Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mario Felipe Martinez Castillo

When I became interested in the colonial history of Honduras, I read a lot of colonial history.  Among those who wrote about Honduras were people like the geographer William V. Davidson, and historians like Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle, Mario Argueta, Mario Ardon Mejia and for the more recent past, Dario Euraque.  But no one impressed me more than the work of Mario Felipe Martinez Castillo.

He was a founder of the History program at UNAH, and easily the most knowledgeable person about 16th century Honduras.  He wrote about colonial art, and the society that generated it.  He was interested in the "family" of Hondurans who both formed the colony and whose descendents still wield power today.

From 1970 to 1980 he lived in Spain and worked daily in the Archivo General de Indias researching the early history of Honduras.  It was there he found the 1558 declaration of the service and merits of Rodrigo Ruiz (AGI Patronato 69 R.5) which for the first time confirmed in a contemporary document, the existence of the national hero Lempira.  His book on Lempira in 1987 both analyzes that document, and transcribes it, challenging everything that Honduran school children still learn today about their national hero.

He authored 14 books, and co-authored several others:

2011  Los forjadores de nuestra identidad
2009  Temas históricos inéditos de Honduras
2004  El paternalismo y la esclavidtud negra en el Real Minas de Tegucigalpa
2004  La Intendencia de Comayagua
2000  Por las rutas de la plata y el añil:  desarrollo del arte colonial religioso hondureño
1993  Honduras en su historia y en su arte
1992  Cuatro centros de arte colonial provinciano hispano criollo en Honduras
1990  Honduras:  cultura e identidad
1988  Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepción de Valladolid de Comayagua
1987  Los últimos dias de Lempira y otros documentos:  el conquistador español que venció a Lempira
1982  Apuntamientos para una historia colonial de Honduras
1981  Presencia de grupos mexicanos antes y despues de la conquista de Honduras y pervivencia de la lengua Nahuatl en el área supuestamente Lenca.
1967  Capitulos sobre el Colegio Tridentino de Comayagua y la educación colonial en Honduras
1961  La escultura en Honduras

It's not often you get to meet one of your heroes.  In 2008, my friend Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle arranged for me to meet his "mentor", Mario Felipe Martinez Castilllo, while we were attending a conference on minor Atlantic ports in the colonial period.  He hosted a dinner at a beachfront restaurant in El Paraiso near Omoa where he introduced the two of us.  Mario Felipe was gracious and listened to me talk about my own research on the 16th and 18th centuries in Honduras, but it was clear that his years of work had given him a greater knowledge of the 16th century events in Honduras than he had ever had the time to write about.  I was both jealous and envious of the depth of that knowledge, and hope one day to be able to approach it.  After the meal ended, we wanted to talk more, but he didn't do email, and I almost never go to Tegucigalpa, so it never happened.

Mario Felipe Martinez Castillo died Monday at the age of 80.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Software Bug Could Eliminate Xiomara as Presidential Candidate

LIBRE, the political party of the Resistance, had all five internal movements nominate Xiomara Castro as their Presidential candidate.  This is permitted under Honduran election law, but it's never been done before under the current rules.

Only one problem: the software that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) uses to run the primary elections won't allow it. 

The software was designed to function on slightly different rules.  It assumes there will always be at least two different slates of candidates for the primaries.  It was designed to automatically reject a candidate whose name appears on more than one slate of candidates.  The presence of a unique candidate across all slates was unthinkable to the software designers, and so they didn't make that possible in the software. 

As a result, the TSE is making noises that indicate they might not accept her nomination at all, on any of the five slates.

Porfirio Lobo Sosa recognizes that this creates a larger problem for him.  He needs these elections to look free, open, and democratic.  Eliminating the candidate of LIBRE from the election due to the incompetency of those who specified the design of the software will create political problems both internally and internationally for him. 

So he's asking the TSE to please make sure to make Xiomara's appearance on the ballot possible:
The [Election] Court should find a way so that the people don't feel as if there is interference in this....If a party says:  in this party there is only one candidate, what's the problem? this should not be a problem and I am in the front line of the fight defending the right to participate.

The TSE, of course, has the final say in Honduran election proceedings. Unlike Lobo Sosa, they have never seemed too bothered by appearing arbitrary. So it will be interesting to see if they stick with their flawed program-- and its underlying assumption that a political party should be fragmented into competing factions.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pigeons or Patrimony

There's a legal battle brewing in Tegucigalpa between the Catholic Diocese and pigeon lovers from La Casa de Noé.

The historic Cathedral in Tegucigalpa was renovated in 2009.  At that time the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History (IHAH), as part of its mission to protect the national patrimony, installed  nets designed to keep pigeons from roosting on the historic structure. Their nests damage the building, and their excrement is corrosive.

