Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Military Policing Again

Porfirio Lobo Sosa is standing firm; he wants the Honduran armed forces to have police powers; never mind that it takes us back to Honduras before 1986. That was the year the Honduran Congress voted to separate the Police and military.

After a several hour meeting with the top brass of the National Police, Lobo Sosa told the press:
"I convened a meeting with the heads of the police to explain that my determination [to proceed] with the participation of the institution of the armed forces is firm and that there is no reason for there to be trouble between either institution."

Lobo Sosa also called on civil society to support his security actions, and in particular mentioned the debate begun in Congress Monday. Congress proposes to interpret Article 274 of the Honduran constitution as giving the military some policing powers, including the ability to stop, search, and detain individuals.

Lobo Sosa stated that the military supported his actions, and that they had asked for a legal basis to act as police. He said:
"They have told me that it is not possible that the Armed Forces, being able to aid our people, cannot do so; we ask that we be given the legal right [to help]."

Lobo Sosa acknowledged that the military does not have the right kinds of training to carry out the role he envisages for them, and so has requested that the UN provide accelerated police training for the soldiers.

While El Heraldo wrote that the new law would enable up to 180 days of military policing via presidential decree, Alfredo Saavedra, a Liberal Party Congress person, said they were looking at a year and a half (545 days) life for the decree.

Lobo Sosa told La Tribuna that the militarization of policing would last as long as necessary to clean up the National Police.

Under Honduran law, emergency decrees that do not restrict constitutional guarantees can be assigned any desired duration, so these extended time frames would actually be legal.

In fact, the current draft of the law is not the limited grant of policing powers described in the government's statements to the press.

The current draft of the new law, in full, reads as follows:
Article 1: To interpret the second and last paragraphs of Article 274 of the Constitution of the Republic, in the sense that the Armed Forces may carry out specific police functions when there is declared a state of emergency in public security, through a decree from the executive branch by the President of the Republic and the Cabinet, as an exceptional case and in conformity with the corresponding legal regulations

To interpret the second and last paragraphs of article 274 of the Constitution of the Republic in the sense that, with the proposition of restoring public order and achieving social peace and respecting the Constitution: In exceptional circumstances the armed forces may carry out police functions for a limited period, in situations of emergency that affect people and property; may participate permanently in the fight against drug trafficking; also cooperate in the fighting of terrorism, arms trafficking, and organized crime; at the request of the Secretary of State for Security they may carry out limited policing functions if the Executive Branch issues the corresponding decree of emergency, establishing in it the duration of the decree and any other scope.

Article 2: The Executive Branch decree which declares a Public Security State of Emergency should guarantee:
1) the unrestricted respect of human rights
2) the constitutional guarantees
3) the dignity of the person; and
4) due process.

In acts of internal security which the Armed Forces carries out, they should be accompanied by a Prosecutor from the Public Prosecutor's office, or make known to one immediately the knowledge of these actions, as established by the Ley Procesal Penal; preferably the different police operations should be carried out in different geographic areas of the national territory, jointly or separately with the National Police, such that both institutions can achieve better results in their activities. While carrying out police functions, the armed forces must frame their actions within the terms and scope of the emergency decree, guaranteeing to their members the same rights (Article 125 of the Ley Organica de la Policia Nacional de Hondurs) as held by members of the National Police, and imposing the same responsibilities and obligations (Article 106 of the Ley Organica de la Policia Nacional); the coordination of operations in emergency situations is the job of the Constitutional president of the Republic and the Secretaries of State for Security and Defense, along with their respective commands.

Article 3: This present decree will enter into effect on the day of its publication in the Official Newspaper La Gaceta.

This draft of the law, still subject to modification by Congress, does not specify a limited set of policing powers for the military. By not specifying a subset of powers, it grants all policing powers to the military. They may carry out any function a National Police officer may under existing police regulations.

Yesterday the law, promulgated by Head of Congress Juan Orlando Hernandez, passed in its first debate session. So Congress will skip the second debate and go right to final approval, perhaps as early as today. La Tribuna reported today that the emergency decree has a duration of 18 months written in now, but Congressional Vice President Marvin Ponce said that may change depending on what the Executive branch wants.

Quite a sweeping change, for such a short legal text.

