targeting journalists and activists that has kept Lobo Sosa's government in the spotlight for international human rights violations, may have contributed to his ouster, which, however much he might like us to think this was entirely his decision, this clearly was.

As the Honduran press reports on the cabinet changes noted, Lobo Sosa has said previously that he would remove any government official planning to run in the next elections (which will take place in fall 2013, but for which party primaries take place next year).

What we saw at the press conference given by Oscar Alvarez was not (just) an offended cabinet minister surprised by his removal.

We saw the first public statement of a campaign platform for a real law-and-order candidate whose theme will clearly be, given more funding I could have done more and look how much I accomplished...

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