Now, La Casa de Noé claims that the nets are killing hundreds of pigeons, and that constitutes animal cruelty.

It's not just the Catholic Diocese and IHAH that want to keep the pigeons out.  The city has cut down all of the trees near the Cathedral, removing nesting sites for pigeons.

In a solomonic decision, the director of SERNA, the natural resources and environmental ministry of the Honduran government, in decree 686-2012, ordered that the netting on the right-hand side of the cathedral be removed because it was hurting the pigeons and their decomposing bodies damaged the environment.

The problem appears to be that the mesh is too big. Pigeons can become trapped in the holes in the mesh and die there, or so the spokesperson for La Casa de Noé, Silvia Alfaro, claims.

When she complained to the Environmental commission and the Institute for Forestry Conservation, (ICF) they informed her that pigeons were not endangered in Honduras.

Why only the net covering the right hand side of the building needs to be removed is not clear, but a possible solution is: install netting with a smaller mesh, so that the pigeons cannot become trapped in the mesh. The ICF has proposed to begin feeding the existing pigeon population with contraceptive feed.

That would allow both the Cathedral and the pigeons to peacefully co-exist. But will it satisfy La Casa de Noé?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Can Hondutel Be Saved?

Hondutel, the Honduran national telephone company, is in trouble. Big trouble.

As wired telephones become less important in residences and businesses in Honduras, Hondutel's income has fallen significantly; its income in 2011 was 2489.7 million lempiras (about $131.3 million dollars).  At the same time its costs rose to 2583.2 million lempiras (about $136.3 million dollars).  Since January, 2010, Hondutel has added over 1200 new employees, an increase of 33%, and those employees have received salary increases over the last two years.

It is unclear whether this poor economic performance will have any impact on the presidential aspirations of Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, the candidate for the newly formed right-wing political party, the Patriotic Alliance of Honduras.

Vasquez Velasquez, notorious for his role in the kidnapping of former president José Manuel Zelaya during the 2009 coup, was rewarded on retiring with the directorship of Hondutel, a role for which his military service manifestly has not prepared him.

President Porfirio Lobo Sosa has appointed a commission to suggest ways in which Hondutel, the state telecommunications company, can be made solvent. The commission can collect information and make suggestions. Vasquez Velasquez, however, remains in charge.

Losses at Hondutel are not new.  They've been going on for years.

They have become important now because as part of a new agreement with the IMF for stand-by funds, the Honduran government must present a balanced budget plan and show that it can and is sticking to it.

The new commission, headed by Hector Guillen, the Finance Minister, has 30 days to make recommendations.  Guillen made it clear that Hondutel is looking for strategic investors.  Over the last several years, several international telecommunications companies have expressed interest in a strategic partnership or outright purchase of the state-owned company. This never worked out, due to the lack of a mechanism to allow private investment in state-owned companies.

Guillen said it will be up to the commission to find a structure that makes such investment possible. Whether they find interested investors or not, Honduras continues to be not just open for business, but up for sale.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Registration of Slates of Candidates

On Wednesday, all factions in all the political parties in Honduras had to register their slate of candidates for national, departmental, and local office.  In all, some 21 movements within the political parties registered slates of candidates. 

There were a few surprises.

LIBRE, the political party formed earlier this year from groups within the resistance, consists of five groups:
28th of June Movement (headed by Carlos Zelaya)
the Popular Revolutionary Force (headed by Juan Barahona)
the Progressive Resistance Movement (headed by Rasel Tomé)
the People Organized in Resistance (headed by Mauricio Ramos)
the 5th of July Movement (headed by Nelson Avila)

LIBRE had wanted to declare Xiomara Castro de Zelaya as their consensus candidate, but Honduran law requires there to be a primary election to select candidates for every level of office within each political party.  So all five groups listed Xiomara Castro de Zelaya as their presidential candidate, and a retired police commissioner, Maria Luisa Borjas, as candidate for Mayor of Tegucigalpa. 

The Liberal Party this year consists of 3 movements:  Yanismo (candidate:  Yani Rosenthal), the United Liberal Front (Esteban Handel) and the Liberal Villedista Movement (Mauricio Villeda, memorable for his role as a Micheletti representative in failed negotiations for a solution after the coup of 2009).

The Nationalist Party this year fragmented into 8 movements:  the Blue Heart Movement (candidate:  Eva Fernandez), Saving Honduras (Ricardo Alvarez, current Mayor of Tegucigalpa),  For a New Honduras (Loreley Fernandez), the Authentic Nationalist Movement (Fernando Anduray), the United Blue Movement (Juan Orlando Hernandez, head of Congress), the Movement for my Country (Miguel Pastor),  The Democratic Reserve Movement (Jose Osorto), and the Barnica Action Movement (Víctor Hugo Barnica).  Only three of these (Alvarez, Hernandez, and Pastor) are considered to have a chance at the nomination.