UPDATE Nov. 30, 2011 10:15 AM: The law was passed late yesterday on its final vote in Congress and will become law once its published.

Monday, November 28, 2011

New US Bases in Honduras

The United States military continues to build bases in Honduras, with the public mission of supporting US drug interdiction missions and oversight of the Caribbean, especially the area from Honduras to the Dominican Republic.

The first of these bases, at Catarasca, in the Mosquitia, opened in April 2010. The US built this base from scratch, providing all the materials, logistics, and construction forces through DOD contracts. One of the DOD contracts that only partially built the base was for $1.9 million:
"Caratasca FOL [Forward Operating Location] Facilities", $1.9 million contract W91278-07-D0098 0001, with Eterna S.A., initially to be completed in May 2009, extended to August 2009.

Now comes word that the visit of the HSV 2 Swift earlier this year brought the materials to build a base on Guanaja, an international tourist destination previously known as a diving mecca for its pristine waters, and a celebrity vacation spot.

Honduras has never had a navy base in the Bay Islands. The Guanaja base, at a cost of $2 million, again built from scratch, contains buildings and a pier built by US Navy personnel, and technology supplied by and installed by the US forces. It will eventually house a Honduran patrol boat, the L. P. Honduras, that was recently retrofitted by the Honduran Navy at a cost of $790,000 after being abandoned for the last 22 years!

The base will also reportedly house both US and Honduran aircraft used for drug interdiction missions. Quotha listed part of the public contract for the base on Guanaja as follows:
"Design Build CN [Counternarcotics] Facility", contract signed June 2010 for $1.2 million, funded by SouthCom, for completion by Empresa de Construcción y Transporte Eterna, by September 2011.

So the running total for these two bases is upwards of $3.1 million.

But wait, there's still more.

The USS Oak Hill (LSD-51) is currently docked at Puerto Castillo, nominally so its Marines can hold joint exercises with the Honduran forces. Among the exercises: refurbishing the existing facilities here.

La Tribuna quotes a US Embassy release as saying:
The marines will disembark to work jointly with the Navy of Honduras in infrastructure projects to improve their living quarters, training, and security on the base.
They will also share information on maintaining weapons and military procedures, according to news reports.

This military aid, the Embassy explains, is coordinated by the US Southern Command. This project is partially built on the following contract:
Listed as "Puerto Castillas", "Team Room and Range," $350,000 funded by Special Operations Command South, scheduled for July-September 2011.

This contract allows a US presence at the only deep water port in Central America, one the Seabees improved in the 1980s to support the US bases in the Trujillo area (CREM, for example).

La Prensa said that the US Navy had not yet identified a place along the Pacific coast to build a base to support US anti-drug efforts, but this La Tribuna story says that the Swift carried out a similar "training" mission in the Honduran part of the gulf of Fonseca last March. As it happens, there is an abandoned base in the southern Honduran department of Choluteca, the only department in Honduras with coastline on the Pacific, previously upgraded by the US in the 1980s. But it is not clear whether La Tribuna is talking about this former base, or something else.

The 2010-2011 contracts include pier and barrack upgrades at Corinto, Nicaragua, along the Pacific coast, which may be better equipped to support the US Navy.

Add to the bases listed above a multi-million dollar contract to build permanent base housing at Soto Cano airfield in Comayagua, and you have an increasingly permanent US military presence in Honduras, now extending across all of the territory.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Xiomara Castro for President?

On November 17th El Heraldo ran a news story claiming that Xiomara Castro, Manuel Zelaya Rosales's wife, is the candidate, by consensus, of the new LIBRE party, without ever having to stand for election in a primary. This in turn, was based on a La Tribuna story from the day before.

Trouble is, it wasn't true.

LIBRE includes five political currents, each of which has the right to name a primary candidate for president. These include the Movimiento 28 de Junio (composed of former Liberal Party members) whose candidate will be, if the Pope agrees, Monsignor Luis Alfonso Santos, outgoing bishop of Santa Rosa de Copan. The other currents are the Movimeinto Resistencia Progresista (MRP), the Pueblo Organizado en Resistencia (POR), the Movimiento 5 de Julio, and Fuerza de Refundación Popular (FRP).

According to La Tribuna, the FRP floated the idea of Xiomara Castro being a consensus candidate for the party. This was supposedly announced on the Facebook page of Los Necios.

La Tribuna attributed the posting to Manuel Zelaya, acting as coordinator of the FNRP, who they said wrote that
militants of the FNRP mostly lack a place in (eg, do not identify with) the movements described above that will go to the internal elections of 2012 for reasons that are irrelevant to treat here; therefore we have decided to create the FRP, which is directed by assistant coordinator Juan Barahona.
I am unable to verify this alleged Zelaya statement on the Los Necios Facebook page, since they decided to unfriend me over my questioning of their support for Col. Ghadaffi of Libya. But I tend to doubt its authenticity, since Zelaya's communications are usually published on the website, which remained silent on the issue.

It was on that Zelaya Rosales wrote his reply to the rumor on the 18th of November. His statement noted that the newspaper had written such an article making claims, but reaffirmed that LIBRE is a political party founded under the election laws of Honduras and as such, those laws and its own charter indicated how it would proceed to select its candidate.

Furthermore Zelaya wrote:
Remember that the Movimiento de Resistencia Progresista (MRP), one of the internal currents of the LIBRE Party, coordinated by Rasel Tomé, has taken the initiative to propose that citizen Xiomara Castro be the presidential candidate, by partial or total consensus of all the internal currents, which means that this decision will be submitted to the groups of the Libertad y Refundación (LIBRE) party, and they will be consulted by the election urns of the internal election.
So not only did La Tribuna get it wrong as to who was proposing Xiomara Castro as consensus candidate (the FRP led by Juan Barahona versus the MRP led by Rasel Tomé), but they got it wrong in reporting it as a decision already made.

So, yes, Xiomara Castro will be the internal candidate of the MRP movement, and her candidacy will be voted on in the internal party elections, supervised by the Tribunal Supremo Electoral in 2012. Only if she wins the internal elections will she become the party candidate for president.

And that should suggest just how unreliable the sources for some of the Honduran media really are.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Patriotic Alliance of Honduras

There's a new political party in town. It will take the baby steps needed to found a new party this coming Tuesday. The Patriotic Alliance of Honduras (Alianza Patriotica de Honduras), a party founded by ex-military officers to support the presidential candidacy of their candidate, retired general Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, submits their 55,000 signatures (La Prensa says 90,000 but everyone else says 55,000) to the Supreme Election Court (Tribunal Supremo Electoral). Vásquez Velásquez will be familiar to readers of this blog as a significant force behind the 2009 coup.

Participating in the handing over of the party charter and electoral materials will be the retired generals José René Oliva and José Barahona Pérez, and the retired coronels Jordi Montañola, Allan Castillo, Gilberto Rivera y Lima Bueso. Montañola told La Tribuna that one of the goals of the party is to "rescue Honduras from ruins, to put it on a road to progress for all Hondurans without exception." The new party claims the support of all reservists and like minded Hondurans. It did not publish its charter or goals.

Inside Honduras the headlines were informative. La Tribuna said "The party of Romeo Vasquez Velasquez will present 55,000 signatures to the TSE," and El Heraldo said "The Political Alliance of Honduras initiates its road to power;" but Proceso Digital was more tentative, titling it "General who participated in the exit of Zelaya will seek to be president." Outside of Honduras, coverage was more blunt, generally adopting the wording of sources like Univision and Estrategia y Negocios: "Golpista military officer will seek the presidency of Honduras in 2013."

This brings to 3 the number of new political parties registered this year for the 2013 elections.

Friday, November 18, 2011

New Police Voice

After only two months in the position, Silvio Inestroza has been removed from the position as Police spokesperson. Replacing him is Héctor Iván Mejia, former police chief of San Pedro Sula. Inestroza was appointed to head the public relations department of the Police when Pompeyo Bonilla took over as Security Minister.

So who is the new head of public relations, the voice of the National Police in Honduras?

Hector Ivan Mejia last held this job as head of public relations of the National Police during the 2009 coup. When a video surfaced at CNN showing troops shooting out the tires of buses filled with protesters on their way to Tegucigalpa to protest the coup and forcible exile of President Manuel Zelaya Rosales, Mejia told CNN
"Protesters will be arrested for vandalistic acts but they will not simply be stopped on their way to protests"
as if the video didn't exist showing exactly that happening.