In addition, there is the Anticorruption Party (candidate:  Salvador Nasralla) and the Patriotic Alliance of Honduras (Romeo Vásquez Vélasquez).

The Frente Amplio Politico Electoral en Resistencia (FAPER) has two movements:  Solidarity, Organization and Struggle (Andres Pavon, of the human rights organization CODEH),  and the Movimiento Amplio Reformista (Guadalupe Coello).

The Christian Democrat Party has a single movement, the Christian Democrats in Action Movement (still selecting a candidate).

There were no reports of slates of candidates for the UD Party.  Previous reports indicated that the UD party was considering an alliance with LIBRE, or perhaps FAPER. Also no report of any slate for the PINU party.

In all, more than 53,000 people will be proposed for political office across all the parties in Honduras.  All of these individuals will compete in the primary election, to be held on November 18, 2012. Because of the addition of new parties and movements within them, the level of participation is higher than in previous elections.

And that creates a problem. 

To support all the parties and movements, the Honduran Supreme Electoral Tribunal needs 40,000 rooms spread across the country to host the election, and they are short some 18,337 rooms.  Furthermore, some of the locations already contracted don't have sufficient rooms for all the parties.

The parties have until August 6 to continue to submit changes to their lists of candidates, and the Election Tribunal will rule on accepting both the movements and their candidates by August 26, 2012.

Monday, July 9, 2012

DEA kills another in Honduras

The DEA has shot to death another alleged drug runner in Honduras, the second this month. The latest incident happened a week ago.

If you live in Honduras and rely on the Honduran media, you probably didn't know that until now.

On July 3 a small plane crashed or was forced down (depending on the news source) near Catacamas in Olancho.  In the plane were 954 kilograms of cocaine.  The original Honduran press reports stated that one pilot, a Brazilian, was badly injured in the crash and surrendered to the police and DEA agents present. The other pilot, also Brazilian, was said to have been killed in the crash. The news of the two Brazilians was reported to their embassy according to statements by the Honduran police spokesperson.

Except that the pilot wasn't killed in the crash.

According to DEA spokesperson Dawn Dearden, two DEA agents shot the second Brazilian when he refused to surrender "and made a threatening gesture."  He died from his wounds. 

The New York Times coverage notes that "[Honduran authorities] did not disclose that the pilot had been shot by American agents." 

None of the press reports tell us the context in which the DEA spokesperson revealed DEA responsibility for the death of this suspect, or why it was revealed.

The DEA agents in question are members of a FAST team deployed in Honduras to help Honduran authorities stop drugs before they get to the United States.  Their rules of engagement allow them to fire on suspects if they are threatened or fired on. 

This is the second person they've killed in Honduras.

There will be no inquiry.

It's understandable that Honduran authorities kept quiet about DEA responsibility for shooting the suspect, given Honduran reactions to DEA agent participation in the Ahuas shootings of 4 people, and their killing of another suspect in Olancho in June.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Padre Milla, LIBRE, Drug-trafficking, and Honduran Politics

Every so often a story comes along that is so deeply rooted in the complexity of Honduran politics and culture that it seems almost impossible to explain.

Today on quotha, Adrienne Pine provides a statement from the Human Rights Alliance, an umbrella of Honduran rights groups, asking for expressions of solidarity with Father Fausto Milla.

Padre Milla formed part of the alternative truth commission, the Comisión de Verdad, a recognition of his extraordinary history and credibility in Honduran society. As his biography for the Comisión describes, after he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest by Pope Paul VI, he began his service to the Honduran people in Guarita, a traditional Lenca town in the department of Lempira. Later, while a parish priest in Corquín, in the Department of Copan, he worked for the rights of the Lenca people, and provided protection to refugees from conflict in El Salvador, including denouncing the Sumpul massacre in El Salvador in 1980, and was kidnapped and intimidated. As we wrote in our blog post on the Comisión, he
was jailed in 1981 by the Honduran military junta and went into exile in Mexico. In 1985, he returned to Honduras assigned to Santa Rosa de Copan, where he returned to the community organizing and human rights work he had been doing since before his exile in Mexico.

Hermano Juancito describes Padre Milla's preaching, including his linking of poor diet in modern Honduras and poor health, something he bases on his understanding of prehispanic cultural practices. Quoting the biography posted by the Comisión, Padre Milla now assists in
community development, human rights, food development, and herbal curing. Owing to this work he was accused of forming part of guerrilla groups.

After the 2009 coup, Padre Milla was a strong voice of protest. In 2011, he fled the country, following death threats, only to find himself drawn back shortly after.