In an August 2008 essay on the media and the Police posted to a website, Mejia had described his vision of how the media should depict violence in Honduras. He asserted that the Honduran media have for too long reveled in the sensationalism of it, and used it to sell newspapers. In a section on how the media should act, he wrote:
- In these circumstances (the media depiction of violence in Honduras) it is necessary to establish the undeniable necessity to establish a social control that establishes what we should communicate, and how we should communicate.

- Coverage of criminal activities should be the object of rigorous, contextualized reporting.

- Citizens have the right to be informed, but the police and judicial procedures should be respected.

- You cannot be neutral to those who threaten the safety of the population.

- The media should play an active role in the defense of democracy, avoiding giving extreme significance to those aspects of violence that put the system of liberties in danger or at risk. They should establish different treatments between those who violate the legal and social norms, and those that respect them.
Mejia concluded that the press must properly contextualize all criminal acts, making clear in their reporting the socially important context, so that people are not led to the wrong conclusions. The press, for Mejia, should be a force for forming public opinion, in this case, against violence.

The decision to bring Héctor Iván Mejia back is curious. Just two months ago he was head of the San Pedro police department. When Pompeyo Bonilla assumed the Security Minister's job, Mejia was removed from that post, as were several other prominent police commanders.

While commander in San Pedro, Mejia was in charge of the botched investigation into the shooting of 18 workers in a shoe factory in September, 2010, where his police failed to collect the shell casings as evidence from the factory.

At the time, Mejia told CNN that the factory was in a neighborhood where drug trafficking proliferated, and that soon became the official "explanation" for the killings. He told the BBC at the same time:
"Apparently the murder was carried out as part of a turf battle between small-scale drug gangs, given that the neighbourhood has conflicts because of the presence of gang members."
After that, the crime was never investigated.

A few days later he ordered the San Pedro police to put down a peaceful demonstration by the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular in the center of San Pedro.

He dismissed Sandra Ponce's investigation of the Police shooting of alleged gang members in 2010 in Colonia Planeta, an outer barrio of San Pedro, as "unfair" and declined to present the firearms used by the police officers involved for forensic analysis, according to a UNHCR report.

Also in 2010, when a sixth reporter, television anchor Jorge Alberto Orellana, was killed in San Pedro, it was Hector Ivan Mejia, as chief of the San Pedro police, who floated the idea that he was killed for personal reasons, not as part of a systematic intimidation of journalists in Honduras. Again this became the official explanation without further investigation.

This year, when Congressmember Marvin Ponce said that a significant portion of the National Police were linked to organized crime, Hector Ivan Mejia dismissed the comments.

Quite a choice as official voice of the national police.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Military Policing

The Honduran constitution spells out the role of the military: what they can and cannot do.

Juan Orlando Hernandez, head of the Honduran Congress with presidential aspirations, wants to change that. He assigned a committee of legislators (Mario Pérez, Oswaldo Ramos Soto, German Leitzelar, José Alfredo Saavedra, Augusto Cruz Asensio y Marvin Ponce) to formulate an "interpretation" of the constitution that will use Article 274 of the constitution to grant policing power to the military.

There's a real problem with this.

Its unconstitutional.

When Congress wrote a constitutional modification that granted it the sole power to interpret the constitution, which is what is proposed here, the Honduran Supreme Court ruled that change unconstitutional. The decision said that the Supreme Court itself is the final authority on the interpretation of the constitution. In retaliation, for years Congress has delayed publication of that decision, but it nonetheless is law. Three Justices of the Supreme Court chose to speak out and remind Congress of the law on Tuesday.

Articles 272 and 274 of the Honduran constitution define the role of the military. Article 272 reads:
The Armed Forces of Honduras is a National Institution of permanent character, essentially professional, apolitical, obedient and non deliberative. It is constituted to defend the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of the Republic, to maintain the peace, the public order, and the dominion of the Constitution, the principles of free suffrage and the alternation in the exercise of the Presidency of the Republic.

To cooperate with the National Police in the conservation of public order to the effect of guaranteeing the free exercise of suffrage, the custody, transport, and vigilance of the electoral materials and all the other aspects of the security of that process, the President of the Republic shall place the Armed Forces at the disposition of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, from one month before the elections, until the decision of the same.

Article 274 expands on other missions that the Armed Forces can have. These include education, agriculture, environmental protection, road building, health, and agricultural reform. Under this article, the military may cooperate with the institutions of public security (aka, the police).

All of these additional missions require a request from the appropriate Minister of state for the military to assume the role. In the case of cooperating with the police, they must be asked to do so by the Security Minister. They cannot act as police, only in conjunction with police.

In the United States we have a strong tradition, indeed a legal mandate, that says the military may not be used for civilian law enforcement except where expressly authorized by the Constitution or an act of Congress. In the debate over the ratification of the US Constitution, the Federalists argued that the military should not be used against the civilian population, ever. The legal foundations are embodied in the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.

In 1985, in Bissonette v. Haig, the US 8th Circuit Court wrote:
Civilian rule is basic to our system of government. The use of military forces to seize civilians can expose civilian government to the threat of military rule and the suspension of constitutional liberties. On a lesser scale, military enforcement of the civil law leaves the protection of vital Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights in the hands of persons who are not trained to uphold these rights.
Honduras has no such tradition. Civilian rule of the military is an aspiration in Honduras, one that was emergent over the two decades before the 2009 coup. Certainly the changes introduced with the 1982 constitution were an attempt to subject a strong military to a weak civilian rule, but the 2009 coup has brought this power struggle back to the limelight.

A change like the law proposed by the Honduran Congress would be step backwards, reinforcing the erosion of civilian control over the military that was set in motion by the Honduran coup. It is one among many continuing impacts of a coup that has not really ended.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

FNRP New Political Party: Libre

"The revolution is inevitable in Honduras"
- motto of Libre.
Libre is the short form of Libertad y Refundación, the official name of the new political party in Honduras representing the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (FNRP). The party will be known by its initials, PLR.

Manuel Zelaya Rosales submitted 80,000 signatures from Honduran citizens supporting the founding of this political party. Earlier this week, the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) verified 63,000 of these signatures. This puts the party far over the required number of signatures to establish a new party (42,920, according to the announcement by the TSE). The TSE also approved the emblem of the party. The emblem appears on the ballot, helping illiterate voters to recognize the party's candidates.

As part of the process, Zelaya presented the charter of the new party, its electoral plans for the upcoming election, and evidence of organizational structures present in at least half of the 298 municipios of Honduras.

Libre's declaration of principles has been published on (and can be downloaded from) the FNRP website. The document is well worth a close and careful reading; we have posted our own English translation to enable readers to do that.

Among the core principles the party declares is the primacy of popular sovereignty. In the wake of the 2009 coup, the existence in the Honduran Constitution of articles that could not be changed was challenged by constitutional scholars as violating the principle that the authority of a constitution stems from the people. The Frente has, in its own processes, employed direct, participatory deliberation in the Assembly of Popular Power, which is specifically characterized as basic to the project of the new party.

While many aspects of the program proposed are entirely contemporary-- including the firm rejection of neoliberalism, imperialism, and neocolonialism-- the party also calls on specifically Central American roots. As a Morazanic party, it espouses the "dream" of Central American unity and projects that farther, as a basic call for solidarity of all the Latin American and Caribbean peoples of the Americas. Libre specifically calls for respect for religious diversity, secularism, respect for the rights of women, and calls for the eradication of discrimination on the basis of "race, sex, sexual diversity, cultural difference".

Libre is the second new political party registered with the TSE this year. The first belonged to Salvador Nasralla, whose Anti-Corruption Party registered in early October. The Honduran press has taken up the question of whether the founding of new parties will actually change the de facto domination by the Liberal and National parties, and, unsurprisingly, concludes that it will not.

El Heraldo quotes Rafael Pineda Ponce, who was part of the regime of Roberto Micheletti, saying the new parties won't change things: better the old and familiar than the new and unknown, he says the Honduran people will conclude. Of course, Pineda Ponce is busy promoting his own preferred candidate for the Liberal party, who he claims can unite its fractured factions: Mauricio Villeda. He reserves particularly pungent words for members of the Liberal party who also maintain (he thinks) an allegiance to Zelaya:
"O se quedan con Jesucristo o se quedan con Satanás" (They either stay with Jesus or with Satan).
Indeed. Never has the opinion of the Micheletti wing of the Liberal party been clearer. For them, all the principles expressed by Libre are whitewash for a Zelaya movement. And sticking with Zelaya-- well, we'll let you figure out who is Satan in this metaphor.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Honduras has a Police Problem

And, contrary to English-language media-- including the usually more critical BBC-- it is not taking effective steps to solve it.