Father Milla, in other words, has a long history of risking the anger of the powerful, beginning in the period from the 1970s to 1980s when Honduras made its transition from open military dictatorship to grim days under early electoral governments when extra-judicial killing thrived.

So where is the threat coming from today?

The Public Prosecutor's office.

Quoting the press release from the Human Rights Alliance:
El Padre Milla, ha manifestado su preocupación sobre un tema que afecta directamente a nuestros los pueblos como es el narcotráfico y el Ministerio Público (MP), lo ha citado a declarar.

[Padre Milla has expressed his concern about a theme that directly affects we, the people, which is drug-trafficking, and the Public Prosecutor has summoned him to make a statement.]

This is not to say that the Public Prosecutor has discovered a real law-enforcement mission. No; what they have discovered, not surprisingly, is a new way to harass a long-term critic, and at the same time, smear LIBRE, the new political party that will be running Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, former first lady, as its candidate for president.

Here's what happened: on June 29, media in Honduras published stories quoting Padre Milla as saying that corrupt ex-officials, and people involved in drug trafficking, were infiltrating LIBRE. He reportedly said
we know which candidates are going to be on the ticket of Doña Xiomara and that they have already occupied public positions to enrich themselves, corrupt ones, well known to the population...LIBRE are incorporating candidates known publicly as high-flying drug traffickers, they aren't sellers of baggies, but rather millionaires, of those of great authority within drug-trafficking... I don't want to enter into details, I want to ask that they back Doña Xiomara, but that more purity is demanded in the movement, that they take more measures of control, because if they place a candidate known by the people as corrupt in place, the people will not vote.

The quoted statements focus on the need for LIBRE to take measures to ensure that down-ticket candidates are not seen as illegitimate due to their previous political histories, for enriching themselves in public office, for corruption, and yes, for involvement in drug trafficking.

Proceso Digital provided clearer context for the statement, quoting Father Milla endorsing the project of LIBRE but saying it is a difficult thing to do given the political culture in Honduras:
This is an attempt to fulfill those grand dreams that motivate great numbers of people in the six months following the coup, I say that it is an attempt because it is not so easy in a country where for so many years damage has been done to the people with the tricks, the lies, the corruption, the impunity, the prepotency, of those who occupy any positions of service to the people, and in place of serving the people enrich themselves...it is not so easy to achieve a project in a uniquely pure form, it is easy to see that he that was a cat yesterday today seems like a mouse. It is not easy, because it isn't a question of the tail or the paw, but rather of something that is in the heart and in the mind of the person.

Padre Milla is asking LIBRE to live up to its aspirations-- not to accept politics as usual. How does this political intervention end up with Padre Milla being legally summoned to testify?

The reaction, predictably, has focused on a demand for Padre Milla to name names. Elvia Argentina Valle, one of the former Liberal Party congress members who was a prominent voice of protest after the coup, added to her demand for names a threat to proceed legally against him. She took his comments as particularly pointed at the movement within LIBRE that she leads, and said he has never liked the former Liberal Party members who form part of the new party.

Then, on July 4, El Heraldo trumpeted the return to the Liberal Party of a group of delegates, described as having gone to LIBRE and formed part of the movement within that party that Argentina Valle was defending. The Liberal Party candidate for president, Mauricio Villeda, tried to claim that if these defections from LIBRE were motivated by the comments of Padre Milla, they were to be congratulated-- presumably, because this showed they would not participate in a political movement with such doubt cast on it.

But here's the truth: drug trafficking is so pervasive in the halls of power in Honduras that any party is likely to harbor people corrupted by drug money. If you think of it from the perspective of these entrepreneurs, it is likely that they are in fact working to infiltrate all political parties: it would just be good business practice. If these delegates (from the Department of Yoro) returned to the Liberal Party for its anti-drug purity, they are likely to be disappointed. In any event, what seems to have actually motivated their defection was a realization that there weren't places for them to be candidates in LIBRE.

Whether it came about because of requests from within LIBRE, or from another direction, an article in La Prensa on July 5 reported the summons by the prosecutor's office, along with the objections of the Human Rights Alliance, which noted that Padre Milla was neither the first nor only public figure to make such statements, and none of the others has been subject to a legal summons.

What seems to be happening is political push back-- Padre Milla is being threatened with an impossible demand, since (as the Human Rights Alliance notes) his information may well come from privileged communications received in his work as a priest; and in any event, is more likely to be endangered by naming names than any highly-placed traffickers he might be forced to identify.

The only way for LIBRE to change the system is to act differently than established political parties-- that is what Padre Milla, a holy man, is saying. Pragmatically, a start up party in Honduras may not be able to afford such purity-- but it would be well to endorse the sentiment, even if it cannot carry through with a real disengagement from the most visibly corrupt political actors.