If you read the Washington Post, you will be told that 176 cops were arrested "for alleged connections to kidnappings, extortion plots and drug trafficking". Quoting the highest level Honduran source, President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, the Post said
the mass arrest is part of a nationwide crackdown on corrupt police.

A spokesman for the National police, Silvio Inestroza, went further, claiming these officers had "links with drug gangs".

Drug violence is the one narrative about Honduras that US media seem to understand, so it is no surprise that Honduran authorities repeat it, and while disappointing, not even surprising that the US media parrot it back.

But in this instance, that is not in fact what is going on. To understand what is really happening, you need to ask, "Why 176 officers, and not others? Why those 176 police officers?"

As CNN International correctly notes, the 176 are the complement assigned to one police outpost in Tegucigalpa. So, not quite so sweeping a "nationwide crackdown" of the Honduran police force-- which totals around 11,000 members.

CNN's lead paragraph falls into the trap, describing the action as part of a "a campaign to cleanse its national police."

Buried far down in their story is the fact that this station is where four police officers worked who are suspected in the murder of two university students, including the son of university rector Julieta Castellanos.

The Washington Post managed to blur that one-to-one correspondence entirely, writing only that
The detentions late Wednesday came three days after the president fired six high-ranking officers following the release by police of four policemen who allegedly killed the son of a university chancellor.

The "detentions" not only came three days after-- the detained were the colleagues who worked with the suspected killers, and who let them walk out.

Castellanos, of course, was a member of the official "Truth Commission" on which the US State Department placed much of its hopes for national reconciliation, despite Honduran skepticism. So the murder of her son is international news.

Castellanos herself used the opportunity to point out that her son's murder is part of a pattern of police complicity in violence that extends beyond the children of the socially- and politically- prominent.

This is a pattern that English-language media have not covered particularly well. And the present stories are simply additional examples of what goes wrong in the reporting process.

CNN International presents the story exactly as the Honduran authorities would like. It takes the specific, and quite limited, investigations of 176 officers at one post as evidence of a commitment to cleaning up the police force, calling it "the latest of a series of steps" taken for that purpose.

CNN described the removal of police command officers as if the impetus for this originated from within, saying "Days after the incident, the national police shook up its top ranks". But the removal of officers came from outside the police force, as a product of political calculation in the Lobo Sosa government.

CNN writes approvingly that the Honduran Congress
rewrote the country's policing laws, stripping the national police of its internal affairs department, and handing over such investigations to a new, independent force.

This claim advances the argument that there are just a few "rotten apples" in the Honduran police, and adding more, separate, police units will somehow solve what in fact is a problem rooted of abuse of power, in impunity.

If you read these stories, you would think the police killing of the two university students was an anomaly, a product of police involvement in drug trafficking.

But Honduran reports suggest the killing was an arbitrary and unconstrained abuse of power: having wounded one of the students, the officers decided not to bring them in for medical attention, which would have triggered an investigation of the circumstances of the original shooting.

It is up to Fox News Latino to give a more credible account, in a story covering the protest following the police bungling of the case. It opens with quotes from Julieta Castellanos:
"There has been a process of tampering with evidence, there has been a process of obstructing the investigation. The police have engaged in double-talk."

"they intimidate the prosecutors, the investigators and the medical examiners."

Unlike the other English media, this story goes on to report fully on the skepticism about government actions. On the changes in officers, they note
critics said the move amounted to no more than "rotations" of officers between posts.

Most astonishing are the final few paragraphs of this story, unparalleled in other US media:

Lobo, who was elected in November 2009 in a process marred by violence, media censorship and low turnout, has so far failed on his promise to improve public safety.

Few murders are ever solved and Honduran authorities routinely ascribe violent acts to "score-settling" within and among the country's youth gangs and criminal outfits.

At the same time, many of the killings since Zelaya's ouster appear to be politically motivated, as victims are often associated with the resistance movement that sprang up in the wake of the coup.

The deposed head of state returned to Honduras five months ago under a pact brokered by regional leaders, but violence against his supporters and other activists continues.

So what actually happened in the recent events? Should we see any of it as even a tiny ray of light, set against this sobering-- and entirely accurate-- account by Fox News Latino?

The Honduran National Police released the four officers under investigation for the murder of the two university students, who promptly failed to turn up for further investigation. The Lobo Sosa government shuffled appointments of officials with oversight authority for the police, and used the opportunity-- again-- to use the Armed Forces in civilian policing, in violation of Honduran constitutional separation of the missions of these forces.

When outrage continued, the remaining police officers from the post where those responsible for this one crime were assigned were ordered to report to a different post, to be individually investigated. Detained for investigation, not arrested, as was reported in the English-language media. But arrested sounds so much more effective, doesn't it?

La Prensa Latina reports comments by the pro-coup Human Rights commissioner Ramón Custodio, and by Andrés Pavón of the Comité Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, who has often been opposed to Custodio since the 2009 coup, that demonstrate how widespread Honduran distrust of the police forces actually is.

Custodio said that
"the agents of the police have license to rob, kill, extort, and we cannot do anything, because the high command practices impunity, cover-ups and other crimes."

Pavón, in turn, said that
"there are so many extra-judicial deaths and by their characteristics it is known that the Police participate everyday in those horrendous crimes".

From both sides of the spectrum, it is clear to Hondurans that the problem of the police is a problem of impunity, and that it is not limited to one bad apple.

Or even 176 bad apples in a single barrel.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fly by Night Contracts for Electricity

Generally, if you're a Honduran government agency you await authorization before you sign a contract for a major purchase, and you follow government guidelines for how to negotiate such a contract; but not the Empresa Nacional de Energia Electrica (ENEE). They're special, apparently.

In the latest in what appears to be a series of contracts with US companies with no apparent expertise or established track record in the energy sector, Roberto Martinez Lozano, Director of ENEE, signed a contract on September 14 (contract 057-2011) with Ira L. Ginsburg of Westport Financial LLC for up to 100 megawatts of electricity from diesel or bunker oil fired generators, with a contract duration of 15 years.

Ira Ginsburg has extensive experience in putting together the financing for projects both in Latin America and other parts of the world. Some of these have been energy projects, including a 305 megawatt deal under the administration of Mel Zelaya. But all he does is line up financing. That's his expertise.

From his Linked-In profile we know he is a member of the Wartsila group on Linked-In. Wartsila, you might remember, is the Finnish energy company ENEE suggested it would be buying this generating capacity from. So one question is, why is the contract with Ira Ginsburg?

But while this is curious, it's not the most serious problem with this contract.

The contract was signed on September 14. Lozano wasn't approved to seek a contract for this power until September 28. He committed the government of Honduras to a contract for which he had no authority, with a financial company that has 3 employees and $96,000 in assets, not a company that has generation equipment or expertise.

There are several other problems with the contract, which should have conformed to the emergency decree passed on September 28.

First, the emergency decree only authorized the purchase of this power for 12 months. The contract Lozano signed obligates Honduras to buy it for 15 years!

The contract calls for installing an additional 24.7 megawatts capacity in Puerto Cortes, a region not covered by the emergency decree, in a plant which has been sold to another company for conversion to coal generation!

Still another problem is that the emergency decree calls for the government to pay 9.99 cents per kilowatt of installed capacity, while the contract calls for a payment to Westport Financial of 15 cents per kilowatt. Over its 15 year life, this no bid contract will cost the Honduran government $340 million.

There is an emerging pattern of questionable contracts here. ENEE also recently contract for an 18.5 megawatt solar power farm on Roatan with Onyx Service and Solutions, Inc., a company that until this August listed its chief business as running a network of banking ATM machines, and has never installed a solar power farm anywhere in the world.

All of this has come to light in the last few days because the contract was finally submitted to Congress for their authorization. In order for the contract to be in effect in Honduras, Congress must vote to authorize it. La Prensa reports there is fierce opposition to it in both the Liberal Party and National Party congressional delegations

It stinks of corruption or incompetence at the highest levels in ENEE.